Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Chp 670. The Images are Back!

As I have mentioned in my previous post, image hosting site Photobucket really did a number on me by disabling my 2000+ images across 650+ blog posts that I have been tediously updating for the past 13 years, unless I pay a ransom amount of $399 (INR 25,580).

Even though I was super pissed and overwhelmed with a gut wrenching emotion, I finally decided to pay, until others pointed out that even with this ridiculously high premium membership fee, they were still going to limit bandwidth usage, for which they were probably going to ask for even more cash, so I finally said enough is enough.

I am not blogging to make any money, my adsense revenue is peanuts. I'm just a typical middle-class struggling game designer, and in my spare time, I write. I write because I enjoy writing, and in a way, it is a therapeutic remedy for me to escape this maddening corporate world. And sometimes people find some of my posts useful in terms of getting to know about new culture or information about important causes etc., which brings a smile upon my face as I lay to bed after a stressful and hectic day at work.

So yesterday, my friends from work helped me set up my own AWS server. I am not going to rely on any third-party image hosting sites anymore. Alternate image hosting sites like imgur, flickr etc may be free for now, but they can go the Photobucket way any day. Once bitten, twice shy, it's time to have my own space.

It took me a few minutes to activate my account using my credit card, and finally, I was registered.

Amazon Web Service (AWS) is a trusted name, and I've been fiddling with the S3 console and infrastructure since yesterday and I really love it! It took me some time to get used to the dashboard navigation, but all I can say is, wow! Their cloud service is impeccable, and creating and arranging folders and uploading files are pretty easy and smooth too. The bandwidth and data usage plan seem to be quite affordable as well, with a plethora of other useful add-on services available.

This is a trial post to see if my embedded images are being displayed properly or not. Let me know if the images are loading quickly or if you face any problem viewing them.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, there are a lot of things I want to blog about, starting with our family and friends gettogether for a beautiful Goan wedding…

…and of course about food! My love for food has grown multifold…

…to a ravishing wedding reception at Bangalore and Mysore…

…and MOAR food, those of you who have my number will know about my daily ritual of posting photos of scrumptious meals on my WhatsApp story :)

…I want to blog about the amazing weekend getaway I went to with my office colleagues at an idyllic private hill resort…

…and back to food again, about experimenting with different home-cooked veg dishes…

…to hanging out with friends and bidding farewell to old ones…

…and making delicious home-cooked non-veg dishes and momo parties…

…to this "WTF was I doing" moment during our crazy trips to the serene Lavasa tourist spot…

…to an even crazier time at a combined birthday party at a private bungalow in Lonavala…

…and finally back to food again about the different dishes and pickles I've ordered recently guaranteed to make your mouth water…

And that's just a few of them. There are many other topics I want to write about and once I am more comfortable with my AWS server, I will be more enthusiastic to publish more content.

Uploading images to AWS S3 is very simple, and my friends recommend I use an FTP to make that process even easier. Copying and pasting links from my console to my blog is also easy as pie, though the only thing I wish it has is the option to view images in thumbnail mode (maybe there is and I haven't figured it out yet).

Looking forward to a brighter blogging future now.

I will slowly be editing my old posts too one by one too, and hopefully by the end of this year, all my 650+ blog posts will have images on them again. Once I cross my allocated monthly bandwidth limit, it will be a bit expensive to keep hosting the images, but my friends and I calculated and realized it will still be cheaper than Photobucket's $399 cost. And this is Amazon we're talking about. A brand everybody trusts.

Cheers for now mes amis!

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Chp 669. The Blog Dilemma

I have so many topics to blog about right now, ranging from the socio-politico issues back home to the places I've been to recently or the food I recently had, but somehow… I just don't feel like blogging anymore.

All thanks to Photobucket.

For those of you who are unaware, Photobucket is an image hosting website where you can upload your photos and embed them on your blogs and websites. It is used to be a free service. Until last month when Photobucket with no prior warning disabled all third-party hosting to most of their existing user base! Billions of images were affected.

I get it, sometimes, you can't just keep giving freebies to everyone, you too need to bring home the bacon. But here's the thing. I've always been a premium member of Photobucket! I was on their $9.99/month plan, paying around 650 rupees every month. Why? Because I have more than 2000+ images embedded across more than 650+ blog posts over the past 13 years. So, even though I had used up only 2 GB of my 10 GB storage allocation, I exceeded the monthly bandwidth limit frequently, especially when there's a popular new post many people were sharing. And that was why I became a premium member many years ago.

So in spite of me being a premium member, why are all the images across my 650+ blog posts still disabled?

Because, apparently, I need to be on a higher tier of their premium membership now!

Yeah that's right. A $9.99/month member is still not eligible to have a third-party image hosting facility! Only the $39.99/month member can avail of this special feature, according to the new rule. That's… around 2500 rupees per month! Daymmm that's cold.

And here's the kicker. If you're thinking, "Hey Kima, if I were in your shoes, you know, I'll probably pay, after all you've been blogging for 13 years now and even though your writings may be mediocre, at least you have the passion to write and it is important to keep such passion burning, so just pay them the damn ransom fee of 2500 bucks!" then you're wrong!

Photobucket had added another new clause in their recent shake up - Premium payment is now billed annually and not monthly, so I now have to make a payment of $399 in one shot to avail of this plan. That's 25,580 rupees!

Yup, this is not just an extortion. It is an exhorbi-tortion.

I mean, come on, I am not even blogging to make money. Back in the days when I was really blogging hard, adsense revenue paid off a little bit. But all that changed once I started becoming more serious on my job and had less time to blog.

