Price me if you can!

The best part of a wedding is the peek you get into what is probably the most inflated market in India. Directement zero to those who hollered “Real Estate!”, as what I’m referring to is the Saree market.

As a groom-to-be, one is always hanging around in the periphery of shopping campaigns launched successfully by the bride-to-be and her relatives. A typical campaign involves departure at 9 in the morning to the four biggest Saree shops in Cochin (Seematti, Jayalakshmi, Kalyan Silks, Alukkas Wedding Center. No, not Chennai Silks. They suck, they should go back to Chennai.) and stepping out of the fourth and final one with a bunch of bags full of sarees, free keychains and wallets. There are lunch breaks involved if you cry a little. Else the womenfolk continue their shopping with Amazonian fervour.

I went as a keen observer on several such shopping trips, and the learning curve was rather steep as far as the several sub-genres of the Great Indian Saree were concerned. I now know exactly what “Verticals”, “Album” and “Bandhani” are. Tie and Dye? LOL, past master at it.

Anyhow, I had just returned to my office in wintry Gurgaon after the wedding shopping when I encountered a colleague, let us call him Dowriprasad Mishra for propriety’s sake or the lack thereof, by the Ol’ coffee machine.

Dowri’s eyes lit up as soon as he saw me, and I could sense the little grey cells working overtime in that nimble brain of his. He was moving his fingers in a weirdly cyclical fashion as I approached him, somewhat reminiscent of the way the lightbulb distributors in Surat (from my sales stint) used to count the money stored in their lockers.

“Hey, how are you buddy?” Dowri intoned, in tune with the gurgling coffee machine, which was merrily processing perfectly normal coffee beans into a fluid which tasted as if it was manufactured by Sri Dhanwantari Matam, Kochi – 682020. Google for more information.

“Positively brimming with exuberance, my dear Dowri.. Lovely morning, bubbling coffee, chirping birds and all that sort of stuff. In fact, even my chair feels strangely more comfortable today.”

“Ah, you went wedding shopping eh?”

“Precisement! But how did you work that out, Mr. Holmes?”

“Your chair is more comfortable, no?”

“Indeed. But how come the chair benefited from my shopping?”

“Think about it this way. Shopping. Empty wallet. Back pocket. Chair. Comfort”, Dowri looked slightly irritated as all great men do while explaining their trivial leaps of logic to normal human beings.

I was flabbergasted. Once again, this Dowri has struck me blind with the sheer force of his mammoth intellect. I felt somewhat like Sachin Tendulkar’s helmet after being slam-banged by a couple of Shoaib Akhtar bouncers (Will this blog attract hate-comments for that simile? Social experiment.)

“In any case”, Dowri continued, “I wanted to ask you something specific..”

“Shoot Mr. Mishra”, I muttered in a hushed tone, still impressed by the man’s reasoning skills.

“So… How much is being transferred?”

I was momentarily confused, but only momentarily, before my own nimble intellect kicked in. Masking my confusion with the utmost ease of a pro, I replied, “Ah, a mere 39 bucks. I will buy you lunch today, and that would be 50, so then you would owe me 11.”

I smiled, clearly having impressed Dowri with my efficient settlement of accounts from the last time the fellow paid for my CCD donut and half a samosa. (Half because I’m cutting down on oil, in order to avoid being fat for my wedding. Donut has no oil, you see. Only yummy chocolate cream.)

“Oh no no no.. That is all Ok. You give me whenever you have money. I was talking about the Gold, Naga!”

“Au?”, I noisily grunted.

“Indeed – Au. Gold.”

If there’s one thing that has always been said about me in various circles, it is that I don’t stay confused for too long. This is also a very useful corporate strategy. You are asked a pernacious question to which you do not have an answer, because you have no idea what the question is about. What do you do? Lesser mortals might hang their head, droop their shoulders and walk a walk of shame, but not real men. Real men give the MBA answer. Which is what I did.

“Hahahahahahahah, the Gold. Of course. Absolutely. A very valid point. Core competency. The big picture. How pitiful that the mortgage foreclosures have now led to quantitative easing! Hahahahahah.”

“Wow, you gave me the MBA answer.”

I had realized a second too late that Dowri also was immensely proficient in giving the MBA answer to all and sundry. During one of our induction sessions last year, he had single-handedly convinced a sales chap that our product mix needed a bit more core competency. The sales guy immediately asked his boss for some core competency training. Epic day.

“I sincerely apologize for underestimating you, Dowri. But I have no idea what this gold is which you are referring to.”

“Dude, you are getting married right?”

“Indeed I am. Grihasthashrama and all that jazz. Sounds fun…”

“And I’ve heard”, Dowri interrupted me, “that Malayalees transfer the dowry in Gold. I have been trying to value you for a couple of days now. An excel-sheet might or might not have been prepared in the process. But I must admit that it’s difficult. Your education and height is evenly balanced out by your crooked smile and your humming. I could not work out whether grey hairs were a pro or a con. And I don’t know whether you snore. So yes, how much did they value you?”

I stood flummoxed there, not knowing what to say. I briefly thought of humming, but even that did not materialize. Dowriprasad Mishra had well and truly rendered me speechless, with his nonchalant attitude towards the D-word.

So ladies and gentlemen, this undoubtedly is a rather sensitive subject to broach, as even the most educated, intelligent and socially powerful in India happily give and receive dowry with much pleasure and merrymaking these days. And the pleasure is not limited to the boy’s family, as even girls’ parents seem to take a lot of pride in marrying off a BMW, 2 crores and a farmhouse in Delhi to a well-educated MBA boy with an MNC job. Oh, and they throw in the girl too, as an afterthought.

