Friday, June 4, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccination Experience in Chennai

Booking a vaccination slot in India through the CoWIN portal was similar to booking a H1B Visa appointment in US Consulate (not sure if that has changed now!) or similar to booking the ticket for a FDFS (First day, First show) for a Rajini movie. Government of India (GoI) has developed this wonderful portal CoWIN - which is used for advertising vaccine availability, booking a vaccination appointment and for tracking the status of vaccination, in India. Having used multiple online services offered by Governments, I should say CoWIN is truly world class. It is fast, simple to use and works all the times. 

When GoI opened up vaccination for the 18+ category, I was the first few people to "register" in the CoWIN portal. However, when you open up the flood gates all of a sudden, the gushing water may even blow up the flood gate and that's exactly what happened when they opened the services for 18+ category. CoWIN crashed. I guess the IT team worked hard to fix the problem soon. In about an hour or so, I tried a few times and finally managed to register. Then started the fun - though the vaccination program was opened up for 18+, none of the hospitals or government health centres opened up the services for 18+. I didn't bother going to the CoWIN portal for the next 2 weeks. 

On 20th May, Tamilnadu government launched the vaccination program for the 18+ category people. A friend of mine walked to a UPHC (Urban Primary Health Care Center) near to her house in Ashok Nagar and got herself vaccinated. She was persuading me to get vaccinated soon. I was hesitant to leave home and travel long distance to get vaccinated due to the lockdown in Tamilnadu. That's when I learned from a friend that there is a Telegram Group (U45 Chennai) for getting notifications regarding the available vaccination slots, as soon as it gets published in CoWIN portal. Immediately I joined the group and was amazed by the volume of vaccinations done per day by the private hospitals in the city. However, by the time I saw those notifications and logged into the CoWIN portal, the slots would be full. It happened continuously for a day and then I realised that I have to be super quick. So, I increased the notification alerts volume in my phone and was keenly looking for a slot near my home. To my luck, I found a slot near to my house in a private hospital - the new MGM Hospitals. 

On the day of the vaccination, I drove my car to MGM, thinking that I can find a parking space. To my surprise, there was a long queue of parked vehicles on either side of the road. Roughly, some 100+ cars would be parked along the road side in Nelson Manickam Road. I couldn't imagine seeing so many cars parked along the road side on a regular day - but, due to the lockdown the roads were almost empty and hence, it benefited the people who came in their cars. I parked my vehicle outside and walked into the hospital for the first time. I was awestruck by the crowd. It appeared as if I walked into a cinema theatre. There were so many people (some 200+) waiting in queue and multiple security personnel managing the crowd. After doing the initial screening for temperature and filling some forms, they are escorting 10 people at a time on a lift to another floor. The lift opened its door into a ballroom. It was a large hall and there were some 50+ people sitting in that hall. One by one, people were asked to make payment, verify their personal information and were vaccinated. We were asked to wait in a lounge for about 20 minutes. The lounge looked like an open air cafeteria that you would see in IT parks - with a pantry area for coffee and snacks. I waited there for a few minutes and started going downstairs. Despite the huge crowd, in about 60 minutes, the whole process was over. I was amazed by the way in which MGM had organised the camp and speeded up the whole process. They charged Rs.950 for a Covishield vaccination. But, I felt that they still may not make a huge profit - given the number of employees they've deployed and the infrastructure/ambience of the hospital. For people, who are looking for a hassle free COVID vaccination, MGM hospital in Nelson Manickam Road is good. If you can afford it, you should consider getting vaccinated in a private hospital, so that Government's free vaccine can go to the poor and needy. After coming back home, I logged into the CoWIN portal to download my vaccination certification. 

