Googling About the New ‘Google Tax’ ? Your Search Ends Here!

Dated Today: Decoding the situation in the Indian Finance Ministry – ‘We seem to have taxed this young guy’s restaurant expenses, fuel expenses, shopping expenses, his phone/internet expenses, his business earnings and even his beer, we have managed to make him to cry over the import duty on his Budweisser more than what he did over his breakup! So what’s left? … (thinks) Let’s leave out this poor common man for now.. What about the Multinationals like Google & Facebook?? They seem to be having a good time in India.. Let’s make some cash by taxing their digital ad revenue this time….’

Well, this is not exactly exactly how the ‘Google Tax’ was born! But it does seem to be realistic, right?

So What is Google Tax?

As stated above, Google tax is a way of extracting some cash from the hands of multinationals like Google, Yahoo and Facebook by taxing (withholding) 6 Indian Rupees(INR) from every 100 INR being spent on digital ads. Literally, for every click of the mouse on an ad which pops on Google or Facebook, the Indian Government makes money out of it.

When Was It Born?

While the legality of such taxation for not being a part of the Indian Tax books is debatable, the Finance Ministry managed to squeeze Google Tax into the Annual Financial Budget of 2016/17. However, the taxation has come into effect from June 1st of 2016 onwards.

What’s the Theory Behind Google Tax?

While the Government of India justifies it in the form of ‘Equalization Levy’ , which states that any Indian merchant who is liable to pay a sum of more than 100,000 INR to any multinational firm like Google for advertising his/her business in the digital world, he/she shall withhold 6% of that amount which would in turn go to the Government. It is to be noted that Google’s father – Alphabet paid around 4% of its income as taxes in the last financial year, Ebay paid around 5% and Amazon paid around 1.2%. By all means, the imposition of 6% as tax on digital ads seems to be a bit inflated on this scale.

What remains unclear is with respect to the Government’s claim that the withheld amount (6%) shall be taken off the revenues of the advertisement provider, however, in the long run this could potentially trigger an escalation of advertisement rates from digital advertisement firms to overcome this loss in the form of Google tax.

Is Google Tax Good for Us?

Google Tax has been built on the platform of the discussions in Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project (BEPS) which aims at having tax transparency over the G20 member nations. India seems to have made some progress when it comes implementing such a policy which could aim at biting off from the creamy layer of profits from the $1 billion dollar digital advertising market which is growing by leaps and bounds every year. Definitely, this is not music to the ears of Google, Facebook or Amazon and they could end up retaliating with increase in advertisement rates as mentioned earlier, which could end up hurting the businessman in India who wishes to advertise on digital platforms.

The real question to ponder upon is whether India has got enough mettle to convince the OECD to gain acceptance for the ‘Equalization levy’ clause, else it would be a smarter idea to impose this 6% as yet another tax on a business.

Google Tax could be good news for the government as any additional source of income to it would be. However, if this income comes at the cost of hurting online business growth sentiments, I do not think that the imposition of Google Tax would go down as one of the smart decisions made by Mr. Arun Jaitley during his tenure.

What If We Do Not Pay Google Tax?

If you fail to withhold 6% of your digital advertisement expense (while spending more than 100,000 INR on digital ads) , this amount would not be entitled to be filed under expenses while filing your tax returns and this in turn would increase your taxable income, thereby increasing your taxes which you as a businessman ought to pay every year.

 

7 Reasons Why Chennai is Awesome!

To anyone who has lived in Chennai for a considerable amount of time, I am sure they would be able to connect with this post. Having spent considerable amounts of time in metros like Bangalore and Mumbai, I feel that Chennai seems to stand out in its own way and the sense of belongingness, pride which one experiences while calling himself/herself as a ‘Chennaite’ is something out of the world. Here’s why:-

  • Solidarity of the People

Even though Chennai is a diverse mixture of people from different castes, religion and other parts of the country, the solidarity and unity which the people have exhibited during times of crisis is indomitable. Take the recent case of the Chennai floods in December 2015, where the people stood up for themselves in those treacherous times, which earned the respect of the entire nation. (and also the Indian of the Year Award!)

