Wednesday 29 September 2021

A sporting chance

19 medals, and what do you get?

A record medal tally at the Tokyo Paralympic Games: 19 medals where, in 13 previous editions, the combined medals tally was just 12. Photo-ops for ministers! Warm fuzzy social media posts! Many, many column inches and prime time minutes! Could it be, could it be, could it really be that India will now start paying a little more attention to persons with disabilities?

Of course it’s early days, and of course I want to be wrong. But as I write this, it’s less than three weeks since the Paralympics flame went out. No more photo-ops. Not much on social media. And cricket, in its IPL avatar, has recolonised our timelines.

Perhaps a more basic question to ask is, will the fabulous Tokyo performance even create a better environment for disabled sportspersons in India? That isn’t my brief, but from what I know, investigative and sports journalists will need to dig deep into the working of the concerned associations to come to an answer. (Spoiler: it isn’t pretty.)

What, then, of those who are not in the sporting limelight?

I ask as the brother of someone who was severely disabled, as someone who has friends who live with disabilities. I know a number of people who work for disability rights; it has been a cause I support in whatever ways I can. (To be clear, I do not have any severe disabilities, and I can not, and do not, speak for the disability community. I write here as an ally, and as someone who has reported, in a small way, stories about disability in India.)

Let’s start by asking who we are talking about. How many disabled people are there in India?

The irony begins here. Because the relevant Census of India page has a 2001 figure, 2.1% of the national population, we must rely on a 2016 statistical profile of disabled persons, which puts the number at 2.21%. Which, people who work in the field will tell you, is, how do I put this politely, an underestimation.

A 2020 WHO fact sheet says that over a billion people, around 15% of the world’s population, live with some kind of disability, of which up to 190 million (3.8%) aged 15 years and older have “significant difficulties in functioning, often requiring healthcare services.” It would not be uncharitable to assume that a developing country like India would have at least that many, if not more.

Also, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, recognises 21 categories of disability, 14 more than the seven the previous Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, did; this means that the number of people in India who are now classified as disabled should go up, but the 2.21% figure is what will decide policy, public funds allocated, and much else.

We shall be conservative and work with the official number, 2.21%.

Think back: to your school and college years, to the offices you’ve worked in, to the people you share the streets with, even to those you elect to high office.

Forget all that. Think back to yesterday.

How many disabled people did you encounter?

I’ll wager your answer is none.

2.21% of 1.39 billion is 30,719,000. Put another way, on average, at least one of every 50 people you encounter should have a disability. (If you go by the 15% WHO figure, 193.5 million Indians have disabilities, so at least one or two of every ten people you interact with should have some kind of disability.)

Where are all these 30 million disabled people?

Look around.

Look at the footpaths you walk on; pay attention to whether there are loose tiles, bumps, crevices, whether a wheelchair could get on them, whether a person with a visual disability could walk them safely. In some cities, you will see bollards at the start and end of footpaths, to prevent two-wheelers from using them as a way to get past traffic jams, but also making it near-impossible for a wheelchair to access them. My buddy Divyanshu Ganatra, who is blind, and among many other things, has flown a paraglider solo and runs an inclusive adventure foundation, and is given to mordant humour, says they’re just about groin height, and he knows that from painful experience.

Look at the buildings you frequent, from the one you live in to the ones you shop and work in, and the public buildings you need to visit. When they have even one or two steps just to get in, do they have ramps for wheelchairs? Do the elevators have Braille on the buttons and a recorded voice saying what floor they’re stopping at? Are the floors slippery or uneven?

Look at public transport. Could someone with restricted mobility get in and out of the buses, trains, autorickshaws, taxis?

Look at the words we use about disability. ‘Specially-abled’ is a euphemism that riles many disabled people; it’s not, they say, that the ones without vision gain the ability to fly. The suffix ‘-challenged’ is as condescending, implying that all it takes to function in a world not designed for you is a bit of effort. And what about ‘divyang,’ coined by our prime minister and hailed by the home minister as “Modi’s biggest gift to persons with disabilities”? A letter to the PM in January 2016 signed by 71 organisations and individuals asked that the term not be used. In that letter, and again in an open letter later that year, they said, “Invoking divinity will not lessen the stigma and discrimination that persons with disabilities have been historically subjected to and continue to encounter in their daily lives. […] We would like to reiterate that disability is not a divine gift. And the use of phrases like ‘divyang’ in no way ensures de-stigmatisation or an end to discrimination on grounds of disability.”

(Language matters. Let me make it simple for you: say ‘person with disability.’ It puts the personhood first, it acknowledges the disability, and it does not patronise. Also, language evolves. I am not the last word on this topic, just someone telling you what he has learnt; the consensus on what the most inclusive terms are may change.)

With our public and private spaces being so inaccessible, with even our vocabulary paying lip-service to disability rights without accepting the reality, it is a minor miracle if you see any disabled people in public spaces at all.

The sad fact is that persons with disabilities do not get the same opportunities as able-bodied people do, whether it’s education, employment, or, heck, simple access to public spaces. (And that’s not even factoring in other issues that hold us back as a nation, like poverty, education, healthcare, caste, gender discrimination.)

As I thought this piece through, I was very aware that I have no severe disabilities, and that I inhabit numerous other privileges. So I asked a few friends who have disabilities what they thought.

“I’m not very hopeful,” Arman Ali told me. Arman is executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People. “This is being looked at as inspiration porn. It is creating more stereotypes than the reality. People with disabilities in India struggle for the basic fundamental rights, like accessibility or education, not to mention employment.”

Most Indian Paralympians, Arman says, stay away from the disability rights movement until they get discriminated against. “Unless the Paralympians start talking about disability rights and ask the right questions to the authorities and create a larger awareness about the reality and the struggles of people with disabilities in everyday life, I don’t see it playing any role. We need to address the elephant in the room.”

Shrishti Pandey, disability rights activist and a grad student of Delhi University, says that in the first place, not many people watched the Paralympics coverage. From her own circle, of those who discussed the Olympics, less than half watched the Paralympics events. “I think most of the media coverage was inclined towards inspiration porn,” she says, unconsciously echoing Arman. “I can't remember which newspaper, but there was this illustration where the ‘dis’ in ‘disability’ was covered with medals. This basically implied that disabled athletes ‘overcame’ their disabilities.”

We are exchanging text messages, but the sadness comes through. “I think that some people still don’t see para-athletes as ‘real’ athletes, you know? And it really shows. This is obviously messed up already and wrong representation by the media only makes it worse.

Would non-disabled people see persons with disabilities any differently because of Tokyo? “I am not sure if they care enough.”

“Diversity,” Vernā Myers, American author, social commentator and activist, famously said, “is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

In India, I unhappily conclude, most disabled people aren’t even being told there’s a party happening.

An Olympian ideal

As a little p.s., think about the prefix ‘para-’ and the ways it changes the meaning of words it is affixed to.

