Monday, November 12, 2012

How is a spiritual way relevant for today's people?

In the last dialogue we saw that Sahaj marg is a way of life, allowing one to lead a balanced life in middle of this modern world. Its practice consists of Meditation and Cleaning, backed by teacher's active assistance in the form of yogic transmission. Also, help is available almost all over the world through a system of prefects - who train people in learning meditation and give yogic transmission.

I thought you are going to elaborate on how is it relevant to today's people. Isn't it?


First, people are increasingly realizing the importance of a well cultivated human mind. A human being is able to 'think' using his mind. No other living creature on earth possesses this ability to think.

But, it has been proved that humans are able to use - at best - a very small percentage of what mind is capable of, may be 4 to 5% not more. Why is that? One problem is that mind is perpetually in a state of activity. It gets some rest only during the sleep. But, during waking state one thought leads to another, giving rise to incessant thoughts; very similar to the Brownian motion observed in liquid by scientists.

Can this incessant movement of thoughts be controlled or regulated? If yes, it may become possible to exceed our current level of understanding and knowledge of the world around us.

Sahaj marg helps here because it is yoga of the mind. It helps to bring the ever wavering mind to a regulated state by taking up the regular practice of meditation and cleaning. Result of such a practice is a regulated and clean mind - that does not allow impressions to form or settle.

For one who is not doing this type of practice, what happens is that impressions created by daily thoughts and actions settle and become hardened in to something called grossness. Over a period of time such grossness settles down on heart - called samskars. This samskars are responsible for our habits and behaviour patterns. It's a teacher's job in Sahaj Marg to get rid of this grossness settled on the heart. When done, heart is cleared of habits, behaviour patterns and emotions; and one becomes free from the binding effects of grossness. When this happens, one is liberated from effects of the past.

Second, in today's world there is a lot of easiness compared to a world say 200 years back. It's all due to advancement of science and technology in the last 150 years or so. But due to this easiness people's body and mind are becoming weaker every day. We feel helpless when any of this technology props viz., electricity, vehicles, telephones, water in the tap and information at the fingertips is not available.

Being surrounded by so many things and conveniences, do we feel complete? Temporarily yes, when desired object is available. But after some time the joy wears off and we start looking for something new, better, innovative and so on. Is there any end to this quest for novelty? Not really. In fact, a time comes when we feel emptiness.

Why do we feel emptiness, in spite of having everything?

It is because we intuitively realize that all these things may fill up space and make life easy, but it does not give satisfaction in the long run. There is something that is missing. We don't feel full, complete, satisfied and contented.

What is missing? Why does a modern man feel that his life is not fulfilled?

Let us examine. It is said that soul resides in the heart of the human beings. Many experiments have been done by modern scientists to find out property of such soul (if it exists) say weight - by accurately weighing body of a dying person before and after the death. But such experiments have not yielded any satisfactory answers.

Answer to this mystery of what gives life to the human and other living creatures has been reasonably well explained by saying that soul enters a body giving it a life and soul leaves body by making it dead. But, such answers do not make us much wise.


Because, until we are able to directly experience it, we are unable to find use of such a knowledge. Till then it is just a hypothesis. Isn't it?

True. Everyone says god or soul is there inside the heart of every living being; but I can't identify with it in any way. What's use of such knowledge?

Good. You have hit the nail on the head.

Sahaj marg says that soul not only resides in the heart of a human being, it has got life of its own. Purpose of our assuming this body is that we do something so that soul gets back its life while we are living; and it continues thereafter, after the soul has left this body.

Is it possible to offer life back to the soul? Isn't it supposed to be immortal etc.? You must be joking.

No. What happens is that soul has become trapped in a web of its own making due to the hardening of impressions called grossness that we form due to our daily thoughts and actions - things I referred to while explaining cleaning. Do you remember it?

Yes. And you said it's teacher's role to take care of impressions or grossness that were already formed.

True. What happens is that although soul is immortal etc. it has got trapped in a sort of cocoon of grossness. Due to the effort of meditation and cleaning - assisted by the teacher's transmission, slowly this grossness is removed or peeled off; and soul slowly becomes free to move.

Its only when a soul becomes free that the possibility of its journey on its onward path becomes possible. When this happens it's a joyous moment because soul has got back its life, of course not fully but to an extent, where it is able to move further, after lapse of possibly thousands of years. Of course, much journey remains to be done before it reaches its homeland or final destination. That state is known as self-realization.

But, aren't we supposed to take up journey to holy places to reach the state of self-realization?

No. It is very unfortunate that this idea of journey of the soul within human system was known and discovered by the founders of great religious movements thousands of years back; and it got degenerated over a period of time into this idea of physical journey over land to holy places.

Proof of same is evident from the fact that even though people take up many a times very arduous journey to the holy places, they feel only a temporary elation. When they come back home they have not changed in any way. So, only journey worthwhile taking up is this inner journey of the soul within human system. But, even this journey starts only after great deal of effort is made in freeing up the soul from its bondage of grossness, also known as samskars.

So, after that I believe soul's journey must be easy?

Not really. It's only a beginning of a long journey. Path is long and slippery. By self-effort such journey takes thousands of years, as mentioned in old yogic literature, taking up numerous lives. During this journey soul sheds various coverings like that of illusion (maya), ego etc., and becomes more and more free.

Only a capable teacher who has travelled this path himself; and has capacity to help other people through yogic transmission can make journey easy. Of course, even the aspirant has to put in his own effort and co-operate with the teacher to cut down this journey time.

Good news is that teacher in Sahaj marg is able to cut down this time to just one life i.e., this life itself. Who knows what will be there after this life?

Come on, you are just making an exaggerated claim or promise.

Ok. Assuming that what is claimed is not true, isn't it great to know that at least some one is there who says I've a method, if you follow it sincerely while co-operating with my work on you, it is possible to lead to self-realization in one life time. Isn't it worth trying?