  • Safety – Namma Chennai , Safe Chennai!

Time and again, Chennai has been among the top 3 or 5 safest cities in India, thanks to lesser corruption among the police personnel and better law abiding attitude of the people in Chennai , when compared to other metros.

  • Paradise for the Foodies

What makes Chennai an awesome place for foodies is the variety which it has to offer. Food items which are famous in Chennai are not only South Indian dishes – for instance the Burmese Atho shops in North Chennai and yummy North Indian delicacies from Mint Street, Sowcarpet. If you’re in Chennai you shouldn’t miss the Chettinad delicacies which are full of spice and flavor, the yummy idlis and masala dosas, the ‘awesomatic’ filter ‘kaapi’ (coffee), the hot jalebis from Sowcarpet and I could just go on and on with this list.

  • For the Love of the Beach

When you talk about Chennai, the first thing which could come to your mind is the Marina Beach (touted to be the second longest beach in the world) and it wears the look of a carnival town during weekends. The youngsters in city seem to love the Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar and there are also some beaches along the East Coast Road (ECR) , which is one of the favorite getaway spots for the people of Chennai.

  • Cultural Embrace – There’s something for everybody!

Chennai’s love for Carnatic music and Bharatnatyam is immortal. There are cultural events almost every week in auditoriums/’Sabhas’ which have lived along for decades and still haven’t lost their charm and audience. On the other hand, the city has welcomed modernity with open arms and the city has a huge following for rock and metal quite synonymous to Bangalore in this case.

  • Shoppers Stop!

Weeks before famous festivals like Diwali or Pongal, the city’s traffic in areas like Thiyagaraya Nagar (T.Nagar) could go haywire, thanks to the umpteen numbers of jewelry and textile shops in the locality which makes it a shopper’s paradise. The love for sarees and jewelry is what keeps the women of Chennai going! You could also consider visiting one of the many gigantic malls to get a feel of all the international brands which have set shop in Chennai.

  • Sathyam Cinemas!

Chennaites love movies and their legendary cinema houses. Did you know that Chennai has the lowest ticket prices for multiplexes in metro cities at INR. 120!? Sathyam Cinemas has become a part of the Chennai culture and their popcorns have become a staple food for the movie buffs in Chennai. The movie experience at Chennai’s Sathyam Cinemas is amazing and every Chennaite can connect to that!

To sum it all up, living in Chennai is bliss. The people of Chennai are warm , welcoming and it doesn’t matter if you’re an African and a north Indian. Namma Chennai, Singara Chennai!

My Thesis on Life in an Oil&Gas ‘Onsite Mission’ Based on Real Experiences!

Being an engineer in India is more of a mandatory requirement (only if you’re not going to be a doctor) and the battles which an engineer has to put up with are too many, especially if you are not ending up as a software techie with one of the big daddies in the IT sector. I am writing this post on behalf of each one of those engineers who were determined not fall into the pit of Information Technology (IT) services, which lures the graduates out of college with the promise of a decent job in an ‘MNC’ and pretty attractive pay packages in the years to come. (well, the hours you might have to spend in front of your computers will remain a secret until you actually work with one of them).

As mentioned earlier, my battles and priorities as a Control Systems engineer for one of the pioneers of Distributed Control Systems (DCS) was a lot different. The Oil & Gas industry provides the bread and butter for companies like mine and life at such corporations could be a lot more challenging both mentally and physically (not that working in IT is a piece of cake). Here’s how the life of an Instrumentation & Control Systems engineer looks like:-

  • If you’re a graduate trainee, you spend almost the whole of your first two years on understanding how your systems work and how you go about creating deliverables (hardware & software) within the given time frame, test your systems under immense pressure and vigil. Once the big bosses consider you to be fit for ‘the launch’ (explained later in the post), your life ends up being a lot more challenging and this is where the real battle begins.
  • ‘The launch’ is where your real ‘Onsite Saga’ begins. The term ‘Onsite’ has a very distinctive difference between what it could mean to a software techie and what it actually means to me – a control systems engineer for the Oil & Gas industry.

