Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Grace Marking in Board Exams

What's it with this grace marking system that CBSE and possibly other boards follow? There was a decision taken by the board recently about no longer giving grace marks. While on the face of it this is a good decision, as it means students will really get marks as per what they have answered in the exam and not get extra marks, which helps boost their results, but was it really so? 

Delhi High Court has ruled against it and for all the valid reasons. However this raises a few questions in my mind. 

While this ruling helps the students this year, which as fair enough as that it was they were expecting when they had appeared for the exams, but with the results to be announced only in a couple of days, it would be only logical to assume that most of the checking would be already over and the Board would mostly be in the process of creating the final mark list and report cards. How can it now revisit all the lakhs of papers to add grace marks where applicable, as per earlier policy? Will this mean further delay in announcement of results or will this mean, the grace marking will not happen, inspite of the ruling? Unfortunately, Students are definitely in for additional stress. 

Changing rules of game mid-way is absolutely illogical and against general common sense. The irony is, those who did this change are supposedly managing the Board and Education Ministries. If they don't have so much of basic common sense, I wonder how they are managing the board and the ministry? Are things really in the right hands? The only criteria our election seems to have is age. There is hardly anything on capability? 

So much so for whether to give the marks or not, but the real, underlying question is, why was there a need to give such marks?  

Almost after every board exam, we see articles in paper like this and this. So some where the difficultly level of the paper itself is the culprit. Just because the paper were set to be so tough that it was obvious that students will not be able to score and thus give them grace marks. But, then, why not make a paper that is not so difficult and doesn't creates so much stress in students lives? Looks like while higher ups keep saying that we want to reduce the stress, on the ground level, things aren't really moving in the right direction. 

In general, I have seen that year long, the general thought process in any school, in any exam, tends to be to try to show or prove what the student doesn't know, rather than to try and find what the student knows. I have seen school internal question papers that have asked questions even based on the captions of the images in the books and footnotes. It it almost like you have to read through the book using a microscope. What is achieved by this? Does this reduces the stress? 

I have also seen, many a times school struggling with trying to complete the portion, because time gets spent in things like cultural day, sports day, exhibition, holidays, some unexpected events and some of the events like cultural days actually require weeks of preparation. All this is fine. These additional activities are very much required. But then, due to lack of time teachers tend to rush and either teach a chapter a day or at times give the entire chapter as homework. What I fail to understand is that for these internal assessments, in case there is lack of time, what if a chapter or parts of it, are actually skipped from the exam portion? What is the need to cover 100% of all the books? Will this not lighten the load and keep everyone happy as well? 

Our education system is really in a bad state. Not only what we teach, but how we teach needs serious rethinking. Our political leaders find every reason to go to foreign countries as part of some study group. Why don't they go and look at education system in other countries where the students are lot less loaded and there is lot more practical knowledge given than book knowledge, where there are lot fewer subjects, where there is less depth in each topic that is taught, where is no concept of homework etc. 

Things can change, but when everything takes a social or political twist, it becomes difficult to manage. In a country where getting on the streets and disrupting things is lot easier than doing constructive work, it sure is a challenge. I can only hope that things will improve soon. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Travelogue: Jal Srushti Island Resort

After almost an year’s break from any travels, to allow my daughter to fully concentrate on her class X, we finally decided to get out of the routine and go spend a few days at some resort. Since the decision was taken at a time when summer vacations of kids had already started, getting a booking at any place, on the weekend, at a short notice was impossible. Also, given the summer heat and lack of water at our home, due to water cut by the society, we wanted to go to a place with enough water. So, we narrowed on Jal Srushti Island Resort and booked for a 2-night package on weekdays.

I had heard good things about the resort and a very good trip advisor rating convinced us to try this place out. We were a bit skeptical of how much water will be there, given that it was peak summer and rains had not yet graced the city, but our doubts were ill placed.

Well, to start with, the booking for the place is typically managed via their own site and you need to typically pay about 50% advance (can do online transfer to their account), after which they confirm the booking. The resort has 6 Jalaka cottages, which are smaller in size and are pond facing and 8 Jalpushpa (JP) cottages, which are bigger and are river facing. Jalaka cottages are good for a couple but if you are a family of 3 or 4 it would be better to try to get JP cottage (especially if the slightly higher rate is not an issue). The good part is while booking, you can put in a request for specific cottage as well. I will share later in this blog, which cottage would be good to have.

The check-in timing is 1 pm and you start off with a buffet lunch for that day and check-out is by 11 am next day, after the breakfast. Since the google maps showed that the place is about 35 km from my place, we left our home at around 11.30 am. A leisurely drive should get us to the resort in about 1 hour and we would be a bit early, to easily manage the check-in, dump our luggage in the room, freshen up a bit and proceed for the lunch, was the thought. The resort is about 7 km from Paud bus stop, towards Mulshi dam, and like a few other resorts I have been to, surprisingly, has almost no signage enroute. We did see one sign a few kms after Paud bus stop that read – Jal srushti island resort 5 km before Mulshi lake. It left us wondering if the idea was to go all the way to the lake and then return 5 kms 😊.

