Friday, February 24, 2012

The Litigators - My Review

It comes as no wonder that John Grisham's new book has quickly gone on to the top of the charts. Grisham has been the master of the Legal genre for so many years now, and he's inspired a whole new generation of writers in his chosen genre.
But then it must be tough with those astronomical expectations! You can only come up trumps with a certain plot so many times. And Grisham has done it a dozen times already - the plot of the underdog lawyer (usually a rookie with no trial experience) taking on a giant corporation with millions in legal fees, and coming up on top, has been badgered to death. We all love the underdog. Stories with underdogs coming up on top have been on bestseller lists for centuries now, and the trend will be around for the rest of time.
Grisham has a similar story here yet again, and as is his trademark, does justice to it. But a certain storyline can only be beaten to death so many times! In spite of a different 'treatment' the plot is so transparent that you know exactly what happens at the end of the book.
In the plot, there's David Zinc (yes, strange name!) who's completed 5 years pushing paper at a multi billion dollar law firm, and cracks one day with the pressure. After some very unique happenings, he stumbles on into the firm of Figg and Finley, who must be the two most incompetent lawyers in the greater Chicago area. The rest is history - Zinc stumbles into court, leads his firm into some money, and the book ends with him setting up on his own and becoming a champion for the under-privileged.

But then, all is not lost. Grisham is back to writing legal thrillers after a while now - he's written two Youth Fiction books in between (The Theodore Boone series), and one legal book which followed a real story (The Innocent Man). So it is nice to see the master back in his flow. There is nothing wrong with the book - it is a great read. The problem probably is with me - i've read too many novelists in this genre - Michael Connelly, Steve Martini, and many more. So I've become a cynic now!
Another good thing about the novel is the way Grisham takes us through the motions. It is good to see the champion of the legal genre back in the driver's seat once again, and if you're new to reading Grisham, you'll love this book - much like aficionados will remember staying riveted while reading The Firm, The Rainmaker, and The Client.

Go on, Grisham! Don't move away from mainstream legal thrillers just yet. Keep dishing them out, and we'll keep lapping them up :)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Passport 2.0

Getting a passport was a nightmare! 
Anyone who's applied for a Passport from Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, knows the terrific experience one goes through :)
But then, last month, when I went for a renewal of my passport, I encountered something different! (or I was probably drunk beyond approach)

  • After applying online and submitting details of the original documents, I was given a time slot and a number online itself. 
  • I was asked to go at 9 am, but I went at 1 pm, but was politely asked to rush in! All it took was a form (available over the counter at payment of Re. 1/-) citing the reason for delay.
  • At the counter, all documents were verified by smartly dressed young people (with badges of The Tata Consultancy Services - who are the outsourcing partners of the Passport process) who spoke flawless English, and were polite!!!
  • The number I was allotted was already flashing on the screen, and I was asked to head over to the next section (took about 5 mins at the verification department)
  • There were a row of cubicles, each with a smart young lady (!) - again bearing the TCS logo, and my number was already up on one of these cubicles. There was a split screen computer - so we can see what's happening on the service associate's screen, and a Camera popped up on a stand on the table.
  • After running all documents, making me go through all details carefully, and taking a photo (she even asked if I liked the photo or she'd take another!), and scanning all documents, she gave me a file, a few more printouts and sent me over to the next section. There was a challan of 1000/- charged at the counter and receipt duly issued.
  • When I was short of a few photocopies, the lady at the desk even scanned and copied them out for me on her machine! (I then realized that this is all a dream.)
  • A wait of about 10 mins in a comfortable, air-conditioned area with music (!) playing in the background, and I finally saw the man - an employee of the Ministry - beckoning me over for verification. But strangely, even he wasn't rude! (There must be something wrong!!) And Blimey - he called me 'sir'!
  • Another 5 mins, and the Passport Officer called me in for a final check-over, and sent me out to the exit desk
  • At the exit desk, my file was taken in, and an acknowledgement was being generated. While I waited, the young man in the counter gave me a feedback form to fill (I've run out of emotions by now).
  • He then gave me an acknowledgement and wished me a good day (phew!)
But that's not all!

Two weeks after this dream, I get a call from the police asking for a time when he can come home for verification. He even says that he can come back the next morning if I can't come home now (By now, i'm certain I'm hallucinating). To avoid spoiling the dream run, I rushed home, and a formally dressed man was already waiting for me. After documentation and verification, he said - hold your horses - 'Thank you Sir'! There's more - he refused my offer of water, tea, juice, and shook my hand and left. If you're an Indian, you would have noticed already that there's an event that I missed out. But no - he neither hinted nor asked for any 'formality'! Spectacular, huh?

And last night - 5 days after verification, I received an SMS (!) from the Ministry of External Affairs with my new passport number, and the fact that it had already been despatched by Speed Post, and the message even gave the docket number of Speed Post if I'd like to track it.

Ok, enough of poking fun. Honestly, the experience has been delightful - to say the least. All through, there is a website and a helpline (toll-free) which can be used to track the status of the passport and to raise any grievances. The system ran like greased lightning, and in under a month, a new passport is on its way home (hopefully the Postal department won't spoil the party). 
If this is what can be achieved through a Public-Private partnership, I just pray for the day when all of our rotten systems will head that way. But for now, Ministry of External Affairs and Tata Consultancy Services, Take a bow! You've brought us a vision of what it's like to live in a 'developed' country!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The wane of Social Networking

Everything in life waxes and wanes. And Social Networking is no exception too. But strangely, the hype created isn't really over, and the wane has begun already. While there is no doubt that the phoenix will rise once again, it is surely a surprise that people have started moving away so soon.
It is a fact that FaceBook has virtually taken over our lives. Everything we do has to be informed to whoever is waiting in real time, and we reached a stage when we keep refreshing the screen to see whether there are any new likes and comments on what we had for breakfast today.
There are people who I know who've already taken their profiles off Facebook (and everything else too), and that was when I realized that there is a feature on FB, which allows you to hide your profile for a while, and then whenever we wish to come back into the world, we just need to click and confirm.
So it is a thought out move from FB too - they've expected that people will come and go, and they're bang on target - intelligent R&D! Social Networking has an uncanny ability of dragging the most introverted individual into its charms, and their lives are never the same ever again.
After a couple of years of being in a Big Boss house, people are bound to get fed up! Privacy suddenly rears its head and announces with a vengeance that it is time to shut up and sit tight for a while, and that probably is what's happening right now. 
For many people, being on FaceBook and Twitter means it is mandatory that they voice their opinion, though they don't really have one. That is why we see so many tweets from eccentric people like Ram Gopal Varma (#RGVZoomin)! Being silent online is even more difficult than being silent in real life :)
The good thing about getting away from Social websites is the time will be spent pursuing other interests - reading books (the real ones), playing games, getting out of the house, or even watching TV! 
But then, this change is cyclic too - a few people will reclaim their lives - albeit temporarily - and others will step in, and then they'll interchange positions after a while. The gap is bound to make the people miss online interaction, and they'll find it to be even more rewarding the next time they come along.
Anyway, the face of Social Networking is changing. Anna Hazare will bear testimony to that, as will the Egyptian revolution - both of which are unthinkable without FaceBook and Twitter. 
So the next time you feel your online social life is taking over your real one, just step back, deactivate your account temporarily, and enjoy the calm! It is absolutely acceptable to do so, and when you come back, your coolness factor will only rise ;)