Monday, December 29, 2008

The year that wasn't

This has been a dull year for me. Not a great way to start a post but I do find myself questioning “Did I simply sidestep and let the driver of the bus (rather train) pass by without noticing me?”. I didn’t even yell back at the driver; just sat there chewing paan.

That this has been the most uneventful year of my life is an uneasy fact which can’t be denied. I look for answers. Mathematics provides some of them, rest I explain with the help of cricket.

In general (not always), we characterize situations in personal life to be significant when they happen for the first time or have an high intensity of experience. So first day at the college is a day we all remember but at the same time no parent would not cherish the birth of the second child.

Life is such that the probability of anything happening for the first time reduces with age. When exactly do you expect the first shower of monsoon to drench you: June or September? The first word is uttered in months, first step taken in a year, first crush happens before you’ve seen a decade and so on and, as the usage goes, so forth. I don’t expect to have my first pimple or the first job on the wrong side of twenties. Yes, there are things like the first white hair which will take its own sweet time, but that’s what the point is: number of such events reduces with the age. At the cost of sounding sissy, I must admit that the only first thing I see happening to me in near future isss …welllll..."samajh me nahi aata kaise kahun"…MARRIAGE (which, for information's sake, and for the delight of lovely ladies reading this blog, I must mention, is not yet fixed).

What happens, sir, to the intensity, you might ask. It reduces logarithmically. Your tenth year is 10% of your entire lifetime you have lived till then while your 30th is 3.33%. dY/dX=1/X implies Y=log(X). So a bonus or a promotion now doesn’t thrill me as much as it used to about three years ago. I am pretty calm now whenever my Vinnie nudges a fellow passenger. She’s got bruises all over her anyway. Of course there are certain things like wine and wisdom that get better with age, but that’s an ongoing process and not accountable. Saying that I grew wiser this year is like taking comfort in “You are unique”. Nothing different from others here and hence the intensity is lost.

The above two observations do provide a logical justification for the current state of affairs; some introspection is still in order. I wasn’t a lazy bum for the entire year and did lead a cheerfully optimistic and active life; didn’t stop trying either. To say that this was a year of consolidation and strengthening wouldn’t be miles away from the truth. Talking cricket here, I must say that the batsman didn’t score a duck or a century, but did manage a whole lot of runs and improved his technique. So if the “events” are scoring 0 or a 100, the statistics wouldn’t show any ticks in those columns but the averages and strike rates are a pleasing spectacle.

Let’s take some of my team’s batsmen one by one in this 2008 innings. Mr. Health was the man in form and scored a flourishing 88; he had never looked in such fine touch. Regular practice and disciplined approach, he claims, is the key to his success. There was a promising debut by Mr. Blog with his 45. Some of his shots showed solid technique and promise of a stable future; we’ll have to wait and watch how far he goes.

After scoring back to back centuries in last two innings, Mr. Finance returned with a measly 14. The bodyline bouncers from Lehman Brothers got him retired hurt and specialist say that it might take more than a year for him to recover.

Mr. Relationships worked pretty hard to get back in form and scored a gritty 40. There were some poor shot selections, but overall you got to admire the skill, courage and patience he was showing on the bouncy tracks which he is not very accustomed to bat on. Unfortunately he feels that he was a victim of a bad run-out decision by the umpire; in the hindsight he shouldn’t have attempted the risky single. Ususally , the batsman gets the benefit of doubt, but such has seldom been the case with Mr. Relationships.

However, Mr. TripToGoa was the unluckiest of them all; he didn’t even get the strike due to bad light. However he is destined to play up the order (read January) in the next innings (read 2009).Mr. Job did well with a handy 76. He makes batting look so easy and comfortable. Not the one to shy away from playing the risky reverse sweeps, he has been a soothing delight to watch. Mr. Rubbishknowledge steadily accumulated 69.

Similar contributions have ensured that the innings total is around 424 (even though there isn’t a single century) which is not bad by any standard when you look at the pitch. The batsmen have learnt their lessons and are improving further. I take solace in the fact that the team never looked getting out below 200 and steady progress was the theme of the day. Gaining the advantage of this innings, they can play an attacking game further; I anticipate firecrackers in 2009. Someone told me long ago, there’s calm before the storm.

