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Pet Peeves #1: The Usage of “Would” In Indian English

Once a student of English Literature, I tend to be a bit of a stickler for correct usage of grammar. As a language teacher, I have learnt to turn a blind eye to some common mistakes my students make. But there are some things that bother me too much to be shoved to the back shelf – in French (I am a French teacher) and in English.

One of these many things is the rampant usage of would in Indian English. Every one from the humble clerk with warped notions of the Queen’s language, to the highly qualified and well-read entrepreneur seems to prefer “would,” much to the detriment of “will.” 

This often gets translated into French and becomes even more unpalatable, making me want to scream in frustration – and I’m normally a very patient teacher. But coming back to the usage of would in Indian English, here are some examples I’ve picked up from formal communication – emails I’ve received from colleagues and associates, and from people trying to sell me a service.

“I would be available all day tomorrow.”

“XYZ would be closed tomorrow.”

“We would be processing your request tomorrow.”

9 out of 10 times, the usage of would is incorrect and I have to suppress the urge to reply and ask “You would, but won’t because you could, but can’t?”

So what is the difference between would and will?

They are not, I repeat NOT synonyms. Sure, they are both forms of the verb ‘to be’ but that’s where the similarity ends.

WOULD is the past tense of the verb ‘to be’, used to talk about the past or in a hypothetical sentence.

Ex. It looked like it would rain, but finally it didn’t.
Ex. If I had known that the weather was so bad in Bangalore, I would have carried warmer clothes.

It is also used as an indicator of politeness.

Ex. Would you like a muffin to go with your cup of tea? / Would you mind helping me with the glasses?

WILL, on the other hand, indicates the future.

Ex. I will be available all day tomorrow. I will be in my office, so would you like to come over for a tête-à-tête ?

How I Sold A Site

I didn’t think it could happen, even though I’d read about it happening, and if it could, definitely not to me! But it did happen.

I developed a site…and sold it!

The idea for What Are Chatbots was germinated one summer afternoon last year when we were brainstorming with the founders of Skilla on how to explain the concept of chat bots to clueless investors. So I recruited an intern and we started reading…about the history of Artificial Intelligence, the first chat bots, more recent forays in this world of conversational technology and its many applications.

After a fortnight of research, I started compiling a white paper, only by that time we had decided to bootstrap some more and avoid the whole investor loop till Skilla had reached a certain stage. So I took the white paper, broke it down into individual posts and put up a Medium publication. What better way to get readers for the hard work done by my intern and me?

The site looked good and started getting traction – we even started getting followers!

The quick success confirmed our hypothesis that there was a need for a publication that talked about chat bots in an informal, non-techie way. A blog whose target audience was the same as the target market of the chat bots – the average millennial who was curious about this new phenomenon and wanted to find out more about it without having to deal with the jargon, preferably in short snippets of information easily consumed while waiting for a friend at the bar or cabbing it to work. So I continued writing for the site whenever I came across an interesting chat bot and had some free time.

Much to my delight, a friend who works for a communication consultancy based in Bangalore, reached out and asked if we could meet. They were curious about chat bots and thought that their clients would be interested in this new trend…and what better way to clue them in on chat bots, than a blog that talks about them?

A few discussions later, I found myself sending them a proposal and before the month was over, I had sold What Are Chatbots

Time to bring out those champagne glasses! Once the jubilation subsided, I did feel a twinge of sadness when I realised that I would no longer be the person who took all decisions regarding the site (logo, layout, appearance or even the editorial style and content). But I continue to write for the publication, pitching in an article whenever a bot strikes my fancy, while the team of writers at the agency now manage its growth and maintenance.

The experience made me realise several things:

  1. I write well – even when its about something I might not necessarily understand and in a style that’s not really mine.
  2. People buy sites, even regular hobby sites by very regular writers – it’s not a random myth.
  3. If built with focus and drive, even a simple hobby site can attract attention – and eventually be sold!
  4. Chat bots are the next big thing – and not just because Mark Zuckerberg says so – but because they do make sense!

Boozy Fruit Cake

I’ve been baking cakes for nearly over two decades now and though I’m a stickler for following recipes, I’ve started taking liberties and doing my own thing (within the pre-defined limits of a recipe of course). Last week’s boozy fruit cake came from a random mélange of recipes of fruit muffins and Christmas cake that I’ve been baking for several years. As always, a simple recipe that requires very little time and effort!

Ingredients:

1 cup refined flour (maida)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 tbsp orange marmalade
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup mixed candied peel, tutti frutti, dried cheeries & cranberries
3 tbsp Armagnac (or any other Brandy you prefer)


Method:

Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl, till the eggs form stiff white peaks. Slowly fold in the refined flour, oil, baking powder, vanilla essence and marmalade. Add 1 tbsp of Armagnac before pouring the mix into a greased and dusted cake tin. Bake at 180 for 35-40 minutes.