Well, why don't you just move all your images to another service provider? Easier said than done. Moving them means I will have to move 2000+ images, PLUS editing 650+ blog posts, line by line, every single "a href" HTML link to the new hyperlink, which will take me weeks if not months to do.

And here's what I have to say about Photobucket. I don't trust it anymore.

$399 may be quite high, but I can afford that, considering the situation I am in right now. But I have lost faith in the brand. Lost complete trust because of the following reasons -

First of all, suddenly announcing this policy change with no prior warning is nothing but total douchebaggery. A little heads-up would have really helped. Sure, there would be a lot of disappointed people, but a vast majority would have understood, or at least be prepared for the upcoming winter.

Secondly, setting the "third party hosting" feature to only the top-most tier of their premium membership package seems truly unfair, but what is even more unfair is about changing the billing cycle from monthly to annually. In a way, one can't help but get the feeling that the stakeholders are trying to make a quick exit, leaving us high and dry.

The third point is, as a loyal and regular user of Photobucket for 13 years, I know for a fact that there is one bug that had never been solved in all these years, and that is the folder management system. I like being organized (maybe a bit OCD'ish). I like to put all the images I am embedding on specific posts neatly arranged in separate folders, but many a times, when I try to "create a new folder", the server would deny me that. I had to retry like 10-20 times, even retrying at different times of the day. And yeah, I learnt that that is a very common issue, and I sucked it up and dealt with it, because I was paying just 650 rupees per month anyway. What assurance do I have that that will not happen again once I pay 25,580 rupees?

And the last point, the fourth point is that, even if I was to pay 25,580 rupees per annum, why is there still a bandwidth allocation limit clause on their new policy? Why is that asterisk there? We all hate privacy policies and terms & conditions, but seeing that asterisk kinda makes me think I will still have to pay extra for bandwidth even after paying the exuberant annual fee of 25,580 rupees. That is not cool bro, not cool at all.

See, how can you trust a brand again after all that?

Right now I am still sitting on the fence about whether to migrate or not. Nobody likes to be held at ransom. At the same time, editing 650+ blog posts is going to be a Herculean task. I hate Photobucket so much right now, I think I'm going to implode. It had completely drained me of all energy and passion to continue blogging. Aaaaarggghhh I wanna wake up from this nightmare!

Angry Mizohican out.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Chp 668. Oh Facebook, you are killing me with your targeted ads!

With the evolution of social media, behavioral ads targeting have disrupted the advertising industry like never before. Seven years ago I even wrote a blog piece about this which you can read here (but do ignore the large broken thumbnails, thanks to Photobucket suddenly changing their business model and disabling all third-party embedded images).

The idea of selectively targeting users that would appeal to a particular product had always been there, which could not be achieved by Print, Radio or TV media. But the Digital media revolution solved all that. By tracking users' browsing behavior and history, people got to see advertisements that would most likely influence their buying decision, which was a win-win situation for both the advertisers and the target audience (unless you are concerned about privacy).

Any of you ever wondered why you keep seeing ads about stuff that you like on various websites or Facebook now and then? That is because all the ads (and not just ads but pages, groups and links you may like) are all linked to your past browsing behavior and cookies, or even your friends' activities.

You keep opening your Jabong or Myntra app to search for a particular shoe or jeans but it is not there. And suddenly one fine day as you are scrolling down your Facebook timeline, viola, that exact boot or thong you're looking for is right there, with a click that directly opens your Amazon or Clovia or Zivame app (not that I know what the last two apps are).

But recently, I learnt that Facebook had taken this feature a bit too far!

So the other night, just like any other week nights, I dragged my sorry ass back to my apartment after a long tiring day at work. Took a refreshing hot shower and switched on my PC for my daily dose of Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Jimmy Fallon and John Oliver (miss you Jon Stewart) when I glanced upon my Facebook timeline feed.

One of my friends and fellow blogger Bd Chawngthu had posted a GnR "Sweet Child o' Mine" cover by Jasmine Thompson.

I was immediately like, "wow!" because I have been a long time fan of Jasmine Thompson. For those of you who don't know who she is, she does this really awesome covers of popular songs and has a very angelic incandescent voice. And she's just 16 years old! I think she shot to fame with her amazing cover of "Let her go" by Passenger, but I have been following her much before that, back when she did a cover of Coldplay's Yellow.

Back then, she was known as TantrumJas, and she was very active on her Facebook page as well. Why I hold her really special now was because back then, before she got famous, she actually used to reply to my messages on her page! Yeah! I'm showing-off right here, the shameless me :D

She told me she's an atheist and we had a discussion about religion and stuff, and I was really impressed and amazed with her knowledge at such a young age. Now of course, she has almost 3 million subscribers on her YouTube page with over 450 million views, so… yeah, we don't breathe the same air anymore. But I am truly happy for her success. It was an honor to get a reply from such a celeb :)

Like most normal human beings who have this need to tell others that they once knew somebody famous, I too wanted to name-drop and boast that she once replied to my messages, so I messaged Bd immediately. :D

What followed next was a comedy of errors.

After listening to my shameless boast for a few minutes, Bd just kinda acknowledged patiently and then finally asked, "But what has all that got to do with her post?"

It was THEN that I realized, because of Facebook's personalized targeted ads, I made a fool of myself!

This is actually how Bd's post appeared on her wall…

And this is how it appeared on mine! (and it still is as of today)

Daymmm Facebook.

I mean targeting me and showing a specific link or ad is one thing, but replacing an entire linked image from the actual source with a targeted ad is definitely something else. I mean, that is not even ethical, is it?

I ended up saying something stupid as a result.

