Letters to Sam

My cousin Sam lives in London and is seriously considering a career switch. She told me that 20 years as an English school teacher had ‘left her decimated.’ That’s why, she is so ready to jump careers when her current academic year ends in mid 2017.

“I’m exhausted!” she said during her visit to Mumbai in August. “My work day starts at 6 am and ends past midnight. Thankfully, both my kids are in college, but I have dozens of 11 year olds waiting for me at school. At first, it felt great – you know, molding lives and all – but all that’s gone. Every evening, I drag a sack-full of homework back with me. While other folks head out to the gym and have fun weekends, I have assignments to mark, PowerPoint presentations to prepare, report cards to make – and it just keeps going on endlessly!”

Things began to look up or her when her friend, Mark, who heads a PR firm in London, suggested that she could work for him. Before she decides, she’d like me to tell her about the world of communications, since my experience with this industry almost spans a decade. “I don’t want to read a book on public relations,” she insisted, “because my mind won’t relate to them. I’d like you to tell me, whenever you have some time out of your settlement process in Canada.”

So, over the next few weeks and months, I shall tell her, through my Letters to Sam.

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A blank canvas and a plan

​’To start blogging’ has been on my to-do list since 2007. In fact, I had even started one titled “Always on a Saturday” in 2008. Then, for various reasons including the fact that I got busy moving from Mumbai and settling in Dubai, the blog never grew much.

Like most others out there, I was intimidated by the vastness of the blogging universe. Besides learning to operate the blog software, there was also the nagging question: What should I blog about?

It feels like having a blank canvas and a vast array of oil and acrylic colors before me. What do I do with them? Which medium should I choose? What artistic style do I employ? Actually, what story – what scene – do I want to capture on canvas? And what if it all turns out pathetic?

The truth is, to get started, I don’t need to know all the answers. So I’m starting to mix the colors and moving the brush over the canvas in the hope that gradually, I will see my masterpiece emerge.

I have a fair idea on the three things I wish to publish online. These three things I do pretty well, and I’d like to share them with others who also enjoy doing them. These interests are…

  • Communications (public relations)
  • Painting 
  • Short stories

And with this brief outline, I’m launching myself into the unknowns of the blogosphere. 

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Exiting the UAE: Tips for the Departing Expat

Sooner or later, most of us will move out completely from the UAE and prepare to start the next chapter of our lives elsewhere. If this prospect is now before you, read on.

First, relax! The UAE has a sophisticated system that allows you to conveniently execute many of the steps online or via phone help lines.

Broadly speaking, I had to concern myself with the following five parties / areas, and chances are these apply to you as well:

  1. My employer
  2. My landlord (actually, my real estate agent)
  3. Various utilities & service providers (DEWA, gas provider, district cooling company)
  4. My local bank
  5. My household stuff

Factors that made my exit easier were that I have no children, didn’t own a car, knew of my exit from Dubai several months in advance, and went from my vacated apartment into an employer-arranged accommodation before I finally proceeded to the airport.

To give you a rough idea about when you should start each step, I have given an approximate time reference (‘T minus X’, where ‘T’ is your planned date of departure, and ‘X’ is the number of days prior to departure) when you should consider initiating that step.

Area 1: Process with the Employer

  • T minus 30: Resign! Email your boss, copying HR, informing him of your final work date. I did this around two months prior, even though I was contractually obliged to serve a 30-day notice.
  • T minus 21: Prepare the handover. Start preparing your handover notes. In my case, this step also required training my replacement.
  • T minus 21: Learn how and when you are to receive end-of-service benefits. Ask HR. This information will help you plan for any dues you may receive, manage any overseas fund transfers, and close your bank account. And if you need an experience letter, make sure you get this from them now.
  • T minus 21: Cancel your UAE visa. It takes 5 to 7 working days for the visa to be cancelled, so keep in mind you won’t be able to travel out of the UAE in this period. To begin this process, submit your passport, emirates ID and labor card to HR.

