Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Allianz of Crooks

An email made my day...! Today I received an email from an international figure. Some one, if not for the strict and religious upbringing in which she was brought up, would have been as influential and popular as Winnie Mandela or Hilary Clinton. Someone whose better half controlled the destiny of a nation for decades. But as Lady Luck was not in the favor of this lady, her husband was murdered in a coup and she is orphaned. Alone and with her husband's huge treasure in her custody, she want to relocate and settle in my country doing any business. And she has chosen me for guarding her money of which I will get a small share... 

Ladies and Gentlemen, please lent your ears for the wails of this lonely lady... wife of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi:

Greetings in the name of Allah,
am the  wife of the late Libyan president Gadafi who was killed
by rebels on Thursday 20th  oct 2011, please my life is in big
danger and I would like to use you as my contact to move a huge
some of money and start living a free life in your country. for
I have been on veils as a Muslim since he married me, which is
our religious rights, nobody has seen my face or known me except
my children and himself and I thank Allah for this.
I cannot be identified by anybody in the world now that things
has gone bad. Am taking refuge in Algeria. I and my children
can't go back to Libya for now.We are afraid that our life could
be in danger in Libya.The death of my husband was a broad day
murder by the Libya rebel.he was captured and was killed not by
stray bullet as the would was made to believe.
I want to relocate to your country,to start up a new life. I
have some money in my possession which i will like to invest in
any profitable business in your country.I want you to guard me
through the business i will invest.I will reward with 20 percent
of the total money.
Please,I will give you more information as soon as I hear
from.kindly send your reply to my private id:
Waiting to hear from you.
Mrs. Safia Gadafi
My only problem with this wonderfully drafted letter is the spelling mistake in the name of this widow. The height of internet scam... 

But now a days these things never bother me. In such cases my stand is that, if someone is fooled by these schemes, they deserves it. What bothers me is perfectly legitimate business houses doing robbery on broad daylight legally. And helpless public falling for sweet promises and parting their hard earned money. If you check the title of this post, you will know who is this party about whom I mentioned. 

When an insurance adviser, who was rather close to my family and who had helped us in past approached me to take a policy, one with a very reasonable premium and which is in no way a burden for me, I was only glad to oblige. The most attractive thing that he told was that after paying three year's premium we can withdraw the amount at any time as we chose and even if we never pay the premium, it will never lapse. That was how I took my first ULIP plan. After paying three year's premium, I never thought of it again as I was planning to withdraw the money in case of any urgent requirement. And the need struck now. 

That was how I found myself at their office last day morning. The person at reception was much helpful. He listed out the required forms and proofs for surrender of the policy. He even suggested waiting for a few more days to withdraw, as the market was not healthy right then. He filled the form for me and shown the places where I should put my sign. Then he lead me to another officer sitting in a cubicle. This guy checked my policy number, typed it in his system and after a few minutes of calculation, announced the total amount due to me if I surrendered the policy then. 

I was startled. It was almost 45 % less than my fund value. May be he made an error while telling me. I tried to correct him. But he confirmed the amount and told the difference is due to the surrender fee. A surrender fee amounting to 45% of the total amount due to me? My knees got weak. Blood rushed to my head. He was  telling me to wait for more time as with time the surrender fee will reduce incrementally and at the end of 20 years it will be zero. I told why I was not told about the surrender fee, if it was this huge. All I was told by everyone was that after three years I can withdraw the money at any time. There was a formula for surrender fee in their policy document, a bizarre one which did not made any sense to me or any of my much experienced friends to whom I showed it. I collected all the copies and documents on the desk, stuffed it in my bag all the while telling him how big a cheat his organization was. And while coming out of his cubicle, I gave my parting address.

"Look my friend, if you guys think that you and your firm can do this New Year party with my hard earned money, I am not game. You all can go to hell, I am not going to give you a paisa of it. See you after 20 years."    

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Two Novels That Started Great..