Tell me honestly how many people you have heard or known, in the history of mankind, who have been bold to make such a claim? Human history has no knowledge of any. So, it may be worth giving Sahaj marg a try and see if it is really able to offer something that gives direction and fulfillment to the life.

I see your point. It seems worth trying. But, can you tell me more about it before I decide?

Proof of pudding is in eating and then deciding. Visit for an experiential try. It is worth giving a sincere try - at least for 3 months. You need not contact any one; and one can try in the comfort of the home. If you would like to explore more then try meditation with a trainer and you should be able to get a taste of the 'beyond.'

Note: Heartfulness is an invitation (or an approach) to Sahaj Marg. So, if one likes Heartfulness Relaxation and Meditation then for a deeper experience one starts Sahaj Marg practice where apart from mediation there is a practice of cleaning and few other things.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

My experiments with the beyond

Today I wish to write about 'beyond' - a subject very close to my heart.

My experiments with the beyond started around 1980, when I started learning meditation. I did that mainly to become a better person. And today, after lapse of 32 years my enthusiasm to explore further has not waned. Rather it has only increased.

Why is that?

It is because I accidentally stumbled upon a way that has given meaning and direction to my life. I can say with confidence that I will not regret my life when it ends.

Here, I am referring to a way of life called Sahaj Marg.

What's so great about it? Aren't there so many people and organizations that claim the same?

Yes. But, I don't have experience of any of them, so I can't say anything about them. But, I can surely talk about this based on my own experience. And, I've found that this way is all encompassing i.e., one does not have look for anything outside of this.

Let's start.

First, it directs people's attention to the divine presence that is already present in the heart of all humans. And, it teaches one to meditate on this presence, to ultimately become one with this presence.

How to meditate?

Meditation is not new to human beings. Mystics and Sanyasis have been doing it for thousands of years. But, rarely in the past, is meditation learnt by ordinary human beings who are leading a normal family life.

Now, in modern times there is a renewed interest in meditation. This is because ordinary people feel the need to do something about the incessant flow of thoughts that assail them daily, resulting in high level of stress in their lives.

And, people are right in their search to find solution for their problems in meditation. This is because. if we manage to learn to meditate correctly, it is possible to put one’s thoughts on one thing at a time for a reasonable period of time.

How is that? I thought it is very difficult.

It is not. But at the same time, it is not easy either. Many people have tried to learn meditation on their own by reading books on yoga or under someone’s guidance. But, there is not much success because most of the time people try to ‘concentrate’ or try to suppress thoughts in the meditation. Here, it is important to know that, when we try to concentrate or forcefully try to suppress the thoughts they come back with renewed force. So, while doing meditation we should not try to ‘concentrate.’

You see, concentration is the state in which we get into when we are able to meditate properly. In other words, concentration is the result of meditation and not vice versa.

Then, tell me in simple words, how do I meditate?

When we think about one thing continuously - that is a meditation. Does it mean “we are doing it all the time and there is nothing more to learn?” Not at all. What we are doing every day is that “we are thinking of something or other continuously but not meditating.”

Here, in meditation, we try to put our mind on thought that divinity is present in the heart in the form of light; and we try to keep this thought for as long as we are able to. When we realize that other thoughts are coming, we try to ignore them and gently put our mind back to earlier thought. By doing this practice repeatedly - every day, in due course of time after sufficient practice, we gain mastery over this process.

Yes. But it is easier said than done. Many have tried it but constant rush of thoughts make it impossible to sit for more than 5 to 10 min. Isn't it?

True. But, here there is a difference.


Here, an active help from the teacher is available that makes it work.

Can you explain more?

Sure. When anyone starts doing meditation under Sahaj marg, he is helped in his practice by the yogic power possessed by the teacher, called pranahuti or yogic transmission. When an aspirant is introduced to the Sahaj Marg he is prepared to receive this yogic transmission. When such an aspirant sits in meditation he receives the yogic transmission from the teacher, whether he feels it or not. Also, onslaught of thoughts do not stop during meditation. But, if learns to remain unmindful of disturbing thoughts by treating them as uninvited guests, after sometime he is able to sit in meditation for reasonable period of time.

Then how does this meditation become useful or effective?

It is said that - as we think we become. Here, in Sahaj Marg, we think of the divine presence in the heart, continuously for 1 hour, every day morning; to eventually feel that presence in the heart.

Is it true? It is worth trying then.


Second, here teacher or guru is an ordinary person, leading life like anybody else. He leads a normal family life and earns his own living by doing job or business.

Then how is he able to do meditation; and at the time teach people about it?

That's a good question. In Sahaj marg we are taught to lead a balanced life i.e., we lead normal material life; and side by side we do meditation practice that helps us to grow spiritually. Just 1 hour of daily meditation and about 40 min of other practice makes it possible to live a balanced existence.

And teacher is able to assist people with the help of yogic transmission. So here, teacher does not stop at prescribing the meditation practice but helps an aspirant actively by offering his assistance through yogic transmission.

But, how is it possible to help people, say who are located far away from the teacher?

For that he has appointed certain aspirants to work on his behalf and permitted them to offer transmission and personal guidance. There are more than 3,500 such people (called prefects) spread over more than 90 countries of the world. They explain the method to the aspirants, give transmission to help them grow spiritually and guide them if they have any difficulty.

Oh, that's different. That means, almost anyone can try this meditation practice anywhere. Isn't it?

Yes. And there are no eligibility criteria except that one should be of 18 years of age and willing to give it a try. And there are no fees charged for the training and guidance. If it works then aspirant can continue or he can stop.

Third, apart from the daily meditation one is expected to sit for about 30 min in the evening, and do something called Cleaning. In this, one sits like in the meditation with the closed eyes, but one does not think of the divinity in the heart. Instead, one is expected to use his will power and remove slowly all the impressions gathered during the day's work from the system.

