Quick lessons on what not to do in life

Just as asking a government employee to do something before or after lunch, morning tea, or afternoon tea can get you in trouble, there are other things you should never do either:

1.       Never protest when others think you are drunk, insane, stupid, or angry. You will only confirm suspicions.

2.       Never admit that your business projections are theoretically sound but based on chaos theory. Not everyone loves those butterflies.

3.       Never present the bride or groom at a wedding with a book on divorce law. Save it for after the honeymoon.

4.       Never eat a samosa with a knife and a fork no matter how many years you’ve spent outside South Asia. You will be forever ostracized for this blunder.

5.       Never make martinis with Benadryl unless you’re out of both gin and vodka.

6.       Never use a lungi in place of a bed sheet. I don’t care how short you are. It just doesn’t work.

7.       Never accuse a cadaver of pathological lying.

8.       Never tell a camel-trainer that you have trouble “getting over the hump” at your own workplace.

9.       Never eat sushi at a Chinese buffet. Trust me on this. Just don’t.

10.   Never admonish a pineapple farmer for going after low-hanging fruit. They are not a forgiving kind.

11.   Never use a brand of shampoo that mentions that users should “avoid contact with eyes, skin, and hair”.

12.   Never ask a fan of Vikram Seth’s “A Sweetable Boy” if there is a zero-calorie light version unless you have an hour to spare. Life is just too short.

13.   Never refer to brain-freeze as sphenopalantine ganglioneuralgia if you ever want to be invited to any real non-medical party.

14.   Never use the phrase “there are many ways to skin a cat” at the Humane Society.

15.   Never take seriously any advice given by unknown bloggers.

© Text: Anirban


How to pronounce Hindu Bengali names

“Hi, can I speak to an Arabian?”

“Excuse me?”

“Hi, I’m trying to reach an Arabian.”

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I am an Indian.”

“No, I mean is this the phone of Mr. An-arabian er… I’m not even going to try to pronounce your last name.”

“Ah, if you’re looking for Anirban, then yes. This is Anirban speaking.”

“Hi, I’m Betty calling about an exciting offer for a Visa credit card that will let you transfer balances from high-interest rate accounts.”

“Uhm about the offer. Well, you may very well be batty, but I’ll still decline. I already have more credit cards than I know what to do with.”


Sigh! I guess if this call had originated from a call-center in India, it probably would have been worse. Of course, I’d be able to tell from the fake accent. On the bright side that would have provided me an opportunity to immediately launch an insult-laden tirade in Hindi.

Granted, the spelling isn’t intuitive. Bengalis pronounce Anirban as On-ear-bahn and “Anirban” is neither fully Sanskritized nor Bengalified. But I’m so used to variants that are acceptable that I don’t mind anymore. North Indian friends have called me Aneer-bon. In North America, I’ll take that any day. I’ve been called many other things out here such as Aniraban, which makes me cringe, since I’m not really like the infamous mythical ruler of Lanka (well, there is nothing if there is no hope).

But seriously, how hard is it to pronounce Anirban? No, seriously. Compared to being called an Arabian, I’ll take Awnir-bahn or A-near-ban any day (not that there is anything wrong with being an Arabian if it is by birth or er… choice).

First, our names get mangled. Then to add insult to injury, we find out that there is an NFL team from Cincinnati called the Beng-uhls. For crying out loud, where do you get the gall? It isn’t West Bangle or Royal Ben-gull Tiger. Please, it is Ben-gaul and we are Bengollys or Bengolese (if you need to rhyme it with Congolese).

I’ve heard many horror stories about slaughtered Bengali names. For example, a North American was once visiting the ashram of a sage in West Bengal. The name of the mystic, Swami Nandanananda is a mouthful even by desi standards, but I’d break it down into Nandan and ananda and say it slowly. The North American devotee tried pronouncing it “Nandanandanandanandananda…” and went into an infinite loop. Or so I’ve heard. Don’t quote me.

Okay, I made it up.

