Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Brand Rush

My friend was in his element the other day. No probing was needed; he was spilling his story out in no time, ‘You know what Gita, my friend and I had this bet on whom had more branded items...Guess what! I won!!Ha!! By one..! I had thirty one and he had just thirty! Wow isn’t it???’ I was blank. I looked at my friend. I knew he was a brand freak, but only then did I fully appreciate how much- Casio watch, Fast track coolers, Levi’s jeans, Peter England shirt, Reebok shoes, Nike socks, an Adidas bag with a HP laptop, NokianN95, oh and throw in a Pierre Cardin pen...God knows what else made up the list! Actually, it was wow! I now looked at myself. Junk jewellery on my wrists and ears carefully picked off various vendors. One ethnic jute bag. Jute sandals from fountain plaza. My favourite mix-n-match salwar. Wow again!
I have never really liked the idea of shelling out a large chunk of my pocket money to buy something that I was most likely to be stuck with for a long time. Instead of one sandal from Metro, I prefer buying five from little shops that we have discovered through the years. Variety! I remember once my brother went without movies and outings for two whole months to save cash for a pair of Adidas trainers. Until I told him this. In the mid- 1990’s, in Bronx, a group of 13 year olds learned that the Nike trainers they bought for $180 actually cost $5 to make, and this led to a mass dumping of their old trainers outside New York’s Nike town.
What exactly is a brand? A brand is the reputation of the firm. It is a logo that acts as a short hand form of the company. It is a personality and a promise. And eventually it becomes a relationship between you and itself. It is something that you identify yourself with, and it becomes a part of you. Why do people blindly wash down gallons of Coke and Pepsi when they fully know that it is made up of potentially toxic substances? It is because the brand has grown on them.
But all this at what cost? In 1992, Nike paid Michael Jordan $20 million to endorse its trainers. This was more than what it paid its 30,000 strong workforce in Indonesia to make them. Women in Cavite, the largest trade free zone in Philippines, who sewed clothes for companies like GAP, have rules against talking and smiling. Toilets are kept padlocked except during two fifteen minute breaks a day. Seamstresses sewing clothes for high end western companies were forced to urinate in plastic bags they kept under their sewing machines. Guess, Mattel and Disney goods were exposed to be manufactured illegally by child labourers in Honduras. An Indonesian Nike worker is paid $2 a day to make trainers that sell for $120 in San Francisco Nike town. The CEO of Disney, Robert Iger is paid $9,783 an hour. Compare that to the salary of a Haitian worker who stitches Disney Merchandise, for 28 cents an hour!
These brands have strived hard to achieve this name for themselves. It is easier to retain their existing, faithful customer base than to create new customers. Faithful customers who either have enough cash to throw away on expensive merchandise, or others who scrape and save to buy themselves one, for the ‘cool’ look. Knowledge is a powerful tool! Deciding is something that is individualistic. But spreading the word is the least we can do! For the sake of all the labourers in Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, the Philippines and other corners of the earth. For the sake of women like Carmelita Alonzo who sewed clothes for GAP and Liz Claiborne, who died of pneumonia because she was denied time off from work. For the sake of humanity.

This is something I wrote for my college paper, sometime last year. It earned a brilliant review then. I found it in my mailbox, and felt like a post :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oh no, that was not me *straight face*