Napoleon Hill once said "Victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting". The only weapon that we have in our fight against COVID-19 is the vaccination. I would strongly encourage everyone to take vaccination. We can fight COVID-19 only when most people get vaccinated. The second wave of COVID-19 snatched the lives of 3 of my dear friends. They were all healthy people - leading a happy life. But, COVID-19 came as a tsunami and shattered their families (and of course, friends). Their loss is irrecoverable. Dear friend... if you are reading this post, please get vaccinated asap. Even after vaccination, it is important that we follow the COVID-19 precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks and sanitising hands regularly.  Together, let us fight this evil virus and get it out of our community and country. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Election Commission India's Voter Helpline app - a Great tool !

Election day in India is always like a festival. You can see autorickshaws offering free rides to the elderly and disabled people from home to the polling venue. You can see people queuing up early in the morning at the polling booths, to avoid long queues. You can see party members getting ready and setting up their "May I help you" kiosks around the polling venue. 

It's election day in Tamilnadu, today. This time, all of us in my family got our voting slips, except for my wife. If you don't know what a voting slip is... it is a slip that helps the poll booth officer to quickly identify your voter record in the ledger (which appears like the Chitragupta's book of records). The voting slip has serial number that helps the poll booth officer to tracer your voter record in the ledger. This serial number is different from your "Voter Identification Number". If you go to the polling booth without the voter slip, the poll booth officer would take a longer time to identify your voter record and it may unnecessarily delay your voting process. Normally, the different parties that are contesting in the election would give you a copy of the voting slip, at your door step. There are elections where we had 4 or 5 copies of the same voting slip in our hand. However, this time, none of the parties distributed any voting slip. Probably, they were trying to go green or they were busy distributing cash :) A government representative ended up handing over the voting slips to my family members - but somehow, my wife's slip was missed out. 

I thought we can get the voting slip in one of the "May I help you" kiosks setup by the party functionaries, outside of the polling venue. I went to one of those kiosks. They said, I've to visit the kiosk in my street, to get my wife's voting slip. We rushed back to our street, but didn't see any kiosk in our street. When we checked with a couple of people in my street, they redirected me to the next street. Finally, I found a kiosk in the next street. The guy in the kiosk took my wife's Voter Id and scanned through the different pages in the ledger... and after spending 10 minutes he said, "Sir! We couldn't find your wife's record. But, you can still go to the booth and cast your vote". I felt like the Kamalahaasan in Indian movie, who gets tossed around to different government departments, to get some basic stuff done. 

We again rushed back to the polling venue. By this time, the morning sun has pierced my skin to get the juice flowing out of my body. I made my wife stand in the voters' queue and quietly sat under a tree nearby with my mobile phone. I was searching in Google for voter's slip. I found a website,, but it was incredibly slow. It reminded me of the days, when we used to type "", in Internet Explorer, go to college canteen, have a tea and come back to see the page fully rendered. After nearly 10 minutes, the page displayed. I filled all the details of my wife's Voter Id and was about to click the "Search" button. The webpage asked me to enter a "Captcha" without showing any "Captcha". I hit the refresh button again. This time, it showed the Captcha properly. I entered all the details properly and hit "Search". After taking 10 minutes, the website reported that the record could not be found. I was disappointed and frustrated with the experience. 

I started Googling again, and found the "Voter Helpline" application. I downloaded it from the app store in a few seconds and punched-in my wife's Voter Id details. It immediately displayed the Serial Number of my wife's voter record in the ledger. I took a piece of paper, wrote the Serial number and handed it over to my wife, who was still in the queue, which was crawling like a wounded snake. The poll booth officer was able to quickly identify her record in the ledger, using the Serial number. Voter Helpline app is a great tool for the voters. I wish they make a computer or a mobile phone with the Voter Helpline app loaded, and keep it outside the polling venues. It will greatly help the voters and save a lot of time for the voters and the officials manning the polling booth. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Airtel Store in Ekkattuthangal, Chennai - Poor Customer Service

In Airtel Store at Ekkattuthangal, Chennai, right from the store manager to the store representatives, nobody cares for the customer. I've been an Airtel customer for the last 10+ years. I had used the Airtel stores in Ashok Nagar and Nelson Manickam Road in the past and they were very good. My fate, I landed up in the Ekkattuthangal store recently, and I had a terrible experience. Over the last 10 years, I would've easily paid them Rs. 1+ lacs for service and I'm totally disappointed with the treatment that I received. No wonder why Airtel is continuing to lose its market share / profits to Reliance Jio.