Merriam-Webster defines the prefix as “beside; alongside of; beyond; aside from.” It originated from the Greek, and meant “next to” or “side by side.” ‘Para’ means something is next to another thing or is related to it, or — and we see this more often in day-to-day English — someone who is in a field in an accessory or assisting capacity, like a paralegal or paramedical worker; paraprofessionals, in short.

The term ‘Paralympics’ originally combined ‘paraplegic,’ which refers to the movement’s origins as a games for people with spinal injuries, with ‘Olympic,’ but over time, as the event included people with other disabilities, the official meaning changed.

The International Paralympic Committee web site says ‘The word “Paralympic” derives from the Greek preposition “para” (beside or alongside) and the word “Olympic,” Its meaning is that Paralympics are the parallel Games to the Olympics and illustrates how the two movements exist side-by-side.’

The Paralympics now take place just after the IOC’s Summer Olympics (and use the same facilities); the Winter Paralympics follow the same pattern. The organising bodies are separate entities, albeit working closely together.

The IOC has made large strides in inclusion, with, for instance, women having an equal number of events as men do, and the Olympics welcoming, most recently trans athletes. So perhaps it is not unrealistic to imagine a time when the two are not separate events, just one Olympics with events for disabled athletes happening at the same time as those for the non-disabled.

[Published in Sportstar, 29th September 2021.]

Sunday 1 December 2019

Published: The Hindu

Idea of Bombay, making of Mumbai

A thin boy in a wheelchair

How Zuckerberg got the blues

Desperately seeking Mariyamma

Teach for India is graduating to a different level

Women and water: grand challenges for innovators

Season of discontent (with Prakash Kamath)

Blood and the city

On a mission with a vision

Candles in the wind

The festival that runs itself (almost)

“How do you measure up to that guy?”

An American’s satyagraha to free Indian standards

Carl Malamud contends that all the books will be out of copyright at some point

This choir of senior citizens in Bengaluru has an audacious dream

Candy for the soul

Tropical Detective: A Hari Majestic Mystery review: unique combo of noir and juvenile humour

When a language dies, something irreplaceable dies: Ganesh N. Devy

A device that taps into your thoughts

Donate discounts to charity every time you e-buy

Drought and the superstar

“No desire to see Paani Foundation go on forever”

Meet the Freagles of India, a team that has found homes for nearly 400 lab-released beagles

The Hindu Explains: The Anglo Indian member and the numbers game

Ektype’s Mukta typeface is designed to suit the multiplicity of languages and scripts in India

Game on, it’s time to play like Yudhishthira

The unconventional educator (and how it might die)

These Mumbai youngsters will be the first women to fly around the world in a light sport aircraft

Ways of seeing entertainment

Upma for Kerala, fresh from the Food Army

At Kerala House, a flood of generosity

Art in the belly of the city

Letters that will not be posted

If you have data, your debate will be far superior: Govindraj Ethiraj

The festival that’s all about the joy of giving

Better, through verse

The world will have to wait

Back home but raring to go

From idea to page to stage

This Delhi teenager’s big chess ambitions include teaching the game to blind children

All songs considered: Chandana Bala Kalyan on her social media rise

Socks appeal from CRY

The time Alyque rejected my idea

Requiem for a superstar

CISF person treats wheelchair user insensitively at Mumbai airport

Rebel with a pause

International Disability Day: On wheelchairs and wings

I gave the game my best: V.V.S. Laxman

The session, ‘Tellers of Tales’, had authors Sumana Roy, Abdullah Khan and Amitabha Bagchi in conversation with Mini Kapoor

Manjula Padmanabhan described the evolution of Suki in her illustrated talk

Names, audiences, trolls: The Hindu Lit for Life 2019 had it all

Aamir Khan’s Rubaru Roshni is about loss. And about forgiving

In conversation with Svati Chakravarty Bhatkal, director of Rubaru Roshni (Video)

Grappling with different feminisms

How a school programme led to a carnival, a song of hope

Full steam ahead: Angriya and other cruises to check out

The arts unite against hate

Taking a stand for constitutional freedoms

The only disability might be bad attitude

Stop celebrating Women’s Day

Thursday 1 November 2018

From idea to script, from page to stage

A much-shortened version of this appeared in The Hindu on the 11th October. This in my opinion is the actual shorter version because I could have written twice as much. : )