Once the cake has cooled down, drizzle the remaining Armagnac over the cake. Makes for an excellent accompaniment to the evening coffee. You can also serve it with whipped cream if you want to make it a dessert.

Handy Tips for Translating a Corporate Web Site

I recently translated (French → English) the entire website, ticket booking platform and marketing material for Mystifly. It was the first time that I was handling such a big project. But more importantly, it was also my first translation assignment since 2011. I was quite obviously nervous when I started, so I spent a long time cross-checking words and looking up the domaine specific jargon.

After spending several weeks, buried under the documents, I finally sent the final translations, satisfied with the work accomplished. Translation may seem like an easy job to most people, but it’s really no child’s play! To succeed, you obviously need to have an excellent level in both language. Goof-ups like grammar or spelling mistakes are not acceptable. But that’s not enough. To ensure that a translation doesn’t end up a garbled text that makes no sense, you should:

  1. Study the domaine: before starting the translation, spend some time reading other sites from the domaine (in the target language) to understand your client’s context.
  2. Avoid literal translation: many English sentences and phrases can’t be translated word to word to French (or vice-versa). Sentence structures vary in different languages and there are many phrases and idiomatic expressions which have no equivalent in the target language. To avoid the trap of literal translation, you will have to employ various techniques like nominalisation etc.
  3. Use different language references (dictionaries, thesaurus, grammar books etc…): this will help you to quickly look up words you don’t know and use synonyms to improve the quality of your translation.
  4. Stay in touch with somebody from the company: when in doubt, talk to the experts. I got stuck at several points in the translation and it was always my contact person (it helped that he was also a student and somebody who also has an excellent level in French) who bailed me out and helped me decipher acronyms like MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions), ARC (Airlines Reporting Corporation), SOTO (Sold Outside, Ticketed Outside) et RIP (Re-investigative Intelligent Pricing) !
  5. Proof-read your text before sending it to the client & ensure that there are no mistakes/typos: even if you have used a CAT tool, make sure you proof-read your text. Translation tools, just like humans, are known to make mistakes!

P.S You can also read these tips in French.

Writing For A Chatbot

I started moonlighting for Skilla a few months ago. For the uninitiated, Skilla is a chatbot (currently in closed beta on Facebook Messenger) that allows people to create a professional page to showcase their skills and eventually find people with complementary skills for their project / startup. Users can message Skilla and answer some quick questions about their job, skills and behaviour patterns to get a simple yet very sleek page which can work as their visiting card on the Web.

One of my first tasks on the Skilla team was to script the conversation the Skilla bot would have with the users. Now, I’ve written for websites and blogs, both corporate and personal. I’ve written my Masters thesis and also written some white papers. The tone, the style and the content has been a mix between the casual and the professional. But I’ve never written for a chatbot and hadn’t the faintest idea what a chatbot should say.

What’s the best tone? How much should the bot say?

Clueless, I looked for tips on Google. Here’s what my first attempt yielded:

As you can see, the query “writing for a chatbot” brings up much more technical results. Nothing to do with the conversation the bots will have with the users. So I tried changing the query to “tips on writing for chatbots.” “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, My mother told me to pick the very best one, and that is Y-O-U.” Just one relevant result. Not much to go on with…

A similar search for social media or corporate blog brings up some really good articles and great tips. (I personally recommend the article by Grammarly – it’s got excellent advice, especially for beginners.)

Apart from the guidelines on the Facebook Developer’s page, there were very few guidelines and best practices available for chatbot conversations. A little frustrated, I realised that I’d have to roll up my sleeves and figure this one out myself. So I took to trying out different bots and comparing their styles. (Read about my experience with one of the most popular chatbots here.)

It’s obviously not rocket science. But it helps to have some basic guidelines when you start writing a dialogue for a chatbot:

How long should your messages be? Is it a good idea to use images & GIFs? What are “quick replies” in Messenger Bots? Should you use buttons or quick replies? 

Find out what I learnt during this experience on the Skilla Blog.

Two Amazing Delivery Apps That Are Ruining Us

A few weeks ago, we asked some friends to come over on a Friday evening for beer and kebabs – what was to be a short affair, became a full fledged dinner party and we found ourselves wondering what to feed our guests.

Swiggy zindabad, I yelled!
Try Dunzo, said one of our guests.
What’s that you said? A new delivery app? Let’s try it, quipped the husband.

Refusing to budge and deny my favourite delivery app another opportunity to serve us, I insisted on placing an order on Swiggy, while my husband placed the rest of the order on Dunzo. We placed bets on who would come first – Swiggy won (of course) but by a few minutes. We had barely accepted the food from the Swiggy delivery guy that the Dunzo fellow rang the bell!