... but got fizzled later. I have a bad habit of reading first page and selecting  novels, especially of those writers, whom I have never tried before. It has yielded disastrous effects many times. And two novels that I read in recent times are good examples. These two novels are humorous and the starting was so good that I expected the whole novel to be as great as that one page. I got a bad feeling after some time, but continued reading thinking that things will get better. Alas, that was not the case. First of these books is a best seller, a book so famous that many wannabe writers felt after reading it that novel writing in Indian English is a cake walk. A misconception, the troubles of which we are still suffering through numerous supposedly humorous books endorsing the book shelves in major book stalls. Second one did not cause such a stir, but it was quite successful in a limited circle, if many comments of certain reviews in some sites are to be believed.  

Anurag Mathur's novel The Inscrutable Americans follows the life of an Indian student in USA. The book was a best seller when it was published in 90's. That was a time when American dream was catching up big time with middle class Indians. A village boy Gopal, son of a business tycoon selling Hair oil, comes to US for studying Chemistry. The novel starts with a letter send by him that recounts his experiences in the plane. The author has captured the innocence of the small time boy in that segment wonderfully. Randy is his friend in the college who tries to introduce him to the American way of living. The problem that I find with this novel, which otherwise is readable and witty in many parts, is the over emphasis laid on ... hm, shall I say... getting laid..? The whole concept of cultural difference between US and India as per this novel can be simplified in these two words, which I feel makes it too shallow. Another problem is that Gopal infatuation to score an American girl and the ways he employs for that takes up a huge chunk of the novel and after a while I really felt bored. And after reading the whole book, only parts that lingers in the mind is his hilarious adventures in supermarket and his meeting with the other pretentious Indian guy. 

The second novel is No Onions Nor Garlic by Srividya Natarajan. Her first novel starts wonderfully with a drama enactment of  A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Tam Bram (Tamil Brahmin, for the ignorant) Professor Ram. Four young men checks out the list of characters and audition for parts, just so that they can try their lick with the fairies in the play. And then they comes to know that they are selected.. for the part of fairies. I read this introduction and couldn't control my laughter and decided No Onions Nor Garlic as my weekend read. But after this initial segment, it was downhill all the way. The novel is supposed to be a criticism of the ways of Tamil Brahmins and the way they never let people of other castes and religion get the upper hand. The battle ground is a college where Professor Ram and his cronies doesn't want any one outside their caste to come up- students or teachers, and they are ready to stoop to any level to stop it. The novel tries to analyze caste politics in work place.

The problem is humor. It is crass... No, I don't have any problem with humor involving bodily functions. Problem starts when it gets repetitive. Whenever a particular negative character enters a scene at least one mention is made about his generous behind. Author squeezes out every possibility to evoke humor out of it till the reader gets a terrible nausea. The characters are black and white and too shallow. The writing is funny in many places but overdoing it causes fatigue. The story is bizarre and tries to spoof old Tamil movies when it reaches half way with many plot twists. Which also makes it boring after a while as it does not evoke any laughter. And the main antagonist Professor Ram, is demonized and humiliated in such a bad way that by the end I felt genuinely sorry for the chap. I really felt that the author had some personal enmity with this character.              

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Fast Paced Philosophical Thriller

There are novels that appeal to the senses, fast paced thrillers filled with unexpected plot twists that takes place around the globe. Then there are novels that philosophically ponders the question of human existence. Some novelists try to combine these genres and we get fabulous novels like Fight Club. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G K Chesterton is another fine example. This novel is as exciting and fast paced as any mystery thriller and at the same time makes the reader think about the paradoxes it poses. The best thing about the novel is that there are no detailed descriptions of any philosophical thoughts as in some other books of the same category like Zen And The Art Of Motor Cycle Maintenance. There is not a single dull moment throughout. 

The novel is set in early 20th century London and starts when a poet, Gabriel Syme comes to a suburban park where he meets anarchist poet Gregory, who gets disturbed by Gabriel's opposing view that life and poetry should be according to clearly set laws. When Syme accuses that Gregory is not serious as an anarchist, he is taken to a meeting place of anarchists. Gregory is all set to get elected and appointed to the Central Anarchist Council of Europe. There Syme surprises Gregory by revealing that he is appointed by Scotland Yard and using the resultant confusion of Gregory, gets himself elected into the Council. Each member of the Council is uses the name of a day as a secret code name and Syme is Thursday. In his first meeting he meets other council members, each seemingly normal men, but to careful eyes a bizarre enigma. Sunday, a huge and giant man is the leader of the Council. As Syme tries to prevent any more bombings and destroy the council, he finds out he is not the only one in the Council who is concealing the real identity. He is pulled into several surreal, absurdly humorous and breathtaking situations. 

