Mumbai-Pune Puncture Scam

If you live in any of the major cities of India, and own a vehicle, you’re more than likely to have heard of many popular cons that happen in and around the city to unsuspecting motorists. Typically, they involve someone flagging your running vehicle down, and pointing out a problem you need to get fixed. Then, another helpful someone shows up out of the blue, and attempts to “fix” the problem, eventually making it worse, and making you shell out thousands before you can be on your way again. One variant of this also includes throwing out sharp nails on your road stretch, causing some punctures, and then going about fixing them.

Since I was aware of many of these, I thought that I would be insulated from such scams. But, I was wrong.

On a recent trip with the family to Pune, just as we entered the Pune city limits on the Mumbai-Pune expressway (near Hinjewadi), a man on a bike signalled that I should get my front-left tyre checked… and rode away without stopping.

Since he didn’t stop to “help” me, I took his warning as genuine, and soon stopped the car by the kerb. The tyre pressure in my tubeless tyre did look a little lower than normal, so I thought I should get it checked as soon as possible. As it turns out, close to where I’d stopped was a roadside tyre repair shack, so I headed there and asked him to check it.

Again, note that there was no way for me to link the biker who rode away without glancing back, and the tyre shack who was supposedly minding his own business when I drove upto him.

Anyway, he jacked up the wheel and starting checking the tyre in question with some soapy liquid for air bubbles. I did ask why they use soap (which would froth and bubble on its own) instead of plain water, but he said they help him spot the puncture leaks better. I wasn’t too worried since I was keeping a sharp eye out for what was a real air bubble from inside the tyre, and what was on the surface.

During the conversation, repeating the process through the entire surface of the tyre, the good man found (and showed me proof of!) 8 different puncture leaks – big and small. The physics seemed sound: Unless the leaks are fixed, they would keep increasing in size. Plus, I was travelling with kids and the trip hadn’t even begin yet. Plus, I was 200 kms from my home city (and trusted garage). So, all things considered, I asked him to go ahead and fix all of them at 150 bucks a pop.

All the way home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss. So, when I returned, I went to have a word with my local garage, who I have known for years and has yet to cheat me in any way. Here’s what he told me…

This is a very common scam on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. In all likelihood, while the chap at the tyre shack was “checking” for a puncture, as soon as I glanced away, he probably used his poker to make more tiny holes which later he could prove as punctures, so that he could charge me for each fix. Checking for punctures in tubeless tyres should be done by dismounting the wheel, putting it in a bath of liquid and filling it with high pressure.

Not only did I get conned for a thousand bucks, but I also ended up damaging a good tyre for the long run.

Shockingly, I came home to look this up on the Net and could hardly find any stories of similar experiences. Hence, this post to warn other unsuspecting motorists of what to watch for. If enough of us are armed with the correct information, it will be difficult for the scamsters to do their thing, don’t you think?

Hopefully, this should save you from ruining another good tyre and a few thousand bucks…

 

Financial Independence

“Financial Independence” means different things to different people. There may not be a universal definition for it, but it helps to understand the subject a little. I often mind myself debating these concepts with friends, and this post is my way of capturing some of my key learnings on the subject…

Tony Robbins captures the essence of Financial Independence in a five-point scale

#1. Financial security. This is achieved when you have sufficient passive income to cover the very basics in your life like the rent (mortgage), bills and basic food.

#2. Financial vitality. At this level of financial independence, your passive income can allow for more things like clothes, going out and having fun, and basic holidays.

#3. Financial independence. This is the level where your passive income is sufficient to allow you to have your current quality of life.

#4. Financial freedom. At this level of financial independence you can up-step your lifestyle to the one you desire.

#5. Absolute financial freedom. This is the level where money stops being an issue and you can do anything you want.

When I first encountered this, what struck me is that for Level One itself, Robbins speaks of a “passive” income that achieves these metrics. i.e. Income generated whether you show up to work or not. This may be via investments in real estate, securities or a business that you own – not one where you trade-off your time to earn money (as in a job!)