I had to change my phone from a post-paid corporate account to a pre-paid personal account. It took me nearly 20 days to finish the process, got tossed around to 3 Airtel facilities, with 4 visits to the Ekkattuthangal store, several follow-ups over phone calls (which seldom got a response) and eventually they said, they can convert it only from post-paid corporate to post-paid personal account. Every visit to the shop costed me nearly 2.5 hours, as I had to commute from Choolaimedu (the place where I lived) to Ekkattuthangal.

At first, I reached out to the local Airtel booth in my office to initiate the corporate/postpaid to personal/pre-paid account transfer (with all the documentation), The rep in the booth said, I'll have to go to a Airtel store to do the same. I went to the Nelson Manickam Road store for help. They said, they are a franchise store and I'll have to go to any of the Airtel owned stores to do the transfer. Hence, I landed up in the Ekkattuthangal store.

Visit #1: The store rep in Ekkattuthangal Airtel store (Mr. Srinivasan) collected my application form. I told him specifically that I had been already bounced to 3 different stores... and I don't want to go through any more hardships. He said "Once your corporate settles the outstanding bills, we can finish the transfer the next day". I followed-up with my corporate and after a week, they confirmed that they had settled all of the outstanding bills. I tried calling the store rep, but didn't pick my calls at all.

Visit #2: I again went to the shop. But, this time, the person to whom I gave the application was absent... and others couldn't trace my application at all. They said they'll search offline and get back to me. They also warned that I'll have to submit a fresh application with proper documentation. After a few days, I didn't get any calls from the store. I again called them. They asked me to come to the store with all the documentation.

Visit #3: I took photocopies of documentation and visited the store again. This time, I spotted Mr. Srinivasan and he found my application again. He said, he doesn't have the login name / password for the portal to initiate the transfer. He said, he'll complete it and confirm to me by evening. I waited, waited and waited... and no calls/confirmation from Mr. Srinivasan. When I called him again in the evening, he said I had to convert only from post-paid corporate to post-paid personal, as the IT application has a technical glitch. They asked me to come to the store to file a fresh post-paid application.

Visit #4: I reached the store with a lot of frustration. When I raised the voice, the store manager Ms. Saranya started showing some sense of urgency. But, they couldn't complete the conversion. They said, they'll have to reinitiate the KYC process again for my post-paid connection and it will take at least a day for the transfer to be complete. I told them, I had been a customer in the past, I have neither changed my phone number or residence for the last 10+ years and moreover, I furnished my Aadhar too... and couldn't understand why a new KYC is needed. I had to escalate to the Zone Manager Mr. Narayanan (Ms. Saranya's boss), to accelerate the KYC process. They managed to finish the process in 2 hours, however, my phone number is still to be converted to post-paid/personal account. I hope the number will get converted tomorrow.

Reasons why I feel that the Airtel Store in Ekkattuthangal Chennai offered a bad customer experience:

  1. No proper communication / No updates from the store rep. I had to continuously follow-up several times to get some updates. They don't give any attention to a long time customer, especially someone who have done several lacs worth of business with Airtel. 
  2. Occasionally, when I get to Mr. Srinivasan, he would continuously promise me that the process will be complete in the evening or in 4 hours. But, nothing happens. He is a liar and not fit to serve corporate customers / customers who are professionals.
  3. During my 4th visit, Mr. Srinivasan said in an angry tone - "Sir! You'll have to visit the store a few times like this... if you really want to get your number converted" (in Tamil "Sir! number change pannanum-na indha maadhiri than naaalu (4) anju (5) thadavai alayunum"). The last time I heard such statement was in an RTO office. I worked for a leading service provider and if I had made such a statement to the customer, I would've been fired the same day. 
  4. Store manager Ms. Saranya tried to justify what happened to the customer instead of listening. When she was not in action for 3 days... she didn't handover the login name / password to anyone. Did she assume that no customer will come for a post-paid to pre-paid conversion request, for 3 days?
  5. There is no ledger or process in the store to properly track the incoming applications / service requests. They didn't even give me a service request id or challan to track my application. I was shocked when they said my application is missing and it couldn't be traced. 
  6. Even the customer care numbers are not of use. When you call them, they redirect you back to the store. Customer lands up in a helpless situation. 
Hope Airtel will do something to fix these gaps in the Airtel Ekkattuthangal store.