But broach I must, because I have a fundamental question to ask the Dowriprasad Mishras of this world.

Dowriprasad Mishras of this world, why do you not get disturbed, sleepless and confused by the thought of being traded like cattle, wheat, rice, IPL players, government ministries etc?

For the mathematics is clear. In this complexly structured Indian marriage market, the underlying equation is evidently,
x*Money = y*Boy, where x and y are variables signifying an amount of money and the awesomeness of the boy respectively.

Some claim that the equation is actually,
x*Money = (y-z)*Boy, where z is the awesomeness of the girl.

Clearly, boy, you are selling your awesomeness or incremental awesomeness for a particular amount of money, right? Selling, trading, whatever it might be called, it sounds quite degrading whichever way one looks at it. Strangely, many boys still find it absolutely acceptable that they are sold for money. Or Toyota Corollas. Such is the shameless social equation in a ‘typical’ Indian marriage.

As per sources, certain top secret documents are also floating around nowadays, giving an accurate indicator of the pricing structure that boys’ parents need to follow –

Parthiv Patel does not count

Coming back to Dowriprasad, I spent a few minutes explaining to him how the families concerned are absolutely against the system of dowry, how the communists had successfully controlled it way back in my part of the country, how it’s a social evil and how several sections in the Indian Penal Code go on and on about the imaginative tortures they shall inflict on both the giver and the receiver of dowry.

But to no avail.

Dowriprasad remains convinced that I’m deliberately hiding the transferred gold which shall soon be diverted to my secret offshore account in the Caymans. And he has promised to ambush me in the car park where he expects me to turn up soon in a Honda City, 2007 model, which is what he has finally valued me to be worth.

Quite insulting, goddamnit!

Rickshawshank Redemption

Gurgaon educates, entertains and eradicates. Eradicates what, you ask? Disc.

Not silly little things like flying discs nor the discus throw disc (Can you say that 15 times quickly? Discus throw disc. Feel free to practice.)

Of course I am talking about the disc in your spine. One among the several that holds the entire setup together and allows you to be a vertebrate.

Yes, these discs would be systematically eradicated when you live in Gurgaon for extended periods, and the event shall be characterized by a precision matched only by the Kalmadic method of eradicating public money. Unfortunately though, Suresh Kalmadi is not the culprit behind this abominable phenomenon that characterizes Gurgaon.

Let me try to explain it in a different manner. Gurgaon has three seasons. They are not Summer, Rainy and Winter like is the case in the rest of the country. Instead, they are the following –

Season of the Roads – This is also known in some quarters as the Season of the Money. During the four months of this season, the money that we the Public pay as tax is diverted from the public exchequer’s account in State Bank of India to the Savings Account of the Tar company owner in Dena Bank. But if you assume this to be a simple one-way transaction, I must dash your hopes with a shrug and a pitiful shake of the head. You are being naive, dear friend.

See the following diagram –

The Food Chain

See how complicated it is? See?? Aam Aadmi’s money travels in something resembling Brownian Motion, with a shadowy presence in the middle consuming most of it. The contractor’s model in this figure has been the subject of much midnight-oil-burning by those who study such things, as the method by which he gets back the salary he pays out to his Tar-men is commendable. He merely starts a contract business for booze. Ingenious.

Anyhow, with whatever little money they get, the Tar-men construct beautiful roads which adorn the Millennium City during the Season of the Roads. The remaining money travels in Brownian fashion and necessitates the next two seasons of Gurgaon.

Season of the Lakes – This follows immediately, when Delhi and it’s satellite towns get submerged in downpours so bad that some offices actually shift their times from 9-6 to 11-8. This of course has no effect on when you leave your house in the morning. There have been several instances during the recently concluded Season of the Lakes, when one took 2.5 hours to travel the 5 kms or so from one’s home to the office, only to be beaten to the morning Samosas by one’s colleague who lives in Noida 40 kms away. One’s face turned red with anger.

Season of the Lakes is when the beautifully constructed roads from the previous season gets neatly removed and lakes of varying shapes and sizes get formed. This of course is merely Gurgaon’s way of answering it’s critics that the city has no tourist attraction. Lakes, for heaven’s sake! What more do you want? During this season, several Delhiites reportedly congregate on the NH-8 without fail, to snap pictures of these wonderful lakes in the DLF premises down below, confusing it to be part of the Kingdom of Dreams setup.

This is also the time when the Marketing folks at Surf Excel roll up their sleeves and start shooting the “Dhaag accha hai” ads. The HUL officials merely walk down the stairs of their corporate building in Gurgaon and push their kids on to the roads. And then the ads are shot.

Season of the Rollers – Finally arrives the Season of the Rollers. This one is straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft novel. I mean, visually the description would be something like –

“Gigantic road rollers occupied two lanes of the road at all possible times during the Season of the Rollers. The remaining two lanes are used by all traffic, navigating their way carefully around the stationary cows (Lovecraft would instead have Cowthulhu or some such beast), which remain the only beings unaffected by the seasonal changes.”

Kindly glance at the following visual for clarity. The ‘C’s in the picture are cars, the ‘R’s are cycle rickshaws, the ‘R-R’ is one of those gigantic Road-Rollers.

Please don't say that's a bull and not a cow

If you did not carefully note the arrows in the picture, kindly proceed to do so now. They indicate the direction of motion. Of course the cow has no direction of mootion, and for the cars it’s pretty straightforward, but the arrows near the rickshaws give a very heavy hint on what the best and most reliable form of transportation in Gurgaon is.

