Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The ordeal of attending wedding receptions

If attending wedding ceremonies is futile - attending wedding receptions is an ordeal - actually a series.

The first problem is finding a gift. I never realized that finding a gift is a problem , till some years back - when my friend confided that he normally re-packed and re-'presented' gifts that he received...."What do you do with 17 wall clocks, 8 pairs of watches , a dozen Milton Casserole hot packs and a half a dozen flower vases?" - he asked. Ever since he made this startling 'disclosure' - it has been my challenge to find a gift that does not get re-packed and re-presented. For a while thereafter, I thought I got over this problem by getting gift vouchers or gift cards...till another friend to whom I had gifted a gift-card for his wedding called me about a year later to say that the card's validity period had expired and wanted know how the validity period could be extended !!!. I then decided to ask the 'inviter' what they wanted . Some have been helpful...but not all. So....the problem still remains...

If after some mental wrestling and walking up and down several stores, you finally manage to find a gift that wont get re-'presented' (that is , if you are really concerned about it) and go to the wedding reception, you encounter the next problem. - actually a question and that is when to reach ?. If you reach early - you have a problem and if you go late - you have a problem.

It took more than a couple of instances for me to realize that punctuality is not a virtue when  it comes to attending receptions. Whenever I had gone to the reception hall on time - I would realize that I was usually the only soul there...people would start trickling in quite some time later. And whenever I checked, I was told that the bride and the groom had gone to the parlour !!?!  Men going to parlours sounded obnoxious and unmanly to me - for,  those were the days when there were no 'Naturals' or 'Green trends' and the term metrosexuality was not yet in vogue (people are now saying  that metrosexuality is giving way for 'spornosexuality'...whatever that means) ... After a while, the couple would walk in - both made-up in the parlour beyond recognition...with the girl usually more un-recognizable of the two. The groom would have his hair looking wet, with a coat of powder on his face and the girl would have her hair (I guess it is mostly wigs) done up with plastic pearls pinned up here and there, hair and wig , all swirled around. The greatest damage would be to the face - with all colours ( matching with her saree) applied above and below her eyes, a garish lip stick, several coats of paint ... oh ! ...terrible. !!. Further, ever since the days of Hum Aapke Hain Koun - or about that time, it is become a norm that grooms in Tamil Nadu should wear richly brocaded sherwanis for wedding receptions and the bride should wear a gaghra choli or a glass and stone embroided saree - even if the reception is in Omalur or Puthanampatti....(call it cultural penetration if you want to) ...I have always wondered if they ever got to wear the sherwani another time.... Anyway - the point is - if you go early - you will have to wait.

And if you go a bit late, apart from the trouble of having to find a parking slot for your car, you will still have to to wait . You will have stand in a queue and wait to pass on the gift. A long winding queue it is. Waiting for the queue to subside is no panacea ...the queue only gets longer. After so many years of attending wedding receptions, I must admit that I haven't yet found out the exact time to enter the reception hall.

In the meanwhile if in the hall, you see some folks you know, you soon realize that you have to be an expert in sign language to be able to communicate with them. Reception halls these days are usually awfully noisy. Forget classical cutcheries - even soft and pleasing music has become a rarity . These days, it is a deadly cacophony of heavy noise - voice and instrument that masquerades as music. People who arrange for the reception usually make it a point to get some super-singer drop outs and the like to come , belt out some recent and no so recent movie numbers - of all kinds - yes - of all kinds - and tear your ear drums. You just can't shout beyond their 'notes' - and so communication within the community in the hall is purely non-verbal....You keep hearing that dun dun dun dun ..and some off-notes ...and soon, all that you hear is a 'koooooiiiinnnnnnn' sound in your ear.

