The Secret Of Two Air Conditioners

Air Conditioners aren’t allowed in students’ hostel rooms at IIT Kharagpur. But, I had it in my room for 2 years, and no one in the authority was aware of it. Though there were a few people who knew I had an AC in my room, there were very few close friends who knew that I had not one, but two ACs in my room. Now that I have left Kharagpur for good, let me share with you the secret of two air conditioners.

It was in summers 2009 that I went to Canada for the first time on an internship, my third year in college. What a weather that was, when it rained in Halifax, you seem to touch clouds. But, then I had to return to India, I was mentally prepared to face the heat. I came back home, stayed there for a few days, partly enjoying the AC in my room, and partly figuring out what had gone wrong for India that its so much behind the developed countries like Canada (was it because of the great Indian summer and global warming?). And then I had to return to Kharagpur (Kgp). Kgp welcomed us with its showers, and the weather could be tolerated, but then again, no one can stop the inevitable – the temperature rose to 48 degrees, and the weather in Canada 10 days ago seemed like a fairytale. One fine morning, I woke up and decided, that’s it, I have to look for alternatives – “spend most of the time in labs / library? Then who will leave the room for the lectures?”; “Get an AC installed in my room? But, I haven’t heard of any student daring to enjoy the luxury of an Air Conditioner in the premises of his own room”.

For some reason, I favored the second option, and started looking for all sorts of Air Conditioners (what if there is some small device, like a table fan / heater that could cool my room and would be easy to conceal, but unfortunately, laws of thermodynamics don’t allow any such device). The closest I could find were portable Air Conditioners, yes, there are ACs that you can carry and conceal. At that time in 2009 there were only a few companies like LG who would manufacture portable ACs worldwide, but unfortunately not in India. At that time there was only one company that I knew of had portable ACs in India – Seagull, and they had two varities – 0.8 ton, and 1.0 ton with a price diff of ~2k. Fortunately, they had a retail shop in Kolkata, not too far away from Kharagpur, and they had only 0.8 ton portable AC in stock. The 1.0 ton option was to arrive in a week’s time, I thought why not wait for another week and have more cooling.

A week passed, and my phone balance was exhausted. There are times when you take impulsive decisions, this was one of them. I woke up at 9 and was all set to leave for Kolkata by 9:30. While I was on rickshaw I thought why not call Seagull and get their statusĀ  of 1.0 ton AC stock. I didn’t have any balance on my phone, I was reluctant to call, but still stopped at a nearby booth and called Seagull. “Unfortunately, the 1.0 ton AC stock is not yet replenished, and the 0.8 ton AC is also out of stock”. I thanked god for saving me from harassment and disappointment. I came back to the rickshaw and said “dada, ye 10 rupaye rakh lo, ab aur nahi jaana (please take this 10 rupee note, I am not going any further)”. I walked my way to my AC less hostel room.

So, portable AC option gone, can’t wait for another month for replenishment, summers will be tolerable by then. Breaking my window seemed to be a much harsher option than having a 10cm diameter hole on my wall to my balcony, so I preferred a split type AC over a window type AC. At that time in 2009, Big Bazaar (BigB) was newly established in Kgp, and that was the only place expected to sell ACs. I skimmed the web to get a contact number of Kgp BigB, and in the end managed to find a working number. It was a wednesday, and the HR at BigB said “yes, we do sell split ACs and it will be best if you purchase it in Wednesday Bazaar, you will get the best deal”. Nice idea, better than travelling to Kolkata, and carrying the portable AC all the way to my room.

What a pleasant surprise that was, the only brands offered at BigB were Koryo and Sensei (later I came to know that these brands are developed by Big Bazaar itself). Of the two brands, Sensei had a better reputation, so I went with the great Sensei 1.0 ton – the worst AC of all times. Paid the money, returned to IIT in BigB delivery van (what a wonderful experience that was) and with a bit of luck, got the AC installed in my hostel room (that would be a completely different story to manage the two huge inner and outer units into my room and get them installed when no one, even my wingies could notice). At the end of the day, when the cool air blew over my face, I realized, all this hassle was well deserved.

A few days later, I surprised one of my friends with my AC, then a few more, but still majority of the hostel was unaware of the presence of my AC (atleast that was what I believed). I was very happy and satisfied. I used to wear blankets at night, and it felt like returning to Canada again. Everything was perfect as planned, until 10 days later, I woke up sweating.