PS: My friend Pravu has suggested an engaging topic after reading this post. Why don't you guys submit the runs scored by your batsmen in 2008: Mr. Health, Job, Relationships and you may add further. Check out the comments to get an idea :).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dilli Ka Thug : Part 2

Here goes the analysis of the first incidence in the Tricks-of-Trades series.

I turned. It was him.

When I look back, I think he had me even before I left my cab. Trying to talk to me in Marathi sealed the deal because you don’t hear that language a lot in Gurgaon while walking on its streets. In my office there was just one Maharashtrian, most of the outsiders were Bengali, Tamil & Telugu. What I failed to see was that he was targeting a “niche” market. He just needs one catch in maybe two-three nights since that catch can be milked handsomely. No point asking 5-10 rupees to fifty people.
It should be easy to picture Casanova paying all his attention to a single lady in the ballroom; the pretty damsel is flattered imagining herself to be the object of his attention. Casanova would much rather take her to bed with him that night than trying to get a peck on his cheeks from half the women in the room.
I suited the thug’s target profile very well. He wouldn’t waste his time on middle-aged men. Approaching women at night isn’t a very good idea. He would try his hand on younger folks like me. A lot of office cabs used to stop there. He would approach outsiders (I clearly didn’t look like a Jat or a Sardaar) and then try his luck with the language .The subject who is unaware of the well-thought sampling process is prone to fall for it if he speaks the same language. 20-25 me ek to fit ho hee jaayega.

We must consider both the dimensions: Space and Time here. He cannot operate at the same place regularly. He has to have breaks and shifts. That day when I saw him again, he had to leave the place immediately when I demanded my money and threatened to call the police. Of course he feigned ignorance and I didn’t have a case strong enough to be proved or to be proud of. There was an old Indian playing similar trick with me in Manhattan when a colleague interrupted in between and repeated the thug's story. That colleague was a victim of the “Old Dr. Patel from California” whose luggage was lost by the airlines and money stolen. Dr. Patel immediately retreated.
Also, not all locations suit his operations. The place should be public, inside or very near to a market in the neighborhoods where young migrants stay.

Risks and Returns:
There is no doubt that for most of the thugs, this activity is just one of the side businesses. Some of them could be in fact be day-workers. There is a lot of competition too. As the comments to part1 suggest, many of them try similar stories. The entry-barrier, as they say in economics, isn’t too high. What this means is that they had to negotiate and divide the areas amongst themselves and maybe share the proceeds too in some cases. Still without doubt, the supply market for them is huge and growing.
Another outflow of income might be going to the Police in his operating zone. A Thulla knows one when he sees one. So the thug has to hedge his risks by bribing. Anyway, it is hard to prove the charge even if you catch him. Another major factor which leads to reduction in his risk is shame/embarrassment of the victim. Even the colleague in Manhattan just threatened Dr. Patel with a call to police; all three of us knew he won’t be doing that.
This phenomenon is somewhat parallel to what happens when a girl is teased by a bunch of sadak-chaaps. She doesn’t raise an alarm and might even thinks that it is somehow her fault; maybe the lipstick is too dark or the jeans too tight. She is ashamed to draw further attention. {Come to think of it, I have been saved of many vices simply due to inabilities. I can’t whistle loudly enough to make a girl turn. Not really sure whether a wink would have the desired effect when it comes from the eyes behind the spects. I didn’t take to smoking because when friends tried to teach me, I would consistently wet the cigarette; this irritated them to no end which resulted in a lot of cussing. I, being a self-respecting man at that age, gave up. } Let’s not digress any further.

Preventive/Corrective actions:
Each man being has his moments when given the circumstances he can be taken advantage of. Not very different is the case for a woman too. So what do we do apart from being alert and asking more questions?
Such thugs take advantage of the kindness in people. So do we stop being compassionate and close the door to the ones who really might be in need. There is a well known term in economics for such situations: “Asymmetric Information”. The solution here is to help people through trustworthy and efficient channels. Also you must realize that you are not God and don’t have the capability of lifting the whole world out of its misery.
Let me say a few good things about myself since it’s my blog. I sponsor a child’s education here. I told them not to tell me about my student, since then I would be doing this only for say a girl named Seeta rather than a girl named XYZ. This is being slightly mean and selfish on my part, but as Prashant Dhanke once said: Everyone is self-centered; it’s the radius that matters :). I redeem all my credit-card points to CRY. Now I can say “NO” with a little less guilt.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dilli Ka Thug : Part 1

This is the first anecdote in the series “Tricks of trades” introduced in an earlier post. Part 1 describes the incident while Part 2 would be analyzing it.

