Friday, August 11, 2017

6 Great Disappointments of a Moto-M Customer

How a pathetic product experience drastically tamper the brand image


I have never written a product review or customer feedback blog in detail before. I’m compelled to write this detailed blog just to share the gravity of disappointment that I underwent as a Motorola customer and the pathetic customer service I experienced from their authorized service centre in Bangalore.

I don’t want anybody to go through this frustrating experience.

Before deciding to buy Moto-M, I considered high-end phones from other brands. I selected Moto-M because of its high-resistant Gorilla Glass and 16MP mobile camera. But, in less than six months, the user experience that I got was really disappointing.

Within six months, my Rs18000/- worth phone is now a scrap. Motorola customer care people termed the phone as irreparable and unusable. Here I'm listing the reasons for my disappointments.

Disappointment 1: Gorilla screen is so brittle

I bought this phone as a surprise gift to my wife. Before Moto-M, I have gifted her Moto-G on our engagement day. As Moto-G started showing touchpad issues and OS issues, I decided to buy her Moto-M. Before buying, I saw product review videos where the reviewer used a hammer to check the resistance of the Gorilla screen. I and my wife were very much impressed with that feature. But, that impression vanished in a few months after the purchase. 

Almost two months back, when we were travelling by bus, my wife kept the phone in her handbag and that bag was clung to the hook next to the window seat. There was no way the bag could swing and the bag didn't even fell down. In the morning, when she took the phone out, there were two minor cracks at the bottom portion of the mobile screen. We couldn't believe how the Gorilla screen got those cracks. 

Disappointment 2: Battery charging, a huge setback 

The second disappointment happened when we went to Coorg. It was a three-day trip. On the first day night when we came back to the room and kept the phone for charging, we realized that the phone was not charging. Even after several attempts, the phone was not responding. On the last two days of our trip, my wife was concerned about her phone and she was disappointed that she couldn't capture the beautiful places and moments that we had during those two days. 

Disappointment 3: Customer care given the least priority  

Soon after coming back to Bangalore, we decided to get the phone repaired. We googled for the authorized Moto-M service centre and found one at Marthahalli, Bangalore. On 1st of July, we went to the service centre. It was little crowded. There were three lady customer care executives in that service centre. After an initial enquiry, we were asked to wait for over half an hour. After which I realized that they are randomly calling people without giving priority to who came first. 

After 2-3 reminders, I managed to get a call from one of the customer care executives. I showed her the phone and said, "Mobile is not charging". She looked at the phone and noticed those two minor cracks on the bottom portion of the screen, "There are cracks in the screen. It is considered as physical damage. It won't be covered under warranty," she replied immediately in an unfriendly tone. 

I told her, "See, the screen is also covered under warranty for a year. And it has nothing to do with the battery issue as this crack happened one month ago and the charging issue started a few days back. You can check other sides of the phone. There is no damage that could affect the performance of the battery." 

She kept on arguing the same point. I was not in a mood to continue that kind of argument. So I told her, "Ok, fine. As the cracks are minor, I don't want to change the screen. I will pay the amount for rectifying the charging issue if it is not covered under warranty." 

Then she said, "For checking, we charge Rs170/-" With no options, I agreed. 

The second customer care executive who was sitting next to the executive with whom I was talking to came to her seat at that time. "Hai, where were you. Many customers are waiting. You went for chit chatting noww?" asked the first executive. The second executive was not in her seat for over 45 mins. 

Our executive took the charger kept connected in her desk and plugged it into our phone. "It is not charging," she replied. 

"That is what I explained as the issue," I responded.

Then she wrote down the issue as "Battery not Charging" on a piece of white paper and tied it on the phone, opened the sliding window and gave it to the engineer who was checking the phones. We were asked to wait once again.

After some time, we were called by the customer care executive, and she showed us the wide opened phone with little white patches here and there inside and said, "We can't repair the phone. It is gone."

I and my wife were really shocked to hear this kind of response. "The phone is only 5 months old. How can you saw 'It is gone’? Please try to do something to rectify the issue. We spent Rs 18000 on this phone."

"No. It is not possible. It is the water issue. It is irreparable. You can take it back," she was just trying to avoid the conversation.

"Can you check with your engineers once again?" I requested.

"He only told that. I check in front of you" She slid the window and opened it. The second executive was standing behind the engineer and pressing his shoulder and they were busy chit chatting. Our executive was trying to speak to that engineer who was smiling and very casually saying, "Whom should I speak to? One person at a time."

"Hai, don't play. Customer waiting. The customer is asking whether the phone can be repaired?" she asked. 

"No. It is not possible," he gave an instant reply and went back to his "more important" conversation. 

I was wondering how serious these guys are? Finding perfect "Work-love" balance! While a customer is deeply concerned about the product and service, the customer care executives and engineers consider it as a time pass.  

"Can I go to any other place where I can rectify the issue?" I asked with disappointment.