Well, Indian cows do have the right of way over every other creature. There was this hilarious comic recently by flyyoufools, which gives an accurate idea of how Cows really rule the roads in the Northern part of our country. But you can’t exactly travel on them, can you?

So, mooving on from the cud-chewing curmudgeons, the most reliable form of transportation is undoubtedly the rickety rickshaws. Trust me. You must NOT be misled by the rickshaw’s appearance. Nor the rickshawala’s.

Rickshaw Bandhan

The Great Indian Rickshaw is a supremely engineered contraption which can carry close to 10 people under the right conditions. Refer picture below (image courtesy)

Gurgaon Rickshawala furiously cycling away from the Family Planning babu.

And the Great Indian Rickshawala is an equally supremely engineered fellow, who might look like an unfed street urchin, but secretly has the strength of a 100 Great Khalis. Will he beat the Great Khali in the ring? Maybe not. But will he carry the Great Khali in his rickshaw like King Kong carrying that dainty little woman? HELL, YEAH!

Public dependence on these Khali-carriers and their steeds is especially strong in Gurgaon, due to paucity of other forms of transportation. And more importantly, they represent the city in so many other ways. As can be seen from that picture with arrows and Cows, Gurgaon rickshaws can commute freely on the right side of the road. That makes them the true symbol of this city of capitalists and ardent followers of the western model of development.

Hence, imagine the chaos when the rickshawalas suddenly decided to strike (undoubtedly a Mallu infiltration happened in their brotherhood) one fine day last month! Unofficially termed ‘Rickshaw Bandhan’, this day saw a peak in the number of absences in Gurgaon offices, which directly caused the financial markets to crash (Sorry Mumbai) and a number of MBA-type traders to briefly consider early retirement in Goa instead of the Caribbean. And therefore dear MBA-types, ignore the rickshawala at your own peril. When a rickshawala’s heart-rate flutters in one corner of Gurgaon, it sets loose a random chain of….OK, too much.

That was a brief summary of the various seasons of Gurgaon and the city’s major form of transportation. Now go back to your work.

How Bobby Lost his Tooth and other Tall Tales

Almost a year ago, when sitting bored with absolutely nothing to do, I had a wager with my then-girlfriend-now-fiancée @Neelima_J on the quality of our 5-minute stories. The intention was to spur on a spate of writing which would eventually result in a couple of Booker nominations in a year or so. Fortunately for the elderly Mr. Howard Jacobson, that did not happen.

We chose topics by taking turns. Each person yelled out a random phrase and in the next 5 minutes, both of us wrote little tales on that topic. And thus was born the first edition of the Chathiyan Chanthu Memorial Short-story Competition. For all games must have a name.

Anyhow, I was mindlessly going through the old files in my laptop when I ran into these 5-minute stories. They are not good, but they must see the light of the day. (My stories. I’m not endangering my marital prospects by publishing her stories without permission).

Why?

Because the world must know how Bobby lost his tooth. Because the world must know the melodrama lurking in the dark recesses of a Malayali Coconut-tree climber’s mind. Because the world must know that such lame-ass stories like ‘Green Water’ can be written.

[If you are thinking now that the world is not exactly sitting on a rocking chair, breathlessly reading these lines while furiously sipping a Pina Colada, you must know dear readers, that you are the world to me. (Bazinga!)]

And because when I get that Man Booker, I would like to talk about such interesting anecdotes from my early days as a writer and wannabe author. Extremely straight face.

So keep sipping that P.C., and let us start with the insanely pointless ‘Green Water’, move on to the nutty ‘Coconut Bunch’ and wind up with Bobby’s tale.

Green Water

Even though the colour was quite unfathomable from my vantage position in the chair, I could swear that it was a variant of green. Green Water is not unheard of. It’s the norm in the French Riviera (I pretentiously lied), it’s as common as a topless woman in the Costa Branca (I pretentiously wished) – but in Kerala? In Cochin?? In Cherai Beach???

Quite fascinating, I thought. Getting up from the white cane chair in the balcony, I moved into my room. Ekaterina Oglushevich was still asleep, crumpled in a mass of hotel linen that was freshly laundered yesterday. I shifted the bedsheet to cover Ekaterina Oglushevich and then turned to the fruit basket that the room service boy had kept on the teapoy. Grabbing a reddish-brown apple, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and shuffled out of the room. I made a beeline to the beach, only pausing to check the day’s exchange rates on the maroon velvet board behind the reception. A practice that has been the norm since time immemorial in Indian hotels.

Playing with the apple, I approached the beach. The sun was quite determined today, having succeeded in forcing off the Indians from the beach. The few foreigners who were sunbathing looked orange, a strange mixture of their native white skin and the Indian sunburnt brown. Taking in these sights, I dared to look at the water once more. Yes, it was still green. Green as the greenest coconut trees dotting the landscape as far as I could see. I moved closer and dipped my finger in. The water was neither warm nor cold, and was just as normal as it always was.

But when I lifted my submerged finger, I had one green finger and several brown ones.

Coconut Bunch

Kuttappai frowned at the 3 idiots staring at him with their arms outstretched. No, he wasn’t going to go through this routine every time the schools were closed.

Fine, the rich citydwellers could come in their big cars laden with suitcases and little kids during the summer vacation. Fine, the scurrying little idiots could go scurrying around in his coconut grove, playing hide and seek and its umpteen possible variations. But Kuttappai was not going to drop coconuts for them at the drop of a hat, when the perky bastards asked for it without fail every single year.

