Monday, May 1, 2017

Chovva High - Swathantra Vihaar!

This was the local school where some parents who were paranoid about their kids' future dreaded to send their kids. The tenth grade pass rate was one of the poorest in town, the number of school days affected due to student strikes was the highest, they run two shifts of classes a day - parents have to take care of the kids for the rest of the day. That sure was the most efficient school in town!

And I was in that school for a reason too - my mother was a teacher in the school and wanted to educate her children in the same school. If she can't let her children study in the same school as she taught, she felt she should as well quit the job(which was unthinkable).  But being a teachers' kid is not easy - you don't have much freedom to do things in the school, something odd you did will be news and damaging. And going to school and back with your mother-teacher wasn't fun either. And the kids haggled teachers' kids as well. It sure was not so enjoyable place to be. But the school timings suited me very well to play football in the evenings and I don't remember doing homework in school - it wouldn't have worked anyway in our school.

There were really good things if you were a student(and for teachers too) of Chovva High School(CHS). Obviously the pressure was pretty low to score marks and be the first in the class. And if you were a good student, it was easier to stay on top because there wouldn't be any real competition! Student strikes added a lot to your holidays. Teachers who go on leave(usually maternity) don't get replaced in the middle of the year and there were teachers' strikes as well and usually for extended periods.

The school had two shifts, 8-12:30 and 12:40-5:10 and being in the first shift made it really easy for me to play football in the evening. This was the only school in town where the boys didn't have to wear a uniform, strangely though the girls were disciplined to wear a green-and-white uniform. School had an electric bell, one of the firsts in town, because a manual one could not be heard in some parts of the school. There were times when the boys faked the bell and ran long before the bell went off. Sometimes the boys grabbed the bell and let it go before time! Also during student strikes, leaders of the strike would barge in and take the bell and ring a long one. The electric one had many bells around the school and controlled from a secure location in the Head Teacher's office. So nobody could hijack the bell anymore.

It was also a very politicized school, 8-graders had political lineages and political student strikes were very common. There were major problems during Indira Gandhi's emergency days in the school when the students took to the streets and would block the National Highway. There were satyagrahas and lathi charges going on for several days! Political strikes becomes very nasty sometimes with political parties getting involved directly. Teachers also had solid affiliations to politicized teachers' unions who also calls for strikes once in a while adding to the holidays. Many teachers also had some parallel businesses they run after school which makes things very uninteresting for them in school. Spanking a student by a teacher would result in a strong response - usually a strike the next day.

We were also the only school which had baseball equipment in town. While we never knew the rules of the game properly except for the 4 bases, it was played more like cricket than baseball. Cricket wasn't that popular in our days, but it looks like they have a cricket team these days. Though the school had a football ground sized open space, football was not allowed and it was a bit dangerous to play there as well. School had another ground which was about half a kilometer away which was rarely used and when they let the boys out to play there they would wander around the local swimming pools(natural ones) or shops. Unlike other schools which were poor in studies but excelled in sports, we didn't have a great deal to offer on sports and games as well. There was no culture of sports in the school mainly because the sports teachers were just there for their jobs. So you have to go join some clubs in town to do something serious in sports and they were all football clubs those days.

We nicknamed the school "Swatantravihar" because of the immense freedom that we had. You could be a king if you had some physical presence and the guts to take on other boys. Also an affiliation to a student political party would give you an added insurance of support from the politicians and teachers that belong to that party.

While there were no real structure or discipline in the school, it didn't really hurt the students overall. In fact they get a real life lessons outside of the academics and sports which make most of them very tough boys by the end of their school. Most of them would get into some kind of job soon after the tenth grade and the serious ones would anyway do well on their own or with private tuition.  While I obliged my mother very well by producing very good marks, the real objective was to play football without any issues. Slacking(not being a topper) would have got me into a dicey situation.

For me the more interesting was my football coaching center - there were guys from all kinds of family backgrounds and they were very interesting guys to hang out with. And we all had a burning desire to be footballers one day though only very few of them made the cut finally. So my close buddies were all from the coaching center than the school. Since the school didn't really trouble me much, I had lots of time to spend at the coaching center(which was a farce btw) and had a very good time there. Though there was discipline enforced in the center and had to wear the official jersey every day, the long term vision of becoming a popular footballer eased those pains.

It appears that many of the features of this school including lack of unifrom for boys is gone now. Though the boys resisted the move by striking work, they couldn't hold on - what a pity! The famed shift system is gone as well.  It is just one of those normal boring schools now!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Teaching Swimming

Our 8 year old daughter had couple of attempts at learning swimming, one with a short training session where the trainers pushed her into water and instead of learning, she developed a fear for water. Then it was  at an school with a swimming curriculum - but Wednesdays were nervous days for her and the swimming coach couldn't help her get rid her fears and learn..