With full trust on google maps, we continued to drive. However, when the map said destination is about 200 meters, I started worrying because I could not see any water around anywhere and if we were to take some side road, then even that didn’t seem happening. Just as it was 100 meters, we came around a turn and there in front, we could see a big board of the resort. We got off the main road on to a side dirt road, and about 200 meters we reached the resort’s parking. The security doesn’t allow anyone inside without reservation. We parked under a tree and a person came to take our luggage. He showed us a path we had to take to the reception. The place already looked pretty green and we could feel a dip of 2-3 deg in the temperature already over the city temperature.

We started walking on the path towards the reception and there were big jack fruit trees on the both sides. We crossed a big stone wall with a wooden gate in it, which gave a feeling of entering some old fort like structure. As we walked, we could see water in front of us, but no building of any kind in site. We landed on the edge of the water and the path ended there. We then realized that, the resort was on the island in front of us and we had to take a boat to reach the resort. Interestingly though, the boat was in form a small sitting deck with tent like roof. 

Soon the person with our luggage came and another person in the boat, which was on the other side, started pulling on a rope and the boat came on our side. We got onto it and were ferried across. Again, a short 50 meter or so walk and we reached the reception. 

The check-in was fast and smooth and the person at the counter was pretty friendly. Remember to carry IDs for everyone. While he asked only for mine and my wife's, but I guess it is better to carry everyone's ID. In another trip earlier, we were asked for everyone's ID. We were served a welcome drink. During booking I had asked for JP 4 and fortunately that’s what was allotted to us.

The place is very nicely setup. Being surrounded with water on all side, there is abundance of wide variety of trees and plantations. The place is also decorated with lot of ethnic and earthen sculptures. There were 5-6 ducks roaming around, quacking and splashing in small water bodies created for them. A small wooden bridge took us across this small water body where the path split into two. In the center, in the front was a big pond, with the 6 Jalaka cottages around it. The 8 JP cottages are on the sides, with 4 on each side, facing the river. These cottages start with 1 to 4 on one side with 1 being closest and 4 being farthest and then 5 to 8 on the other side with 5 being farthest and 8 being closest. Probably due to the way the trees have grown in the place, JP cottages 2 and 3 are very close to each other. If you are booking two cottages, this could be good option, but if you are booking a single cottage then JP 4 and 5 will give you maximum privacy.

We reached our cottage and noticed that these cottages are all built on small pillars, so they are at a height from the ground. The back stretches all the way over the water and additional interesting aspect is that in JP cottages there is a back-patio kind of structure (though inside the cottage itself), which has a Jhoola, a place to sit and small portion of glass floor, which allows you to look at the water flowing below the room. Needless to say, immediately after monsoon, the water would be at the highest level. The entire cottage is made of wood, giving a very vintage like look, and so if the furnishing inside. We did feel that with strong winds, the cottage did sway a bit. The thing that I additionally liked about the place was that we were 3 people in the room. This is the first hotel where extra water bottle and extra bedding was already there in the room when we reached there. They did seem to have missed the extra towel, but that’s OK. At least this much was done. I always find it strange as to why is it difficult for the hotel to manage this ahead of time, when they know how many people will be staying in the room or is it just a way for them to try and save, in case the visitor forgets to ask!!

The cottage is also surrounded by trees with their branches growing all over and on top as well. The trees around our cottage were having lot of big berries which made lot of noise when they fell on the roof. The bathroom, is separated from the main room by a wooden cupboard in between. The bathroom has glass wall on one side and the roof is also of glass. However, being covered with trees all around, it isn’t something that will expose you 😊. The cottage, overall, gives a very cozy feeling and you can get very good relaxation. We wanted a holiday with just relaxation and this place is ideal for it, as there isn’t much to see around the place anyway. 

Having freshened up, we went to have the lunch which was at their restaurant, near the reception. A sumptuous veg / non-veg buffet and it was great food. We enjoyed everything we ate. The taste was very nice. The staff, again, very friendly and ready to service all our requests. The cold butter milk was a life savior in the summer heat. Something went wrong with their planning that day and they ran out of ice cream but the other desserts made up for it.

Walk back to our cottage, and after a short nap, it was soon time for the evening tea. To make the most of the place and the trip enjoyable for the visitors, they have picked up a different location for each meal. For the high tea, there is this small setup created about half a km at the back of the resort. You can walk down to this place or ride a horse or a bullock cart or can even cycle. We walked, since we wanted to digest the lunch buffet before getting on with the high tea. The high tea included two varieties of pakoras, which they were frying there itself, another live counter for chat, bread butter, biscuits and tea or coffee. This setup is next to the river and on the other side is their plantation, which seems to be not so well maintained.

