Thursday, 18 December 2008

MLM dreams

This is the story of Bolenath who was sucked into the eternal dream of attaining financial freedom through one of the multi level marketing scheme called “Network Way”

Bolenath had just finished his work and returning home by his scooter. It started raining and he took shelter under a nearby tree. One more guy came in his bike and also took shelter under the same tree. The rain was steady and Bole was admiring the cars driving past him. A Merc passed by him and he could not resist turning around for a second look.

The guy next to him told “How nice it would be if you had such a car?”

Bolenath laughed and said “Nice thought! I can’t even afford to pay for even its one service”

The guy replied “How if I taught you a way to buy that car”

Bolenath quipped “Loot the bank which is opposite to us”

The guy “No, I will teach you how to build a pipeline of money”

Bolenath “What? Who is going to provide the flow? What sort of business are we getting into?”

The Guy “Hi! My name is Shant. Here is my card, You can call me tomorrow morning we will discuss in detail. My only request is not to discuss with anybody about our meeting until you know the full truth. It is upto you whether you want to let go an opportunity of lifetime, just write down your biggest dreams and we will talk about it tomorrow”

Bole said “ok”. Soon it stopped raining and they went their way. That night Bole’s dreams were full of money all around him. He was imagining how nice it would be if they had a big flat and a Mercedes. How nice it would be if he can take his wife and daughter to Switzerland? How wonderful it would be if he could be the boss? Bole wrote down all these things in a slip and went to office the next day.

As soon as he reached office, the first thing he did was to call Shant. Shant was articulate in his talk and fuelled his dreams. He added more colors to them. He asked Bole to meet him that evening outside a prominent community hall. He told an expert from Australia would explain the business and that Bole would have to pay Rs.300 to listen to him. Bole agreed and went that evening to the appointed place.

Inside the lecture hall, flash power point presentations were shown about the products; business model; small clipping of a financial expert’s talk in which he professed need to build a pipeline, blah, blah; videos of foreigners who were successful in the business and mighty rich, etc.

Later the successful domestic business owners were introduced. Everybody introduced themselves as a professional and how fed up with the 9 to 5 job they had turned to business and were fast heading towards financial freedom. They also boasted how “Network Way” had changed their lives. One guy who was from one of the IIMs said that this business had taught him more than his education at the IIM. Infact some of them had already become mighty rich just like the foreigners. Except for a few, the dress of most of them was middle class and not the super-rich they were supposed to be.

The products were introduced and most of them were of daily consumption. It was stated that your profit margin would be as high as 40% and this amount otherwise go the dealers in conventional business. It was also stated that an individual by using this products and recommending them to others could make truckloads of money. The task of referring to others it was said was as simple as recommending a movie to your friend.

Next the expert from Australia spoke. He showed with pictorial proof how his life style was 10 years ago and how it is now? It was another matter of fact that the “supposedly 10 year old photos” seemed more new than the “supposedly new photos”. He boasted how his children went to the same school as the children of a legendary Australian cricketer and how both of them met for a drink. He even showed pictorial proof of the same but the picture seemed to convey that more than having a drink together this guy was serving the cricketer! He showed pictures of his home which seemed like a “resort” out of “Discovery Travel and Living”.

After the meeting Shant introduced Bole to C. Halu (chalu!) who was his upline in the business. He worked for a major software giant that offered him only a monthly salary but not financial freedom. Bole was totally sold to the credentials of the guy.

Bole was given a few CDs to listen to. The CDs contained all the good things how great the business was; how credible the company was; how important the CDs, meetings and books were for success, blah, blah.

Bole could not wait to sign up for the business. He called up Shant and got this reply “Don’t hurry, take an informed decision”. Bole was very impressed with Shant’s discretion and he started trusting him wholly. Shant told that this is a family business and he would be coming down to Bole’s house with his family on the following Sunday. They should first understand each other and later think about initiating the business. He also asked Bole to get a couple of friends to his residence to introduce them to the business.

Bole waited for the d-day when Shant and his family would come home. He asked his wife Gudiya to remain at home. He called a dozen of his friends, most of them found a pretext to refuse him and one of them said on his face “If it is Network Way, don’t make a bakra out of yourself Bole”. Bole would not listen to him because he was blinded to the “Financial Freedom” dreams.

