I received a bucket-load of messages on Facebook in response to one of my recent blog posts, The Facebook Book Exchange Scam. Through today’s post, I want to share what happened after a girl named Liz from Kochi messaged me. Here’s what she had to say, “First of all, I appreciate your concern. It was really kind of you to share this with everyone rather than keeping it to yourself. And to answer your concern, yes, maybe someone may get left out without any book. For all I know, it could be me but instead of taking it in a negative sense, why can’t you try and look at it positively? Maybe some random stranger will be getting the most advantage out of this chain, but apart from your little loss, it is only books that they are receiving. Therefore even if someone is lucky enough to get the most of it, it doesn’t cause any harm. Instead it causes only good. Remember you’re spreading an infinite amount of knowledge. You are gifting a book that will probably brighten the life of a stranger. I’d say that it is probably one of the best ways to start the new year. And in your post, you say that it is better to gift a book to your friend instead but kindly tell me how many of us would have normally gift a book to a friend? You have decided not to participate in this chain, which is completely your decision and I respect that, but I think it’s okay if we sometimes choose a path which is not so ideal to make someone happy. If we start reacting to each and every flaw that you come across then there will be no real existence for any of us. We live in completely imperfect world filled with imperfect people. So I request you to please focus on the bright and positive aspect of this activity. And I’ll admit that in my Facebook post I should have written that you ‘may’ receive 36 books.”
After reading her message, I was kind of shell-shocked for a myriad of reasons. For instance, I couldn’t believe that someone would actually take the time and effort to compose such a long, heartfelt message to a random stranger like me. I was also quite unsure as to how to respond to her but I guess it was the cynic in me who finally replied, “Since you’re happy enough sending a book to a random stranger and spreading knowledge, would you send me a book for Christmas even if you knew that I wasn’t going to send one back?” I was fervently hoping that she would say ‘No’ but she actually said that she would be more than happy to do exactly that.
For those of you who know me personally (and for the few of you who know me through this blog), you might already know that I’m extremely cynical at times. According to Wikipedia, ‘A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in the human species or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialism, goals, and opinions that a cynic perceives as vain, unobtainable, or ultimately meaningless and therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. A common misapplication of this attitude involves its attribution to individuals who emote well-thought-out expressions of skepticism.‘ By such a definition, I really don’t know whether to call myself a cynic or a skeptic. All I know is that while optimists and pessimists might argue that a glass is half-full or half-empty, I’m the kind of person who thinks that it’s better to just chuck the glass altogether and drink straight from the bottle!
All the same, the manner in which I replied to Liz made me feel bad at first. It was only on the afternoon of December 30, 2015 that I started to feel downright horrible about it. That is when I received a package from Liz via post. It contained a copy of The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara. In it, she’d written a quote by Che, ‘If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.’ I was absolutely shattered on receiving Liz’s package. There are a lot of questions that I need to ask myself (for instance, where does all this cynicism stem from?) and I am pretty sure that finding the answers to them won’t be easy.
Have you noticed all those memes that say ‘Faith in humanity restored’? Liz, I think that’s what you’ve done to a certain extent. Thank you for that. I really don’t know what else to say at this point of time. I still strongly feel that the book exchange is not a great idea but at the same time, I’ve decided to change my outlook towards life. Maybe tone down the cynicism a little bit… I’ll try to, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride…
I first saw her on the opening day of school in seventh standard. Do you know that feeling when you feel like talking to someone the very first time you see them? That’s exactly what I felt as she walked into class that day. As always, she was late and you could see her go red as the teacher scowled at her. She meekly walked into class and took her seat somewhere behind me. During the English period, our teacher asked us to read the poem ‘Daffodils’ and try to make sense of it. As luck would have it, she didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘pensive’. She tapped my shoulder and asked me if I happened to know the meaning. Coincidentally I didn’t know the meaning either but I was never one to shy away from a challenge, nor the kind who admitted to not knowing something. She was looking at me expectantly and I simply had to give an answer. With an easy swagger that came out of knowing that nobody in class had a dictionary, I assured her that pensive meant solemn. I knew it was something close enough and that was all that mattered then, I guess.