The creators of Sing India Sing talk about what it takes to make a musical from the ground up
Deep in Bhandup, enough removed away from the perpetual traffic jam called LBS Marg that the incessant horns and engine rumbles do not percolate through, in the furthest corner of a somewhat derelict factory compound, the sounds of music being pumped out of an evidently high quality sound system pulse into the stultifying afternoon air.
On one side, there is a shamiana; inside there are tables and plastic chairs, and the steel serving bowls you’d see at any buffet. No one there, though. Ahead is in one of the few structures that isn’t a shed. Two rows of doors stacked on each other, with paper signs that say things like ‘Production,’ ‘Costumes,] and mystifyingly, ‘Hashtags.’ The music is coming from what one of the warehouses or sheds that has seen better days. On the dented metal walls, bedraggled posters extol a union leader. A small iron door opens into a dark, cavernous space with a gleaming two-story stage sprawled across its width. Above it all, from rows of girders, spotlights pivot and swirl light around, and huge ducts pour cool air into the void. Eyes still adjusting to the darkness, one sees that a wide table ahead, with an array of electronic equipment, monitors glowing. In plastic chairs, an assortment of shadowy figures are murmuring to each other.
This is where the cast and crew of Sing India Sing replicated the stage that the curtains will go up on this Friday, at the Jamshed Bhabha theatre, NCPA, before the musical moved to St. Andrew’s in November. The idea is to simulate, as much as possible, the setting of the actual theatres.
Rahul daCunha is one of those figures in the shadows. He has spent something like three decades in theatre, with a strong reputation as a director and nurturer of talent. But for this show, though he was initially listed as co-director with Nadir Khan, he is billed only as co-writer, with Bhargava ‘Bugs’ Krishna. Which perhaps explains the semi-recumbent position he manages to achieve despite the plastic chair being distinctly not a lounger, while Khan is seemingly everywhere: behind the console, murmuring instructions on the microphone; on stage doing pull-ups using a bar on the set while mouthing the lyrics as the singers sing; unlit cigarette dangling from his fingers, conferring with the wardrobe handlers and the team behind the sound deck; doing a scene-by-scene analysis over a mobile phone recording with the choreographer.
The story behind the story, daCunha says, starts in 2009, with an idea about a musical on singing contests. “We had never had an original musical that had come out of the country,” daCunha says, “One that had no previous source material. We had Broadway shows.” Bharagava joined him on the project in 2010. But the time it took for the two busy professionals (neither of whom has theatre as his day job, but both of whom have the stage as an intrinsic part of their day) to actually write it was like a gift from god, he says. “Every two years, something new would come into the country that would change the plot.” Bigg Boss convinced them that show must be have a reality television aspect: not just singers singing for points, but cameras on them everywhere. From there, it morphed to seeing the show from behind the scenes rather than what a TV audience would see. Then came the learning that young people don’t watch TV any more: they view shows on their phones; that led to making it more interactive, a “younger musical that fed into the Internet.”
Along the way, the duo decided that rather than the Rogers and Hammerstein (or Hindi cinema) model — songs as interludes — they’d rather do something more like traditional opera, or more contemporarily, the work of Webber and Rice: an entire story told only through song. “Dialogue becomes very clunky if it is not superb sub-textual dialogue, it is exposition, forming the bridge between the songs. We said, f*** it, let’s do away with dialogue. Which was a f***load of work. Every song must have content, intent, take the plot forward.”
What took them so long? “Hard to find rhymes,” Krishna says, chortling, before getting serious. The challenge, he says, was marrying the serious theatre vision he and daCunha share with a musical, character with shades of grey, with motivations driving actions, what he calls creating complexity without complexity. Was it tough telling a story only through lyrics? “It’s really simple if you follow the basic rule of writing a musical: a song takes the plot forward from point A to point B, rather than being an interlude or interjection as in a lot of Hindi cinema, show a character’s intent, allow other characters to experience the intent and have their own reactions.”
The eponymous reality show within the show has four finalists: Vishnu, a rocker from a small town, Kitty, a bar dancer who has worked her way up from the Dharavi slums, Jaishankar, son of a Chennai temple priest who, after seeing Jay Z on TV, rechristens himself Jazzy, who sings a blend of Carnatic and rap, and the wild card, Shweta, a mystery woman from Kashmir who wears a mask because she’s an acid attack victim. The channel the show runs on is owned by ‘Channel,’ a smooth, ruthless media magnate, with Dolly, a former investigative journalist who uses her skills now to dig up the dirt to make it into a story, and Rocky, a washed-up music maestro, who Channel gives a second chance. Channel has also given them each a 20% slice of the action. Then there are The Hashtags, who are a sort of cross between the traditional Greek chorus and the voice of the people as made possible by social media. And the audience, the ones who will be in the theatre, play a part too: each show night, around a thousand people (assuming full houses) will vote.
That ending, daCunha and Krishna both say, is organic, not gimmick; it flows from the subject and the narrative. “The story is completed in terms of the drama,” Krishna says, “but the audience [the fictional TV show’s viewers, but also the actual posteriors in theatre seats] are part of the ending.” It will be fascinating, they say, to see how each night, new people process the happenings they witness. Will the singing influence them? The behaviour? How will they pick a winner? “It’s going to be a study for us,” Krishan says. “We get feedback later usually. Here we will know every night.”
Aside from the large plot and structural changes, the lyrics went through perhaps 30 drafts, including after composer Clinton Cerejo entered the picture in early 2017. Cerejo, ironically, does not like musical theatre, he says. “I like the music of musical theatre, and I like theatre. But when I watch a musical play, I get lost in the music and lose track of the story. I joke to [daCunha, Krishna and the others] that I’m just composing; I don’t have to watch it.” The challenge was irresistible, he says, the chance to work on a show with so many facets, to meld diverse genres into a cohesive whole, a two-hour musical landscape that segued from song to song — which would need to be sung to, live, every night — and, moreover, where every character had to be a distinct person, each contestant a messenger of a certain kind of music. One song is the ask in microcosm: daCunha and Bhargava decided that rather than give each contestant an introduction, ‘Vote for me,’ would introduce all of them at once. Cerejo’s music smoothly integrates their genres, going from a hard rock riff to dhols forming a bridge to a catchy ‘item’ song before mridangams segue to Carnatic-infused rap, and then to ballad, and it still remains a single song.
He found it no impediment to come into the creative process some just over six years after the writers began working on the show. “I like having some boundaries. The lyrics help outline characters, help me give a musical character to the roles.” When he would ask for changes, for instance, asking them to rewrite am entire song around two lines he liked, they would oblige. His self-set objective: a soundtrack that would tell a clear story even if you did not see the play. The hard part is for him, a self-described control freak, stepping back now, leaving the show and his music in other hands. “But working in something like this, you have to trust every HoD [the other lead creators] to do their thing, to trust Nadir to put it all together. It’s a mix of attachment and detachment.” While the show’s final edges are being smoothed, he’s going back to his studio to put together the album version, where some of the songs will be remixed for separate release, what he sees as a kind of audio book.
Casting, daCunha says was simple: “We didn’t hold open auditions. We were quite specific about what we wanted. We went for the best singers possible, then put them through auditons we had tailor-made for them.” The cast then also worked with vocal coach Marianne D’Cruz Aimen, and also on their acting skills with Shernaz Patel. And of course they’ve all been working hard with Khan, to deliver the vision in his head.
When talking about Khan, the behind-the-scenes creators are uniformly effusive. Krishna sums it up: “He’s already done a lot of good work, but not at this scale. I think Bombay is seeing the birth of a huge director.” Khan had been involved first in an ambiguous ‘being around’ kind of way, the, since February, as co-director in February, running rehearsals and helping build the show, before daCunha decided that it was in the better to hand over all the reins to him. The task of building a musical is, Khan says, a dream, a directorial ambition. “The scale is beyond anything I’ve ever done. But I have a clear handle on it in my head, about what should happen. Now it’s about getting as close to that as possible — though you’ll never get as close as what you expect, whether it’s a three-characters and a box production or a full-scale musical — so that’s the push. The great thing is I have learnt so much, and had fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it, that’s my motto. I’m a huge consumer of music, but doing this, being able to see music from the other side, that’s priceless.”
He inherited a set-up, he says, with music done, casting done, which has two sides. For one, much work has been done, but then as director, he is more used to being involved from genesis point. “There are expectations already set, and you’ve got to weave yourself into that, find the best way to fit in, align your thoughts to what’s already established and merge it into an organic whole. As much as it’s my baby, it’s more theirs [daCunha and Krishna] than mine. I’m birthing their baby. I’ve known them for years, and we’re good friends, as most people in the small community of theatre are. There’s a huge responsibility that goes with that, to make sure I am treating it well, that it comes to fruition in a way that they feel good work has been done on their dream. It’s been ten years in their heads, eight years in talking, four years in writing, two years in composition, a huge journey for them, and they’re trusting me with that.”
Khan has no problems with what he’s inherited. The cast is “f*****g amazing, and I’m learning from them.”  Some of that learning comes from the fact that the cast are mostly professional singers. “It’s that barter: they have given me new tools, new ways of understanding. There’s so much more to singing than singing the right note. And I have been able to push in character and intent: what you want to achieve with a line rather than what you want to do with it, which has been quite mind-broadening, from what they have told me.” A musical theatre wisdom says it’s far easier to get a singer to act than teach an actor to sing; Khan does not quiet subscribe to that. “There is no one who cannot act. There are people who can access a particular truth and make me believe it. Convince me in whatever way you can do best, and you’ve got me. If you’re honest and activated that truth, you’ve acted it. Yes, it’s difficult to do both if you’ve done only one for a long time. There’s no way an actor could learn to sing the way these guys can over just a rehearsal period. And no way to learn to act the way a Naseer or a Shernaz Patel would, over the same rehearsal period. Where they are is a result of years and years of diligence and practice and work. I would expect an actor made to sing to sing truthfully and hit the right notes, and I expect a singer being made to act to be as honest about it as they are with their music.”
His task, then, has been to take these multiple truths — those of the characters, but also of the writers, the composer, the vocal trainer, the acting trainer, the choreographer, the technicians, all the moving parts of this enterprise — and funnel them through his own head. “It has to be one vision. Those individual responses must be of one world. Aligning them all is the final edge you’re walking on. It has to be many hands but one mind working. Or ten minds working homogenously.”
What will audiences take away, hopefully?
“It’s a tale about where India is today,” daCunha says, “about jealousy, deceit. A modern tale in many ways: where we are, what society is, the voyeuristic nature, surveillance, that we live pretty much on the Internet. It tries to capture the essential questions, how far is our limit? Where is the gap between moral and immoral? Is there even right and wrong anymore? How far will you push for success? Sleep your way to the top, kill your way to the top?”
Khan phrases only slightly differently: “It’s a pop culture comment about how important social media is in our lives. On a human level, it’s just about ambition and aspiration. It’s how about far you will go to achieve what you want to achieve, and also how much you will yourself to be controlled by social media.” But that aside, he adds, “I have learnt that here is nothing wrong with being entertained. It’s nice to have some sort of social context, or a thematic element running through, statement you’re trying to make. But there’s huge merit in just having an engaging evening.”