For a typical software guy, ‘onsites’ are one or two year long trips to some of most happening places in the Americas, United Kingdom, Europe and Australia (predominantly) , desk jobs in the client (offshore) offices with the opportunity to live a better life in the developed world under the comforts of your actual compensations, travel around the country on weekends and on holidays (again, I mean no offence to my techie friends -With due respect, it is hard work as well)

For a typical guy like me, onsites are two to three month trips to one of the Middle Eastern deserts (predominantly – rare local office visits to European / South-East Asian  countries) , 10-12 hour jobs in oil refineries/ gas processing plants for 6 (sometimes 7) days a week, opportunity to rest or go around nearby places on your precious one day weekend. Above all, it is the responsibility and complexity of the job which you ought to handle which makes it more tiring, considering the fact that your company charges thousands of dollars for a single day of your support which in return makes you obligated to oblige with clarity, sincerity and ‘QUICKLY’ to your client as you are the face of your system in the plant now.

I have to say (rather accept) that the remuneration for this toil is pretty good but does it actually compensate for your mental stress and physical exhaustion? NOT REALLY (To add to the bruises, remuneration is pretty lame for site services within India). Does it actually make your job guarantee a perfect work/life balance? NOT REALLY.  Would you be able to do this forever in your life? NO REALLY. As a matter of fact, your body wears off without your knowledge in such hazardous locations where human habitation is prohibited within close proximity in most cases.

A Few Lessons Learnt

Over the two years of my so called onsite experience, I have been taught about a lot of things.

  • Life is not just about money , it is also about people, relationships, friends, celebrating your festivals and birthdays with home/family.
  • Your job pays your bills and literally, it pays for your existence. That does not mean that you ought to sacrifice important moments in life for the sake of it. I do not mean that your job shouldn’t be your top priority, I mean to emphasize that your job shouldn’t be your ONLY priority.
  • Work/Life balance and spending time to do what you like matters a lot. The whole stress buildup is greatly influenced by these two factors.
  • Learning things from people/Networking always helps. The last time I was in one of my onsite deployments, I got the chance to interact with peers from 6-8 different countries during travel and that does help you to learn a lot of things about life/career directly/indirectly.
  • To sum it up, people might think you are having a dream life and some might also think that you are on a paid vacation – Do not get intimidated by it. You know what you are being put through and you might not hate it always, but when you start feeling the exhaustion it is high time you take the right step forward. Enjoy it while it lasts, go for the kill when it doesn’t!

An Insight into My Experience in Buying/Importing Products from AliExpress to India!

Spare a thought to how addicted we Indians have become to the whole concept of online shopping and buying products which are crazily discounted. Considering myself to be one amongst the millions who belong to the ‘Indian online shopping addict’ community, my inquisitiveness about how the entire process of ordering products from AliExpress works for an Indian buyer, had grown. The main reason was the raging reviews of experiences related to hassle free shipping, products at dirt cheap prices and a pretty engaging customer support, which I happened to find after a brief research on AliExpress.

What Makes AliExpress Special?

When I visited the AliExpress website, there were a few things which made it stand out from its Indian counterparts:-

  • If you have spent a considerable amount of time on the websites of Indian E-Commerce giants like Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon India, the first thing which would have caught your eye are the huge discounts/deal pop ups/banners ( a rather desperate attempt to attract you to buy something which you might not actually intend to buy at the point of time!). However, the good thing about AliExpress is it doesn’t push those deals and discounts down your throat like our Indian compatriots do. (Rather the deals/supersavers are limited to a small tab and a pretty small rectangle banner, limited sliders on the homepage)
  • The ability to select your preferred currency as INR (which actually saves you from the headache of converting the prices from USD to INR)
  • You can contact the seller or engage in a chat with them to voice your queries/concerns.

How Was My First Experience of Shopping on AliExpress?

