A collection of articles and columns written by me, Arkadev Ghoshal

Ever had one of those ‘enlightening’ conversations where nobody was sure of the facts, but had ‘read it somewhere’ and that was enough for them to claim that it was absolutely true?

Like the ‘fact’ that the kings of the four suites in the deck of cards are actually modelled after real life monarchs, or that Coca Cola once contained cocaine?

Well, here’s a website that should put all those brainstorms to rest. Welcome to http://www.snopes.com, that works on dispelling rumours and misnomers by unearthing documented facts.

According to it, Coca Cola did once have cocaine in it, but the kings-of-the-suites thing is just an urban legend, one of the many that this site has busted.

As for the website itself, Snopes has been around for some time and it has shed quite a few skins over the years. However, the basic layout remains the same.

The homepage has a collection of topics, each marked with a small symbol. Click on any one of them, and it leads you to the next page featuring all the dope on that topic.

The best part of this website is that it is unpretentious and simple. The second page marks the rumours as true, false, or just indeterminate. There is even a legend that shows whether the rumour is partly true and partly false.

Thus it is that you come to know that the picture of a mural in Iraq actually depicts the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre is not a hoax, but Donald Duck being once banned in Finland, because he does not wear pants, is a hoax indeed!

The section referred to as the Inboxer Revolution deserves a special mention. It is dedicated to those chain mails and forwarded mails which make their appearances in your inbox, and tells us whether they are true at all! This section is a real life-saver for people who have been crusading against the spread of misinformation that results from these emails!

People can now rest easy, because it lambastes claims like AIDS being spread by needle pricks in cinema halls, or by eating a pineapple on which the fruit vendor’s infected blood had fallen!

Each section has several entries that redefine ‘outrageous’, and although mane of the items may not remotely be connected to India, they always make for engaging reads.

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Published on November 7, 2010, in the After Hrs section of DNA, Jaipur. Full text also at:

http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/dna-daily-news-analysis-mumbai/mi_8111/is_20101109/facts-straight/ai_n56251077/

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There was a time when, after a film was released, people depended mostly on word-of-mouth feedback, and rarely on the newspaper critics’ reviews, to know how it had turned out. These were the days when even if a film had not been well made, it could garner a decent viewership. But that was before websites like http://www.thevigilidiot.com came along.

Since then, the filmmaker is aware of the threat of a faceless critic ready to pan their creation, causing it to lose valuable viewers. But then again, thanks to such websites, directors cannot pass off stale or sub-average fare packaged in a slick look without any one calling them on it.

This website specialises in taking apart both Hollywood and Bollywood flicks, but what makes it stand apart is that the critics here tend to do it in a cartoon format! And despite giving out massive spoilers, they make the review pretty funny.

The site features a comic strip for each film that is reviewed, where stick figures tell the story of the film in several panels. The figures themselves have comic facial or physical features. The dialogues are a parodied satire of the original ones, reflecting the shortcomings of the film. Take, for example, the review of We Are Family. The supposedly emotional scene of Kajol’s character coming to know for the first time about her cancer is turned into a farce, and it’s done by questioning how a test, done just two hours ago, ascertains the cancer growth, and why the doctor has done the tests only now, even though her patient has been visiting her for months!

Hollywood movies aren’t spared either! The Sex and the City 2 review is caustic right from the introductory panel of the strip. And just so you recognise who’s who, Sarah Jessica Parker’s character is given a face so elongated that it resembles a horse’s face! I’ll leave it to you to discover how the other faces look.

The language used in these strips can be offensive, though, and the way some of the women are portrayed is indeed very rude. But these aside, the website is easy to handle and immensely enjoyable! So here’s wishing you happy surfing, and a nice cyber- life, folks!

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Published on November 2, 2010, in the After Hrs Section of DNA, Jaipur. Full text also at:

http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/dna-daily-news-analysis-mumbai/mi_8111/is_20101102/critically-comic/ai_n56191277/

Jaipur, Incredible?

"Hello hello! Where are you from? You need Rikshaw? What you don’t talk to Indians?’…Every 65 seconds. It’s impossible to walk alone here..(sic)" This is how a blogger, whose handle is adamcorro, described his first encounter with people of Jaipur.

The rest of his blog paints a grimmer picture. But he is not alone in his frustration, several other blogs paint an unpalatable picture of the city, describing how foreign tourists are hassled eyond their wits by overeager beggars, shopkeepers and service providers!Sample this, "…the train station is one I don’t want to visit again, we got hounded by men and I have never felt so intimidated (sic)," wrote a blogger with the username Gemsblog10.