Sunday 8 October 2017

A crowd extra, a guest appearance, and a rainstorm

Scene one.

A basketball tournament in St Xavier’s College. The traditional season opener for the game in the city. All the best teams in Bombay would play. Among them, several from the Nagpada area, nursery of many greats of the game. For the Bombay Central YMCA, one of the players is a fair-skinned man. You look closer, and yes, it is that guy who seems to always play the white man in Hindi cinema. On court, he plays the hard, fast game that that corner of the city specialised in, asking, and giving, no quarter on account of actor status or age (he was a bit older than most of the other players, barring a few India team veterans). In the half-court messing about before the game you, with several other undergrad students who take shots at the basket while the teams are getting ready, have actually passed him the ball a few times, attempting not to be too star-struck and never being so gauche as to ask for an autograph.

One game stands out a little clearer than the others in that distant memory. The Xavier’s Sports Club, a team of the best players in the college and some ex-students who continued to play the game, had its strongest line-up in years. Among them, Joe, an American and Marco, a German. In front of a partisan audience, the home team played out of their skins. There were fouls galore, including one where a Bombay Central player rolled in agony clutching his dislocated shoulder, and when the ref paid no heed, got up and continued the game. The roughness of the game extended to the gamesmanship: the Nagpada lads were fluent cussers — one had heard that even the fair-skinned actor liked to catch opponents off-guard by letting fly in fluent Urdu — and the Xavier’s boys were no slouches either. At one point, Joe, one of those tall, burly corn-fed Americans, stood chest to chest with the actor. “You have a big mouth,” he said. The reply didn’t miss a beat: “Not as big as your stomach.”

(The sports club lost eventually.)

Scene two.

A recording studio. You are a rookie voice-over artist. Perhaps because of your name, you’ve been called in to read the voice of a British pilot. An accomplished actor who happens to be fair-skinned is doing an American pilot’s voice.

You struggle a bit, not knowing whether to aim for posh or street. You don’t do too well, and are miserable. In the loo, the actor, who has delivered all his lines on the first take, and then offered variations — you remember now that that was the only time, before or since, you’ve heard him speak American — offers a few comforting words, with no trace of an American accent. You stammer a thank you and try to do better. You manage, and you leave with an even warmer spot in your heart for the man.

Scene three.

A poetry reading in an art gallery. Several of the city’s best-known poets are reading. The host has kindly invited a few unknown poets in too; you are the least accomplished of them. Before the reading, you discover that that actor is here, and will be on stage too. Your heart sinks: how do you measure up to that guy? But then, you say to yourself, if you goof here, no one will remember with this star around.

You meet briefly before the performance. He is greying now, with some wrinkles around the eyes. He is adjusting his boots. He looks up, says something like “You have an unusual name.” You, not star-struck at all, no, no, manage to come up with the fantastically original “You too.” Strangely, the earth does not open and swallow you.

He is the only one not carrying paper. (This was before smartphones.) He recites several Urdu couplets, and a poem he wrote as a young man. Then he reads a poem you have encountered, by a Delhi poet. It is one word, one syllable: rain, repeated many times. You have dismissed this “poem” in your mind; you had put quotes around the word when dismissing it. You don’t remember now how many times that single word is repeated, but it’s a lot. The actor gives every repetition a different inflection, now booming like thunder overhead, now like the wet mist caressing a hillside cloud, now sharp and cold and piercing, now mad fury. You have never been so glad to be comprehensively outclassed.

End notes.

One day, you tell yourself many times, you will talk to this man properly and try and learn a bit. One day, perhaps you will interview him. But that never comes to pass.

You wouldn’t have remembered these little cameos I made in your life, but thank you, and Godspeed, Tom Alter.

[In The Hindu]

Sunday 1 October 2017

Candles in the wind

In a world where bad news is in no short supply, in a profession where atrocities are on the daily news list, some tragedies hurt more than others.

Journalists of almost every leaning were jolted when Gauri Lankesh was murdered; here was a journalist killed, gunned down, not in war zone or in some troubled but remote part of the country, but in cold blood, on the doorstep of her home in one of India’s busiest metropolises. We shouldn’t have been more distressed by this atrocity than by the assassinations of so many others in our profession but, what gods there may be forgive us, we were. We said to each other, This could have been you. Or me.

In a city where nine or ten people die on the tracks every day, falling from or being knocked down by trains or being hit while dangling from a coach overburdened to a ludicrous degree, one more senseless rail tragedy shouldn’t have penetrated our callused souls. But we’ve all travelled those trains at some point, even those who, like this writer, can now afford four wheels and a guaranteed window seat. As the city’s business district migrated north and split up like so many amoeba, many of us work or have worked in Lower Parel or thereabouts, and have exited the local trains at that railway station and, shoulder to shoulder with the MBAs and the office assistants, battled our way out of the sardine cans, through the scrum on that pedestrian bridge and out into the dubious charms of the erstwhile mills district, on our way to the upcycled godowns and shiny glass towers where, amidst the banks and MNCs and upmarket watering holes, our publications, now freed from the need to house printing presses, send out the news and views in bits and bytes.