Kuttappai’s coconuts were among the better ones in the area. They were also the only source of livelihood for his family, which included his complaining wife, two or three malnourished children and a feeble father-in-law barely able to get up from his bed. Each coconut made a difference to the aforementioned children’s position on the Government-drawn line between malnourishment and nourishment (and eventually to the fact whether there were indeed two children or three), and Kuttappai was not going to give them away to these fat, rosy-cheeked city kids, fed on a daily diet of chicken and ice-cream.

The little one in the red Adidas shorts had started crying by now – He wanted a coconut so that he could throw it at the cow tied outside the farmer’s house next to the big Tharavadu. He wanted to observe whether the cow would howl in pain, break its rope and run out of the enclosure, just like the cow did in the recent Dileep movie that he saw with his parents. Crying would probably force Kuttappai to give him the coconut.

But Kuttappai didn’t budge. Maybe he was thinking of his own children crying. For food.

He told the little idiot, “Thengakkola*!”

*Common Malayalam expression, translated as ‘Coconut Bunch’, meant to convey the impossible nature of an event happening. In fact, an almost exact slang translation would be “Yeah, right!”.

How Bobby lost his tooth

Bit by baleful bit, Bobby the bunny bit off bits from his rather prominent incisor. His scorn at Scharffenberger the squirrel knew no bounds.

Scharffenberger was well-known in the Junglee community for being a Casanova and he was displaying every bit of his Casanovitude at the moment. Hanging off the tallest branch of the tallest Sherman in a blatantly arrogant display of acrobatics, jumping from branch to branch only to pause and turn sharply to flash his famed grin, showing off his elegant backside with three sharply contrasting stripes on it.

And Gloria was taking in all this with a twinkle in her eyes. A twinkle which to a simple passerby meant nothing more than a fleeting expression of life from the eyes of a young squirrel. But to Bobby, it meant much more and was a cause of intense heartache which threatened to soon do away with his tooth (which was being bit, remember?)

***

From the days of his adolescence, when a seed landed on his head once from God knew where, Bobby had loved Gloria. That fateful day, he had looked up to see a flash of disappearing squirrel-feet, soon to be followed by that heart-ripping twinkle as Gloria peeked at him from behind a tree branch, wondering whether the big fluffy bunny was miffed at the seed that she had dropped on him.

Those twinkling eyes starred in his dream for many more nights as Bobby developed a neck ailment from spending half his time gazing up at treetops, hoping to catch Gloria in mid-scamper.

It happened one evening, and quite unexpectedly, as Bobby caught his legs in a hunter’s cruel trap while out scurrying for food. He twisted and turned to no avail and his valiant spirit had almost resigned itself to certain death when Gloria, in her full glory, emerged from behind the bushes, and as her sharp teeth dug into the wire mesh of the trap, Bobby knew that she too was in love.

The freed Bobby enjoyed several nights of freedom with Gloria, scampering among tree-roots, smelling freshly-bloomed roses and having ravishing sex by the lakeside.

Alas, they were indeed a pair of star-crossed lovers and those days of hope and joy ended when Gloria’s father learnt of her liaison with a rabbit, which was indeed a shame upon his family. The gentleman was quick to act, cutting a deal with Scharffenberger, the rich and charming squirrel who lived on the other side of the forest, thus saving his family from much ridicule. Who marries a rabbit, for god’s sake! They eat carrots!

“What of Gloria?” you might ask. Well, a squirrel is a squirrel. She has her flings, but eventually she has to settle down.

And that was how Bobby the Bunny went batty and bit off his rather prominent tooth, bit by baleful bit.

The Wedding Stake-holder

And after a 3-month hiatus, which gets me directement zero marks, this blog gets an update which shall hopefully reach your mailboxes, feed your hungry RSS feeds and pop up on your Google Readers.

As to why the blog has been silent for a while, there is no definite answer. It could be because of an abominably painful sales stint which I’m still undergoing in an irritatingly vegetarian part of the country. Or it could be because a very dear friend of mine got engaged to be married last month and that kept me occupied. Oh, because she got engaged to me, you see.

But really, the wonderment actually comes from the fact that this blog has been silent despite a typical Indian summer which saw more crazy happenings than you could count in the eleven fingers of a kite-chasing superstar. A strange silence despite the IPL, despite the Lalit Modus Operandi of sweating out Cabinet Ministers, despite the British Elections, despite the assassination attempt on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s parallelly-commuting dog, and so on and so forth.

Ah well, there is no point in looking back over lost opportunities to blog. Craziness will keep happening.

Which brings me to this update. As I mentioned rather casually somewhere in the midst of all that mess which precedes this paragraph, I’m engaged now.

And a couple of days after the said event took place, a friend pinged me on gtalk and said,

“Dude, congrats!”

Quite natural, of course. friends tend to say that when one gets engaged. I am by no means portraying the above line as a strange bit of conversation. Because it is not.

“Thanks!”

That was me, quite obviously. Again, nothing strange. Unless you might raise an eyebrow at the exclamation mark which I have used after “Thanks”. If you are a very strict adherent of certain rules that govern languages, you might ask me as to why I used that ! there. Is it not an indicator of surprise? Was I surprised by the friend’s congratulations? Does that mean I did not expect him to congratulate me? Does that mean I think he dislikes me?

Let us proceed forth on the assumption that you are not a strict adherent of certain rules that govern languages, yes?

“So I trust the engagement went well?”

“Absolutely. The weather was great, my Mundu didn’t fall off and the caterers served multiple Pappadams upon request.”

