Saturday, January 19, 2013

Online Shopping Scams and some tips!

I have often been let down by internet scams that have promised incredible amounts of saving. I've had to chase online retailers for deliveries, returns and wrong items delivered. I learnt from my mistakes and have finally put down a list of 'things I need to check before putting in my credit card details online'

1. Security :
A quick glance on the address bar before checking out of a website can tell you .....about the website. Check if the http:// on the payment page has changed to an 'HTTPS', the 's' here denotes security. Give your credit card details only after the 's' check. Read more about it here.

2. Delivery:
I like websites where you can choose the delivery timing. In my experience, I have found that websites that offer delivery in 4-6 weeks are the most difficult to deal with in case of any issues. Look for websites that offer you to choose a window for delivery as per your convenience. So, if you work on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, the delivery can be scheduled between 11am and 2 pm on a Saturday. This gives you the flexibility to plan your day better and now worry about the much awaited 'dress' getting stuck with the courier company.

3. Returns and Refunds: Returns in case of online shopping may not be straightforward at all. Read the policy carefully. In my experience nine out of ten times, the online retailer will expect you to pay for the return in case of a change in size, color etc. This can turn out to be a costly affair and you may end up loosing money. I always prefer buying from e-tailers who send postage paid return envelops/ stickers with the delivery. I hate ozsale for this!

4. Beware of the Scams: I have very often come across posts on Facebook that promise Apple IPADs or UGG shoes in return for a 'like' or a 'comment'. Cross your heart to stay away from these. The website in most cases will be fake and you may even unknowingly lead them to start virus attack on your computer. Its a cliche but no harm in repeating - If its too good to be true, it probably is!

5. Shipping costs: I have come across scams online where the shopper can easily get mugged by the shipping costs. These days a lot of flash sale websites need you to empty the cart before you can shop further. Picture this - You pick a T-shirt with a shipping cost of $9.95, and proceed to buy a pair of jeans, the website will prompt you to first checkout and pay for the t-shirt before you can buy the jeans. So you end up paying $9.95 + $9.95 for a jeans and a t-shirt. Remember that the shipping costs are dependent on the weight and not the quantity!

6. Coupons expiry: Coupon websites are another amazing way to save money both online and in-store. Most coupon deal websites will have a printable coupon along with email options. Make sure that you check the expiry date of the coupon. A notable coupon website,  Promocode4share goes a step ahead and even gives you a list of 'unreliable' coupons. Also check if there is an option to report an invalid coupon and leave a review.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rann Utsav and the White Rann of Kutch

(Read and see more photos here and here)
(More on Lippan work and Mud wall art of Kutch here)

I have been living in a 'let's go back to Ahmedabad' mode ever since we came back home from R's convocation. So last week when we packed our bags and were headed to Bangalore, I couldn't help but notice that the Delhi airport metro has been plastered with Gujarat Tourism advertisements. A regal Amitabh Bachchan in the middle of the pristine White Rann of Kutch on a full moon night. And yet again I slipped into the year of which only memories remain and one such being our trip to the Great White Rann of Kutch. I remember having read K.N Daruwalla's "Love Across the Salt Desert" over and over again as a part of the curriculum while in school and the White Rann has been on my bucket-list ever since. The year was drawing to a close and before the grueling placement season set in for the students, we decided to spend our few days at the Rann Utsav. A few phone calls to Akshar Travels and the three girls were set to experience and revel in 'Khushboo Gujarat ki'.

A part of the Great Rann of Kutch or simply the Kutch Desert is the White Rann of Kutch. It is 16,000 sq kms of saline wetland which floods up during the monsoon. The water starts drying up around the month of October leaving behind white crystals of salt. The phenomenon is one of the most beautiful works of nature that I have witnessed, snow white land with nothing else except the setting sun. Much to the dismay of a few cousins, I have been quite dismissive about romanticizing the sunset. My general stance has been that the sun sets every day and I find nothing extraordinary about that, but this was definitely a sunset worth a thousand words. 

Every year, beginning from the first full moon night in December, Gujarat Tourism organizes a Rann Utsav in Dhordo, the very last village in the Great Rann of Kutch. A sprawling tent city is set up with the best of amenities, tourists, mostly Gujaratis, flock to experience a bit of their culture and heritage. The 2 nights 3 days package for the Utsav is packed with a plethora of activities, planned and executed better than most government based tourism bodies. The camp is set up 5 kms away from the beautiful White Rann. The festival organizers have facilitated for buses that haul tourists to and from the White Rann for the sunrise and sunset everyday of their stay.