Cleaning Process
You see, reason why new acquaintance almost always start on a good note because there is no past experience. But, when we get to know a person for some time, we develop certain prejudices and it is not easy to deal with the person. But, if somehow manage to remove daily impressions, like what we do in the Cleaning, every day would be a new day, without any thing of the past pulling us back. So, Cleaning has a tremendous benefit of liberating us from the effects of the daily impressions.

Tell me more about Cleaning. I hope it is not difficult to do.

In the Cleaning process we use mind (like a broom) to clean the impressions taken by the mind. This process can be understood thus. When we want to lift our hand, we make a will and a signal goes from our mind to lift the hand; and hand is lifted. Isn't it? Similarly, in cleaning, we use our will power to clean the impressions; and our system is cleaned. Initially people may find it bit difficult understand and practice it; but slowly one learns to do it, by doing it repeatedly.
Use of Will to Clean the System
Process of cleaning is unique to Sahaj marg and its efficacy can be gauged only by experiencing it. It makes one free of the daily dose of impressions that one collects during the day's work. When cleaning is done well, aspirant feels lighter in the mind. It is similar to - when we have grown say lot of hair on the head we get used to it and we don't feel its weight. But, when hair cut is given we feel lighter.

Ok. Cleaning may rid one of the daily impressions. But, what about impressions collected before starting the Sahaj marg?

Good question. That's work of the teacher. In fact, teacher's real work and need for a teacher, is in removal of older impressions. It is not easy for an ordinary person to remove it by his own effort. But, in Sahaj marg it is possible for the teacher to do it because of yogic transmission.

But, tell me, what's use of going inside by closing eyes and doing meditation & cleaning? Isn't it possible to know everything through the five senses that we have?

This is a way that takes one inside of oneself. And believe me, there is no limit to how much more one can go inside. It is said that universe inside is bigger than what we see outside. And it is true. We don't know about it because either we have never tried to explore it or we did not have effective method to do it.

It's only when we go inside we realize that there is a universe inside of us, in our heart where divinity, light, purity and peace pervades. It makes us aware of a different world which we had possibly heard about earlier, but never experienced.

Isn't it called self-realization or some similar name? 

Yes. But, this is best dealt by having an actual experience rather than knowing about it intellectually - by reading books or listening to lectures. Current state of knowledge about self-realization is very confusing. Best is to jump in to it and check it out first hand.

But, isn't it supposed to very difficult and not relevant for an ordinary human being?

Yes, it used to be like that, but times do change. Take for example the field of science and technology; currently we are using things that people 200 years back could not even imagine. Similarly, time has possibly come for a newer world, where people would seek fulfillment and purpose in life by going inside rather than seeking it outside. We have already seen effects of seeking fulfillment from the world outside of us. It's time we seek to explore the beyond.

How it is relevant in today's world?

Well, I will write about it some time later. Bye for today.

p.s., let me know how you find this piece of writing.

Note: This article is extensively edited in Nov 2013 with the help of a fellow brother. I'm thankful to him for his valuable suggestions for the improvement.
Here is the blog on "How is spiritual way relevant for today's people?"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Loop Mobile - Revised tariff of Blackberry BIS Lite Plan

I'm customer of BPL mobile (now Loop) since inception of their service in Mumbai.

Recently I learnt from the bill that Loop Mobile has revised the tariff of Blackberry BIS Lite Plan wef 6-6-2012 from Rs.199 to 299 with added facility of 2 Gb Internet free on Opera mini browser.  

There are many problems with such revision of tariff:

1. Loop Mobile did not inform customers about revised tariff along with new details of 2 GB Internet thru opera. I did not get any notice from them about it. I learnt it only from gallery upon inquiry of higher tariff bill. Loop Mobile is claiming that they have informed the all users of BIS Lite by SMS. But, I never received any SMS.

2. Loop Mobile did not take consent of customer before charging the revising tariff. They have unilaterally changed the tariff. Against this argument they say that they are at liberty to change price of Value Added Service any time.

TRAI Direction on Value Added Services dated 4th July 2011 (F.No.305-15/2011-QoS), it states following:


7. And whereas upon examination of the complaints of the consumers and the replies received from the service providers, the Authority found that in most of the cases the service providers claimed that they have obtained the explicit consent of consumers through telecalling or Out Bound Dialer call or through other electronic means involving interactive sessions while the consumers have disputed such claims, thus giving rise to the need for a confirmation process to avoid such disputes in claims and counter claims in the matter of seeking and obtaining explicit consent;

8. And whereas the Authority is of the view that deduction of subscription charges from the talk value, either initially or from subsequent recharges without the specific consent of consumers, is against the interest of consumers; 


9 (ii)  every service provider shall, at least three days before the due date of renewal of a value added service, inform the consumer through SMS, the due date for renewal of such service, the charges for renewal and toll free telephone number for unsubscribing the value added service;


Clearly Loop Mobile has failed to follow above direction 9(ii) and are not entitled to recover revised increased tariff from any consumers.

3. I don't wish to use the free internet up to 2 GB on Opera for following reasons:

a. It is not easy for a Blackberry BIS Lite Plan subscriber to install the 'Opera' browser on his handset. It is easy to install it if one has full internet access but BIS Lite Plan does not have Internet Access through the Blackberry's built in browser. 

For installation of Opera one has to download it on a PC then transfer the application to the Blackberry handset using Blackberry's Desktop Manager tool. It is not easy to configure and user BB Desktop Manager for most users.

b. Internet works only on Opera mini browser. It does not work with built-in Blackberry's browser.

c. It is almost a useless service for Blackberry mail users because links given in the email messages always open the Blackberry browser. And this browser still does not work saying "Your device does not currently have any Browser Configuration Service Book entries Because Internet does not work with Blackberry's browser. Please contact your service provider to enable Browser on your device."

d. Even if one copies the link in email and tries to paste the link in Opera, paste does not work. Opera on Blackberry handset does not allow paste of a link copied from within email message! So, a user is not able to use opera. So, it's a total waste of money to go for such 2 gb of Internet access on Opera.