As we walked back, we took the other pathway in the resort to look at other facilities as well. There is provision for TT, Carom, Chess and snooker. There is a swimming pool as well, but due to various plantations, keeping it clean did seem like a challenge, due to constantly falling leaves, flowers and flower buds. We tried our hands at TT, and then carom. Then came out and played badminton for a while (we had carried our own racket and shuttles, though the resort has them available as well). There is enough open space with lush green grass to general wonder around, or sit and relax or play any games you may like.

Towards the front of the resort, from where we had came onto the island and the reception was, there is a machaan like structure created (not really on trees but between them) and standing on top of it reminded me or the scene where the hero and heroine stood on the front edge of Titanic. 

The physical exercise did us good and it helped digest all we had eaten and we were soon ready for dinner. Dinner is served outside the restaurant, in open area (candle light like environment) and has live music to go along. Of the two singers, the lady singer sang much better but the male singer would hardly let her sing. After all his songs, he almost requested the audience to clap if they liked and some of us clapped to humor him. Anyway, dinner was good. The food in general was good all along the trip. By the time we were on to the dinner on the second day, we had been overloaded with paneer, both in starters and main course. The small regular pizzas in starters and kadhi in main course was a welcome break.

The two days, we spent totally with the nature. The temperature as I had stated earlier was lower than in Pune and though it was sunny it wasn’t that hot. Nights saw further dip in the temperature and we were comfortable without the AC, with just the fan. Overall the stay was very good at the resort and very invigorating. If you are looking for a short break, around Pune, you should definitely keep this as an option.

On the third day, we checked out a little after 11.30 am. Like the welcome drink on check-in, there was a surprise gift awaiting us on check-out. A quick 1 hour drive and we were back home and thus ended this very pleasant, short trip. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Day at SBI

For many years I am doing most of my banking with ICICI and have hardly visited the branch in the last decade or so. Almost all the banking needs are managed online or via the relationship manager. I do have to have to visit SBI once a year to deposit some money in my PPF account. While this is just a once a year task, I was still not keen on making even this 1 day visit to SBI and hence thought to transfer the PPF account to ICICI, which is also a government recognized back to hold PPF accounts. 

After multiple attempts, but something or other kept coming up, I finally managed to visit the SBI bank one fine Saturday morning. This was the fist mistake. The bank gets unduly crowded on weekends. I reached the bank by 10.15 am or so. 

As I entered the bank, there was a queue with about 5-6 people standing at the "May I Help You" counter. Knowing that this will take a while, I approached the security guard, who is seen more within the bank and less at the entrance gate. He typically helps people get the right form. So I asked him "PPF account transfer ka form chahiye". He asked me "Account Transfer? Dusari jagah shift ho rahe ho?". Not wanting to get into discussion with him, I nodded and he handed over a form to me. As I found a desk and start to fill it it, I realized that it was for SBI to SBI transfer only. 

I tried to relocate the security guard, but he seemed busy with other work, so I went and stood in the "May I Help You" line. After waiting some 5 - 10 min, my turn came and I asked "PPF Account transfer karna hai". She asked "Kahan pe karna hai". I said "SBI se ICICI mein karna hai". She paused, wondered and exclaimed "ICICI mein transfer. Mujhe pata nahi kaise hota hai. Aap counter 5 wale Sir se poocho". 

I looked behind and found counter 5. It also had 5-6 people in line and many around the counter who didn't seem to be in line, but were very much there. The counter itself seemed was for new account opening. I wondered why am I being sent to this line. But I went and stood in the line. As I reached the queue, the Sir, at the counter, walked away. People were standing in the line unconcerned. Obviously, this disappearing act of a person from behind the counter is nothing new to anyone who visits the bank regularly. We all waited. After about 10 min, the person returned and started to take the forms. In between his phone rang, which he had to attend. Then the person from neighboring counter wanted some forms, which he obliged with. 

Seeing no movement in the line, I decided to just ask the person, for I was doubtful that my query will get resolved here. I did so "Sir SBI se ICICI mein PPF account transfer karna hai. Kaise hoga?". He looked up at me in surprise. Thought for a while and then said, "Aap PPF ke counter, counter no 7 pe jaiye". Thanking him, I relocated myself to another queue. 

The lady sitting at the counter, was helping another person. After a few min, as she waited for this person to fill a form, she looked up and asked me "Aapko kyaa chahiye". I explained again "SBI PPF account ko ICICI mein transfer karna hai". She also didn't know what to tell me and looked at the colleague sitting behind her. This colleague told her and me - "NEFT karna padega". I know NEFT is used to do bank to bank money transfer. I asked "NEFT? Woh kahan se hoga". She said "go to counter 15". 

