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June 27, 2007

The Indian Scam

Recently, I received yet another variant on the Nigerian Scam e-mail. And it set me thinking: what if there were similar "entrepreneurs" in India. What would their pitch be like?

Ask, and ye shall ... Read on:

DEAR FRIEND,

PLEASE TO REPLY TO MY PRIVATE E-MAIl f_remit_dept@readiffmail.com

I AM BEING MR.FIROZE JHUNJHUNWALA, BILL AND EXCHANGE MANAGER AT THE FOREIGN REMITTANCE DEPARTMENT OF UNION BANK OF LOKHANDWALA, JHUMRITELAIA BRANCH WITH DUE RESPECT AND REGARDS, I AM PLEASED TO CONTACT YOU ON A BUSINESS TRANSACTION THAT WILL BE VERY BENEFICIAL TO BOTH OF US AT THE END OF THE TRANSACTION. DURING MY INVESTIGATION AND AUDITING IN MY DEPARTMENT, I AM COMING ACROSS A VERY HUGE SUM OF MONEY BELONGING TO A DECEASED PERSON, A FOREIGNER WHO DIED IN A TRAGIC HUNTING ACCIDENT. SADLY TIGERS DO NOT LIKE BEING FORCE FED CASHEWS.

THE FUND HAS BEEN STAYING IN HIS ACCOUNT WITH THE BANK WITHOUT ANY CLAIM OF THE FUND IN OUR CUSTODY EITHER FROM HIS FAMILY OR RELATIONS BEFORE OUR DISCOVERY TO THIS DEVELOPMENT. ALTHOUGH PERSONALLY, I KEPT THIS INFORMATION SECRET DESPITE THE BEST EFFORTS OF THAT BOZO BOSE IN ACCOUNTING, THE AMOUNT INVOLVED IS RS. 2 LAKHS OR $5K. MEANWHILE THE WHOLE ARRANGEMENT AND DIRECTIVES NEEDED TO PUT CLAIM OVER THIS FUND AS THE NEXT OF KIN TO THE DECEASED, WILL BE SENT TO YOU UPON YOUR ACCEPTANCE.

IN FACT, I COULD HAVE DONE THIS DEAL ALONE BUT BECAUSE OF MY POSITION IN THIS COUNTRY AS A CIVIL SERVANT. AS WE ARE ALL KNOWING THAT CIVIL SERVANTS IN INDIA CANNOT BE CORRUPTED, WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO OPERATE A FOREIGN ACCOUNT, PARTICULARLY THOSE IN SWITZERLAND. THIS WOULD EVENTUALLY RAISE AN EYE BROW DURING THE TIME I WORK IN THIS BANK, ESPECIALLY FROM THAT IDIOT BOSE. THIS IS THE ACTUAL REASON WHY IT WILL REQUIRE A VINDALOO TYPE OF FELLOW LIKE YOURSELF WHO WILL FORWARD A CLAIM AND ALSO PRESENT A FOREIGN ACCOUNT WHERE HE/SHE WILL NEED THE MONEY TO BE TRANSFERRED AFTER DUE VERIFICATION AND CLARIFICATION.

THIS TRANSACTION IS BILKUL 100% RISK FREE.ON SMOOTH CONCLUSION OF THIS TRANSACTION, YOU WILL BE ENTITLED TO 35% OF THE TOTAL SUM AS GRATIFICATION, 65% WILL BE FOR ME PLEASE. YOU HAVE BEEN ADVISED TO KEEP TOP SECRET AS WE ARE STILL IN SERVICE TO THE GOOD RESIDENTS OF LOKHANDWALA. I AND HOPEFULLY BOSE INTEND TO RETIRE TO A BEACH ASHRAM IN GOA AFTER I CONCLUDE THIS DEAL WITH YOU.

I WILL BE MONITORING THE WHOLE SITUATION HERE IN THE BANK UNTIL YOU CONFIRM THE MONEY IN YOUR ACCOUNT AND ASK ME TO COME DOWN TO YOUR COUNTRY FOR SUBSEQUENT SHARING OF THE FUND AND FURTHER INVESTMENT (I HAVE A PERCENTAGE STAKE IN THE HOWRAH BRIDGE THAT COULD BE A GOOD OPPORTUNITY). ALL OTHER NECESSARY INFORMATION WILL BE SENT TO YOU WHEN I HEAR FROM YOU.