When I visited Loop Mobile gallery, they suggested that I shift to 399/- plan where Blackberry browser works! So, clearly this new revised tariff is a arm-twisting technique employed by Loop Mobile to fleece its customers.

I've written to Loop Mobile Appellate Authority number of times to reverse the charges. Every time I sent them a mail, someone calls up saying sorry we will reverse Rs.100 from your next bill. They have done that twice or three times. But they add saying from next month onwards you will have to pay Rs.299!

Have you faced this problem from Loop Mobile or any other operator? Do write back.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How to use NSDL's eTDS Filing system

In one of the comments on my blog post on Passport Seva Kendra  I had mentioned this:

"Not only this public facing website or application, if you are a user of any other website whether government or even corporate (particularly those related to eProcurement, Tender etc) user interface, directions to use and self-help resources are terrible. Of course, there are exceptions but only very few e.g.,

I've been having email and telephonic dialog with NSDL for their TDS website and have managed to correct a few things but there are simply too many small issues wrt usability.

It is really frustrating when even basic validation check - when done - errors are not displayed properly. For example, in ACES (Excise/Customs and Service Tax website) when certain figures don't match, error simply says figure don't match. Is this information enough to troubleshoot? Why can't it display both figures as well? If they are given, one can go back and find out easily where we made the error.

Similarly there are issues with respect to Income tax website, Maharashtra Sales Tax website. I can just go on. I'm thinking of writing a separate blog on such websites. But, I wonder if it would be worth the time and effort.

Yesterday I really got bugged up with NSDL's eTDS Return Filing website for many reasons, which has prompted me to write this today.

As you are aware, Income tax department of outsourced the work of running TDS & TCS machinery called "Tax Information Network" to National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL). (TDS=Tax Deducted at Source; TCS=Tax Collected at Source by Govt depts. Here 'Tax' means 'Income Tax'.)

NSDL has a dedicated website for same - Tax Information Network of Income Tax Department. From the website URL it seems that it's a commercial business venture of NSDL. I really wish that this website and related machinery setup by NSDL is run like a business. But, it is not; and it is designed and run like division of Income tax department only! Our bad luck!

Any way, if try to go back to basics and check if TDS (and Advance tax) is really necessary or not; we come across very revealing facts. Since this topic is not subject of this blog, reader may care to read
a magazine's article on The farce of TDS and advance tax exposed through huge refunds.

This blog is written with a primary purpose of becoming a 'primer' for those business firms who are expected to file TDS return using 'Tax Information Network' run by NSDL. It does not cover any topic related to TCS. It has discussion on both physical and electronic TDS returns.

Let us start.

1. When-ever any person (business entity) deducts TDS from the supplier's payment, he is expected to do two things. First deposit the TDS amount with the Income tax department by 7th of the next month. And tell government that he has deducted TDS from the supplier and paid to the government by filing a 'TDS Return'. Up to Financial Year 2004-05 this used to be a Annual Return; after that it has become a quarterly return. This vital piece of information is written as a one liner in an indirect manner viz., RPU for Annual Returns - These utilities can be used to prepare e-TDS/TCS returns up to FY 2004-05.

Easy? Seem so. But, not really because in practice it is very complicated. Complicated mainly because if things go well it is easy but if any one makes any mistake, however small it may be, hardly any one knows how to rectify it.

It becomes more complicated because first, there are too many pieces of information (in computer jargon, 'fields') and there are four parties on which we don't have any control viz., bank who accepts your TDS payment, TIN-FC (see below) who accepts your TDS Challan, NSDL - who processes TDS Return filed by you and runs the machinery for accepting TDS Return and TDS wing of Income Tax department.

For example, although while making TDS payment using Form 281 you have mentioned deductee type as non-company (code-21) bank may enter in NSDL system as company (code-20) then it is almost next to impossible for an ordinary person to find out why he is not getting the 'match' of the TDS paid amount. Believe me, when I say - it requires either Chartered Accountants degree or Post Graduation Degree from best of colleges of India - I'm not exaggerating. I'm telling you based on a real experience of this mistake by our bank. Any way, we found it and then we went the bank, explained to them their mistake, gave a letter for rectification of their mistake; and got it rectified after 2 weeks after number of follow-ups! Phew! Of course, peace came with the risk of receiving notice of Interest payment on late payment of TDS!

2. There are issues with First part which deals with a system called OLTAS, which I will take up through a separate blog post later.

3. Let's take second part, that of filing TDS returns. For business firms it can be filed in 'physical' or 'electronic' form. NSDL has set up a network of TIN-FC (Tax Information Network - Facilitation Centre) in every major city of India. Basically, these centres are run by private firms or individuals and they accept Physical and/or Electronic TDS Returns (called Form 24) from the tax payers. When they accept TDS Return in Physical  form (also called Paper Return) or Electronic form on CD/Pen-Drive they give Print acknowledgement of  same.

It has a holy number called 'PRN' - Provisional Receipt No. If you loose this piece of paper, you are facing your worst night-mares.It is as good as not filing the TDS return and taking risk of facing all consequences viz., interest, penalty, inability to file revised return etc etc. (I'm telling you from my own experience and believe me, in spite of writing numerous letters to NSDL and TDS dept's Assessment Officer, nothing has happened.)

If TIN-FC person makes a mistake in noting the TAN, Financial Year, Form No. (26-Professional Service, 24-Salary, 27-Withholding Tax etc) or Quarter (1Q,2Q,3Q,4Q) then also, only God can help you. Again here, I'm suffering because on one of the receipts TIN-FC wrote wrong Quarter and Year and we did not notice this mistake for many months; and we have not managed to sort it out yet. This is in spite of writing letters to NSDL, TDS dept etc.

4. Once TIN-FC accepts the TDS Return, they scan it first and a data entry operator reads the scanned form and types in the data written on the physical form on NSDL's web application i.e., physical return becomes a electronic form.