On the appointed day Shant came with his family in a rickety car. Gudiya nudged Bole and asked “Is this the success he has achieved in 2 years of doing this business?’ Bole gave an angry glare and that was the end of her reasoning. A few friends and relatives turned up at Bole’s house just to keep him in good humor and the relationship going.

Shant took Bole outside and guided him how he should praise him in front of the guests before he started his presentation. Bole did the same but nobody signed up for the business. Shant said the reason was because Bole had not signed up for the business. He told “You cannot ask others to jump into the water and swim, when you are standing on the banks”. Bole paid the Rs.5000 for signing up. Shant told that he could get a refund of the money within 180 days if he was not satisfied with the business.

Next week one more meeting was arranged in Bole’s residence. Nobody signed up. Bole looked quizzingly at Shant and got this reply “You don’t have the tools for being successful in this business. You have to sign for the CDs and books programme”. The monthly cost was Rs.2500/-. The CDs were priced each at Rs.250 and the books at Rs.1000 each. Bole would get 6 CDs every month and a book. The same books were available at Rs.500 in the most reputed book stall of the town. When asked he was told “This is the royalty you have to pay to listen to the success stories of experts. The book price is compensation for the experts who read books from world wide and recommend the best book for you”. He was told that once he became successful, his cassettes too would come out and he would get royalty from sale of those in addition to the money he earned by selling products. He would also be paid for reading and referring books. This he was told would be more than the income earned by selling products. It was explained to him that he was making an “investment” and should not crib about it because the returns would be unimaginable.

Next the product kit was delivered to him and to his shock all the products were priced atleast three to four times a high end product in the open market in its category was priced. When he questioned Shant, he replied “These products are made from natural components and are value products. A paste purchased here would last you 3 times more number of days than one from the open market. Moreover you get a discount and also it is your product, if you don’t use it, how can you recommend it to others. Here buy this VCD which contains all details about the manufacturing process and pricing details, it is just Rs.250/-. Because you are a distributor you will get it at Rs.200/-“

After seeing the VCD, Bole was totally sold to the “Network Way” dream. He used a pinch of the toothpaste believing that it is sufficient to take care of his dentures. A drop of shampoo was all that his little daughter Sheetal was allowed to use. She loved to foam her shampoo but was not allowed to do. The hall became a place for regular business meetings. She could not watch her favorite cartoons. Friends who did not sign up for the business were not treated very kindly. Weird strangers started coming home. She found Shant uncle and his family extremely artificial and plastic. The little angle was feeling really let down.

Only “Network Way” CDs could be played in the music system. You see, you have to listen to positive things, if you have to grow in the business. The business was not growing but Bole was advised to stay focused on the dreams. The Bole family was getting socially isolated. People were scared to cross his path, least he should prospect them for the business or sell a product. Bole was advised to stay away from such negative people.

Next Bole had to attend meetings. There were 4 type of meetings viz, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly (regional) and the Annual convention. A weekly meeting cost Rs.300; a monthly Rs.1000; a quarterly Rs.2500 and the annual convention Rs.4000/-. Ofcourse the company was gracious enough to give huge discounts if you booked the tickets well in advance much like airline pricing. These meetings were essential to keep the spirit going and you need to be amongst people of your tribe to think big. Ofcourse, how could you afford to miss out on the talks of all the experts from abroad? The meetings were badly organised. There was no proper ventilation in the halls. Bole had to pay even for a glass of water to drink leave alone complimentary snacks. Bole felt like paying for an “Executive Air class” air ticket and getting “Budget Airline” treatment.

The business was going nowhere. Whenever he asked questions, he was sold one more study material with an instruction “The expert in this CD/ book also felt same as you early in his business”. This was not it, he was supposed to sell atleast 2 or 3 CD subscriptions and bring along atleast 20 people to the annual convention that was to take place the next month. Bole had sponsored atleast 10 people to the monthly meetings and a lot more for the weekly meetings. He did not dare to repeat it for the regional and annual conventions. For this lapse, he was chided by Shant.