WARNING: Contains Spoilers.
There are these movies that you watch only because one of your friends calls you up and says, ‘Let’s go watch that film. Heard it’s really bad. I wanna see how bad it can get. Trust me, we’ll have fun.’ Dilwale is definitely that kind of movie. And it doesn’t disappoint. Not one bit. What else can you possibly expect from a Rohit Shetty film? After all, this is the same guy who directed all three Golmaal films. And Singam. And Chennai Express. And Singam Returns. And from the way he’s going, it won’t be long before Singam Returns! Again!!
Dilwale is extremely predictable. There’s your usual dose of seemingly harmless gunshots, cringe inducing action sequences and shout-outs to old Bollywood films. Shah Rukh Khan is named *you guessed it right* Raj yet again. Because naam toh suna hoga! In case you were wondering, SRK has played a character named Raj in 8 films. And he’s played a character named Rahul 8 times. And towards the end of the film, you find out that he was adopted. But wait, didn’t they already do that in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham? Ah, who cares anyways?
I’m someone who loves puns. I love coming up with really lame ones. One of the reasons I love Eminem is because of his puns. There comes a point when you have to learn to say NO to all good things, even puns. (Read: Diminishing Marginal Utility) Dilwale comfortably manages to overshoot that point. By an entire light year. And yes, it is a unit of distance. For instance, ‘Raj bhaiyya, Veer was going fast. That doesn’t mean you have to become furious.’ In case you somehow manage to miss that reference to F&F, they subtly reinforce it through the fact that half the movie takes place in a garage. If you ever pay a visit to SRK’s garage in the movie, have no fear because gaadi par Raj raj karega.
Kriti Sanon plays a character called Ishita, fondly called Ishu. And somehow everyone seems to have an issue with Ishu. There are a few moments of startling clarity like when Johnny Lever’s character Mani (if I remember correctly) wonders out loud whether you present somebody with a gift or you gift a present?
If anyone was wondering where the wreckage of MH370 was, you’ll be astonished to learn that the crew of Dilwale managed to find it in Iceland and even included it in the Gerua song sequence. The song-writing reaches a whole different plane altogether at times like when ‘Tera jalwa dekha toh dil huaa Milkha’ in Manma Emotion Jaage. What did Milkha Singh ever do to you, huh? There’s also this sequence where SRK is upside down in his car and Kajol asks him if his duniya palat gayi… Strictly rhetorical question, of course. Right after that, Kajol breaks the fourth wall by looking straight into the camera and asks quite seriously, ‘Kaisi lagi meri acting. World class, no?’. Again, strictly rhetorical but nobody in the theater seemed to get that. Everybody took her too seriously and started screaming, ‘Nooooo!’
Watch Dilwale only if you appreciate bad puns. And for an opportunity to see Johnny Lever in action once more.
As is my wont during the exam season, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed when I noticed numerous posts which said: ‘There’s a book exchange chain going on. I need six people of any age to participate in it. All you have to do is send one book and you will receive 36 in return. Let me know if you’re interested and I will PM you the information.’
As someone who loves reading, the entire scheme piqued my interest. But at the same time, it seemed way too good to be true. So I did what any sane person in such a situation would do, I carried out a Google search. Always remember, when in doubt, Google!
After a little googling, I found out that schemes of this sort are called pyramid schemes. I’ll try to illustrate how a pyramid scheme works. Let’s assume that you convince 6 of your friends to participate in the book exchange. For this to work, each of them will have to refer 6 friends. So 6 friends*6 referrals make 36 people. It is these 36 people who send you books. So far, so good. But now if all six of your friends are to receive their 36 books, 216 people would have to be involved in the next level of the pyramid. The number of people involved in each level of the pyramid keeps increasing since we’re dealing with a geometric progression.