“Haha – interesting that you were so concerned about the pappadams..”

“Of course! After enduring many a sadya in my life without extra pappadams, I’m quite determined to make an unlimited supply available for sadyas which I host. These caterers often fail to realize the value we give to extra pappadams.”

“All true, all true. But tell me this, dude. Why did I not see an update of your engagement in your blog?! To tell you the truth, that’s where I expected to read it.”

“Oh!?”

That, dear RSS feeds, was the relevant part of the chat conversation. Not the ‘Oh!?’, no not that one, but the line before that. In which the friend is asking me why I didn’t blog about the engagement.

It was then that I realized that I was spending too much time worrying about Pappadams and too less time worrying about the state of the much-suffering Directement Zero.

Hence, this update.

*********

Immediately after one gets engaged, one has to field an inevitable question from hundreds of people. No, not the one regarding the intricacies of tying a Mundu, but the other one. The date of the wedding.

Ah, well. That is indeed a tragic story.

You see, the date of my wedding is ironically, entirely out of my control. “Ah, so this fellow has a dominating fiancee eh? Snigger Snigger”, yes, I heard some of you say that. But alas, it is not in her control either.

The parents? Nope, they desperately wish to control it, but no.

Who then? Who is the one with such a crucial controlling stake in my marriage?

A wedding planner? The manager of a wedding hall? Sharad Pawar?

No, no and maybebutIwon’ttellyou.

The actual culprit is the fellow you see in the picture below

Superstar Kunjan staring at his wife

This enigmatic person would be familiar to Mallus, who would at this point jump up and say, “Hey, isn’t that the old joker from Mallu movies? What’s his name? Kuttappan? No…. Ah yes! Kunjan!”

For the non-Mallus, this enigmatic person is an old joker from Mallu movies, whose name is not Kuttappan but Kunjan.

As to why he wields such an inequitable influence over my marital date, one has to look towards his better half, (no, not the left side of his face, admittedly better than the right) his wife Shobha Kunjan for that answer. This S. Kunjan runs a wedding-prep business which is apparently vouched for by every bride in Cochin. As all these gushing ex-brides would state, the lady makes you look like how any true-blue bride should look for her wedding.

Naturally, my fiancee has taken a liking to this entire business and won’t get married until S. Kunjan’s dates are available.

Which won’t happen unless Kunjan schedules a date, since he manages his wife’s appointments. (Oh, that explains the suit).

Which is how a forgotten funny guy from 1990s Malayalam movies came to be a stake-holder in determining my wedding date.

Crazier than Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s stray dog, no?

Graphs

There are three hundred 13-year olds in India who use Facebook and are ‘in a relationship’. And are presumably not lying about their relationship status.

When I was 13, I was in a relationship as well, with the amazingly talented girl-detective Nancy Drew. On whom I cheated at regular intervals with that chick from Blossom. In DD Metro. Sigh.

It was while doing some actual work for which I’m paid for by my paymasters that I stumbled upon this data. And as you well know, one of the several principles by which I lead my life is “Never ignore irrelevant data. Pursue it until it’s time for dinner.”

Therefore, I sat there and spent the rest of the afternoon data-mining in Facebook. Which is absolutely simple if you use the Facebook Beacon tool.

Let me present a few of my findings here –

:)))

Look carefully at the first image. X-axis represents age while Y-axis represents percentage. So from the ‘Relationship’ graph, it can be seen that just more than 3% of Indian 18-year olds in Facebook are in a relationship.

It is evident that this percentage dips sharply from ages 18-19 and then again from 21-22. Why?

Long-distance relationships!

So dating couples in schools are more often than not faced with the prospect of continuing their relationships via telephone and g-talk, and this happens at the age of 18. The first sharp dip can be thus explained. The similar sharp dip from 21-22 happens when couples complete their graduation.

:))

Now let me direct your attention to the ‘Engaged’ graph. This one is a beautiful bell curve as one would expect and we can delight at the fact that social norms are clearly being followed here at least.

From the age of 18, more and more Indians get engaged, and this number peaks at 26. And from then on, the number starts falling as Marriage comes and imprisons most of these engaged souls. But there is something to discuss in this graph as well. Even though, the number of engaged couples sharply drop from 26, it can be seen that this number remains the same for ages 29 and 30. Why so?

This can be explained by what I call the ‘Great Depression of Thirty’.

Regular souls, happily in a relationship, often wake up one fine morning to find that they have turned the dreaded three-oh.

“Blimey! I am no longer a young chick in her 20s! Should I shift to Olay!?”, would be the initial reaction of such a 30-year old woman, and soon she starts pondering about her personal life which seems to be going nowhere.

And she calls up her boyfriend and asks him to ponder about her personal life which seems to be going nowhere.

After several days of pondering, they decide not to wait any further and get engaged.

So a lot more couples shift to the engagement pool than should be the norm, driven by the sheer panic of turning 30. These extra couples bump up our graph slightly, causing that aberration from 29-30.

😐

And finally, we come to the ‘Married’ chart.

Almost immediately, your eyes would be diverted to the extremely strange dip from ages 33 to 34. Indians start getting married steadily from the age of 23, but what happens at 33 which causes this intriguing pause?

The ‘Great Depression of Thirty‘ is behind them and at 33, they would be well-adjusted, earning well and in the case of men, finally looking good.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the manifestation of what is popularly known as the ‘7-year itch’. Most Indians get married when they are 26 or 27 and by the time these couples turn 33, a lot of them start experiencing this itch. This is generally characterized by arguments on who left the pickle jar open, who sneaked out of the bedroom at night and watched football etc..