Check out Bd's post yourself –

Do you see a picture of Axl Rose or Jasmine's cover song or something else (considering you're logged in on Facebook).

This is so weird.

At this rate, I think soon, complete status updates of friends will get replaced by ads entirely.

Yo Jimmy, why are you writing about sexually transmitted disease on your wall?

What the hell are you talking about? My latest status update was about me going to Church!

Ahhh when that day comes, it would be disastrously hilarious. :D

To the future…

Friday, July 07, 2017

Chp 667. Neighbor of the Beast

For those of you who haven't read the first part, please do so here before reading this.

[image source: Stefan Kuhn]

"Place that side table by the bed," Jenny instructed, as her brother did most of the heavy lifting. Relocating to a new apartment was definitely not an easy task.

Jenny and her brother Zuala had just moved in to their new apartment at Koregaon Park from their former Spa accommodation, and there was a lot of work to be done. Hiring movers and packers, booking Tempos, patiently transporting some of the bulkier furniture via the lift, overseeing the movers, fixing some of the household amenities like broken bathroom flush and faulty kitchen tap, signing rental agreement and police verification forms etc etc. Yeah it was a hectic day.

Fortunately, two of her former colleagues from La Fontazella Spa managed to find some time to assist them. The others were busy at work as it was their last week before they all move to Mumbai.

"Careful with the vase," Jenny said while unpacking a cardboard box full of clothes.

Ting tong!

It was the door bell.

Thinking it could be the electrician or plumber, she opened the door nonchalantly, only to find a dashing tall man in his mid-twenties. He looked like a Mizo.

"Hi," the man greeted Jenny and then spoke in Mizo, surprising her. "I'm from Mizoram too, I live right next door. I couldn't help overhear people speaking in our language!"

He grinned.

Jenny smiled, "Oh that is awesome, having a Mizo neighbor."

"I'm John," the man said.

"I'm Jenny," she replied.

John was a Claims Manager at a BPO unit for British Airways. He worked nights and days alternately every month. As is a Mizo unwritten practice, John immediately dived in and helped Jenny and Zuala with the unpacking and rearranging. That night, they all had dinner at John's apartment next door as Jenny's kitchen was still a mess.

During the first week of their stay in Koregaon Park, Jenny and Zuala didn't get to see John again as he was working the graveyard shift. They were out by the time he got back from work and again they had already slept by the time he was leaving for work.

It was also during this time that Jenny found a job at "Thai Desiree Spa".

The first few weeks of working at "Thai Desiree Spa" was a horrible experience for Jenny. Even though she didn't actually have to provide extra services to her clients, she still felt very awkward about it. After all, in those three years she worked at La Fontazella Spa, not a single client of hers ever demanded anything like that.

She also felt odd sending in Nam or Kwan or Mindy or Priya once she was done massaging her clients. In fact, she didn't talk to them at all initially. She judged them for what they did inside those closed doors.

If only those walls could talk, she thought.

But slowly, she got to befriend them, and they turned out to be really sweet and friendly people once she got to know them well.

She learnt that none of them enjoyed the extra work they did, and that the only reason they did it was because they needed the extra money. Priya was an orphan in Kolkata and ran away from her orphanage after the warden molested her. Mindy got married while she was in college and then was divorced after the doctor told her husband she was barren. She couldn't find any matrimonial matches again after that and dropped out of college after her own family disowned her.

Kwan actually had a son out of wedlock back in Bangkok and her single mother was looking after him for her. She would send home around 1.5 lakh rupees a month to her mother for her son's education, food and clothing.

"1.5 lakh!?" Jenny exclaimed, while she mentally calculated her salary and tips and realized it was far too less than that amount.

Kwan smiled back.

"How much do you charge anyway inside those rooms?" Jenny inquired inquisitively.

Kwan laughed.

"In fact, what is it that you do inside?" Jenny too laughed as she asked.

"Well… if you really want to know…" Kwan clenched her fist and moved it up and down quickly, "I charge them three thousand for that," and then brought her fist close to her mouth, "Four thousand," and then her hands removed an imaginary front part of her blouse like Clark Kent who's just about to become Superman, "Five thousand."

A bewildered Jenny gasped, "My God Kwan! You mean…" she giggled a bit, "you actually do it inside there?"

Kwan slapped Jenny on her elbows and laughed, "Of course not silly! I'm in this job doing all these things only because I brought in one little fucker into this world, I am definitely not planning to bring in another one as of now."

They both laughed out loudly.

"I do a topless body to body massage for five thousand and let them touch my breasts, but no sex!" Kwan said casually like it was an everyday normal conversation. "Nam does the sex though," she continued, "but only to some of her regular clients that she knows well, not everyone."

Jenny felt like she was in another dimension. She was actually impressed at how they were able to hide their displeasure or discomfort so convincingly.

When she got home that night, she could hear muffled sounds of music and laughter coming from the neighboring apartment.

Guess John is having a party, Jenny said to herself.

But as she was about to ring her doorbell, she noticed that her apartment door was locked from the outside. A message next to the lock read: "I'm next door at John's place, sis."

Ufff, Jenny sighed.

She rang John's doorbell.

The music suddenly became loud the moment John opened the door. She heard Lilzo playing on the speakers. She spotted her brother immediately, who was busy feeling the music and clutching his chest as he sang, "Leng… leng… leng… lung a leng…"

"Welcome welcome!" John said as he led Jenny inside. There were around 10 people inside his apartment, all Mizos, drinking and partying.

"Heyyy sis!" Zuala exclaimed, obviously tipsy. Jenny looked at him disapprovingly.