[Update from 1/6/16: My phone number was finally converted to my personal account. Ms. Saranya followed-up with me to confirm that]

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Kovilpatti Railway Station - Super Clean !

It is a common sight in railway stations to see coffee cups on the railway tracks, empty chips/biscuit covers/wrappers on the platforms and most importantly, overflowing trash bins. But, Kovilpatti Railway Station is an exception. Kovilpatti is a well known city in South Tamilnadu. Recently, I boarded a train from Kovilpatti Railway Station. I was amazed by the cleanliness of the Kovilpatti Railway Station.

There was absolutely no trash in Kovilpatti Railway Station - be it on the platforms as well as on the railway tracks. I always believed that rules alone cannot change people’s behavior. In addition to coming up with rules, you need to educate people, and make it simple/easy for people to follow the rules. For example, in Kovilpatti Railway Station, I noticed that there are multiple sign boards educating the passengers to keep the railway station clean. In addition, there were trash bins kept at least once every 100 ft. This makes it easy for people to dump trash in a trash bin, nearby.

Any shop that sells food items has a trash bin nearby. Also, there is a sign board that clearly lists down the various rules which have to be followed by the food vendor - as per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) policies. They have also mentioned the owner’s phone number and FSSAI phone number for filing a compliant - if the passengers found that the shop keepers are violating any of the rules.

Also read: A ban on spitting pan in public places - who enforces it?

It is not just the cleanliness of the station that stood out. The authorities have worked hard to provide a great overall experience to the passengers. The station has a good parking facility and they charge just Rs.10. There is a chart on the wall near the entrance of the railway station which clearly describes the location of various coaches in the platform, for different trains. There is also abundant seating space in the railway station. In fact, they have a separate seating area for second class passengers. That facility is well maintained too (including the rest rooms that are maintained very clean). If there is one challenge, it is the number of mosquitoes. You cannot escape from the mosquito bite. I don’t know what authorities can do for that, given the vegetation around the station.

(Also read: Traveling near restrooms in Train isn't fun)

The drinking water taps at the station are functional too - which is again a rare thing to see in such railway stations.

I get thrilled when I see a clean public place... as it takes lots of efforts/support from both the authorities and the public. I hope Kovilpatti Railway Station - continues to be super clean. Waiting for a day when our Chennai Egmore and Chennai Central becomes like Kovilpatti Railway Station.

(Also read: If I don't care, who will care)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (2 of 2)

Also read: Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (1 of 2)

Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip starts at 6 am from Panicker's Karol Bagh office. We got up at 4 am and started getting ready. The bus departed Panicker's office sharp at 6 am. After a 2.5 hours drive, there was a breakfast stop over at Hotel Highway Prince. Panicker's had arranged a special breakfast menu for Rs.125 each. We finished our breakfast and departed to Jaipur. We saw Birla Mandir, Jantar Mantar, Maharaja Palace, Museum and Amber Fort in Jaipur. The night stay was arranged in Hotel Red Fox within the city. We reached the hotel by around 6 pm. The buffet dinner at the hotel costed Rs.200 per head. The stay was very good. We went to bed at 8.30 pm, as the next day trip starts at 5 am.

