If you want good customer service from Electrolux, be a man

Warning: This blog is part of my ‘Rant and Rave’ category and contains sarcasm, disappointment, anger, hurt to my ego, and sheer frustration in huge doses. Not to be read by idealists, optimists, and all those human beings who have never called a toll free number to complain to a ‘Customer Care’ (ha!) representative.

I sincerely hope this experience never happens to the worst of my enemies – the Communist Party of India included. Here goes..

Act 1, Scene 1 – March 23

It is more than 16 months since I forked over Rs 12000 towards a 2 year preventative maintenance contract to Electrolux authorized dealer in Kochi. Since the engineer’s phone on the contract was “not reachable”, I decided to call the 1800 number on the back of the contract.

Shock 1: The authorized dealer no longer deals with Electrolux products – so they gave me a new 1800 number.

Shock 2: The 1800 number did not make me wait more than 2 minutes. I was promised a service visit within 48 hours

Act 1, Scene 2 – March 24

I called and was politely told 48 hours not over. What was I thinking!

Act 1, Scene 3 – March 29

I was told that my problem has been escalated to the next level and prompt response will be forthcoming from the Electrolux customer care team.

Act 1, Scene 4 – March 30

Now I was fuming, and my voice indicated clear anger at being ignored. This time I insisted on speaking to the supervisor. “Sorry madam, he has left the office”. The time – 6 PM

Act 1, Scene 5 – March 31

Spoke to the local authorized dealer who mentioned that they will come without fail on April 2 to service all 3 air conditioners. Called Electrolux customer care – and asked to speak to the supervisor. “Sorry madam, he has not come in”. The time – 11 AM. Can I get a job as supervisor at Electrolux Customer care?

Act 1, Scene 6 – April 2

Waited all day for the local dealer to send his technician. Called Electrolux customer care and asked to speak to Supervisor. Finally spoke to him and he assured that the technician will visit. Called local dealer, and she mentioned that the technician is on his way

Act 1, Scene 7 – April 4

Called Electrolux local dealer and she apologized for the no-show – apparently both her technicians were involved in an accident. (Why am I not surprised?)

But the biggest shock was when I called Electrolux Customer care (1800 number) and they said my ticket was closed. Apparently the technician came to my house and did not find any Electrolux air conditioners.

By then I had only one hour to get to the airport for my vacation. Decided to let go. For the moment.

Act 2 – Scene 1 – April 12

Electrolux customer care and local dealer – but ‘Madam did not pick up her phone. We tried calling numerous times.’ This was after I had specifically told them that I would be out of the country and will be back only on the 11th.

Act 2 – Scene 2 – April 14

Spoke to the supervisor at Electrolux customer care and was promised that the technician would come next day. Since next day was a state holiday in Kerala, I asked if he was sure. He swore on his mother.

Act 2 – Scene 3 – April 16

No technician. No supervisor. The 1800 number no longer working. I called back on the number stored in my cell phone (long distance/STD) and was now told that this was the new number.

By now, my husband was tired of hearing me whine and complain about the lack of care in Electrolux customer care. He called the number, spoke in this dead calm voice that my kids recognize as the ‘calm before daddy dances his Shiva Thandavam dance voice’. I nodded off to sleep, but when I woke up an hour later, he had received a call from the supervisor’s supervisor, who again promised him the heaven. Or at least repair of our air conditioners.

As I watched in disbelief, 4 days later (after 3 more phone calls to the local dealer), the technician actually arrived, cleaned,repaired and left.

What can I say? Except, if you want good customer service from Electrolux, be a man.

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When your local department store closes down

Recently, the local department store closed down in my home town. This retail chain was the first to envisage the growth of larger, all-in-one convenience stores as early as 1990, and pioneered the growth of organized retail in our state. Last month, after nearly 55 years in operation, it closed down almost 59 of its stores all over the city.

Growing up with the first Varkeys Department store around the corner, I have always been amazed at their ability to create one of the finest and most loyal customer bases in Kerala. Used, as we were, to go to the local kirana stores to buy rice and dal from huge gunny bags, and walk through slushy pavements to get fruits and vegetables from the local market, Varkeys changed the very elements of shopping  – hygienically packed goods and produce, clear pricing, good customer service, and the ability to walk through a single store and buy everything from erasers and candy to imitation gold jewellery and vacuum cleaners!