Here is where there is major problem because maximum mistakes happen at this stage. Why? Most of TIN-FCs are setup by large companies. These centres do not have rights to enter the data on NSDL system. They accept the Return, Scan the form and send it to their head office by email (or so) and send physical form by courier (i assume). Data is entered by a data entry staff at head office. This being a manual system - it is prone to every type of data entry error due to various reasons e.g., bad scanned copy of form, ill-legible hand-writing, in-ability of data entry operator to call up the party for clarification, mistake in the entry of PAN / Amount / Name of PAN holder, TAN, Date, Form No etc. etc.

A single mistake and person filing the return will know about it only when he checks his own TDS return on NSDL's website. How? Believe me, it is not intuitive. It is located under eTDS/TCS Filing and Quarterly Statement Status.

Why does it say "Quarterly Statement Status" instead of "Quarterly TDS Return Status"? Why it is under "eTDS/TCS Filing"? Why it is not seen after you login in to eTDS/TCS Online Filing? I don't know. If you know the reason, do let me know.

Isn't this complicated? Not yet, just wait and read further to know how messy this entire TDS business can become. In fact, government of India has publicly admitted in June 2010 that TDS system is in a mess. Don't believe me? Click here for my blog post for details.

5. Say, you have filed Physical TDS Return and you find that there it is "Accepted by TIN" as shown below:

But when you click on "1" (as shown above) you will see status of each TDS Challans as shown below:

A challan's status can be one of following:
a. Invalid Paper Return: (what does this mean, I have never managed to figure out. May it is like any reason other than known reasons given below)
b. Match Failed (Challan): TAN and/or amount relating to a challan in the statement does not match with the corresponding details received from banks.
c. PAN not in ITD database: Count of deductees, where structurally valid PAN stated in the statement is not found in the ITD PAN database.
d. No /Invalid PAN : Count of deductees where PANNOTAVBL, PANINVALID or PANAPPLIED stated in the PAN field in the statement.

Note: This is becoming slightly stay tuned. I will update it as and when I found time.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Review of my Toyota Etios (Model V)

It's time to write about experience of my newly purchased Toyota Etios car - as Odometer has crossed 2,000 kms. This may be called customer review also. I've tried to keep it full of points that are not mentioned on car reviews on magazine websites and online forums.

My old workhorse Indica DLE (deluxe, diesel) exceeded my expectation and served me for over 10 years, but its age started showing. Metal body started rusting at many places, though odometer showed just 54,000 kms and engine seemed to be in good shape. It was time to look for another workhorse.

I looked around for over 1 year; and selected Toyota Etios. Main reason for this selection was brand name synonymous with reliability, good space and good price. In fact, when it was launched I had taken a test drive and I had given up on it because of excessive noise and vibration on the road. Even various review confirmed same. I wanted a 4m long sedan with good space with minimum fuss car - at a reasonable price. I took test drive of various cars but no car was fitting in my expectation. So, when Etios Diesel was launched, I decided to get test drive. And I found it to be quite good and quiet car. Clearly, Toyota had taken steps to reduce noise and vibration. But, eventually I bought Petrol version because there was a price difference of almost Rs.2 lakh and simple back of the envelope calculation tipped the balance in favour of Petrol.

So, I started talking to Toyota dealers. During the course of discussions, I found that almost all sales executives feigned ignorance about the idea of Pre-Delivery Inspection (PDI) of the car. BTW, it's a good practice to check the car in the dealer's yard before it is registered in customers name with RTO and delivered. But for some unknown reason, all of them resisted all my attempts to get it. One dealer took the order with 50,000 advance and then refused PDI later. In fact, salesman got fired for his mistake of promising PDI! After much argument dealer agreed to give a letter confirming that if anything wrong is found at the time of delivery they would take the car back. But, I found that promise little risky and I cancelled the order and asked for refund. After much follow-ups and complaint to Toyota, refund cheque came after 15 days instead of usual 7 days.

Then I placed the order with Wasan, as it had a Sept 2011 car in ready stock in beige color. Once again issue of PDI cropped up - although it was agreed with the salesman. Upon my much insistence they got the car at their Vashi office. I went there, checked the car with the help of PDI check-list and made balance payment. Car came in four days after the promised delivery date. One of the ordered item viz., Side Visor was not in stock and I was advised to come back in few days.

Car came with 2 keys and 1 wireless remote. Remote is not integral part of the key. I find it useful because I give only remote key to the person who cleans my car! He can't start the car. That's good. Isn't it? One useful feature of the key is that it has a built-in transponder chip that prevent the engine from starting if a key has not been previously registered in the car's on-board computer. So, one can't start the car using a duplicate or any other car's key. It is called Engine Immobilizer system.

It is almost compulsory to order certain Toyota Genuine Accessories along with the car. I decided to go for Rubber Floor Mat instead of usual Fabric one - as it it easier to clean rubber than fabric. Fabric looked like as it will keep the dirt captured in it. Also I decided to not to go for Rear Door Lid Garnish - as seemed to me waste of 1,350. It is just a plastic decoration giving illusion of stainless steel.

Also, I ordered Tyvek Car Cover instead of usual Silver Car Cover made of plastic. Tyvek is a very strong and light weight fabric material developed by DuPont. I bought it because in my society's underground parking there is a water leakage from the ceiling during monsoon. But I found it difficult to put on the car cover with a strap to be put from bottom of the car and remove it everyday. One may break the Antenna on top of the car. Also, there is a possibility that car cover may get stolen. I simply started parking it at a place where there is no water leakage during the monsoon. So, car cover does not seem useful.

I did not order any other accessory like Sun Film or Under body Anti Rust treatment - as I found out that it is not required for my usage. Even my old Indica had not developed any rust on the under body even after 10 years! In hindsight, I find that decision to not to go for Sun Film was a good one because now Supreme Court has banned usage of Sun Films on cars. I wonder why it did not ban sale of Sun Films!

