Saturday, January 22, 2011

The beauty of corporate press releases

The Public Relations department in any company is often an "unproductive" unit, and the staff in those units are usually seen with sarcasm. The main work done by PR Department is issue press releases, reply to queries from customers (often the department only forwards the mails to the appropriate department) and design/approve advertisements. As evident, this department has very little job to do, and is often run with skeletal staff.

Here is a clever copy-paste job done by the PR department of a major automobile company in India. This company launched their Intercity coaches a couple of years back, with the tag line "Travel with the Star". This tag line is often cheaply pasted along the length of the company.

This is the press release issued by the company on October 07, 2009 (read the original here)
“We at APSRTC constantly endeavour to provide our customers the best in terms of luxury, comfort, safety & technology. Thus, Mercedes-Benz buses emerged as an obvious choice for us. Now our customers can truly experience unmatched comfort and luxury in their bus travel”; commented Mr. V. Dinesh Reddy, IPS, Vice-Chairman & M.D., Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC).
Now, whats wrong with the statement? Nothing, right? The VC&MD of APSRTC feels that the Merc bus is an "obvious" choice for them, since they endeavour to provide their customers the best in terms of luxury, comfort, safety & technology. Its all fine for now... this press release, issued on June 06, 2010 (Read here):

“We at Parveen Travels constantly endeavour to provide our customers the best in terms of luxury, comfort, safety & technology. Thus, Mercedes-Benz buses emerged as an obvious choice for us. Now our Passengers can truly ‘Travel with the Star’ and experience unmatched comfort and luxury in their long distance travel”; commented Md.A.Afzal.
Oh! Interesting that the MD of Parveen Travels and the MD of APSRTC feel exactly the same about Mercedes buses! If you are shocked, read ahead...

...this press release was issued on September 16, 2010 (Read here):
“We at KSRTC constantly endeavour to provide our customers the best in terms of luxury, comfort, safety & technology. Thus, Mercedes-Benz buses emerged as an obvious choice for us. Now our customers can truly experience unmatched comfort and luxury in their bus travel,” said Mr. Gaurav Gupta, M.D., Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC).
Come on, Mercedes!  Fine, now, read this press release that appeared on January 18, 2011 (Read here):
"We constantly endeavour to provide our commuters with the best in terms of luxury, comfort and safety. Thus Mercedes-Benz buses emerged as an obvious choice for us. Now our customers can truly experience unmatched comfort, safety and luxury in bus travel," Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport General Manager G C Mangle said in a statement.
Its not new that Corporate press releases have standard statements in it, especially the portion that describes the details of the company that issues the release, and in some cases the profile of the customer is also included. But Mercedes has taken it too far - they've put their words into the purchaser's mouth! Shame on you Mercedes! This is not what people expect from a premium brand in India. High time you get a better public relations department!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Traffic... terrific!

A gripping story keeping viewers glue to their seats through for two hours, without leaving time for second thought - not a moment to worry spending money on the movie - this is what would describe the latest Malayalam flick Traffic. The movie, directed by Rajesh Pillai, was written by brothers Bobby and Sanjay. The feature film has Sreenivasan, Rahman, Kunchako Boban, Asif Ali, Anoop Menon, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Sandhya, Roma and Remya Nambeesan playing important roles. All the actors in the movie have an equally important role to play, and all of them have performed to their best. 

The movie revolves around happenings on a single day - September 16. The movie has a few flashbacks to make story telling easier. This movie too revolves around the "play and replay" format, which helps viewers get a better idea of the story. Certain scenes are first shown in a particular angle, and later in different angles, which reveal more twists in the story. The movie has a lot of side tracks, which all culminate in the main story.

The movie is based on a road traffic accident, which is - perhaps - the inspiration for the name. The story begins with a commentary by actor Sreenivasan about road traffic and accidents, and then begins with a small introductions of all the actors in the movie. All roles in the movie is adequately introduced before the movie begins - because there is no time for the viewer to think about the actor's role once the movie starts rolling. The main incident - that forms the nucleus of the story - is a road accident in which Raihan (Vineeth Sreenivasan) and Rajeev (Asif Ali), traveling on a bike, are knocked down by a rashly driven car.