And then came the “evil” brands from outside the state – Subiksha, More, Spencers, Nilgiris, and Reliance. When Reliance offered to buy up Varkeys (and were politely refused) I heaved a huge sigh of relief. What do global retail chains know about my shopping habits and tastes?
5 years of rapid globalization of our retail scene in Kerala later, I am forced to change my mind. While some Nilgiris stores and Subiksha stores have closed down, I could not believe this could happen to Varkeys too. But by now I was used to deep discounts, attractive give-aways, and free delivery (not to mention the air conditioned stores with its wide aisles and products from all over the world – salsa and chips anyone?) and am ashamed to admit that I valued these conveniences more than loyalty to my childhood brand.
So why did Varkeys close down? Whatever the true reason may be (some say it was over-expansion, while others talk about real-estate scams), as a customer I know of only one reason – they ignored the dangers globalization (read: competition) brings. Unfortunately in today’s Indian retail market, where the organized retail sector is growing by CAGR of 5% and contributes to almost 39% to the GDP, a 420 billion USD market is sure to attract cut-throat competition, and an all-out price war. Amidst this scenario, no retailer can afford to be ignorant of the dangers of global competition, or take their customer base for granted. No one.

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The best car for Kerala roads filled with potholes

I have been shopping around for the best car to buy. But before you recommend the Ford Figo or Volkswagen’s Jetta,  you need to know what I expect from my new car.

I have analyzed and categorized, and come up with 3 things my new car has to do, before I will even consider taking it out for a test drive. Here goes –

  1. My car should have the ability to fly over potholes – Anyone who has lived in Kerala knows that there are only 2 seasons in this State – rainy season and pothole season. The rainy season covers a period of 6 months, and the pothole season the rest of the 12 months. Yup, I know the months do not add up or make sense, but neither do the potholes…. So I need a car that can literally rise above crappy roads (and crappier politicians and road contractors) and fly over the potholes.
    1. If you think I am making a big fuss about such small holes, read the following statistic that I carefully made up – 89% of cars undergo an emotional trauma when heaving in and out of a pothole. The other 11% become so emotionally distraught that they have to be carted away by ambulances.
  2. Not only should my car fly over a pothole, it should also scan it from a distance, gauge its height, width and girth, and then smoothly take off without jerky or abrupt movements. And to facilitate that, I have already categorized the 4 potholes it is likely to encounter on Kerala roads.
    1. Pothole 1 aka Babies – These include potholes which are slowly emerging from the freshly tarred roads due to rain. The cracks are just beginning to appear, the stones are slowly getting scattered, and the hole can barely be felt by the car.
    2. Pothole 2 aka Teens – These potholes are a menace to cars. Wider than 1 meter, and deeper than 1 feet, these potholes surface unexpectedly on an otherwise smooth road. You and your family are coasting along, and this “Teen” pothole jolts you back to reality. And spills hot coffee and your mother’s “kaya varathathu” all over your lap
    3. Pothole 3 aka Grandpa – These potholes have hidden depths to them. You think it is only a 2 feet deep pothole, but when you fall neck-deep (okay, car roof deep), you realize these dangerous potholes are best avoided. (Or if you have my car, best hovered over). These potholes cover 3/4th of the road, and if you pay close attention, you may be able to avoid these crabby, mean-toothed holes.
    4. Pothole 4 aka Corpse – The mother of all holes, you can actually bury a corpse in these holes.  At least 6 feet deep, 10 feet wide, these potholes are spread across the width of the road and no amount of manuevering will help you avoid it. Your only option is to slowly slip into it and get it over with.
  3. Finally, my perfect car for Kerala roads should be environment friendly. As it hovers over the potholes, it should at least water the plants and trees that the thoughtful citizens (or “too -sozzled-for-words” drunkards) have planted in these holes to warn approaching traffic. It is the least I can do for the environment as I drive into my garage in an emotionally healthy car.

So if you know a car that will do all of the above, please send me an email immediately. Until then I am going to wince every time the Benz jumps into a pothole. And it is not even mine…..