After a back-breaking overnight bus ride to Bhuj and frantically looking for the Gujarat tourism office at 5am, we were handed over our tent tickets, meal coupons and directed to another bus that would take us to the camp site for our two nights and three days extravaganza. Our itinerary looked quite packed with visits to the kutchhi villages, cultural programs, and an option between visiting the Indo-Pak border or the Mandvi beach all included in our holiday package. The tent city was beautifully painted with rangolis on its makeshift walls. Our tent was yellow, comfy and cozy. A huge tent had been erected to work as a dining hall that served great pure vegetarian gujarati food and drums of cold spiced chaach. 

Our first trip was a visit to the neighboring villages of Sharm -e - Sahad and Hodko where the ladies had neatly laid out their handcrafted colorful wares for sale. The round mud houses called Bhungas were intricately decorated with small mirrors and little girls in their traditional outfits ran around posing for the photographers. We spent the afternoon talking, exploring and soaking up the colors of these tiny kutchi villages and their intricate crafts. We spent the evening mooning over the setting sun in the White Rann and came back to find a lit up tent city and a cultural program in progress. A day well spent!

Between a visit to the Mandvi beach and the Indo-Pak border, our definitive choice was to visit the border. We were again put into a bus ride that lasted almost five hours into the heart of the desert with a lunch at the last Border Security checkpost. The dry arid hot land and nothing in sight filled me in with a new found respect for the BSF jawaans who spend hours guarding the national boundary. The bus ride was definitely worth it, the tourism authorities have permission from the army for daily visits for the Rann Utsav tourists into an area which is otherwise not open for civilians. This was my first experience at the national fence demarcating the Indo- Pak border in the middle of the Great Desert. Interestingly, the desert falls only into the Indian territory and the other side is green vegetation, the BSF was very friendly and showed us around with detailed inputs and enthusiastically answered our many questions. Cellphones and cameras are not allowed so the picture remains in my memory. 

The organizers facilitate the trip back to Bhuj on the third day with a visit to the Kala Dungar on the way. Kala Dungar or Black hills are supposed to be the highest point in Kutch. Once in Bhuj, we took a de-tour to the Mandvi beach to spend the afternoon before catching an evening bus back to Ahmedabad. 

The trip was jam packed with visits and bus rides that made up the 2d/3n tour, but was well worth it. The State tourism has put in efforts to make this event a successful one and promote tourism in the state. I can safely assume that they have managed to grab the attention with the many NRGs on our trip - NRG short for Non Resident Gujaratis which we learnt on the trip. The campsite is well managed and run by the authorities and small details have been taken care of like hot water in the attached bathrooms and a small cyber cafe on the premises. 

Gujarat has some delightful flavors and colors to offer. The state has been ranked as the third best unsung tourist destination of the world by Lonely Planet and they are not wrong!

Some pictures below and see more here.

We were at Dhorado, the edge of the Great Rann of Kutch. Also went up to the Vigha border for a real Indo-Pak border experience.

One of the tent clusters in the Tent city

Our yellow tent
The Great White Rann

Sunset at the White Rann

Inside a Bhunga mud house

Adorable Kutchii girls

Mud and mirror work on the walls

Our little souvenir from the colorful villages

At work with beads, thread and mirrors

At Sharm -e- Shaad
See more pictures here


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Vibrant Ahmedabad!

R officially finishes his MBA day after and its now almost time to pay the pending bills, close the accounts with our various domestic helps on campus and move on into another chapter. As R and I drove into the New campus last night after a movie and dinner, I was reminded of the immense amount of joy that I had experienced driving into the IIM A for the very first time in April last year. Through the ups and downs of the life on campus, R managed to survive the grueling pressure test that he was put into. So proud of him!

For me Ahmedabad is my 'City of Joy'. I am overwhelmed by the kind of effort that the people of Ahmedabad put into celebrating and enjoying their festivals, culture and their life in general. Just one night of Garbha and dandiya was enough celebration for me but for them, it almost bordered fanaticism. They were dressed up and danced every night for nine consecutive nights with the same fervor and energy. Its a feat not everyone can achieve. The dancing goes on into the wee hours of the night, even early morning, all without the help of inebriating liquids. The crowd at the various clubs in the city can give the Shakiras and Spears a run for their money. I was amazed at the energy in the jam packed clubs. Strangers like me, especially with two left feet were quickly pulled into a huge dancing circle formed around a Ganesh statue and coached with the garba steps that the crowd was performing. The co-ordination amongst the 'circle' was a delight to watch.