"Relax," John said as he patted her on her shoulder. "So my night shift month has just ended. From tomorrow onwards, I'll be back to day shift, so I usually throw a small house party to mark this occasion," John explained.

He then introduced her to all his friends, who were also working in different BPOs.

At first, Jenny was a little hesitant, but as John handed her her fourth pint of Bira beer, she started letting her hair down a bit. But she still glanced at her little brother now and then to make sure he wasn't crossing any lines or drinking too much.

Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but Jenny really enjoyed that night talking and laughing with John and his friends in his bedroom. They made fun of different Mizo politicians and celebrities, and even talked about the many unfortunate events they had faced. It was definitely a memorable night for Jenny… until the situation drastically changed a few moments later.

As they sat there laughing and joking about different topics, John's friends suddenly said they had to go outside the room and get a refill. They winked at John as they got up. John nodded.

Suddenly Jenny was all alone inside John's bedroom with him.

She could still hear the music playing outside, along with a lot of drunken laughter and shrieks. Great night, she said to herself.

John suddenly moved next to her and kissed her.

As much as she was shocked by his action, her inhibitions were lowered because of the alcohol and she complied.

She really did enjoy the kiss. It had been more than six years since she kissed anybody. If she was not drunk, she would have definitely said no. And even if she had allowed herself to be kissed, her first concern would probably be whether she was doing the kiss right or not. But right then, she was like, damn it, bring it on soldier boy.

As they enjoyed the magical moment, John's hands moved further, deeper, around her body.

It was only when he slid his hands inside her bra that Jenny first resisted. But John easily overpowered her.

"No…" she uttered.

But John didn't stop.

He kept trying again and again until he managed to remove her bra. Jenny by then was trying to fight off the physical advance while the whole room was spinning around her. Before she knew it, her panties were already ripped off. And then like a bolt of electrocution, she felt the excruciating pain of John entering her. She screamed out loudly, but the music outside the room was louder, rendering her helpless. Even in such an inebriated sense, tears streamed down Jenny's face as John entered her again and again, until she felt a hot stream of liquid entering her. The madness stopped right then, though she knew it had only just begun for her.

John kissed her one more time but all she could feel was shame. And anger. Anger directed not at John but herself. The room was still spinning around but she could feel so much disgust. She continued lying down, coiled up in a foetal position, wishing all this was just a horrible nightmare.

John got up and pulled up his pants. He caressed Jenny's hair one more time, but she flinched away immediately.

"That was awesome… you were awesome," John said gently.

Jenny tried her best not to puke.

"I'm gonna get a beer, you want one?" John asked.

Jenny didn't answer.

"Ok I'll get one for you, my princess," John said in a seductive voice and left the room.

The moment he left the room, Jenny immediately got up and put on her clothes, the fragments that she could find. She had to get out of that hell-hole before he returned. She looked in a mirror to see her face messed up by the mascara and tears combined. She quickly wiped her face clean and rearranged her hair as best as she could. And then taking a deep breath and putting on a very brave face, she stormed out of John's bedroom.

The music was still loud outside. Jenny staggered across the room. People were laughing in small groups, and she couldn't help but think they were laughing at her. All the faces were hazy and blurred, but she managed to find her brother who was sitting cozily next to a Mizo girl way older than he was. Jenny grabbed his arm and sternly said, "Let's go."

"But sis…" Zuala protested.

"I said it's time to go. You have classes tomorrow and I too have work." Jenny reprimanded him, trying her best to keep a normal face. She definitely didn't want her brother to know what had just happened to her.

Zuala meekly got up. As they were leaving, John came out of the kitchen holding two pints of beer.

"Hey???" he exclaimed questioningly to the leaving pair.

Jenny didn't acknowledge him, as she barged out of John's apartment holding her brother's arm. That was the last time she ever spoke to John again.

"Is everything alright sis?" Zuala asked as they stepped inside their apartment.

"Yes of course, everything's fine," Jenny replied. She tried to smile but wasn't sure if she was successful or not. "Go change, Zual. And take out the garbage. I'm going to take a shower."

The moment Jenny stepped inside her bathroom, she removed her clothes completely, knelt down and cried again. And then an overwhelming feeling of nausea overtook her and she puked her guts out inside the toilet commode. She managed to turn on the shower, and as the hot water hit her, flashback of what had just happened kept reoccurring in her head. She washed herself thoroughly, and the more she cleaned her intimate part, the more she was reminded of the shameful ordeal.

That night, Jenny couldn't sleep. Even if she managed to doze off for a few minutes, dark bloodthirsty monsters chased her in her dream, waking her up to a distorted reality. She clutched her mouth shut in case she ended up screaming from the nightmares because she didn't want to wake her brother up.

The next day, she somehow managed to find the strength to show up at work. She smiled at everyone, though she didn't speak much. She waited for all the girls to change into their Spa uniforms, and once they left the changing room, she pulled back Kwan inside.

"Hey, what's up?" Kwan asked.

"Hey… urmmmm…" Jenny said shyly, "Do you have an… emergency pill with you?"

"Pill? What pill? Ohh you mean…" Kwan smiled at Jenny excitedly. Then Kwan sang in a musical tone, "Somebody got some last night…"

Jenny cringed, but forced a fake smile.

"I don't have one, but I'm sure Nam has, lemme check," she said as she walked out of the room. Jenny just stood there motionlessly, like a kindergarten student sent to the Principal's office.

"Here you go," Kwan said as she reappeared and handed Jenny a packet of i-Pill.

"Thanks," Jenny said meekly, as she tore open the packet and swallowed the pill, along with her dignity and pride.