Selling products and getting commission was not easy as projected. Every month you had to make a minimum sale to get a commission. Otherwise, the points accrued will be carried to the next month. Even if you reach threshold of the minimum commission you cannot get it in cash (It was said in the meetings though that Network Way would pay its distributors in cash). If you had to get your commission in cash, you had to reach a higher threshold.

Bole was five months into the business. Not even one downline had signed up to do business under him. The house was full of CDs, books, products, etc. Gudiya dared to ask him “What do you think we are doing with our savings?”

Bole said “I don’t know but they say so many people across the world have been successful at it. That is why I am so serious about it. You know how much our personal life has changed after this. We have exhausted 50% of the savings we had for changing the flooring of this house”.

Gudiya replied “I mailed to my brother details of all these Australians who are supposed to be mighty rich and here is the reply”

Bole saw the reply and got a shock of his life. Most of the guys were mechanics, car drivers, and plumbers in real life. The cars shown in the slides belonged to rental companies. The houses shown in the videos were fancy resorts owned by some one else. As suspected the guy who was supposed to have a drink with a cricketer was a bartender in the pub which the cricketer frequented.

The next day Bole applied leave and went to do an antecedent check on the projected domestic success. The biggest domestic success was living in a garage shed and doing accounting jobs for small businesses. The IIM guy was the only guy who was having a posh lifestyle, that too because of his job and least of all due to this business, as was revealed by Bole’s enquiry.

Bole went home bundled all the cassettes and books. He took an auto to Shant residence (Shant lived in a modest house not because he did not have money but because he was investing into the business. Moreover, he wanted to build a dream house much like the bartender had!). He dumped it at his doorstep and said “This is the end of the Rs.75,231 nightmare for me. I won’t get back the amount atleast I hope I get back my friends”. Shant tried to stop him but got a solid punch on his face and the words “Apply some leather cleaner for the wounds, you are a thick skinned a** h***”.

Bole came home called up all his friends and told them that he was throwing a party to celebrate his successful escape from the “Millionaire Dreams” of Network Way. Most of them turned up and life was back to normal.

Bole never stopped for rains anywhere because he purchased for himself a car no it was not the Merc but a second hand Santro. Yeah, he did get refund of Rs.5000/- , the amount he had invested for buying the product kit. The books were good and Bole kept them for reading. He used the refund amount to buy Gudiya a mobile phone and got himself a new SIM card.

Sheetal was happy with her dad’s decision because she could get back to watching cartoons and doing doll parties on Sundays with her friends. No more business meetings in her drawing room.


The above mentioned Balu also became an Ullu to the MLM dream but not as bad as Bole

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The Amavasya Girl

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This story is not about fostering superstitions. This is just about how an individual can convert perceived negative traits to benefit society at large. I am opposed to any superstition which demeans an individual. This short story is an attempt to debunk a popular superstition that a girl born on Amavasya becomes an immoral woman and is prone to theft. This is the story of Shwetha, a girl who combined these perceived qualities for saving her country.

I don’t know anything about ethical hacking and its technicalities. Any glitches in this regard may kindly be excused. A certain amount of sleaze is involved in this story. I understand that this will read by people of all hues and have attempted to avoid any type of undesirable content. However, reader discretion is recommended.

The most wanted criminals of India were finally apprehended in a neighboring country and deported back home. The jails of the country were overflowing with associates of these criminals. A huge network of terror and mafia had collapsed. The country could finally heave a sigh of relief. All this was possible due to “Operation Deceit” (OD) launched by the intelligence agencies a year ago.

One of the vital cogs in this wheel was Shwetha. No, she was not a Commando but an ethical hacker who did more than crack computers in OD. She had revealed her face, body and had cyber s** with a terror operative, in a distant land. She was the only face whom the terror network could identify from OD. As OD was reaching its final stages, her identity was getting changed; looks, date of birth and location of the family. Shwetha will very soon be a face in the crowd but the stigma of being an “Amavasya Girl” would no longer haunt her.

Shwetha was born on an amavasya day. She was dark complexioned and to debunk detractors she was named “Shwetha”. The stigma of “Amavasya Girl” was stuck to her by her granny. Adding fuel to the fire was the prediction of an astrologer that she will perform an act of enticing a man, steal his prized possessions and spoil his reputation in society.
Despite being dark skinned, boys liked to be friends with Shwetha because of her effervescent smile and warm nature. She had more boy friends than girl friends right from the age of 3. Her granny took strong objections to this. She would chide her by saying “This is in your birth, you will bring bad name to this family”. Shwetha was too young to understand what her granny was upto. Her mothers asked her not to mind granny’s words and continue with her friendships.