"You can go anywhere, sir." She prompted the next customer to come in.

"Ok then, put the back cover in place and give the phone," I replied.

We were asked to wait for some more time. 

Disappointment 4: Mobile screen fully damaged

When we were waiting to pay the mobile inspection charge of Rs 170/- we got our phone back. While they were generating the bill, my wife noticed that there were cracks all over the mobile screen. She lost her patience. She told the third customer care executive that these cracks were not there when we gave the phone for checking. The third executive, who was little more matured and senior among the three executives, checked with our executive. For which our executive started saying, "These cracks were there earlier. I showed it to you."

First of all, we were not happy with the performance of the phone and the customer care that we got till that time, above that, this kind of grave negligence and blaming act really tested my patience. I stood up and raised my voice, "There were cracks, not on the whole screen. There were only two minor cracks at the bottom of the screen." I replied.

"No, I showed it to you. I was there earlier," that executive was adamant. 

"See, it is my phone. I know it for sure. When I gave the phone to you, I told you that these cracks are minor, I don't want to replace the screen and I asked you to rectify the battery charging issue. What kind of customer care is this? It is really pathetic. It is not at all customer friendly. Anyways, after paying Rs18000, the phone became useless in less than six months, now, what is the point in making you people teach what customer care is," I vented out my anger.

Then, I asked for that Rs 170/- mobile checking bill. For which, the senior executive said, "No sir, we don't want you to pay the bill. It is okay."

I told the senior executive that, "It is really sad to see this kind of customer care. Now onwards, please note down the issues before getting the phone for checking. Please keep a record in place and be organized. Don't play this kind of silly blame game." 

We took the dead phone and came out of the service centre, while other customers were silently looking at us.

Disappointment 5: Purely unprofessional documentation

When we came out of the service centre, we stood on the ground floor of the building and wondering about the sad fate of our Moto-M. My wife was really emotional and was regretting for wasting Rs 18000 to buy this costly and inefficient phone. I tried to console her by saying, "It is not your mistake. You didn't drop the phone in water. Most probably it could have caused because of the early morning photography. Might be because of the mist. Not because of water entering the phone."

"But, how can a high-end phone be this much fragile that too with a fully covered mobile cover in place. The gorilla glass is so weak and above all, it couldn't resist the mist. Even if there are issues, I was expecting service centre people to repair it. But, not even in my dreams, I was thinking that it would completely damage the phone. The way they are providing the customer care is really pathetic. We should escalate it. We should not let other people suffer like this. Moto-M promised the sky and when it comes to performance it under delivered," she was on verge of crying. 

I consoled her, "It is okay. We will escalate it. First of all, we didn't get any receipt from the customer care. Let us go once again and get that receipt."

We went back to the service centre and met the executive once again, she was trying to avoid us. "Can you give me the letter stating the issue?" I asked her.

"What letter?" she replied.

"You checked the phone and found that it is not working. I need a letter mentioning the issue," I explained.

She asked for the phone. I gave it to her. Then came the question, "What was the issue?"

I smiled, "Just 5 minutes back I went out. You only took the phone for checking. It had the battery related issue. Phone not charging."  I controlled my anger and replied patiently.

She became silent and gave the phone once again for checking. We were waiting for 10 minutes. "Why are you checking the phone once again. Your engineer has checked it already, right? I just want you guys to give it in writing. I can't understand the need for checking the phone once again?" I asked.

"They have to check, right? Wait for five more minutes," she was not happy.

Then she started checking her phone for a few minutes and later started checking the files on her desktop. Then, she started checking with the second executive regarding what she should do. She doesn't have a clue on what to do. I controlled myself and waited for 5 more minutes. Still, she was confused on what to do. I asked her, "Are you doing it for the first time?"

"What? No, I'm filling it," she turned the chair and avoided facing us. 

After 10 minutes, the sliding window opened and the engineer gave the filled-in form to her. When I got the form, I checked the details and I found that the engineer's signature was missing. 

I told the executive that, "Engineer's signature is missing. Can you please get it signed by him?" 

She took the form and opened that sliding window and gave the form to him. When she asked for his signature, he was hesitant and he avoided my eye contact. Later, he signed it. When I got the form, I thanked the customer service executive for the "kind and friendly" service that she gave us and we walked out of the service centre fully dejected.

Disappointment 6: Escalation hits a dead end  

As a last resort, I contacted the Motorola customer care page on Facebook and they asked me to send a detailed email with all the bills and documents. After dropping the mail, it took more than 15 days and three follow-up emails to get a response saying that I will get a call from customer care executive.

After a few days, I got the call. The executive asked me to explain the issue. Even after writing a detailed email with all the information, I explained the whole story. Then the executive told me that, he checked with the Marthahalli authorized service centre and got the response from them saying that water has entered the phone and it is irreparable.