1… 6… 36… 216… 1296… 7776… 46,656… 279,936… 1,679,616… 10,077,696… 60,466,176… 362,797,056… 2,176,782,336… 13,060,694,016
Try going fourteen levels deep and you’ll have already surpassed the entire human population on earth. But usually such pyramid schemes fizzle out long before they hit such numbers. One reason is that at some point, your circle of friends is going to overlap and get saturated. The second reason being that your scheme will quite simply run out of people who are interested in participating. At this point you might be thinking, ‘What’s the big deal? Even if I get just one book in return for the book that I send out, I’ll be happy.’ Let us take the best case scenario where you receive 36 books since you’re lucky enough to be on one of the first few levels of the pyramid. However at the end of the day, the people you refer could be the ones losing out. Stop and think for a moment. In reality, aren’t you cheating the people below you on the pyramid? The people who might end up receiving absolutely nothing at all? I don’t see how you people can raise the argument that this is harmless fun when you’re basically misleading people into participating in this chain by saying ‘buy one book, get 36 books in return.’
Let’s take the math a little further and assume that our chain propagates quite successfully and our pyramid becomes 8 layers deep, which is reasonable considering how the post has spread on Facebook, and let us assume that all the people in the first 6 layers of the pyramid receive their books while those in the seventh and eighth layers do not receive any. This assumption is valid since people who receive books receive them from those two layers below them on the pyramid.
Number of people in the first 6 levels=1+6+36+216+1296+7776=9295
Number of people in levels 7 and 8=326,592
Percentage of people in the first 8 levels who get books=2.86%
Percentage of people in the first 8 levels who do not get any books=97.14%
Do you still feel comfortable sharing a post that basically cheats 97.14% of the people participating in it? Do you still think that this is harmless fun? And don’t forget that we assumed that everyone in the first 6 layers gets at least one book. The actual figures are definitely going to be worse. The percentage of people left empty-handed remains pretty much the same even if you assume that the chain is even more succesful and extends to more levels. Don’t believe me? Do the math!
The fact that books are involved seems to lower everybody’s guard. Would you feel as inclined to participate in an exchange program like this if someone said, ‘Send Rs. 500 today to the bank account mentioned and you’ll soon get Rs. 18000 via bank transfer very soon.’ Now it sounds like a proper scam, doesn’t it? So if you’re into reading and all you want to do is spread the joy of reading, why don’t you just surprise one of your friends with a book? At least you can be sure that they are pretty likely to return the favour somewhere down the line.
A similar model, that takes advantage of a geometric progression, called Ghost to Ghost hookup is used in the Three Investigators series of novels. Whenever the Three Investigators (Jupiter, Peter and Bob) need any sort of information, each of them calls up five friends and ask for what they need. If their friends can’t pitch in with info, they’re each asked to call up five of their friends and pass on the message. Pretty soon, all the kids in Rocky Beach are on the lookout and it’s inevitable that the Three Investigators will get their hands on the info that they need sooner or later.
At the end of the day, if anything seems too good to be true, it probably is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a pyramid scheme that promises you insane returns for a small investment or a Nigerian princess stuck in the UK who needs money to get back home, you should watch out for the Internet is dark and full of terrors. And if anybody actually does get 36 books through this chain, I’ll eat my hat. Not that I even have one…
You might want to share this post with friends and family who might fall victim to this scam. And you might also be interested in knowing that pyramid schemes and related Ponzi schemes are illegal in India as well as numerous other countries. (Read this)
In case you’re planning on buying books online, click here to view the best deals offered by Amazon.
Having done my schooling in Trivandrum, I grew up speaking Manglish, a mixture of Malayalam and English. At school, my classmates and I invariably ended up giving all our English teachers a really hard time. I remember how exasperated my high school English teacher, Mrs. Sheila Thomas, would get if she came across a sentence like ‘The car is black in colour‘ while correcting our answer papers. I can still picture her screaming, “Isn’t it obvious that black is a colour, then why do you keep writing like this?”