Shwetha had a great liking for sweets. She could never wait for them to be placed before the God and would silently flick a few pieces to eat by herself in a corner of the house. Granny who was always tagging her would catch her red handed and scream “She is the perfect amavasya girl”. Shwetha did not mind her words and continued her pranks. Even in school/college, she would play pranks with her friends thanks to her quick hand work. She would exchange the tiffin careers of a vegetarian and non-vegetarian or tie the shoe laces of girls sitting in the front bench.

As Shwetha grew older, she started hating her granny for all the negative remarks about her. There used to be frequent exchange of her words between the two and things came to such a stand still that a separate room was constructed on the first floor to allow Shwetha to concentrate on her studies without “granny bickering”.

Shwetha had completed her graduation in engineering and was pondering on her future. The “granny bickering” was unrelenting and one day she narrated her fate to Sheetal aunty, her classmate Raghav’s mother. Sheetal was a career counselor by profession. She liked Shwetha very much and taught of her as a prospective Bahu.

She called Shwetha for a counseling session. She asked Shwetha to do a Strength Weakness Opportunity Threat analysis of herself. Shwetha dutifully replied the questionnaire. Shwetha being a whacky girl wrote in the opportunity column “Thief” and gave the sheet to Sheetal.

Sheetal stood up when she saw this and told “Yes, that’s what you should be doing given all your traits, you should become a data thief!” Shwetha “Aunty, do you want me behind the bars?” Sheetal “Shwetha dear, I am asking you take up ethical hacking?” Shwetha liked the idea and left home. She spoke to her best friend “dearest mommy”. Her parents had never stopped her from doing anything. They had full confidence in their daughter’s abilities and integrity. Shwetha took up the course in a reputed Government Institution and in a year became a certified ethical hacker. Money was never an issue for Shwetha and hence she joined a R&D institution of the Government. She was first assigned the job of securing the Government’s Tourism Department’s website which was recently hacked by miscreants from across the border. Shwetha not only secured the site but also challenged the hackers to redo their cowardice. They tried only to find their servers infected with viruses.

Her bigger assignment was to come a few months later. The intelligence agencies tracked upon a terror operative in one of the gulf states who was obsessed with “cyber s**”. He was a sharp guy who could easily find out if a man was pretending from the other end as a girl. The task of chatting to him and trying to crack his laptop for possible information was assigned to the R&D organisation which Shwetha worked for.

The Chief called all the lady operatives in the organisation and explained the task on hand. He gave all of them 30 minutes to decide on who would take on the task. All the ladies except Shwetha left the conference hall miffed with the responsibility of handling such a task.

Shwetha was in a confused state of mind. She sat to make her SWOT analysis for this project too. Her strength was that men were naturally attracted towards her. Her weakness for this project was that she was another ordinary girl with all her ethics intact. The threat was simple if found out, she could be eliminated by the terror group. She sat thinking, what could be the opportunity? Then she remembered the astrologer’s prediction. The monkey of his prediction could be off her back if she could entice the terrorist, steal the information and leave him to die amongst co-terrorists in a distant land. “Yes, my moment of reckoning has come” she said to herself.

Immediately she rushed to her Chief’s cabin and asked “Sir, I will take on the project”. The Chief was delighted because the other ladies were bringing on pressure not to assign the project to them. Shwetha was given a briefing on the guy she was supposed to make her “Cyber *** Partner” who chatted under the id “ever ready”. She was given strict instructions not to make any moves without specific permission to do so. Her immediate goal was to keep him engaged and to make him believe that she was desperate for ***. The next few days were spent in reading and viewing porn stuff. Shwetha became adept at the terms used in these type of chats. Shwetha was given a broadband connection at her home. She took an id dark_beauty and entered the chatroom where “ever ready” chatted.

