We've all received those ubiquitous emails in our in-box, though mercifully most of them these days are caught by our spam filters. Emails offering expensive drugs at hard-to-beat prices - drugs against cholesterol, blood pressure, arthritis and baldness, always bearing familiar brand names like Lipitor, Celebrex and inevitably Viagra. The wiser amongst us delete them instantly. Some are, however, taken in. Those who are uninsured, or who can't afford to pay full price, or who in their cupidity simply imagine that they can save a few bucks, even order these medicines from the internet hawkers. The results are often calamitous. Sometimes the paid-for drugs never arrive. Sometimes they do, and that's worse. They're fakes, in some cases made of little more than powdered cement, artfully disguised to look like the real thing. At best, they will be of no medical benefit whatsoever. At worst, they could kill you.
Counterfeit drugs are a multi-million dollar industry. The fake medicines market is said to be worth over $60 billion a year, up 25% on three years ago and tipped to rise to $100 billion by 2010. Like counterfeit watches, fake perfumes, imitation designer clothing and pirated films, they thrive in a world where people are all too ready to bend the rules.
… … …Everything known to human beings can be faked. Thanks to advances in digital technology, 3D laser scanners and counterfeiting software, there is now little that cannot be quickly and cheaply reproduced - and sold around the world as the genuine article. The result is that one in 10 of all products sold across the globe is now believed to be counterfeit.
Fake drugs stir rage in all of us, because any of us could be vulnerable to the dangers of being laid low by a medicine we thought was going to help us. Fake booze is another problem. We all know of the bad old days when smugglers sold you bottles of Johnnie Walker Black Label which contained some spurious spirit they had injected into an empty bottle with a syringe (India was the world's largest market for empty Johnnie Walker bottles). But if that isn't bad enough, almost half of all alcoholic spirits sold in Russia are counterfeit, killing 43,000 Russians every year.
Not all fakes kill, of course, and counterfeiting of other goods often escapes the same level of censure because people tend to think it doesn't matter as much. What's the harm, people ask themselves, if we can "beat the system" and enjoy something without really paying for it? If we get something that others think is genuine and only we know the difference, how does it matter?
… … …
So, what kind of a world do we want to live in? One in which nothing is real, nothing is what it seems, or one in which there is a premium on genuineness, on high quality - and on the authentic? A non-profit group called the Authentics Foundation has been running a "Fakes Cost More" campaign in Europe recently. Maybe they should bring it to Mumbai too.
Authenticity is an under-rated virtue. It's always better to wear a genuine Indian watch than a fake foreign luxury brand, because the latter puts you in the position of pretending to have something you don't, which is as bad as pretending to be someone you're not. Where imagination is usurped by imitation, no one wins.