I never liked filling in those annoying slam books, which were a habit during the ‘bye-bye’ days of school life. Apart from having to answer downright dumb questions like – My first crush, My happiest moment, and the like (which we used to answer with ‘The day I was born’, ‘The day I met you’, and so on, which of course, we never really meant!) One particular question which was constant was – Your most embarrassing moment. I mean, who want to make that public? Characters like me, maybe.
Everybody has moments when they wish they could just disappear. Something like that happened last week. My friend and I were having this only-girls chat, and the brother was in some other room. He is a nice kid; he doesn’t eavesdrop as much these days. Now my friend had read up something somewhere..about..erm, well what the heck, orgasms. So she was animatedly detailing the phenomenon and I knew this was no good. Embarrassing! So I kept going ‘shoo shoo’ and as a last desperate attempt, I nearly yell out, ‘Babe, chill! I KNOW WHAT AN O***** IS! (now it is a freak word) I know more than you think, so give it a break!’
 Pin drop silence.
Then an alien voice that is not supposed to be in the vicinity blurts out, ‘Oh? OH?’
Where did he spring out from? How do you reason something like this with your little brother? As both our lower jaws hit the floor, he gives me this oh-my-god-what-have-you-done look and stomps out.
Of late, I have suddenly developed this affinity quotient that gets me into trouble with, of everybody, the Railway police force.
We were birding near the Velachery Railway station. ‘We’ translates to three juniors and me; as a part of the MNS Bird Race. The Pallikarnai marsh is very close to the Velachery Railway station, so we walked to the marsh, feasted our eyes on the numerous water fowl, whooped and whooped watching a kingfisher dive again and again to, well, fish. Then we walk along the tracks to go back to the railway station when the RPF come running to us, whistles and rifles and all.
‘Terrorist a? Bomb vekka vandengala?? Who are you people??’
I was the oldest of the lot, and I lost my voice, because I felt like bursting into laughter. Yes, I’m shameless. Madhu, next to me, was munching on Chocos and almost offered the gun-man some. Gladys, the youngest, took charge then, and she was like, ‘Students, sir..’. That was it.
‘Suicide panna vandengala?’
Madhu tried, and lost. Loud snort. 
Final straw. They got us to the station, and questioned us again. And again. And again.
Then they realised we might be air headed, but innocent, after all, and let us away.
Thank heavens the place was empty.
Oh, and no bribes there. They are nice, duty conscious people, the RPF.
A couple of days back, a few of us went to the SRM University. It is in some God forsaken place out of the city, and we had to catch a train to reach there. When I was getting back, I had Raji for company. Our legs were killing us, and as the train chugged into the station, we notice the ladies compartment is full, with some passengers standing; but the one next to it is nearly empty. So we act smart and throw our noses into the air and make ourselves comfortable in the empty compartment. 
The train chugs into Tambaram. Suddenly, both of us feel like Pepsi, and we get out for some. Trains are frequent from Tambaram to home, so it was really no problem. There is the Ticket Checker. He had already caught one man who was travelling without a ticket, when he asked us for ours, we proudly flash our tickets to him.
We were good citizens.
‘Ma’am, this is a second class ticket. You have been travelling in a first class compartment. Please follow me.’
Shoot! No wonder it was empty. The train chugs out of the station, and Raji and I contemplate running into it. The man seemed to have heard our thoughts so he gives us this don’t- try-any-tricks look and ushers us into his cubby-hole office. He shows us the rule book and tells us that we have committed a crime that might land us in jail, and we better pay the penalty of around Rs 300 per head.
I cannot fathom why I find all these situations exceedingly funny. It was pointless because I did not have the cash, and even if I did, I wouldn’t pay. Because it was an honest mistake! So the guy shuffles around as we give him our family details, and then he pops the question.
‘Evlo kaasu vechirikenga?’
Now we are experts at this, aren’t we? And I was glad I was carrying a handbag. I dumped all the hundred rupees notes into the bag, and retain only the tens, and hand over the wallet. He counts the coins and notes, opens the portion that contains all my girl-stuff, and still pokes his finger inside and digs around, and finally counts a hundred bucks.
Of course, it is not enough. So he tries again. Leave the ID cards here, go home, get cash in the morning. Or (horror!) spend the night in our railway cell. Raji almost fell for it. She almost gave her ID card away when I kicked her foot. She thanked me for it later.
After some more pleading (Sorry sir, please sir, this is the first time we are coming by train sir) he allowed us to leave at last. ‘At great risk to my position and job’ were his words. Like duh!
What a waste of time and money. Sadness.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Of Swamijis and Media Scoops

Today’s news had more masala than we all could take. One of our very own, revered and respected swamijis had been caught red handed, on a video, doing it, in the ‘swamiji style’. With a once famous Tamil movie actress. She still looks pretty though. Matter of opinion, anyway.
The Nithyananda Swamigal is a well read guy, who spoke a lot of sense. My mum used to read him when she was in one of those ‘religious reading’ phases. I have never read his writings, or heard him talk, though. But he did have a lot of followers...all over the world. I don’t think you can have a lot of followers until you are really good, personally. The question is, really good at what? The point is that, he was a famous guy; now he is more famous than he can ever hope to be. And he has gone underground. Small ironies of life.
The thing is, I really don’t get what the big fuss is all about. Suddenly there is a lot of publicity, and believers who feel they have been fooled, go around his ashrams and thrash everything they can lay their hands on. I mean, come on! He is human, too, and well, he was just trying to get one of his basic physiological ‘wants’ fulfilled! He just looks less perfect now, less God-like. Why isn’t anybody looking at it that way? And that guy, he should be suing who ever placed the damn camera in his bed room for invasion of privacy, and not run into hiding.
Yeah, the previous paragraph is definitely a lot of madness. But hey, don’t we all have better things to do? Prime television time, and a news channel is broadcasting the entire video coverage for a full five minutes, into my living room! My mum is horrified/shocked, my brother roaring with laughter and is texting his gang: ‘Nityananda Swamigalin Thiruvilayadal-Watch Sun News, very interesting fore play tips’ . I was torn between disgust at having to witness near-porn with my mum and brother in the same room and appalled at the channel for having stooped so low to broadcast a catch. They even had an explanation: It is supposed to be a warning for the devotees to not fall into any more such ‘traps’.
Seriously, what crap, man!
I do understand that there is no business as lucrative as a ‘fake swamiji business’, and I also understand that whatever happens, our people, those who will themselves to be charmed by these characters, will always be charmed/harmed by them. There is nothing we can do about it. But that is not reason enough to broadcast porn (to those who have seen the footage, can I classify it as porn? I’m not very literate in that field, you see) into our homes. And yeah, it is a scoop. No doubt about that. (Infact, if an English news channel, one of those that thrive on string operations, had caught hold of this footage, they would have made enough stories out of it to last a week) But hey, let’s face it; haven’t such occurrences become common place now? If the guy was forcing people into it, yeah, he deserves the electric chair. But it was, erm, otherwise, in our man’s case.
What freaks me out is, if this is one famous man, what about you and me? Where is the entire ‘safe in the privacy of my room’ feeling? When I was a kid, and was told in school, ‘God is always watching you’, I did not like it at all. Now, I don’t know who else is watching me, because we are all just so vulnerable, and no, it is not a nice feeling at all.