And when the pickle jar mystery remains unsolved and football remains unaccepted as equivalent to one’s spouse, many of these marriages end in divorce. Which is what is signified by the dip in the number of married Indians from ages 33 to 34.

Moral of the story? Pickle Jars, though trivial, are quite important.

Oh, and stay active in Facebook.

Real

‘Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrringg!’

Kingsley woke up. The alarm was quite loud.

It was a cloudy, humid, Summer day. Kingsley hated such days. In addition to depressing him, they suffocated him as well. For he could not venture out of his shack on such days. Not because it was cloudy and humid, but because he was a wanted man.

He switched on his old desktop machine and waited for the Windows to load. Windows 98. Kingsley has been using ‘Ol Win 98 for about a decade now. He had no other option.

The screen lit up as the machine chugged to life. He waited patiently for each icon to load – they all seemed to take a lifetime. To load. He leaned his plastic chair back on two legs, still staring at the screen.

“Ping!”, Yahoo! Messenger popped on. Internet was still available. Kingsley sighed in relief.

He double-clicked on the IE icon and waited again for the webpage to load. Waiting was something he was getting quite adept at. And eventually the loading happened, with Yahoo! Mail, his chosen homepage in sharp relief.

Kingsley checked his mailbox. 4 new mails. He felt something flutter within him. Something he thought had died a while ago. Hope.

One by one, he read all 4 messages. And slowly but surely, the bird of hope within him died once more. All 4 e-mails said the same thing, in various euphemistic and not-so-euphemistic terms.

“Get Lost!”

**********

Morris had turned up by mid-day. His incessant knocking continued until the battle-scarred wooden door came almost off its hinges, and it was only then than Kingsley slouched off to open the door for Morris.

“No news?” Morris entered the single-room shack with the white-washed walls, the tiny bed and the table with an old desktop on it. His inevitable question. No news?

“Not yet. But I’m hopeful. Something might turn up.”

Morris sighed as he sat down on the bed. He was carrying a packet wrapped in old newspapers. Kingsley remained standing.

“I wish we could do something, Kiko. You have been hiding here for almost a year now, and the SSS has not given up. Nor will they ever give up. You are one target they would chase until they die exhausted.”

Kingsley looked up at the old man, at his bearded face which used to break into wrinkles when he ran after young Kingsley in the palace, calling him “Kiko…Kiko”… Those memories belonged to the past. A past to which he could never return.

“I can hide here for all life long, that does not bother me. But I still carry some hope. Someone, somewhere is bound to turn up”, Kingsley’s eyes wandered over to his computer, still humming as it stayed connected to the internet. His only connection aside of Morris, to the world outside his shack.

“The money would get me out of here, Morris. I could go to Europe, maybe to America… I could live as a free man! Far from this evil land and its evil rulers”, his words trembled in excitement and hope.

Morris sighed again and kept the packet of food on the bed. This contained Kingsley’s two daily meals. The man had eaten all his meals in this fashion since his past life ended and the present one began, a hidden life confined in a shack.

With one last look at the young man trapped in his meaningless existence, Morris left the shack.

*********

“Open the door! Thud! Thud! Thud!”

The burly man in uniform knocked on the wooden door for the third time. And there was no response yet.

The late afternoon heat was sweltering. He wiped his sweating hands on his uniform sleeve and tried one last time.

“Open up! This is the State Security Service! Thud Thud!”

The door creaked, but remained closed.

The burly man shrugged at his similarly-built companion in a similarly-stitched uniform, standing besides him, in a strangely similar posture. On the count of three, the two burly men drove their tank-like arms into the door, neatly breaking the wooden structure, the pieces of which clattered to the floor one after the other.

The men rushed into the shack in combat mode, but that was hardly necessary. Their prey was seated calmly next to his computer, staring at the screen, apparently oblivious to the happenings around him.

“Kingsley Oduamadi?”, the first burly man had his blood-traded machine gun aimed directly at the seated man’s forehead.

The man did not respond, but continued staring at the blank screen, and at the reflections of the men behind him. His eyes wore a glazed expression.

The second burly man had begun ransacking the room by then, and it did not take him long to find what he was looking for. A photograph, faded with age, but clearly showing the smiling faces of the two men in it, dressed in royal robes.

“It’s him”, shouted the second burly man, with barely suppressed glee, “We’ve got the prince.”

The first burly man let loose a quickly stifled whoop and lifted the seated man out of his seat using a single hand, the other still clutching his machine gun.

Kingsley put up no fight and even as the two burly men led him out of the shack, his eyes remained focus on the far end of his computer screen. On the small Y! icon which would light up upon receiving a new mail.

*********

Kingsley’s hands were cuffed and he was roughly pushed into the back of a jeep, where the second burly man joined him. The first burly man went behind the wheel, and seated next to him on the passenger’s side was a foreigner. He was well-dressed, Asian and seemed somewhat out of place in a dusty jeep in Africa.

“This is your man Mr. Goopta”, the first burly man spoke out loud to the well-dressed Asian as the jeep roared to life, “You can tell your people in India that we have caught the man behind the scam. And we are grateful to your computer people who traced this rogue down. Criminals like him shame our proud country.”

Kingsley looked strangely at the balding Indian man seated ahead of him and then at the second burly man, who wore a thin little smile, almost a smirk.

Kingsley knew that the second burly man was not smirking at him, but at the foreigner, for not knowing that there were indeed real Nigerian princes.

