Skip to main content
The Kitchen Sink

Washing Vessels – An Operations Approach

I’ve been washing vessels. This is not news to anyone who has spent time in the lockdown. Like many of my fellow countrymen, I’ve been living the charmed life, with hired help taking care of everyday household tasks. With the coronavirus lockdown, we have been left to fend for ourselves. We are the lucky ones – the most hardship we have to endure is that we have to wash our own clothes and vessels.

However, it is not safe to leave tasks such as vessel washing in the hands of a former operations fellow like me. You see, the trouble with operations folks is that they cannot meet something without wanting to organize it, streamline it, reduce it to a set of processes and sub-processes and then embark on a tweaking journey to increase the efficiency of aforementioned processes and sub-processes. And that is what happened with me and vessel washing. read more

Read More

The Bicycle Diaries

I cycled the eight kilometers from work to home, and cycled back to work the next morning. This was part of ‘Bike to work Day’ at work. This got me thinking about my bicycle-borne adventures, bringing back a flood of memories.

When we were kids, we did not have bicycles – we had to hire them for a rupee an hour. These were small, kid-sized bicycles, and my brother and I used to look forward to the weekends when we were given money to hire them – we did not have allowances, and it depended totally on if we had been well-behaved the previous week. Of course, thinking back on it now, it also got us out of the house and out of our parents’ hair for a few hours.

Read More

The Adventure of the Nexus One

Nexus One
Nexus One

A few weeks ago, I was stocking up on victuals at our local green grocer’s, which goes by the grandiose name of Veerabhadra Vegetables. Veerabhadra Vegetables is by no means a mean place – on the main road from Kothaguda to Miyapur, its location opposite Shilpa Park gives it a strategic advantage that the grocer has turned into an excuse for the most alarming (to outsiders) Nawabi attitude. It is also this that endears him to all his customers, me included. Wasn’t this the guy who looked at the awesome-looking Force India t-shirt (to buy which I spent a small fortune) I was wearing and complimented me on how it looked, and in the same breath said how lucky I must be to work for a company that made such nice shirts? Apparently all the logos on the t-shirt made made it look like it was a company shirt and not something anyone would pay for.

But I digress.

It was a couple of weeks ago and my re-victualling was taking some time as for some reason there was a bit of a crowd – a couple of noisy local housewives, a gaggle of grandmothers and a loud Haryanvi youth screaming into his cellphone were before me, and I had to wait. I could not help but wonder what would happen if I reached over, took the phone from the aforementioned youth and switched it off. His relative in Haryana would have no trouble hearing him even without the phone – he was talking so loudly – but he would have been annoyed, and as he was evidently more familiar with the gym than me, I desisted. After standing around waiting idly for a grand total of about two minutes, I took out my beloved Nexus One and was about to create a listing for Veerabhadra Vegetables on Foursquare when I felt someone looking over my shoulder.

I turned around to find myself gazing into the nut-brown eyes of a swarthy local lad, stout of frame and youthful of countenance, who was trying to steal a glance at the screen of my Nexus One. I could not help but notice the puny device he held in his hand – probably a MicroMax, Lava or even an unfortunately-named Lemon. Feeling rather smug and superior, I turned a bit so that he could see tha amazing 3.7 inch display of my Nexus One, and was flicking through pictures in my Gallery looking for a really dazzling one when I heard the aforementioned swarthy local youth make some comment to me about how big it was. The following conversation, brief though it was, was in Hindi – my broken, Doordarshan-inspired, Hafeezpet-honed Hindi to the swarthy local youth’s Hyderabadi Hindi that would make anyone from outside the former Nizam’s dominions cry. Since my Hindi is broken at best, and my recall of it is patchy, I’ll present the conversation to you in English. For convenience’s sake, we’ll call the swarthy local youth SLY.