We stay unflustered, because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We call and WhatsApp our colleagues and chivvy or are chivvied for ground reports. We monitor the social media channels, looking for more information. When the grim list comes in, we scan it quickly for familiar names and then breathe a sigh of relief and go back to the newsgathering, a little ashamed of that relief. We point our cameras at the stray shoes left behind knowing how powerful the image will be, we hit the record buttons on our phones and stick them in the faces of the weeping, we go to hospitals, overcome our human tendency not to bother the distressed and ask people in hospital beds questions, we edit, trimming lines for greater impact, spellchecking copy typed with one finger on cellphones, scouring our memories and the web for background material the reporter is too busy to include in her copy. We plan the questions we will ask of power tomorrow.

It’s the job. It’s not as soul-battering as being a first responder or an emergency room medic. It’s just news. We file, we move on.

As we send in the story about the twentysomething chartered accountant in her first job or the lifelong best friends who were on their way to the Dadar flower market to buy offerings for the gods for their community puja, we let the thought surface, This could have been you. Or me. And then a photographer sends in a picture of candles lining that pedestrian bridge, a small bunch of marigolds among them. A homage to those who died. It’s silly. It’s symbolism. But then, some of us, we break down and cry.

[In The Hindu]

Thursday 11 February 2016

How Zuckerberg got the blues

The campaign to save the Internet was led by many ordinary citizens. A thank-you note.

Success has many parents. And now that the Save the Internet campaign has got a happy ending, there is no doubt that many will clamour for a share of the credit. And they would not be wrong, for it was a campaign of, by and for people like you and me, ordinary citizens.

That said, there are some names that rise a little higher from the crowd. (What follows assumes you have followed the net neutrality versus zero-rating debate in these pages and elsewhere.)

One of them is the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Regulators and government bodies in general have not exactly been known for being au courant with technology and its advances, or for — gasp! — actually wanting to know what citizens think. Past heavy-handed efforts at censorship, such as back in 2006 when our government ordered the blocking of entire second-level domains when it meant to silence a few third-level sites, had India’s then fledgling social media world alternating between giggling at their cluelessness and screaming blue murder outrage about the loss of their precious blogging platforms.

But, led in no small way by the Ministry of External Affairs, who were the first members of the babucracy to dip their official toes into the online world, India’s administrators are now very much a part of the social whirl. And TRAI, to its eternal (or until next week) credit, made a huge effort to reach out and make it if not the best possible public consultation, then at least a better consultation than has been done before. Writer Raghu Karnad made the point well in a Twitter discussion: “I don’t see a lot of kirana dukaanwalas [owners of small shops] being interviewed about FDI in retail.” If there’s one thing to take away from TRAI’s course of action during this debate, it is that I don’t think India’s Internet policy will be created from an ivory tower again. And while it could get better — reaching out in multiple Indian languages is one small example — it’s good to see India showing the rest of the world the progressive way ahead.

Sharing credit with TRAI is the Save the Internet coalition. (Disclosure: this writer helped with small parts of the group’s first campaign and was privy to its discussions and strategies.) This ragtag band, using nothing more than their brains, well augmented with legal knowledge, tech skills and social media smarts, changed the course of the debate and made sure that telecom providers and platforms like Facebook weren’t controlling the narrative. Possibly their biggest contribution to the discourse was the way they carefully studied TRAI’s questions and framed lucid replies that were also legally sound. The group frequently insists that it is a collective, and no individuals are heroes, so I will respect that and not name individuals. Those who were and are part of the group and have chosen to be identified can be found on the website.

A crucial amplifier of the net neutrality point of view was the comedy collective AIB. Those always irreverent young men have a huge and very influential following. So when they, taking a cue from American comic and host John Oliver, released a video that made the case for net neutrality, many celebrities shared it, and it got seen by a lot more people than the Save the Internet coalition could have reached on its own. AIB followed up their initial video in April last year with a couple of more videos later in the year, and each time their contribution shot adrenaline into the movement.

Another crucial ingredient was the support of the Indian start-up world. Vijay Shekhar of digital payments company Paytm set an example. Initially a supporter of zero rating (which privileges some chosen Internet sites over others by giving users free data to access them), he changed his mind and used his influence to reach out to others too. Eventually, several hundred entrepreneurs such as Nandan Nilekani stated their support for net neutrality. And politicians stuck their necks out too: Biju Janata Dal MPs Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda and T. Satpathy, and All India Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien. The CPI (M) passed a resolution last year opposing violations of net neutrality, with party leader Sitaram Yechury vocally supporting the concept. Even Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi spoke up, which was worrying for net neutrality supporters: in today’s polarised world, his stand could have meant National Democratic Alliance fans reflexively opposing whatever he said. News coverage abroad helped mould opinion too. Notable among the influencers was Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web but did not patent it so the world could benefit; when Sir TB-L speaks, people listen.

Have we forgotten anyone? Oh, yes. Facebook. The social media platform’s holier-than-wow advertising campaign and lobbying efforts to evangelise their FreeBasics offering, not to speak of their cack-handed effort to take a leaf out of the Save the Internet campaign’s book by asking their users to petition TRAI with a ready-made email (only neglecting to have their email text actually answer the questions TRAI had asked for responses to) backfired rather spectacularly. So, thank you, Mark Zuckerberg. Here’s a nice blue thumbs up for you.

[In The Hindu]

Thursday 3 December 2015

A thin boy in a wheelchair

My brother was disabled. I talked about him to friends, maybe referred to him only in broad terms in work environments, and very rarely wrote about him. When I did write about him, I was asked — both by people who knew me at the intimate-at-a-remove level that social media has made common and by those who have my family and I knew for decades — why I had never done so before.

The reasons are not that easy to explain. But I’ll try.

(A caveat: I speak only of places we’ve lived in and visited: Vizag, Secunderabad, Madras, Bombay and New Bombay, Ooty. Other people’s mileage may differ.)

John’s disabilities were cerebral palsy, mental retardation (what is called a learning disability now, but those words still appeared on his medical files and were the ones used by our family doctor to refer to his handicap) and a heart disease.

The heart condition did not manifest visibly, but the palsy was, of course, clear to see. His legs were stick thin, bent a little. More so his right leg, which thanks to muscle atrophy and a hip joint that disintegrated, was bent a little more and could never straighten. Because he had the use only of one hand, he was unable to support his body evenly when sitting. So as he got older, his spine curved more to the right. His right hand was small; he had very limited control over it: just a little movement at shoulder level and the ability to twitch two fingers. It mostly would just be folded, palms and fingers hanging. When he was younger, before the curvature became pronounced, he could manipulate his own wheelchair by propelling the left wheel and then reaching over to propel the right wheel. Later, this became impossible, and he needed extra support on one side whenever sitting up. Another manifestation of his palsy was in slurred speech. He also had a pronounced gagging reflex, so we were never able to clean his teeth properly, and he couldn’t gargle, so he wound up losing all his teeth eventually. There was a slight squint in one eye. He couldn’t wink, though he did, in his words, ‘wink his eyebrows,’ basically a theatrical blink. One side of his face was more mobile than the other, so except with a wide grin (which resulted also in a ‘wink), his smiles were always lopsided. We tried to teach him to read and write, but he could not. He could count reliably up to three, sometimes five.