As soon she entered the chatroom, he buzzed her with “asl”. She did not answer him and instead chatted openly with the other guys. He then sent her a message describing all his physical attributes. She just sent him back a smiley. Encouraged by the response and unaware of the trap that was being laid, he sent her another message giving details of his capabilities but she just replied him with a “really?” This was nothing sort of showing red rag to a rampaging bull. She sent him across her vital stats, logged out of the chat and shut down the PC. “Ever ready” was being monitored by other intelligence agents present in the chat room at the same time. It seems he went mad after she logged out and sent desperate messages to her in the chat room.

dark_beauty did not log on for the next few days and “ever ready” was looking around desperately for her. Finally she did and engaged him in a lively chat. She asked him for his yahoo id as she would be more comfortable chatting him on a yahoo messenger. He readily gave it to her. Then they started chatting over the messenger. This went on for next 1 month. He wanted to see her picture, hear her voice and possibly see her on the web cam. She putting him off by saying she did not have enough confidence in him as of now. He was disappointed but did not terminate the chat. Shwetha informed this to her Chief. This according to the intelligence officials was the first signal that he was getting obsessed with her.

The intelligence agencies tried to track down his location but found that he was chatting from one city but from various accounts. He had kept his laptop unguarded but it hardly contained any details except countless porn jpeg images. Shwetha was encouraged to continue chatting to him because as per the information available he was an important operative in the terror network. They all knew sooner or later he would falter.

Meanwhile female colleagues of Shwetha had potshots at her for taking on this project. They ridiculed by neither saying that the project will not end but her desire will end and her would-be hubby will be a deprived creature. Shwetha was used to more rigorous ridicule of her grandmother so this banter did not affect her even one bit.

The project had various components and Shwetha was one of them. Shwetha was called by the Chief one day to his cabin and told “Shwetha, we have to move to the next level in your assignment”.

Shwetha “Sir, What should I do?” Chief “I know it will be tough on you. I know I will never say this to my daughter but it is felt that you may have to comply with his requests for seeing a snap of yours. There is no point in continuing with this chat otherwise. You are free to pull out of this mission and the same will not be held against you in future, that is my word”

Shwetha was only waiting for orders in this regard but said “Ok sir, I will do it but wont send him any inappropriate visuals of myself”

The Chief replied “No never dear I will ask you to do such a thing. If it comes to that point, we will discard this portion of the mission itself”

The next time she chatted with him and agreed for a voice chat and later appeared on the web cam. Subsequently, she sent him a few images of herself. He was totally captivated with her beauty and after 3 months, one day as predicted faltered. He started chatting from his mobile and whenever he did chat from a terminal, it was from his laptop which contained truckloads of leads about the terror network. No attempt was made to hack his mobile or laptop for the first few days. When he was totally convinced of the harmlessness of “Shwetha”, she sent her Trojans and in a few hours all the information on his laptop and mobile were in the custody of intelligence agencies. She signed off from the chat saying that her hubby would be coming on a vacation from abroad and she won’t be able to chat with him for the next few weeks. By now he was in “love” with her and agreed to wait for her.

The leads received were analyzed and built up with further corroborative information on the ground. It was conclusively proved that the terror network was actually being operated from the neighboring country. The set of information collected was placed in various forums of the world. The information collected was so solid that the neighboring country could no longer deny that no specific evidence presented before them. The evidence collected included voice transcripts of calls, location of the caller, references to terror acts, bank account details, passport numbers, etc. The neighboring country realised that their game was up and agreed to arrest the most wanted criminals of India and hand them over to the Indian Government.

Meanwhile, Shwetha wanted to visit her family once before her identity would be changed for ever. She went home and to her surprise found her granny waiting outside with a garland in her hand. She hugged Shwetha “Forgive me my child, I have been harsh to you all these years, I have hurt you so much” Shwetha could not control her tears; the tears were a mixture of victory, happiness and overcoming her birth weakness. She decided that there was no way she was going to change her identity. The fact that her granny had accepted her was enough for her. She called up the Chief to inform of her decision and he asked “Dear, your life maybe at risk”. Shwetha replied “So what sir, my granny’s blessings are with me”. The Chief was bemused but before he could reply, Shwetha had hung up. Knowing her, he just appreciated her bravery and put down the receiver. Shwetha ran to her granny and slept on her lap like a child.

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Banglaore, Karnataka, India