I told him, the phone was not dropped into water for sure. Above all, one of the key features of Moto-M is its splash proof design. “Without water entering the phone, how can the phone get fully damaged like this? If the service centre engineers couldn’t do anything, then it is the grave issue related to the phone quality. How can a highly branded and highly priced phone underperform like this? The worst thing is, the phone became useless in less than 6 months.”

“No, sir. We can’t do anything,” he was not even giving any alternative solution and was defending authorized service centre employees.

“If you don’t have any other solution to solve the customers’ issue and if no action is taken against the authorized service centre for their negligence, then what is the point in continuing this conversation?  ‘I’m deeply regretting my decision to buy this phone and mainly from this brand Motorola. It is my mistake. Thanks for your time,” I disconnected the phone. There ends my hope.

Moto-M: My bitter learnings
·  Splash-proof Design: Never let spills, splashes, or a little rain get in your way - This is one of the key features of Moto-M. But, in reality, even a mild mist can kill the phone. 
·  Gorilla Glass: The harsh reality is, a minor tap can crack Moto-M's screen. Even low-end phones have high-resistant screens than the so-called gorilla glass. 
·  Customer Care: They are not at all professional and not at all concerned about customers.
A person losing the phone worth Rs18000 in less than six months for no fault of his/her is not a big deal for the company the sells the phone with a huge promise. But, as a customer, who buys the phone with great hope, end up being dejected and disappointed.

One really unpleasant product experience is more than enough to tamper the brand image. I never ever want to try any of the Motorola products in future. I learnt it in a bitter way. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

The colorful tale of yellow elephant and flying whale

An inspiring story of Fathima Hakkim, the self-taught artist from Kerala

Student life had always been strainful…  Mugging up lengthy paragraphs and formulas were very difficult... Friends and relatives considered her as a stupid girl… Family doctor termed her quirky behaviors as the symptoms of dyslexia... If it was somebody else they would have gave up and reduced themselves to become one among the crowd... But, Fathima Hakkim belongs to a different breed. She decided to challenge her limitations. Her journey so far has not been that easy. She pushed the boundaries and carved out an identity for herself. This is a story of a girl with a fighting spirit that instills inspiration in us.

With an innocent smile, Fathima started narrating her story, "My mother is a teacher and father is a doctor. I have two brothers and one sister. All my siblings are brilliant in studies. I’m the only exception. I can remember a lot of things. If you tell me 100 names, I can repeat those names. But, it is difficult for me to memorize the multiplication tables. I'm also very bad in directions. If I go somewhere, I would forget the direction from where I came from and where am I supposed to go next. It was even difficult for me to identify colors, in school, if the teacher asks me to color the elephant black; I would choose some other color.”

 “My teachers and parents had a tough time teaching me. Getting punished by teachers and standing outside the class were the only two things that I remember from my school days as it was part of my daily routine," Fathima continued.

"As my aversion towards studies continued, my parents took me to the family doctor.  The doctor told us that these are the symptoms of Dyslexia. After that, my parents became very much concerned about my studies and future. After a long battle with studies, I finished my schooling and managed to join the Architecture course. Within a few months’ time, my professors in college understood my "brilliance" in studies. They called my mother to the college and asked her to discontinue my studies, as they strongly believed that I'm not capable enough to clear the exams. My mother requested the professors to allow me to continue the studies and she also promised that I would work hard and clears all the exams. Even though I tried really hard, I couldn't clear all my exams. I took me multiple attempts,” said Fathima.

Painting: Where dreams get a new glow

It was really surprising for us to believe that how Fathima became a talented painter even after having challenges in identifying the colors. She pushed herself really hard and expanded her horizons to the universe of colors.

"At the age of 5, I took the brush in my hand. As I was neither a bright student nor an active person, I had very limited friends. So, I spent my time alone painting in my room. Initially, when my parents saw my indulgence in painting they were afraid that it would distract my attention from studies. After a point, when they saw me winning prices in school and state level drawing competitions, they slowly allowed me to paint,” smiled Fathima. 

“Gradually, painting has become the language I use to express my thoughts. Just by seeing my painting one could guess my thought process. I didn’t take any formal training in painting. Whatever I’m drawing today are the result of my continued effort to improve myself.  I have my unique way of painting. Instead of a brush, I use my fingers to draw my paintings. I like to draw on wide canvases fixed to the wall or spread on the floor. All my paintings are the extensions of my dream. You can see giant blue whales flutter their wings and birds swim deep inside the blue ocean,” Fathima took us deep into her world of colors.

“When I gained confidence in painting, I started a Facebook page and published pictures of my new art works. After seeing my painting photos on my Facebook page, my fan base increased. One of the art enthusiasts from Thrissur contacted me after seeing by Facebook page and asked me whether I’m willing to sell my paintings. Till that time, I never thought about selling my paintings. I never thought that somebody would show interest in buying my paintings. I started selling my paintings. Six of my paintings are decorating the walls of the new house of Ujala company’s MD Ramachandran. Art enthusiasts from Dubai have contacted me and bought many of my paintings. Out of surprise, I asked them what is special in my painting. They told me that, when compared to other painters in India, my painting style is unique because of my self-training. That’s when I realized that my limitations are my strength.  For the first time, I thanked my dyslexia symptoms,” Fathima continued.