The Uttarayan kite flying festival was another spectacle that just engulfed my attention. The streets were patched with makeshift stalls selling colorful kites in unimaginable shapes and colors. The vibrancy of these paper kites hypnotized even the non-flyers like us to walk up on the terrace and spend hours listening to the calls of 'kai po che'. In the evening, the sky looked brighter than usual witha lot more stars much closer to us. When I noticed carefully, these were small hot air balloons being sent up in the sky! Absolutely marvelous!

Every year for the past three years, a small village in Kutch called Dhordo holds a Desert festival called the Rann Utsav. Three of us managed to plan an all girls trip into the heart of Gujarat and came back with an unforgetable experience. The surreal White Rann of Kutch remined me of the short story "Love across the Salt Desert" that I have read and cried over may times. The event is well planned and executed by the Gujarat tourism and reflects their enthusiasm and involement to promote tourism in Gujarat. The Rann Utsav deserves a whole blogpost and hopefully I will be able to write about it soon.

I knew that my stay in Ahmedabad would be incomplete without a visit to the Calico Textile Museum. A museum of age old textile pieces collected and preserved with utmost care by the Sarabhai Foundation. Some of these are almost 300 years old. The museum restricts entry to 20 people per day and bookings have to be made in advance. There is a fixed time of entry everyday and a well informed english speaking guide conducts the tour. I am glad that I finally made it, the trip was definitely worth my morning.

For the love of their food and liberization that the state provides its women folks, most restaurants are usally always crowed especially during the weekends. I have heard it many times over during the past year that just like all other businesses that take weekly holidays, Gujarati housewifes take off from their kitchens on weekends. This explained the never ending waiting line outside any restaurant and the funny fact that most of these places don't take reservations on phone! And ofcourse why most of these places have great food! I am yet to pinpoint a restaurant in Ahmedabad that serves really bad food.

The city is engulfed in a cocoon of vibrant culture that I in my so many years have not witnessed anywhere. I am happy to take a part of this vibrancy with me and hope to be back soon to witness it first hand yet again!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Xmas fun!

Its seems like light years since I last celebrated Christmas. So when the idea of organizing a funfair for the little ones on Christmas was floated around, I was all set to jump in and relive the school days of running behind a Santa - this time it was slightly different, I just watched Santa being chased around the lawns. We decided to put up a face painting and tattoo stall and it turned out to be a big hit. Others had great ideas too - popcorn, corn canapes, sandwiches, samosas and lots of games! The afternoon turned out to be a warm pleasant fun -filled one.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Nostalgia hit again! Today was the last day of my penultimate semester at Raffles Millennium and I couldn't help but feel Senti. In no time I would move on from one of the best workplaces till date and just the thought of it left me wondering if I should shed a tear or so. It's crazy. Then, the other day I was reading Sammy's blog where she neatly outlined the "signs of growing up", I guess my over-the -top Nostalgia of things related and unrelated is a sure shot sign of an upcoming "turning 30" crisis that needs to be fixed.... pronto!

Monday, December 12, 2011

My "Unreal" World!

I often look back at the year that is now swiftly slipping away. The Home Run - R's final semester at IIM A begins today. In just another 3 months this sanctified campus that I live in will be a talk of the past. Sometimes I wish I could hold onto this time I happily spent doing hardly anything in what I call an  “unreal” world of mine.
Yes, it’s unreal – it’s unreal because of the small pleasures of living a different experience that I will miss once I step out of my small secure surroundings.

On a particular day in November 2010, I sat through what I remember as the longest cab ride home from work. R recieved his much awaited admit into IIM A and I couldn't wait to see him. That November I spent thinking about how important this one year in Ahmedabad would be for me and for R. I was excited and anxious, I was uncertain.

The results for the next year have been declared and soon these courtyards will be full of another set of little ones and their contagious laughter. Last year around the same time R and I were in an ecstatic phase of life. We would spend our evenings after work feverishly planning our move to Ahmedabad. R’s inbox would be flooded with emails from his prospective classmates, now buddies and I would fight to read every one of those mails. Meetings, lunches and dinners were planned, a Google group for spouses was formed. At that time April seemed a whole 4 months away, and it felt almost like a decade.

We're now almost at the tail end of the crazy one year at IIM Ahmedabad and the reverse counting to March 9 has now begun in most households. At this point, I wish there was a pause button that I could press and hold on to the little joys of living in a closed community like this one. At times I find myself debating animatedly with my NRI friends about how the life on campus is "unreal".

