Mar 28, 2011

A lesson in Politics

A few days ago, I put up an article on my blog which had five characters: me and my roommates Lali, Koili, Nikki and Rabina. Lali had the idea of a poll to find out who was the best character among them. All roomies got into campaigning mode. Pretty soon a simple poll had turned into heated political campaign, and we were amazed as votes poured in.

When our common friend Debendra came online from London, we all actively campaigned for his vote with different promises and arguments. And this made me wonder which of our strategies would actually work and who would end up with Debendra’s vote. We noted the choice of Debendra, and began to look for voting trends in other votes too. In time, political mechanism became more and more clear to us, and we could identify them in relation to real life politics. Some of our political insights are:

1. Identity politics

The first thing that Lali did was to send off a mail to all her relatives. They all responded quickly, and within minutes her vote was up by 50. This gave us our first lesson: if you have many relatives and people close to you, you get a lot of votes without question. The younger the better, as they are more supportive. In real life, the politics of ethnicity use this strategy. Prashant Tamangs’s victory over the Indian idol is the best example, when many people voted for him just because he was Nepali without bothering about his singing. Advantage of this tactic is that there are no questions asked, common identity is enough for support.

2. Ideology politics

The second person Koili asked her best friends for votes. Her best friends loved her so much that they voted for her from multiple computers, and even asked their friends to vote for her. These quality relationships showed us that large numbers of supporters was not required. Small number of loyal supporters was enough. In real life, we see this at work with ideology politics. The most motivated people are those who strongly believe in their cause. The negative side is that because of emotional attachment, too many disturbing question may be asked. Koili faced a lot of questions about her future plans. In real life, ideology politics face a lot of questions and disillusionment. Religious groups are an example.

3. Resource based aggressive promotion: Hardcore politics

The next person who campaigned was Nikki who actually did not campaign at all. Her friend did all her campaigning. “I want twenty votes, NOW” her friend barked into the phone. And that was enough to send her votes skyrocketing. The campaign was so aggressive that none of us could even come close. In real life this is reflected in heavily funded campaigns which can sustain the mobilization of a vast number of people for a long time. As long as the funding exists or a large number of willing people are willing to help for no reason, nothing can derail this campaign. Ultimately Nikki won the poll, proving once and for all that this is the most potent form of campaigning.

4. Importance of Personal Connection

When I was a child, I often used to wonder about a silly world record that American President Theodore Roosevelt held for 70 years: he shook hands with the most number of people in a day. But Lali soon illustrated the use of this tactic for me. Once she saw that her votes were falling, she resorted to personal contact, emailing and chatting with people she had not talked to in years. The result was instantaneous: she surged to the front of the race, beating others by 20 votes. Now I know why President Roosevelt was so bent on shaking hands!

5. Getting there first

I used the tactics of the latest winner Lali, and said hello to a classmate whom I rarely talked to. Pukar readily agreed to my request and voted for me. Later, when Lali too asked for his votes, Pukar did not mince his words. “Sewa asked me first, and I voted for her. Now if I change my votes, it loses meaning.” Well said Pukar, not less because you voted for me, hehe. But he made an interesting political point: it is always important to approach your voters first and create bonds of loyalty before anyone else gets there.

6. Image matters

Rabina is known for her excellent PR. If I could have bet on anyone before the poll started, I would have bet on her, because she has the most friends. For reasons unknown, she decided not to campaign. But we were really surprised to see that her votes consistently surged even without campaigning. We can only imagine what would have happened if she had decided to campaign. We had only one explanation for her surging votes: image matters. Pre existing image is one of the best tools for campaigning, very little effort is required if you already have it.

7. Incentives matter

Last but not the least, we come to the most powerful political tactic: incentive. Debendra from London shed light on this tactic. We all had different arguments for him, but when I promised that I would write the next article about him, he readily gave his vote to me (or so I believe. He might have deceived and voted for his beloved disciple Lali, but that is another story to be handled in election rigging).

8. Issues do not matter

No, it does not matter what you are advocating. I told Debendra again and again that since I wrote the article, and brought the issues into prominence in the first place, he should vote for me. But it didn’t work. Similarly, another friend was really taken with the character of Nikki, but ultimately voted for Lali because of previous loyalty (refer number 1 ). In real life, we see this happening all the time. Politicians do not need to fulfill their promises, or even make realistic promises. They can still be successful based on the above tactics.