  • Considering this to be my first product purchase from AliExpress, I didn’t want to invest in a product which costed much as this was just a purchase to test and review the buying experience on AliExpress. I ended up ordering a QCY QY8 Bluetooth Headset Wireless Sport Bluetooth Earphone which costed around $12 !
  • Shipping Charges – The shipping charges were $4.5 for the AliExpress Exclusive Express Delivery to India (which promises delivery within 15-45 days)
  • Discounts – AliExpress has another exclusive feature of seller discounts where each seller can offer a unique offer/discount on their range of products. In my case it was a $2 off on a $50 bill, $4 off on a $75 bill. You also have a standard $2 discount coupon for signing in with your new account credentials.
  • Return Policy – AliExpress’ Buyer Protection Policy actually helps you to raise a case of dispute with the seller within 15 days of delivery of your product. Obviously, this is applicable only in cases where the product is not as it was depicted or promised to be/damaged/malfunctioning. What I about this was the fact that AliExpress allows you to negotiate with the seller if you’re unhappy with your product. If the negotiations fail, the dispute can be raised as a part of the Buyer Protection Policy.
  • Delivery Time – Now THIS is what is a major turn off when it comes to comparing your shopping experience with the Indian E-Commerce sites, however this would not be a problem if you understood the fact that international delivery does take its own sweet time. The Seller Guaranteed delivery time said 45 days, beyond which I would have been guaranteed a full refund.
  • Clear Legible Images of the Product / Seller’s Expertise and Guarantees had a huge impact on convincing me that this brand which I’ve never heard of, is actually legit.
  • Payment – The payment process is pretty simple and seamless. All you need is an International Credit Card.

The entire process is as simple as that! Your product is now ready to be dispatched from the seller’s warehouse in China.

Do I Have to Worry About Customs?

The Indian law permits importing goods from international retailers like AliExpress upto a total product value of INR. 2000. An order with 1-2 items is often overlooked by customs as it could be intended for personal use only. However, if you are willing to purchase in bulk from AliExpress, it is important to abide by the regulations of the Customs in India.

For considerable order volumes which are worth more than INR. 2000, logistic partners like Fedex or DHL might actually request you for an authorization letter for logistics and KYC. They might help you with the sample documents for the same too. If the delivery is done by China Post, the local delivery within India is handled by India Post and in this case, you might have to pay the customs duty in the Post office itself.  In certain cases where the order value is above INR. 2000, the product does get held up in the Customs office, where you might have to bring your convincing skills into play to actually prove to them that the product is meant for your personal use only.

The Form 8 and Form 11 Know All Guide for the Budding LLPs Out There!

LLP Forms 8 and 11Are you an ambitious startup dude or a smart business guy who just registered your venture as an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership) purely because of the fact that it offers lesser worries on the legal front along with the benefits of a partnership registration? Well, you are the perfect guy who should know more about Form 8 / Form 11 and how to go about with the process of filling these to save yourselves from falling under the radar of the ‘tax police’ in India.

What is Form 8 and Form 11 in Layman Terms?

WHAT IF your business bites the dust and your partners are not willing to pay the debts in full (we hope and pray that it never happens ofcourse!) , the Ministry of Corporate Affairs actually gets your declaration related to that in the form of the Form 8.
Form 11 on the other hand, is a mandatory declaration of the annual returns for your registered LLP on a yearly basis.
Under no circumstance shall the Form 8 or Form 11 be misinterpreted for the usual tax return filing which is also a mandatory exercise for any legally registered entity.

For Whom Does it Apply To?