You realize it is time and join the queue. When you finally manage to reach the dais and wait for your turn , over all the din in the place, you slowly start hearing things (probably your system has got used to the noise) ...interesting conversations that are spoken in loud voices. And they are usually of the following kinds : A man in late forties would usually asks the girl ...'Hi , Do you recognize me ?' - and the girl would quickly do some thinking and says ' Yes of course - I do Mama', and the gentleman would quickly correct her ' I am not your Mama - I am your Chittappa'.....( as if it mattered to the girl :) !... . And a little later, a Mami in early sixties would come, squeeze the grooms chin - and much to his discomfiture,  tell the girl ...'this boy was very mischievous as a kid' and would go on recounting some terrible goof up by the poor fellow. After all these people move, you get your turn . You say a big congratulations to the groom - while  he takes a lot of effort and introduces you to the girl ( you can be dead sure that she wont remember a bit of it) ...and they insist that they will want a visible proof of attendance - in the form of a photograph. So, you hold your breath, pull in your now-starting-to-show belly , freeze as a statue for the photographer to do the honours and carefully get down ...(thanks to the videographer's glaring light- you cant see anything for a while) ...

And then comes the next problem ...dining. The dining hall is usually overflowing and you wonder if people had come straight to the dining hall before going up to see the couple. While you wait to see if there is some kind of a queue there too, to your horror you see some people standing behind people who are having their food - waiting for them to get up...OMG !. Now you have decide if you can shun shame, stand till somebody gets up , to hop into the seat or if you should drive to some restaurant nearby for your dinner...And if you decide on the former,  in a jiffy you see a large plantain leaf spread out with some 23 items served on it ( I counted it once)...the mere sight of which fills your stomach...But if you have the fortitude to taste all that stuff , and by chance if you really want a second helping it is really tough ..the Uncle and Aunt who sat next to you would have already left and the hungry ones would have already started to occupy their seats...So , you wind up - wondering if you had a proper meal or not , walk out, pick up a beeda and move out.

இப்படி ஒரு திருமணவரவேற்பு  நிகழ்ச்சிக்கு போகலேன்ன என்ன ?  ...மக்களே !, don't take invitations for wedding receptions too seriously. If you care for the couple, call them up a few days later and convey your wishes. And if they are really your real near and real dear - call them over for lunch or dinner at home - or if you are confident of the quality of cooking at home , you may call them to a good restaurant...You can be sure that you are seeing the couple, your eyes and ears remain undamaged and they will also be a normal and relaxed. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The futility of attending wedding ceremonies

Marriages are occasions when co-habitation is formalized....And because there are 'risks' associated in the process, divine and social sanction is sought by ceremonies - particularly in the prajapatya system of marriage ( Manusmriti lists 8 types of marriages - and these are brahmana, daiva, arsha, prajapatya, asura, gandharva, rakshasa and pisaka ).

In the 'good' old days, there was a higher emphasis on divine sanction....and probably because, mobility was not great, marriages would happen in houses or in temples. Marriage ceremonies would go on for about a week and in some cases even 10 days. Close relatives from far and near would come stay over and the entire place would be brimming with activity....and somewhere down the line - along with divinity and social sanction ( read 'community' sanction) , 'commerce', also got in. And as times changed (for better or worse - depending on how one wants to look at it), marriage ceremonies moved from houses to 'marriage halls' - chatirams , the number of days shrunk to two - and the usual post-wedding reception has in the last several years become pre-wedding reception. The size of the hall and its address have now become symbols of wealth...weddings are fixed after blocking the hall. Ceremonies have been cut to the bare minimum....and the emphasis has moved more to blatant displays of wealth, political connections and what not.... 

All this is still fine. You can call them socio-economic-religio changes..

In the recent times - well - not exactly recent...ever since the video camera  came in, there is a craze for recording the entire wedding rituals on the video. At one level I have always wondered if anybody would want to watch the video at all.....I mean , why will somebody want to see and re-live the memory of himself getting trapped ? Anyway, when you go to a wedding hall, you will see one or more video-graphers going around blinding your eyes with glaring light, freezing your picture in awkward positions and capturing all movements , from the time you enter to the time you have the feast. You don't even have the freedom of walking around - since there are so many cables running hither and tither that you will need to be really careful. 

And things have become worse of late. 

Well, one doesn't travel long distances just to eat the wedding feast...One goes to the wedding to shower some flowers and 'akshadai' on the boy and to pray that he gets divine help ( he needs a lot of it) for life thereafter. 