In conclusion, though Nikki won the poll because of her aggressive campaigning, Lali was crowned queen of poll for her astute use of campaigning tactics. Apart from her two tactics mentioned above, she used many more. Enemy defacement was one of them: as soon as Devendra pledged to support me, she started her slogans: “Debu chor, Laptop chhod!” Throughout the voting, she was also the one who recounted her strategies and pointed out the trends of voting patterns. For this she won the title of “born politician”. She was “Machiavelli and Chanakya combined” without ever taking a class in political science!

Ultimately, it did not matter who was right, who had the most interesting character or the most pressing cause, it only mattered who was able to mobilize the most people. Media management was found to be the single most important thing in political canvassing, regardless of previous status and regardless of connection with issue.

Mar 25, 2011

Favorite character from Unemployment diaries

Final poll results for favorite charactor from "Unemployment diaries" stands like this:

150 (15%)
315 (32%)
179 (18%)
363 (37%)
202 (20%)

Congratulations to Nikki who is the most popular character from the article!

Competition was very very stiff, and it included publicity campaigns from most members. In fact, it was such fun that I was inspired to write an entire article about it. Will be posting it as soon as it is approved by all characters.

Thank you everyone for support of this article, and for making this poll so phenomenal in the history of my blogging. Unemployment diaries shot to the top of my popular posts like in no time: usually it takes a week for an article to even appear on the list. I started out with 1100 viewers in total and by the end of the poll, viewership was at more than 3800. That was more than 2.5 times for one article than for all my earlier articles combined.

I gained four new followers and dozens of new readers through this campaign. I would like to thank my dear friends for their campaign efforts, most of all Lali, who campaigned to get my blog read as much as for votes. To my new readers, I would like to say thanks for reading, and keep visitng :)

Also, there were several mystery voters who voted in mysterious patterns: voting in bulk for certain members, most notably Lali and Rabina. We would very much like to know who these individuals are and thank them :)

Mar 23, 2011

Unemployment diaries


A tiny apartment in a tiny village of America


Rabina, Niki, Lali, Sewa, Koili. All are young women at various stages of unemployment. Some are recently unemployed, some will soon be unemployed, and some have been unemployed for a long time.

Above mentioned motley crew tumbles into the apartment, all shaking off snow from their jackets.

Sewa: Yay, that was a great time out on the snow!

Koili (grumpy): Great time indeed, as long as we can come home, and what if we are not able to pay the rent, and have to live out in the snow! We need to do something about unemployment, let’s have a meeting!!

Lali (running to the kitchen): I am hungry…..

Sewa (staggering to bed): I am so exhausted, I am going to collapse right here….

Niki (slowly inching towards her laptop): I haven’t watched a single movie today, I should fill the quota….


Rabina: All right, calm down, I will round up the girls! (drags everyone to the center of the living room)

Koili: Ok girls, I have made an agenda, let us start with the first thing here, what is your motto in life?

Rabina: Cooking…

Koili: I mean motto for ever, not for evening.

Rabina: Get a job, send money home.

Koili: Mine is the same, and get married.

Niki: Mine is the same too. And I want to make my heart strong.

Sewa: What for? Marriage?

Nikki: Eww, no, for unemployment silly!

Sewa: But you agreed with Koili about marriage! Didn’t she, Lali?

Lali (vaguely): who knows? I stopped keeping track of too many mottos, I only want to bring my mom here.

Koili: You are right Lali, we list too many things, but do nothing, if we started on one thing at a time, that would be one thing less on our list each day.

Lali (unfocused eyes): Can you say that in Nepali please?

Koili: Phew! Never mind, we don’t know how to fulfill our life’s motto, so it will be discussed in the next meeting! Let us move to number two. How are we spending our time?

Lali: Eating too much.

Rabina: wasting time.

Niki: I agree.

Koili: We need to cut off everything that waste our time, like movies, facebook and games.

Lali: I don’t need to cut off anything, coz I only procrastinate!