If you are of the assumption that filing your annual tax returns would suffice and the Form 8 and 11 doesn’t mean much to you as an LLP, you are wrong!
Form 8 and Form 11 is applicable to any legally registered LLP recognized by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India. (It is to be noted that the Government of India does give some breathing time for the newcomers out there! For instance, you ought to submit your Form 11 for 2016 only if your company is registered before the 30th of September, 2015. If you’ve registered your LLP after 1st of October, it is enough to submit your first Form 11 in 2017. )
When Should I Apply?
Form-8 ( which is the statement of Account and Solvency ) should be submitted before 31st of October.
Form-11 (which is the Annual Return Form ) should be submitted before 30th of May.
What If I Don’t Fill Form 8 or Form 11 for the Current Year?
Delaying the filling of form 8 or form 11 beyond the above mentioned dates could invite a fine of INR. 100 per day as statutory liability until you have complied by the norms.
How Do I Fill Form 8 and Form 11?
The entire process of filling a Form 8 and Form 11 is not as cumbersome as it is expected to be, thanks to the fact that you can do it online (most importantly – all by yourself!)
Step 1: Enter the Ministry of Corporate Affairs Website using this link – http://www.mca.gov.in/LLP/Download_eForm_choose.html where you can find Form 8 and Form 11 ready to be downloaded.
Step 2: The next step is to find your LLPIN(LLP Identification Number) in case you haven’t figured it out yet. The same can be found using a simple search query tab in the same site as above.
Step 3: Now to the most important task of the day – Filling out your Form! There are certain fill able fields like the date, LLPIN, choosing Annual or Interim and so on. Certain fields will be auto filled in the form (for instance, Part-A).
Step 4: PART-B of the form 8 is the Statement of Account (Income and Expenditure) . Enter the relevant figures and ‘0’ wherever it is applicable.
Step 5: Mandatory Attachments include the Disclosure under the Micro, Small & Medium Development Act, 2006 which requires you to reveal the delayed payments under each year, total interest paid for the same and so on. Statement of Contingent Liabilities not provided for is another mandatory attachment in the list.
Step 6: Now that we’re almost done, you may use the ‘Check Form’ option to check if you have left out any relevant fields and if you’re void of any error messages, proceed to digitally sign the form. Now that’s done!
Step 7: Login to the MCA Portal with your Login ID and password (as used during the time of company filing) . Ensure that the director (signee on the form) has also registered on the MCA website.
Step 8: Upload the form by clicking Upload Form 8, make the payment and we have finally completed the Form Filling Process!
PS: Most of the specifics in the above procedure are related to form 8. However, the steps are pretty much similar when it comes to Form 11 (except for the section of filling out the particulars in the form, which is pretty self explanatory). If you guys have any queries please comment will do my best to help you out.

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

The Internet is a huge place. Any amount of descriptive phrases i use for that statement will still leave a underwhelming feeling. Smart people, as a rule, are keen on investing on new products so that they can enjoy the benefits for as long as the product sustains itself in the market. The most important parameter that determines the success and the longevity of a product is marketing. With the rapid proliferation  of Internet among the masses, online marketing has also become a huge domain.

By now you’ll be wondering what the title has to do with internet marketing. A little bit of imagination will tell you that there are some striking similarities. A career in online marketing and building a snowman may seem like two completely incompatible tasks at the outset, but bear with me for a while. Internet marketing consists of 4 basic concepts that everyone should adhere to,

  • A relationship with the customer base
  • A product worth selling
  • Solid copywriting
  • Delivering great content

Your work should be focussed on establishing a connection between the client and their customer base. What is the point of spending on advertising if it doesn’t gel with the customer demographic that the product is intended for?  The Frozen parallel would be building and selling snowmen with physical features that would not be appreciated by children, who are obviously the target demographic.

Not exactly kid-friendly.

The core product that you intend to market plays the most important role in the endeavour. If you cannot justify the worth of the product you intend to sell then there is no point in marketing the product at all. Every product has an intrinsic value and it is your job to make sure that the product redeems that worth. The base of packed snow that you use to settle your snowman is what this concept translates into.

The ingredient that defines the look and feel of the snowman, is obviously the snow itself. The carrot and the stones for the eyes also come under this category. Telling the customers that you are selling a snowman in a matter-of-fact tone is a surefire way of losing the market share. To grab your target demographic’s attention you need to spice things up a little. This is where copywriting comes into play. Good copywriting lies in the fine balance of exaggeration and understatement of the pros and cons of your product.

When every ingredient comes together properly, a good product is always the final result. The key to sustaining the good will generated by the sale of a good product is to keep selling products of the same quality. It doesn’t make sense to create one great snowman and follow it up by making 5 crappy snowmen. That is just bad business. Similarly, online marketing requires you to conform your products to the picture that your marketing campaign paints about them.

Sending chills down your spine.
Sending chills down your spine.