Granted that Bengalis with Hindu names have a much easier time fitting in than some of our South Indian compatriots, but I’m still be hard pressed to find a Bengali in North America who hasn’t shortened his “good name” or gone with his nickname like good old Gogol in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. Is it our fault that our parents put so much effort into finding involved names from obscure Sanskrit texts?

As for me, for now I’m going with Ani.

© Text, 2010-2012

Are Indians Asians?

Well, are Indians Asians?

You’re thinking what kind of idiot poses this silly question. You look at a map or globe and point out India smack in the middle of a humongous landmass marked Asia. Indians are Asians and that is all there is to it. Or is there more?

You’re mileage may vary, Dear Reader, but I’ve come across at least three different notions of what constitutes an  “Asian”. The first and most obvious is the geographic argument that anyone hailing from the largest continent on the planet is an Asian. The second  is the close approximation of those who are politically-aligned to the major  cultural powers within geographical Asia. Finally, there are those who are considered to be ethnically Asian. These notions are neither clear, discrete, or completely overlapping.

Let us look at who is an Asian in greater detail. Is someone from Russia an Asian? Most of Russia is in Asia, but politically Russians can be considered aligned to the the rest of Europe. If a white Russian is born in Moscow the geographical argument would dictate that she should be considered a European, but this is also in line with popular political and racial notions. Now, what if this Russian is been born in Vladivostok, which is geographically in East Asia and thousands of miles closer to Tokyo than it is to Moscow? Or take the case of white Israelis born within geographic Asia. Do they fit the common political and ethnic notions of “Asians”?

The question of whether Indians are Asians is an interesting one. I’ve been told by many highly-educated individuals in the United States that I am  “an Indian and not an Asian.” When asked to elaborate, I’ve been informed that Asians have physical characteristics that resemble individuals belonging to the predominant ethnicities of South-East Asia and East Asia. On a related note, I have also heard Pakistanis referred to as “Middle-Eastern, not Asian”, and  that one clearly makes no  sense at all, even to me. Indian Americans are a subset of Asian Americans according to the US government, but the person on the street often does agree with this nuanced hierarchy.

Curiously, all I need to become an Asian is to take a flight across the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, British Asians include desis from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who form the predominant “Asian” community. East Asians are called “Chinese”. Also the word “oriental” does not have the racially charged connotations it does in most of North America. In short, if you believe popular definitions,  East Asians are either Asians or Chinese; and South Asians are either Indian or Asians depending on which side of the pond you ask the question.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

A marketing primer for Indians

Are you currently interested in marketing products? Then this primer is for you.

You may enjoy marketing products that customers are already interested in. You may have done your homework and identified the need for a product. Marketing a product in which there customer interest is fine, but where is the challenge? The real challenge is in creating customer interest where there is none. Often, the key is to fabricate a need that the customer is comfortable with. In this way it becomes possible to market unnecessary products, old products packaged as new products, and inferior products as things to be desired.

1) Repurposing an existing product:

This one takes a bit of creativity, but that is part of the game, isn’t it? Take for example chewable antacid tablets. The cheapest antacids consist of calcium carbonate, essentially the same compound present in limestone. From high school chemistry, you know that calcium carbonate reacts with hydrochloric acid to give out calcium chloride, carbon dioxide, and water. It is a cheap and effective way to neutralize acid in the stomach. But marketing an antacid as only an antacid doesn’t give you a marketing edge. You need to sell it as something else.

The easy way to repurpose an calcium carbonate antacid is to market it as an effective source of dietary calcium. Now, you’ve got two uses for the same product, when there was essentially one. You’ve created a new market with your existing product.

2) Creating a market for an inferior product:

Suppose your company is in the business of making plastic straws. What happens if your manufacturing department messes up the specifications for the straws. You could throw them out and start over again. Or if you’re good at marketing, then you could try to sell them as inexpensive disposable stirrers for coffee and tea. You’ve taken the initiative and marketed an inferior product as something that it was not originally meant to be used for.