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Up yours, Mr. Terrorist

Beacon of Hope 22 months has passed since terrorists held the Taj Hotel in Mumbai (and the entire nation as they watched in horror) hostage to one of the most heinous acts of terrorism in India. 22 months since 173 people martyred, hundreds injured, and crores of property destroyed. 22 months and still no justice for the victims.

But one man has done what the politicians, the media and the law could not do – restore a semblance of dignity and hope to the victims.  Ratan Tata – a giant among men, an icon in the business world, and a great humanitarian. When his HR team brought forth a proposal on what the Tata Group could do to compensate the victims (an amazing list by itself), Ratan Tata asked – “Are you sure we are doing enough?”

Enough Mr. Tata? You got to be kidding right? In a nation that treats its politicians and actors as Gods, citizens as dust, and citizen rights as negligible as the fly in your khichidi, you are indeed a beacon of hope. I am not going to recount the entire list here, but present 3 cases (The Week – October 3, 2010 – The Cover Story – “Healing Touch” and “Wah Taj”) that moved me, and let you imagine the comprehensive program the Tata group has implemented not just for its employees who were affected by the attack, but to even the “pav-bhaji” vendor across the street.

  • Manoj Thakur, 29, was working at a roadside shop when the firing at Leopold Cafe injured him. He got Rs 5000 from the Taj Public Service Welfare Trust (set up within days of the 26/11 attack by the Tata Group) for six months, and then got a job as a waiter at the Taj President in Colaba, Mumbai. His children’s education is taken care of by the Trust. So is his wife’s higher education.
  • Diagnosed with terminal illness while being treated for injuries sustained by the taxi blast, Shyamsundar, 36, was given Rs 10,000 for a year, and his entire medical bills are being paid by the Trust.
  • This is not to say the Trust forgot employees of the Taj who died in the attack. The families of these 12 employees will get the last drawn salary as long as the spouse is alive. This is apart from the lump sum amount (in lakhs) paid to the family, free education for their children, and complete medical insurance.

The list goes on. Ratan Tata and his company has touched the lives of every victim of this attack, and ensured their families  get to live a life of relative peace and security.

True, none of these efforts will undo the work of the terrorists on 26th November in Mumbai. None of these efforts will bring back the dead. But these efforts are bringing back hope. Hope, that in a nation of cynical, corrupt leaders, there is someone who cares. Beyond borders. Beyond doubt.

If there is one quality that separates terrorists from people like you and me, it is a feeling of hopelessness. When you lose hope in the system, in yourself, and in your God, that is when you decide your fellow human beings are not worth the air they breathe.

But what the terrorist forgets is that when they kill someone, they are not killing a Hindu or a Muslim, or an Indian or an American, but a son, a father, a husband, a brother and a human being filled with hope, dreams and aspirations for his family.

This blog is dedicated to Mr. Ratan Tata and the Tata Group of companies. For caring. For showing those terrorists that while they can destroy lives and property, they cannot destroy hope.

Up yours, Mr. Terrorist.

Sources:

http://wadias.in/site/arzan/blog/the-tata-gesture-post-2811-mumbai-terror-attacks/

(Unfortunately I could not get an online version of the print articles, but did find the above link that comes close to what the Tata Group is doing for the victims and their families.)

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Are we running for our life?

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself.  ~Leon Eldred

Yesterday, September 26, was World Heart Day. I decided to do my bit by taking part in the Kochi Marathon.  Since I am fond of living, I decided to stick to the safe 4 Km run instead of the main event – the 21 km mini-marathon.

Though I registered early, I was still worried about how well the run would be organized. If Delhi can goof up, why not my small home-town Kochi? So I got up well ahead of time, stretched my sleepy muscles and headed for the grounds by 6:30 AM on sunday morning. An amazing feat considering that the last time I woke up this early on a Sunday was when my 12-year-old was a colicky infant…

I was in for a very pleasant surprise though. When I walked in, there were millions, sorry thousands, sorry hundreds of energetic men and women ready to do their bit for their Heart. What was even more surprising was that the event started on time.

