On Privacy and Surveillance-03

In my earlier blogs, I discussed on “Khabreegiri”, the “trade” of snooping, information gathering and reporting. (click here) (and click here). I call this a “trade” because it is. No one will waste their time sneaking into my window and monitoring my entry and exit in main gate of my house if one is not getting something in return, or hopes for it someday.

In this blog, I discuss a historical side of surveillance used for violent purposes. It happened in India.

Thuggee” was “re-discovered” in India in 1800’s. The “profession” is prevalent since prehistory. For the first time, it was extensively investigated and documented by Britisher – Major General Sleeman. He is credited with ending “Thuggee” in India. A concise article on Thuggee is here.

Sleeman may have ended the violence associated with the act, but the spirit of Thuggee still remains. The word – Thug (ठग) means “a cheat”. The Thugs 200 years ago cheated and also killed people. But that’s just a surface of the practice. The major of work of “Thuggee” is “information gathering” and this begins even before the victim leaves his home for travel.

In “The Thugs or Phansigars of India“, General Sleeman mentions the ways and means the Thugs employ to gain access to the victim’s information. Firstly, there is never one single Thug. There is a network of Thugs. And then, there is a Leader. All information flow to the Leader and all actions and strategies originate from the Leader. They get the victims net worth, then befriend them, take them off track, finally loot and kill them. “Phansigars” means killers by strangulation. Except perhaps toddlers and infants, the Thugs killed everyone in the group. They didn’t want their identity and information to get out. The spared toddlers and infants were made future Thugs.

For the success of the mission, the Thug’s process of information gathering is interesting. A Thug, as traveller, will “happen” to meet his “target victim” “by chance.” Conversations flow over “drinks.” Too much friendliness will be shown. Common problems will be found and cried over. The Thugs may know the victim from before, hence know the victim’s boss. The Thug knows that the best way to gain fellowship is by criticizing the victim’s “boss.” Once pally, the victim is in the grip of the Thug.

But what if the victim becomes suspicious. Most people are suspicious of new people. Thugs have a solution to this too. The leader Thug will dispatch another Thug. The second Thug will befriend the victim against the first thug. A game is played between the Thugs who know each other but act like quarrelling strangers. The first Thug leaves the scene in a huff and the victim is left to share the gossip with “another Thug.”

But what if, even this does not work. The network of Thugs are so extensive that the leader Thug can swarm the victim or victims with groups of Thugs. This strategy can happen to a large group of innocent travellers being joined by equally large group of Thugs. The Thugs will create fear of thieves, dacoits and roads, will promote the idea of “safety in numbers” and “different safe road.” Well, the victims will never know that some numbers are never safe and some roads are better “less travelled.”

Rarely anyone escapes a Thug’s target. The tactics employed to ensnare are numerous. I write this in present tense because I believe that the practice is still on at less violent but equally lethal levels.

The story of “Thuggee’ is extensive and there are several books on this. But what fascinates me is the practice of “Khabreegiri” which follows similar lines as the practice of “Thuggee.” The Thugs of today gain access to weaknesses and vulnerabilities to undermine and hurt professionally.

At the turn of this century I joined a company where the art of snooping, “Khabreegiri” was pretty refined and fine tuned. In my almost one and half decade with the company, there was never a party, get together, picnic, outstation tours, trekking, classes, seminars, where “informers” were not present. Every method as in ‘Thuggee” were employed by the company “pimps.” They spread their “prostitutes” liberally. Humorously, “prostitutes” informed on each other to the “pimps.”

Culture is infectious and bad culture is even more so. The company, “the brothel” suffered a demise in 2019 and most of the “pimps and prostitutes” escaped into employment in other companies. Those companies may have their own “Khabrees”, but they will now see – “Khabreegiri” at scale, finesse, skill and subtlety. This might be happening. Now.

Thugs are ordinary, respectable, decent looking people. They work as good employees and live with families. They are the unsuspecting pimps and prostitutes in every environment.

Long Shot, Documentary, Netflix

An innocent man is accused of murder but is saved by luck. A TV Camera filming a show in a stadium catches a footage of the accused. This alibi saves the man from death penalty.

This 40 minutes show provides several points to ponder. A history of criminal activities by one or by family will get red flagged by law enforcers as suspect into any other crimes in the vicinity. Pressures on investigators could induce them into dishonesty and frame a suspect who may be innocent for that particular crime.