So we decided to teach her with some ideas from Terry Laughlin's total immersion swimming techniques and the uswim.com/free-video-lessons/ - the first lesson went according to plan, but she stalled at the second session, I was a bit upset that she wasn't following the instructions. But she was nervous and we were pushing her into uncharted waters! Then she suggested she will try those things at the kiddie pool(2ft) first before trying it in the big(4ft) pool. Going inside water was the first major barrier, we played games like who could be in water for long or touch your own feet and touch the ground(which isn't easy in water btw).

Next several sessions were split between the kiddie pool and the big pool. She would go in the kiddie pool for sometime to practice and come back in to test the waters. That gave me sometime to swim a lap in between as well. Slowly, she began to pick up the pieces and she figured out she could stand and walk around in the big pool as well. She started floating, kicking, back floating, at her own pace. But the pool was getting crowded with the onset of summer and it was difficult to focus. So we changed the timings to the morning where the crowd was less. Turns out that most of the kids in the pool were not interested in swimming as such, they just wanted to play, fool around :)

I have been following the Total Immersion(TI) way of  swimming for a while which helped me reach a lap comfortably. So having a good grasp of the TI basics helped teach the basics. First and foremost was that the kid should be comfortable and relaxed inside water before teaching them any strokes. Once they reach that stage, things fall in place easily. The other thing to keep in mind is that every child learns at his or her pace. Don't set the pace for them, which is what most swimming classes are forced to do.

She had an intense desire to learn as well, she was trying various things in the pool, we had 2 sessions in a day for couple of days, We showed her some videos on the finer aspects of swimming, but that wasn't so attractive for her - but she would  try some of it in the pool. Fortunately for us, the pool was in great shape too after some repairs recently.

Now being very comfortable in water, trying out new things weren't difficult. However, like most of the learners, the breathing thing wasn't that easy, she could get only a breath two or three times at a stretch. Then we told her to try turning all around on her back to breath instead of a normal swimming breath, which was easy for her and that took her half the pool. Slowly she stopped going all the way back, and now she was moving longer distances, first she swam across the breadth of the pool, then a full lap. She would move to her sweet spot on the back to breath for longer period if she was out of breath, but no fighting with water, just the same technique. The form isn't as silky it can be, but she's crossing the longest part of the pool finally and can easily get to her back in case of trouble !

And now she's challenging us, the perpetual single lap swimmers :)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Provident Fund Woes .. Part - 3

Local EPF Transfer

This is a messy one, but with the biggest moolah - in fact most of that was accumulated from the same company that I am transferring the account to. I moved to another company and I was there one year and PF office successfully transferred my account within a year. Then after working in another place where I didn't bother to transfer the previous account, I went back to the old firm. Sometimes being lazy could have helped, but I wasn't lazy enough here. My Financial Adviser suggested I withdraw the amount and put it into the corpus he's managing (so that he can charge more fee), but I wasn't sure, so when I moved back to the old firm, I immediately applied for a transfer back to the current EPF account in November 2010.   This was a local transfer within the same EPFO office - so it should have been easy.

The initial application was filed in December 2010 at the EPF office in Bangalore, but I had no idea of the status - the online status page doesn't tell you anything more than 6 months old. Current employer only forwards the application to the previous employer and EPF office, rest is up to you. And I didn't own it up till late 2014, The account was already in inactive state. My previous employer's PF helpdesk was very helpful, they gave me all details about my account and the final statement as well. So I had the details of the account and a rough idea how much money I had and how much I am loosing if it was not transferred. Again, you better be your financial advisor and take care of your finances and follow up with applications to Government organizations - ignorance and laziness can cost you significant money! You need to have some patience with those people in the Government who keeps your money.

So we decided to file a new paper application for transfer - and it was rejected quickly, there was no reason on the portal, but said letter is being dispatched. So wasted more time waiting for the letter to arrive - finally landed up at the EPFO office. First experience was nice - not much crowd, PRO was nice, met the section officer. An lo and behold, he said account was transferred and claim settled in Jan 2011. For a moment I thought some fraudster got my money, but it was transferred to my own account. He verified the claim and found out that the check was never issued for some reason, he blamed it on my employer's PF trust. So he suggested I file one more transfer application and he will take care of it. Very nice I thought. So we did one more paper one, we could've done an online one. The claim status page said "Approved and Payment under process".. I met the Officer one more time and  he said by end of the month it should be done.