Koili: Agenda number three- enough of this procrastination and time waste.

Sewa: Come on, its vacation time! Besides, I am sure there is no such thing on the agenda, you just made it up …

Koili: Fine then, had enough of this vacation!

Nikki: Enough enough enough!

Rabina: More than enough!

Koili: Too much talk, Let us make some decisions and start working on it.

Sewa: I need to apply for jobs, but keep forgetting.

Koili: You have an alarm to remind you of brushing your teeth, why can’t you have an alarm for applying to jobs?

Lali: We need to make time tables and schedule tasks so that I don’t procrastinate and you don’t forget.

Everyone starts making timetables.

Nikki: What time should I put my daily movie do you think?

Sewa: Huh? Daily movie?

Koili: Let’s put it just before bed time Nikki. You know I can’t sleep without watching a movie, so that would be the best time for us to watch together!

Sewa: I never knew you girls watched a movie every day. Do you watch it after I go to sleep at 12?

Koili (horrified): Oh no, 12 is the time when I regularly chat with my best friend.

Sewa: I thought you said we need to cut off chats?

Nikki: Never mind, we can watch the movie when her chat ends. So Koili, shall I say movie at bedtime: 4am?

Lali: That is not healthy you know, sleeping that late it is bad for your metabolism, you should keep regular hours.

Nikki: Yes, but what if your regular hours are late?

Lali (thrown off track for a while, but recovers soon): I need to research metabolism before I can answer that question!

Koili: Good idea, we all need to learn something new, so that we can at least gain some knowledge in our free time!

Rabina: Maybe some PHP or dot net or Java….

Lali: Sounds boring, why don’t we learn belly dance instead?

Sewa: Yay, let’s dance to banma phulyo phool!

Koili: Banma phulyo phool maya jeewanma….

Nikki: Nagarnu hai bhool….

Lali: Banma phulyo phool maya laudaima…

All: Hudaina hai….

Rabina: Girls, we HAVE to stop this and do something constructive. From tomorrow, we all get up in the morning and study for two hours.

Lali: Sounds great, I appoint myself inspector!

Koili: Can I just aim to get up early on the first day, please?

Lali: No you can’t, you are getting up at 6 am sharp, studying for two hours, and I am inspecting you.

Koili: Anything, anything, let’s just end the meeting now, it’s time for my face-book girl to go to work, and she has already been late twice.

Nikki: Thanks for reminding me, I need to pick up my Farmville turnips too.

Lali: Of course, as inspector I am giving you all time off for this task. Besides, I need to pet my online fluffy...

Meeting dispersed.

Article compiled from actual meeting minutes.

Thanks to all my "characters" who agreed to be featured in the article.

If you like the article, please vote on the poll on the top right side :)

Mar 18, 2011

Raktasura and other possible franchises

Many of us in Nepal have grown up with spinoffs of Western myths where forgotten heroes and villains mingle with ordinary folks. In the western world, movies which show the devil among ordinary people are a dime a dozen. In the movie Bedazzled, the devil is played by a hot Elizabeth Hurley, who goes around buying people’s souls, complete with contract. In The Prophecy, angel Gabriel comes down to earth from heaven. An upcoming movie Thor is about the reincarnation of Norse god Thor in human world. In the Indian comic Chacha Chaudhary, the villain Raka comes back again and again, even if he is banished to distant galaxies.

But we don’t see too many spinoffs of Hindu myths in Nepal. Or even in South Asia. (Yes, there was a limp Indian attempt called Rudraksha a few years ago, but that did not impress anyone). It just made me wonder how much fun it would be to have some dangerous mythical characters around again. We certainly do not lack interesting stories or characters. In fact, some of the stories themselves provide the recipe for reincarnation of villains, and make you wonder if they might be living amongst us unnoticed even today. For example, there is the mighty Ravan. It is said that Ravan had a source of amrit or immortality at his navel, and could instantly generate any head that was cut off. What if some of his heads still survived, and were living because they come from amrit? After all, we know that the heads of Rahu and Ketu are immortal because they drank the same amrit! So maybe the severed heads of Ravan are lying around somewhere in SriLanka, busy trying to build a ladder into heaven like he always wanted to! There is also his counterpart Ram, who disappears into a river and is never heard of again. Maybe he is wandering around somewhere too, unable to cross Vaitarani as punishment for all the bad stuff he did to his wife, but anyways….