“By being a dull student in the class I have not given any proud moment to my parents. Now, they are proud of me, mainly because of my painting skills,” said Fathima in an emotional tone.

A precious gift from god

Marriage was another big challenge for Fathima and she was afraid of that commitment. When her parents started looking for alliances for her, she was very concerned about whether her life partner would be liberal enough to accept her in her originality and allow her to cherish her passion for painting. The families that came up with the alliances were happy to see Fathima’s expertise in painting. But, after they were clear enough to say that they don’t want her to continue painting after marriage.

After initial disappointments, Fathima found the right match for her. Last year, Fathima got married to Sameer, who works in Canada. Sameer first saw Fathima from her Facebook page. He liked her paintings and Sameer’s family contacted Fathima’s family.  During the conversation with Sameer, Fathima listed down all the negative things about her dyslexia symptoms. With a lot of patience, Sameer listened to her. Fathima expected that he would walk back. But, Sameer smiled at her and with a smile he asked her “Okay. Let us stop talking about negative things. Shall we talk about the positive things,” that is where their relationship started.

When commenting about Sameer, Fathima said, “I consider Sameer as God’s gift to me. Our combination is unique. I’m a dreamy person. Sameer is very practical. Once we both were standing on a bridge. I felt like flying and I even told him, “Shall fly down together all the way from this bridge,” he didn’t consider that as a crazy thought. He replied saying, “’It will be even more interesting if we fit in a parachute and then fly from this bridge’. After marriage, he went back to Canada. Once I told Sameer that, I love to look at the shiny stars glittering on a moon-lit night for hours. On my first birthday after marriage, he sent me a surprise gift – a telescope.”

When we spoke to Sameer, we realized that Sameer is undoubtedly an encouraging husband. “Fathima is a real motivation for people with Dyslexia. She didn’t get painting skills by birth. She has rigorously practiced and developed her skill in painting. Now she has created an identity for herself. It is a laudable achievement. I’m doing all that I can do to motivate her to realize all her dreams.”

Fathima wants her painting to help the society. In collaboration with other artists, Fathima has conducted a painting exhibition to help blood cancer patients in Kerala. She celebrates her birthdays in orphanage and old age homes.

As part of Architecture course, Fathima had to submit a thesis. While her classmates were very keen on submitting commercial projects, Fathima selected a project that focused on creating a self-sustainable village for abandoned people. In her concept village, each house will have an elderly person from old age home, an orphan from the orphanage and a member of women self-help group to support them.

Each house will function like a family with a perfect combination of an elder and young person. This would give each person a great relief as they will be part of a family. The women self-help group would help the village to become self-sustainable. The long-term vision of this project and the moral boost it brings to those abandoned people were well appreciated by the government authorities and the external examiners. Fathima's self-sustainable village project was considered as the best project.

Fathima would like the government to take this idea further and make it a reality for the benefit of those abandoned people who are leading painful lives. Fathima wants her painting to help the society. In collaboration with other artists, Fathima has conducted a painting exhibition to help blood cancer patients in Kerala. She celebrates her birthdays in orphanage and old age homes.

Fathima has a big dream. She wants to draw more paintings. She wants to conduct more exhibitions. She wants to sell her paintings all across the global. With all that money she wants to buy a big house facing the sea. It would be a bright house facing the sea with a lot of windows. Elderly people from old age homes and kids from orphanages would stay together as a big family in that house.  Early morning and in moonlit night Fathima and her husband with all those extended family members would go for a long walk on the wet seashore. Their laughter should be louder than those rumbling waves.

We have seen artists do painting for a living. But, Fathima is making her life a beautiful painting with an everlasting impression. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

10-rupee auto ride in Bangalore & a surprising marketing strategy

I'm living in Bangalore for over eight years now.

Taking an auto ride remains as my last option till date because of unregulated fares and rude behaviors of auto drivers.

In spite of all that, last week I was really surprised to hear an auto driver charging just 10 rupees to cover an almost 2-kilometer distance, while the minimum fare is over 20 rupees.

Last weekend, I went for a metro train ride with three other family members. After enjoying the underground metro ride we got down at MG Road. The next plan was to do shopping at Commercial Street.

As it was raining, instead of a cab, we decided to take an auto rickshaw. We walked towards the MG Road auto stand. On seeing us, one of the auto drivers asked us, "Sir, Commercial Street?"

I said, "Yes".

To avoid conflict at a later stage, I asked the auto driver, "How much is the auto fare?"

He said, "10 rupees".

I thought I heard it wrong, I asked him once again.

He said, "Only 10 rupees, Sir."

Still, I was not convinced. My next thought was it might be a share auto. "Is it 10 rupees per person?"