I SUGGEST YOU GET BACK TO ME AS SOON AS POSSIBLE STATING YOUR WISH IN THIS DEAL. AS THE GOOD POET SAID "LOHA GARAM HAI MAR DO HATHODA" - STRIKE WHILE THE IRON IS HOT.

REPLY TO MY PRIVATE E-MAIL f_remit_dept@readiffmail.com

BEST REGARD
MR.FIROZE JHUNJHUNWALA

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- June 27, 2007 10:13 PM // Fiction

June 24, 2007

Goin' South

by Manish Kothari


I’m a sucker for fortune cookies. Not that I wet my pants or anything – just pure, simple, anticipatory pleasure. And so when I’m done with my broccoli and cashew nut chicken, I crack the cookie open: “You will meet with unexpected happiness on a trip south.”

And somehow that weekend, I found myself on a train heading south to San Diego. All the while, thoughts keep invading. It’s not that I’m unhappy – I have friends, the occasional lover and a cat that I share with my neighbor. Flexibility and fun. I’d have to say I’m pretty happy. So what did the cookie mean?

The train was quite empty, most of the inhabitants being lovestruck couples making a vacation out of the trip. I mean, c’mon, who would take an eleven hour train ride when you could get there for seventy nine bucks on Southwest in an hour. I purposely chose a seat with someone sitting opposite me. He was thin, but looked out of shape with a pale anemic face and unkempt hair. I put my books – Kite Runner and Freakanomics, my water bottle, my apple and the fortune down on the table.

“Hi” I said, “Going to San Diego?”

“Yes” he said, and went back to reading his book, the second in the self-professed Dune prequel trilogy, in hardcover.

Actually he turned out to be a good conversationalist. Well, at least for a while. He was a scientist, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore Labs, where they make bombs and do nuclear stuff. We talked about string theory, global warming, Iraq, WMDs and modern space flight. “Why are you going to San Diego?” he asked. I showed him the fortune. “You mean, you’re going all the way to San Diego for this fortune? I can’t believe it. Are you unhappy? You don’t seem unhappy? Or irrational, for that matter.”

Outside the sun was setting, and the cabin was awash in a rosy glow. Couples were snuggling and kissing. A guy had taken out his guitar and was strumming chords as his girlfriend sang. It was all really beautiful.

I tried to explain. I really did. That it was the word “unexpected” that had hooked me. Unexpected happiness. Not big happiness, not life-changing happiness. Just unexpected. And that my life, however happy and rational, had become very deterministic, very predictable. I needed some positive random probability.

He appreciated the scientific metaphors, and stumbling, stuttering, offered to kiss me – an offer that was so definitely unexpected, but one I couldn’t see bringing any happiness.

It was quiet, dark and awkward after that. He read Dune, and I read the Kite Runner to the end. And he looked uncomfortable when I started crying.

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- June 24, 2007 11:05 AM // Fiction

June 17, 2007

Three Films: Fanaa, Guru and Nishabd

Whereas New Zealanders might be the world's most enthusiastic cinema-goers, writes the Economist, it is the Indians who made the most visits to the movies in 2005 - 1.6 billion. At 1.5 per person, that makes for a skimpy per-capita average, but hey, it must be the quantity that counts, not the quality, right? Maybe. As for the films themselves, I finally got a chance to catch up with three of Bollywood's more recent releases. Here goes.

Fanaa is pure old school masala served up a in spanking new thali. This is a typical Yash Raj production where characters spend hours exchanging Urdu couplets and extolling the glory of Pyaar (Love) with a capital P. In Yashland, parents are always madly in love with each other, every smile is intended on moving factory loads of Pepsodent, security guards are called Jolly Good Singh and house roofs are color coordinated to match the dupattas worn by their inhabitants. Plotwise, all you need to know is that Aamir Khan plays a Kashmiri terrorist who, while masquerading as a Delhi guide, falls for the innocent blind Kajol. Three hours of moping, sermonizing and mewling later, Kajol must make a terrible decision. I am not saying the film is without its bright points, chiefly the stunning cinematography and exceptionally high production values, but diabetics be warned for your condition is likely to worsen with the sugar shock.

