Meru Cabs | "Rely on us" - Really?

Written by Harsh Jegadeesan on 11:53 AM

Meru cabs - a radio taxi service operating in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore says "Rely On Us". The Meru brand in their own words is "a symbol of our commitment to unshakeable reliability- the heart of our promise to our customers". Further, they claim that "It is this promise of reliability that drives us at Meru Cabs to endeavor to provide the most efficient services every time to our customers" (see Meru's Philosophy)

Really? For me, Meru is a perfect example of big brand, brag commitments but bad experience - totally bad and unreliable experience!

I booked a Meru cab for 21.30 PM last night (reference no. 323 08/11/2009). I wanted to go to the railway station, a 25 km ride from my home, to catch a train at 22.45 PM. At 21.00 I got a text message saying that a cab has been allotted. At 21.25 when I got no call from the driver, I tried calling him but his phone was unreachable. I called the call center and I was told that Meru's system already shows I was "picked up". When I told him I was still at home, he said that the cab is on the way and he will ask the driver to give me a call. At 21.39, when I got no call I called them again and I was told by a person that the driver is "not traceable" and that a new cab was being sent to pick me and it will reach me in "couple of minutes".

When nothing happened in "couple of minutes" and it was already getting late, I finally got the call from the driver who told me he will be there in another 15 mins and that he was told to go pick me up just then. Meanwhile, I really wanted to understand Meru's liability if someone misses a train, flight or an important meeting due to a late cab. I called their call center and asked for the information department, after I asked the agent about liability, did not understand. He put me on hold. After the hold time, someone else picked up the call, and this person did not know I was in hold and was seeking information. As I could figure out, the person I had spoke to earlier had just vanished very impolitely. So much already for "Relying on Meru". I asked the agent to put me in touch with his manager and he did reluctantly.

Finally, I spoke to Gargi - the manager, Gargi told me that they have 'technical problems' in their end. I did not want to waste my time and I asked her if she worked for Meru or for a call center. She said she works for Meru and she does really cares about Meru and it's customers. By this time it was already 21.55 and I still had to go 25 kms to catch my train. I walked down from my apartment to look for another mode of transport, by now giving up most of the hopes of catching the train. When I was down, I finally saw a Meru cab driving towards me. I was still talking to Gargi and she did not have answers about "reliability" , "time guarantee" and "liability". When I asked her if Meru was liable if I missed the train and subsequently an important appointment - she said I could call the call center and give them "feedback". She also said that I will get a call from Meru in 24-hrs explaining the whole "screw up" (update: it's been 48-hrs and there has been no call and I don't see any call too in the future). I asked her if there was a reference number for the complaint, she said there was no need for it and I will surely get the call.

On my way I told the cab driver my story, he had so many complaints against the call center. He said there was a "huge problem" with Meru's operations center and most of the drivers were very unhappy with Meru. He was also suggesting that I use Easy Cabs or CEL cabs as they were much more reliable. So much for employee engagement. I finally reached the station 4 mins before the departure and ran all the way to board my train. I could make it only because of the driver's creativity, skill and reckless driving.

When I called my wife and narrated my experience, she told me her horror story with Meru. She had to take a train at 6.00 AM in the morning. We are 7 months pregnant and she wanted a comfortable journey to the railway station. She "relied on Meru". The cab was late, the driver was rash and reckless and she had to run with her luggage to make it to the train. She vowed she will never call Meru again. She had told all her friends about her bad experience with Meru and almost unanimously everyone seemed to agree as they had their own bad experiences to narrate.

Before writing this blog, I googled "Meru" to see if the crowd shared similar experiences. Not surprisingly, I found so many blogs and reviews (see Mouth Shut's reviews), all narrating horror stories about Meru's reliability. Not sure why it is hard for Mr. Neeraj Gupta and his team along with India value fund - their investors, to see the brewing customer anger against Meru and its false promises. In my opinion, Meru will close shop in less than 2-yrs if they don't clean up their act! (I am no Oracle to predict, but I can see this from my CEL cabs experience).

Will I rely on Meru again? Are you kidding me! Neeraj are you listening?

If you have had bad experiences with Meru, please post your comments.

Social Impact of Microcredit - RangDe's Field Visit to Vandavasi

Written by Harsh Jegadeesan on 8:58 PM

I have been a micro lender with Kiva and more recently with RangDe. I've always believed that grassroutes entrepreneurship coupled with access to affordable capital is the key to poverty alleviation and a better standard of living for millions of Indians, especially in the rural hinterland.

RangDe is India's largest peer-to-peer lending platform and has doled out micro loans close to INR 8 million in a short span of 2 years. As I wanted to do something more than just micro lending, I joined them as a volunteer. Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to see how micro credit really works. I along with 7 RangDe volunteers from the Bangalore Chapter went on a field visit to villages around Vandavasi to meet borrowers and the field partner agency - ASSCOD. The goal of the field visit was two-fold. Firstly, we wanted to see for ourselves the impact that the loans were making to the community. Secondly, we wanted to conduct a social audit on the field partner and the effectiveness of the loan disbursement and the repayment processes.