What followed was weeks of what I can only describe as lazy indulgence. Already in the habit of swiggying my way out of many weekday dinners, I found myself turning to the husband (I have of course refused to install what I perceive as competition to Swiggy on my phone) to Dunzo our way out of all kinds of silly things. Why pick up chicken en route after class, when for a mere 30 rupees, it can get delivered to your doorstep?

It wasn’t just chicken…before long, we found ourselves asking for tonic water, filtered coffee, peanuts, chips and even a loaf of bread (which is available a few metres from our home) because it was so bloody convenient.

I woke up one day to the horrible realisation that I have let the delivery apps control my life to such an extent, that I’m no longer running an organised, planned household. It was okay to run out of stuff, because Dunzo would come to our rescue. Youpie!

We were also not going out anymore – I mean who wants to deal with that nasty traffic when food from your favourite restaurants can get delivered to your doorstep in less than the time it gets to reach the restaurant? How terribly convenient!

Convenient yes, but at what cost?

Convenience really is the new synonym for lazy decadence. How else could I justify that I was no longer taking the effort to walk down to the neighbourhood market/grocery store/supermarket to pick up fresh fruits, vegetables and other necessities, but simply commanding the anonymous Dunzo delivery boy to do my bidding? And how awfully feudal and pompous of me, to say that my time is too valuable to waste in running errands! Or that peanuts and chips to accompany that glass of beer are crucial to the success of my evening!

And let’s not forget what we are doing to the environment. In a city that’s losing its identity in the quagmire of nasty traffic jams, every time I send a Dunzo dude running to a store to pick up something completely random, I am adding one more vehicle to the insanity. One more vehicle that is weaving its way through the already choked streets, breaking traffic regulations to deliver in time – lest I turn to social media to vent my impotent anger at a delay in delivery and attack the brand. One more vehicle that leads to that much more pollution in the air, f***ing with our respiratory systems and blackening our souls.

Drama much?

Perhaps. But it’s true isn’t it? The price of convenience is the destruction of this beautiful city, once toasted as a city of gardens with the most clement weather in the country.

So have have we deleted the apps from our phones? No, despite everything we haven’t. But I am back to being an organised creature, planning my meals and making weekly visits to the market to buy stuff I need for the house and delegating some chores even to the husband. And oh, guess what? Tomorrow is date night after what seems like aeons! Dunzo and Swiggy could do with earning a wee bit lesser…if they are making any money at all to begin with, but that’s another story!

How Being A Social Media Ballerina Got Me A Pot Of Mustard!

Food Trucks are quite the rage in Bangalore since last year and you can eat a wide variety of stuff ranging from kababs to to pav bhaji to burgers to pancakes! My favourite of course is Le Casse-Croûte, a French food truck which launched in September 2015 and serves sandwiches (or croques as the French call them) with some delicious sides. When they launched at the Alliance Française, the serpentine queue made me balk and I had to wait several weeks before I finally caught them at their now regular stop at 6th main, Indiranagar. One croque, fries and a crème de la crème and I was hooked!

It goes without saying that I became a regular when they launched on Swiggy earlier this year – what could be better than getting a tasty croque with some fries, both still deliciously warm, delivered to your doorstep after a long, tiring class or in the middle of a brain-storming meeting with a startup?

A loyal customer and ardent supporter, you can imagine my distress when one evening Swiggy refused to deliver our favourite croques! I refused to give up though and got the husband on customer support with Swiggy, while I took to Twitter.

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15 minutes later, we had a solution and barely 45 minutes later, we were curled up in our armchairs munching with great content on Monsieur Martin and Monsieur Dupleix protecting our fries and the mustard sauce from our very greedy gourmand dog!

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Little did I know that my enthusiasm for Le Casse-Croûte would earn me a pot of their excellent mustard free! I woke up the next morning to this tweet from them :

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A few exchanges on Twitter and Whatsapp later, I found myself with an offer to choose between their home made tomato ketchup mustard or crème de la crème. It didn’t even take me a minute to choose – the Casse-Croûte mustard sauce is one of the best I’ve had outside France. In fact we love it so much, that we often order extra mustard not just for the fries, but also to use later as a dressing for salads or to whip up creamy mustard sauce for a chicken filet meal.

Since I seem to have a constant stock of the extra mustard (yes, we order from them EVERY week), I was a little tardy in picking up that free mustard, but I finally got it today – my first pot of mustard earned simply by being a loyal customer and ardent supporter of a brand on Twitter! Youpi! I can’t wait to try out some new mustard-y recipes over the next few weeks!

You can follow Le Casse-Croûte on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to know where they are parked – or of course, if you stay in or around Indiranagar, Swiggy zindabad!