But one fine morning the status changed to "Rejected.. letter is being dispatched".. I ran to the EPFO(I should have done this running in 2011) and he gave me the same reason - claim was settled in 2011, he needs to verify the transaction. He also blabbered about  the big amount in my PF account, so he needs to be extra careful in dealing with it. His tone has changed over the month. It was not looking good. It appeared that since the claim was already marked settled, you cannot entertain a new application or he wanted some bribe to settle it. The problem need to be rectified. But he wasn't revealing much to me and was dragging his feet. But if he had got my new application processed, I would have lost good amount on the interest part and at that point I wasn't aware of the rules - especially rule 72(7)!

In the meanwhile I was reading up on filing RTI for getting the right PF information. But I thought a Grievance would help to get some attention from higher ups - so filed one grievance, but that seemed to have upset the Officer - I met him just before I filed RTI to see if he had made some progress, but it had a negative effect. The good thing was I got a written response on the grievance  that the account was transferred in January 2011 and there was an internal memo being initiated to verify the payment.  According to the officer, I should have followed up soon after filing the application. My response - there was nothing wrong with the application, EPFO should have transferred it without any follow up. He was talking as if follow up is a mandatory thing. Now the only hope was RTI - I don't know if  EPF Adalat would be of any use, may be I should give it a shot after I get the RTI response.

RTI  and the response

With the help of Jagoinvenstor post on how to file RTI for PF issues, I wrote up the RTI application and filed it online via OnlineRTI website. I could have done it myself without their help. But this being my first one, I thought it would help. OnlineRTI customer service was poor, nobody picks up the phone, and online support lady was rude. The value they add is minimal, you need to build a strong case yourself. Not worth the trouble.

RTI response came on time - within a month. The questions on the RTI application were:

1. What is the status of the application filed in 2010 ?
2. Since it is marked as settled, please provide the Annexure K(this is supposed to contain all detalis) for the transfer
3. Check or transfer details
4. Is the claim NOT settled in all respects ?
5. Were there any discrepancies in the application, if there were, please provide written evidence.
6. How long the transfer will take if it is partially settled ?
7. Does the section 72(7) of EPF scheme 1952 apply to transfer settlement ?

Response was a bit strange - it was very apparent that they were trying to cover up some mistakes. They admitted that the transfer has not been completed. However, the reasons were strange - the status is reflected as "returned on 11.01.2011, however returning letter or the claim is not available." Clear case of some mistake by someone at EPFO. Claim was not settled in all respects!

Questions 4 and 5 were linked to the response for item #1, but were not directly responded. So what do I do next ? That is very clearly mentioned - apply for new transfer application and they will settle it in 30 days if everything is in order.

But I had  already filed 2 new transfer requests few months back and both were rejected saying that the claim was already settled. In fact the records in the PF office clearly showed it as transferred to my current account. And filing a new claim would mean I don't get any interest due for the account.

Clearly the claim was not settled in all respects and there is no evidence of any discrepancies in the application, because it was not recorded in writing. They said rule 72(7) of EPF scheme applies to transfer settlement as well. Now rule 72(7) says,

(7) The claims, complete in all respects submitted along with the requisite documents shall be settled and benefit amount paid to the beneficiaries within 30 days from the date of its receipt by the Commissioner. If there is any deficiency in the claim, the same shall be recorded in writing and communicated to the applicant within 30 days from the date of receipt of such application. In case the Commissioner fails without sufficient cause to settle a claim complete in all respects within 30 days, the Commissioner shall be liable for the delay beyond the said period and penal interest at the rate of 12% per annum may be charged on the benefit amount and the same may be deducted from the salary of the Commissioner.

So this seems to be the real issue - there is an error on the part of the EPFO in not having settled the claim completely for an application that had NO deficiencies. So this needs to be fixed by the EPFO and they need to penalize the commissioner who was responsible for the transfer. So a new application would make things clean for them, but I will lose out on interest amount, with no deficiencies in the account. Though initially I thought I should get 12% interest because of the delay, I found out in another case that it is the penalty on the commissioner.

Appeal to RTI Response

So my appeal to RTI response was that it is very evident that this is case of violation of rule 72(7) of EPF rules. All papers were in order, no deficiencies were found(it should have been recorded in writing if there were any) in the application, so EPFO need to complete the transfer claim with interests paid till the time it is complete in all respects.  May be I should have been direct and asked this question in my RTI application, but I wasn't sure if 72(7) applies to transfer. All questions were geared towards getting them to admit this to be a case of 72(7).