On a cold winter night in Gurgaon around five years ago, my office cab stopped near the apartment I stayed in with friends. The driver passed me the register to put an entry for the trip. All this while, my eyes were fixated on a poor family sitting below the street lamp : two men, two women and five children out of which two were in their mothers’ laps; the children were crying and didn’t have any winter clothes to cover their body with. The family didn’t look like beggars though; they appeared to be villagers. I signed the register and got down the cab; the wind was quite chilly that December and I felt guilty wrapped in my oversized leather jacket which, friends now tell me, used to make me look like a goat in sheep’s wool.

As I walked towards the apartment, the elder amongst the two men (must have been around 35) asked me in broken Hindi whether I understand Marathi to which I replied in affirmative. He thanked Devi for that and then told me in Marathi that they were from a village in Nasik and that they were visiting a Devi’s temple when someone fooled them in train and took all their suitcases & money. A young one in his mother’s lap started yelling harder to which the man responded by shouting at his wife to keep the baby quite. I asked him whether they’ve had any food and learnt that the kind-hearted shopkeeper on the other side of the road gave them a packet of bread which, I suspected, must have been stale. Police just took their report, but didn’t help any further.

By this time I was feeling really sad for them and wondered with anger about the wicked ways of the world. These simpletons had come to visit a temple (the only form of tourism known to most of the Indian villagers) and someone was wily enough to put these men with women and little children in such a sorry state. On further enquiry, he told me that there’s a train tomorrow morning and he would forever be indebted to me if I could lend him 500 Rupees for the tickets. He had a lump in his throat as he said this, his eyes were watery and hands joined together. I put a hand on his shoulder to give him some comfort and nodded in agreement.

We both then walked towards the ATM. I was feeling quite proud of myself and magnanimous by now. I thought that I have lost count of how many thousands are there in my bank account, and what a great deal of difference just one of them would make to this bloke’s life. What good a man’s life is if it couldn’t help the ones in need: my conscience gladly told my mind to which a compassionate heart agreed heartily. I gave him 1000 Rupees to cover the tickets and buy some warm clothes and food for them. The man said that he doesn’t regret missing on the visit to temple as he met his God in me. I dismissed this foolish flattery with great disdain.

While on our way back from ATM to the place where his family was waiting, he noted down my address to which he would send the Money Order after reaching his village even before he drinks a drop of water. He was glad to meet a Marathi-manoos is such distress. I sort of scolded him for thinking that only a Marathi man would help him; I would have helped him even if he wasn’t Marathi (I really was getting too filmy by now). He asked the children to touch my feet when we reached there but I jumped back and then bid adieu to the family wishing them luck and instructing to not to trust anyone so easily now in the train.

"Abe badaa late ho gaya ! Kahaan fuss gaya tha saale. Aadhe ghante se wait kar rahen hain. Chal dinner karte hain fatafat. " one of my friends greeted me as I eneterd the flat.

"Kuch nahi yaar! Wo gaadi waala pahle Sector 7 le gayaa tha ; ladki thi saath me to uska last drop nahi ho sakta tha" I said in a resigned voice.

Some lewd comments followed about how that girl must have molested me throughout the trip; they blamed the winter for her high libido.

We sat down to have the dinner. Two of my friends started the routine bickering about the food which I interrupted with a lecture on how so many people die of hunger and that we should be grateful for having this food and a comfortable life.

"Mujhe lagta hain ek nahi 2-2 ladkiyan thi iske saath" was a very well received response.

Weeks past by and no Money order came. I was hurt. When I decided to give that guy the money, I didn’t have any intentions of getting it back. “He shouldn’t have promised to return the money while we were walking back from the ATM. I had never asked for it. Anyways, good that I helped the families reach home. Neki kar, dariya me daal” were my thoughts. I didn’t tell about the episode to anyone.

About six months later on a humid evening when I was taking a walk around my apartment, I heard a voice a few feet away: “Aapko Marathi samajhti hain kya saab?”