"No sir. It is for four people. This is a marketing initiative. I will drop you at Roopam Textiles Showroom near Commercial Street. They have all kind of dress materials. You just have to visit the showroom. Even if you don't buy anything, no problem. We are employees of Roopam. You get the best quality dresses at a nominal price ," he explained.

We were very hungry. So, we wanted to eat first before shopping. We skipped that auto and decided to take another one.

But, all the available autos were from Roopam. We were left with no other option other than to visit Roopam Textiles Showroom.

Just by paying 10 rupees, we reached Roopam Textiles. The showroom guys were so clever. There were no separate entry and exit doors other than the lift that connects the parking basement to the other floors of the showroom. They make sure that you enter the Showroom.

We were dropped at the parking basement and one lift in-charge guy kept the lift doors open for us. One other clueless family was also there in the lift.

Though we had no plan to buy anything from that textile showroom, we ended up buying a dress.
Most of the customers in that showroom were families and seven to eight autos were fleeing to and fro Commercial Street and MG Road.

Even though it is an attempt to increase sales by persuading people, the innovation in attracting customers with the cheapest auto fare is really impressive.

Footnote: Dress materials are slightly overpriced.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Nightmarish Ooty Trip & 3 Encounters with Police

Going out to new places gives tonnes of excitement and loads of new experiences. But, when we are accompanied by close friends, even a trip to the familiar place would become interesting and memorable. If those friends are crazy, it would even become adventurous than what one could ever imagine.

All the fun ended here...

The Beginning

This incident happened when my college friends and I were at the early stages of our professional lives. There was some common dissatisfaction among us regarding the stress we go through while working as journalists. We started thinking about a productive alternative. At that time, one of my friends, Syam, came up with the idea that mushroom cultivation is profitable and we could easily do it in our home town without much investment.

That thought caught the interest of two of us, Sainu and me. After doing initial research, we found that there are many profitable mushroom farms in Ooty. So, we decided to visit those farms in Ooty, which is just four-hour drive from my home town, Palakkad.

At that time, I was in Bangalore, Syam was in Mumbai and Sainu was in Cochin. All of us decided to meet at my house in Palakkad. One fine afternoon, Sainu, Syam and one of Syam’s friends, Shajahan, who was working in Merchant Navy, came to my house on two bikes.

The initial idea was to travel by bike. But, my father advised us to go by car instead of two different bikes. My cousin’s car was kept at my house and my father asked us to take that car, which turned out as the bad decision. That car, a Hyundai Santro, has an important role in this adventurous story. Syam and Shajahan are proficient drivers. So, we decided to take the car. Right next to the gate of my house, the car stopped, giving us the hint that it won’t be a pleasant trip.

 Hairpin bends and scary ride

By the time we passed Mettupalayam and started taking the elevated curves and sharp bends that head towards Ooty, it was dark. Our car was moving on an average speed and four of us were busy in funny conversations and were pulling each other’s legs.

At one point, after several attempts, Syam overtook a lorry. When we were 50-100 meters ahead of the lorry, we heard a thudding sound and it took us several seconds to realize what has happened. We slowed the vehicle and turned back. That lorry with heavy load tilted towards the left side of the road and fell down on the flat place adjoining the road. As we found people from vehicles that came behind the lorry helping the lorry guys, we decided to move ahead.

After crossing 7-8 hairpin bends, we were moving towards the next one. It was dark with a slight mist. Other than car head lights there were no other lights. As we were approaching the hairpin bend, a Tata Sumo was screeching towards us from the opposite direction. Syam’s reflex breaking action stopped our vehicle instantly with a hard jerk. Just before the barricade, the Sumo stopped.

It was a lucky day for that driver and for us. A fraction of a second here and there would have let the vehicle either to cross the barricade and topple several feet down or hit our vehicle. The Sumo driver paused for a few seconds, took a reverse and turned towards the right route with a sigh of relief. At around 9.30PM we reached my uncle’s house in Coonoor. After having dinner we slept.

Waking up to a dreadful day

We woke up, got ready and started the journey towards the outskirts of Ooty where the Mushroom farms are located. My two little cousins also joined us. Between farm hopping, we met a land broker who got into our car and he started showing interior places that are ideal for a mushroom farm. After visiting three mushroom farms, we realized that starting a mushroom farm is not easy and it requires a lot of investment that we can’t afford at that time.

The land broker continued to show us more places.  After a point, we managed to get rid of that land broker. We dropped my cousins at their house and headed towards Ooty. We decided to drop our business plan and enjoy the rest of the day roaming around Ooty. After visiting some interior places, we reached Ooty Botanical garden at around 3PM. The plan was to start our journey to Palakkad at 6.30PM. We entered the botanical garden. Many school children were following their teachers and here and there we could see family crowds and honeymoon couples.

Gaining the energy for the non-stop adventure...

Globetrotter's Mexican stories

Shajahan has traveled around the world and he has stayed in many countries. Throughout our journey, he used to boast about his foreign trips and the party life in different countries.

