Monday, November 28, 2005

Quixtar and Amway

My first exposure to this menace of Egyptian proportions came while I was at graduate school (officially graduated, but still not quite gainfully employed) here in the US of A. It started with a vague description from an Indian student who had worked with me as part of a research group, had graduated, and left town, but was back for a few days to visit. This was when I (having little other pressing activities) decided to go ahead and see what this vague "independent business" was all about. The traditional signs were manifest. This guy's "mentor" (another Indian) gave us the usual gaseous drivel about "retiring young", "legally making more money with less effort" and such. Selling the clichéd version of the American Dream. Now, I hadn't heard about either (honest). In retrospect, I wonder how I could have forgotten the big Amway office on the Bombay-Pune highway. But then, I wasn't terrorised back home by these money-hungry types. The presentation ended with most attendees (few that they were) not evincing too much interest. The prevalent mood seemed to be a mix of skepticism and doubt. Mercifully, things didn't go beyond this thanks to my inertia and general inaccessibility.

Flash-forward two years. I'm in Wal*Mart with friends. We'd all moved, and were stocking up for our respective new abodes. A guy accosted me in one of the aisles (paradoxically, I think this was the aisle where you found trash cans and the like). The usual introductions were exchanged. The notes about my name and where I might come from followed. I have to take some pride in sending this guy's assumptions for a toss thanks to the fact that my birth place (as indicated by my full name) was not the place I was "from" (the place of my schooling). The encounter was terminated with him giving me his business card.

Flash-forward to about a month or so later. I'm back in the same Wal*Mart. Same store, different people accompanying me. I see this guy approaching, and knowing what to expect, manage to make myself socially invisible. My roommate isn't so lucky, and ends up getting another business card. Being a nice guy, he also gives the guy our phone number. Being a reticent and guy, he proves to be inadequate as a prospective victim. A phone call arrives, inevitably, a few days later. But my roommate adroitly handles the situation and terminates further communication by expressing as much interest as a vegan would in a T-bone steak.

Flash-forward to January 2005. I'm back home in desiiland, out at dinner with a childhood friend. While catching up on what we've been up to since we last saw each other (roughly around the time I boarded my first flight out to Social Security land), he mentions that he and his wife have joined the Amway way of business, and he's looking forward to the possibilities. I'm shocked. I can't see how this friend, for what I know him to be, could make such a decision. That disappointment aside, he doesn't try to sell me on the idea. He doesn't try to turn this catch-up dinner into a mini-marketing fest. I note my aversion to all things Q and A. And we move on to other topics. I'm still rankled by the news, but I give him loads of points for "knowing" me and not trying to push his luck. Or was it because he knew I was not going to around in town for long and would thus fail to be a prospective multi-level marketing ally?

Flash-forward to about a week ago. Different roommates. Different location. We're now in the Indian store. I'm picking some B-movies to update our cache of movies. We're conversing in Marathi. A voice asks if we're Marathi speakers. We turn around. I recognise the guy. A peer from another department in my undergraduate days. And a fairly well-known guy too, especially given his success on both the academic front and on the extra-curricular front. It's great to see a familiar face from the past, and we're chatting for a good 20 minutes or more. A phone number is provided from our end so that we can get together some time, especially since he's new to this place (moved about 2 months ago or so), and some old acquaintances will always help. Yesterday, he calls. He'd like to come over today evening some time. Nothing strange about all this ... except he then drops the dreaded phrase "independent venture business." I give him the benefit of the doubt by not jumping to conclusions that this might be another Q* spiel. After all, I'd credit this guy with some basic common sense to see the thing for the sham it is. Yet, my suspicions are confirmed. My worst fears realised. Direct persistent questions are enough to inveigle the information. And I have to do something unfortunate. I have to politely caution him against even mentioning this should he still choose to pay us a visit. I have to tell him that no one in our apartment agrees with the Q* philosophy. And no, we don't think that simply answering "yes" to the question "Wouldn't you like to make more money?" means that we're gullible ninnyhammers ready to get sucked into an Egyptian sarcophagus. Irony: A re-run of The Mummy is playing on some cable channel.

In an IM conversation today, JR is reminded of an old post of Hirak's on the same issue. I manage to dig it up and the shock factor goes up. It's the same guy. Now, I don't think I harbour any remorse at what I did yesterday. I feel exploited (you meet me after all these years, and the first thing you think of is trying to snag me into some chicken-poop money-making scheme?), and that's a very good reason for me to stay away.

at the risk of being redundant, here's how/why Amway and the like suck

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