The novel is heavy with allegory and symbolism. The code naming of Council members into seven days of the week refers to the Christian belief of creation. It carries a view that there cannot be pure good or evil and a close and in depth inspection will reveal the goodness in any evil. The novel is difficult to be classified into a mystery, satire, fantasy or allegory. It is a unique mixture. The book is in public domain and if you like to download the ebook you can do it here

Monday, December 5, 2011

Once upon a time: Beyond the iron curtain

Indian readers will be familiar with french journalist Dominique Lapierre from the epic book that he co authored with Collins, Freedom at Midnight, which is a retelling of the events that culminated in Indian Independence. Once Upon A Time In Soviet Union is his book about a journey that he undertook decades through then Soviet Union to get a first hand experience of the life of commoners behind the iron curtain as Soviet Russia was known then. 

Year was 1956 and Lapierre told the ace photographer of the newspaper where he works, Jean Pierre Pedrazzini about a plan to travel in Communist China, a road trip in a motor car without any official interference. Later they changed the location from China to Khrushchev's USSR. Then a number of coincidences made the plan working and soon they found themselves accompanied by their wives in a car crossing Soviet border. Slava was a Russian journalist allotted to accompany them along with his wife. And thus started a life changing journey. Equipped with perfumes and miniature Eiffel Towers, the French couples were a hit in Russia, with people thronging around wherever they went. One main reason is the car, as many Russians had never seen a car with more than one color in their entire life time. They spends time with many common Russian men and women, doctors, laborers, peasants and waiters to know what kind of life they are undergoing. And to be fair, it gives a neutral account of the state of things there. 

The pathetic state of country's roads and infrastructure and the non availability of good fuel mars the pleasantness of the journey many times. The interactions with the Russian couple reveals the sad state of a propaganda driven ruling that existed a the times. Excellent photographs by  Pedrazzini contributes to the reading pleasure. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Inside out and outside in: Two travelogues

I happened to read two travelogues recently. Two books similar in certain aspects but different, even diametrically opposite in some other ways. First one is written by a US citizen about the experiences he faced in India when he lived here for some months. Second one is an account of travels around the globe by a US settled NRI. Both are humorous and immensely readable. But the way in which these two men finds other cultures, the way they describes them, makes the sharp contrast.

Mark Mattison worked as a teacher in India for a few months along with his wife, who is a diplomat and wrote the book Surrounded by Indians, using his experiences of his stay in and around Delhi. He is wondered by the exotic nature of Indian culture- temple of rats, pachyderms roaming around the middle of the city, sacred cows, honest cobbler, Royal Enfield Bullets.. At the same time he is appalled by the chaotic nature of it- rough traffic of Delhi, men dancing noisily on weddings, troubles with red tape  and unclean conditions of hotels and streets. 

The other book that I read was by M P Prabhakaran on his travels around the world. The reason I picked this book was its title: "What Makes Islamic Turkey Different From Islamist Saudi Arabia - The World As An Indian Sees It". I felt it could be a complementary reading with V S Naipaul's book Among the Believers. But it was just a small part of the book, when author visited both countries and wrote an article deliberating the difference Islamist rule of Saudi has with Islamic state of Turkey. Author is particularly impressed by the degree of freedom enjoyed by women there. But I have to admit that I was not disappointed by the book. It was funny and a real page turner. The author conducts himself with much humility and tolerance to unknown cultures as a student eager to absorb them. Also though he is settled in USA, he acts as an ambassador of India, projecting the image of India as a multi-cultured nation every where he goes. 

As I had mentioned earlier, these two books can make a good study of contrast. One is a view of India from outside world and other one the view of outside world through Indian eyes. Mark Mattison's work is insightful and entertaining, but the judgmental nature of it cannot be ignored. He sees every thing by the eyes of an American and compares every thing in terms of US. One example is men dancing in a Baaraat. He feels they are desperate men, who never have an option to get a girl friend. At the same time, Prabhakaran shows a way of seeing things without passing a judgement. He watches unknown with a wonder akin to a kid. And that makes this book interesting.