And, when you go to the hall, you see a stage on which one can easily count more than a few dozen people - mainly women - the heavier ones in traditional heavy Kanchivarams and bedecked with heavy jewelry, and the not yet heavy ones, with heavy make up ,'fashion' jewelry and flowing sarees, several children of varying ages , and few gray haired or dyed men - all clamoring for space, for a view and of course a lot of attention. Somewhere between all these people, the camera men, the priest and his assistant(s), lamps, pots and a havan, you see the poor groom sweating it out in a silk shirt (that is usually used just once in a lifetime) - with an already tired but beaming face (with no clue of what he is getting into). And the 'final' moment comes, when the boy is to tie the knot (and ironically get tied down)...,when the nadhaswaram reaches a crescendo...and lo and behold  you see nothing but posteriors of all camera men ( photo and video), everybody who thinks she/ he is a camera man and everybody else who has managed to fish out a smart or not so smart phone with a camera. ..Yes ..just all their posteriors ..nothing else... Senseless. You take some effort to go to the wedding - and get to see only people's posteriors. While somebody logs in to their fb account and sees the groom and the bride.  

And so Ladies and Gentlemen ! If the boy/ girl is not your immediate 'இஷ்ட மித்ர பந்து ' attending weddings is a futile exercise ...see the pair's pictures on fb , pray to the Almighty to bless them and be done with it. You would have saved yourself a lot of time , effort and the embarrassment of having to see  so many people's posteriors. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Payment Banks - Will they make money ?

There has been a huge hype about payment banks. Some in the business media have said that these banks will be a boost to financial inclusion...look at telecom companies offering mobile wallets and white label ATMs they said.

I am very skeptical about this story of financial inclusion ...I don't think it will happen with Jan Dhan scheme ( I hear that 75% of the accounts opened have no balance and no operations ), or with payments banks or what ever... Financial inclusion can happen only with economic inclusion. But somehow, policy makers don't seem to be talking about it....

Lets us assume that these banks would help in financial inclusion, as policy makers would want us to be believe....the question that begs an answer is - will these entities make money and be sustainable as stand alone entities ? 

What these banks can do : 
i) Accept demand deposits ( current and savings bank deposits) upto Rs 1 lakh per customer 
ii) Payments and remittance services through various channels including branches, business correspondents and mobile banking
iii) Issuance of pre-paid instruments.
iv) Function as Business correspondents 
v) Apart from CRR,  all monies have to be held in SLR securities as investments. The capital adequacy ratio has to be 15% , which is not very difficult, considering that the risk weights in their exposure is negligible - but they the overall leverage ratio should not be below 5. The bank should also have a minimum capital of Rs 100 Crores at all times. 

But these banks cannot lend. And that means, they don't make any spread . The most important way that banks make money is hence gone. And that means, they will have to rely entirely on their ability to charge customers for using their payment systems to make money. While that is possible, will they be able to actually generate enough business volumes to remain profitable is a big question....particularly, since all banks currently offer all that the payments bank can offer. 

First , I don't think people are going to just queue up to open accounts in a payments bank ? Why would they ? As these banks cannot lend, their ability to pay interest on savings accounts is going to be limited...so why will somebody shift ? 

Second, the expectation that POS terminals in Kirana will start functioning as ATMs ( the payments bank can offer cash-out at POS terminals) is a wildly optimistic one - at least in the forseeable future. 

Third, I also don't know what additional benefits would be available for an existing telecom companies offering mobile wallets or the white label ATMs by becoming a payments bank. In-fact, RBI has prohibited telecom majors from using their existing channels for the payments business - and  so, even if there were players interested, they would now have a contend with the cost of setting up a new channel for this business....

Fourth, while the payment of subsidies and benefits may move to banks, it is unlikely that ALL cash transactions between individuals will move into banks. In-fact the recent move limit free transactions over the ATM and to charge for it, will only increase the use of cash....I am already hearing of people drawing out a big chunk of their salary as soon as it is credited !

I don't think stand alone payment banks will be sustainable. I will be surprised if commercial entities will evince interest in this - with the current guidelines. If at all there is any entity that may be interested, it can be India Post. But, although there will be a large HR policy rework that will be required, I think India Post should work on a becoming a full fledged bank - not just a payments bank.