Chasing Sparrows In Marathi

We hear so many horror stories of fraud, malware and deceit on the internet that it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the overwhelming global good the internet has delivered. Sometimes this is a huge good, but most often it is the cumulative impact of lots of little ‘moments of goodness’. We want to share a small unimportant story that makes this case.

In 2016 Decipher will be launching a spin-out tech company based on some IP we have developed in-house. We recently went through the increasingly difficult process of deciding what to call the new company.  As most start-ups will tell you, in an increasingly globalised world there just aren’t many that words left that you can buy the rights for in all the relevant ways.

Eventually, after much brainstorming and false starts we came up with a word – Chimni – that suits the company and, most importantly, works well in every graphical way we could imagine (its a home management app in case you wondered). We were able to secure the ‘.com’ web address, all the country specific addresses for it, as well as all the relevant international trademarks. The only thing missing was the Twitter name.

We knew that this wasn’t crucial as its possible to do all sorts of things with similar words and phrases on Twitter. But for completeness we wanted to add it to the set. The only problem was that it was taken. Someone based in Bangalore, India had registered it a few years ago. However, while their account was live, it had not been used to tweet for two years. They clearly had no interest in Twitter (at least for this account) so we wondered if we could buy it off them. They only challenge was identifying, then contacting them.

The account followed a small number of other Twitter accounts, all local people, and in return it only had a small number of followers. All we knew from the personal description on the Twitter header, was that the owner was female, it gave her first name, and said that she worked in ‘comic books’ in Bangalore, India. We tried direct tweeting to the account and, when that failed, we tried sending a tweet to all the Twitter accounts that she had followed asking for a steer to her identity.

We had no replies, so we set out to find her through other means. We assumed (rightly in the end) that someone who had a Twitter account, worked in publishing and spoke English in India, may have left a trail of other breadcrumbs for us to find around the web.

The first thing I learned from my early Google searches, was that the word we had chosen – Chimni – actually means ‘sparrow’ in the Marathi language spoken in Western India. We were quite charmed by that. The downside was that it also turned out to be a reasonably common surname in India. Given this, we therefore guessed (wrongly as it turned out) that ‘Chimni’ must be her surname.  So we began a long (and as it turned out fruitless) search for people in Bangalore with that combination of names and the right job description.

When, after many hours of Google searching, it became obvious this was a false trail, we went back to what we had started with – a ‘first name’ and a link to ‘comic books’ in Bangalore. Back at the Google searches we quickly got a hit. We found somebody with the right first name, who was a senior exec at a publisher in Bangalore. The publishing company she worked for publishes, among many other things,  a range of bande dessinee comic books, like an Indian version Tintin or Asterix, but which feature characters from Hindu mythology.

Taking the company name as a steer, we guessed at the lady’s email address and, after a few failures, eventually hit one that didn’t’ bounce back.  Very quickly after, we were rewarded with a return email from the lady herself. She confirmed that yes she was the right person, and that she would be willing to sell the Twitter account. We quickly agreed a fee and here is where the story got complicated.

The lady in question banks with a local Indian bank that didn’t have a corresponding international banking partner in the UK. This meant that to pay her the agreed fee, we had to route the payment through one of the international banks working in India (HSBC, Standard Chartered and Citi etc). To do this, we needed to ask her for an array of personal information to verify the validity of the payment to the authorities on both sides of the transaction. She therefore had to trust a complete stranger, who had contacted her unannounced over the web, with her banking details and other personal info.

Secondly, we had to trust that this lady, a complete stranger to us, would honour her commitment to hand over the log-in details for the Twitter account once the payment was confirmed in her account. But that is what duly happened. After 3 weeks of bureaucratic nightmares transferring the funds (never believe that nonsense that ‘HSBC is the world’s local bank’), the money dropped into her account. She emailed to tell me that she had the money and we held our breath. Almost immediately after she emailed to give us the password and user name of the Twitter account in question. She had sent a final Tweet explaining the situation to the small number of her friends who followed her before sending us the log-in details. We logged on and took over the account. A difficult transaction made possible by trusting a stranger on the internet.

As a final aside, she emailed us to say that she was having her apartment re-decorated this summer, and the fee for the Twitter handle would help pay for that. She said that if we were ever in Bangalore, she would buy us lunch and we agreed that if she was ever in London we would do the same. She said that she would probably visit her son here next year as he is studying here.

And that is it! A simple, unimportant story about a transaction between two strangers who, with a certain amount of caution, were able to trust each other and complete a transaction on the web. More importantly we think it was a story about reaching out in friendship over the web between India and the UK. Next year we hope to add details of a lunch in London or Bangalore to this blog.

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year or as they say in Marathi   śubh nātāḷ navīn varṣacyā hārdik śubhecchā!

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