Elzhumalai, the local ASSCOD coordinator joined us in Vandavasi. Sivagami was the first borrower we met. Sivagami and her husband set up a small eatery and when they had begun to do well, her husband passed away. After the initial shock, Sivagami was forced to take charge and be the sole bread winner for her family. Her eatery serves snacks for breakfast and simple meals for lunch. She is assisted by her 2 daughters before they go to school. Her son who is studying in an ITI is planning to join her in the eatery business after his studies. Sivagami took a small loan of INR 10,000/- from RangDe to buy utensils and a gas stove to expand her business. She quickly repaid the loan with 8.5% interest in 12 months. She acknowledged the huge impact the micro loan had made on her life and was really thankful to RangDe for providing her access to affordable capital. We left her eatery wishing her and her son best of luck!

Our next borrower was Fathima and her daughter Muneera. They are part of the Muthamizh self-help group (SHG), a group of 20 muslim women who engage in tailoring and hand embroidery. Muneera(18) really impressed us with her enterprise and confidence. She has formally undergone training in hand embroidery and is the local garment designer in Vandavasi. She trains other women in tailoring and employs them in her business. Fathima borrowed INR 15,000/- to buy a sewing machine and is repaying very regularly. The mother and daughter duo now want to buy a embroidery machine to grow their business. A lot of these women have to overcome social conventions and community customs to take part in the SHG. We were all overwhelmed by the spirit, enterprise and the positive attitude that these rural women exhibited.

Next in our list of borrowers was Fyrose Banu. Fyrose has 2 children. Fyrose is in the mat finishing business. Vandavasi is famous for its mats and a lot of people in and around Vandavasi are involved in this business. Fyrose's husband buys unfinished mats in wholesale; Fyrose stitches up the mats and they sell the finished mats to nearby villages. Fyrose took a loan to buy a mat making machine. She has repaid the load and is looking for a loan to buy a motorized vehicle to transport her mats to far off villages and towns.We took the opportunity to visit a mechanized mat making unit and see how mats were being made. I also bought a few mats from Fyrose, for which she reluctantly took money.

The last borrower in our list was Boopalan. Boopalan’s life presents a classic example of what can be achieved by sheer will power and hard work. Over the last 14 years Boopalan has grown from being a mere daily wage earner to a micro entrepreneur employing 3 persons in his own establishment. The secret of his success is dedication, sincerity and an iron resolution to excel. Initially Boopalan was employed as an operator in Southern Polymers where he learnt the tricks of making plastic goods. Soon Boopalan launched his own establishment to make a variety of goods like jewel boxes, plastic dolls, gift items, devotional gifts etc. Boopalan took a loan of INR 125,000/- to buy an automatic moulding machine to make plastic boxes. He is confident of expanding his business and employing more locals. He told us that he was deeply indebted to RangDe for providing him a loan and changing his life beyond his imagination.

As we were meeting borrowers, I couldn't help but think how small amounts of money we lend was make a tangible and real difference to people. I could really appreciate the power of micro lending and its profound social impact in a community. Earlier each of these borrowers had to borrow money at exorbitant interest rates from local money lenders. Banks did not lend unsecured loans. Now with access to micro credit through peer-to-peer lending platforms like RangDe, coupled with hard work, enterprise and self-belief, a mini revolution has started in our rural hinterland.

Make a difference today, invest in India's future: visit now!

My food binge in Bangalore's old and famous eat outs!

Written by Harsh Jegadeesan on 12:16 PM

After visiting every new restaurant in town, burning oodles of money on marked up (not necessarily good) food and guinea pigging for resta-experimenters (restaurants which experiment on paying public with their versions of global cuisine, read World Cuisine Network), this Saturday we decided to head out to traditional old Bangalore eat outs. I joined my wife and 6 of her colleagues to spend the whole day binging on traditional food in old Bangalore.

We started our day with the traditional "Bengaluru Masala Dosa" in Vidyarthi Bhavan in Gandhi Bazaar, arguably the best dosa in the world according to die-hard dosa fans. They have been in existence since 1943 and churn out thousands of dosas all day long. Because we were on a food binge and I did not know what was coming next - I wanted to try everything on the menu, including the hot water.

What followed next was plain dosa, karabath, kesaribath, idly vada, poori sagu, coffee/tea and hot water in that order. I must admit that except for the masala dosa, no other dish deserved the hype. Having said that, I'd go there just for the masala dosa :) The best part about the whole place was - it just costed us ~400 bucks for 8 of us for breakfast, can you believe that!

It was already 11.30 AM by the time we finished and I was assuming all the while that we were having a 'brunch', till reality hit me. I was told that we have to head out fast to MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room) because we had a lunch 'appointment' at 2.00 PM.

Hang on!, did you say lunch? Suddenly I had self doubts, this would not have been quite a shocker a few years ago when I was a lot younger; now with age and years of eating at home I was not sure if my intestinal flora was ready to handle this :) But I knew I had to bring my years of experience into play here; really trust my abilities and go out there and carry on!