Our physics teacher in eleventh grade, Narayanankutty sir, used to announce in class, “The last date for submitting your physics records is tomorrow.” And somebody in class would hopefully ask, “Tomorrow itself, sir?” At this point, Nakku sir (as he was fondly called) would chuckle to himself and say, “When I say tomorrow, I mean tomorrow. I don’t need to add the itself.” He had countless other Nakkuisms such as “You think entrance exams are tough? Wait till you get to college, then you’ll understand that the exit is harder than the entrance.” Another was, “As your Physics teacher, I cannot teach you what to do in the lab. Rather, I can only teach you what NOT to do. The rest is up to you.” Damn. I miss his classes and his weirdness.
When it comes to writing in English, less is often more. To illustrate this, my father used to tell me a story when I was younger. A newspaper editor walks up to a fishmonger who has put up a sign that says ‘FRESH FISH SOLD HERE’ and says that the sign is extremely redundant. He goes on to explain, ‘Isn’t it obvious that you’re selling fish here? So you can remove the HERE. And since it’s obvious that you’re not going to give away the fish for free, you might as well remove the SOLD. Nobody would buy fish that’s rotten, so you can remove the FRESH as well. As for the FISH, you can take that down as well. It can be smelt from half a mile away.’ Wonderful story, ain’t it? It’s a perfect example of how we should not be obsessed with ‘wordly’ matters. Let’s be a little stingy from now on.
When I joined CET a couple of years ago, I was surprised to hear most of my batch mates from outside the city complain about the rudeness of people in Trivandrum. Having grown up in the city myself, I never thought there was much truth in what they said. I used to think to myself that maybe it was because they were new in town and weren’t accustomed to the ways and manners of people here. I thought it was only a matter of time before they too would learn to love this quiet little city, that I call home.
However, over the past one year, I’ve come to agree with those batch mates of mine to a certain extent. It all started off when I went to Kozhikode to attend Tathva (NIT-C’s intercollegiate tech fest). I boarded a bus from the city’s main bus stand. I was suspicious at first because the conductor of the private bus that I boarded didn’t give me a ticket. He simply pocketed my money and moved on. Seeing that I was bewildered and an outsider to boot, a random passsenger on the bus reassured me saying that you didn’t get tickets on private buses there. Later, as the bus got more and more crowded, I was in for a pleasant shock. The conductor sidled up to me and said, ‘Lesham mumbilottu neengavo?’, which translates to ‘Could you please move forward a bit?’ I tried to dismiss his politness as a one-off incident, but I’ve come to conclude that bus conductors in Calicut tend to be insanely nice. I’ve had similar experiences in Thrissur too. Back home in Trivandrum, bus conductors just tend to holler at you, ‘Mumbilottu neengada!‘ (‘You! Move to the front!’) If you’re lucky enough to catch them in a good mood, you’d hear, ‘Neengikke! Neengikke! Mumbilottu neengu!‘ (‘Move! Move! Move to the front!’)
And no, bus conductors in Trivandrum aren’t just rude when it comes to crowd control on a bus. If you’re naive enough to not have the exact change for your ticket, you could face reactions ranging from, ‘Chilarayilaatheyaanu ivanokke busil kerunathu!‘ to a cold stare conveying utter disbelief, akin to how you might react if a complete stranger nudges you on a bus and asks if you’d be willing to donate your right kidney to them.
Auto drivers in Trivandrum are usually no better. They seem unwilling to go short distances, long distances, into the city, to the suburbs, to the outskirts and pretty much anywhere at all during the night or if it’s raining. If you’re lucky enough to convince an auto driver to go somewhere in the general vicinity of your destination, the fare is magically rounded off to the nearest multiple of ten. At least it saves you the bother of carrying around coins. When I went to Bombay to attend Mood Indigo last year, I was awed by how auto drivers there only charge you the exact fare as shown on the meter. No more, no less! (as Henry the penguin from Oswald would say)
What irks me the most in Trivandrum however is the way in which migrant construction workers from states like Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa are treated. Considering their numbers, it’s amazing how they’re almost invisible. They quietly go about their jobs, sincerely and diligently. As a result, the term ‘Bengali’ is used to refer to people who work their assess off, in CET parlance. Being unable to read the bus sign boards, which are mostly in Malayalam and because people at the bus simply refuse to help them out, these labourers unwittingly end up on the wrong bus quite often. And once they’re on the wrong bus, they’re at the mercy of the irate conductor, who more often than not, belittles and ridicules them to entertain the other passengers. They are repeatedly subjected to insults of this sort at shops and eateries too.