Raihan was on the way to interview Siddharth Sankar (Rahman), who is a movie star. Siddharth Sankar was celebrating a new movie release on the day - similarities between Siddharth and a Malayalam 'super star' stands out aloud in the movie (those who have seen the movie would recognise which actor is being referred to here). Rude and arrogant behaviour is a highlight of the character played by Rahman in this movie. Siddharth is married to Lena (sadly, she doesn't have an onscreen name), who have a daughter (played by Namitha Pramod) - who suffers from a congenital cardiac disorder. 

Following the accident, Raihan slips into coma, and later dies. Raihan's heart is set to be transplanted to Siddharth's daughter, who is admitted to a hospital in a very serious condition. The heart is to be transported from Ernakulam to Palakkad by road - and the target time set is two hours. (Yes! They plan to transport the preserved heart by road in just two hours!!). Constable Sudevan (Sreenivasan), who just rejoined duty after being suspended for accepting a bribe, takes up the responsibility of driving down the vehicle carrying the heart. Sudevan is accompanied by Rajeev (Asif Ali) and Dr. Abel (Kunchakko Boban). 

The story gets gripping after the vehicle starts off from Ernakulam - and covers the first quarter run without a hitch. The vehicle then goes missing - yes, missing! The wireless set in the car is disconnected, and the mobile phones of all the three in the car remains switched off. The story then takes a few side tracks to uncover the mystery of the vehicle's disappearance. (I'd rather not write about the side tracks, else you might lose the fun of the movie). But the side track revolves around Dr. Abel, who discovers that his wife has an extra-marital affair with his close friend. The vehicle later gets back to track, and makes it to Palakkad in time - how this happens is the main part of the story.

The cinematography is excellent, and ensures that every scene is gripping. However, graphics used in the movie goes beyond the limits of "reliability". One scene for example - there is a point where Dr. Abel hits his wife Shwetha (Remya Nambeesan) with his car - she rolls over the bonnet and the windshield and later flies up and falls flat on the road - all the while, there is no damage to the car! Reality is lost in some scenes, but is still packed into a very good package. 

To wind it up, the movie is a 'must-watch' Despite all the 'unbelievable' facts shown, the movie is a brilliant package. The director's (Rajesh Pillai) first movie was a big-time flop, while this movie rewrites all his past, and puts him straight in the league of "sure shot" directors. This movie is explained in an unconventional way - something perhaps unseen earlier in Malayalam cinema. The movie is written by brothers Bobby and Sanjay, who had written the movies Ente Veedu Appontem and Notebook earlier. They have proved their calibre once again. Movies like these will help Malayalam cinema lose their lost pride and attract viewers once again to cinema halls.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The underutilised potential of Inland waterways...

Kerala, true to its name "God's Own Country", is gifted with over 1600 kms of navigable inland waterways across 41 rivers. Kerala is among those states which have realised the potential of inland waterways. The state has a dedicated company to run transportation services across Inland waterways in the state - the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC). This company operates cargo services within the state, while the State Water Transport Department (SWTD) is responsible for passenger ferry services in the state.

The 181-km long National Waterway 3 (from Kottapuram in Thrissur district to Kollam) is one of the premier inland navigation channels in Kerala. The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is planning to extend the West Cost Channel all the way to Hosdurg in Kasaragod District in the North and Kovalam in Trivandrum District in the south, which will make it a 560-km inland channel.

The SWTD is based at Alappuzha, and operates passenger ferry services from its bases in various districts in Kerala, including but not restricted to Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Kollam and Kannur districts. Regular ferry services are operated on some major routes, including Alappuzha-Kottayam, Alappuzha-Changanassery, Alappuzha-Kollam, Ernakulam-Fort Kochi, Ernakulam-Vypeen, etc.