Car came with Toyota Protect with add-on Insurance from ICICI Lombard. Add-on covers Depreciation Waiver and Personal Belongings up to 10,000. It has 3 years or 1,00,000 km warranty. It has 3 free services. First at 1,000 km or 1 month, Second at 10,000 km or 1 year and Third at 20,000 km or 2 year. I have learnt from user forums that cost of consumables during free services is negligible i.e., 1k-2k.

I've used it now for about 6 months, driven it for 2,000 km, mostly in city with average of about 8 km per liter. I've learnt from few Team-bhp Forums that its ECM (Engine Control Module) is set to give better mileage after 3,000 km. Let's see, if this is true. But really it does not matter much because I don't drive much.

Less features than even my old Indica
A quick comparison tells me that Etios has less features than even my old Indica! Really? Yes. To start with my Indica had Autocop system, which I had bought along with the car. It would automatically lock all four doors when car started; and it would unlock them when car stopped. I miss this feature on my new Etios. Indica had reverse horn - which is useful for parking at my office's parking slot. I miss that too on this car. Third, during night time when head-lights are switched 'on' - on instrument cluster I don't see any indication of same. Of course, indicator is there for High-beam, Front Fog light and Turn Signal. In Indica, there were two indicators for head-lights. Fourth, there is no Time display on Instrument Cluster. Time display is on Audio System Panel. But I wonder what happens to 'G' model where Audio System is not there. In Indica it was right there in the centre below windscreen with switches to set time. Fifth, on new Etios I can't open co-passenger side door with a key because it does not have lock on passenger side. Sixth, front passenger side Glove Box does not have a lock. It just opens with a knob. In my old Indica, it could be opened only using a key. Seven, it does not have any anti-theft warning system. It was part of Autocop system I had purchased. I hope in future versions Toyota will take care to provide this simple but necessary features.

It has many features which are standard on any C class sedan viz., two front airbags, ABS with EBD, 15" Alloy Wheels with tubeless tyres, Rear glass defogger, Front side fog lamps, Power Steering, Tilt-adjusted steering wheel, Power Windows and of course 1495 cc, 90ps Petrol Engine, good leg and boot space, no hump on the back side - so that middle passenger can seat well, CD player with Radio, USB and Aux plugs, Tyvek car cover.

In comparison with Tata Manza features, it is a plain Jane. Main reason for choosing it was reliability. My old car, though was a good car, had many small quality issues e.g., once in middle of road while driving, the clutch just broke. Since I was going slow at about 10km speed on a upward slope - car just stopped. It turned out that a steel plate had snapped. I learnt that it was a regular problem with all Indica; and Tata never acknowledged this problem. Of course, I had liked the fact that Tata Motors offered to fit their V2 Upgrade Kit worth about 22,000/- free of charge to all Indica-V1 customers. But, they did not advertise or cared to inform customers on their mailing list. I learnt about it from a news report and got it fitted. But as a owner of old version, I expected Tata Motors to inform me about it. Tata Motors saved some money but was it worth? I'm not sure.

Good about the Car
Any way, back to Etios, it has good drive ability. Its steering wheel has good feedback and very smooth gear shift. But, reverse gear shift is hard and takes some time to get used to it. This fact is almost admitted in the user manual as well! My old Indica had much better reverse gear shift. Its rear-view mirror has option for glare-free operation.

Its air conditioner is very powerful and I usually keep it on 1 or 2 max. Air-flow is good and back seat passengers feel very comfortable.  It is able to keep Glove compartment cool by providing an opening; which can be kept closed also - if you don't want cooling. Car has enough number of cup and bottle holders.

Its braking is good and I got a chance to to test ABS with EBD once. It worked i.e., it gave few unnerving sounds with some vibrations and brake was applied with regular efficiency. I learnt that ABS with EBD does NOT make the car stop faster but it keeps the vehicle on the straight path, without going left or right. In fact, I learnt from the manual that car takes slightly more time to stop! So, car drivers need to be careful to brake little early when ABS is there.

Luggage space lights up automatically when door is opened. Space is really good. It was very useful when my brother came with 5 big and 3 small airline size bags. We could accommodate 4 big bags and 1 small bag in the boot; and rest on the backside seat. We drove home 3 adults, 2 kids and all the luggage.

Spare tyre in boot is sadly regular type i.e., non-alloy. Next to the spare tyre there is lot of empty space - where I keep my tiffin snugly. Also, notice the light blue colored thick mat/cushion to reduce vibration on right hand side. It is missing on left hand side. I asked the dealer, they checked another Etios in their workshop and said that also does not have it. So, it must be by design! Wow.

Instrument Cluster
It is located on the centre, instead of usual driver side - behind the steering wheel position. It takes few days to getting used to. Feature wise it is very very basic i.e., there is no Display Information System (DIS) found on other sedans. But, its color scheme is brilliant and looks very nice during night time. I sorely miss Distance to Empty feature. It was rumored that 2012 model will have it but it did not.

Its Odometer doubles as Trip Meter. It has 2 simple trip meters. On the same LCD, Fuel gauge Indicator has 8 digital bars. I find old analog meter on Indica better because it would give me much better idea of remaining fuel! Also, I notice that when meter is on last bar, it starts blinking automatically i.e., low fuel level warning; and I find it un-nerving. Why? Because Etios has 45 liter Petrol tank; so when last bar blinks it means that at least 5.6 liter petrol is there. And I could drive minimum 45 km before it becomes empty. But, still I feel that this digital bar is not showing correctly. Reason is that whenever I fill tank takes about 35-36 liters before it becomes full. I usually drive for about 5-10 km after the low fuel warning. So, I feel that either digital fuel meter is not showing readings linearly or there is a reserve capacity of about 4-5 liter in the last bar.

I just read in the manual that low fuel warning means approximately 6.8 liter petrol is remaining. Does it mean, scale is not linear or that reserve capacity is 1.2 liter? I would like to hear about this from readers.