Ensure you keep scanned copies of the iD page of your passport, just in case you need this while your passport is away.Once your visa is cancelled, I had a 30-day grace period to exit the UAE. Please note that you cannot travel out and return to the UAE on your cancelled visa.

Area 2: Process with the landlord

  • T minus 90: Serve notice. Do this by email. Always have written records.
  • T minus 5: Schedule your apartment inspection. This is usually mandatory and helps the landlord assess how much he should charge you for any damage that may have occurred during your stay. The inspection itself is a 10-minute process; at its end, the inspector may give you a fair idea about the amount that would be deducted from your security deposit for the required repairs.
  • T minus 0: Give up the apartment. This includes emptying the apartment and handing over the keys / access cards to the real estate agent/ or any other individual they may authorize.
  • T plus 5: Collect your security deposit. Once you have settled all your final utility bills and proof of payment, scan and email them to your real estate agent. After a few days, they should inform you that your security deposit refund check is ready for collection.

Area 3: Say bye-bye bank!

This process mostly applies if you are planning to permanently close your bank account in the UAE before departure.

  • T minus 60: Prepare for funds transfer. Your account with your UAE bank will likely have money coming in during your final days in the country (final salary, gratuity, etc.). Give a thought about how you will transfer the funds offshore.
  • T minus 60: Prepare for account closing. Note that most banks in the UAE require you to be present in person at their branch while closing your account. It isn’t something you can do via the phone or email.
  • T minus 60: Prepare for your incoming final salary. On receiving the final salary, most banks in the UAE will freeze your account temporarily to the extent of your outstanding loans or your credit limit, IF you have any active loans or credit card with them. This is why you need the following step.
  • Clear off all your loans and consider cancelling your credit card. Clear all your bank loans and consider cancelling your credit card at least a week before your final salary comes in. (My bank informed me that in case my account was frozen, the bank could easily unfreeze the account in 2 working days once I had settled all their outstanding dues.)
  • T minus 2: Close bank account. Just days prior to my flight out of the UAE, I  closed my bank account in the UAE permanently. Before I did this, I transferred offshore all my funds (gratuity, final salary included), so the account was empty. As I’ve already said, closure of the account will require you to visit the branch in person.

Area 4: Tackle your household items 

This is a complex process and requires advance planning.

  • T minus 60: Assess all your belongings, if possible, two months in advance. Keep in mind the following mantra: THROW, GIVE, SELL, WRAP.

THROW what is utterly useless, GIVE away stuff that can be re-used by others, SELL stuff that has some market value, and WRAP the stuff you wish to carry.

  • T minus 60: Decide on the key questions. Is it practical – effort wise and cost wise – to ship stuff out? Are there any customs / duties / documentation that you may have to handle? Is it worth hiring professional movers? Understand your options.

I decided I would sell most of my furniture and appliances, taking back only smaller items of higher value) in my check-in luggage.

  • T minus 55: List & categorize all your belongings. For example, my stuff fell under five broad categories.
  1. Furniture (sofas, beds, tables, chairs)
  2. Kitchen appliances (fridge, washing machines, ovens, crockery)
  3. Accessories (electronics such as TVs,, laptops, tablets, DVDs and books.
  4. Fixtures (drapes, bed sheets, towels)
  5. Souvenirs

T minus 14: Get on to Dubizzle. This is a good option and worked for me. Setting up the Dubizzle account in a few, easy steps using their dedicated app. Simply photograph each item, uploaded the photo, write a small description including the expected price. Activate your classified. Rinse and repeat.

A few tips to sell better on Dubizzle that should make your life easier:

  • List your stuff in two phases, whereby you sell your non-essentials first (such as that extra set of crockery, the spare sofa set, or the table you hardly use) and reserve the essentials to be sold last (such as your bed, fridge, microwave, blender etc.)
    – Phase 1 listing should be done earlier (say, T minus 10) – Phase 2 should be done closer to your date of vacating the apartment (say T minus 4)
  • Activate your classifieds over a weekend or a holiday. You will need to focus on the (hopefully) plentiful customer queries that will immediately come your way.
  • Wherever possible, include dimensions and specs of the listed item.
  • Upload good, clear pictures of the entire item, with a view of the interior, if applicable.
  • In the classified, make it clear that all interested parties need to make their own pick-up arrangements to collect the items from your apartment.
  • Certain kitchen appliances may need prior physical disconnection. For example, your gas oven or your washing machine.
  • Do prepare yourself for some funny Dubizzle enquiries. I had one interested party asking me to send him pictures of my wall mirror from different angles!
  • Accept only cash; give away nothing on credit, unless you are know the party very well or are prepared to lose your money.
  • Make it clear that it’s “first come, first served.” Be careful of parties that promise to “take the entire lot, but next week, please!” Decline such offers, unless you know the party very well.
  • For all leftover stuff, there are companies that take junk. TakeMyJunk is one such company that come and take away your junk for free, but the downside is that they may not pay you any scrap money for it.

Area 5: Settle final bills with all utilities and service companies 

All utilities and service companies have help lines. Contacting such help lines should be your starting point. They explain the entire process to you, and are quite helpful.

With each utility or service you deal with, you will, more or less, undergo three steps:

  1. Schedule a service disconnection date;
  2. Request a final bill and make final payment
  3. Recover your security deposit, if there is any.

With DEWA

  • T minus 31: Call up their help line. They will direct you to the nearest DEWA office, where you need to submit your photo-ID and state the date on which you want the service disconnected.

Think about this date beforehand, because you will likely need your electricity connection right up to the last day in your apartment.

  • In 2 to 3 working days following your DEWA disconnection, they will email you the final bill. With your photo-id (or copy), walk into your local DEWA office where they will stamp your bill as “paid”, and refund your security deposit, if any.

With Lootah BCGas

Only a qualified technician appointed by your gas service provider should be allowed to make the disconnection process.

  • Call up the helpline. They will direct you to write an email in which you need to raise a request for final bill and inform them the date by which you want the gas disconnected.
  • They will soon call you to schedule a time when their representative can visit your apartment and disconnect the gas.
  • A few days after disconnection, you will receive an email advising you on your final bill amount, and the amount of security deposit (if any) that would be refunded at their nearest office. You will need to walk-in with your ID proof to collect your bill acknowledgement and your refund.

For Du Home Service

By this I mean my land-line, my broadband and my TV services.

  • T minus 3: Call up their helpline, and place a request for service disconnection on the date you require.
  • Within a day or two, you will receive a call from them confirming your request and advising you of imminent disconnection.
  • Because I wanted to recycle my modem, phone, settop box and remote, I handed over my old equipment to the nearest Du office when I went there to settle my final bill and recover the refund.

With Palm Utilities

This step assumes that you are being billed for the air cooling – not your landlord.

  • T minus 15 days. Call up their helpline, requesting a disconnection. You will be required to settle the last generated bill that is closest to your requested date. After making online payment of this bill, print out your payment receipt.
  • Write to customer care, informing them that you have cleared your last bill, and that you need your name deleted from their records. This will ensure that the next bill is generated in the landlord’s name, not yours.

As a final step, scan and email  of all your final bills to your landlord. This will enable him to release your security deposit money.

Congratulations! You made it! Hope these guidelines were helpful, even though your circumstances are likely to be different from mine! Wishing you all the best in your next stage in life!

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The Proud Cow

A village cow gave very good milk. Each morning, she would eat green grass on the high slopes where other cattle would not go. There, she would graze six hours a day, and spend three more lying down and chewing again on what she had eaten earlier.

The villagers made a neat profit off the rich milk, which was also used to make cheese of the best sort. It was so good that people from neighbouring villages would come to buy.

One particular year, the rains were poor. The villagers were hard-pressed to assess their assets and liabilities. “Let us draw a list of things, those that yield us profits, and those that cause us losses.” Subsequently, they concluded that the cow was spending far too much time grazing in the hills. This was because the cow decided to climb higher, to access the sweet grass that still grew in abundance thanks to the morning mists.

“Cow, your lazy and lax habits have come to the attention of many. Therefore, be warned that just your milk, nice as it is, will not do! You must help us in other ways too! Look at our donkey and our ass! They help us carry burdens, so why should you be exempt?”

The cow, a proud animal, looked at them squarely and asked, “How is it that you fault me for doing precisely those things that serve to make you profit? Or can you not distinguish between a giver of milk and a carrier of laundry baskets?”

“No!” the villagers persisted, “But you do need to carry your share of burdens, too!”

“Go, then, and ask cheese from your donkey and your ass!” And with that she ran off, the golden bell around her neck sounding sweet music, to belong to the neighbouring villagers who welcomed her with open arms.

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PR Terms Explained in a Knight Way

Once upon a time in a faraway land of Mismanagia, a powerful king called Ful O’Crap issued a royal COMMMUNIQUE, stating that he’d like to have Purple Quail in Honeysuckle Sauce for dinner on his 67th birthday.

‘This is our wish and command,’ the king bellowed, ‘that it should be fabulously tasty. If it is not, we shall have the head of the royal cook on a platter!’

The whole royal kitchen scrambled to cater to the King’s wishes. The problem was, nobody had heard of the Purple Quail before! So they sat around a ROUNDTABLE eating donuts and falafel. After a lot of bickering, screaming and debating – in other words, BRAINSTORMING – not one had even the slightest clue if such feathered creatures even existed on God’s good earth!

So the head cook, desperate to save his life, thought of a STRATEGY. He took the sous-cook aside – one of his cronies – and asked him to ‘inform’ the roundtable that the Purple Quail indeed existed and nested in the Red Marshes. ‘Let us put our heads together and execute this, my TACTIC,’ the head cook whispered into the ears of the sous cook, ‘for if we fail, my head shall roll, even with yours! But if we succeed, we will be exalted by the King – you and I.’

Now, the Red Marshes were a hundred leagues to the east as the quail flies – a nasty place full of blood-sucking butterflies and quicksand that bred venomous snails. No hunter in his right mind would venture there. Finally, after a lot of searching, they found a hunter who was willing to go to the Red Marshes for an exorbitant 100,000 guineas. ‘One more condition,’ he said. ‘I need at least two collaborators to go with me.’ But no other man volunteered to go on such a perilous mission, so the head cook was hard pressed to find two companions for him.

So they issued a PRESS RELEASE that announced a trick contest aimed at a target audience that comprised of all male subjects in the entire kingdom, aged 18 to 40. It was distributed regionally by the red-haired MEDIA RELATIONS manager, who was hopping mad to have been assigned this chore on a Saturday afternoon – to mention nothing of her enduring a lengthy press release approval process that included the nod of the king’s barber, head-matron, chemist, gardener and the royal horse – who was a habitual naysayer and very difficult to appease.

Anyways, the release was edited smartly and was headlined, ‘Winners of Royal Contest to be Sent On Wild Goose Chase’.

The lucky winners of the mock contest – which received massive COVERAGE plus a whopping 43,598 Likes on FazeBook in just under five hours – turned out to be a butcher and a potter. When they learned of their prize, they both protested, ‘Nay! But we are not skilled in the art of the bow and arrow, so we cannot go!’

So they were ordered to receive a crash course by the hunter in what was effectively a BRIEFING. As soon as they were ready, the head cook summoned them and ordered: ‘I commission you three to embark upon this vital mission this very second!’

So the mission of the three came to be termed as the SECONDMENT.

The secondees walked for four days until they reached the Red Marshes, and thereafter wandered inside its gloomy wilderness in circles. Here, they were bitten viciously by beetles, Trojans and worms. Still, there was no sight of the Purple Quail – only ordinary white ones. They were about to give up, weary of body and soul – and return, when the hunter chanced upon a book entitled, ‘How to Say No When You Actually Want to Say Yes.’ Then, he hit upon an idea.