A career in online marketing requires you to keep in mind these 4 important concepts. As always, a blog post cannot make you an expert in anything. The only sure way to learn the ways of online marketing is to enter the field and get your hands dirty.

Taxation for Online Advertising

Online advertising has witnessed a  massive increase in recent years. The major advertising publishers online, have duked it over in the past and Google’s Adsense has occupied pole position in India. The proliferation of Internet has paved the way for a lot of growth in sectors that rely on the internet. E-commerce, for instance, has enjoyed a huge increase in the number of players involved as well as patronage by consumers. Advertising has been on par with the growth of such services.

Not that these changes have proven only good for us (YouTube ads, anyone??) but it has brought a lot of variety into our online experience. Google’s AdSense has enabled online retailers to attract us with their products and offers anywhere on the internet and the result is that the retailers have enjoyed quite a bit of success. Recent changes in the Indian Budget 2014, have caused quite a stir among the retailer community.

Service Tax is a form of tax which is levied on any service and is to be paid by the “provider” of the service to the Central Govt. at the rates in force. The provider of the service can in turn collect the tax form the recipient of his service. From July 1, 2012, India shifted to the Negative List system which states that Service Tax would be levied on all services except the ones mentioned in the Negative List. Earlier, all services were exempt from Service Tax except those mentioned in the act. The educational guide to Service Tax, released by the Indian Ministry of Finance on June 20, 2012, mentions (page 35) that Service Tax is to be levied on the sale of space or time for advertisement to be broadcasted on radio or television. However, the notification also states that service tax is not to be levied on sale of space in print media, bill boards, buildings, cell phones, ATM Machines & Internet.

This provided an advantage to advertisers who focussed on print media and online advertising. This also remained the primary reason for the continued popularity of print advertising and the surge in online advertising till now. The recently announced Budget 2014 introduced a major amendment which would impact the whole digital advertising Industry.

The existing exemption has now been withdrawn and digital ads are no longer a part of the Negative List of Services. The revised statement declares that Service Tax on all digital ads would be levied at 12.36%. At the time of announcement of Budget, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the date of applicability of this amendment would be announced at a later stage. On 25th Aug 2014, the Service Tax Dept issued an official notification stating that the amendment would be applicable from 1st October 2014.

Under this new rule, the advertiser would be required to pay Service Tax to the publisher and the publisher will then deposit the same with the Service Tax Department.The Service Tax component would also be specifically required to be disclosed in the invoice. Expectations from the industry had leaned more towards help and support from the new government and they have been summarily dashed.

This announcement has also been called out as being favourable towards print advertising, as it has been left untouched by the amendment. Opinions from the advertising industry are varied, but most seem to agree that levying Service Tax on online advertising alone seems like a biased move. We’ll have to wait for a few more months to see the effect that this move has on the advertising industry.

Electricity Bills

The necessity of paying electricity bills in Tamilnadu has come under a lot of fire in recent years. Unannounced blackouts and  regular “load shedding” has earned TNEB, a certain notoriety over the years. Chennai has never been on the receiving end of the various digressions and its residents have had no reason(yet) to bitch about TNEB. Once you move out of the metropolitan area, things go downhill pretty fast.

Things have started to look up lately, but most of the public aren’t getting their hopes up just yet. The government has announced several initiatives and projects to solve the crisis in the last couple of years but as most government announcements, their implementation will take up quite some time before we can actually perceive the difference. Now while several problems do exist in the power distribution system for the state, TNEB has also invested some time and funds into improving customer service.

TNEB now allows consumers to pay their electricity bill online through their web portal. No more standing in long winding queues and no more discussions with your boss for getting the 2 hour permission to get to the EB office. THe procedure to register yourself to avail of this facility has led to some confusion. The following steps will help you to get past any such confusion.