In brief, he was visibly disabled.

In close interaction — with our friends, our neighbours — he was often talked at or talked around or talked about rather than talked to. Sometimes this is awkwardness: people didn’t know if he understood and would ask us, his caregivers, about him. Mostly these questions were on the lines of ‘what is wrong with him?’ and ‘was he born like this?’ Our answers would then inevitably provoke pity. They would see the disability, recognise that it handicapped him, but they so very rarely look beyond the condition at the person.

The thing is, if you could get past the slurred speech, the retardation was not immediately evident in conversation. In the subjects he could talk about, he was always coherent, though sometimes approaching topics from very different perspectives which needed patience to figure out.

(All John’s favourite people always talked to him, never condescending, but adjusting the topics of their conversation to him, as some people have the gift of doing naturally with children. You know who I mean, that favourite aunt or uncle who you were hugely fond of as a child and who will always be special to you, the one who always talked to you straight, never made you feel like a child.)

To the casual passer-by, he was just a thin boy in a wheelchair. (I use ‘boy’ advisedly; though he was older than me, he looked at most 20 right through his adult years.) But, in all the cities we lived in, John would attract curiosity in public spaces. At its best, it would be mild double-takes. Sometimes — often, yes, often — it would also be that gawker nudging a companion, inviting the companion to gawk as well. Sometimes it would be open pointing and loud remarks.

I’ve heard, often, in different places, the word in the local languages for ‘mad’. All this made me furious when we were children. It continued to cut deep even when I became an adult, even though I would tell myself that these behaviours were just a result of poor education about mental disability in this country, that one couldn’t blame individuals for cultural mores they’ve imbibed.

Even so, when in casual conversation, on social media, the anger still boils up in me when I hear the suffix ‘-tard’ as an insult, when I hear people laughing about spazzing out.

It enrages me that this world, this country, this city, does so little to make a more accessible, more caring planet for those whose bodies aren’t ‘normal’, whose minds will stay, always, childlike. And that needs more space than this page will allow. So let me not go there. Let me get back to the personal.

Over time, I reached a point where I don’t want to explain any more. I didn’t want to be angry. I definitely didn’t want concessions. That last is also partly why I haven’t spoken publicly about my brother; one didn’t want to be seen as seeking attention, or seeking pity, or largesse from the state or society.

All this I’ve heard this from friends who have family members with learning disabilities: all you want is acceptance, for your loved one, for your family. You want the world to just be okay with the fact that this is just another person's ‘normal,’ that it doesn’t need pity, or sorrow.

You don’t want the attention. You’re not brave, you’re not extraordinary. You’re not a saint, heaven knows. This is just your life. This is his life. This is our life. You would do the same, but these just don’t happen to be the circumstances of your life.

All we want, the families of and caregivers to people with disability — I deliberately do not try to speak for people with disability, because I do not know that world — is to not be ‘special’. To not be a symbol for courage. To not have our loved ones be the disability.

From where I sit, your fight against the financial circumstances you have risen above, or the loss of a parent early in life or of a child, or a bad marriage or broken heart or rebellious children, they are all strange to me, perhaps. Are you a hero? I don’t know; perhaps you are. But it could be just that you are playing with the cards you have been dealt.

There is no divine plan, I’m sure. This isn’t happening to you or me ‘for the best’.

It is what it is.

You live the life you find yourself in, the best way you know how.

[In The Hindu]

Saturday 28 November 2015

The idea of Bombay

People like me, people who came of age in the eighties in middle-class urban India, grew up in a different India. We were something of an in-between generation. Our grandparents lived through the transition from colony to nation; our parents grew up in the years of nation building. We grew up taking independence and a certain degree of development for granted, without having all the gadgets, the conveniences, the consumer goods, and the general first worldness that the young of today were born into.

We also grew up with messages of unity in diversity surrounding us. We were all one, despite our religious and cultural differences, advertisements and pre-movie short films (and when TVs came into our homes, Doordarshan) told us. Ek, Anek, as a particularly cute animated short put it.

And while even our young minds knew there was an element of propaganda here, we chose to believe in it, or at least to subscribe to the notion that that was the way things should be.

To stripling me, Bombay pretty much exemplified this. After living in Visakhapatnam, Secunderabad and Madras, none of them small towns by any means, I was now in a true metropolis. The neighbourhood where we lived, the kids in my school, the markets, the buses, the trains, most of all the trains: all of this city teemed with diversity; it was like living in a Films Division short.

I grew up with more friends whose families had come here from various parts of India—one, two maybe three generations ago—than those who could claim centuries of city-born ancestry. Quite natural in a city that didn’t really exist as a city before hunks of its hills were toppled into the gaps between islands to make new land. We celebrated each other’s holidays and high days with gusto, visiting each other, sending across sweets and savouries to each other to better share the joy.

When you visited relatives back in the ‘native place’ during the summer holidays—in this city of migrants, everyone seemed to be from somewhere else—your Bombayness was acknowledged with gentle proscriptions along the lines of ‘You can’t do X here; this is not Bombay.’

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that the city was immune to communal and religious divides, that caste and class lines did not exist—it would be beyond childishly naive to suggest that—it was just that it felt like we were living in a country that was trying to rise beyond those schisms and, more important, in a great city that was leading the way in that effort, a city that had always been a pioneer in progressive thought. (Remember the Quit India movement? Remember where it was launched?) In Bombay, one could believe, the place you were born in, the god you bowed to, the language you spoke, the food you ate, none of these would stop you from making it as long as you were willing to work hard.

That changed in 1992. The demolition of the faraway Babri Masjid that December brought riots to Bombay. For those of us who lived here through those times, there was a chill in the air far colder than the city’s puny winters could ever bring. Men shaved off their beards lest they be mistaken for Muslims. Nominal Christians who weren’t the most regular of churchgoers made sure their crosses were visible. Nameplates that had names easily identified as being from the wrong community were taken down, leaving behind clean rectangles on otherwise weathered walls and doors. The first mentions of vegetarian housing societies came up. People talked softer in trains and busses for a while. Those riots, the ones that followed in January ’93, and then the bomb blasts that March, they killed many innocents. And they also delivered a mortal wound to Bombay’s belief in its invulnerability from the small-mindedness lesser towns and cities were plagued by. When the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition that came to power in the next state elections renamed the city Mumbai, it was just a literal ending to the idea of Bombay; that city had already become something else.