Now, if you are currently in debt and have little savings to show for your earning years, you may think that attaining even the first level with “passive” income is an impossible dream.

Why is that?

The Times of India featured an excellent article by Uma Shashikant on the (often mistaken) advice we give to our children when it comes to their future career, and financial goals. In it, Shashikant makes a very valid argument that “what is true of the parents’ world is not necessarily true of their children’s world.”

If you are an Indian, it is most likely that your well-wishers (parents included) brought you up on a steady diet of the age-old maxim: Buy a house!

Buying a house is not always “good advice”. It actually depends on a number of factors, including:

1. Your personal Life goals
2. Your current Life stage
3. The Rent vs Buy equation in your particular city / region

But, the social pressure to do it (for most Indians) is so much, that most do not take a step back and evaluate all the options more objectively.

The fact is, having a primary residence (owned by you) is not an “investment” for you – unless you’re willing to relocate to a far, far cheaper home/region at some point in your lifetime. If not, at best, it represents an asset for those you leave it behind for.

You may notice that I’m not even touching upon the possibility that the Real Estate market may represent a bargain, currently. That is irrelevant (or already factored into point #3 – Rent vs Buy), unless you are talking about a second home as an investment opportunity.

If you depend on a salary for income, it makes little difference if your current house – the one you live in – appreciates in “value” by several million. With increasing income, when we “upgrade” our lifestyle, it is often accompanied by moving to an even larger (read: more expensive) home with accompanying debt. And, that is precisely why you should think – ten times – before taking up a loan that you will need to service for decades to come.

In thousands of cities across the world (including in India), it is way cheaper to rent a house than to buy one – whichever way you crunch your worksheet. If you are not riddled with a huge debt at this early stage, and have the discipline to put away 15-20% of your (ever growing!) income in a sound Savings’ plan, you have a real shot at building a corpus.

Combine this insight with the Power of Compounding, and you may just be on your way to a significant “passive” income… And, that would be worth the reward, wouldn’t it?!

Inception: MindBlowing

The Rolling Stone described it as “James Bond meets The Matrix”, while Wired wrote that it is “Dense, intense, brainy and beautiful to look at”. Yes, I’m talking about Inception – the hottest sci-fi entertainer of 2010, and the newest entrant to the “Top 10 movies I have ever seen”!

I went in with huge expectations, considering the last I’d seen of Christopher Nolan’s work was The Dark Knight (my review of which is still pending).  His body of work is small but very, very impactful.  If you’ve seen Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige or The Dark Knight, you know what I’m talking about.  (If you haven’t seen any of these, stop reading right now, and go get yourself the DVDs.) 

By the end of Inception, I was left with one overwhelming feeling – Nolan is a genius! 

Inception has a twisted storyline that takes some effort to grasp, but the journey is so worth the effort that the 2 hours and 22 minutes pass by in a flash.  I’m not going to bore you with the details of the plot and its main characters.  You can get all that on Wikipedia or on the Warner Bros’ official site.  What I’m here to tell you is this…

Inception is an incredible piece of work. 

Narrating a story that transcends multiple layers of the “dream state” is no easy task for any storyteller.  But, with Inception (and The Dark Knight), Nolan proves that he’s achieved artistry in his profession of choice.

Brilliant performances by DiCaprio and the rest of the cast, a huge canvas for Nolan to paint, spectacular special effects that add to the story, appropriate use of visual elements (and Hans Zimmer’s music) to heighten the drama and tension, and finally, enough science to make it all seem believable.  I especially liked the restraint shown by Nolan in his use of special fx and dramatic devices, so they don’t end up being overbearing, but instead, weave their place in the story as it progresses in complexity.

Don’t miss Inception.  It will blow your mind!!!