Ernakulam is one city which has a very huge inland navigation potential. The city is surrounded on all sides by navigable waterbodies. In fact, the easiest connection between the city centre (Ernakulam) and parts of the old city (Mattanchery, Fort Kochi, etc) is through inland waterways. The SWTD operates frequent boats from Fort Kochi/Mattancherry/Vypeen/W.Island and Ernakulam Main Boat Jetty. Recently, the SWTD also proposed new boat services from Thevara to Kakkanad, while will help reduce traffic on the roads by a huge margin.

SWTD boats usually carry around 100 passengers, and are generally made of wood or steel. A few fibre-made boats were introduced, but were discontinued on most routes following operational difficulties during adverse conditions. Recently, the department announced plans to add about 15 Steel boats. These boats, being built by Steel Industries Limited Kerala (SILK) Kannur, are being introduced in a phased manner. Few such boats were introduced recently.

I recently made a journey from Ernakulam to Fort Kochi in a boat. There is a boat every 15-25 minutes between the two points. Almost all the trips run packed to capacity - SWTD makes it a point to sell only as many tickets as the seating capacity of the boat is. Overcrowding strictly prohibited and hence during weekends passengers often have to return without being able to get tickets. The ticket fare is Rs. 2.50 (compared to Rs. 9 by road) - and the boat completes the journey in just 15 minutes (compared to 30-45 minutes by road)!!! And in the 15 minutes, the boat takes you on a ride through the shipping channel, giving you an awesome view of Cochin Port and the surrounding tourist places. 

A ride through the channel in a tourist boat costs anywhere between Rs. 100 and Rs. 250, with the ride lasting an hour. The government boat offers you 75% of the sights for just about 1-2.5% the cost! The seats in the government boat is not luxurious by any stretch of imagination - it is just a plain wooden bench. The ride is airy, and entertainment is provided through an FM radio on board! The next time you plan to go to Fort Kochi, make it a point to include a boat ride through Kochi's own waters.

A ride through Alappuzha's backwaters is a must for any tourist coming to Kerala - paddy fields stretching across the horizon, backwater canals, and other breathtaking sights will leave a lasting impression on one's mind. The Alappuzha-Kollam route - a distance of about 81 kms - is operated using a specially modified tourist boat. The Rs. 300, 8 hour ride, promises a lot of interesting sights to tourists. Alappuzha is the location to be, if you are interested in backwater boat rides.

At the inauguration of the Kollam-Alappuzha boat service, the minister for transport rued, "We utilise only 20% of our inland navigation potential" - a sad truth! A well developed boating system will help reduce congestion on Kochi's roads by a huge percentage. The government should go behind the Urban Ministry to get funds to purchase boats under the JNNURM scheme for Kochi. Currently, the SWTD base at Kochi operates to Fort Kochi, Mattanchery, W.Island, Vypeen, Bolghatty and Mulavukad. The department agrees that they still have unexplored areas around the city - its high time the government opens up to potential of waterways. They are an economical and eco-friendly way of mass transportation.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Cheated! Quite Literally!

Back in October 2010, I had to visit Kottarakkara for some family reasons. It was a day's job and we (I and my dad) decided to leave early in the morning and be back by night. We ruled out driving down to the place due to the horrible state of roads, and taking the bus was a natural choice. Both of us enjoy traveling in the bus, and ruling out the train was a no-brainer. Accordingly, we decided to take the morning Volvo (7 AM) from Ernakulam to Kollam, and then take a local bus to Kottarakkara.

Both of us headed out from home around 5 in the morning on our car on October 3, 2010 - our plan was to leave our car at the railway station (Thankfully, KSRTC does not have parking lots at bus stations) and then take a rick to the bus station. We reached the bus station by around 6.30. I kept wandering around the bus station, while waiting for our bus to turn up. Around 6.50, I decided to enquire about when would be bus be brought. I was shocked at the reply - the bus has been cancelled! By now it was 6.55, and the station master made no announcements about the cancellation! No alternate bus was provided as well!