I won't deny it - I had high hopes for Nishabd, a Ram Gopal Verma quickie where he tries to continue the rehabilitation of Amitabh Bachchan the actor. Sadly, Ramu's take on a robbing the cradle type tale whereby sixty year old photographer falls for eighteen year old girl is no Lolita, Venus or American Beauty. Though the acting overall is top notch, what could have been a provocative work is scuttled by the stylistic choices. Too often the camera swoops and soars and the music crescendoes to climaxes that aren't actually there in the scene itself. Both the music score and camerawork belong in a horror movie, not a mood piece like this. It's overkill for so slight a plot, reminiscent of playing ping pong with a cast iron saucepan. Though the creative team deserves hosannaas for sticking to their guns and producing a flab free film with a desolate ending that doesn't feel like a copout, I am still hoping Ram Gopal Verma can return to form with his next one.

The last effort of Mani Ratnam I saw, Yuva, fell below his usual standards. An attempt to follow the lives of three separate couples in Kolkata, Yuva was too bogged down by the weight of its ambition. Abhishek was a standout there though and, wisely, Mani Ratnam makes him the titular character in his latest, Guru. Abhishek does not disappoint - his performance is the best thing about Guru, one of the biggest hits in India this year. In my mind, it marks his coming of age as an actor. Guru relates the saga of Gurukant Desai from his days as a village school dropout to a textile tycoon. A thinly veiled re-telling of the story of Dhirubhai Ambani and his Reliance conglomerate, it's easy to understand why the struggles of Guru to grow his business despite crushing government bureaucracy really resonated with the Indian audience. Mithun Chakraborthy has a nice turn as a newspaper owner who gives Guru his first big break but turns against him. Their fallout and subsequent bizarre relationship forms the emotional core of Guru. Certain scenes involving peripheral characters seem out of place, but overall it's worth watching if only to see the son step out of his father's shadow for good.

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- June 17, 2007 8:53 PM // Bollywood , Film , Review

June 7, 2007

Desi Grocery Could Save Veronica Mars

Some of you might be familiar with Veronica Mars, the chick detective show that, after struggling for a couple of seasons, was finally dispatched to the great TV in the sky. However, dedicated fans, following the lead of another recently axed yet resurrected show, Jericho, have launched a campaign to bring their show back. In this, they've found a very unlikely ally indeed: an Indian grocery store based in Houston. Key here is the fact that a) TheIndianFoodStore has an online storefront and b) features British imports including candies. Yep, the idea is for fans to buy Mars bars from here and have them fedex'ed to the CW headquarters ASAP. The initial surge caught the store by surprise, but, to their credit, they adjusted quickly in true web 2.0 style. More info from their freshly launched "Bars From Mars" campaign:


I'll be honest, we've never watched the show before but WOW, we are impressed! Your enthusiasm and support for the show has awed us all! I have been in contact with some of you in the past day or two and I realized how powerful this has become! Apparently, CBS's Jericho had a similar campaign and it worked! I'm fired up to make this work too!

If you are curious, we are a small family business located in Houston, TX that just recently started our online operations. We have been importing from India and England for several years now and primarily distribute to retail stores and grocery stores around the country. We have yet to become profitable in this aspect of our operation, but this publicity will certainly help! More importantly, I am so happy that I am involved in this, especially since I have been able to communicate with so many fans directly. Once things settle down a little, I'll be sure to watch all of the shows in the past seasons!

As we attempt to inform you with updates on the Amazon website, we are calling all distributors we know around the country trying to buy Mars Bars. (We had to raise the prices $.20 just to reflect this, so we apologize for this!). I've created this blog to get fans to post their comments and give us suggestions on how we can improve this. We've only got until Monday to make this work since it will take some time for FedEx to arrive to their facility! (By the way, can anyone get a video of the FedEx driver pulling into the CW facility so we can show all the fans?)

And in a later update, they inform us they are now considering Snickers Almond Bars:

Someone in the comment section gave us a suggestion that Snickers Almond Bars are the same as Mars Bars and they prominently display a "Mars" logo. If the majority agrees, we can try to arrange 4-5 thousand bars of that and send it along with this big shipment. Of course, these are more readily available (and cheaper!) than the Mars Bars. So, if everyone can give us a show of support for this, we can look into it and get it (hopefully!) arranged. Once the Mars bars run out, we will lower the price, of course, to reflect the lower cost.

Fast turnaround indeed! I was never a big fan of the show myself but my best wishes to the enterprising fans, the producers and to the little desi store that could.

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- June 7, 2007 7:51 PM // Food , TV