Old Morris stayed hidden behind the shack as he watched the jeep disappear in a trail of dust, carrying the last of the Oduamadi royals in it. The young man who would undoubtedly meet the same fate that had befallen his father – death at the hands of the President, whose sole ambition was the extermination of every royal clan in Nigeria.

And the riches of Kingsley’s family would stay useless in a Swiss bank far, far away.

(This of course, is my take on the famous ‘Nigerian prince’ scam of which several variations have plagued mailboxes in the last decade or so. References are this and this. The title has a double meaning too – it could be interpreted as the English ‘Real’, signifying the plot-point that Kingsley is a real prince and not a scam artist, or it could be read as the Spanish ‘Real’, meaning ‘Royal’.)

Stoke City (No, not a football post, come back)

In recent years, IIM-A has been churning out entrepreneurs after entrepreneurs, brave enough to make it on their own in the big, bad world and therefore snubbing all those companies which came for placements.

This trend reached a peak last year, probably due to recession 2009 being the Chinese Year of the Ox, a noble animal known for its many feats of bravery.

But a bunch of us, including FreeWilly, Lord Sabnis, Kuttappan et al found out that no, we just weren’t gutsy enough to take this deep plunge into waters unknown and would be much safer in healthy, corporate jobs (Which make us fat. Sob.)

And thus, we continued our peaceful existence within the confines of our respective jobs, nestled within the cocoon of multi-national corporations.

Until one day.

It was in the washroom of my office that it happened. I was staring at the mirror with the tap open and Abdul Khadar, a fellow mallu colleague, was yapping away rather agitatedly on the phone to his stockbroker, in the far corner. And all of a sudden, everything clicked into place.

I yelled, “Eurekaaaa!”

“Screw you. Your Ikka”, spat Khadar as he exited the restroom.

Excited, I ran out and immediately got hold of FreeWilly, Lord Sabnis, Kuttappan et al (on the Internet) and breathlessly told them,

“I’ve got the perfect idea! The perfect entre idea!”

“What? What?”, they all muttered (typed) with much curiosity.

“Pant…Pant..”

“Tried it. Doesn’t work”, Lord Sabnis dismissively turned his Gtalk button from green to red, “I had tried selling custom-made jeans in Borivali. Low-margin business. Quite useless.”

“I was panting, for God’s sake.. That’s not the b-idea. It is something that has not been done in a long time. Something which was quite common in ancient India, but not in recent days. Something absolutely novel, yet completely in synch with the current market trends.”

“Out with it, you bugger”, Kuttappan typed, “Is it rabbit-farming? Is it? Is it? Tell me it is.”

“No. I call it Stalk-broking.”

“Typo – you meant Stockbroking..”, FreeWilly banged away on his keyboard, “And why in the blue hell do you think that’s new?”

“It wasn’t a typo. Stalk-broking. Stalk. As in Stoke City, the football club.”

“Dude, ‘stalk’ and ‘stoke’ are pronounced differently.”

“Dude, I’m a Mallu.”

********

The days that followed saw a bout of frenzied activity from all parties involved in the above online conference, and we were all rather excited at the end of it. The basic fundamentals of the stalk-broking business had invigorated us all, and spread new hope in our monotonous existences.

Several online conferences later, we had chalked out the basic tenets of this business, unique in nature but all-encompassing in spirit. Here we go…

The Stalk-broker’s Manual

What is Stalk-Broking?

Stalk-broking is the unique and fruitful merger of stockbroking and stalking. It is the magnificent union of financial wizardry and romantic conquest. It is the profound merger of Giacomo Casanova and Rakesh Jhunjhunwala.

Right. In English now, please..

Stalk-broking is the noble art of stalking an individual through his/her online presence. The information obtained through the aforementioned stalking shall be used to broke alliances with interested clients. This shall lead to a happy and prosperous life for the Stalk and the Client. And also for the Stalker, who gets paid by the client.

Stalk?

The person being stalked by the stalker. Usually feminine.

Stalker?

Us. The Company. We do the stalking for the client. We plan to call ourselves Indian Stalk Brokers. ISB. Yes, it is a dig on the b-school.

Client?

Really? This is not the “Idiot’s Guide to English” you know..

Stalk-Market?

The virtual markets where stalks of all shapes and sizes can be found. We at ISB diligently scout such markets, and unearth facts about the stalk in question which can be used by the client to his/her advantage. Predominant stalk-markets are Facebook, Orkut and Twitter.

Now that the essential basics of Stalk-broking have been covered, we shall peruse some extremely relevant terms. The language of stalk-brokers.

Zensex – Social networking tools which are true indicators of all the stalks currently trading. The Zensex provides important hints on dealing with the ‘stalk’ in question.

– Zen – Some stalks which are not trading well should be met with a strict ‘Zen’ mentality. Wait and watch. These might bounce back. In the meantime, interaction with these ‘stalks’ should be limited, probably to the extent of a ‘Happy Birthday’. And only on the stalk’s birthday.

– Sex – These are the ‘stalks’ on the other end of the scale. Trading heavily, and ripe for some action. Analysts are crying out ‘Buy!’ All sorts of activities can be done with these stalks, starting with ‘poking’ them in Facebook.

Trust Friends – These are Facebook/Orkut users whom clients can add to their portfolio in order to gain access to prime stalks. They are almost always trusted blindly by the stalk in question and are often gay. When the stalk sees the client listed as a mutual friend of the trust friend, she/he spreads a little of the trust to the client as well.