The first batch to be flagged off were the mini-marathoners – fit athletes, mostly cadets from the Southern Naval Command. Ladies, sight for sore eyes indeed! If nothing else, waking up early was worth it for this breath-taking view alone!

Ahem. Moving on, I found out that individual women were clubbed with senior citizens and children under 15. While my friend was grumbling about this “ranking” I was grateful since it meant I would not be the last one at the finish line. But let me tell you this, I was no match (not even close) for the bubbly children and the even bubblier and competitive senior citizens who almost crushed me in their haste to get going. 

Imagine my horror as I found out that the ambulance (crawling at snail’s pace) was always right behind me. To heck with cramps – I picked up my pace and started leaving the ambulance behind when this senior citizen bounded past me. Adding insult to injury, he turned and waved to me and said, “Come on, buck up!”

I drew satisfaction from the fact that at least my 79-year old dad was way behind me. Ha, that should teach him for making fun of my walking habits all these years. (He walks 5-6 kms everyday from 5 AM to 6 AM. Without fail. Ever since I can remember).

The last stretch was over this beautiful, old drawbridge (Venduruthy Bridge) that connects mainland Kochi to the Wellingdon Island and the Southern Naval Command center. I have gone on this bridge thousands of times, but this was the first time I was running (well, crawling!) over it. As the sun rose on another beautiful day, construction workers banged on the new train track coming over the bridge, the fishermen were  returning from the sea after their early morning fishing session, and the world looked beautiful. I completely stopped in awe when I saw this white-beaked eagle swoop down to the waters and carry away a wriggling, pink fish. This is what they mean by poetry in motion.

I waddled in through the finish line exactly 7 minutes before my dad (who had his quadruple by-pass surgery 4 years ago) sauntered in. I nearly had my first heart attack! While he chatted with his friends and exchanged time/duration/speed statistics, I ran towards the snack counter and downed a couple of gallons of lemonade. Luckily for me, everyone else seemed to prefer water!

As I said goodbye to my fellow-runners, we promised to do more for our hearts. And our health. A retired teacher (who ran the 4 kms) dropped us back to the grounds so my dad and I could pick up our cars. As I waved good bye to my dad and limped back to my car, I prayed for everyone to have a healthier and a nicer heart in the coming years.

So what did I learn from the race yesterday? Apart from the fact that you can never underestimate a senior citizen’s zest for life? Apart from the fact that there is something about being with a group of like-minded that energizes you instantly?

As I watched the laborers race to catch the bus so they could reach their work place (on a Sunday), this is what I learnt. While I am one of the lucky few who gets to run for their hearts, there are still millions out there in this world who HAVE TO RUN (or fly or swim) for their lives. My measly 4 km walk is dedicated to their health.

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Stop all these meaningless surveys about Facebook

Yesterday I blogged about the meaningless surveys produced by companies all over the world that adds no value to our life.  I decided to replace those meaningless surveys and conducted one of mine instead. I surveyed the one person whose opinion is of paramount importance to me. Me.

Want to know more? Read the complete blog at our Content Crossroads Blog and let me know what you think.

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Business is Business

My brother sent me this joke last week.

A teacher in a school in London announced a reward of 10 pounds to the kid who could correctly answer the question ‘ “Who is the most famous person in the world?” The Jewish kid said David, the Muslim kid said Mohammed, the Buddhist kid said Buddha, but they were wrong. Finally the Hindu kid got up and answered – Jesus Christ.

He got the money. The teacher was curious and asked him why he answered Jesus Christ even though he is a Hindu. The boy quipped, “In my mind I know it is Krishna, but business is business!”

When I related this joke to my mom, I was shocked when she stated this was no laughing matter, and that it applies to all of us.  When it comes to real Life, we ignore the truth. And look the other way.

She is right. Brutally so. In our mind we know what is the right thing to do – eat right, exercise, speak the truth, stay away from bad influences, be patient, avoid anger and jealousy, respect authority… The list is endless. All of us have been indoctrinated with the right thing to do, but end up doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Think about it – bribe an official, mumble excuses when you are late for work, get impatient every time things don’t go your way, lie to save your face. Agan the list is endless.