Jenny was never the same again. But she tried her best not to let that incident affect her daily routine. None of her colleagues including Kwan or even her brother suspected something was wrong. Walking into a massage room to see a perverted client remove his towel and demanding sexual favors was no longer what she despised the most. What she dreaded the most was that moment she stepped out of her apartment to go to work and the moment she returned home - in case she happened to meet John or worse, be stuck in an elevator with him.

Fortunately, she didn't get to meet him again. And few days later, Zuala informed her that John had gone back to Mizoram for his vacation. Jenny heaved a huge sigh of relief inside.

Back in Mizoram, John was having a good time catching up with his family and old friends. There was the usual mix of Royal Stag and Old Monk bottles littered across his table. John and his homies were just chilling at his room, talking about different topics ranging from sports to the latest Mizo sex scandal videos.

"Can you believe it?" Siama said. Siama was John's classmate throughout school in Mizoram. "Can you believe that lucky motherfucker got to bang three young chicks while we can't even find one?"

"Speaking of banging chicks," OPa, John's cousin joined in. "Tell us about your life in Pune, John, and I mean the sleazy part, not your boring call center job."

"Yeahhh," chimed in Siama.

"I'm sure you must be shacking up with some hot chick, you bastard," OPa continued as they all laughed.

"Well…" John said, smirking.

Siama and OPa immediately went, "Ahhhh, you son of a bitch! There is someone, I knew it!"

"There is this really hot Mizo girl who moved in right next to my apartment," John said with much pride.

"Lucky bastard!" Siama interrupted.

"The only problem is," John continued, "she works at a Spa."

"Dayymmm," OPa said. "So… you don't trust her?"

"It's not about that, I haven't got to know her that well to know what type of a person she is," John replied.

"But the real question here is," Siama butted in, "did you poke her?"

Both Siama and OPa laughed out. John too let out a light laughter. Their fourth friend Mapuia who was silent all this time and just listening to their drunken locker-room talk raised his eyebrows, and then got back to playing Clash Royale on his phone.

"Urrmmm…" John grinned.

"Oh you bastard!" OPa exclaimed.

"So how was it?" Siama asked.

"Well, she came to one of my house parties. She was pretty much fun, we were all hanging out in my bedroom, and then we clicked really well so my friends left the room and gave the two of us chance…" John remarked casually, as if he had rehearsed those lines a thousand times. "chance min pe a."

"Well considering she works at a Spa, she must be pretty easy huh?" OPa asked. "a easy em?""

"Actually… no. She was putting on a really big fight!" John said. "a fight nasa ve khawp mai!"

"Oh did she? How long was she resisting?" OPa asked again. "eng anga rei nge a fight?"

"Eventually she gave up and I succeeded," John said proudly. "a tawp a tawp ah chuan a fight peih tawh lova, ka hlawhtling ta a."

Both OPa and Siama exclaimed in celebration and yelled out loudly as they high-fived John.

At this point, Mapuia who was clearly not joining them in their enthusiasm, paused his ongoing game and placed his phone down. He hesitantly cleared his throat and said, "Urmmm… guys…"

They stopped their bromance and looked at him.

"Isn't that…" Mapuia asked cautiously, "rape?"

The room was suddenly silent for a brief moment. Pin drop silence.

And then Siama threw a cushion at Mapuia and said, "You nerd. Rape is different. Rape is when a woman is beaten up badly and forcefully fucked. This is different, women always put up an initial act of resistance so as not to be deemed too easy or a whore."

"Exactly," OPa joined in. "You don't know anything about flirting or sex. This is perfectly normal in our society."

And with that the night ended. A night of convoluted misconceptions and preconceived fallacies.

John did think a lot about Jenny the next few weeks that he was in Mizoram. He even bought a couple of vawksa rep, bekang ro and nghapih for her.

Once he was back in Pune, he nervously rang her doorbell.

Zuala answered the door.

"Oh u John, you're back?" he exclaimed.

"Yeah just landed today," he replied. "Urrmmm… is your sister here?"

"She's still at work," Zuala replied.

"Oh ok. In that case, here, take this, I got you all some of our Mizo delicacies back from home. Enjoy. I'll speak to your sis tomorrow then," John said.

Jenny got home that night, tired as usual. Zuala had already prepared dinner, the good brother that he was.

After she had taken a long refreshing shower and changed into her nightie, she sat down with her brother to eat, when she suddenly spotted bekang chutney.

"Where did that bekang come from?" she asked her brother.

"Oh, from u John-a," Zuala replied.

Jenny froze for a second.

"He's back?" Jenny asked.

"Yup, he landed today. He got us a lot of bekang ro, nghapih and even 1 kg of vawksa rep!" Zuala said excitedly.

"You shall return them all tomorrow," Jenny said sternly.

"But sis…"

"Don't argue with me!" Jenny snapped.

Zuala kept quiet.

After a minute of deafening silence, Jenny broke the ice. "I'm sorry Zual. I shouldn't have shouted at you like that. I had a tough day at work today. It is not nice to take gifts from people we don't know well."

"I know him quite well now," Zuala meekly replied. "He's a very nice guy."

Jenny squirmed inside. oh if only he knew what type of a person he really is, she sighed silently.

The next morning, Zuala woke up and returned the food items to John. When John answered his doorbell, he was quite surprised to see Zuala there.

"I'm sorry u John," Zuala said, "but my sis told me to return this to you."

"I understand," John said, as he closed the door.

As John got ready for work, he started getting quite infuriated. The more he thought about it, the more he seethed. How dare she reject my gifts, he thought. She, a lowly Spa worker.

OPa was right, these Mizo girls who work in Spas do not know anything about our tlawmngaihna, all they care about are their rich clients or those habibis who can provide them anything they want, he said to himself angrily as he put on his office clothes.