Why "unreal"?

 - Because in the "real" life R and I usually spend most of our weekends endlessly seeking, fighting, chasing and then haggling with plumbing guys, electricians, and mechanics. In the "unreal" world they are a phone call away and I don't pay them. 

Unreal? Yes!

- Because in the "real" life that I spent in Noida, I lived with hours and hours of electricity cuts and water shortages. Power cuts don't happen in the "unreal" world and if they do, we receive an email about the date, time and apologies for the inconvenience! 

Unreal? Yes - I moved from the land of Power cuts. 

- Because in the fast paced "real" life I had been so preoccupied that I hardly knew my neighbor, leave alone the pot-luck dinners that we enjoy in our unreal world. One year is a really short time, by the time you start enjoying weekend dinners and poker nights, its time to move on. 

- Because there are days altogether when R & I don't even step out of the campus. Almost everything is a call away.The KLMDC Cafe and its range of not extraordinary but palatable dishes usually makes up for a dinner out - atleast technically.

- Because I live in a city that I have grown incredibly fond of within this short span of time. Ahmedabad that has recently been rated as one of the best cities truly lives up to its A+ grade. 

Although I do miss my relatively larger TV, fridge, and house -  but then, what the heck, I would give anything to live this one year all over again!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!

My red dell 1420, nicknamed Della became a wreck after we moved to Ahmedabad. Della gave up on the IIMA LAN and just couldn’t connect to the WIFI. Della ate up the already restricted storage space in my new house on the IIMA campus for a while until I started to work. Miraculously, sometime later, Della befriended the WIFI and I quit borrowing (read: stealing) R’s laptop for my work.

Last Wednesday, I sat in the Library at Raffles Millennium while my student was busy attempting the Product development test that I had set for her. I then decided to clear out the junk and discovered an unnamed movie folder. The folder brought back memories of a wonderful winter – spring transition of 2008.

I met R in the January of 2008. He wanted to do an MBA, loved ghazals and was a serious movie buff. My thoughts about him being a real and not a ‘wanna be’ movie maniac were confirmed when he brought a 300 GB external hard disk drive with him on one of our dates. He asked me to bring my laptop along and that day I was gifted a folder with over 50 of R’s all time favourite movies. The main folder was neatly divided into ‘seen’ and ‘not seen’ and I was given the ‘seen’ folder so that we could ‘talk about those later.’

Once the download was done, there was a moment of awkward silence. To move the conversation forward, I coyly asked him “which is your favourite?” My question turned out to be a date spent listening to the stories of why and what he liked in the movies he had saved and spent hours downloading. I wondered all through the conversation if I should even mention any of my favourite chick flicks for the fear of sounding immature.  But damn the question – our conversation ended with him asking me to watch his favourite movie – “The Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind.” A movie that by the sound of it had irked me to delete it from the folder at the very first instance was now on my ‘must watch’ list.

With a sheepish smile I promised him I would. Somehow my smile didn’t manage to blow him out this time and I was badgered with the same question for as long as I can remember – “did you watch it?” and my answer forever was “not yet” until I could stand it no more. One Sunday evening I put on my earplugs and sat down to watch and analyse the movie.  I was soon discovered by my roommate sleeping on the laptop while the eternal sunshine quite literally shone upon me. Technically I had watched the movie; atleast played it from the beginning to the end. I sent an sms out to R “loved the movie.” Yes, I loved it – I had never slept so well through a movie. He never replied and we never spoke about it again. I wonder why!

The unnamed movie folder still lay on my laptop unopened for almost three years until now that I decided to make use of my idle time here in Ahmedabad. I decided to give R’s favourite movie another try. So this afternoon while R was busy as usual, I gave up my afternnoon nap, put on my earplugs, made myself a super cup of Gujarat’s favourite wagh bakri masala chai and pushed play. I hoped to pull through the movie that as per R was almost like one man’s greatest gift to fellow mankind.

I managed to watch it from the beginning to the very end. I didn’t just watch it, I enjoyed watching it! I enjoyed it so much that I found myself looking up the Alexander Pope poem that Mary (Kirsten Dunst) quoted during the movie.

"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd." 

The movie begins with a background score that I had initially hated during my first attempt at watching it. My toleration levels were higher this time around and I soon discovered a beautifully created storyline. The idea about erasing one’s memory about a loved one, then to realise the intense love and feelings associated with the memory while going through the erasing process and the struggle to hold onto those. Phew! Heavy but definitely worth my afternoon siesta! Can't wait to "talk about it later" with R!