Recalling a similar experience, a young girl from USA, with the handle AM In India, described some of the good times she had in Jaipur, but added, "On the down side, we were inappropriately groped by grinning fiveyear old slum boys (sic)."

Experiences like these create a fear in the tourists’ minds and that is why they prefer to move in groups. Like H2oz, a British blogger, who wrote, "I am glad I am in a group as the locals here hassle us quite a bit (sic)." But even that doesn’t keep away all the trouble, as Ninfa and Tony discovered on their visit to Jaipur, "Our tuktuk driver was exactly the type we wanted to avoid. Every five minutes he asked if we wanted to go shopping, or visit the government bazaar, or the industrial zone, etc. etc. (sic)"

And their woes didn’t end there. The auto-rickshaw driver was such a crook, that he doubled his fare on the pretext that the initially-agreed-to amount was for just one person! Unfortunately, the feeling on the ground is similar to the sentiments on the blogosphere. French national Yohann Christian Charbonneau tells After Hrs, "Yes, the people here seem pushy. The moment I alighted from the train, I was besieged by a lot of people who either wanted me to take to their hotel or wanted to offer their services as tourist guides."

Equally overwhelmed by the persistence is Geoff Himes, a journalist from USA who says, "It’s ok for the people to ask, if they can accept ‘no’ for an answer!"

Irrespective of how mesmerised they were with the city’s beauty and traditions, such experiences seem to have left the tourists with a bad after-taste. German tourist Mario Schmidt sums up the experience succinctly. "That’s India!" he says with a knowing smile.

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This article was about how foreign tourists coming to Jaipur face a lot of problems, and now they are blogging about it. This one was published on October 29, 2010, in the After Hrs section of DNA, Jaipur. Full text also at:

http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/dna-daily-news-analysis-mumbai/mi_8111/is_20101029/jaipur-incredible/ai_n56157194/

Have you ever wondered what unusual things can happen if the law of the land was followed strictly? For starters, all males above the age of 14 in the United Kingdom would have to practise longbow archery for at least two hours, under the supervision of the local clergy! And what about those who break the law or show utter disregard for it, or even think that they can get away with anything? Ask the two people who tried to pull off a heist after painting their faces with sketch pens!

If you still haven’t had enough of the dumb ways laws act and how people react to them, try reading about the woman who sued a police dog because he bit her! All this and much more you can find at http://www.dumblaws.com, http://www.dumbcriminals.com and http://www.dumb-lawsuits.com! The first of these lists some of the nonsensical laws in the USA and several other countries, but also gives the reason why they exist, or quotes the full text of the laws.

That’s how you can read of the law that bans bathhouses in California, because in the ’80s they used to be one of the primary places where people went for anonymous sex. The law was supposed to prevent people from HIV! Then, at http://www.dumbcriminals.com, you come across people who seem to have no idea as to which side of the law they are on! A sample: The man who invited action against him by calling 911 (the emergency hotline in the USA), and reporting that his stash of marijuana had been stolen! Unfortunately, this website has, for some reason, not been updated since July 16 this year.

The third website, http://www.dumb-lawsuits.com, lists a bunch of frivolous lawsuits filed in the USA. Though India probably has its own share of them as well, they might not be not as silly as the three people who sued Disneyland because it’s costumed characters at Halloween HorrorNight startled these individuals so much that they fell down! Sadly, this website too has not been updated for a long time.

All in all, although laws, lawyers and the judiciary in general have never been subject to scrutiny, let alone ridicule, these three websites offer the best ways to take a dig at them.

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My column, Surfbored. This issue was on October 26, 2010, in the After Hrs section of DNA Jaipur. Full text is also available at:

http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/dna-daily-news-analysis-mumbai/mi_8111/is_20101026/theyre-legally-dumb/ai_n56131799/

Do you think Hindi news channels have made a mockery of the term ‘breaking news’ with even a cat on a hot tin roof meriting this moniker? (Remember the Chajje pe Billo Rani news item?) Well, http://www.fakingnews.com actually has the cojones to take it one step further, and report fake news in the breaking news format!

An Indian blog, run by ‘The Paagal Patrakar’–who openly claims that all the news barring the the editorials is fake-has tons of sarcasm, satire and plain fun! Sample this, a photograph of pigeons trying to peck at food held by a squirrel is captioned Lafangey Parindey. A news item enumerates how, after the Kalmadi debacle, even terrorists have pulled out of the Commonwealth Games! Or better yet a news titled ‘Khap Panchayat orders Rahul Mahajan to be forcibly married off to Rakhi Sawant’!