  • Open your internet browser and go to www.tneb.in.
  • In the left corner of the website you can see the online payment option. Below it there will be a clickable link stating, “Online payment of Electricity Bill for LT consumers all over Tamil Nadu”. Click the link.
  • You will be redirected to the login page. If you are new user, click the “New user sign up”. You have the option for reading in Tamil too.
  • Fill in the details in the registration form. Service number and region are the key details which you should know while registering. Service number can be noted down from your card or your previous bills. Service number will be available in the left corner of your bill. It will be mentioned SC.No. Choose your region from the list.
  • Once you give your service number and region, consumer name and address will be automatically entered. Name and username have nothing to do with name in the bill. You can register and pay your neighbor bill too once you know their service number. So the name in the top can be anyone and the username is for logging in. Remember your username and password for future payment.
  • Once the registration is over you can view the name of the EB account holder along with the amount to be paid. This will be updated every month automatically. If the bill is already paid then the status show paid and there will be no outstanding balance.

While users have voiced their concerns about the service not including a lot of banks in their payment portal, the general consensus points to the inability of the server to handle online transactions properly. With time, these problems would get infrequent, but for now, let’s just hope that this portal doesn’t follow in the early steps of IRCTC.

Road Trips and Related Mishaps

A motorbike is every little kid’s dream in India. Actually it remains pretty much a dream till you start making money or until your parents decide they can trust you. Men, in general have very close relationships with their rides – cars, bikes, yachts, planes, whatever. The price tag varies, (Massive understatement) but the relationship is the same. I have no experience with cars, yachts or planes for the most obvious reason. So I’ll just stick to what I know and talk about bikes.

I am not a motorhead. I can’t take a bike apart and assemble it again in a few short hours. Like Jon Snow, most men fall under this category. We know nothing. We know how the bike works, but most of us can’t really do anything practical with that little knowledge. We just ride. Now that is not an understatement. Guys love their bikes for that simple reason alone. To ride. I would love to wax eloquent about the wind in your hair (Not really. Wear a helmet if you don’t want to die horribly) and the surge of adrenaline when you weave your way through traffic, but it wouldn’t do the art justice. And yes, driving is an art. Everyone can be competent, but only a few can excel.

The primary aim of guys is form a group of like minded riders and go on road trips. There are official biker groups who organise trips like that on a regular basis and they are pretty bad ass. They mostly use superbikes, the ones that guys like me will never own. Not because of the price tag (Well, it is pretty high) but because we can never do justice to it. I am a short guy. This makes most bikes inaccessible to me. The first rule of riding a bike, is to never lose control. Can’t focus on control if your legs can’t reach the ground. Embarassing, I know.

Now I don’t own a decent bike. I get by on a really old  Hero Honda Splendour. So when it comes to road trips, I rely on friends. Recently three of us set off to Kolli Hills in Namakkal. A 700 km round trip that should have been amazing by any standards. Two bikes – an Apache RTR 180 and an Impulse. Three guys and two bikes does not seem like the optimum combination and it clearly wasn’t. So we set off at six in the morning on a Saturday. The plan was to spend the night there and return by Sunday night. It made sense and it was actually a pretty decent plan.

Life, however, never really goes according to plan. With frequent stops to cope with our sore backs, we made it to the foothills at around 5 pm. Now that’s very bad time for a 6-7 hour journey. This was due to certain complications. One of my friends got some kind of food poisoning from a pretty respectable restaurant in the outskirts of Chennai. Or maybe he just got the flu. So frequent stops had to made for vomiting which were as bad as they sound. For him. We were debating whether we should cancel the trip or not. The guy who was sick had no inkling of doing that and we continued along till Attur, which was about 60-70 km away from the foothills. With some bad map reading we managed to take the wrong route and had to double back for a bit there. And my friend was pretty much screwed by then. So back to Attur, and we went to a hospital and got him on some meds and some much needed bed rest. An hour later and he still insisted on going on.

So, we went on our way and reached the foothills pretty quickly. The place was beautiful. We made our way to the top and the view and the roads were awesome. 70 hairpin bends and quite a way to go to reach the top. My friend was better during this part but as we made it to the top he was losing it. Oh, and he was riding solo for the entire drive up the hill. So we checked in to a lodge – pretty decent fare –  for the night. We were pretty sure that we had to leave first thing in the morning. We debated about sending him on a bus to Chennai but he wasn’t really going to let us do that.

