Grandma's Tales

September 30, 2006

Are you an efficient buyer? 2

Filed under: Consumer caution — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:40 am

It’s 7 am Saturday, and we’ve had the first telemarketing call. We know there are two more girls in the same office so we can brace ourselves for two more calls. Answering telemarketers is life’s latest challenge. If someone were to compile telemarketing conversations, it sure would make for interesting reading.

Conversation # 1
Caller: Sir, we offer loans in various categories. Would you like to avail of them?
Callee: Yeah, why not? Since I don’t have to pay them back.
Caller: What!
Callee: I didn’t ask for the loan. You are offering it to me, yes? I shall accept it with thanks.
Caller: No, thanks.
Conversation # 2
Caller: Sir, we can give you an excellent loan on your car.
Callee: What do you know about my car?
Caller: What we need to know sir. All you have to do is hand in the papers and take the money. It’s that easy!
Callee: Yeah, sure, I’ll remember that when I buy the new car. Now that you say my car is in good condition, I shall gift it to my nephew. Do you want his number?

It is the retirees (men, women don’t retire) that get an onslaught of these calls. I suspect they don’t really mind. It’s timepass during long afternoons and the calling voices are always female, always young.

This Saturday call is welcome. It is from Subhiksha, a chain store, which built its edifice on discount sales. Towards the beginning of the month, Subhiksha’s call centre at Pallavaram calls you with a polite, “Can we send you the medicines, sir?” (Two more girls from the same office call too, but that simply shows poor intra-office communication. Or a tele-competition to get customers). The list is taken, someone cross-checks it for name and spelling and keys it into a network. Within 24 hours, the medicines are at your door from one of Subhiksha’s outlets spread across the city. The packet comes with a 10% discount. And I buy medicines worth Rs. 1000 a month.

Buying medicines cannot be more convenient for an elderly person who needs regular medication.

Subhiksha will do well to extend this service a bit. It can ask its centre to make regular calls reminding its customers to take their daily doses. My husband says he wouldn’t mind that at all, even if the call wakes him up in the morning.

“Good morning, sir. This is Subhiksha. Did you take your sleeping pill last night?”


September 28, 2006

Grammar 2 – Up, up and away!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:18 pm

Amit Agarwal, I hear, gets paid for spotting errors. I am too, with two major differences.  My area of operation is different. What I get as fee is probably what Amit spends on making calls on a day.

Correcting English papers (from grade II to PhD) for more than a quarter century has not been without its  compensation. Some of those papers were written in a language that could only be called “creative”. Some were simply brilliant. What I have got from reading them is this: I have become skilled in finding mistakes (a tendency I need to keep in check as a mother-in-law).

I am “looking” for errors only in students’ papers.  The rest of the time, they seem to stare at me. Should I be picking on a couple of innocent mistakes while what is being said is original and relevant? That is the whole point. Sometimes errors mess up what the author means. As an author, you want to reach your thoughts to your readers, right?

Take the expression “double up” that is doing the rounds now.  As I said in Grammar 1,   someone comes up with an expression and others pick it up effortlessly. We are a trusting lot. We think, “Hey, that’s what I read in the paper yesterday, and that’s what I understood it to mean”, and the next time we write, hey presto, the phrase has found its way into our sentence.

Now, “double up” means “to bend suddenly, as in pain or laughter”. He doubled up in pain and fell to the ground.  So, what is it doing in this sentence? Politicians in the state double up as garba organisers. (TOI, 24 September). The sentence should be written without the pesky, two-lettered upstart “up”. Politicians in the state double up as garba organisers. Politicians double, triple and quadruple, have as many avatars as there are garba nights, but one rarely sees them “doubling up” in pain or shame. Of course, they might be doubling up in laughter, but that is in private.

“To double” means, among other things, “to be two things at the same time”. So a knife doubles as a butter spreader. You are a programmer who doubles as a stock broker; she is a teacher who doubles as a tourist guide. He is a mobile phone user who doubles as a social moron… you get the drift.

We make a similar mistake with “cope”. For some reason, everyone now adds the u-word to it. “I have learnt to cope up”, people sigh in speech and writing.  “Cope” means “to manage, sometimes with success”. Most of you are coping with a full-time job and raising hyper-active kids, aren’t you?

Learn to cope with this fact: “cope up” simply does not exist. Unless we are going in for some form of Indlish.

Grammar 1 – Don’t tell me!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 12:29 am

Basab Pradhan, in his blog on Business English wonders why people answer a phone call with this new expression “Tell me”. He wrote:

“Tell me is a literal translation of Bolo in Hindi or something equivalent in other Indian languages. This is a uniquely Indian phrase. Good English would require Tell me to have an object at the end of it. Like Tell me why or Tell me something.”
Here is my take on this.
Grammatically, “Tell me” is on a sound base.