I was beginning to wonder if anyone really had any idea of what I wanted and how it will be done or will I just be moved around between different counters? I could not see counter 15? No such board was seen, so I went to a counter, which seemed to be in a place where counter 15 should have been. A lady was sitting there helping people with FDs, NEFTs, RTGS etc. The chances of this being the counter where my queries will get resolved, seemed high. I waited, as there were other people in the queue. 

After a while, just like in case of counter 5, when the lady happened to look up, I asked "SBI se PPF account ICICI mein transfer karna hai". She asked back "Kitna karna hai". I said, "Amount nahi, account transfer karna hai". She said, "Oh! Kyoun karna hai?". I said,  "That's where my other accounts are and it is easy to manage everything at one place". After thinking for a bit, she said, "Aise account transfer nahi hota". Now this was a different information. I asked, "Why?". She said, "PPF Government account hai. Aise transfer nahi hota. Aapko ICICI mein naya account kholna padega and then yahan se paise wahan transfer karne padeinge. Ismein kai din lag jayege and kuch problem hua toh? Aise hi kyoun nahi rehne dete". I wanted to tell her that I had no intention of doing any business with SBI and today was another day, just enforcing my thinking. 1.5 hour spent in the bank already with no progress. 

I said, "Toh phir alternative kyaa hai? Can I do online/NEFT transfer of funds to my SBI PPF Account?". She said, "Yes, you can". I asked, "but then how will i know if it happened successfully. Can I get online access to my SBI PPF Account?". I knew that I could open a SBI Savings account and get online access along with it, but I didn't want to do that, and just wanted online access to my PPF account. She said, "Yes, I can give you view only rights to your PPF account". I said, "Great. What do I need to do?". She got up from her chair, walked up to me, asked me to step aside and told me, "Why do you want to invest in PPF? SBI has come up with a new life insurance scheme and you can rather invest in that". I strongly said no. She then pointed me to some form I needed to fill to get online access to my account. Finally, I seem to be making progress in the right direction. Not exactly what I had expected, but my basic issue was coming to the bank to deposit the amount and now I could manage that online and even view the balance online. So I was fine. 

I took the form, filled it and got back in the queue. There were some arguments on who was in the queue, who was not. Who came first, who came last. It is pretty standard. I was around 3-4 in the queue, when another gentleman from the bank, came to this lady and asked her to come and assist him in some task. She tried to resist, stating that there is a big queue, but he looked like her senior and commanded her. She could not say no and excused herself. We were all left standing in the queue looking at each other. 

Some 15 min passed and she didn't return. Everyone in the queue was becoming restless. Another person who was ahead in the queue and had been asked to fill up some additional forms, returned, and on not seeing the lady, went in search for her. After some 20 min or so, she returned and started with her work.

The chaos and confusion was increasing. Due to the delays, people had really become frustrated. Surprisingly, a person came out of manager's cabin and asked the last two of us, in the queue, to come to him for help. Looked like, he was taking a load off the lady at the counter. We obliged, for if nothing else, it meant we will get to sit in an AC room. We went inside the manager's room. The person who had come out, asked one of us to come to his table and then started another long wait for me. As apart from helping the customer with his needs, this person was also interested in selling some of additional SBI services. 

Another 30 min later, I finally got called to his desk and a repeat of all that I had already told so many people already happened and I also handed over the form to him. He asked "Why read only online access?". I said "Woh lady jo bahar baithi hain, unhone bola ki PPF ko sirf read only access hi milega". He thought for a minute and then said "Jaroor milega. I will help you with it". I could not help but smile. Finally, someone actually said the divine words :-). He worked fairly efficiently, got me an online account and explained the process of how to enable it and how to use it. So now I could transfer the money online and then quickly verify by logging in online to see if the amount was correctly reflecting or not. 

With this, I finally had a sigh of relief and my work was done. During the course of getting all this handled, the person had found out from my that I was working with a start up. As I prepared to eject myself from the seat and head outside, he immediately jumped to me with a loan offer saying "we keep giving lot of loans, but jahan jaroorat ho wahan dena chahiye na. Ab aap logon ki company ko agar loan chahiye, toh humare pass aayieye. Hum quickly aapki request process karenge" and then he asked me to meet his manager (in whose cabin we were sitting). I tried to tell him that it was very late and I had to leave, but he didn't listen and walked to the manager and introduced me to him. Politely, I shook hands with the manager, exchanged business cards and with a word of assurance that I will get back to them shortly with our loan requirements, I finally managed to come out of the bank some 3 hrs after I had entered it, with relief that my need to visit SBI ended today and with pity for those who were still required to visit the bank. 

Out on the road, some Tempo was just about to block my car and park there. I barely managed to get my car out in time, and quickly drove away. It did feel like it was an entire day spent at SBI. 

My 2 cents on Reserved Instance Billing and Savings

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