The day 2 of the Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip started at 5 am sharp. The travellers had a quality 3 hours of sleep during the bus ride to Fatehpur Sikri. We had a stop over at a private venue where Panicker's had arranged the breakfast. They charged Rs. 100 for the breakfast, but had a number of items in the menu. Then, we covered Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort and Taj Mahal during the day.

The day temperature was very high - mostly 40+ centigrades. Each of us would've had 4+ litres of water every day.

In the evening, we were taken to Mathura, specifically to the Mathura Temple. The places around the Mathura Temple appeared as-if they belonged to the Independence era. There was absolutely no signs of development. We then headed back to Delhi. On the way back to Delhi, we witnessed dust storm on the highway. It lasted for about a minute and then, it started raining. Though the dust storm lasted just for a minute, it looked disastrous. We reached Delhi by 9.45 pm and checked-in to Hotel Sonil. We ordered dinner at the hotel and went to sleep. 

The next day, Delhi sight seeing trip started at 9 am. So, we had enough time to sleep. We reached Panicker's office by 8.45 am. The bus departed at 9 am, sharp. The quality of the Delhi sight seeing bus was somewhat average. They had a super cool luxury bus for the Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip. We visited Qutab Minar, India Gate, Lotus Temple, Indira Gandhi Memorial,  Parliament House, Gandhi Museum, Rashtrapati Bhawan and Red Fort. The lunch was served in Tamilnadu Tourism Hotel. We wrapped up the day with a visit to Birla Mandir Temple. We were brought back to the Panicker's office by 7 pm. We finished our dinner and slept early. 

On the last day, we woke up a little late, had our breakfast and started packing our luggages. We reached airport by around 1 pm. We finished our lunch at the airport. Our flight was at 4.30 pm. So, we had a lot of time to kill. The kids spent bulk of the time in wandering around and by going up/down the travelators. We reached home by around 8.30 pm and cherished the memories of the trip.

Those 5 days taught me some critical words in Hindi, such as Bhai, Bhayya, Kitna, Udhar, Idhar and Lao. You can simply survive with these words. We had a very enjoyable trip to Delhi, Agra & Jaipur. The kids had more fun than the adults. We are now geared up to make yet another North India trip.

Also read: Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (1 of 2)

Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (1 or 2)

For nearly 10 years, I was postponing our  Delhi/Agra trip for the simple reason that I was not proficient in Hindi. Recently, a friend of mine said, she did a Delhi / Agra trip through Panicker travels (not to be confused with the Chennai Paniker Tours and Travels). I started doing some research and found that the reviews were very positive. I had never done a group package tour before, so I wasn't sure if that would work out for our family. I was afraid that we had to wait everywhere for other group members to return back to the bus after the sightseeing. But, my friend assured that Panickers maintain the timing in all the places and it is convenient even for families with kids or elders. That gave me some confidence to proceed with the booking.

I planned a 5 days itinerary - reaching on the 1st day, 3 days of sight seeing and returning back on the 5th day. Some monuments are closed on certain days, so I checked their availability before planning the trip. We chose Thu/Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon for our travel. I booked our flight tickets in Indigo Airlines. I went to Panicker Travels office in Prince Plaza, Egmore to book the 3 days sight seeing package and accommodation. They had a 2 days "Jaipur- Agra - Fatehpur Sikri - Mathura (Golden Triangle)" package. This package included an overnight stay at Jaipur. And then, I picked the 1 day Delhi tour package. I also asked Panicker's to arrange the Delhi stay for my entire trip. They helped with that. In finished the planning 2 months in advance.

In the last few years, we had check marked the usual destinations such as Ooty, Kodaikanal, Wayanad, Tanjore, Pondicherry and Coorg. Our May outings are normally with the extended family, which includes 10+ people. The kids in our family were too excited about the trip (actually, about the flight travel!). We got warnings from our friends and family members to cancel the trip - because of the sandstorm in Delhi. However, weather forecast was normal and so, we didn't cancel the trip.