The accused was lucky to get a lawyer who went the distant to collect evidence for innocence. It’s not easy work to shift data, like, sit down and watch hours and hours of film to locate an individual in a packed stadium. And when this did not work, a chance remembrance of a TV shooting in the stadium, sent the lawyer to pursue and get HBO footage which clinched the deal. Absurdly, the judge decided on an innocent verdict based on “pure and unadulterated” – superfluity.

Unlike other similar crime shows, this show does not drag on for numerous episodes. Many crime documentaries needlessly stretch a story into never ending series of testimonials. “Long Shot” does not waste time and is to the point. But it leaves one much to think about time, chance, luck and finally, the Judge (and her children).

“Long Shot” is bizarre. The best part is the judgement.

Chris Rock Standup, Netflix

There are two “similar” Chris Rock shows on Netflix, the 2018 show, and the extended 2021 show. Watch the newer 2021. It has some additional snippets.

Any non-Indian stand ups are difficult to follow by Indians because the words, phrases, politics and punchlines (and accent) are specific to alien regions. But this Chris Rock show is easier on Indian ears as the subjects touched upon are viral and prime time.

Chris Rock opens the show with his pet peeves; Black-White and Black-Police problems in the United States. His skit on “equality between blacks and whites” and “getting black people ready for white people” is hard hitting and relevant. To educate and sensitize coloured kids to dangers of living in white world, as Chris Rock says, will always be a “clear and present” danger and blacks must always prepare for several bad scenarios.

Chris Rock has a take on the US justice system and the Gun-problem. He has a good suggestion to solve the “gun problem” in the US. One hopes Biden is listening.

Chris Rock, being a father of two kids, has a skit or two on “raising and educating kids” in the “school system.” He points out common misconceptions adults have about their kids and the lies parents tell to kids. Besides, he has a thing or two on his divorce and husband-wife relationships.

This Hour and half show is a wholesome watch. Just watch these following words or else you’ll miss some punchlines.
Al Sharpton – US Civil Rights Lawyer (colored)
Pootie Tang – A 2001 comedy movie starring Chris Rock
Crips – Violent Streets Gangs of US (Colored)
Onesie – One piece lightweight garment for kids.
Cardi B – US Rap Singeress (colored)

Philosophies of Life in a Stand-Up Comedy.

On Privacy and Surveillance-02

This post is suffixed with a number which means an earlier post on this subject exists. Click this link to get there. The earlier post is one of many aspects of my experiences with “Khabarigiri”, that is, surveillance or snooping. This post is one more such snooping incidents that show different behaviours and motivations.

The earlier post was on snooping by specific people mandated with specific tasks of “dirt gathering” by “get-togethering”, “partying”, “trekking”, and even “taking lift on a car.” I have a story to tell on snooping by “taking lift on a car” but that’s for series 03. Here I have something to say about snooping by “calculating” and by “breaking in.”

There was a time when I worked in Calcutta and, as is usual with me, I was befriended by a guy who worked as a driver. I was befriended because I had an open pocket. My salaries came into one pocket and escaped by the other five. Sensing these excesses, I abruptly stopped: drinking, smoking, spending, for a few months. My screeching brake was a bane to all the parasitic “friends” I tend to accumulate in life and the hardest hit was this driver. He tried several ways to “break my fast”, and in one conversations, he predicted how much money I may have saved by my “abstentions”. I was astounded. His figures were correct, plus/minus a thousand.

The truth that someone is calculating “about” me was apparent then. But I never internalised it by attitudinal corrections. Any other person will cast away these toxic people at first evidence. But me; I continued living with snakes.

Similar incident happened when I started working in Bombay at the turn of this century. A business minded colleague kept pestering me to know how much money I’m earning. After several failed attempts to solicit an answer, he finally said – at least tell me how much tax you pay? I told him. He felt silent, lowered his head, and then raised his head and figured my salary. His guess was near, plus/minus a few thousand.

This incident was concurrent with a time when, due to some “good performances”, middle management gave me some “increment.” This created lots of ire and fire among the incompetents. Those were the days when the company sent salary slips in envelopes. (Salary was directly credited to bank)

Since the time I got the “increment” and thereafter, for a couple of months, I always found my “salary slip envelope” tampered. I never complained, but the “operation” started on me spread internally within the department and everyone began fearing that their own “salary slip envelope” was tampered with too. The situation was solved when salary slips started getting emailed and hard copy discarded.