Mumbai is still a resilient city. As we sprang back from the riots of ’92 and ’93, so did we recover, quickly, from the cloudburst and floods of 2005. We survived the body blows of the multiple blasts that ripped apart local trains in 2006. We got through the full frontal terror attacks of 2008, the seventh sad anniversary of which we marked two days ago. Yes, even then, we stopped what we were doing and stayed home and watched our televisions, but we were soon back at work, a little quieter, a little more thoughtful, a lot more fearful, but what does one do, livings must be earned. Each time, we went back. We regained our swagger and our style.

Mumbai, like Bombay, has no time to spare, where distances are measured in minutes and hours, not kilometres. It is still a place that rewards hard work, where fortunes can be made from humble beginnings.

Mumbai is a more crowded city than Bombay ever was, but that was inevitable; gold-paved streets are magnetic, but an island only has so much space in which to grow. And this has meant that we pay ludicrous prices for the cubes of air we call our homes, that we spend precious hours just getting to and from our places of work, that our open spaces are threatened, that builders can buy politicians and bureaucrats will conspire. (For me, it’s meant that my family had to move out of the city, to its little sister across the creek. Once it was called New Bombay, then the municipal signboards welcoming you to the city were blackened with tar and a new name was painted over it in rough letters: Navi Mumbai. That name become official too. Just history repeating itself in a different geography.)

Mumbai is still a safer city for women, for children, for the aged, than most others in this country. It is still a home to the arts and culture and sport and entertainment and all the fine things that are worth working hard for, the better to appreciate and enjoy them.

We live more comfortable lives, certainly, than most of India. We can take our electricity for granted most of the time. And though we panic about the water levels in our lakes, we somehow make it through each year until the monsoons arrive. Our air is far from clean, but the sea breeze bails us out most days, blowing away some of the smog.

And yes, we’re richer. And yes, we have so much that more developed countries have, the big brands and the High Streets, the glass towers and the luxury cars. Heck, we may not be Shanghai yet, but we have our very own suspension bridge.

But in the Mumbai of today, it has become okay to talk of the Other.

Bigotry is now legitimate; it no longer speaks in whispers, it is loud, it shrieks on our streets, shuts down shops, and sometimes the whole city. It does not want you to live in its buildings, it does not want you to cook your way, dress your way.

In this unsentimental city, hurt sentiments take centre-stage more often these days. (And we, the media, cannot absolve ourselves from blame for providing a steady stream of the publicity to the publicity-seeking hurt sentiment that comes our way.)

Again, don’t get me wrong. Just as it wasn’t a total free thinker’s paradise when my generation was growing up, it certainly isn’t hell in which we find ourselves in our middle age. Things are undoubtedly and demonstrably worse in other parts of India and, yes, the world.

Mumbai still is, and regularly proves itself to be, more progressive in its thinking than most places. In Mumbai, hard work still rules, and good ideas can still find a home. In Mumbai, you can still say what you believe, and be sure that no one will try to kill you if what you say offends them… Reasonably sure, that is. I can still casually call the city Bombay, as an old friend can do, without more than the odd idiot on Twitter scolding me Perhaps one day louts-for-hire may gherao this newspaper’s office if their paymaster’s delicate feelings are hurt by something we say, but this newspaper will still come out the next day, and its journalists will still walk the streets unafraid.

But here’s the thing. Today, liberal voices are more hushed; free speech advocates now censor themselves. This can only be a bad thing in a city founded on free movement: of people, of goods, of money, of ideas.

Bombay was all about differences coming together and somehow working. Bombay celebrated its differences, made the most of them and like some medieval alchemist, it conjured up success and growth. One couldn’t expect any less from a city that was imagined up out of seven islands and lots of swamp and sea.

But maybe that’s a lot of poetic tosh, born of too much brainwashing by the Films Division in one’s formative years.

Perhaps the Idea of Bombay began to die before the name did. And perhaps now, while it still gasps for breath, it’s really past hope and we should let that idea go. That would make me sad.

There’s a part of me, though, that doesn’t want to believe that: the part of me that still calls the city Bombay, as if using that name would conjure it back into existence. Who knows? Maybe there are enough of us, and if we all think about it really, really hard..?

[In the first Mumbai edition of The Hindu]

Saturday 21 November 2015

Published: Forbes India, ForbesLife India

Creature from Another Planet Obituary, Michael Jackson

Rock Show

Gunning For Glory

Book: And Another Thing?

Tip-off: Google Chrome

3 Ways to Build a Stronger Public Profile (With Indrajit Gupta)

7 Social Networking Tips for the Novice (With Elizabeth Flock & Nilofer D'souza

The Teller of Stories Profile, Chetan Bhagat

An Interview with Chetan Bhagat

7 New Words We Learnt This Year (With Shishir Prasad & Elizabeth Flock)

Event: Jaipur Literature Festival

Salman Rushdie and all that - a chat with Sanjoy Roy


Twho’s Twho

Should India Save Its Daylight?

Leaving Home: A Soulful Tribute to Indian Ocean

Long Live Social(media)ism!

From Darkness, Light

To Kill A Mocking Bird: A Book For All Seasons

Twitter Parodies

John Travolta: High Flier

Most Expensive Homes in India

Here's looking @ you, kid - The Evolution of Email

Forbes India Person of the Year 2010 (Podcast; with Shishir Prasad)

5 Gadgets You’ll Want To Own (With Deepak Ajwani)

11 New Words We Learnt this Year

Hope and Glory: Talking to Asha Bhosle

Welshspotting: Ten Minutes With Irvine Welsh

India Would Like to be Your Friend

The Intent Is to Build Communities for Friends of India

Nirupama Rao: We Want to Be Part of the New Media Revolution

The Best of Forbes India Covers - Year 2

Coke Studio Comes to India

Social Networking Site: Google+

Shammi Kapoor - Blithe Spirit

Book Review: Js & The Times of My Life

The Mind of the Indian Reader

Burning Questions of 2012 (Podcast; with Shishir Prasad)

11 Reasons Why the West Should Outsource Christmas To India

Why Sachin Tendulkar Isn’t God

11 Books To Read In 2012

Who will win the DSC Prize?

Elections and the elephant in the room

The Giant Chronicles - Two Books Worth Reading

It’s Love-All for Leander

A Book of Verse and Thou Beside Me

Talent-Spotting at the Jaipur Lit Fest

Jeet Jeet (Audio)

Ashish Nandy and all that (Transcript + Audio)

Rah-Rah Rahul!

Sanjna Kapoor: Sheer Madness Kept Prithvi Going

David Davidar: Aleph Books Will Be Competitively Priced

President Me

10 lessons on #journalism from Twitter

The Olympian Games

London Olympics: Carrying A Torch

The other Olympics

Show and tell: the Films Division’s new film club

Raasrang World Flute Festival

The Olympics: still sexist after all these years

Get to the Delhi Art Gallery Now!

Decoding the North East (with Kathakali Chanda)

Of book prizes and short-lists

Lit season begins

Short short short stories

Helping the police with their duties

Lonely Planet’s India Guides For You

Ferrari, vai a casa!