In our hearts we know what is right, and aim to teach our kids the right thing to do. But guess what happened when I witnessed an accident between a bike and a car owned by an ex-judge of the High Court? Guess what I did when the Judge’s driver insisted that our car’s hasty arrival at the intersection caused him to brake suddenly and hence the bike hit his car’s rear? Guess what I did when the Judge insisted that I pay half of the damages? Did I bluntly ask him to file an FIR? Did I gather all the witnesses who agreed our car made no mistake? Did I hire a lawyer to go ahead and complaint on my behalf?

Nope. It took me all of 5 minutes to be convinced (by my driver, my husband and the lawyer friend) to pay up for the damage done to the Judge’s car. After all, in a court, whose word will they believe – mine, my drivers’, the Auto driver who witnessed the accident or the ex-Judge? Pure common sense told me to just pay up and leave.

If we introspect our actions daily, I am positive we will find hundreds of examples where we did not do the right thing and took the easy way out simply because it was practical. Or expedient. Or simply safer and simpler. And when we come home, what do we tell our kids? Follow rules. Respect authority. Bribing is an offence. Truth shall protect you. God does not like us to lie or cheat.

I think my kids’ faith in the entire system took a big hit when they listened to what happened yesterday. But sadly for me, their belief that we, as parents, will always do the right thing took a bigger hit.

What can I say? How can I explain to pre-teens that Life is not fair? That if you play by the rules, you will get knocked down? And that in the final analysis, business is business?

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Pests Free Zone

I love nature, as much as the next person. I love watching Untamed Uncut on Discovery, traveling into the interiors of the Amazon (or is it the Florida everglades?) with Steve Irwin, and trekking in the Nilgiris to catch a glimpse of the rare flying squirrel. But my love for Nature stops just outside my home. I do not like Nature so much that I invite her in.

Why is that, you may ask. Well, it is rainy season in Kerala. The best time to commune with Nature, in all her pristine glory. But certainly not the best time to keep your house free of nature.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not talking about mosquitoes, lizards, flies, cockroaches, ants (the white ant and the red and the black ant) or even the occasional stray dog. No matter where you live in the world, I defy you to tell me that you have never seen these inside your homes. So, I am not concerned about these occasional guests who come and go. I am talking about the “others”.

Take the slug, for instance. It literally creeps me out. I know it cannot outrun me but maybe it doesn’t know that? They are okay crawling on my lawn or sleeping on my car, but I draw the line when “Sluggy” wants to get into my shoes or use my toilet.

And what about the “pooram”? I have heard horror stories where this slippery centipede has forced itself into a small boy’s ears and laid eggs, causing brain damage! I know they are all your creations, but God, do I have to sleep with them?

Finally what about the water snake? Uh? What is it about me, and my house, that attracts these pests in such variety and quantity? And don’t get me started on the neighborhood tabby using my lawn as her potty every other night. Right now my lawn is living proof that Erma Bombeck got it right with her book “The grass is always greener over the septic tank”.

Slug? check. Water snake? check. Cat? Check. Have I forgotten anyone? Ah, yes. I can excuse all these creatures, but what in Heaven’s name was a rat doing inside my Hyundai  Santro? It ate bits of my steering wheel, my seat covers in the rear (Or were my kids responsible for that!) and the side casing on my battery. I paid Rs. 1500 to get the entire thing fumigated and cleaned.

So the next time I see a pest, I am going to scream – Stop! right there, right now. This may be a free country and you are all God’s creatures, big and small and large and beautiful, but please crawl back to the gutter you came from. I have  enough pests at home to deal with. Until they go to College atleast!

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The greatest joke of all times

Last week my 8 year old dressed up as a witch for her class assembly and read out a bunch of spooky jokes.  I watched proudly from the audience and chuckled whenever the assembly broke out in laughter. After all, they were really good ones. My favorite from the dozen or so she read? Get ready to laugh – when do Ghosts go to work? On MoanDays and FrightDays!

This joke got me thinking. I think the greatest joke of all times is us human beings as we scurry to work, week in and week out. Imagine an alien landing on Earth on a Monday morning intent on invading us. He would see us scramble to get ourselves and our family ready, reach work after a crazy commute where we scream and curse, sit in the narrow confines of our cubicle, strategize on to-do lists and action plans, sit in endless meetings, consume unmentionable amounts of caffiene, fret and fume over deadlines while our blood pressure shoots up, get back home stressed out and physically tired…. In 12 hours,  we start all over again.