Let me give you another example. Desi dairymen are notorious for adding water to milk, or rather milk to water before distributing to customers. When confronted with the truth, they usually protest or blame it on ‘the rains’. That is the wrong business model, since it puts the business on the defensive. A way to create a market for milky water is to market it as “diet milk” to appeal to an affluent, health and weight-conscious segment of the market. Don’t laugh it off. These tricks work. How many people actually have the capability to make informed decisions about what they purchase?

3) Creating a market for an unnecessary product:

It is one thing to create a market for an unknown, product for which there is a tangible need. It is completely another to fabricate a need. Fabricating needs are deceptively easy. A celebrated example is the amplifier knob in This is Spinal Tap that goes up to eleven instead of the standard calibration based on the ten system. Think about it: do you really need ten devices that perform redundant functions? Sure, you do, because the advertisement tells  you so. The used-car salesman uses knowledge of psychology to pitch unnecessary products to great effect, but you can train yourself in this art too.

A good way to market an unnecessary product is to point out the inferiority of an existing one with which the customer is familiar. Say for example, you want to market the edible flesh of sea scallops to vegetarians. How would you go about it? One way would be to create an image of scallops as a “new and improved” version of something the vegetarian customer is familiar with. You could go about by saying that scallops are the milder, more flavorful version of radishes or that they are the diced potatoes of the sea. By building a bridge to something the customer is familiar with, you’ve taken a first step in passing off an unnecessary product as something that is an improvement.

Here, I’ve given you three challenging scenarios, but this list isn’t exhaustive. You may call this sort of marketing deceitful, but I call it creative. It is also more common than you think. One day, I believe that the Great Indian Civil War will start over the eternal chakri versus murukku question: essentially a pointless debate over one snack-food called two different names by people from different parts of India. If people can do it to themselves, corporations have every right to do it to them too. After all corporations are people too.

And if you’re still confused, answer this question: why is selling a whole-wheat Mexican tortilla as a desi chapati wrong if you can satisfy the customer? They both taste equally disgusting out of the plastic wrapper.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

A desi take on corporate English

Do you use any of the terms below? I know I use many of them, but  I thought it would be fun to poke fun at the way we talk and write in a professional environment.

  1. Business casual: Explain this to me please. A collared shirt is “casual”. Now, add a man with a stick riding a horse and a 90 dollar price-tag. You now have “business casual”.
  2. Stakeholders: Is anyone physically holding a stake? Avoid this term unless you are in the business of supplying stakes to vampire-killers.
  3. Complimentary: Just call it a booby prize instead. Complimentary is a patronizing euphemism for minor frills that the client has already paid for, such as complimentary nuts with a 1000 dollar registration fee.
  4. Different timezones: This is usually a valid reason to miss a teleconference. India needs different timezones. We usually miss or are late for meetings, but this would give us a consistent excuse.
  5. Great men think alike: What a meaningless meme! Idiots think alike too. How else would you explain the Holocaust? The only reason to say “great men think alike” in a corporate setting is to steal credit for an idea.
  6. Leverage: Unless you lift heavy objects with a crowbar, you should not use leverage at work. Use “exploit” “bribe” or “blackmail”.
  7. Living document: You almost expect a living document to start flapping. Always keep a can of insecticide in your office. Spray anyone holding one.
  8. Moving forward: Moving forward, moving forward will not be necessary. Smart people will just use future tense. Now you decide.
  9. Networking: Something we are all expected to do, but which isn’t fun at all if you forget to bring your needle and thread.
  10. Office climate control: Air-conditioning controls temperature.  If you’re going to call it climate control there should at least be a monsoon setting.
  11. Season change: At any time of the year when someone says they have a cold, you should feign sympathy and say that it is due to season change. This is the polite yet uninterested answer.
  12. Testimonial: This one is unavoidable these days, I’m afraid. Ten years ago it was enough to tell someone that he or she was a good person. Now everyone expects a testimonial on Orkut or Linkedin.
  13. Witch-hunt: The use of this term in everyday conversation is unfortunate. Usually used in the search for a scape-goat. On a related note, I’m really glad we don’t use “bride-burning” idiomatically in India.
  14. Work-life balance: Whoever came up with work-life balance made sure both were distinct and that one came before the other.
  15. Turnkey solutions: If you use this unfortunate phrase make sure you leave out the “n” in the first word and that you just call it a typo.