While I was expecting to be summoned for the appeal hearing,  they were on the job on my transfer within a month - I got an sms saying "my claim is approved for payment by check and it is under process" without me filing a transfer request again. But the online status still showed "still under process..". After a couple of weeks, I filed a grievance to check the status. Strangely enough I got a response within couple of days that the account was finally transferred. However, they still didn't pay the interest due according to rule 72(7). Interest need to be paid to the account till the transfer is complete in all respects.

There was no response in writing on the appeal as well. I was waiting for the response so that I could prepare for the second appeal to get the interest due. Then one fine morning, I received an email from EPFO mentioning that a supplementary transfer was approved for the interest due till April 2005! That was a pleasant surprise! Couple of weeks later, I received a written response from PF Commissioner-1. They said this was outside the ambit of RTI, so they referred it to the Public Grievance Handling System(PGHS) and they magically solved all my problems! How come the CPIO(a PF Commissioner-2) didn't know about these rules ? But I don't care how they figured it out though, the job is done finally!

Luckily my ignorance about PF account going inactive after 3 years didn't cost me much - no major damage done! But it needed an RTI and an appeal to the RTI response to get it done! And thanks to RTI and the jagoinvestor post on how to do this! And you can't imagine doing any of these things without the internet and Google!

With more automation at the EPFOs, online transfers and with UAN IDs, transfer process may not be that difficult in future. But this was not a very pleasant experience for me dealing with EPFO and their processes. But all's well that ends well!

Useful Links

Online Provident Fund Transfer Portal
EPF Greivance Portal
EPF claim status page

Provident Fund Woes .. Part - 2

Inter State EPF Transfer

To the difficult ones - the easier of the EPF transfer was an inter-state transfer. Though I was working in Bangalore, the company PF was in Chennai EPFO. An application was submitted in November 2010 for this transfer. But there was no idea what happened - whether it was stuck at my previous employer or the EPF office or ignored by EPFO. My employer also does not keep a copy of the application.  Being under the impression that EPF accounts will accrue interests forever and not so calculative about my earnings from my PF accounts, I was late to check on this and I lost some amount of interest money. Another reason to be your own Financial Adviser - you need to keep up with the rules of the land especially financial ones.

So we decided to file a new transfer application. Now PF department has put lot of things online and we could check the status online, all you need is a PF account number. It said "Approved and Payment Under process".. That felt too good to be true. It turns out that this status page doesn't tell the whole story - only the EPF employees will know the whole story. So after couple of months I filed a Grievance at the EPF Greivance Portal. They forwarded my grievance to a different EPFO office and they said my application has not been forwarded to them. It turns out that the PF account was moved to another EPF office, but then why did they say it was approved ? That looks like a common status. But the Tambaram office suggested I file a new application. But before filing yet another paper application, I checked if I can file an online transfer - and I could.

So we did an online application this time with good help from my employer and the previous one, we filed one more. Now you get a feeling that things are moving with the status reporting at the portal, but once it reaches EPFO, you don't see any status change on the portal. Also the claim status page showed the same "Approved payment under process".. the catchall status. So I filed another Grievance requesting status.

But it turned out that Tambaram EPFO was very quick, they settled the claim in just over a week since they received the application. There were a flurry of emails and SMS giving all details, Annexture K, account details where it was credited etc.  All done! Only if this online process was available in 2010 - I could've saved some money.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Provident Fund Woes...Part -1

Having moved around couple of organizations for work, consolidating all the Provident Funds from two of the companies took some work. I also realized I had a Public Provident Fund(PPF) in addition to the two Employee Provident Funds(EPF).

PPF Transfer

Easy one first - PPF. This was done by an LIC agent who had disappeared from the radar long time ago(may be he had made his moolah), I checked with my Finacial Advisor also for help, but he had no clue(off course he doesn't recommend PPF).  I had a receipt of the initial investment, but that didn't tell anything. You are supposed to have an account number, a passbook and I had none of it. Also my second name was not there as well. Nor did I know what my address was in the account. You must be your own Financial Adviser is a lesson to be learnt and it isn't that difficult either.

Branch name was printed on the receipt luckily - SBI Bangalore main branch, I went to one PPF department in one of the branches within the St.Marks Road campus(it is a huge one in the center of the city) and they couldn't find one such account. But they said there is an old branch behind in the same campus. There they found it, but the concerned officer was on leave. Also my address guess was wrong(this was almost 20 years ago). After couple of weeks, met the concerned person and she was very professional and helpful unlike the EPFO officers. However, she had difficulty locating my original application form, so I had to go back after some more days. But things got settled during the next visit except for a server failure when I was about to pay INR 800 for not paying up every year. It delayed the procedure by another half an hour, but otherwise I got more money than I expected and faster than I had expected.  But I should have put more money in that PPF. I used to work near that branch for several years and never bothered to check. But luckily, I had the receipt. Things are better these days - you can link it to your online account and tracking and investing are easy.