Mergers & Acquisitions – The ultimate aim of a stalk-broking operation. A Merger would be the resultant of a successful stalk-broking exercise with a stalk of similar credit-rating as the client. While an acquisition would be the takeover of a stalk with a lower credit-rating by the client. Acquisitions are often desperate attempts by clients to gain access to stalks.

Credit-Rating – This of course, varies from A, B, C, D, DD etc. For female stalks, DD represents a higher credit-rating than D and so on. For male stalks, it is the exact opposite. DD is the worst. A client has to be really desperate to perform a DD-male acquisition. Has happened in the past though. DD-male readers, don’t worry.

Hostel Takeover – A planned, large-scale operation to gain access to prime stalks, residing in Private Hostels. Involves carefully done schedules, bribery of stalkwatchmen and scaling of Chinese walls. The result of this shall most often be mass screaming by the stalks, but there is always a very small chance of acceptance. Recommended for veteran traders who are mostly shameless.

Hostel Teqover – The above, when performed after 7 shots of Tequila.

Chinese Wall – The thin wall separating stalks operating in the public domain and those operating in the private. Public stalks are also termed Professional Stalks or ProStis. There is an implicit understanding that private stalkers such as ourselves would never recommend a public stalk for the client.

Bonds – A type of stalk to which the client shall be indebted to as long as the bonding continues. Bonds have a fixed tenure, after which the client must forfeit all rights to the bond. Bonds are often male, and female clients are well-advised not to have a long-term view in mind while establishing relations with a Bond. An extremely famous Bond goes by the name James and carries a gun. Be careful.

Initial Public Offering – A recent phenomenon which has become common after the advent of Facebook. An IPO happens when a particular stalk decides to dip his/her feet in the market and form a merger with an interested client. This is often signified by the stalk changing his/her Facebook status to ‘Single’ from ‘In a relationship’ or a blank state. An IPO results in heavy scrapping on the stalk’s wall by clients desperately seeking an alliance, and the number of scraps determine whether the IPO is oversubscribed or undersubscribed (Undersubscription leads to much shame for the stalk). We promise our clients hourly updates on available IPOs in the market.

Arbitrage – A devious practice carried out by certain stalk-brokers. This involves stalking person A for person B, and simultaneously stalking person B for person A. The stalk-broker takes advantage of the information asymmetry between the two parties involved and stalks them for each other, getting broking fees from both parties. We at ISB would never even contemplate doing this. If your stalk ever approaches us to stalk you, you shall be the first to know.

Beta – A measure of the variability of return of a stalk compared to that of the whole stalk-market. A high beta signifies an alpha girl or an alpha man. Beta is not to be pronounced like the Anil Kapoor movie.

Twitter – A stalk-market exclusively for female clients and homosexuals. Because there are hardly any girls in there. Female clients looking for brevity as a necessary quality in men would particularly be interested in this market. They all speak in 140 characters or less.

Long Position – A physical position taken up by the stalker representing a client, when the stalker has extremely high hopes on the stalk’s performance. Experienced stalkers such as ourselves are very careful not to let the long position affect our concentration while stalking the stalk.

Short Position – Stalkers do not have much hope on the stalk outperforming the market. Therefore, we remain ‘meh’ as we perform the necessary stalking to unite the stalk and the client.

Leveraged Buyout* – A special and extremely attractive service offered by ISB to its clients. We understand that the client might not be very attractive to the stalk in which the client is interested in, especially if the stalk’s credit-rating is higher. In such cases, we build up the client’s portfolio as well, complete with professionally morphed pictures and carefully recommended status updates for the client. Thus, leveraged with our additional awesomeness, the client stands a better chance with the stalk.

Case Study – We have had a client Jignesh, whose usual Facebook updates had included “Jignesh is about to sleep”, “Jignesh is thinking how good MNIK was” and “Jignesh is wanting badly to have coffee with Genelia” before he hired us.

We recommended suitable status updates to him (Such as “What does not kill me makes me stronger – Nietzsche”) and subsequently the several stalks in his radar had all started commenting on those updates. One even went back to “Jignesh is thinking how good MNIK was” and commented “Awwww, so cute”. Jignesh is now happy.

* In the event of a Leveraged Buyout, we dissociate ourselves from any consequence that shall arise after the merger with the stalk is carried out.

“Stalker brought you to me, baby” – An often misinterpreted ancient expression which a client makes upon delivery of the stalk, by the stalker. This expression originated from the following anecdote.

The ancient Indian stalk-broker, Tenali Rama, had successfully delivered an 18-year old stalk to his client, the king Krishnadevaraya, upon which the king told the stalk, “Stalker brought you to me, baby”.

A visiting minister from Iran, confusing the stalk to be the middle-aged king’s daughter and ‘stalker’ to be ‘storks’, spread the story in his country that storks deliver babies to couples in India. Such ignorance.

Stalkastic Process – After years of study by experts, it has been determined that Indian stalk-markets are indeterministic and unpredictable. Therefore, our stalking operations represent a stalkastic process.

For instance, let us consider a medium such as Orkut. A stalker might work carefully, unearthing information about the stalk from his/her testimonials, scraps and photos and then send the same to client. The client, armed with the information, might still completely fail in his quest to conquer the stalk.

Say, we find out that the stalk is obsessed about men who can play the guitar. The client might casually post a video of himself strumming a classic guitar piece by Bach and yet fail to elicit a response from the stalk. At the same time, a casual “Hai. Wanna make frenz?” by a rival on the stalk’s wall might well work.

So to sum up, stalk-broking is a stalkastic process, quite unpredictable and just like mutual funds, is subject to substantial market risk.

But do hire us.