‘Listen,’ he told his two compatriots. ‘Am I not your team leader? Let us, therefore, take collective counsel and agree on the manner we may deceive the head cook. There is only way to appease Ful O’Crap and save our miserable souls!’ he explained. And so he drew a MESSAGE HOUSE in the sand and crafted SUPPORTING MESSAGES. Then, they hunted down a dozen white quail and headed back home.

Next, the potter took the birds and immersed them for two days in drums of purple dye in the inner chamber of his workshop. That happened in the nick of time – for the King’s birthday was on the following day! The potter took the colored birds to the royal kitchen and handed them over to the head cook.

The latter examined the delivery and remarked that the birds had a strange look.

‘But don’t you recognize the characteristic bill of the Purple Quail?’ the potter asked, with an air of contempt.

‘Of course, I do,’ replied the head cook with a dismissing wave of hand, since he did not want to appear ignorant. ‘It’s just that this quail here has a strange bill, don’t you think?’

‘May be this one has,’ the potter replied, ‘but the rest of them are 100% BILLABLE!’’

‘Oh yes, they are billable! I will proceed to cook now. Only I know the secret ingredients to the royal recipe of Purple Quail in Honeysuckle Sauce. So clear off, all of you, and let me cook in peace,’ he shouted.

But an hour later, they found the head cook dead. They found the pot boiling unattended, and the expired body of the royal cook besides it. The fumes of the purple dye had choked him.

‘Hurry!’ The kitchen staff said, ‘Salvage the precious quail!’ But too late – it was ruined!

Now the entire problem fell upon the shoulders of the sous-cook. Desperate – as the birthday feast was just hours away – and anxious over the looming deadline – he summoned the hunter, potter and the butcher once more and warned them of dire consequences if they were not able to provide him with more Purple Quail.

‘But, sire!’ protested the trio, ‘what you ask is nigh impossible. Such a tight turnaround for such a deliverable! The Red Marshes are a four-day commute away!’

‘Silence! I care not how it is done! Just do it!’ screamed the sous-chef.

Afraid for their lives, the three repeated what they had done earlier. The hunter shot down white quails in the nearby forest and took them to the potter, who they found sitting outside his house.

‘What ails thee?’ they asked him. To which the potter replied, ‘I have suddenly just realized that I have run out of purple dye!’

So the potter and the butcher wept, lamenting, ‘Are we not in a situation that’s precariously dire?’

‘Why cry fowl, you two?,’ asked the hunter. ‘Why be dire when we can turn dyer – you both are unlettered in the principles of CRISIS MANAGEMENT. We will use blue dye in the place of purple. Not a soul will know the difference. This is called resource ALLOCATION.’

And so they dyed the birds blue. The sous-chef was delighted and cooked them. He added a lot of mint sauce to improve the fragrance. When the hour of celebration arrived, the dish was brought in by the hands of the royal attendant and was placed before the King. On the king’s lap, was his one year old grandson.

Standing before the him, the attendant suddenly was overcome by stage fright.

‘PITCH IT, you incompetent fool! What are you waiting for?’ the monarch thundered.

Now, the attendant was Indian. So he replied in Hindi. The king, of course, did not understand a word. Therefore he screamed, ‘Who has the TRANSLATION to what this nincompoop is saying?’

Tickled by the vibrations of his grandpa’s belly, the infant prince made loud baby sounds as he tugged at the long royal gray beard, ‘Goo, goo, google!’

The entire assembly fell silent and looked upon the young prince on the king’s lap. The proud grand-dad beamed at the baby’s first words. ‘Hohoho, Whoever has heard of Google? Kids nowadays!’

Later, they translated the Hindi for him and said: ‘Your Highness. Permit your slaves to present you birthday meal.’

The king was immensely pleased. ‘This was the best Purple Quail in Honeysuckle Sauce I’ve ever had!’ he said licking his fingers.

He congratulated the lot and gave them very high marks in their PERFORMANCE REVIEW. The sous-chef was immensely pleased, and elevated the hunter, butcher and potter for their fine work.

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