He kept on telling those stories while we were entering the garden. We were eating fresh carrots and to avoid Shajahan's self-promotion we decided to play with the carrot pieces. We divided ourselves into two teams with two members each and we stood away. One team would throw the carrot piece high up in the air and any of the members of the other team should catch it. We started playing. Within no time it became interesting. Carrot started flying higher and higher and catchers started running further and further.

Tourists, who were sitting around, started looking at us. A big group of school kids from a boarding school were eager to join us. Then it became a huge crowd on the both sides. The cheering became louder and we started rolling on the grass to catch the carrot piece. All of us started sweating. We continued playing till all the carrot pieces were broken into tiny pieces. Then we introduced Shajahan to those kids as the one who roam around the world.

Shajahan started sharing his travel experiences. All the kids were excited to hear that and they eagerly asked questions. The kids became friendly to the extent that one guy asked Shajahan, "Which country girls are prettier?" After asking the question that boy started blushing. With much authority, Shajahan told them that, Mexican girls look so pretty. No other girls look prettier than them.

Shajahan became a celebrity with all those boys becoming his fans. When the boys were about to leave we took a group photo. After 6PM the garden workers started informing visitors that it is closing time. We started walking towards the gate. We came out of the botanical garden and walked towards our car parked on the inner road away from the gate. Shajahan was searching for the car key. He missed the car key. All of us became tensed and we started scolding Shajahan.

The day light was going down and the main garden gate is getting closed. All the visitors were asked to move out. We ran towards the security guards and told them the situation and requested them to let us in. They asked us to search quickly. We ran all the way inside to the place where we were playing with carrot pieces. It was a huge vacant area. We ran around and searched all the corners till it was fully dark.

Drunken goons & daring efforts

We were totally disappointed and we came out of the gate and reached the place where our car was parked. With a torch light we looked around the car. Shajahan apologized for this goof up. After sometime, we realized that one of the back door windows is not locked. There was a gap between the door frame and the top glass edge. We managed to pull down the glass and opened the car doors. We got into the car. Now the next challenge was to start the car. We tried all the tricks without any use.

As it was getting late, we decided to contact nearby mechanic shops. Sainu and I went in different directions to find a mechanic. There was no mechanic shop nearby. I spoke to a tea shop owner and got the number of a mechanic. I spoke to him and request him for immediate help. He agreed to reach the place in half an hour. With a great relief, I walked towards the car, where Syam and Shajahan were arguing with three drunken localites.

I asked Syam what happened. "They are drunk and simply troubling us." The drunken guys were raising their voice and creating a scene. "I want to know how you guys move out of this place. You people from Kerala have a lot of attitude. Last week a few guys came and showed similar attitude we smashed the front glasses of their Bolero, after which they went away without uttering a word."

I asked Syam and Shajahan to keep quiet and looked at the guy who looked like the gang leader. The guy next to that gang leader started blabbering, "Do you know who his father is? He is the Sub-Inspector of the local police station and he lives in police quarters nearby. Nobody messes with him. Nobody asks him any question."

Now, it is very clear who the gang leader is. I smiled at him and initiated the conversation in Tamil. "I know Tamil. And I'm a Senior Report of a leading Tamil magazine. We are here in your place. We should only take back good memories. We lost the car key and we are struggling. We have to go back today and it is dark. That tension led to this argument."

After a pause, the gang leader smiled and said, "Look how you speak. One should not show attitude in a new place. If you show attitude your car will also be smashed like that Bolero."

I told him that "It happened because of the tension. Leave it."

In a sudden shift, the gang became so friendly, "Do you need any mechanic to repair the car? Our friends are there."

"No. Thanks. I have called a mechanic. He promised to come here in half an hour," I told him.

"We will be here only. Call us if you need any help. If you guys want to drink, join us till the mechanic comes," said that guy in a friendly tone.

"No. That’s fine. Thank you," I skipped.

When keyless entry goes haywire

Soon after the gang left, the mechanic came on a motorbike. We were curious to know how the mechanic would resolve the issue. He tried all the tricks and told us that, "In cars with center locking it is difficult to unlock without a key."

After several attempts, the mechanic started removing plastic coverings fitted below the steering wheel. My blood pressure started increasing as it is my cousin's car. After some time, all the wires connected to the steering wheel were protruding out. After doing all these, the mechanic managed to unlock the steering wheel. Then he said, he needs more tools to do further work. So, he asked us to push the car till his mechanical workshop, which is 2Kms away.

While the mechanic slowly drove his bike, Shajahan took control of the car steering. Syam, Sainu and me pushed the car. When we started moving, the local gang came out and asked, "Is it working. Where are you taking it?"

"To the mechanical workshop. Thanks for your help. See you next time," I quipped.

"You guys didn't have drinks with me. Have a drink and go," the gang leader insisted.

"We will have it next time. See you." We moved out.

It was 9PM. All the shops were closed by that time. We were really tired. The breeze was cold as the mist sweeping in. With great difficulty, we pushed the car all the way till the workshop. The mechanic took another hour to give us a solution. He called all four of us inside his workshop and gave us the instructions. "To completely resolve this, I need one full day. The key slot has to be replaced completely. It is very complicated. Another option is, I will show you how to operate the vehicle in the current scenario. Once you reach home, get it sorted at your place."

We looked at each other; the second option looked fine for all of us. We wanted to reach home as early as possible. All of us were dead tired and starving. We told our decision to the mechanic. He started showing us the wires. "Earlier all the controls were on the steering wheel. Without the key it is not possible to operate it. So, I have removed all the wires. One guy, who is sitting next to the driver, should take control of these tasks. To start the car, you have to connect these two wires and push the car. For controlling head lights these are the wires. This is for horn and that is for the indicator."

That mechanical workshop looked like a practical laboratory and four of us were listening to the mechanic like electronics students.

Encounter 1: A lift to mufti police till CBI office

After clearing the mechanic's bill, we push started the car and got in. Syam was driving the car, I took the co-driver seat. We decided to drive slowly as we have to drive down the hill. Below the steering all the wires were projecting out so we covered it with a small towel. We were very hungry and we cursed that day.

"Sorry guys. All these happened because of my mistake," Shajahan apologized.

He expected sympathy from us. But, we all started abusing him. We started cracking jokes on the incidents that happened. We started laughing.

But, that was not all. Just before leaving Ooty town, a group of police stopped us on the road.
We stopped the car. Before the police came near our car, Syam adjusted the towel covering the wires and whispered that he is not going to switch on the light.

Two senior police officers came near the driver seat. Syam lowered the car window glass.

“Where are you coming from?” one police officer asked and looked inside the car.

“Ooty,” Syam said.

“It is so late. What were you guys doing till this time? Where are you going?” he refined the question further.

“Our vehicle broke down. We got it repaired and it took time. We have to reach Palakkad and we are thinking of staying here tonight as it is so late,” I replied with hesitation.

The police officer introduced us to another police officer in the group, who was in mufti. “He is our staff. He has to handover an important file to a CBI office in Mettupalayam. It is little urgent. So, give him a lift till Mettupalayam. He will help you find accommodation in Mettupalayam.”

We tried to avoid that by saying, “No sir, we are very tired. We would like to stay here.”

“It is urgent. That’s why. Help him,” the police officer took the liberty of opening the back door and the mufti police got into our car.

The police officers outside the car started waving their hands. Syam, Sainu and I fiercely looked at Shajahan and he started looking outside. For some time, there was dead silent in the car. After which, as a precaution, I told the police officer that we lost the key and we are driving the car without key. He said, “That is okay. I can understand.” During the journey he became friendly and started sharing his personal and professional experience.

At around midnight, we reached Mettupallayam. We dropped the police officer in the town where he requested us to stop. Before leaving, he asked us whether we need his help in getting an accommodation in Mettupalayam. We told him that, “Anyways, it is midnight. In 2-3 hours journey we will reach Palakkad. So, we prefer driving towards Palakkad.”

Encounter 2: Highway police on advice mode
From Syam, Shajahan took the driver seat. We felt relieved after dropping the police officer. All of us were very tired. Sainu started sleeping even when the police officer was sitting next to him. In minutes even Syam and I also started dozing off. Shajahan was also sleepy. So, we decided to take a nap. We parked the car on the left side of the highway under a tree. As it was humid, Shajahan removed his shirt and pushed his seat back and we slept in no time.

I woke up hearing the tapping sound from the driver’s window. It was a stick. Somebody was trying to wake us up. There was a jeep parked next to our car. It took me a few minutes to realize that it is a Police Jeep.

Shajahan and Syam also woke up. Shajahan was surprised to see the police guys once again. Shajahan pulled down the window glass and was trying to find his shirt. There were three police officers, one of them asked us to switch on the light inside the car and come out. Shajahan switched on the light. The steering wheel with the wires was covered with the towel. One of the assistant police officers peeked into the window and removed the towel. And the senior police officer also looked in.

“Where are you coming from?” the police officer asked us while looking at the all-wired steering wheel.

“Ooty,” replied Shajahan in low voice.

“From where did you guys lift this car?” the officer asked us to come out of the car.

Sainu was not at all disturbed by all these conversations. He was still sleeping comfortably balancing his head on half-opened window glass. Three of us got down from the car and went near the police jeep.

“Where did you lift this car?” the police officer asked us once again.

“We went for an Ooty trip. There we missed the car key. A mechanic there took all the wires out to help us start the car without key. While driving towards Palakkad, we felt sleepy. So, we thought of taking a nap,” we explained him the situation.

He was not fully convinced. What are you guys doing?

I introduced myself as Assistant Editor of XYZ magazine, Shajahan introduced him as merchant navy officer and Syam introduced him as Senior Reporter of XYZ newspaper in Mumbai.