Finally, The D-day came. We boarded the Indigo flight from Chennai Airport at 11 am and reached Delhi by 2.30 pm. We booked Ola Primes from the airport. Our first surprise was the CNG fitted SWIFT Dzires. The trunk space was hogged by the CNG cylinders. There is absolutely no trunk space in those cars. We ended up literally squeezing into the car, with all of our luggages. Our accommodation was arranged in Hotel Karat, Karol Bagh. When we checked-in to the hotel, we were surprised. It appeared like a budget hotel and was not so clean. We were too hungry. So, we headed out to finish our lunch at Hotel Southern, which was nearby. The food at Hotel Southern was very good, also it was very clean. We ended up having all of our meals during Delhi stay in Hotel Southern.

After finishing the lunch, my brother & I went to Panicker Travel's office, which was also in Karol Bagh. We requested them for a hotel change. Initially, they had charged Rs.1.5K for a room. They charged us another Rs.1K to upgrade to Panicker's guest house, which was nearby. I was surprised that they did the hotel change, without making a fuzz about it. We then switched from Hotel Karat to Panicker's Guest House. We spent some time taking rest in the hotel. Then, we had our dinner. We slept early so that we can wake up early the next day.

Also read: Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (2 of 2)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Power of Aadhar - True potential to be unlocked !

Last week, we decided to upgrade my wife's phone connection from a pre-paid to a postpaid plan. After swirling around the town, we landed up in a showroom in Ashok Nagar. The showroom was
very busy and filled with people. All of the representatives were quite engaged in conversations with customers.  In fact, the store had a token system for customers to be serviced in order, by the Airtel representatives. We took a token and patiently waited for our turn. While waiting for our turn, my wife told me "I don't have a passport sized picture. Would that be a problem?". I gave her a stare, not knowing how to react to that.

Also read: Coimbatore Airport - Lost & Found

I looked around and saw some applications hanging off the shelf in the wall. I pulled a postpaid upgrade application form from the shelf. It was longer than the application form to apply for a H1B visa in US consulate. They had a place to affix photograph. "Oops!" I thought. I made my wife to sit inside the store and walked out to check if there is any instant passport photo shop nearby. I couldn't spot one. I walked back into the Airtel store with disappointment.

Around that time, one of the representatives called our token number. We walked to him and occupied the chairs in front of him. He looked at us and asked for the application form, photograph, address proof and ID proof. I told him with a "sorry" face "Sir! We don't have a passport sized photograph. We just have the Aadhar card. Would that be enough?". He said "No problem sir ! That would be enough". He pulled out a small finger print reader, connected it to his mobile phone... and opened an application from the mobile. He entered the Aadhar number and asked my wife to put her thumb on the finger print reader. The mobile application immediately pulled all of her information from the Aadhar database - picture, address etc., He entered the old pre-paid mobile number, selected the basic postpaid plan and clicked submit. He said "Sir! The transaction is complete. You'll receive an SMS in another 4 hours and the migration to a postpaid plan would be complete".

Also read: Money need to R2I

"Wow! No application form... no signatures ... no photocopies of proofs "... I was spellbound when I saw that. The experience that I had in the Airtel store was on par with some of the mobile activation experiences that I've had in the US (or even better than that). I was amazed by the power of Aadhar. I'm now quite excited to see other Aadhar integration applications. I'm hoping that we will soon live in a world, where we don't have to remember two dozen usernames and passwords. On one side I'm excited of the simplicity of Aadhar and on the other side, I'm nervous about its security features. In a country like India, it is very hard to protect online services from hackers. Hopefully, Nandan Nilekani had done a thorough job on the security of the Aadhar services, too. I feel that India is very well positioned to enable digital identity verification and digital payments with services like Aadhar based validation and UPI payments. We have the potential to leap frog some developing / developed nations in digital payments / customer identity validation.

COVID-19 Vaccination Experience in Chennai

Booking a vaccination slot in India through the CoWIN portal was similar to booking a H1B Visa appointment in US Consulate (not sure if that...