Finally, an announcement was blurted out around 7 am that the bus has been cancelled. With the announcement being made, all buses headed towards Trivandrum experienced heavy crowd. Left with no other options, we decided to try out a normal bus. A TNSETC bus was heading to Thirunelveli via Kollam - we decided not to take that bus since they take very long time. We got into a Trivandrum bound Super Fast instead (RRE883 of Thrissur). We were just about fortunate enough to get seats - although at one of the rear rows. The bus left the bus station terribly packed. We started off from Ernakulam about 5 minutes past 7 am.

The roads were horrible, and the driver showed no mercy of poor passengers seated at the back - he drove over the potholes with least botheration of passengers, who were now busy doing sit-ups. The bus rushed through the empty roads of Kochi (yeah! The roads were empty despite the clock quickly ticking past 7.30!). More passengers joined the bus at each stop, and by the time we entered the highway, there was not an inch of space inside. We hardly stopped anywhere on the highway, and dashed straight to Cherthala bus station. The halt was brief (hardly a minute). We made another stop at Alappuzha. By now, most crowd had deboarded. There were few standing passengers. We made our next stop at Haripad. By this point, my back was paining badly - thanks to the bad roads, and the careless ripping by the driver.

We got off at Kayamkulam, at 0940 - just two hours and 40 minutes to reach here from Ernakulam. Both of us headed straight to a restaurant (I am not sure if it can be called thus) outside the bus station for breakfast. We were back in about 15 minutes. After this I indulged a bit in busfanning. After some more time wandering up and down, we decided to take the 'next' bus to Adoor. The next bus was RAM33, working the chain service to Punalur (via Adoor, Pathanapuram). I took the front seat, right next to the driver. The bus left from Kayamkulam packed to the core.

The bus took a diversion from the main road (due to some bridge works on the main road), and the road we took was too narrow. The buses ended up losing a lot of time in the route. More and more people joined the bus at each stop, and there was not an inch of space anywhere inside the bus. We came to know of the reason for the crowd later - a temple on the route had a festival that day (Vettikottayilyam). Our bus stopped outside the temple for almost 5 minutes, and in the process the bus emptied out, and filled again! The run to Adoor was eventless. We got off at Adoor. It began pouring down a while before we reached Adoor. From Adoor, we got into RAC999 of Chadayamangalam, heading to Ayoor. It was pouring all the time, and all the shutters remained closed all the time. We got off at Kalayapuram (some distance before Kottarakkara).

From here we headed to our relatives place by car. We returned in the evening - we were dropped at Kottarakkara bus station. Being evening hour, most buses came in crowded. We later got into RRC499 of Punalur to head to Kollam. We had to stand for a while - but the bus emptied by the time we crossed Kundara. After Kundara, I got a good seat and sat down comfortable. We reached Kollam around 6 in the evening. I quickly headed to the enquiry counter and asked for the Volvo to Ernakulam - I was told the bus would come in before 6.30pm (1830). We decided to wait for the bus. While there was a bus every 5 minutes towards Trivandrum, not a single bus towards Ernakulam came.

The wait continued well past 1845, and there was no sign of the Volvo anywhere. I enquired once again at the counter - this time, I asked for the telephone number of the conductor manning the service. He gave me the number, but that was switched off. He called up the Station master at Trivandrum to enquire if the bus left on time - the person at the other end said the service was cancelled! Cheated once again in the day!!! My next question was - what next? The guy at the counter said, a Super Deluxe is expected around 7pm and another AC bus at 7.30pm (1930). We decided to take the Deluxe.

In the meantime, the first bus towards Ernakulam pulled into the bus station - the bus was already crowded, and it got more passengers from here. That bus was a Super fast heading to Mangalore (OMG!). The Super Deluxe (RRC958 of Sulthan Bathery) pulled in around 1910 - the bus was more than half-empty. We took a good seat somewhere in the middle of the bus. It started drizzling by the time we left the bus station - which later turned out into a full fledged downpour. The seats were good, but there was no proper place to rest my legs. I fell asleep soon after the bus entered the highway - I was dead tired after the day long journey. The bus stopped at Kayamkulam for dinner - we did not take dinner from here. I slept immediately after the bus left Kayamkulam. (The bus did enter Alappuzha bus station, but skipped Cherthala bus station). I woke up just as the bus was crossing Mattanchery BOT bridge. I still wonder why do these buses take the route via Thoppumpady instead of running via Vyttila - there buses do not stop anywhere on the route anyways!