Disclaimer: I’ve posted many of these on Twitter. This living document is a joke of course. My intention is not to offend anyone here, and the thoughts here are solely my own. Moving forward I hope to leverage existing synergies to create even sillier posts!

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

Facile technology for warding off the evil-eye: inexpensive “nazar suraksha”

Abstract: The “evil-eye” better known as nazar is a severely detrimental energy field that impacts the well-being of individuals in South Asia. Previously, others have demonstrated the effectiveness of the evil-eye deterring pendant known as Nazar Suraksha Kawach which works by interfering the dangerous frequencies of the evil-eye. However, this is inadequate since the protective rays are blocked by layers of clothing and temperatures above and below room-temperature. Further, the pendant must always be in the line-of-sight of the nazar.  Therefore, an effective evil-eye deterring system which would be effective under all circumstances was desperately needed. Here, were describe a facile evil-eye deterring system that counters both the emission of evil-eye rays of the nazarwale and the reception in the brain of the nazarlagi.

Introduction: The evil-eye is the most detrimental cause of lack of progress in South Asia. Earlier scientific studies including television commercials have demonstrated that when individuals either related or unrelated look at others with jealousy or “extreme love” they case nazar or the evil-eye-induced harm (Figure 1).

Nazar is well known in popular culture too. For example, in the film Sasural, Rafi sahab sang the line “Teri pyari pyari soorat ko kisiki nazar na lage” (Your lovely, lovely face anyone’s evil-eye not touch) which is a very strong argument for the existence of this form of jealous energy.

Figure 1: mechanism of action of evil-eye

Women in South Asia have known this for ages and have often drawn a spot on their face to ward off the evil eye. But this is uneffective. According to the television commercial “extreme neurotic rays” converge on the center of the brain and are shot out of the eyes like red arrows created using Microsoft PowerPoint (Figure 1).  These arrows enter the head of the unfortunate recipient and “cause mental disturbance” which casts a dark cloud on the future. Evil-eye technology and other companies have come up with a Nazar Suraksha Kawach which emits blue cooling rays that intercept the red nazar rays much like arrows in B.R. Chopra’s  mythological television serial Mahabharat. Nazar interception may have also been the driving force behind President Ronald Reagan’s ill-fated “Star Wars” program.

There are a number of problems with the evil-eye deterring pendant that independent observers have noticed. First, it is not effective at temperatures above 24 degree Centigrade or below 18 degree Centigrade. The “ions” get restless under either condition. Second, the protective rays don’t work when the pendant is covered by layers of clothing, humidity is high, or the nazar enters through the back of the head. Finally, the cost for a set of evil-eye deterring pendants can run in the hundreds of dollars.

Therefore it was necessary to come up with a cost-effective method to ward off the evil-eye. In this research paper, we  present facile technology for warding off the evil-eye.

Figure 2: Current protection against evil-eye

Our approach was simple. Since anyone can give off rays through the evil-eye or nazar (even unknowingly), it would be best to filter these rays out completely. So we designed glasses coated with five layers of nazar-protecting material (Figure 3). Now when you wear these glasses (which have been scientifically proven to work), harmful rays can not come out of your eyes. They may look like ordinary sunglasses, but they are not. They have been tested in a nazar chamber with various saasbaahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) pairs from desi teleserials.

To protect the brain from nazar rays already in the atmosphere, we designed the nazar-reflective helmet. This may look like an ordinary baseball cap with a bit of aluminum foil over it, but it is not.  It has undergone extensive testing and bears the ISO 90210 seal of approval. It is a protective device that will reflect all evil-eye rays and boomerang them back to the evil-eye-caster.

To order these two life-saving products please leave your name, address, and credit card information in the comments section of this article. It is our hope that finally, through the use of these two devices the menace known as nazar will finally be eradicated from South Asia.

Figure 3: A new effective system for blocking nazar (the evil-eye)

Can you afford to live your pathetic life in abject despair? We say no! Order now.