Just to relax ourselves before the next playoff, we took a stroll in a beautiful park in Basavanagudi, we visited the Bull Temple to see the monolith statue of Nandi Bull. According to the local legends, the bull is growing in size every year. We had a refreshing tender coconut before we headed out to lunch. Will I be able to do this?

Lunch at MTR is a completely filling affair. MTR has a great legacy - started it 1924, they have had Chief Ministers waiting in long queues to eat there. Even today, even if you have a reservation, you will have to wait at least an hour in the waiting rooms to get inside. Following the tradition, we waited in the long and noisy queue for our turn. Our turn finally came after a 1/2 hour wait. Honestly I had to really struggle through every course of the meal, but I really enjoyed the food thoroughly. By the time we came out, my stomach was just about to explode. We all had to take a walk and maybe follow it up with a nice nap. With great difficulty we walked across the road to Lal Bagh. The 240-acre garden is a treat to the eyes in a traffic-clogged Bangalore, where the green patches are rapidly being replaced by concrete jungles. We had a short walk and found the shade of a big banyan tree hard to resist, we all settled down to have a nap in the shade. After a power nap we were ready for the evening.

Our goal was to eat something 'lite' in the evening. Our destination was the Food Street - a road full of eateries in V.V. Puram. Each eatery is a specialized joint for certain items. For example, the dosa shop we went just sold ghee masala dosa. After binging on a variety of foods - dosa, idly, vada pav and 'obbattu', I was done for the day. My stomach could not stomach any more food. As we walked to the end of the road, we reached V B Bakery - again a old Bangalore food joint which has been doing yeoman service to foodies like me for decades. I had to pay due respects to such a revered food joint. I ate a bun butter jam and bought the traditional rusks and left the food street promising to come back soon!

That was it! I vowed to my stomach that I will completely rest it the next day. Finally we headed home after a whole day of traditional food in Bangalore's old and famous food joint. More than us, our li'l one got to savor Bangalore's best from inside momie's stomach :)

My Diwali in Chikkasugur - a village affected by flash floods

Written by Harsh Jegadeesan on 10:24 PM

In October this year, the water level in the Krishna river (the longest river in south-central India) rose to its 100-year high due to incessant rains. The resulting flash floods demolished villages and towns in Andhra and Karnataka washing away crops and cattle and rendering thousands homeless. Parts of North Karnataka that were suffering the worst draught were suddenly affected by these devastating floods in the same year.

All my life I've seen a lot of news, video footages and pictures of catastrophic damages caused by natural calamities. I've empathized, most often written a cheque and cribbed about govt. inaction and inadequate relief efforts and moved on.

This Diwali for the first time I saw it all live! Along with 8 other CLEAR PURPOSE (SAP's CSR team) volunteers I was in Chikkasugur, a village (not seen in Google maps, but existing) in North Karnataka and on the banks of river Krishna. Chikkasugur is a small hamlet with a population of 3000 people in the Raichur district, 14 KMs from Raichur.

Our goal was to assess the damages first-hand and decide how SAP could be involved in the rehabilitation efforts along with our field partner HOPE foundation. What I saw there was overwhelming and beyond my imagination. With houses reduced to rubbles, the villagers are living in makeshift accommodation, or in remaining parts of the houses. All the crops were damaged, leaving farmers penniless. The govt. has provided immediate cash relief with compensation between 2,000 - 12,000 based on the extent of damage. The govt. compensation is peanuts compared to the real losses. However, I am not blaming the govt. machinery. From what I heard, the govt. officers are doing their best and supporting locals and NGOs involved in relief efforts. I'd guess that the govt. has too much to handle and stretched too thin beyond their capabilities. Added to this, the village was strongly divided on lines of caste - hindus, muslims, the scheduled castes and tribes. Villagers were complaining of biases in distribution of compensation and were not willing to clear the rubble waiting for inspection from officials.

Under these circumstances, HOPE foundation was doing a commendable job. Prabhu Kumar (Sr. Director) and his team were working and still continue to work at a phenomenal speed to do all they can to put Chikkasugur back on its feet. I along with other volunteers was involved in talking to the villagers and conducting a survey to understand the extent of the damage and what we could do in a sustainable manner to help them. The immediate need was housing, followed closely by primary education and skills development to improve employability of the youth. Though we were met with initial skepticism, the villagers soon realized that we are genuinely and wholeheartedly trying to do our bit and helped us in every possible way. We also helped rebuild the village primary school. We replaced the roofs, cleaned the school premises, planted trees and were also successful in engaging the children in all these activities. SAP will now work with HOPE foundation to improve the primary and high schools in Chikkasugur. Also we'd like to start a skills training center to impart basic computer skills (DTP), spoken english and tailoring skills to the youth.

Looking at all the good work that a lot of NGOs, including HOPE foundation are doing - so selflessly, I wonder what a tiny drop I've been in this big ocean. However I am really happy being this small drop, after all small drops add to make a mighty ocean! If you are looking to help or donate, you can do it through HOPE foundation here.