SLY: That’s a really big screen…
Me: Yeah it is. It’s a very good phone.
SLY: I’m sure it is. How much is it for?
Me: I don’t know – maybe 30,000 or 35,000 rupees?
SLY: You don’t know?
Me: No – my company gave it to me free of cost.
SLY: Oh.
Me: [Grinning – still trying to figure out what awesome feature of the Nexus One to bedazzle the SLY with]
SLY: [Looking pointedly at his small phone] Does it have FM radio?
Me: [A bit taken aback] No.
SLY: [Looking more cheerful and confident] Dual SIM?
Me: [Starting to feel a bit numb] No
SLY: [On top of the world now] Oh. It’s also too big. No wonder they gave it free to you.

With that he turned around and walked off to his cart, from which he had been unloading vegetables into the shop.

What happened after that, I have no recollection of – just the mind-numbing certainty that my Nexus One, simply the most awesome piece of technology I have ever owned, had been bested in a brief conversation by the MicroMax/Lava/Lemon of the vegetable boy who supplied beerakkai to Veerabhadra Vegetables.

And no, I still haven’t created a listing for Veerabhadra Vegetables on Foursquare. But if you ever do, be sure that I will snatch Mayorship from you in a matter of days!

Read More

Part of a Billion

Last week, a census taker visited us, and for the first time, included us in the National Census of India.

The only previous memory of being included in the census was in the 1981 census, when I was staying with my grandparents in Bangalore for the summer holidays. My grandmother was sitting on the stone step outside the front door, removing adulterants from rice, when the census taker visited. My grandmother being a teacher herself, she got into a conversation with the census taker, who was also a teacher. I was playing nearby, and remember being part of the conversation, though I doubt whether I made any insightful contributions, being all of six years old then.

Sticker on my door signifying we have been censused

I have no memories of the 1991 and 2001 censuses, and I cannot for the life of me recall why.

The census taker who visited us was very professional with the right human touch – she was familiar without being intrusive. She was also super efficient – she had her census routine down pat and went through it without pausing even for a moment. And it was a bit of a complex routine at that. She had these giant printed forms she was filling up. In one, she recorded our names. For a detailed account of our lives, she used a separate printed form. Both these were rather huge and unwieldy – more than A3 sized.

She wrote down our responses in Telugu, and I was quite amazed by how she repeated whatever I said so that she could get the words right in Telugu. She breezed through the questions, and handled even the caste question quite well. She made out I couldn’t speak Telugu and kept to Hindi. Again, I’m not quite the best Hindi speaker in the world, but I could make myself understood. When she came to know that I was Tamil, she said I spoke decent Hindi for a Tamil – I thought she was pulling my leg, but one look at her face showed me she really meant it!

In less than 20 minutes, the interview was over. She made me sign two forms, took my thumbprint on one of them (another first for me!), gave me a receipt, put a sticker on our door, and was gone.

It is a momentous feeling to be part of what is definitely one of the largest census exercises in the world. I am aware I did not do anything special, and participated in something that a billion other people also will. Nevertheless, it moved me enough to write about it.

Read More

Share Autos – Hyderabad’s Alternative Public Transit System

An Auto in Hyderabad

Last night, I took a series of share autos to reach home from Panjagutta, and this seems to be an opportune moment to take a look at this alternate public transport system that so effectively supplements and complements Hyderabad’s official public transit systems.

My ride was simple enough – I got into a share auto in front of the Y2K restaurant at Panjagutta. Once I got in, it took about three or four minutes for the auto to fill up. The driver kept calling out the destination of the auto – Jubilee Hills Checkpost – and one by one my fellow passengers took their seats. The ‘seats’ have to be described, for apart from the usual and expected three passengers in the back, there are additional, rather unexpected (to the uninitiated) seats on either side of the driver. Since I was first in, I got the choicest of seats – the middle seat in the back. Two guys squeezed in on either side of me, and two guys squeezed in on either side of the driver as well. The driver not being a greedy sort, we took off right away, and made good time to the Checkpost. Two guys got off just before we reached and I hopped off when we stopped at the red light – it was easier for me to cross to the next share auto ‘stand’ that way. The ride (4.1 kilometers, according to Google Maps) cost me 8 rupees.