And we pride ourselves that we are the most intelligent species the good God made. Nope, as Agatha Christie states, (or more specifically my darling Detective, Hercule Poirot) men are creatures of habit. We love to do the same things again and again. So if the above-mentioned Alien watches the human race at work for a week, he would flee in boredom never to come back.  In fact, Nations should forget arming ourselves with nukes – just play a video of the human race going to work and back and see if the aliens don’t surrender in sheer boredom.

So what can we do about it? Well, practically nothing that would change things in the near future. In fact even in the Space Family Robinson, the father goes to work everyday and is faced with similar challenges as us humans in the 21st Century.

So is there a point to this blog, you ask. Hold your horses young lady, am coming to it. Yes, the point is that what we do daily is absolutely hilarious and not without much of a point. So maybe we should start taking ourselves less seriously. Maybe start treating this entire “work” thing as a joke and relax a little. Since this is something that we will be doing 70% of our life, let us learn to treat going to work as ONE BIG JOKE, reduce our stress, and just enjoy the work.

So from this week onwards we will stop treating our work days as Moandays, Sadderdays, Frightdays, Cursedays etc. and turn them all into Fundays. Who’s with me?

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The Greatest Player of all Times – Fedex

The Greatest Player of all times
Yes, he has done it

After January 31, 2010, there is no doubt in any one’s mind as to who is the GOAT of Tennis – the Greatest Of All Times. ROGER FEDERER.

Fedex, as most of the banners scream out, is on a roll indeed. After winning Roland Garros in 2009, he completed his Grand Slam in Tennis – only one of the 5 players in the history of Men’s Tennis.

Then he went on to win the Wimbledon in the same year and beat Pete Sampras record of 14 Grand Slams.

Then as a new dad of two beautiful twins (Myla Rose and Charlene Riva) he almost made it as the first dad to win a Grand Slam in the US Open, but Del Potro had other plans.

You know what they say, you can never keep a good man down forever. Australian Open, 2010, became the platform for Federer to add one more to his record – the first dad in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam. He beat 5th seed Andy Murray in straight sets without even breaking a sweat.

Yes, he is the greatest tennis player of all times. Sorry Pete. Sorry Agassi. And Sorry Rod laver.

But what about Nadal? The mischievous imp sitting on my shoulder whispers. There is this niggling doubt in everyone’s mind (including mine sometimes) that the only reason Federer could do this is coz Nadal was out nursing his injuries (and his ego when he faced a shock exit in the fourth round as Defending Champion in Roland Garros 2009 against Soderling).

What about him, I ask? And I hold up Federer’s ultimate Ace up his sleeve. Something no player has or ever will be able to match anytime in my lifetime.

Yes, you know. A record 23 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam tennis semifinals or better since 2004. Simply put, no matter what his injuries, he has always reached at least the Semifinal of a Grand Slam in the last 5 years.

Ha. Double Ha. And he is only 28. And you want to know why he is the best?

Coz he is a Leo, with the traits of the Cancer. Watch him in action on the tennis court and you will understand. Like the crab, he moves sideways and forward constantly. He does not rush into anything quickly. He waits, he sidles, he dances, he side steps. And when the prey is assured, he pounces like the Lion. (Birthday -August 8). Like the Leo he has a Royal Confidence he will win. And in the likelihood of the match slipping away from him, he raises his game a notch. Just a notch.

So by the time his rival has matched him, Federer has already uppped his game, step by step like the crab. If he does not have to, he doesn’t. He lazes back like the Lion and lets the victim tires himself. If he has to, then he comes blasting out on all four cylinders (but mind you – like a crab, quietly and forcefully).

How do I know? Well, just Crab instinct.  (yup, am a Cancer/Leo cusp). So, celebrate Federer as the Greatest GOAT of all Times. Even if he does not win a single match ever again in his life (Ya, right!) in my books he is absolutely THE  BEST. It should be in yours too.

Hail Federer.

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