Duck-billed, web-footed, warm-blooded, egg-laying ... publishers

House of the Random Penguin

Ten very short novels

Facebook Communique

The X Prize Foundation’s India Plans

Prakriti Foundation’s Cultural Route to Charity

Five Years of Mumbai's blueFROG (With Pravin Palande)

Podcast: Questions that need asking (With Shishir Prasad)

The changing face of Indian publishing

Even more books to read in 2013

13 Books To Add To Your Reading List (with Sumana Mukherjee)

The Literary Zoo

Standup Comedy is Finding Its Feet in India (With Shravan Bhat)

Footnotes From Jaipur Lit Fest

William Dalrymple on the Jaipur Literature Festival (audio)

Rahul Pandita On Kashmir and its Stories

Who on earth is Veronica Mars? (Or, is Anurag Kashyap reading this?)

I want to be happy too!

Faster, Higher, Stronger. And Richer: The world’s highest-paid sportpeople

Penguin’s Quick Lit for E-Book Enthusiasts

Art For Uttarakhand - a sale and exhibition in Delhi

The Bastar that was: a unique photo exhibition in Delhi

Rendezvous with Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram

Aleph’s ‘Short Biography’ Series Has Gems

Son of short-short-short stories

Christie’s has a dream India debut

What 2014 Has In Store For Us (Podcast)

Kuldeep Dantewadia: Managing Waste (with Udit Misra)

Anoj Viswananthan: Helping Donors Choose NGOs (With Udit Misra)

Tarique Quereshi: Fighting For the Homeless (With Udit Misra)

Elections 2014 - The Digital Battlefield (Podcast; with Sohini Mitter & Debojyoti Ghosh)

e-Lections 2014: How Political Parties Turned Tech-Savvy

Social Media: Limited, but ‘Liked’ in Indian Elections (With Sohini Mitter)

Vote for... Start-ups! (with Debojyoti Ghosh)

Elections: Spawning Business Opportunities (With Debojyoti Ghosh)

Case Study: The Dynamics of Mumbai South

Alt+Tab+Politics: Nandan Nilekani on switching tracks

5 People To Impact Our Thinking in the Last Five Years

5 Exciting New Technologies from the Last Five Years (With Shabana Hussain)

Mary Meeker’s ‘Internet Trends 2014’

Theatrical Release of The World Before Her

Old School: Centuries-old Universities

The Sceptical Patriot: Historical Claims Examined, with Affection

Dear Tendulkar-bhakts: how do you solve a problem like Maria?

A run for the money: the world’s highest-paid sports stars

Deep Waters: The Return of Indian Ocean

National Flag: Tricolour (With Prince Mathews Thomas)

National Animal: Tiger (With Jasodhara Banerjee)

What's this .भारत all about?

Validated domains for do-gooders: A registry and a community for NGOs

NGOs can Now Sign Up for .ngo Domains

If you applaud at the wrong time at a Symphony Orchestra of India concert, they won’t be upset with you

Large Bills: The most expensive objects of fancy

Luxury hotels that prosperous travellers love most

Best places for women? India ranks 114th among 144 countries

The Gender Gap: where India stands

All types of economies should co-exist (Ela Bhat; as told to)

The growing up of Salman Khan

Happier endings: Dealing (better) with mortality and pain (Atul Gawande; as told to)

Ice Stupas: Conserving water the 3 Idiots way

Achievable Utopias: What wonderful new things lie just ahead

SocialCops helps tackle big problems with Big data (With Salil Panchal)

Abhishek Choudhary and Saransh Vaswani: A class act (With Salil Panchal)

Alok Kumar: Lightening the load of schoolkids (With Salil Panchal)

Sticking to the basics always helps on YouTube

Video ga ga: The new tube in town

What Mary Meeker’s ‘Internet Trends 2015’ report tells us

World’s first women-only fund gets SEBI nod

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader is worth a read

Women entrepreneurs: A positive change is certain

Ecom Express: A trusted delivery partner

Rupa Publications: Not just Kapish Mehra’s great-grandfather’s company

Sunday 4 May 2008

Mousetrap - 147

unseen dharamsala
Dharamsala, quiet little place that is, has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to its most famous resident, the Dalai Lama. You see, after he made his escape from Tibet, the Indian government shunted him around a bit before giving him a place of residence in Upper Dharamsala, also called McLeodganj. Mcleodganj was a sort of hangout for army officers and their families in British times (there’s a cantonment nearby, in Forsytheganj), but, so I’m told, became pretty much a ghost town after independence. Other Tibetan refugees flocked to the place, and it became the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Little Tibet, as some call it, also has a library, monasteries, schools and cultural centres that attempt to keep the culture alive. This site is part of a larger photo-project, an ‘international arts project for workers and refugees to describe their lives through photography.’ The site introduces eight Tibetan refugees, and links to their blogs. It’s a look into the live of a dispossessed people through their eyes and words.

Wired How-To Wiki
Wikis epitomise the whole user-generated content revolution. Sites like Wikipedia and its offshoots are abuzz with activity, generating volumes of content, some of it downright dubious, some of it of questionable value, especially for fogies like your columnist. Where we we? Where are my dentures? Ah yes. This wiki has a more specific focus: it’s a how-to site, with a tech slant. Naturally considering that its parent, Wired magazine, is an iconic geek publication, one that has chronicled the rise of the web and grown with it, and features some of the best, most lucid writing on tech topics. The site offers ‘projects, hacks, tricks and tips you can edit.’ It isn’t all geeky though. Amidst advice on adapters for electronic devices and building servers, you’ll also find ways to reset a dislocated shoulder, alternative ways to lace your shoes (there are 43,200 of them, would you believe?), or bar tricks. There’s a bonus: a small section of how-tos written by Wired staff.

Are you a CA?
The ‘CA’ that your columnist uses in the title doesn’t stand for Chartered Accountant. The ‘C’ is for Certified, and the ‘A’ refers to the, um, tail-end of your digestive system. Also known as the the A*****e Rating Self-Exam (ARSE), it is a set of 24 questions set in the work environment, by the writer Bob Sutton, part of his promotion for a book. If you’re enough of a, erm, navel-gazer to be reasonably sure of your own status on this important question, try taking it as if you were someone else: a colleague, perhaps. or your boss.

Clean Journeys
Responsible Travel
It’s summer. You’re off on vacation with the spouse and the brats. But have you thought about the impact of your vacation on the planet? This site has listings for 270 tour operators all over the world, with n array of activities and countries. It’s not just for the well-heeled westerner or the global traveller. We desis and impoverished columnists have some choices too. There are 181 India holidays listed as of this writing. Not solely travel agents, mind you. There are less-known things like self-catered holidays and volunteering opportunities. And there are loads of user reviews of the listed holidays to help you make up your mind. Have a good trip!

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, 4th May, 2008.

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