The site has easy reading, with categories demarcated clearly. The entertainment section tells the tale of an IIT aspirant who killed himself because he couldn’t understand Inception, despite seeing it seven times! Or how the 3 Idiots team has been accused of promoting farting, after the initial ragging charges, because Chatur not only has the airs (literally), but praises it in a poem too!

The business section has such gems as ‘MBA turned entrepreneur gives up, fires himself, seeks bailout’. Politics has ‘PM’s floor sweeping for CWG called off due to ‘2 lakh broom’. And the crime section has stories on how the Chinkara has turned hostile in the poaching case involving Salman Khan, or how the railways are planning to delay trains indefinitely to fool waiting dacoits!

Then again, there’s a similar caveat here that I have issued for most other websites till date. FakingNews does have its share of risque stuff. But these are very apparent, and you can easily steer clear of them.

Otherwise, happily surf news that rivals the ‘real’ thing in hilarity, but claims straight away that it dispenses just humour, and maybe a little dose of ‘what would have been’. Happy surfing, and have a nice cyber-life, folks!

g_arkadev@dnaindia.net

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Published in After Hrs, DNA, Jaipur edition on October 12. My column Surfbored is about reviewing websites. Full text also at:

http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/dna-daily-news-analysis-mumbai/mi_8111/is_20101012/originally-fake/ai_n55548670/

‘Everyone has one. What’s yours?’ Like the tagline of a website proclaims, secrets are something we all guard. And whether they are dirty, warm, cold, spicy, bone-chilling, sad or even downright sick, telling someone about them or even coming clean is something we all want, but rarely have the guts to do.

Luckily, http://www.postsecret.com and http://www.sixbillionsecrets.com, give you that release, even though they are public forums. These websites let people express their thoughts, feelings and facts about themselves, all the while protecting their identity.

Of the two, Six Billion Secrets (SBS) is the clearer one, though Post Secret (PS) has its own merits. PS is visual, Spartan and can be risque at times, with nude photographs turning up from time to time. It claims to be ‘an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.’

On the down side however, the address of mailing is not easily accessible. Some of the photographs, though they look like a nice collage, can be confusing.

SBS, on the other hand, is interactive and simple, despite the absence of the visual element. Its plain textual format is similar to FMyLife or GivesMeHope, and works to its advantage.

As for the secrets, they themselves range in mood from the absolute morose to downright funny! You find a plea by a daughter to her parents for more attention and care, juxtaposed with someone confessing that he likes to play with his kid brother’s Star Wars toys! However, the number of the sad secrets is overwhelming!

Then again, the number of confessions on these websites is not so paltry either! People confess everything, like how they love someone despite the other person’s shortcomings, or how they have battled their past and overcome it thanks to that special person or just a group of friends!

Some of them can also give you knots in your stomach, with stories of youngsters abused by their friends or relatives. Some of them have contemplated suicide, others have attempted it. Some of them have succeeded, while others have been saved by a single kindly act that restored their faith in life.

Go ahead, let your inquisitive instincts take over. Explore these two websites. But beware; some contents could scar you forever!

g_arkadev@dnaindia.net

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Published on October 5, 2010. Full text also at

http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/dna-daily-news-analysis-mumbai/mi_8111/is_20101005/ill/ai_n55466460/

Taking on Manikda…

The task was daunting. To try and give a modern look and feel to a logo that had initially been designed by the polymathic Satyajit Ray was no mean feat! And the instructions regarding this ‘revamp’ were explicit: the font must not change, but the end result must have a contemporary look.

This was the task that Jaipur-born Rachita Rakyan faced. Rupa, the publishing house, was celebrating 75 years of existence, and wanted its logo to be given a contemporary twist. However, they did not want to change it too much.

Rachita, who now lives in Delhi and runs a branding and advertisement firm there, had her task cut out. "My team and I tried several ideas, like birds coming out of books. Finally, the people at Rupa decided on this logo, where the words are depicted as written horizontally over books in a shelf," she explained.

"Books add colour to our life, and hence the use of coloured books as the motif. Besides, they are arranged on a shelf, with ‘Rupa’ emblazoned across them. This was the idea behind the logo, and that was why it was chosen as the new one," Rachita told After Hrs.

g_arkadev@dnaindia.net

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Rupa, the publication house, is celebrating the completion of 75 years of existence, and has modified its logo. Published on October 2, 2010. Full text also at:

http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/dna-daily-news-analysis-mumbai/mi_8111/is_20101002/manikda/ai_n55447496/