Will the real Nithyananda please stand up?

My fellow desi ladies and gentlemen:

I stand here humbled by the historic significance of the moment. Last night from the chawls of Chennai to the  burbs of Boston, from the galis of Gandhinagar to the gulleys of Galipoli, from the sarson fields of Sasaram to single-flats of Stratford-upon-Avon, we rose together in unison to praise and deify Swami Nithyananda Paramhamsa!

Those who do not know the Divine One may ask sacrilegiously, “who is this Nithyananda? Of what element is he made?” In fact, before last night, I myself had not heard his name.  But when I heard the call of duty from a Higher Power [1], like thousands of my fellow countrymen, did I not rise to the occasion? Swami Nithyananda, the spiritual and temporal master, he of strong will and firm body, owner of sacred Ashram in Bidadi, conqueror of almost all the vices, [2] did he not deserve deification? [3]

When we heard that Swami Nithyananda and an anonymous devadasi [4] were together, we knew it was to maintain divine mingling of shakti and purusha and to restore the Cosmic Balance of the Universe.  The ethereal moment passed through ethernet and guru and shishya were (and I quote from an  article)  “lying on a bed and doing personal things with each other”. Aah, who can fathom the leela of His Worship?

Passing the baton of messages, [5] across the globe, thousands of us chanted the mahamantra [6]. It was the day and night stugggle of good and evil- the devas and the asuras, the yin and the yang. And by his benevolence and the prayers of his devotees, #nithyananda became a trending topic on Twitter reaching a million souls [7] ! So that the pearls of wisdom do not get lost in the sands of time, these were painstakingly collected [8] for future generations.

But now the following day, as the demons of darkness [9] try to insult Guruji, should we sit and do nothing? Shall the enormity of the moment lapse into distant memory? Nay, I say for we must remember to heart the scriptures that were chanted.

Last night in the midst of the mellifluous strains of tweet-sangeet we realized the Absolute Truth.

I am Nithyananda. You are Nithyananda. We are all Nithyananda. Tat tvam asi.

Thank you.

________________

Footnotes:

[1] namely, Ramesh Srivats

[2] lust is insignificant says Sri Hallmark.

[3] not defecation

[4] Ranjitha

[5] 140 characters or less

[6] “___ by day, ___ by night”. Some mantas here.

[7] reach calculated by the Wall Street Journal

[8] by Blogadda

[9] Times of India

If you have no clue what this spoof is about, please read this piece in the Wall Street Journal.

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Shri 419: the Nigerian scam

Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code has given us a lively term for cheaters – the “420″. If however, you search for “419,”  you will find that this number refers to a section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria dealing with various types of advance-fee fraud.

Why does this matter to you? Well, you’ve probably received some version of the following email which I fished out from my spam folder:

Sir/Madam:

Reaching you is courtesy of my favourite international business directory, which vividly tells your position and capability to execute this business presently with me in my office. We have Twenty Million, Five Hundred Thousand United State Dollars only, ($20,500,000.00) which we got from over-inflated contracts awarded to foreign contractor in the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (F.A.A.N).

We are seeking your permission to transfer this money into your bank account.  This money will be shared between you and we (Colleagues) over here in Nigeria.

We have agreed to share the funds as follows:
I. 30% of the total sum for you (Account Owner)
II. 65% of the total sum for us (The official involved)
III. 5% of the total sum of setting all financial expenses been incurred by you and us in the course of this transaction.

We will visit you immediately we include this transaction to collect and invest our share of total sum into any viable business you may advise in your country. Please, let me know if you are interested in this business by replying urgently. Full details of this business will be sent to you upon receipt of your reply.  For the purpose of communication in this matter, please give us your telephone and fax numbers including your private home telephone number.

We await your urgently reply and be rest assured that this transaction is 100% risk free, there is not risk involved on both sides.

Yours faithfully,
Geoffrey Chaucer

I have not changed the name since fraudsters are known to impersonate prominent individuals (like 14th century English authors). The grammatical error in the last sentence is also unaltered and amusing. I imagine that the fraudsters meant to say “no risk on either side,” but blurted out the truth: of course the risk is completely on the recipient’s side.

As soon as you contact the fraudsters, they inform you that certain “processing fees” are required to release funds and that you will be contacted as soon as funds become available. Of course this is a hoax and soon you are have lost your hard earned money.

With the globalization of world economies in the early Nineties, unscrupulous individuals in West Africa (and primarily in Nigeria) began to use the internet to send out unsolicited invitations to hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting individuals. The widespread availability of email and pharming software transformed local cottage start-ups into multinational corporations complete with offices, machinery, and salaried staff.

India’s first 419 victim was Piyush Kankaria who registered a section 420 complaint in 2003. Unfortunately, most victims do not get any form of compensation due to the international nature of the racket and the connections of the educated, management ranks that run the scam corporations. A report in Wired in 2006 estimated that Americans lost around $200 million that year to West African 419 scams. A more recent report mentioned that 419 scams resulted in worldwide losses estimated at over $9 billion making it anywhere from Nigeria’s fifth to third largest industry. Estimated rates of success via unsolicited email spamming vary from one in one thousand to one in ten thousand.

In fiction, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s celebrated debut novel I Did Not Come to You by Chance provides a humorous fictional perspective on the lives of scammers. But 419 scams don’t just result in loss of money, many are tied to kidnappings and murders.

In scanning recent headlines, I came across the news-story of a woman in New Zealand who stole NZ $450,000 from her employer in the hope of cashing in on millions. She had planned to pay her employer back once she received money, which of course never happened.

I am shocked by incredulity of the situation. What toxic mix of greed and incomprehension compels middle-class white-collar workers to resort to criminal activities?

Text: © 2010-2012, Anirban

Five important questions technology can’t answer

An hour-long internet outage today made me feel ashamed of myself. I was ashamed because I felt helpless without the connection even for the short period of time. While a vast proportion of humanity lacks basic amenities such as clean drinking water, nutritious food, and proper shelter, I’ve made my life so complex that I can’t go on without something I didn’t have twenty years ago. Is this what life has come to? Is this what I’ve become?

Has my life come to this?

My parents, grandparents, and generations before them were born in villages in eastern India. The walked to school and studied under the flicker of lanterns. They drew water from wells. They wrote actual letters.

In the last few decades, our lives became “simpler” with electricity, running water, and telephones. Sometimes utilities  were available, and other times they weren’t. That was the only thing that was simple.

Then, in the early Nineties, cable television, the internet, and a liberalized economy opened us up to to the rest of the world. Soon we were relying on cell phones, mp3 players and laptops. We were buying Hondas and Toyotas. We were traveling on-site for IT projects and abroad for higher studies. Our BPOs became attuned to the needs of foreign clients in global timezones. Ironically, what was supposed to make our lives simpler actually made them more complex!

Today I’ve identified five technological questions that technology can’t answer.

1. What is the resolution on a television and audio quality on a stereo system that will satisfy us?

The first television my parents had was a 14 inch black-and-white. Once they could afford color, they bought a Sony Trinitron which is still in working order. They bought a VCR and the VHS format was in vogue for decades too. Not these days – in the last decade, I’ve bought a couple of television sets (including one in high-definition), home theater systems, and DVD players. Very recently I became the owner of a Blu-ray player. I am sure all of these will soon be replaced by newer technologies. But does 7.1 surround sound turn an out-of-tune song into ear-candy?  I can sit and watch Transformers II a hundred times in high-definition glory (actually I can’t watch it even once), but I still won’t get the same feeling I get when I watch grainy prints of Pather Panchali. How many pixels do we really need on our screens to feel satisfied?

2. How many redundant devices do we need to feel secure?

I remember the day I got my first digital wristwatch. I was so proud! Flash-forward to the day I bought my first mp3 player (really a hard-drive in disguise). I was pretty happy that day too. I own three laptops, four generations of mp3 players, four external hard drives, and at least half dozen flash drives.  I can safely say I’m not atypical. Decades ago, I used to own music cassettes. Now I have CDs that I never listen to and at least ten copies of each song backed up on my devices. How many copies do I really need to feel secure?

3. How many software updates and patches do we need until we have software we can use?

When you buy a piece of software, you don’t expect it to be perfect. You expect it to do the job that you want satisfactorily. After all, if a software company ever created the “perfect” software it would go out of business, since there would be no need for patches, updates, and support. I understand the need for security updates for programs to counter threats. I understand the need for updated programs that interface better with newer technologies especially in light of Moore’s law. What I do not understand is the need for multiple versions of programs that do simple tasks such as viewing standard graphical files.

4. How many buttons are necessary on a remote control?

Have you ever used all the buttons on the 10 remote controls that you have in front of you? “On/off”, “play”, “pause” and “stop” are probably the ones you use most. I once pressed the wrong button on the remote control for my DVD-recorder and got trapped in a sub-menu filled with symbols that made no sense. It was quite an existential experience since there was no way for me to get out. “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself,” as Jean-Paul Sartre famously said. So, I got up and unplugged the monstrosity. (I admit I have never pushed the “random” button on my Kenwood home-theater system out of fear of disturbing the order of the natural world).

5. How many razor blades do men need for a truly close shave?

My grandfather used to shave using Wilkinson Sword razor blades. I’ve never used a safety razor in my life. I’ve used electronic shavers a couple of times, but find that my skin usually turns beet red, which makes me look like I’ve been swigging the bottle early in the morning. I usually use cartridges. In high school, I started shaving with cartridges that had one blade. Then I promoted my stubble to the “revolutionary” Gillette Sensor which had two blades which was advertised to help lift and cut. Then I flew for a few years with three blades at Mach3. Now, I’m on interplanetary orbit with the five-blade Fusion. How many blades will I end up using to shave? Seven? Ten? Twenty?

Technology can’t answer these five questions. We need to understand human psychology instead.

Text: © 2009-2011, Anirban

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