Another interesting villain who could easily reincarnate is Raktasur. Information on this elusive guy was strangely hard to come by, and I had to write based on childhood memories of Dashain stories aired on Radio Nepal (yes, that was our source of entertainment in Dashain. Sounds strange today, doesn’t it? ). According to the stories, Raktasur is one of the demons who fights against Goddess Durga. Through his intense tapasya he is granted a boon that from every drop of his blood spilled, a new Raktasur will be born. He is also called Raktabij , and the very name itself means that every drop of blood is a seed. In the fight with Durga, he created vast armies of his own that seemed insurmountable. Eventually, he was killed by Goddess Kali who licked off all his blood with her giant tongue, and ate him in one gulp for good measure! (And that’s also the background story of her famous tongue out pictures!)

Theoretically, Raktasur could be the most powerful villain of all, because he needed no army. One of my friends argued that he is the most interesting villains, because what if he shed some drops of blood in secret and had a reserve army of clones standing by? Would each of the clones be able to create more clones from their own blood? That means that if he had just one clone surviving, he could continuously regenerate himself, and live forever and ever, maybe even until now. What if hundreds of them are actually walking around today and creating chaos? And what would happen if he gave blood to someone else? Would they also have the same regenerating power? Blood for thought indeed! Oops! I mean "Food" for thought indeed!

Another very interesting villain is Jarasandha from Mahabharata. His two mothers ate half of child bearing fruit each, and gave birth to half a child each. (Funny, this problem does not trouble the wives of Dashrath, who divide a single bowl of child bearing potion among themselves and give birth to whole children. Maybe they were different brands of child bearing products.) Anyways, a Rakshashi called Jara finds the two vertically split parts of a child and joins them. For that reason he is called Jarasandha, or joined by Jara. And for that reason, his vertical seams were never very strong. Bhimsen exploits this weakness and tears him vertically many times in a fight, only to have them join and become whole again and again. But once he throws the two pieces in opposite directions, they don’t unite. Jarasandha’s story ends here, and we are not told what happens to his split parts. Well, maybe they just took longer to join because they took longer to find each other from opposite directions. And maybe the famed king is now walking around as a wrestling champion that he used to be!

And then of course, there are the chiranjeevis, those that are supposed to live for millions of years. Apparently Ashwatthama still lives among us as a mite because of a curse! (hope I did not smite him with my newspaper last night), and Hanuman is also supposed to be around for the next millennia or so. Wow, what fun it would be to meet them in real life! Don’t dismiss talking monkeys, it might just be hanuman, and the philosophical mite that lectures you on karma might be Ashwaththama. Beware of any man with stitches running down his face vertically and disappearing into his shirt: Jarasandha might wrestle you to the ground. Beware of men like Billy Bob Thornton (ex boyfriend of Angelina Jolie) who collect their blood in vials, they are probably raising armies of clones! And don’t forget the decapitated Ravan, who is sure to be ready with bits of good advice any time!

Thanks to Pranit Shrestha for the idea, and for reminding me of the extraordinary qualities of Raktasur!

Mar 15, 2011

Advertising: Brand naming Strategies

got published in republica, yay

I first noticed the trend of scientific brand name when I saw that one of the top selling facial creams in America was called Neutrogena. I compared that to our own fair and lovely, which reminded me of a delicate beauty dancing in a swirl of pink. Neutrogena reminds me of nothing of that sort. Now, why would anyone name their beauty cream something as bland as Neutrogena, when a wide range of beauty related names are available? It set me wondering: maybe foreigners gave bland names to their products in comparison to Nepal? When I peeled my eyes and started looking, I found a lot of evidence for the same.

For example, did you ever wonder what “Liril” meant? Or Colgate? Or Nivea? Or Lifebuoy? Let us start with Lifebuoy: the name Lifebuoy actually means a boat, and not a lively boy as we may assume. Pretty complicated, isn’t it? For a South Asian product like “Fair and Lovely”, the name itself sends us into dreams of rose petals and porcelain skin. The generic Nivea is pretty bland in comparison. Products are often strategically named to evoke sentiments like “lovely.” Words like Coke and Pepsi have no meaning for us, but turn to the South Asian Maaza, and there you go, a name that suggests fun!