Just as he was leaving for work and locking up his apartment, he glanced towards the elevator to see Jenny hurriedly pushing the button to close the elevator door.

"So it's gonna be like that huh?" John shouted, as the door shut.

And then slowly, he pulled out his mobile phone, dialed a number and spoke on the phone.

"Sir, how are you… yes, yes, that thing had been sorted out a long time ago… I'm good, sir… I'm actually calling now because of a different issue… you remember telling me you wanted to make a big bust? Well, I know a Spa here in Koregaon Park that is running a prostitution racket… Yes I swear, you can trust me on that… feel free to go undercover, you will know I'm telling the truth… the name of the Spa? It's Thai Desiree Spa, sir. On one of the alleys inside… Yes you can take my word for it."

That evening, John watched the local TV and social media exploded with the news of the cops busting a prostitution racket in Koregaon Park. He didn't have to do anything after that, the Mizo online community was already in full action, publishing Jenny's personal photos everywhere, branded as the beast, 666 and she-devil reincarnate.

Two days later, he opened his door slyly to see Jenny and her family taking the elevator with all their belongings to go back to Mizoram permanently. He chuckled.

Good, he thought. Better than living right next door to the Beast.

Little did he know that Jenny was the one who was the Neighbor of the Beast…

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chp 666. The Beast: Sins of a Woman

She stopped herself before entering the dingy lit room. She took a deep breath and then putting on a fake smile and a fake persona, she entered the room, her place of work.

The room welcomed her with an aroma of perfumed massage oil and scented candles. Ambient music subtly filled the room, emitting a very relaxing feel of tranquility and calm.

"Are you ready sir?" she sweetly asked the semi-naked man lying on the massage table, covered only by a thin strip of white towel.

"Yes darling," he replied, as he slowly removed the towel, exposing his large manhood.

Jenny cringed.

She tried to hold back a tear or two. This was not what she had signed up for. If her family or friends from Mizoram ever knew what she was doing, she would be ostracized. Shamed for eternity. Excommunicated by her Kohhran.

Five years ago, Jenny underwent a spa therapy course in Aizawl and became a certified therapist. Her parents were at first skeptical about her profession, but since the course was sponsored by the state government, they had faith in the system. She was a quick learner, and by the time she became a certified therapist, she had mastered all the techniques - Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, shiatsu massage, trigger point therapy, she had learnt them all.

Armed with her newly acquired skill, she moved to Pune where she joined La Fontazella Spa, as arranged by the government of Mizoram. La Fontazella Spa had signed an MoU with the central government to train and employ people from the North East, in return for a small amount of tax break.

La Fontazella Spa was a very reputed and respectable spa, and everything was done by the books. Jenny was provided with free accommodation and she had 3-4 clients a day, with ample amount of free time to relax in between. At first, she was home sick and missed Mizoram, but she concentrated on her work and progressed from a trainee to senior therapist within a matter of months. Soon she was able to send home around 30,000 rupees every month to her family.

In fact, she was doing so well that her younger brother Zuala too came down to Pune to study and stay with her. Since Jenny was an outstanding employee with a good track record, her manager allowed her brother to stay with her at their company accommodation.

Things suddenly took a turn for bad when the Pune branch of La Fontazella Spa had to close down. It was a business decision from the higher-ups, her manager announced.  All the employees were to be transferred to the Mumbai branch, and were even incentivized with a 30% hike in their salary because of the inconveniences caused.

Everybody was happy. Except Jenny.

Her brother had already completed two years of college and was in his final year. She could not leave him on his own, as she was not only financially supporting him but watching over him as well, making sure he wasn't skipping classes or downing glasses.

With a heavy heart, she approached her manager and told him she would not be joining them in Mumbai.

The mood was sombre. The next day, her manager took her and all the other employees out for a farewell party. Jenny cried that night, not just because she was going to miss all her friends, but because she dreaded the coming days.

That weekend, Jenny and Zuala moved out from their Spa accommodation and found a small 1 BHK apartment at Koregaon Park. She had a small amount of savings, which she used for the rental deposit and the first month's rent, along with the unnecessary broker's fee. As it was almost time to pay Zuala's fifth semester fees, she knew she had to find a new job, and quick.

Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy. Jenny spent a week going from one Spa to the other, but none of them were looking for a new therapist. Koregaon Park had so many Spas and it was infuriating not to find even one Spa that was hiring. North main road was literally surrounded by Spas.

Finally she decided to venture inside Koregaon Park and explore the smaller lanes. She hesitated a bit because even when she was working at La Fontazella, her colleagues used to talk about the Spas at those shady locations. "Make sure you apply for work only at the Spas located on the main road, do not enter the alleys inside," was the last warning her manager had given her before he departed for Mumbai.

"Well, here goes nothing," Jenny said, finger crossed, and approached the first Spa she saw deep inside the alley.

The neon-lit board outside proudly proclaimed: "Thai Desiree Spa".

Cold sweat broke on her forehead and with trembling hands, she entered the Spa. She was welcomed by a beautiful and fair Thai masseuse with the traditional namaste greeting.

Jenny quickly said she wasn't there for a massage, that she was looking for a job. The smile on the Thai masseuse's face disappeared faster than a joint of weed during a cop raid.

She led Jenny into the manager's cabin, where Jenny explained once again to the manager that she was looking for a job. She handed the manager, a middle-aged Punjabi lady with more than necessary eye-shadow her resume. The manager beckoned Jenny to sit down while she looked at her work experience.