By mid 2017, I was closing my account with the company. The company had a “co-operative society” where one could invest money for compound interests. On final closure date, when I went to collect my cheque, upon seeing me, there was an eerie silence in the room. Staff made furtive glances, particularly, the counter-girl. My assessment on this event could be speculative, but my experiences with the company made me sense and gauge that “management” may have called to know my “invested money.”

By mentioning these behaviours I stress that surveillance on a person is closure to “Home” than “High-Tech.” It is more “people” than “apps.” It is more your relative, neighbours and even one’s own family member. This mention of “family member” might be surprising. But it’s not. I have a family member who, unknown to me, divulged all the family details to an office colleague, who happens to be a “prime-informer” of the company. So, you have to check what your husband, wife and children may be divulging to others. And what other husbands, wives and children (and colleagues and neighbours) are trying to dig out of you.

Your every information will be used against you.

Three Shows, Netflix

Pretend It’s a City

This 7 episode series is an acquired taste. Fran Lebowitz, a New York Resident multi-thinker, has her opinions thrown in left-right-center. The show is framed as a conversation between her and film director Martin Scorsese, with her doing most of the talking and Scorsese doing most of the laughing, rather, forced laughing. But the conversation is high caliber with lots of piquant observations and quick repartees. She talks of many things under the sun which are thought provoking indeed.

History of Swear Words

Nicholas Cage presents this 6 Episode series on history, geography, psychology and semantics of “Chutiya” , “Gandu“, “Bhenchod“, etc., of the English Language. It’s an exciting watch, mainly short commentaries on “cuss words” by experts in various fields. There is a music genre called “dirty blues” and singer Lucille Bogan was one of the pioneers. Check lyrics and song which is 100 years old. (another link to lyrics)

Surviving Death

This 6 episode series is scientific and logical attempts to unravel the mysteries of death in terms of a Life: “returning from death”, “communicating with the dead”, “dead communicating with the living”, and “reincarnation.” The show maintained balance between skepticism and belief, with every paranormal experiences of people being scrutinised by experts and scientists researching those subjects. Most of the queries are left open ended, probably for one to find out themselves, when the day comes.

Start with “Surviving Death”, then watch “Swear Words” to lighten yourself, then finish with “City”, if you can.

The Wall, Movie, Amazon Prime

Primarily, there is only one visible and active character onscreen. The other character is a voice. And the two are on either side of a dilapidated wall in an Iraqi war zone.

Most of the movie is filmed on the active character, a US army-man, badly injured, hiding behind a sickly wall, trying to figure out who the hell is shooting and from where. To add to the eeriness, the elusive Iraqi sniper has shot dead all long distance radios and has tuned into the walkie-talkie of the only responding US army-man.

Then a conversation starts between the two, with the walled American talking and crawling and peering and luring but the Iraqi remains a ghostly voice in the sandy wilderness. Some good Iraqi questions are asked, some bad American replies are given. Then with bond established, the Iraqi calls for help for his new found “friend.”

Only to help himself with some more…

Though a slim plot line, The Wall depends on masterful screenplay and cinematography.

The Million Pound Note, Movie, YouTube

A millionaire brothers had a bet: If a “demand draft” of a Million Pound is given to any poor man, that poor man will live like a millionaire without spending a penny.

At the very same time, an American (Gregory Peck) finds himself hungry and destitute on the streets of London and to his luck his path cross with the betting millionaire brothers. To test their bet, the millionaire brothers give the “cheque” to Gregory Peck for one month but they don’t tell him anything about the bet.

The Million Pound “Paper” opens designer shops, luxury hotel and high societies for Gregory Peck. His recommendation to buy a stock touches the highs in the share market.

And then he temporarily loses the “demand draft.” As this information spreads, shops, hotel and societies close their doors on him and the stock crashes. But all of these are soon recovered with the re-discovery of “The Million Pound Note.”

The movie showcases the perception of money in society. The story by Mark Twain is over 125 years old but the truth of the story still holds.

This 1954 movie is based on the story by Mark Twain published in 1893. In the movie, the “Million Pound Note” has a year stamp of 1903. One needs to see (and feel) the amount of “One Million Pound” in context of those times by extrapolating its value to present time. If curious calculate here.