Time of the Day Setting
I noticed that time shown on the audio panel was not correct. I tried to locate a way to change it in the manual, in online car forums etc. I called up Toyota helpline but they could not help. Finally after much trial and error I found that Press of 'DISP' button and holding it for few seconds - allows change of time. One has to press FFD or FRev to increase or decrease Hour/Min. Etios Owner's Manual has devoted 65 pages on Audio System but fails to explain such simple basic setting.

Ground Clearance
Etios has ground clearance of 170 mm against Indica's 165 mm. But, I find that it scraps the ground when driven over certain speed breakers - unless my speed is very low say 10-20 km/hr. It is bit surprising. Also, I notice that while waiting at signal, if some pedestrian touches it with slight force i.e., say he hits the car while walking fast, I can easily feel the hit with a sound. I had never felt this with Indica. I am assured by Toyota dealer that Etios is a sturdy car and it managed to survive occupants even when it fell down a bridge. I hope this is true.

There is a flimsy looking antenna meant for capturing radio signals on the built-in CD player. It is so flimsy that it broke when it was hit a little by low hanging shrubs near my office parking! Of course, antenna is working well even with whatever is left behind.So, may be, Toyota can save some money by getting rid of long hanging portion of the antenna!

Head-light Leveling Dial (Knob)
I noticed few problems with build quality. First, there is problem with adjustment of a dial that allows the driver to set the level of the head-lights. Manual says that it should be kept position 0 to 3 depending on number of passengers and presence of luggage in the boot area. I noticed that although I kept it on 0 after some time say few hours, it would automatically slip down to 2 or 2.5. I reported this problem during first service. But, dealer did not set it right saying this problem is with all cars and they have to open the entire dash board, taking up 3 to 4 hours. So, I should visit them once again after taking appointment.

Later I learnt  that this problem is there in many cars. Any way, upon my insistence, dealer collected the car from my place and returned it back in the evening. After repairing, dial has stopped slipping down to 2. But, after 1 or 2 days it slips to 1 - which is a setting meant for all seats occupied with no luggage! It's an example of bad quality item, which Toyota will not accept publicly.

Hose Pipe Issue and Fuel Efficiency of Car
One side talk here. Contrary to my expectation and "Q" standard of 1 hour service advertised by Toyota, when I reached for my first service at appointed time, dealer made me wait for 1 hour before they took my car for servicing. And it took them almost 3 hours for the first service. Of course, I had asked them to check if my Sept 2011 car had Petrol Hose Pipe Problem that was reported in Etios Petrol cars manufactured prior to 8th Oct 2011. Dealer told me that checked the database and did not find my car's VIN (Vehicle Information Number - a unique number assigned by each car mfg to every car). Details on how this issue is resolved by Toyota dealers can be found here.

Since my car was supposed to be manufactured in Sept 2011 (as per VIN - because among other things VIN tells month and year of mfg) - which is prior to Oct 2011 - I thought it is wise to double check it. Dealer told me that they did check and found the newer hose pipe. I believe them. They tried to explain this anomaly by reasoning that although VIN says it was mfg in Sept 2011 it was delivered to them in Dec 2011! They even told me to show their purchase invoice, but eventually they did not. It seems that in older cars due to this faulty hose pipe, fuel efficiency (FE) was low. Since my car is still giving 8 kmpl I still suspect that their claim may not be true. So, I requested for fuel efficiency check during first service. Dealer told me that I will have to visit them again, as concerned person was absent that day. I have yet not found time to take this test yet. But, I seriously look forward to FE of about 11-12 within city and 14-16 on highways - as reported in some user forums.

Toyota Genuine Accessories (TGA) and Parts
I notice that there is no transparency regarding pricing of Toyota Genuine Accessories and Parts. Each dealer quotes different prices, that too verbally and most of time fails to mention taxes and fitting charges. It's only when asked they give details of tax & fitting charges - again verbally. When I insisted on getting a written quote, I got a hand written quote on a plain paper without date. See attached scanned copy. Date which you see there is written by me, for my reference.

It is time that Toyota puts list of entire TGA and parts on their website complete with photograph, description and suggested retail price, along with suggested fitting charges (if any).

Back Side Seat's Plastic Lock
During first service, I checked with Wasan Toyota about Price and availability of TGA - Fabric Seat Covers. They said it costs about 3,200/- and is not available. They could not even tell a time frame by which it was expected. So, I searched around a lot and found that almost everyone was offering Artificial Leather seat covers. Finally I found that one party - Elegant Auto is offering Fabric seat covers. After some follow-up with them I purchased it from their Authorized distributor in Mumbai at about Rs.3,000/- They agreed to fit it free of charge at my place. I personally supervised the fitting and saw to it that he does it properly.
But, to my surprise, after about 6 weeks; my son who was sitting on the back side informed me that he heard some cracking sound once. I did not pay much attention. But, after 1 week when our family was heading towards Juhu they noticed that back side seat base was slightly loose and swiveling.

So, I decided to get it checked through the dealer because any way car was needed to be sent for repairing the Head-light Levelling Dial. Upon checking, dealer called me on phone to say that Plastic lock had broken. They told me that it was outside warranty because I had got seat covers fitted from un-authorised source. They said plastic lock was not available separately as it is integral part of seat base - I will have to purchase entire backside seat. They sent out a hand written quotation on an ordinary plain paper for Rs.8,000/-
I contacted customer care on Toyota Kirloskar's toll free helpline. One lady came on line and asked me if I have fitted seat covers from a third party. When I said 'yes'. She said I'll have to purchase new seat from the dealer. When I tried to reason with her, she said some expert person will call me but no one called up.
So, I contacted Mumbai office of Kirloskar Toyota. Customer care executive was very patient and listened to my story. I shared photograph of the broken plastic lock and hand-written quote given by the dealer. He confirmed that I'll have to purchase new seat but because TGA Fabric seat cover was not available and no time frame could be given; and also for the fact that dealer did not give proper quote; as a special case he would ask Wasan Toyota to offer 50% discount on the cost of back-side seat

Also, this person told me that they have received several complaints for the backside seats. And he claimed that each time it was due to seat cover fitted by un-skilled technicians. I told him that this fact conclusively points to a possibility that plastic lock is of sub-standard quality and/or non-Toyota trained mechanic are breaking the lock during removal/fitment of the seat. Assuming non-Toyota mechanic has not broken it; then also a possibility remains that it may break during removal/fitment of seat because of a manufacturing defect. Because in-spite of best manufacturing facility there is always a possibility that one plastic part would break out of 10,000 manufactured. One simply can't rule out this possibility saying non-Toyota mechanic had mis-handled it.