Raavan

So often, I find that movie critics and reviewers in India fail to recognize the merits of any thing that lies outside of mainstream cinema.  Typically, there is such little understanding of the art of story telling, and such little regard for the nuances of movie making, that the essay turns out to be nothing more than a detailed storyline, sometimes accompanied by a thrashing down of whatever the reviewer deemed unsuitable in the movie.

However, when I go for some of these films, despite the warnings in the papers, I find myself being thoroughly rewarded for my time!  Recent such examples in Indian cinema include the fantastic “Road Movie, The Film” and the newly-released “Raavan”.

Raavan is a class act that is clearly not for the masses.  Yes, it has all the popular elements of a bollywood masala film – love angle, action, drama, etc., but the “treatment” is refreshingly unique.

Fundamentally, it is a tale of good versus evil, and about the shades of good and evil that lie dormant within us all.  Raavan’s main characters are clearly not on any one side of the spectrum, and that’s what makes the story interesting (and also probably unappealing for the common man).

I was impressed with Abhishek’s ability to “get into character” by way of mannerisms and expressions that I thought were remarkably consistent with the persona that he was playing.  I especially enjoyed his character’s ability to deal with his inner conflicts, whether he’s coping with new-found jealousy or experiencing fear for the first time.

I was also left impressed with the film’s canvas.  Almost the entire length of the movie has been shot in pouring rain – a feat that is not easy to pull off.  Yet, somehow, the green and grey palette works like a charm, helping the characters blend-in in places, and making them stand out in contrast, in other frames!

The cinematography is truly exceptional, and among the best I have ever seen coming from Indian movie makers.  The makers of the film seem to have taken the trouble to scout some of the prettiest natural locales of the country in which to set the story.  I thought that many of the shots were visually stunning, giving the film a very artistic quality.  Unlike typical bollywood fare, I was also pleased that the nuances of the film were more-or-less in sync with the way of life of the story’s setting – whether it’s the food they eat, their mode of transport or their attire and living conditions.

If I had to nitpick, I’d probably drop Govinda (allegedly the “Hanuman” element) from the story altogether, since he did not seem to add too much value to the plot.  And, it would have helped to see a little more build-up to explain to audiences why the two key characters are hell bent on destroying each other from frame one.

But, all said and done, Raavan is definitely a movie worth watching and represents Mani Ratnam’s best work till date.  Critics be damned!

Lost Art of Letter Writing

Many things change with time, but not every thing changes for the better.  One such phenomenon I can think of is the lost art of Letter Writing. 

For years, I have lamented about the fact that the only “mail” I receive (via snail-mail) any more is bills and receipts.  No letters.  None whatsoever. 

Aunts and uncles who used to send out letters once in a while, have switched to email.  Moms and Dads had to, simply to keep pace with their teenage sons and daughters.  Even the greeting cards you used to send out till just a few years ago, have transformed into free e-cards that do their dance on your computer screen, and die a painless death in 90 days or less.

I know, I know.  Electronic communication is so fast and friendly; so instantaneous in delivery.  Who would want to write letters?! 

Now, I love Technology as much as the next guy.  Maybe, even more.  But any one who’s ever received a well-written missive would agree that email could never replace the charm, the magic, of a handwritten note.  The use of appropriate grammar, the unhurried attention to detail, the choice of good stationery on special occassions… even words that were striken or revised would leave their mark on the note, for every reader to see. 

It was almost as if, every time you put pen to paper, you chose to bare your soul to the reader. 

Makes me think that we’re fast losing touch with an art form that was an important part of our heritage, without even pausing to ponder on it… 

In the decades to come, will our children even understand the antiquated practice of actually writing a letter using pen and paper?  Would Abraham Lincoln’s letters gain the legendary status they have, if he’d shot off some emails from his Mac instead?  Most importantly, in the absence of such cultural cues, how will we know what was really important and worth preserving?  What will History be “written” on?!

Worth a thought, isn’t it?