And this behaviour isn’t directed only at migrant labourers, all outsiders seem to be at the receiving end of our intolerance. And all this, in the capital city of a state that takes pride in being the most literate in India. The way things are going here, it won’t be long before we have our very own equivalent of the MNS or Shiv Sena. Considering that we’re a city dependent on outsiders, ranging from the migrant labourers who are building Technopark to the software engineers working at Technopark, the least we could do is to show everyone a little respect and be slightly less rude. What do you say?
I work as a teaching volunteer for an NGO called Make A Difference (MAD). Every weekend, around a hundred of our volunteers head to shelter homes across Trivandrum to teach English and Maths. Our objective is simple, yet daunting: to provide after-school support to the children in these shelter homes so that they can acquire the necessary certification to pursue higher education or career opportunities. In simpler terms, we want to ensure that our kids clear their tenth standard board exams with grades that enable them to fulfill their ambitions.
You might be wondering, ‘Why are tenth standard grades so crucial?’ Children in shelter homes are often forced to leave when they turn eighteen. They don’t always complete their schooling by then. Boys who leave shelter homes, more often than not, become drivers and watchmen whereas girls are often forced to take up jobs like tailoring or data entry. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? No, a steady salary of say, Rs. 10,000 a month seems okay at the age of eighteen. But what happens once you get married and have kids? It’ll be that same salary that’ll have to feed a family of four because regardless of whether you’re a fresher or have a lifetime of experience, your salary as a watchman is going to look more or less the same. The prerequisite for almost any steady job with salary increments now is a tenth standard pass certificate.
In the words of Renjith, one of our volunteers, ‘These kids have been through more traumatic situations than you and I could possibly even imagine. Considering what they’ve been through, it’s not surprising that education is probably the least of their worries. It’s more about getting on with their lives. It’s about survival.’ Coupled with a malnourished upbringing, it’s not altogether surprising that many of the children that we teach have learning disabilities to varying degrees.
The government schools that these children attend often don’t have the resources to provide them with the support and training needed to overcome these disabilities. I’ve also been told that the policy at government schools is to promote students up until tenth standard regardless of their actual progress at school. I can’t imagine that any sane government would actually implement such an absurd policy! I’ve also heard that it’s possible to score marks by answering the English paper in Malayalam! I guess that’s what it takes to muster an SSLC pass percentage of close to 90%. If this is the situation in Kerala, India’s most literate state, you can imagine how appalling things must be elsewhere!
As a result, the ninth standard kids that I teach didn’t even know the meaning of simple three letter words like ‘fat’ at the start of this academic year (before we started classes). Their school syllabus is pretty demanding; they are expected to study short stories like ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ by Alexander Baron. The gap that we’re trying to bridge, between where they stand and what is expected of them, is huge, and it’s nigh near impossible for us to set right years of apathy with regards to these kids’ education with just three hours of intervention every week.
Teaching them a short story is relatively easy while poems are tougher to digest. The toughest part for them however is answering the textual questions in English. Even though they might know the answers, getting them to put it across in English is very difficult, considering that most of them still have trouble reading. However, we’re making progress, slowly but surely. My kids have now learnt how to frame simple sentences. If you ask them a question in English now, they’ll be able to give you an answer in English, albeit sometimes missing an auxiliary verb or an article.
The most rewarding moments as a teacher aren’t always curriculum-related. When I started out this year, I noticed that there was a girl named Krishna in my class who was extremely reticent and lacked confidence. She was very hesitant about answering questions because she wasn’t as competent as her peers. But over the past few months, my co-teachers (Ajith, Ameya and Lekshmi) and I have managed to coax her into answering questions in class. Krishna now wears a smile on her face when I walk into class. She recently said that I looked like a junglee, because of my afro, much to the amusement of her classmates. Last week, she even asked if Ameya could help her out a bit more with spelling and reading. It’s moments like these, that keep us going back to class, week after week.