So, when I insisted on knowing exact reason for their not giving free seat replacement within the standard warranty, he asked Wasan Toyota people to make a visit. Wasan Toyota technician came and asked me what happened, removed the seat and took few photographs. Note that they did not show me or explain to me how plastic lock could have broken. They just found out what had happened. While leaving, they said they will share the photograph and their view of the situation with Kirloskar Toyota Motors (KTM).
After that even after my many reminders KTM did not care to tell me their finding, photographs and their opinion.
I'm surprised that in spite my many explanations, KTM failed to take note of following:
 1. Plastic lock had NOT broken during fitting of the seat cover, as I had personally supervised the operation.
 2. It broke only after about 2 months or so, during routine usage of the car.
 3. So, it can't be construed by any stretch of imagination that it broke due to mis-handling by a local vendor. Here it should be noted that car cover was fitted by a very reputed vendor's authorised distributor.
4. Since same complaint was found with many cars there is a possibility that this part's design or manufacturing quality is poor..
5. Seat is the simplest part of the car. And seat cover is simplest of all parts that goes in to making a car. Toyota claims that a fact of fitting a simplest of the simple part viz., seat cover from a outside vendor voids the warranty of the car seat? I argued with KTM - whether they or their dealer help the customer in fitting a seat cover that he has purchased from a third party? Their answer was no.

In such situation, what option is available to the customer so that he does not void the warranty? One can say that there is no option but to wait and purchase Toyota Genuine Accessories and get them fitted by authorised dealers. Does this not look ridiculous argument for something like a seat cover? This to me looks to be perfect case of pushing monopolistic trade practices. It may be fit case for 'Competition Commission of India'.
In contrast to this, when I purchased a Asus laptop in USA, I got the additional RAM fitted in it from their authorised service centre in India, without any cost. They do this free of charge so that laptop remains in warranty! Why can't Toyota follow similar practice?

I asked KTM to share photograph that were taken by Wasan Toyota and let a competent person explain to me, how this plastic lock could break 2 months after seat cover was fitted, due to poor workman ship.
I found that KTM people could not give single convincing answer to me as to how this happened and why they are you refusing to give me free of charge replacement under their standard 3 year warranty.

Suppose my car's door handle breaks tomorrow then ..
I started wondering - suppose my car's door handle breaks while opening the door then Toyota may ask me: "Is your car opened by anyone else?" I say - "Yes, it is opened by a person who daily cleans my car." And Toyota would say:  "Oh handle broke because it was mishandled by the person who cleans your car. That is not covered under the standard warranty; and we don't sell replacement handle because it is integral part of the door. Please change the entire door." I really shudder to think of such possibilities.
Any way, I asked KTM Mumbai's local person for contact details of his superior. He just kept on dodging reply by saying I should contact dealer for further details. Finally I told him that I will take up this with his higher management directly.

And after some effort on Linkedin I managed to get connected to a KTM manager - who is involved in Customer Care. I wrote a mail saying I'm a customer and would like to point out that there is no Complaint Escalation Mechanism at KTM. Is it by design or bad implementation?

And same evening, I got a call from dealer saying - due their efforts Toyota has agreed to give replacement seat free of charge. When it reaches their workshop, they will inform me.

In the mean time, I got a mail reply from this manager wanting to know details of my experience. What do I do? I'm not sure. May be I will share the details of emails or may be I will ask him to read this blog. May be I will do both.

Phew! Happy ending? May be.

In India, getting even a small thing done takes herculean efforts. Hope things will change with more and more people expressing their mind without any hesitation.

Update (30-Oct-2012)
On 19th Oct I went to Wasan Toyota for the seat replacement at 10.30 am (appointment time). After 40 min of wait I could tell them why I was there; and showed them the broken seat. After some internal consultation they asked me to wait. After waiting for about 1 hour I asked around for status. Concerned Service Engineer was not on desk, some one found out my job card and handed over me the copy. It said delivery time 1 pm. At 1 pm I was told it will take some more time.

So I finished lunch that I had brought with me, in their lunch room. Around 2.30 I went out near my car and found that something was being discussed among the dealership people. I joined in. Gist of the discussion was that it will take another 2 to 3 hours to complete the job. I told them that I am not prepared for such a long wait. They agreed to drop me at my office in their car; and deliver my car in the evening at my office. I accepted the offer and car was delivered to me around 6.30 pm. 

When I checked the back-side seat I found seat belt and three buckles were missing. After some checking car driver found them buried below the newly fitted seat! He pulled them out one by one by inserting his hand in the gap between the seat base and back! Well, do I have to say anything? This kind of incomplete work is very common in India. But I was not expecting it from a Authorized Toyota dealer.

After about 11 days, I got a call from Bloomberg UTV channel - Fight Back show, asking me if my complaint with Toyota was resolved to my satisfaction. I thought for a while; and remembered that I had marked copy of last few mails to Fight Back. But, I never heard anything from them. Any way, they told me that it was because of their effort that Toyota resolved the issue! Good. When I asked them for a proof they said they can't share it. Any way, it does not matter to me; whether I got the problem solved because of my efforts or with Fight Back's help. They took a short telephonic interview for few minutes about the incident. They may air it on their Fight Back TV show, which is usually telecast on Sat 7 pm and Sun 6 pm. Even some recorded episodes and user comments are on their website. It's a useful program and I watch it sometimes.