There is a word – Debonair – which fits perfectly as epithet on two hollywood stars, Cary Grant and Gregory Peck. This 1 Hour and 20 Minutes movie is swish, snappy and sharp – just like Gregory Peck.

YouTube Link here.

The Night Manager, Miniseries, Amazon Prime

This 1 Season, 6 Episodes, is an out and out spy thriller. It’s based on the story written by John La Carr, master spy novelist who died recently.

A Night Manager is a job function associated with Hotels. As the name suggests, the time of the job coincides with many nefarious activities in the world. A Night Manager of a Cairo Hotel, through a series of events, and murder of his favorite guest, is drawn into an information about an illegal international arms deal. He offers his services to the MI 6, the British Foreign Intelligence Service, to infiltrate the network and bring down the bad guys. To add to the complexity, some top brass of the MI 6 are also involved in this dark trade. As you can see, the Night Manager is sharing information with MI 6 where some of the key members are compromised. But some diligent members of MI 6 persist in the pursuit, and after betrayals and suspense, “send” the bad guys to justice.

The TV series has slick production and performances. There is Olivia Colman, TV’s finest actress. Tom Hiddleston as Night Manager has the persona to carry off various characters like a hotel guy, a lover boy and a romantic spy who kills. Hugh Laurie, as a suave villain, is superb.

The Night Manager is bingeable; a quality associated with attention holding episodes like an unputdownable novel.

AK vs AK, Movie, Netflix

At first there is a story. Then there is an audience. The need is to deliver the story to the audience. So there are mediums like; put the story in a book, or narrate it over radio a la Neelesh Mishra, or show it on a screen – Mobile, TV, Cinema. The last medium, Screen, needs the story to be transformed into screenplay. So, we can say. the medium is the screen, the technique is the screenplay and the content is the story and finally, the target is the audience. The logistics has four parts – medium, technique, content and target.

Let’s consider medium and target as constants. This leaves technique and content as variables. I am attempting to scrutinize these two variables, technique and content, in light of the movie, “AK vs AK.”

As far as the technique of screenplay is concerned, “no stones have been left unturned.” All arts of racy movie making which is on display in many hollywood movies on streaming platform have been copied into “AK vs AK”. Bollywood is Chinese in technical copycats. Wish it had good role-models for stories too.

Now let’s consider the content. The wonderful medium of screen allows the content, the story, to be either like “one grain of rice” or like a “godown.” Meaning, the story can be slim, wafer-thin or expansive, with many details. A movie can have a fixed duration, say 2 Hours, yet it can be made to handle a shoestring story or a complexity. There are excellent movies with slim storylines, like – just two characters talking while waiting for a train. (Ijaazat) Or just one character and a voice. (Her).

One movie which is greatly in my memory is Mrinal Sen’s “Ek Din Pratidin“. Watch it on Amazon Prime. The story is slim but the treatment is awesome. The beauty is in the writing and the author has taken care for a believable delivery.

In “AK vs AK” the story idea is great – compared to other Bollywood products. It starts brilliantly but by the time it ends there is a great feeling of being let-down. If two Ak’s are playacting against each other then why should one AK, Anil Kapoor, is shown firing actual gunshot into the belly of another AK. When everything is a drama, it should have ended as a drama. Or, if the character of Anil Kapoor was going to use actual bullet in the end, a valid reason for this action should have been created earlier in the story to validate such an action.

“AK vs AK” is a contrived story to showcase a concocted screenplay. It’s like a newspaperman delivering yesterday’s newspaper on a Rs. 1,00,000 bicycle. At first when you see the newspaperman on his swanky bicycle you’ll be enthralled but when you discover he delivered yesterday’s newspaper, you won’t notice the swankiness of the bike but the relevance of the delivery.

When the movie started I was on the edge of my “bed” with a feeling that, well, oh, finally Bollywood “has arrived.” But towards the end I felt cheated. Comparatively, Coolie No. 1 (2020) seems an honest movie. It didn’t waste my time. Within 10 mins had I quit. “AK vs AK” strung me along for 01 Hour 45 Mins and then kicked my face.

In Hindi there is a saying- “ऊँची दुकान फीकी पकवान”, (much cry and little wool). “AK vs AK” should be the new idiom for such experiences.