So the next morning, we set off at about nine or ten and we made our way down. The ride back was pretty uneventful and we made it back home pretty fast. Way faster than the time it took us to reach the hills in the first place. Now it will look I’m whining a lot about this and that is true. A road trip is pretty pointless if you don’t really do anything at the destination. However a road trip is mainly about the ride. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, I was happy with the ride. Highway rides are not exactly safe for bikes but it has it’s charm. The wind in your face/helmet gets a bit annoying after the initial hour, though. The point is, this wasn’t the textbook road trip. I don’t think any of them are. It could have been much more amazing and it also could have been much worse.

I would really like to take the elements of the ride and gloss over the circumstances. But I don’t function like that. What strikes me as notable, is the fact that we actually made it to the place and back when shit like this went down. Lets just say, that this trip taught me that my plans aren’t all that important to the world. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary to drop the plans, but it is a good idea to adapt. I don’t like thinking about stuff too much and I am not trying to make sense of stuff that happened here. Let’s face it, shit happens all the time, to all the people in the world. You can either whine about it, or you can deal with it and then brag about it. Road trips aren’t life lessons waiting to be learnt, they are just good times waiting to be had.

Namma Ooru Metro

The Chennai Metro Rail has been a permanent fixture in all news media outlets since it’s announcement 2 years ago. The stories have been varied – ranging from security concerns and mishaps to painting a picture of a connected public transport system that could actually work. Initial stages of the project were marred by regime changes in the state and the usual bureaucratic delays. The project did get underway eventually and work has been oddly competent. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like this is the most efficient piece of government work this  country has seen or anything. However the fact remains that this project has seen a certain ease with which it is being worked upon.

Looks good, right??
Looks good, right??

There were several delays with contract tenders overshooting initial bids and costs escalated with impunity. There were also the unfortunate incidents with 3 workers getting killed and several others getting injured over the course of 3 mishaps. This led to a temporary suspension of the work and the initiation of a safety audit across all working areas. But through all the problems and delays, the Chennai Metro project has come around quite strongly. Phase I consisting of 2 lines – one connecting Washermanpet and the Chennai International Airport and the other connecting Chennai Central and St. Thomas Mount – is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, probably by October.

Work on the second phase has been confined to the design level and the lines have yet be confirmed. Initial reports claim that 3 lines covering a distance of 76 km have been proposed and are waiting for approval. It has also been stated that the second phase will be entirely underground and will take a much longer period to complete. The 3 proposed lines connect the following areas – Madhavaram and Light House, Madhavaram and Perumbakkam, and Koyambedu and Injambakkam.

The trail run for the elevated track section was a success and made a few waves on social networks as well. A scale model of the coaches used  for the Chennai Metro was showcased at the Koyambedu Bus Terminus and earned quite a lot of attention. The project has earned some goodwill from the city’s residents due to it’s motives and the fact that it’s plans and objectives have been shared with the public quite freely. That is something all public initiatives require to be accepted by the public. On the flip side, the traffic snarls and detours surrounding the areas where construction takes place, have annoyed several motorists. Let’s just put those annoyances under the price to be paid category.

Recent reports have stated that steps are being made to bring the already existing MRTS under the wing of the Chennai Metro to bring a more inclusive feel to the mass rapid transit network of the city. Plans are underway to bring the MRTS network under the Chennai Metro network and bring a much needed boost to the pathetic conditions of most MRTS amenities. This is a good move. No ifs, no buts. This is simply a good move. Or maybe I should hold judgement till the actual implementation. Ticket pricing has been announced tentatively but it is pretty much confirmed that the prices will range from Rs.10 to Rs.30. We will need to wait for official word before getting too worked up about the prices. The inclusion of a first class coach in each train has also been confirmed. I don’t really get that move. Public transport is for the masses. Anyone who expects a higher class of coach is not really part of the customer base for a public transport system.

Despite the problems along the way,  things are looking  good for the Chennai Metro. And I am intrigued. Maybe the government will actually pull off the impossible and execute a transport infrastructure that will actually satisfy the public. We’ll need to wait a few more months for that.