"Hmmm… La Fontazella Spa huh? That is impressive…"

Jenny clutched her hands tightly, silently praying for a miracle.

After around 2 minutes that seemed like an eternity to Jenny, the manager looked up. But before saying anything, she looked at Jenny, cross studying her face, her facial feature, her appearance. Her eyes roamed up and down, and Jenny couldn't help but feel a bit violated.

"Can you please stand up?"

Jenny complied.

"Now turn around slowly. Rotate."

Jenny was confused but did as she was told anyway.

Finally, the manager spoke, "Hmmm you'll do. I can match your pay, along with a 5% increment…"

Jenny's heart was beating fast. Her knees felt weak and she wanted to sit down again.

"But… there is something I have to tell you…"

Jenny dreaded the "but". She was hoping there would be no "but's" but there it was… she faced the music.

"Our Spa is a little bit different from La Fontazella. Different in the sense that our clients are different. Let's just say… our clients here have different needs now and then. Apart from massaging them and relaxing them the way they want, sometimes they may demand a bit more…"

The whole room started to spin. Jenny knew exactly what the manager was implying…

"So are you ready to do such… things if your client demands it?"

Jenny took a deep breath and uttered, "I'm sorry ma'am, I am not that type of person."

And then she grabbed her file from the desk and barged out of the manager's office. She felt like crying but at the same time she felt proud of what she just did. Mixed emotions. As she was reaching for the entrance door, the Thai masseuse quickly appeared behind her and said, "Excuse me. Excuse me. Aunty would like to see you again."

What the hell, Jenny thought. Might as well see through this, she said to herself.

She slowly turned around and walked back to the manager's office. The manager was still sitting down on her cushy armchair, but this time she was smiling.

"Relax, miss Jenny. I was just asking that to know what type of a person you are. I still need you in my spa, you have very good technical skills. You don't need to do all those things if your client demands it, once you have massaged him and if he demands anything, then you can just come out and I'll send in one of my girls, they'll finish the job for you. Are you fine with that?"

"So you mean, I don't have to do anything vulgar apart from the usual massage?"

"No you don't. If they want anything extra, just come out and send one of these girls in. But I really suggest you do it… do you have any idea how much they pay for a hand-job or a blow-job?"

Vomit rose up Jenny's throat but she managed to swallow it back.

"There's also a girl from Nagaland and another girl from Maharashtra who don't do the extra stuff, Nam here will introduce you to them later," the manager said, pointing to the Thai masseuse. "By the way, you can call me aunty."

And that was how Jenny got the job.

She hated it at first, but then, she wasn't actually doing anything wrong or illegal, though the part she hated the most was when some of the clients would grab her butt while she was massaging them. But at the end of the day, she was getting paid, so she ignored all that.

And today was like any other day. It had been three months since she started working at "Thai Desiree Spa" and all her clients were still trying to take advantage of her even before she entered the room.

"Sir," she said, trying to sound as sweet as possible without letting her voice betray the disgust she felt on seeing her client's hairy penis. "Sir, please put the towel back. I will send Nam or Mindy in once I'm done massaging you."

"Oh come on Jenny," said the naked man on the massage table. "This is the third time you're massaging me. I want you, you know that. Not Nam or Mindy or Priya or Kwan!"

"That is very flattering," Jenny said, surprising herself she was able to lie so easily now. "But you know me. I don't do that. You can take it up with aunty if you have any problem. Nam is good with the boom boom, you yourself told me that the other day, remember?"

"You're killing me Jenny!" the man said with a smirk. After that, he stopped any further attempt of trying to solicit her.

After an hour of thorough deep tissue massage, Jenny packed up her oils, tissues and ointments and left the room. Outside, she made eye contact with Nam who smiled back, rearranged her hair, popped open two buttons above her cleavage and walked inside the same room, smiling.

"Click!" the door locked.

Another client happy with the ending.

Jenny got home that night, tired as usual. Zuala had already prepared dinner, the good brother that he was.

After she had taken a long refreshing shower and changed into her nightie, she sat down with her brother to eat, when she suddenly spotted bekang chutney, fermented soybean that's a popular Mizo dish.

"Where did that bekang come from?" she asked her brother.

"Oh, from u John-a," Zuala replied.

Jenny froze for a second. John was a Mizo and their next-door neighbor. He welcomed them when they first moved in to their new 1 BHK apartment, and Zuala was delighted to have a new Mizo friend. He had recently gone back to Mizoram for his vacation.

"He's back?" Jenny asked.

"Yup, he landed today. He got us a lot of bekang ro, nghapih and even 1 kg of vawksa rep!" Zuala said excitedly.

"You shall return them all tomorrow," Jenny said sternly.

"But sis…"

"Don't argue with me!" Jenny snapped.

Zuala kept quiet.

After a minute of deafening silence, Jenny broke the ice. "I'm sorry Zual. I shouldn't have shouted at you like that. I had a tough day at work today. It is not nice to take gifts from people we don't know well."

"I know him quite well now," Zuala meekly replied. "He's a very nice guy."

Jenny squirmed inside. oh if only he knew what type of a person he really is, she sighed silently.

The next morning, Jenny woke up and got ready for work. Zuala had already left for college and so she checked the fridge to make sure he had returned those food items to John. She heaved a sigh of relief on seeing they weren't there anymore.

Once she was ready, she locked her apartment and summoned the elevator to her floor. As she stood there waiting, she heard a door open behind her. The hair on the back of her neck immediately stood up. She suddenly sensed immense fear and trepidation.

The elevator door opened just in time and she jumped inside, quickly pressing the ground floor button. She looked up to see John locking his door and turning towards her.

