Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Who are you trying to fool?..........

Who are you trying to fool?...........

I had to take the early morning bus from Chennai to Vellore last Saturday. So the cab was taking me at 4.30 am from home to the bus station.

The driver was muttering that I could have driven to Vellore rather than take the bus. I patiently explained that I could not get one of my two safe and favorite long distance drivers and hence the bus journey.

Lo behold, we saw a government bus which had taken off from the bus station  rolling away from Chennai. My cabby raced and pulled up in front, stopping the bus for me. I hopped in wondering how it was going to be travelling unreserved after a long time.

Surprisingly only a few passengers in the bus. Nice reclining seats and it was cool. I looked at the conductor for the ticket, but he generally ignored me; so I trotted off and took the seat in the third row.

In front of me sat a well dressed lady in thirties with a little girl and a big tall boy. The boy was older and sat on the left side of the bus and the lady with the daughter on the right side.

After a while the conductor came along and despite the noise I heard him laugh when the lady said something to him… I thought  what a friendly guy!  After a while of some casual conversation, he asked the boy to go and stand against the markings on the door. And then it hit me that the boy was being measured for height. He was too tall.

The lady had then to shell out the adult charges for the boy. Conductor then came to me in the next row to give me my ticket. When he went back to his seat, the boy winked at his mother and shrugged his shoulders ; both had a good laugh.

It was obvious to me that the mother for a few rupees, had tried to fool the conductor.

What sort of an example was she setting for her children? She was obviously a middle class lady who easily could have afforded the normal rates for her brood. What sort of adults will they be when they grow up? Do not parents realize that children are like sponges absorbing the good and the bad from parents all the time?

I still remember what an LKG teacher told us in UK when Pravin started school; the child learns at home and comes to play in school. There is a lot of truth in that statement. We talk about corruption, bribery and wonder what makes us crooked- well obviously bad upbringing is certainly one mighty good reason!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Visit to Passport Office- A Novel Experience

 Passport Office, Coimbatore, PDG Kuriachan                                       Clean corridors in Section 2

Abundant Waiting space for public in Section 3   &; Transparent cublicles of Senior Passport Officers                          

A visit to the Passport Office - A Novel Experience

"Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation and a pinch of creativity"

I had to go to Sri Lanka for a meeting as speaker next week. So I happened to glance at my passport and had a shock. It expired in another one week after my travel date; any foreign travel requires 6 months validated passport.

So naturally takkal passport reissue was the choice. I went on line and applied for one on a Saturday not really hoping to get a reply soon. Back came the response saying appointment was at 1030 hours on the next Monday less than 48 hours away!

I rang up my friend and the youngest Rotary Governor Kuriachan. He was very helpful and rang up   some folks and said that I would get everything sorted out the same day. I have had several passport experiences in the past- crowded corridors, long noisy queues with no really directions posted on the passport offices. … lots of touts. And officers who never look at you more than once except to make sure that the picture in the photo is really you!

So not expecting much, I showed up on time with all the necessary documents at the passport office near the airport in Coimbatore prepared for a long day. The difference was striking. The building was classy and the security at the gate was smart and demanded to see my appointment slip. I walked through and the first thing that hit me was the entire complex was air conditioned. No sweaty crowds. People standing in orderly queues while young men and women -  uniformed  and polite explaining patiently and in low tones what the forms needed were and how to fill them up.

The chairs were clean and orderly; not one speck of dust anywhere. The whole complex was partitioned into three different areas with a door opened by electronic lock . Everyone was identified by a token with a number, I was asked politely to go the next section for the document verification. There were many usherers who politely guided the customers to sit down in comfort and fill up the forms; were helpful when there were queries by the innocent public. This section had fully furnished seating arrangements with abundant space. One could wait anywhere in the lounge like in the airport and see on the monitors the status of your token and which counter you are expected to go next.

There was a nice Xerox printer for photocopies where the lady insisted on paying back my one rupee out of the five rupees for four copies to be made. When I  met at the counter for verification, a  young woman conducted the actual interview..... there was plenty of politeness, clarity in conversation and no waste of time. She verified all the relevant details of passport, cross checked with my records, typed them on her computer form which she read out to me on the computer console. She again showed me how it would look on the passport by spelling out all the names every time. She took a digital picture, took finger prints and uploaded everything to the server .... all in record time without hurrying me!

By then my curiosity was aroused. I had to know how the change had come about. The passport office had undergone so much transformation in the past three years since my last visit elsewhere. How was this possible? The usherer informed me that the passport officer was walking closeby. I met him briefly and told him how proud he should be of his office.

He surprised me in stating that the office was run by only six government officers who were at the very last control of the passport. Outsourcing had been done to Tata Consultancy Service (TCS) . TCS had provided the building and nearly 40 young men and women who were so orderly , patient, polite and methodical with all the public. Yes, he was proud of his office; and he  invited me to a cup of coffee  which incidentally costs only Rs 5 per cup served in a clean cup and saucer to all officers and public alike.Mr Kumar also told me that passport unlike driving license and pan card is a document of the government which it allows you to have!

The last stop with the passport government officials was in two sections with the officers sitting at right angles . There interview were very transparent and quick. The last verification was by two senior passport officers  who said that I would receive the passport by courier within 24-48 hours. As I was exiting , much to my surprise a feed back form was given asking me and everyone else to rank each service. I waited for a while watching others;almost everyone ticked all columns uniformly as excellent. Such was the satisfaction!When I had come home, I received an sms stating my new passport number and the tracking number for the speed post... so much efficiency despite so many thousands of passports every week!

I could not believe how the changes for achieving the excellence had come just over the three years since my last visit. The mind set of everyone here, be it government officials or TCS officials was just to make the experience in the passport office for everyone a pleasant and rapid experience. There was so much politeness, purity, plenty of curtsey… it was unlike any other government office I had ever encountered.

I am not going to ask why all the offices not change like this..….. I just know that this change was very welcome and the change was achieved from within the department. I believe that most government offices would see this as an example to follow and change for the better. As for the youth- the TCS officials…..each knew what he or she had to do, and did it well. There is so much hope for India and the youth!

That night I had to take a flight out of Coimbatore and a fleet of politicians were sitting in front of me in the fuselage. They were showing each other their individual visiting cards printed with a huge picture of their esteemed leader. One of them was using the mobile phone as the aircraft was taking off; the others noted  this and seemed not to care……. Such was the anticlimax!

So as I mused on how there is hope for a bright future on the private sector and the government sector, the politicians who rule us need to change as well. I believe in the common good , but the incident during the flight did not mar the happiness and the pride I took in visiting my passport office and my brief interview with the passport officer Mr Kumar.

The sky is the limit for some people.... if you aim higher, nothing is impossible!  I can see it in my passport!