May be I should've kept the PPF account open and put some more money, but that didn't click even when the Officer asked me - I just want to get the money out.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Rubik Cube - You don't need no memorization!

The only way we solved it was breaking it apart and fixing it back in the 80's when our father got one for us -  almost as soon as it was invented. Then a friend in college taught us how to do it, but forgot about it long time back. Recently I picked up one from a roadside vendor at a traffic light, but never really figured out how to solve it.

But then there is YouTube - and found a formula(they call it algorithm - I never thought algorithms could be this bad) that could solve it, but the problem was you have to memorize the moves and you miss one, you are doomed. My memory was failing me - I wrote the moves on my whiteboard, but then someone erased it. I could go on till the two layers, the top layer was a challenge to my memorization skills. But the worrisome part was, I had no idea how everything was coming into place when you use the formula. I couldn't make head or tail of it even though I tried! May be I was that dumb I thought.

But then one of my friends visited us with family and his daughter solved the cube without applying any algorithm. They were there for couple of days and this girl would have a go at it whenever she had a chance. But finally she solved it on her own! That was truly amazing and inspiring! I wanted to capture her video and figure out her method, but couldn't do it.

So I went back to Youtube again with a search "Rubik Cube with no memorization" - bingo! there was this series of four excellent videos by Phillip Broucum who explains the principles and let you figure out the details! This was what I was looking for and it was called Ryan Heise's method, well documented one. There were two other videos also that helped. One was more of a step-by-step instruction which you don't want to look at in the beginning, but it helps when you are stuck. The other is an edge method(a series of 3 videos). You get all the edges right first and then fix the corners later. The advantage here is that you need to worry only about 2 variables(colors) first, which helps a lot initially, and then you can ease into the commutators and conjugates methods to fix the corners. This was the easiest one for me - though initially I stuttered a bit with the corners.

But it took a while(days in fact) for me to solve it completely, watched the video again and again - read the website, but it was worth it. I figured out the "Commutators and Conjugates" and knew very well how things were coming into place. Even if I missed one move, I can go back some moves back and start over. In fact I could only do the conjugates method initially, but with practice, I figured out the commutators as well, which reduces the number of moves significantly at the end. Essentially, you can figure out the moves for yourself, but just follow the principle. It was truly wonderful feeling to get there!

But it appears that the algorithms are the rage among speed cubers - typical modern thing about speed gets in the way of learning things well. So if some kid or their parent boast about their kid doing it in under 1 minute or 30s, ask them if they know the principles of solving it. In fact, all of those algorithms are derived from commutators and conjugates theory - they just give it a sequence of wrapped up moves for the kids to swallow and show off !

But for me - no memorization needed now, commutators and conjugates rule! And I am no speed junkie either!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Who stole my TV ?

TV used to be mine in the weekend evenings except for couple of  long months in the UK summer(even though I am in India) to watch English Premier League matches - a fever or craziness that was caught very early in life. And the Game sure is beautiful indeed whether it is the neighborhood boys scrambing around or at the top level.

But there are other inmates at home - the cartoon channels were priority #1 for the daughter and those nonsense serials(in Hindi that too!) that wife was addicted to. So there was tension around the TV most of the time.

And that sure was taxing for my 16+ year TV that helped me watch five World Cups(off course football). The cable TV guy told me loong back that your TV is old though it became brand new after I moved to Tatasky. But I didn't give up on my TV, but then the last time the TV mechanic came, he suggested that I buy a new TV if the problems resurface again. So one fine day my TV lost its color and there was no use paying the Tatasky 400 INR for that. So my TV was dead - my daughter announced to the world that there is no color in our TV, so we stopped watching it.

So I started thinking about the use of it - football is an addiction, and those Hindi channels are as well and may be the cartoon channels could be for the kid also. So the de-addiction program was hatched. NO TV.

Sure there was withdrawal symptoms for my wife and myself - none for my daughter, she moved on to other things - drawing pictures, playing with her friends, and the make-believe stories that we were pulled into, but she also found out Mickey mouse "programs" on youtube! . But the addicts discovered that there is internet in the house to cope with the loss of TV. With 2 laptops and a smartphone, that released some contention, though there is clamor for one more device - iPad for the daughter now.

So we are now an internet TV family - while things are not very different, there is one crucial difference, we choose the programs to watch !