I was not as lucky at the next stop – the auto I got into already had a fully packed back seat, and I had to make do with sitting by the driver. Now, a word about sitting on the driver’s side. As anyone who has seen an auto will no doubt know, the seat of an auto driver is made for a single person. The intrepid share auto drivers install a narrow wooden ledge that extends on either side of the driver’s seat. This allows one more person to perch on either side, albeit hanging on by one hand from the auto’s frame. Some auto drivers, especially on the outskirts (on the Hitech City side, this would mean beyond Kothaguda – the share autos that go to Miyapur or Gachhibowli, for example) install a more complex variation of the extension. Immediately next to the driver’s seat is a small square ledge, beyond which a narrower ledge extends. Such sets are found in share autos driven by really skinny fellows who sit on the edge of their seat so that TWO MORE passengers can be added to the front row. The resulting arrangement is like this: the driver sits on the edge of the seat, with his knees pointing sideways so that he can accommodate his legs. Two guys (it’s always male passengers – ladies always get to sit in the back) then sit as close to the driver as possible – partly on the driver’s seat and partly on the smaller square. Next to them squeeze two more passengers, sitting on the narrow ledge with their knees sticking out of the auto on either side. These are the truly precariously perched, for if they lose their grip, they will fall out of the auto.

Anyway, to get back to my story, I had to take my place by the driver’s side. Thankfully, this too was not a greedy man, and I did not have an additional passenger attached to my left side. We made decent time till we reached Peddamma Temple, where we were stuck for about twenty minutes. It looked like the whole of Hyderabad, their uncles, and all their relatives from Nalgonda and other districts had decided to pay a visit to Peddamma on their two wheelers. This resulted in a crush of human and vehicular traffic that had to be experienced to be believed. After we made our way through the crowd (the driver actually reached out beyond me an pushed guy out of the way at one point!), the going was smooth, and we were dropped off at Kothaguda junction. This ride (7 kilometers, according to Google Maps) too cost me 8 rupees.

The last leg of my journey was a much shorter ride – from Kothaguda to Hafeezpet. Again, I got the VIP seat – middle of the back seat. But this time I was able to witness auto sharing in all its glory – three in the back seat, and a full complement of four passengers and the driver in front! The ride was the shortest for me (3.4 kilometers, according to Google Maps), and cost me the princely sum of 5 rupees.

I travelled 14.5 kilometers in relative comfort, and the only delay was because of the traffic jam. At each place, I was able to get a share auto without waiting for more than three minutes. The total cost for me was 21 rupees. The alternatives available to me were:

a.) A bus – This would have been more economical, but only if I had waited for a long time at one of the bus stops, and caught a regular bus (as opposed to the air conditioned hitech buses). Travel-time-wise, it would have taken me longer – just getting past Peddamma temple would have taken ages.

b.) The MMTS – This would have been really economical and time-saving – a ticket would cost 4 rupees, and there is no traffic hassle. However, I’d have had to wait for the hourly service, and then contend with the crowds on the train.

c.) A hired auto – This would have been the most expensive and most comfortable way back. The meter would have come to around 120 rupees (I could be way off here – I’m guessing wildly!), and the time taken would have been pretty much the same.

I am a big fan of share auto travel, and use it whenever I get an opportunity. It is a naturally evolved version of the auto transport paradigm, and it suits the needs of both auto drivers as well as passengers.

The drivers have the flexibility of travelling to whichever destination they want to – the first guy turned back at Jubilee Hills Check Post to go back to Panjagutta, while the second one started on a fresh run to Gachibowli from Kothaguda junction. This also gives them incentive to operate on a share basis – even if they don’t end up making as much money in a single trip as they would from a metered run, they spend way less time standing idle waiting for that one big fare.

For passengers, it has almost all the convenience of a hired auto at about a tenth of the cost. True, you will have to share your auto with six others, and endure close proximity to them. But that is true of all forms of public transport – crowded buses and trains are no exception to the close proximity rule, and they come with added annoyances like pickpockets and gropers.

Share autos play an important part in filling a huge gap in the public transit system. It would be great if they can be legalized and made more organized and comfortable.

How have your experiences been with share autos? Share your experiences with us in the comments!

Read More