The most interesting of these sentimental names is seen in the washing soaps of Nepal. Apparently the washing soap industry of Nepal is fiercely competitive, judging from the rate that new brands come up. Almost every day we have a new washing soap, and their names get fancier and fancier, starting from Puja, and going on to Arati, Dalli, OK, 72%, and many more. Popular western cleaning detergents try to highlight their strength and efficiency: Vim means strength, and Tide and Surf refer to powerful jets of water, whereas the saccharine names in Nepal have no discernible relation to cleaning. The names of popular tea brands are equally fancy and have no relation to tea. Taj Mahal: Not satisfied with building a monument, did Shah Jahan name a tea after his beloved wife as well? Kailash chiya: Kailash Parvat is where Shivaji lives, is this his favorite drink? Funny, I always thought his favorite drink was Halahal Vish. Tokla: Who even knows what it means? Foreign tea brands like Brooke Bond, Earl Gray and Lipton are again lost upon us.

Another South Asian brand naming strategy is to evoke the senses: sight, smell, sound, and the like. Look at “Kurkure”, the very name reminds us of the crunch-crunch sound that we make while eating chips, hehe. Compare it to Lays, a generic name used across all countries. The name lays means nothing at all to us. And then there is the Nepali chocolate choco-bite, again remind us of taking bites. Alongside it are names of chocolate that we don’t understand: Nestle, Cadbury, Mars...

So what are the western product names actually named after? Often, they come from the names of its founders. Johnson and Johnson, McDonald’s, and Disney are only some of the examples of such branding by owner’s name. Hindustan Lever and Nepal Lever are parts of Unilever, which is named after their original owners Lever brothers, and not after Johnny Lever. Mars chocolates are not named after the planet Mars, and Proctor and Gamble was not gambled away. Lipton tea is not named so because “ton”s of ”lip”s like the tea. Brooke Bond is not named after James Bond. Or Brooke Shields. Nestle is neither a bird’s nest, nor warm hugs. Cadbury is not a buried cat (as I thought with horror as a child.) And no, Colgate is definitely not the gate to college, even though all the advertisements show college kids. These were all named after their founders.

Sometimes western products are not named after its owners, but after their scientific capacity. The more scientific sounding the name, the better. Neutrogena, for example, is a leading face cream. Its name is mad up of two parts: “Neutro” coming from nutrition, and “gena” coming from generate. This potion is actually going to “gene” rate nutrition. It promises objective, scientific and measurable benefits, instead of the sentimental qualities like Fairness and Loveliness. This form of naming usually combines two words: the first part says what the product will give, and the second part is an appendage that suggests action. It is actually a pretty common strategy found in many Western brand names. For example, Blistex, a popular brand of lip balm in America, scientifically promises to cure “blisters”. In the famous Viagra, “vi” derives its name from virility which means positive male characteristics like vigor and strength. The traditional proof of virility was the number of children you had. The second part “gra” is a generic appendage that “gives” virility. Dayquil and Nyquil, day and night versions of cold medicine, promise you a tran”quil” time in the day and night. In Nepal the cough medicine Honeytus is popular, which promises nothing but a taste of wonderful honey. Another western strategy is to include the ingredients of the product into the product name. A famous example is Coke that originally contained “coc”aine, according to New York times writer Clifford D. May.

There are also some brands that manage to combine the scientific promise with the owner’s names. For example, the original Vick of Vick’s VapoRub is the manufacturer’s brother in law, Vapo and Rub of course mean vapor (steam) and rubbing motion, two things that we often use Vicks for. There are a few exceptions to this rule that manage to throw us off: Sunsilk, we would think, is a South Asian brand, with its sentimental focus on sun and silky hair. But no, it happens to be a British brand. Grooming products like Axe come out with suggestive names every other day (Hypnotic, African Duo, Touch, and many more). But on the whole, the trend of sentiments versus science is a significant trend by which we can differentiate between brands made for Nepali and worldwide clients.

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