“What about the guy sleeping in the car?” the assistant police officer was curious.

He went near the door and tried to wake Sainu up. Despite being thick friend of Sainu, even Syam and I don’t dare to disturb him while he is sleeping. After 2-3 attempts, the police officer managed to succeed in his attempt. With great difficulty Sainu opened his eyes. He looked at both the police officers. Without any change in facial reaction, he asked “What?”

Taking by surprise with Sainu’s reaction, the officer asked him, “What is your name and profession?”

“I’m Sainul Abudheen. I’m the Legal Correspondent of XYZ newspaper in Cochin,” he was brimming with irritation and his voice was loud. After replying he immediately went back to sleep. Three of us were shocked after seeing Sainu’s blind boldness.

The police officer checked our ID cards for confirmation. After realizing that three of us are Journalists and one from Navy, the senior officer mellowed down his voice and became friendly.

“You should not park your car on highways. It is risky. What if a vehicle comes out of control and bangs your vehicle. If you are sleepy, park your car in any of the petrol pumps and sleep. That is safer. Don’t park your car here. Have a safe trip,” they shook hands with three of us before leaving while Sainu was sleeping comfortably.

We push started the car and started moving. We made fun of Sainu’s boldness. “Even if Commissioner disturbs my sleep, my response would be like that,” Sainu responded.

Encounter 3: The strict police officer of Walayar

We couldn’t control our sleep not even for half an hour. Once again we parked the car. This time it was a little away from the highway, in front of a closed shop. That area was full of mosquitoes. Because of mosquito bites, we couldn’t even sleep for 10 minutes. We cursed all the gods and push started the car. Syam took the driver seat. All of us decided that nobody is going to sleep. Shajahan started sharing Mexican stories. Once again we started pulling each other’s legs.

With great struggle to control our sleep, we crossed the Walayar check post and entered Kerala. It takes another 30 minutes to reach my house. It was 2.30 AM. Shajahan, Sainu and Syam felt that it is an odd time to reach my home and they felt that it would affect my parents sleep. So, for the third time, we parked the car in an isolated place next to the highway and started sleeping.

In my deep sleep, I heard the tapping sound on the driver’s window glass. Initially I thought it was a dream. When tried hard to open my eyes. I couldn’t believe, once again police! All of us woke up and looked at each other.

A senior police officer was sitting in the jeep and a young assistant police officer was standing near our car. We opened the window and switched on the light. We were asked to handover the car key. We looked at each other. The assistant officer looked inside the car and removed the towel from the steering wheel. He saw all the wires and the key slot was empty. He informed what he saw to the senior officer. Four of us were asked to come out of the car.

“Four young guys, odd time, car parked on highway, no keys, all wires disconnected… What should I conclude?” The senior police officer asked us in strict tone.

Once again we explained the whole story.  With little hesitation, the senior officer said, “Ok. Show me the papers.”

Before we started from Palakkad, my father showed me where the car-related documents are kept.
I went inside the car and took those documents and gave it to the senior officer sitting inside the jeep.
While looking at the documents, he asked me, “Who is the owner of the car?”

This is my cousin’s car. “What is the owner’s name?” he asked.

I told my cousin sister’s name. “No. That’s not matching the name in the document,” he raised his voice.

“Then it would be in her husband’s name,” I told my brother-in-law’s name.

“No. That’s not the name. You guys don’t even know who the owner is?” he further raised his voice.

“Sir, it is a second hand car. I’m not sure whether they have transferred the name or not,” I tried to explain.

“How can I believe you guys? There is no key. You don’t even know the owner’s name. Then how can I believe,” he ridiculed us.

“Sir, I’m a magazine Editor, he is a senior Reporter, the third guy is working in navy and the last guy is also a Reporter. We have ID proofs,” I replied.

 “We didn’t do any offence. We just lost the key.  We can understand your version of things. We ca show you the ID cards to prove our genuineness,” Syam replied.

“Should I be afraid of journalists? Being a Reporter or Editor doesn’t mean that you can escape from anything. I’m not afraid of any journalists and they don’t have any special privilege” the police officer was trying to dominate us.

“Sir, do whatever you feel like! We have seen many police officers like this,” once again Sainu raised his voice.

“If I register a complaint, it attracts a maximum punishment of six-month imprisonment.” The police officer thought for a second and said, “This time, I’m leaving you guys. Leave immediately from this place.” After handing over the documents, the officer asked the assistant to start the jeep.

Before we push started our vehicle, the police jeep moved far away from our sight. Wondering about all that happened in a night, we reached my house. We explained the whole story to my father and we showed him the car. He regretted for his decision to allow us to take the car and he ended up fixing it by spending a huge amount from his pocket.

After that trip, I never met Shajahan. That one adventurous trip was more than enough to remember him for a life time.

Some memories are like this. Even if it is nightmarish, the people who were part of it make it so special.