We were dropped at Jos Junction around 2230 at night. We took a rick to the railway station, picked our car and headed for dinner. Finally made it home by around 2345 or so. I was cheated twice by KSRTC on that day - the Volvo service was cancelled without any information. The bus stations enroute were completely in the dark about the cancellation. Such cancellations would only drive away passengers - high time KSRTC learnt some lessons on professional management. I am being driven away from KSRTC day-by-day by their behaviour. I stopped using their premium services on interstate routes already - and intrastate is not far off.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Tippler's own country...

Kerala gained a new name recently: "Tippler's own country". The name comes at a befitting time, when Kerala just won the first place in consumption of liquor in the country. The per capita consumption of Keralites was recently found to be a whopping 8.3 litres, equalling the record of the US!

Malayalees enjoy a special pride in queuing up to get that righteous bottle of their favorite spirit. The fact that the entire wholesale and retail sale of Liquor in Kerala is handled solely by agencies appointed by the State Government, makes it mandatory for people to queue up. The sales of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) is done through outlets managed by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) and Consumerfed (Kerala State Co.Operative Consumers' Federation Ltd).  People purchase liquor with the same patience (or even better) as they queue up outside a ration shop.

A queue outside a Beverages Corporation outlet in Alappuzha. This queue is too small though.
Malayalees, given their will power, can easily be the world leaders in Liquor consumption - world records are not too far off for us! While the rest of India contributes with "premium" liquor, Keralites concentrate on drinking Brandy (30%) and Rum (65%), and very little of premium drinks (just 5%).

The day before, newspapers made it a matter of pride for Malayalees, by highlighting the fact that this new year brought some jackpot to the Beverages corporation. It seems we Malayalees drank liquor worth Rs. 32 crores on New Year eve! (See this link). Kerala downed liquor worth Rs. 597 crore over just a month - of December! Out of this, more than Rs. 90 crores were sold during the three days preceeding Christmas alone! Onam is considered the biggest season for KSBC - the corporation makes sales over 150 crores during Onam alone!

Various political and social organisations have begun programs to spread message on the ill-effects of Alcohol, but to no use. During New Year, Irinjalakkuda took the first place in liquor consumption - it was Chalakkudy for Onam! We are proud that Thrissur district has retained the prestigious position this time as well. I sincerely hope we do not concede this position to other districts during the upcoming season(s).

In a recent news article published by the United News of India (UNI), it becomes obvious that the corporation (KSBC) earns over Rs. 4000 during the peak season alone (April to November) - this year the figure stands at Rs. 4,314.66 crores! The corporation's managing director N Sanker Reddy claimed that his corporation expects to earn an additional Rs. 500 crores of the public's hard earned money - since their big season (the New Year) is just around! He added a sarcastic remark, "Now people cannot imagine celebrating any festival or occasion, even if it is a ritual related to death, without liquor and it is an unavoidable drink in celebrations."

No wonder that the KSBC is the sole profitable corporation run by the Government of Kerala! Close to 40% of the State's tax revenue comes from the sale of liquor alone! (It would be just obvious that the same proportion of the State's health budget goes in treating alcoholics!). It is really sad that the government is so enthusiastic to sell liquor at such rates. The government is doing very little to stop this endless craze of drinking - afterall we are not developing a healthy hobby. The next time you spend Rs. 100 on a bottle, remember that you are giving as much as Rs. 80 to the government as taxes - no wonder the government is happy that you are drinking.

Please do visit the Gastroenterology ward of any major hospital near you, before queuing up for a bottle - people with Alcoholic Liver Disease are often laughing stocks for medical staff around. Its not fun to walk around with a protruding stomach (which is often the effect of deteriorating liver disease), and die a painful death. Do we need to really suffer so much for a few minutes of intoxication?