As the elevator door closed, John uttered, "So it's gonna be like that huh?"

Jenny didn't answer. She gasped for air the moment the door closed. She clutched the railings and placed her palm over her heart, which was beating wildly. Her whole body trembled, but by the time the elevator reached ground floor, she had regained her composure. Shaking her head, she decided to forget about him and focus on her job.

Back at Thai Desiree Spa, she got ready for work and changed into her uniform.

"Jenny," shouted aunty from the front desk. "You have Javed at 11 AM. Get ready, he's almost here. He prefers a dry massage, don't forget that. Once you're done, send Kwan or Nam in. That racist prick doesn't want Indians, so Mindy and Priya can go on a long lunch break today, but don't be too long. There can always be walk-in clients without any appointment."

"Yes aunty," the girls replied in unison.

It was right then that a tall clean shaven gentleman appeared at the door. As usual Nam greeted him with a namaste. He smiled and walked up to the front desk.

"Urrmmm... I didn't make any appointment, I was wondering if I can have a massage right now?" he enquired.

"Of course sir," aunty replied. "First time here, right? Don't worry, we have a free slot available right now. Do you prefer Indians or Thais?"

"Anybody will do," he replied.

"Ok," aunty said. "And is there any specific body parts you would want your therapist to focus on?"

Jenny was just smiling in the corner. Aunty really knows how to sell.

"Well…" he stammered a bit. "I heard from my friends that you provide… extra service?"

Aunty just smiled and nodded her head.

He nervously continued, "And… how much would that cost?"

"Well, the normal 1 hour body massage is 1000 bucks. After that, if you want anything extra, that is between you and your therapist. You can talk to her, she'll tell you her price depending on what you want."

Saying that, aunty called out Priya.

Priya appeared and sweetly smiled at the new guest. "Come this way, sir."

As Priya led him down the corridor to their room, the man chanced upon Jenny. He stopped briefly for a second and then turned back and asked, "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but can she be my masseuse instead? She's very cute."

Aunty apologetically replied, "I'm really sorry sir, but she is booked, one of her regular clients is on his way right now."

"Oh," the man said disappointedly, and continued walking towards his room.

Javed too arrived shortly, and Jenny led him inside her room.

It was around 30 minutes of back massage therapy on Javed that it happened. Suddenly, there were sounds of men shouting at the front desk. At first Jenny thought one of their customers must be having a payment issue with aunty or one of the girls. But as the shouting grew louder, she became uneasy. Javed too got up and clutched the towel around his body tightly.

And then with a loud bang, the door to their room was violently kicked open. Two policemen and a policewoman barged into the room!

After that, everything was like a nightmare for Jenny. Everything became hazy and surreal. Things moved in slow motion. Cops shouted profanities in Marathi and ordered all of them to line up. A news crew with bright video camera flashes was recording everything. Policewomen and female constables were handcuffing all the women including aunty. Reality became blurred.

They were huddled inside a waiting police van. All of them along with Javed who was trying his best to cover his face, sat together inside.

The other customer, the new guy, wasn't there in the van with them. Jenny who was also covering her face with her hands, glanced through the gap of her fingers and saw him. He was standing with two inspectors, putting on a serious and stern face. Now and then he was shouting out orders to the constables. It was then that it dawned upon her that he was an undercover cop!

Things only went from bad to worse for Jenny. The incident was plastered all over the evening news. "Cops bust prostitution racket in KP!" the headline screamed. The small Mizo community was already aware of a Mizo woman being among the ones caught. The Pune Mizo Welfare Association got into action immediately, with some of the executive members going to the police station while others were consoling Zuala at Jenny's apartment.

Various Mizo Facebook groups were already posting about the incident, with the usual rants of Mizo men complaining about how "Mizo women who work at spas are immoral". Some group admins even managed to dig out her facebook profile and shared her personal photos at different facebook and whatsapp groups. One aspiring politician even went to the extent of calling her "666", the she-devil reincarnate, who "disgraced and shamed every single Mizo on this planet".

Of course outside Mizoram, nobody actually gave a fuck.

Back in Pune, only Priya and the manager were arrested. The rest of the employees were taken to a Remand home as there were no hard evidences that they solicited. After pulling a couple of strings, the Pune Mizo Welfare president was allowed to meet Jenny. Jenny cried her heart out in front of the welfare members. She told them she had never indulged in the flesh trade and never did any extra favors for her clients. But then, even if the welfare members believed her, the damage was already done. She had already been branded with the shameful scarlet letters "KS". They assured her they would try their best to get her released as soon as possible.

Her former manager and former colleagues from La Fontazella even came to Pune from Mumbai and tried their best to convince the police to release her, but to of no avail.

Two days later, her heartbroken father and mother landed in Pune, armed with a letter from the Chief Minister of Mizoram. They presented the letter to a Magistrate, who ordered her release from the Remand home.

Jenny was terrified to meet her parents. As she meekly stepped out of the Remand home gates, she didn't even have the courage to look at her parents in the eyes. But then, the strangest thing happened. Her father hugged her and cried. He was angry and embarrassed, but he still loved her. After all, she was still his precious little angel.

Jenny had never cried that much her entire life. They went back to her apartment and she started packing. They all left for Mizoram the next day, ready to face a very uncertain future. In fact, is there even a future for somebody who had been portrayed as the she-devil, the beast and 666 by the unforgiving and unforgetting keyboard warriors of our Mizo society?

While they were waiting for the elevator to come up, one of the apartment doors opened slightly.

John peeked at Jenny and her family through the small gap.

He chuckled.

[to be continued]

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and all persons and places named in this story are all made up. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual establishments, is purely coincidental.