At times, the work that we do can get immensely frustrating. Sometimes the reality of how our weekend class actually pans out might be in stark contrast to what we plan. We might not see results that are proportional to the efforts that we put in but sometimes all it takes to make a difference is being able to tell my kids, ‘Mole, chettan adutha aazhchayum padipikkan varuum.’ And I can feel it every Sunday morning, when I’m greeted by eight smiling faces and their chorus of ‘Good morning, chetta!’
If you live in Kerala, chances are that you cringe every time you hear the Malayalam word ‘freaker’. In case you’re wondering, freaker is the common name given to a new subspecies of human beings (scientifically classified as Homo sapiens freakus malabaricus) found predominantly in urban settlements across Kerala. Although genetically similar to normal human beings, they have an irrational affinity towards gaudy clothes in fluorescent colours. They are known to take photographs in these clothes and upload them onto Facebook. It is also said that they attack unsuspecting Facebook users with messages like: ‘Heyyy broowiie, plz liek my pro pik!’ Etymologically, the Malayalam word ‘freaker’ is a corruption of the English ‘freaker’. In either language, the meaning is more or less the same. Freakerz are also commonly referred to as chullanz, mwonjanz and hip-hop boyz.
Now, whether you like it or not, chances are that you’ve come across some of these freakerz on Facebook atleast, if not in real life. If you’re in Trivandrum, just head to Kovalam or Kanakakunnu Palace on a Sunday evening and you’ll be able to see them first-hand.
Tamy, an engineering student from Calicut, had this to say about how freakerz originated, ‘I don’t even know how it all started. There’s the influence of Malayalam movies, in which the actors look ridiculous sometimes. Wonder who works on their make-up and costumes!’ Like most fads, it’s hard to pinpoint when or where the whole freaker culture exactly started. Freakerz however did gain mainstream attention through Malayalam movies like Honeybee, ABCD, Da Thadiya and Ustad Hotel. Sreenath Bhasi, through his movie roles, has come to be seen as the quintessential Malayali freaker: someone who speaks an amalgam of Malayalam and English, unnecessarily peppered with terms of endearment like bro, machaan and dude.
If taking selfies and posting them on Instagram is a symptom of narcissism, freakerz take it to the next level. At the same time, they’ve perfected the art of amassing Facebook likes and comments for their photos. There are a few who see it as an attempt at amateur modelling but most people seem to dismiss it as attention seeking behavior. Sarath, an engineering student from Kochi, is of the opinion that they do it to gain attention and to be different from what a normal Malayali would be like. There are a few similarities between freakerz in Kerala, and goths & emos in the West. They’re all manifestations of the same urge for personal expression but push the limits of what is acceptable in society. And of course, there’s the superficial similarity of excessive eye-liner use.
As a state, Kerala has always welcomed non-conformists and rebels. More people know about Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix here than probably any other state in India. Unfortunately, the interest isn’t strictly musical. Che Guevara is also very popular. Adopted as the poster boy (literally) of the SFI, his face adorns the walls of almost every college here. So it’s not altogether surprising that the freaker culture has taken root so quickly in Kerala. Being a conservative state, this is also probably one of the only ways by which young adults here can push the rigid limits imposed by society.
Anurag, an engineering student from Kannur, had this to say, ‘I find it repulsive but it’s not wrong. It’s just another way of life and you can’t question it. They have their freedom of expression while we have freedom of thought. They think it looks cool and we all choose to make fun of them. Kerala is a state where the actual progress into the so called ‘western culture’ is much slower than the teenagers here would like it to be. So they express these emotions in multiple ways, portraying themselves as better, cooler and hipper.’
There are also others like Anova, an architecture student, who are more open to freakerz, ‘I’ve come to realise they are, in many ways, much nicer than people like you and me. We all have phases in our lives where we do peculiar things, imitate people or styles. It’s something that we all do, to varying degrees.’
At the end of the day, freakerz are not doing anyone any harm so I think we should just let them be. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong in all of us wishing them a speedy mental recovery.
With inputs from Alaka, Keerthi, Ashok and Anju.