Saturday, April 14, 2012

Call it A Taj Mahal

When reading @thecomicproject 's post about why the TIME 100 Poll does not matter, I was reminded of one such over-hyped poll from 2006-07.

Remember that online poll to select the new 7 world wonders? I'm sure you too got enough SMS and email forwards to guilt trip you into sending in your vote for Taj Mahal, which was languishing in 20th place at the time.

Remember how the hype around it was built? Here's a sample article on CNN IBN -

The 4-step vote inducing process went like this:

Step 1: Bait with a anger-inducing headline/email subject

Step 2: Go OMG OMG OMG!!!!!

Step 3: Announce that Taj Mahal is only 20th. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT - ONLY 20th!!!!1111!!!!!

Step 4: Now that their patriotism has been questioned, watch people swarm in hordes and press vote buttons like their lives depended on it.

The key step in this process was Step 3. That's the step that made you angry and made you want to vote. I mean, how can the Taj Mahal be below some house in Australia or some statue in America. 20th place Goddammit! India should be 1st, not just in the top 7 and definitely not 20th!

Here's the full list of the 21 contenders that comes later in the article:

Read the list again. Now, do you see why all the hype-masters thought that Taj Mahal was in the 20th place?

Instead of trying to garner a few million votes, the easiest way to bring it back to 1st Place in the polls would have been to rename it "A Taj Mahal"

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Scrawny Man

Steve was blindfolded at the meeting point. The "Contact" put him in a car. An hour later, they both entered an elevator. Steve asked "I'm paying you 80000 bucks for this. Why am I being blindfolded?” The Contact did not reply.

The elevator stopped and a short walk later, the blindfold was removed. He realized he was at one corner of a parking lot. A huge asbestos sheet was leaning against the wall. They stepped behind it and Steve was soon face-down, peering into the small hole on the floor. There he was - the man he had come to see.

The naked man was lying curled up in a room below. It had no doors, no windows, just a toilet-like hole in one corner and an assortment of random stuff strewn everywhere. The place was a mess. The only light source was a small gap in one corner of the ceiling. A tree's branch was sticking in through that hole - a few leaves lay below on the floor.

The man looked like he was from a malnutrition documentary – thin feeble hands and hair all over the body.

“There are people who will try to "save" him. Many a man wants to play hero nowadays" said the Contact explaining the blindfolding.

“What’s his story? How did he get here?"

"See that small gap on the left end of that roof? He fell through it when he was 2 years old. His mom dropped him in and ran away. Something like that."

"He looks like a twenty year old. What has he been doing all these years?"

"Nothing. He's lived inside that room all his life. No human contact ever."

"How did he survive?"

"He eats the oranges from that tree that keep falling in. The human body - it learns, it adapts."

The Contact narrated the story so far. Scrawny Man had survived on oranges for a few years till this Contact “Joe” had spotted him. The place had stunk of feces then. Joe had removed a tile from the floor below when Scrawny Man was asleep and fitted in a hole-shaped toilet. He rolled down fruits and edible stuff through the tree gap all these years. It had taken the man a few months to realize that the hole was a toilet. Joe told Steve how he still eats oranges unpeeled, gets scared of mosquitoes, plays with cockroaches and eats tree leaves.

Steve looked at Scrawny Man's attire. A glove on one hand and a chain around his neck – someone must have slipped these down the gap. Joe said "Your 80 grand fetches you 3 hours. No touching, no talking. You can do whatever "experiment" you want from here. Send in anything you want from that hole - fruits, balls, etc etc."

Steve wondered if Scrawny Man knew a world existed outside this little box he was in. Does he know he earns this Joe character 80 grand just by being an exhibit? A dozen other thoughts entered his mind.

Just then a rat popped out of the toilet. It sniffed around and landed at the sleeping man's feet. Scrawny Man woke up with a start. With unbelievable swiftness, he picked up a twig lying 6 feet away and stabbed the rat in one swipe. He threw the pierced dead animal to one corner of the room and went back to sleep.

Steve began his experiments. He rolled in a few marbles, which were ignored. Then he sent down a paper and a pen. Scrawny Man tried to understand what they were for, before giving up. Next, he threw in an mp3 player that played some loud rock music. This startled the man as he tracked back quickly and curled up against the wall. He let out loud shrieks. The songs played for a few minutes before he finally fiddled with it and then thrashed it on the ground, breaking it in three pieces.

“What sort of a man are you? How can you sell this man’s freedom like this?” Steve bellowed at Joe.

“Don’t lecture me man. As long as people like you pay big money, we’ll continue. If there are no buyers, the seller stops too.”

Steve didn’t know what pissed him off more – the fact that this was happening right in the heart of the city or that he too felt guilty in this human exhibition.

Steve finished his experiments in 2 hours and was blindfolded to be led back. He reached into his pocket and checked-in to Foursquare.

On the way back, he remembered his “Forbidden Safari” in an island last year. He had paid 250000 for it. The safari was not your usual “tribal dance” and bonfire for honeymooning couples. This was for the ultra-rich and curious – the gang who wanted to do something different at any price. You are introduced to some tribals to interact with them, try out whatever you want with them and learn from how they react. It was an experimentation centre. The exhibits were referred to as “tourist virgins” – people who haven’t met other tourists before. The guy paying the 250000 was their first contact from the “civilized” world.

Steve had experimented with the two tribals by reaching out with his hand, talking, showing them stuff from his bag and giving them food. They responded differently to each item. The eight hours with them had given him enough fodder for the bestselling book he wrote later that year. The meeting had ended when one of them pointed at Steve's chain and asked for it. Steve smiled and said no, but the man became angry and thumped the ground with his feet. Steve panicked, handed over his chain and left quickly.

Steve was in deep thought when the blindfold opened. “Don’t play hero and try to save these people. Let them lead their lives. Just write your books and make money.” Joe told him as they bade goodbye.

Steve quickly returned behind the asbestos sheet, this time without Joe (thanks to Foursquare and GPS). He watched Scrawny Man intently, this time with only one purpose. Just as he saw what he was looking for, one of the tiles on the floor moved. Scrawny Man walked up to it and helped pull in a man. They shook hands and exchanged some money and chatted away. It was Joe. Joe was handing over Steve’s money to Scrawny Man.

Steve quickly rushed two floors below and caught Joe and Scrawny Man as they jumped down from that hole. Steve was livid but speechless.

The naked Scrawny Man spoke first – “We’ll give your 80 grand back. And you forget this ever happened.”

Steve replied – “Not 80 grand. I want even my 250 grand back. And my chain too”

Scrawny Man narrowed his eyes and quickly understood. “We shut that business down. The real tribals in that area caught us. This is safer.” he explained.

Steve mumbled out a “Why do you guys do this?”

Joe repeated – “As long as there are buyers like you, sellers like us will exist.”

Steve tried to come up with a retort when Scrawny Man spoke again “We cannot live with the risk that you will squeak someday. Sorry, but don’t take this personally”. With the same speed at which he killed the rat, a nearby iron rod went straight through Steve.

Business was back to normal the next day. A new client threw a mirror down the gap. Scrawny Man acted all confused and broke the mirror into pieces. The client giggled.