“What has gone wrong? AC is still running. But, its not cooling. It cools for 10 seconds, and then cuts out for 2 minutes, and the cycle continues”. I tried everything I found as a remedy for this situation on web, ranging from cleaning the filters to combing the fins. It didn’t work however hard I tried, something had gone terribly wrong, I could no more enjoy Canada in the comfort of my room. No wonder Sensei was the worst AC in the world. I called up Sensei customer care and a technician came, who said there is a problem with the compressor. He said it should be repaired in a week’s time, and at most by 10 days from today. I called on the 10th day to ask what happened. He said they were unable to find the exact compressor for my outer unit. The excuses changed over time, while talking to various Sensei customer representatives in Kharagpur and Kolkata. They had a horrible after-sale service, and there didn’t seem any possibility to get the AC repaired in finite time period. Whatever we do, there are times when things go out of our hands, and it seemed I had lost a part of my Canadian internship stipend, and more importantly the Canadian weather.

It was exactly after 31 days, when my impatience grew out of bounds, I took another impulsive decision in the middle of night (yes, I was losing sleep becaue of bad AC). I wrote this letter to a very senior Big Bazaar executive in Mumbai, full of vengeance.

Dear Sir,

I don’t have any idea about your designation. I found your email on Future Bazar’s website, and I would like to give you feedback on your outstanding product – Sensei 1.0 ton split Air Conditioner.

I bought your wonderful AC from Big Bazar (Puja Mall), Kharagpur, West Bengal. It ran satisfactorily for about 10 days until one day it stopped cooling. What a cool product, stops cooling after 10 days. I called sensei service care, and they sent a guy to my place the same day (awesome service man). The service center guy said the compressor needs to be replaced. I asked how much time would it take, he said it won’t take more than 10 days. Imagine yourself in office without AC for 10 days (do you accept the challenge?). That’s the service level you have.

I called the service center after 12 days, he said he hasn’t got the compressor yet, so its not possible to repair the air conditioner now. Fine, I asked how many days will it take? He said, he doesn’t have any idea about that. 3 weeks passing by, I called the guy again, again he had the same reason, no compressor to repair. I asked what’s the problem, from where do you get the compressor, he said he gets it from Kolkata. I took Kolkata’s service center’s phone no. and called the service center guy there.

This guy at Kolkata said, they don’t have stock for AC compressors from a long time. It will take another 7 days to get it from Mumbai. What the crap your company is? You flood the whole market with Air Conditioners, but you don’t have a single compressor in service centers to repair ACs. Very poor supply chain and inventory management Sir, your company won’t survive for long.

Now its been more than a month (31 days), and still no replacement. I am sure my email to you won’t do anything other than landing into your spam box. But I wanted to tell, you can’t compete in the market fooling your customers. No one will buy your product in the long run. I am a fourth year Industrial Engineering student at IIT Kharagpur, I can guarantee you, with this attitude you will have the same fate as Satyam’s. Sir, please don’t worry about my AC getting fixed or not, enjoy your own non-Sensei AC in your cozy office. I will fight with these people to get my compressor fixed (that’s what your customers are for, fighting to get the least service level expected). By the way, you just lost a future customer of any of your related products.

Your “Well” Wisher,

Ujjwal Kumar (my contact is available here if you give it a damn)

Honestly speaking I didn’t expect anything out of that letter, I just needed something to vent my anger. I had a nice sleep after mailing this letter. A pleasant surprise was waiting for me when I woke up – I had a reply from the executive in Mumbai.

Dear Customer,

At the outset, we wish to thank you for patronizing Big Bazaar.

We would like to assure you that the Customer Service Manager will contact you personally for your feedback.

Kindly provide us with your phone contact details for the same.

Assuring you the best of our services at all times.

Best Regards

Team Share With Us.

Now, I was given mobile numbers of the store manager, and electronics department executive at Big Bazaar, Kharagpur. Initially, they tried to repair my old AC, but later they realized they really didn’t have a spare compressor in their service centers. “Why not replace the old AC with a new one if the old one is beyond repair?” – the store manager asked the executives in Mumbai. After a few days of discussion and debate, the executives at Mumbai agreed to replace the Air Conditioner with a new one. But, not Sensei anymore, please. I discussed with the store manager if I could get an LG 1.0 ton AC as the new one, and surprisingly he agreed (and there was a smile on an irate customer). There were a few more problems like uninstalling my old AC, getting it out of IIT without a gate pass (another story), and getting the new AC installed in my room (I had mastered that art by then). In the next meeting with store manager, he said “it was first time in the history of Big Bazaar that an old AC is replaced with a new, better AC” (not too sure to believe him or not, but yes, it was a great achievement for both of us). And then myself and my AC lived happily ever after (for two years, escaping the electricity bill).

In the end I would like to thank all of my fellow RPians for keeping this secret, and congratulate you for finishing this micro novel.

PS: In the next semester, I took a difficult course in “Introduction to Refrigeration and Air Conditioning” in the Cryogenics department to understand why a compressor fails.

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