This is the second installment of a new series of posts on schemes that will help you either get rich fast or get lynched by an angry South Asian mob. To read the first installment click here.

Disclaimer: I guess I should tell people that nazar is real but the rest of the post is a joke, but I won’t. Go ahead. Do your worst. Cast the evil-eye. I’ll be waiting with my helmet and glasses.

Also worth reading Yogesh’s account of how you can make money by importing the Kawach from other countries.

Fair-use rationale for images: All images are low-resolution. Figures 1 and 2 are used only for purposes of demonstration for no monetary gain where a free alternative does not exist. The new product image (Figure 3) was taken by me and created using PowerPoint. Please feel free to share, but attribute the source, m’kay?

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

How to tip desi-style – a guide to the “baksheesh”

Pappu Patligali was seated with his friends at at a table in the A.C. section of New Aroma Restaurant located just off of National Highway 6. He was visiting India during semester break and he had a few days to enjoy with friends and family before heading back to the US to finish up his Master’s thesis. Before heading to India, he had packed his suitcase with gift items for friends and family that included cosmetics, watches, and toiletries. He had even picked up a couple of liter-bottles of single-malt for sharing. But even though he packed as much as he could without having to pay for extra baggage, he found that by the fifth day of his stay he always ran out of “itemized” gifts. He had learned the hard way that it was advisable to carry massive family-size bags of Snickers bars and Jolly Ranchers candy for these types of emergencies. Sadly, this time even the hyperglycemia inducers got depleted after a week.

It was then that Pappu decided to take his friends to dinner at New Aroma. He had heard good things about the Mughlai dishes prepared by the restaurant. Another nice thing about the restaurant was that it had two sections, an A.C. for upper-class patrons such as Pappu and his friends, and a dhaba-style section with charpoys for drivers, helpers of drivers, and assistants to driver’s helpers. The same food was served in both sections, but the AC restaurant had steeper prices because it was air-conditioned, it had a menu, waiters served patrons in crisp white shirts, and bottled mineral water was provided (at extra charge of course).

Pappu and his friends received an excellent table, great service, and a delicious meal for dinner. They enjoyed the food thoroughly, and once they were done eating and chatting, Pappu picked up the bill for 720 rupees. He pulled out eight hundred-rupee notes from his wallet, while stuffing a bit of the moist saunf and hard sugar crystals in his mouth.

The tipping point:

David, the waiter brought back the balance of 80 rupees. Pappu thought to himself, “well, this isn’t exactly 15% gratuity, but I’ll leave 80 rupees which should be enough to cover it.”

He was getting up from his chair to leave, when he was stopped by Karthik.

“Dude, what are you doing?” asked Karthik. He was glaring at Pappu.

“I’m leaving a tip,” said Pappu in a matter-of-fact tone while spitting out a twig from the saunf.

“Yes, but why so much? Give the bugger five or ten rupees for his effort” said Karthik while the others around the table nodded.

“Yeah, but I enjoyed the service, I thought I’d give the waiter around 10% for his effort. I mean they can’t get paid an awful, lot can then?”

Everyone at the table started laughing at Pappu’s naive comment. “Dude, this isn’t Amreeka. Leave your 10%, 20%  for when you are back in the States. Here we give loose change unless we are at a Five-star hotel with our girlfriends. Then we pay a good tip to impress the ladies.”

As soon as Karthik got done, Abhi started to explain the desi baksheesh philosophy to Pappu. ” Service-wervice is fine, but what does it matter if you give the guy 80 rupees? You will be back in Amreeka, na? What difference will it make if you don’t come again? When I wanted to get security clearance for my parents’ passports I paid baksheesh to the local intelligence bureau up front. You should always tip in expectation not in appreciation. ”

“Look Pappu, if I want a nice table at a busy fancy, restaurant I slip a few notes when I arrive. Pay them later for efficient service? Yeah, right,” said Kathik as he rolled his eyes.

Chal, Pappu, pick up the change, ” said Somesh. “Beta, Amreekan ban gaya. it looks like you’ve forgotten everything about your own country, yaar.”

More of the Charmed Life of Pappu Patligali here.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban