A bargain

On my way back from work, I grabbed the pile of uncollected envelopes and catalogs from the mailbox and headed inside. I quickly sorted through the mail, but one particular package buried inside the others stuck out. It was a small package approximately six inches by four inches with a colorful wrapper. I looked for a sender’s address but could find none on the envelope. The address matched mine, but had been sent to “Ms. Lonnie Paris or Current Resident”.

Lonnie Paris? Wasn’t that the name of former tenant? “Probably junk mail,” I thought to myself. But I also thought I had every right to take a look at this packet before discarding it. I was, after all, the current resident.

Printed on the bottom left corner of the envelope was the photograph of a couple. The dark-haired woman on the right must have been in her forties. She was wearing scarlet lipstick and her lips were parted slightly to reveal a row of pearly-white teeth. I could not make out what she was reading, but she was looking at the piece of paper in front of her with purpose. The man, who looked at least twenty years older, was peering through eyeglasses which were slightly tilted to the left, at the same piece of paper. His hair was completely grey and he had a much more grave expression on his face. He had sad, cloudy eyes and I noticed the furrows which the worn nose pads made on his sagging skin.

I looked at the text neatly printed above the couple. “Convenient Pre-Purchase. Be sure to see your Special Invitation enclosed.”

I casually tore the envelope open. A small brochure with a photograph depicting a forest in fall colors  dropped out and fell on the floor. I picked it up and started reading.

“Imagine the peace-of-mind from knowing that it’s all been taken care of! This is the wisdom of making arrangements before-need or as needs arise. Interest-free financing means you can make this meaningful purchase now. Pay in easy monthly installments and own the property that you’ve always wanted”

Property I always wanted? I turned the page and kept reading.

“We’re proud to present our introductory cemetery space pre-purchase program to those who deserve special treatment. Space is reserved only for customers like you who have prequalified.  And rest assured – our offer is backed by a 100% lifetime guarantee.”

Just above these words was a photograph of the same lady who was on the envelope. She was dressed in black.

“We don’t want you to miss out on limited-time offer and very soon one of our experienced representatives will visit you to help you make the right decision.”

I closed the brochure. As I was about to trash it, I noticed an additional offer on the back cover.

“Mention our brochure and receive a 15% discount on your purchase at Bed Bath and Beyond.”

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

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Psyclone

After spending close to a week on St Thomas in the Caribbean, I came very close to the possibility of being stranded there for an indefinite period. At the small airport in Charlotte Amalie, a few hours before scheduled takeoff, tourists were camping out for the long-haul as airline staff announced over the public address system that one flight after another was being diverted to San Juan in Puerto Rico instead of attempting to land on the single runway. The culprit was Hurricane Otto which had formed over the Virgin Islands as my departure date approached, and it was pounding down with the vengeance of a chancellor of a German Empire.

The idea of being trapped in paradise suddenly seemed unpalatable.

Fortunately, the whiteout let up for a few minutes, which was sufficient time for the small propeller-driven plane to land. All the passengers were rapidly marshaled on to the tarmac and after boarding the aircraft in drill-worthy time, the plane whirred off towards the calmer skies prevailing over Puerto Rico.

Tragedy had been averted, but the entire episode had me thinking about hurricanes and cyclones. How the blazes do they ever get named?

Well, in the Atlantic Ocean, tropical storm and hurricane names are selected alphabetically in advance each year, alternating between female and male names. So, just before Otto, there was Nicole. Also because there are only six lists, the names rotate every six years. The only names that get retired are the ones which cause some really hardcore devastation. It kind reminded me of how in some sports, teams retire the roster numbers of really successful players.

There is a completely different naming scheme for cyclones originating in the North Indian Ocean with Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand contributing names to the all-star lineup. My guess is that India contributed Akash, Bijli, Jal, Lehar, Megh, Sagar, and Vayu. I’ve got no problems with these, although they’re kind of unoriginal. I mean doesn’t India use some of these names for the space program too?

The other countries don’t do much better either, I’m afraid (with notable exceptions like Chapala). Remember Sidr and Nargis from previous years? Well, coming up in a few years are Bulbul and Priya which sound like affectionate names for charming little girls.

Why can’t we name cyclones so that people take them seriously for the death and destruction they cause?

I mean why would I take any weather formation called Titli seriously? I’d think to myself, “It is probably only going to be a mild breeze with a few fluffy clouds and rainbows. I’ll just rent a DVD and order a pizza for delivery.”

It would be a completely different story if I heard about a cyclone named Kaali Maut (Black Death); by now, I’d be wrapping my lungi around my torso already halfway up a palm tree.

Photo credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project (public domain).

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

The economics of murder: how much does it cost?

In the US, a murder costs a  little over 17 million dollars.

A group of researchers crunched data for over 650 murders in eight states and used a formula with parameters for lost murderer productivity costs, judicial expenses, and victim losses to come up with that number as an “average per murder”. And because each murderer typically commits around 1.4 known murders, using the formula you get around 24 million dollars per criminal.

So, if you really need an economic reason why these heinous crimes are a burden on society, now you’ve got a pretty big number based on some hard-to-explain models.

I also understand that legally, and perhaps morally, the idea that the “value” of every human life should be the same is a valid concept. But economically?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go ahead and a make a distasteful point: the cost incurred from the murder of a highly-paid CEO of a Fortune 500 company with a high-premium life insurance is not the same as that of a hobo with an incurable ailment, no insurance, and no next-of-kin.

And since I’m going to be offensive, why not go the whole hog?

Consider this scenario: A group of five sophisticated thieves rob a bank for 40 million dollars. The heist gets botched  and they end up shooting a young security guard who had thirty years of work left before retirement. They also kill a widower who had been drawing a steady pension and would have otherwise lived for another twenty years. A college student is shot and maimed for life but doesn’t die: he becomes a financial strain on his unmarried sister. The thieves then escape to Mexico in a stolen Mercedes and spend 30 million of the loot. The government spends millions of dollars trying to track these fugitives in order to bring them to justice. After twenty years, three of the five get caught and are brought back into the country. One gets the death penalty while others serve life sentences in jail.

Add. Subtract. Multiply. Divide. And get back to me when you’ve figured out the real cost of this simple crime.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

Paper still beats the Kindle in my book.

I stopped when I saw the title of the book – Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles. On the cover was the picture of a cow with long eyelashes and silver udders. But what finally sold me on it was the turban the cow was wearing. I quickly paid the two dollars penciled on the first page at the counter. I haven’t read the entire book yet, but the first page is pretty spicy.

Some of the other books I just picked up include George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops, David Rakoff’s Don’t Get Too Comfortable, a paperback edition of the classic “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman”, and Carl Sagan’s Billions & Billions. I would have found them in digital format too. But some of the other out-of-print books that I had never even heard of I would not have picked up had I not gone to the used-book sale.

And that is why I still love print. I’m constantly reminded that general interest in printed books, journal, and magazines is eroding. I’ve seen the signs and I know it is true. Research libraries don’t buy scholarly journals in print anymore. Established newspapers and magazines struggle to stay afloat and those that do have to burn through cash to do so. This year Amazon sold more books on the Kindle than “real books” that it shipped out. Books cost money to produce, space to stock, and are heavy to carry around. But next time you have to power down your e-book reader on your flight, I’ll cozily turn the page on a cliffhanger in the seat across the aisle.

Used books have history. They have character. Even as a non-smoker I can appreciate the smokiness of the exquisitely-bound first edition of The Gentle Art of Smoking by Alfred H. Dunhill published in 1954 which I have on my shelf. I can flip the cover and read the short note penned with a flourish in cursive by Julie to “My Dearest John”.

These books have been places. Some of them give me as remarkable insight into the people who owned them before I did. Take for example this note which I found scribbled inside a used fifty-cent paperback of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Michelle,

I am really sorry for my evil ways. When I knew you I was an ass. When I didn’t know you, I was even more of an ass. You were always remarkable. Perhaps I could write that I am sorry that we met when we met. I just did. Okay.

Nevertheless, this book is great fun. Enjoy it !!

Inexplicably,

James.

James was such a cad! I hope he got what he deserved. And Michelle, I hope that you learned from your mistake.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

Sense and sensor ability

Each one of us is born with a gift. I think I’ve finally found mine. I’m invisible.

Yes, you heard correctly. I’m invisible.  I’m not invisible like Mr. India was in the Bollywood film Mr. India. To claim so would be delusional. In fact, I’m pretty sure that you could see me clearly if you met me. Unless of course, you’re visually impaired,  in which case you should probably not be staring at the Chinese letters on this screen.

I’m invisible in that motion-activated sensors can’t see me. Let me elaborate.

You know those stupid motion-activated light switches that they’ve installed everywhere these days? I’m talking about the ones that are supposed to turn on the lights when you enter a room. Well, I have one in my office and it doesn’t do anything for me. Every morning I unlock my office, put my briefcase down, and flap my arms like an extinct, flightless Mauritian bird in the hope that the motion-activated light switch will turn on the lights my office. I keep at it for a good four or five minutes stopping only to greet members of upper management as they pass through the corridors. Incidentally, I have never figured out why they choose to walk by my office when they sit on the other side of the floor. Anyway, after I resign myself to my daily power failure, I leave to go to the break-room to grab a cup of coffee. When I come back with the coffee, the lights turn on. Every single day.