Verbs take on an object in a particular context so that their intended meaning becomes clear. Ex: I bought. The obvious question here is, “bought what”? The sentence is incomplete. To complete it, the writer adds an object, say, “a book”.
So it is the verb, the basic verb (give, buy, sing, see) that takes on an object.
How do you know whether the verb has an object or not? Pick the verb and ask: what or whom. “What” is for inanimate objects and “whom” is for animate objects.
Ex: I bought the baby a doll.
“a doll” answers “what” and is known as direct object.
“the baby” answers “whom” and is known as indirect object.

“Tell” is the verb and “me” (whom?) is the object.

“Tell me” here is short for, “Tell me what you want”. So “what you want” is the second object Basab is looking for.
“Tell me” is informal and is used in speech. Look at this example.
A: Sir, please tell me what went wrong.
B: No, YOU tell me! (that’s correct, isn’t it?)
The phrase “Tell me” is the flavour of the season. Earlier it used to be “work out” in various combinations. “Let’s work it out”, “It’s not working out”, “It won’t work out”, “Let’s work out something”.

Another example is “Enjoy!” This again is used in speech. In writing it has to be “enjoy yourself”, “he enjoyed himself”, “enjoy this”, etc.
Someone imports a phrase and begins using it and it catches like wildfire.
Yes, the phrase “tell me” is unique. In our frenetic pace of work, we have learned to come to the point. We no longer start the conversation with the polite, leisurely, “How are you?” (I hear the Japanese and the Chinese do this too.) This amounts to a cultural shift. Also, if you are working on a project and are consulting someone constantly on your mobile, saying “How are you” every time sounds silly.
The complete sentence here is, “Tell me what you want”. The last three words sound rude to us. We still can’t bring ourselves to utter them. So as politely as the pitch of our voice will allow us, we say, “Tell me”.

Now try this: “What do you want? TELL ME!”

September 26, 2006

Gassing about

Filed under: Uncategorized — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:16 pm

Six months ago, my car went hybrid. It’s a Zen and took the second identity stoically. (Zen and the art of gas conversion?)

I had to do something about car fuel going up the express elevator. I talked to the guy at Lovato. With true gift of the gas he convinced me into thinking air in half an hour flat. “40% saving!” he said grandly after squiggling an A4 size full of diagrams. I fell for it. Not for the A4 size, the idea of going hybrid.

Let’s look at the economics. Within city limits, where you use the B and C more than the A, a litre of petrol might be worth 10 kms. If the price on that litre is Rs. 54/-, a km puts you back by 5 rupees 40 paise.

Gas on the other hand gives you only 8 kms per litre. But wait, the cost is approx. 28 rupees (how do I pay the 18 paise if I buy one litre?) which per km is Rs. 3.50. Is that 40%? Check on the calculator. I did.

Depending on the kms you cover per month, you will break even soon. That is, you recover the cost of the Rs. 20,000 you paid for the special cylinder made in Hyderabad and the regulator made in Italy.

Two factors govern this fuel economy for the consumer. In the six months since I loaded the gas cylinder on the car, petrol prices have gone up. And the gas price has gone up by 4 bucks. Is that to maintain the 40% saving at a constant level? The second is the number of kms you cover.

In case you are itching to ask, no, I don’t have a starting problem. I mean, I do, the car doesn’t. There is no hassle in switching from gas to petrol, petrol to gas.

What would make it really viable is easy availability of this cheaper fuel. I managed to find gas at the Royapettah outlet, which is 8 kms away from home. If I made the trip and came back empty-cylindered, I would have spent money on petrol. For nothing.

An auto driver told me he never gets it at the LIC outlet. At Guindy, my success rate is 75%.

If anyone is serious about promoting natural gas, the first thing they should do is open more outlets and make gas available everywhere.

(Natural gas is clean burning and produces significantly fewer harmful emissions than reformulated gasoline or diesel when used in natural gas vehicles. Are you on the green brigade?)

September 25, 2006


Filed under: Uncategorized — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 7:06 am

September 21 is World Park(ing) Day! Hey, is there a day left as normal, ‘no particular reason’ day? The calendar is getting crowded!

Parking Day has a twist to it, as you can see. REBAR (in lower case it’s a steel, a night club), a creative collective operates in San Francisco. It transformed a metered parking lot into a temporary park (it was there till the meter ran out!). Their argument? Far too much of city space is gobbled up by lifeless wheels. It’s time we reclaimed it for people. Wow!

Look at the photograph at

Rebar threw the idea to the creative minds in ‘Frisco. Go to the areas that need open spaces, they said. And turn parking spots into Park(ing) spaces. Improve the quality of human habitat. Let’s see who creates the most innovative Park(ing) space.

Rebar asked for volunteers to help them in a series of Park(ing) installations throughout the city.

Will something like this work in Chennai? Naah…

That’s because Chennai has few specified parking areas and fewer rules on parking. The city is run on the anywhere parking theory. All lanes and by-lanes have two and four wheelers on both sides of the road. Shops in street corners have vehicles parked at the turning to resemble the rays of the sun. Busy roads have cars parked haphazardly. I’ve seen cars parked to block your left turning view completely. And where are tourist taxis and private buses parked?

All we need to do is to learn to park neatly. We always have more space when we fold and arrange clothes neatly in the cupboard, don’t we?

How good are you as a parker?

September 24, 2006

Matter of the heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:16 am

Today is “World Heart Day”. Apollo Hospital came out with yet another campaign. They are now joined by several other Chennai hospitals. Apollo officials appeared at crack of dawn on Elliot’s beach and distributed a brochure and the latest edition of their in-house magazine to the walkers. (Those sleeping at home needed the gyan more?) Both books have loads of info on heart matters. Their bag also contained a healthy-looking green apple (from China?) that had a heart-shaped sticker with the words “Heart loves fresh fruits”.

Some tips from the handbook:

  • Your heart beats some 100,000 times a day. For whom, they don’t say.
  • Stress, diabetes, Cholesterol, BP and obesity are risk factors you can change. Age, gender and family history are risk factors you can’t change. There is no small and big risk.
  • Smoking is a big no-no. Heart disease is highest among Indians. Of those affected 50% are below 45 years old. Scary!
  • Detected early, heart disease is manageable. Go get yourself a thorough check up. Now!
  • Have a regular exercise regimen. Eat sensibly and at proper times. Find ways to de-stress. Change a stressful situation. Spouse nags? Try this. “Let’s go to the temple / get ourselves ice-cream, dear”, etc.
  • If you dig yoga, asanas for the heart are Tadasana, Vajrasana, Shalabasana, Sarwangasana.

My fav de-stress tip: play with kids. There is no substitute to this.

Husband I sat down for a game of cards with grandkids. After a couple of rounds, the 4-year old who acts 14 noticed grandpa had collected a lot of chips. She looked at him sweetly, smiled and said, “Grandpa, why don’t you and I become a team?”

See what I mean?

Here is a line from my favourite cartoonist Randy Glasbergen:

Doctor to obese patient: “What fits your busy schedule better, exercising one hour a day or being dead 24 hours?”

Do take care.

September 23, 2006

Are you an efficient buyer?

Filed under: Consumer caution — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:36 pm

The major advantage in shopping at a department store is that you get to pick what you want to pay for. You walk into the aisle that stacks your stuff, pry it off the shelf and drop it in the basket. Ha, but when you do that you lose the advantage.

The next time, check the “best by” date. Department stores invariably place the older ones (with the least number of days / hours before expiry) in the front of the deep, horizontal row. A consumer activist confirmed it is standard practice. For instance, the shampoo I singled out yesterday was manufactured in March 2005. This is printed on its standing space. “Best before” date is 3 years from the manufacturing date. Which means a year and a half of its shelf life is gone. Do we need to buy fresh shampoo? Yes. Shampoos, talcums, foundations and gels go down in quality if kept long. So do flashlight cells.

Now think about the bread, milk, paneer (cottage cheese), prepared idli batter and chappatti that you pull out in a hurry. The next time, before you do that, pause. Push aside the first and the second, and get to the packets behind. Make a long arm and take out the fresh ones. Check the manufacturing date and the “best before” date. Shouldn’t you be choosing the loaf of bread baked today? Paneer that was pressed today? If the dates are not printed, don’t touch them. They are harmful. And illegal.

At one outlet, I asked the assistant if the bread had been delivered for the day. She pointed to a bin full of loaves. They were kept away from the aisles. She was going to stack them before the shop closed for the night.

September 22, 2006

Virtually Yours

Filed under: Uncategorized — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:47 pm


Hi everyone,

I’m joining the blogforce today. As I step in, I am reminded of the first time I entered a classroom as a student-teacher working toward a B Ed. degree. That was years ago in a Mumbai school. The Professor who was supervising the lesson sat at the rear. I looked at him for some form of assurance, even an inane remark like, “You can start now”. He kept staring intently at the blank performance review sheet in front of him. But my nervousness lasted just a minute or two. I had a lot to say and there was so little time! Here was a “captive” audience and I loved the sound of my voice! My degree came with a gold medal and my teaching career continues today.

I may not hear my voice here, but I still have a lot to say. Let me start with a blog of thanks. Thank you Basab Pradhan, for tempting me into this mid-night world. Your words, “You shouldn’t just be covering the Blogcamp (Chennai), you should be blogging!” still ring in my ears. Thank you guys at the camp for insisting that I start a grammar blog. I would have given you grammar lessons anywhere, on e-mail, at a hotel lobby, in the street, but I see your point. Geography demands I do it on these posts. And thank you, Rajesh Kumar, a very big one this time, for setting this up. Yours is a rare kind of help – doing what is needed without embarrassing the person you help.

Hope we have a good time!


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