I’ve tried wearing shirts and suits of different colors. I’ve worn different belts, shoes, and ties. I’ve tried cotton, linen, and wool (and for the record, I will not stoop to wearing polyester even if I have to sit in a dark cave forever). Nothing happens.The only think that works is coffee. That and, of course, other people.

I guess I just don’t light up a room when I enter it.

I could just come into the office every morning with a cup of coffee in my hands. That would be the rational thing to do. But that would also be giving up without a fight. When you give in to a motion sensor, how long is it before you ask how many sugars it takes in the morning coffee and whether it likes hazelnut or Kona? I don’t do that. I only give up after I’ve been roundly defeated and I’ve reinforced a notion that needs no further validation.

But my misery doesn’t end there. In the public facilities, I’m the one raising and lowering my hand at various awkward angles to get the water to pour from the faucet. And when the water finally comes on and I’ve washed my hands, I have to contend with the motion-activated hand dryers too.

Come to think of it, I’m not invisible to only motion-activated sensors. There are other machines that act weird when I’m around too. While you’re standing in a long line fidgeting about why it is taking so long, I’m the guy hogging up the airline self check-in counter at the airport because the touchscreen won’t recognize my prompts. Whenever I touch a metro train fare-card, I jinx it so that it isn’t ever recognized by the station-meters. When I enter a room, you can bet your life that your computer will lose the WiFi signal. And don’t get me started on how charming I am to the office photocopier. I could write reams on the office photocopier.

But I won’t. Today, I will use my powers for a purpose. No longer will supple, sophisticated thieves need to worry about deactivating invisible infrared trip wires which turn red when sprayed with mysterious aerosols. They can use the extra time to clean out their skin-tight black leather outfits. If the room guarding the Maharani of Mahipal’s precious jewels is anything like my office, I should be able to enter at will without tripping off any of the sensors.

____________________

Final thoughts: There is an episode in the now-dead TV series Better off Ted which describes a different debacle with automated sensors. I won’t give the story away, but I do recommend that you watch it on DVD if you can.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

A series of open letters

It is the season for ranting. Actually, every season is the season for ranting. Not wanting to be left out, I’ve decided to post a few open letters to choice individuals. Every situation is true unless it it addressed to you (in which case the resemblance is purely fictional).

____________________

Dear Paul:

I appreciate your taking a keen interest in Indian cuisine. Contrary to Western customs, most desis do not eat samosas with a knife and a fork. I also have to warn you about the cooking DVD that you recently rented. You might be slightly disappointed when you find that Sholay does not have any recipes for curried chickpeas.

I’m sure you also know that “Hindus” refer to people and “Hindi” to the language (unless of course you’re talking about Varun Gandhi who is a Hindi who speaks Hindu).

Thanks,
Your Indian Friend

____________________

Dear IT Colleague:

You’re making a horrible mistake. It wasn’t me that looked at those sites. I may have downloaded some programs, but I am 110% sure that this has not impacted my efficiency or that of my computer. Also, please find a small token of my gratitude in your mailbox.

Thanks,
Anxious Coworker

____________________

Dear Isabella:

Thanks for replacing the soap in the hotel bathroom. I’m storing them and will gift to relatives when I visit India. Before I arrived I had no clue what “white ginger” was, but I certainly smelled like one at the Expo. Tomorrow please provide towels that are not white. White does not go well with my bathroom walls.

Thanks,
Hotel Guest

____________________

Dear Client:

Thank you for your quote. I am currently lying on a beach in Maui exploring options to optimize efficiency and cost-benefit using a forward-thinking approach. I did notice that your email was tagged with “High Importance”. Obviously, I am going to drop this Mai Tai to go the nearest phone-booth to change into my superhero costume.

Warm personal regards,
Your Personal Financial Advisor

____________________

Dear Suzanne:

The food was inedible and the service was non-existent, but because you drew a goofy face on the bill and wrote “Thanks”, go ahead and expect a 25% tip. Or maybe, I’ll tip you for the service I expect next time.

Cheers,
Customer

____________________

Dear Coworker:

Please perform an appendectomy to remove the 5 appendices in this project proposal. I’ll only read the “the meat of your argument” anyways. Also, please pick up the landscape photo of your trip to Coney Island with a unbelievably young lady which I found next to the network color printer.

Finally, missing a spot shaving was a calculated ploy to allow you to fixate on my face instead of spooking me with your usual shifty glances. Now, I can stare at the mole on your face with a clear conscience.

Best regards,
Smarter Colleague

____________________

To Whoever Stole My Bose in-ear Headphones:

As you know by now, I have earwax.

Happy listening!
Music-lover

____________________

Dear Magazine-Delivery Man:

Thanks for stealing or forgetting  to deliver my copy of The Economist for 2 months. I read it on the Metro over people’s shoulders anyways.

Grateful Reader
____________________

Dear Motivational Speaker:

I have polydipsia and polyuria which means that I drink a lot of water and go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes. So, don’t take it personally if I have to leave in the middle of your exciting talk.

Apologies in advance,
Client

____________________

Dear Charity-worker:

I understand that raising awareness of the obesity epidemic is a wonderful cause. Can I help it by buying two boxes of glazed donuts?

Greedily yours,
Fatuous Fatso

____________________

Dear Idiotic Acquaintance from College:

Calm down, dude! If I ignored you on Instant Messenger, I have every right to be angry if you think I am ignoring you. How were you supposed to know that I wasn’t out to lunch?

Please don’t send the following message to my work email address: “One ppl send this msg he make million doller. One not send he feel bad. Plz u send msg 2 d 15 ppls on ur list n 30 min or u died in 2010.”

Finally, I don’t have any answer to the question you posted on Facebook, namely: “Kis dufar ne mera lappy spamity se infract kiya?”

Take care,
Your Fraand

Disclaimer: I have floated some of these ideas on Twitter too. The two quotes in the last letter are actual comments.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

New products that every Indian needs!

I am as lazy as the next person, so when Telesky Shopping Network comes on and the TV remote isn’t within foot-length, I sit there and watch the commercials touting products with religious and cultural overtones. In previous posts, I’ve come up my own versions of Rudraksh and Nazar Suraksha, but these products only augment existing ones. What we really need are innovative products that can be marketed to desis with disposable incomes.

Now, I’d like to present a few product ideas that won’t need much marketing. I’m pretty confident that these sell themselves. I don’t know why you would be reading my blog if you have any money to invest. But, if you do please drop me a line and we can work out licensing of these products.

1) Soul-purifying Deodorant:

Tired of the nasty odors that cling to your soul as you go through the day cheating, stealing, and lying to others? Well, you’ve come to the right place then! Atmasaaf™ roll-on soul-purifying deodorant will purify your soul with one application to the armpits  after your daily bath. Long-lasting protection with our proven formula fights evil auras and bad karma for up to 24 hours. No need for costly and time-consuming daily mantras, vaastu, or visits to holy sites. You’ve taken care of your atomic smells, not deal with your atmic ones.

Available with a fragrance consisting of the combination of the proven soul-cleansing ingredients of pancha gabya or milk, curd, ghee, cow urine, and cow dung.

2) Vedic Dentistry:

Fed up with the twice-daily chore  of flossing and brushing? Bills to the dentist piling up when you fail to pay attention to your molars? You too can obviate the need for proper dental hygiene using Vedic Dentistry, a concept we have trademarked as the Sanskrit-sounding Daantestree™.

Just as dipping in the Ganga is known to wash away a lifetime of transgressions, gargling with our patented mouthwash whenever you have a toothache, unwanted plague buildup, or gingivitis will  get rid of dental problems. Your breath may smell like rotting flowers and corpses floating in the Ganges, but you should be safe in the knowledge that “your teeth will last as long as you fast ™”!

3) Extrasolar  Astrology:

Traditional Vedic astrology or Jyotish-vidya gives you only nine grahas or “planets” including the sun and Rahu and Ketu, which frankly are so-called “celestial positions” which no one really understands. Even with the recent demotion of Pluto from planetary status, we think it is still unfair to customers not to have additional planets to chose from. At least 450 extrasolar planets have been identified and all of these impact your life. Did you know that marital discord is the result of TrES-3 in the fourth quadrant?  What we offer now is the ability to predict your future accurately based on accurate charts using these extrasolar planets. Now, for a limited time, avail of these services included in our Extrastrology™ package for the introductory price of 101.01 USD.

Please note that our charts can be interpreted only by our trained astrologers and scientists who are now independent consultants. Act now and for a limited time you’ll get both a CD and a printout of your own accurate chart!

Postscript: I came up with two out of these three ideas on Twitter, but I felt that I needed to expand to include a full-fledged advertising campaign. I’m hoping to make this a regular series too.

On another note, if you liked my last post on corporate lingo, check out LEB’s post on what a manager says and what he or she means.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban