Saturday, May 29, 2010

Two benefits of Twitter that I can think of

1. You get a maximum of 140 characters for your tweet, so you need to be brief and, at the same time, you have to be clear about what you are saying. Not very different from being a journalist? In any case, Twitter helps to sharpen your editing skills. Here's how:

A recent status message I posted on Facebook:
The next time you're at Subway, go for the Italian BMT it really hits the spot! Leave out the "pickle" (as I did yesterday), add an extra dose of the jalapeno, and stick to the barbeque and honey-mustard sauces. Important: Ask for the honey-oat bread. Scrumptious!

I had to edit it down for Twitter:
Next time at Subway, go for the Italian BMT on honey-oat bread. No "pickle"; extra jalapeno; barbeque and honey-mustard sauces. Divine!

BTW, I didn't know what BMT stood for. Here's what I learned from Yahoo Answers:
The "B.M.T." sandwich at Subway was originally named after the "Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit." Consisting of sliced genoa salami, pepperoni, ham and your choice of salad, it has become one of the chain's most popular subs. With time, the sub's name has evolved to mean "Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest."

2. As Neilima Bh. P. (Class of 2012) pointed out in a Facebook conversation recently, you get to "follow" celebs, experts, stars, even well-known journalists (though you have to hope that it's not some PR hacks tweeting on their clients' behalf) and read what they have to say about issues that interest them (and possibly us). I follow Rajdeep Sardesai, for instance, and his tweets bring me up to date on the major news events of the day. One of Rajdeep's tweets also led to my discovering the Indicast Podcast Network, in my opinion the best Indian website for podcasts. Media students will love IPN and our AVC students who need to produce a radio feature will get some ideas  check it out here.
  • Satish Perumal (Class of 2011) adds: We think of Twitter and Facebook as networking tools which we use to keep in touch with friends and relatives. I, too, thought these networking sites were good only for having a... er, good time, an escape tunnel from the real world to the virtual one.

    But I did a rethink recently after a job interview with a social marketing company, Uncut Donut. The interviewer asked me for my Twitter ID and immediately scanned all my tweets, looked at my profile, and tried to get a fix on what kind of topics interest me. I was taken aback a bit by this turn of events and did not know how to react.

    Moral of the story: These networking sites might be fun, but these days they are a launch pad for the careers of many ambitious youngsters. And HR departments use them as recruitment tools too. So go ahead and get cracking with your networking!
How true, Satish. The best advice then for those using Twitter and Facebook would be this: When you apply for a job, you may be judged on the basis of your virtual life. So, mind your language. Think of interesting and intelligent status messages and tweets. And when you post pictures think about how these pictures may influence a potential employer. Sure, you may argue that your privacy settings will protect you, but what's to stop a "friend" from copying and forwarding content from your page? RP

Friday, May 28, 2010

The World Cup of Kabaddi...

...and the top prize of Rs.1 crore was won by India, who beat Pakistan in Bathinda, Punjab, in early April. Open magazine (April 23) gives readers a racy description of the tournament and the finale, with Arindam Mukherjee capturing the festive atmosphere at the games and also conveying the seriousness with which hard-core fans view kabaddi:
This was no place for the faint of heart. This was Bathinda, in the heartland of Punjab, where the game of kabaddi captivates millions across generations. Here, in similar dust-choked pits, many a bone has been broken, nose bloodied, and ankle sprained in a game that combines judo, wrestling, grappling and athletics, all at once. Westerners have found it difficult to define the game, sometimes even calling it a ‘push-of-war’.

Hotels and dhabas across Punjab switched from IPL cricket to PTC Punjabi channel, which was airing the contests live. Badal even claimed that the kabaddi tournament had “left behind IPL cricket as far as TRP ratings in northern India, New Delhi, Canada, Britain, US, Italy, Pakistan and Iran are concerned”. That cannot be confirmed, but the cheers in Punjab grew audibly rowdier as India trumped Canada to make the finals, while Pakistan edged out Italy.

Read Gone in Thirty Seconds to get an idea of the frenzy the tournament evoked.
  • Photo courtesy: Open

The editor of Mint is a fan of Modesty Blaise

And so am I. (And so is my wife.) Like R. Sukumar, who devoted his Cult Fiction column in Mint Lounge (May 15) to the character created by Peter O'Donnell, I have all 13 Modesty books (pictured).

Sukumar is a cerebral senior journalist who, in addition to editing Mint, also writes a serious column in the paper. And look at his qualifications: he has an MBA from Bharatidasan Institute of Management, Trichy, and an MSc in Mathematics and a BE in Chemical Engineering from BITS, Pilani.

When someone like Sukumar showers praise on the Modesty Blaise series, it really means something to fans.

Here's an excerpt from the column:
I like the Modesty books and comics for several reasons: They are very well written (better than some of Fleming’s weaker Bond books, although all the books have more action and humour than the latter; this may be one reason why the screenplays for the Bond movies had to be very different from the books); the characterisation, of Blaise and Garvin but also of the bad guys (and gals), is vivid and piquant; and the illustrations (in the case of the comics) are masterful.

Read the full article here.

A fascinating look at how the internet turned a 16-year-old into a pop phenom

Time (May 17) headlines Claire Suddath's article "Pop Star 2.0", a reference to Justin Bieber who is being hailed as "the first real teen idol of the digital age, a star whose fame can be attributed entirely to the Internet".

The intro draws you into the story before explaining how Bieber's manager first discovered him:
Late one night in 2007, Scooter Braun, an Atlanta-based promoter and music manager, was in bed surfing the Internet when he stumbled upon a grainy home video of Bieber belting out Aretha Franklin's "Respect." "It was such raw talent, my gut just went wild," Braun says, and then pauses. "Maybe I shouldn't tell people I watched videos of Justin Bieber in the middle of the night." Two weeks later, he flew Bieber and his mother to Atlanta and became his manager.

There is also a smart analysis of Bieber's appeal:
As a songwriter, Bieber specializes in two subjects: tender ballads about his parents' divorce and the kind of desperate puppy love to which anyone who has ever been a teenager can relate. His audience can be understood just by looking at his song titles: "U Smile," "First Dance," "One Less Lonely Girl." This is the brilliance of Bieber. Kids will listen to anything if it's catchy, especially if it makes them feel grownup, but Bieber's music says something they actually understand. Nobody is going to believe a 14-year-old boy when he sings, "You're my one love, my one heart, my one life for sure" — nobody, that is, except a 14-year-old girl.

And the longish concluding paragraph capitalises on that appeal:
The day after his appearance on SNL, Bieber gave a small concert at New York's Highline Ballroom for several hundred teenage girls, many of whom had waited for up to five hours to win tickets through a local radio station. The girls wore Bieber T-shirts, carried Bieber CDs and had Bieber backgrounds on their cell phones. "He's so sweet. He's not like every other guy who is just like, 'Ugh, whatever,' " says Alicia Isaacson, 13, from Long Island. It's a sentiment once professed for every artist from Shaun Cassidy to Paul McCartney. Every few seconds, a shrill cry of "Justin!" erupted from somewhere in the crowd. Security guards handed out water bottles and escorted those who felt faint or overwhelmed outside. Offstage, Bieber played with his baseball cap. "I'm really tired," he confessed. "Right now my schedule is just go, go, go. Sometimes I just want to sleep." That afternoon, he had cut his rehearsal to just half a song because he didn't have the energy. But signs of fatigue were gone now, and he took the stage with force. For the first few minutes, the only discernible sound was screaming.

Don't you want to know more about the only artist to have four hit songs before ever releasing an album?
  • Photo courtesy: Time

Point your mouse to Poynter... and to Roy Peter Clark

Poynter claims it has "everything you need to be a better journalist". I believe it.

There are many things on the site that will be useful to you if you're looking to improve your writing and hone your journalistic skills. There are great tips for those interested in television too.

Poynter is also home to Roy Peter Clark, whose Writing Tools blog is, quite simply, superb. Here, for instance, are his tips for structuring your sentences and paragraphs:

Sentences and Paragraphs

  1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, letting subordinate elements branch off to the right. Even a very long sentence can be clear and powerful when subject and verb make meaning early.
  2. Use verbs in their strongest form, the simple present or past tense. Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players. Beware of adverbs. Too often, they dilute the meaning of the verb or repeat it: "The building was completely destroyed."
  3. Place strong words at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs, and at the end. The period acts as a stop sign. Any word next to the period plays jazz. 
Read the full post — If I Were a Carpenter: The Tools of the Writerhere. And make sure you keep going back to Roy Peter Clark and Writing Tools.

Clark is also the author of Three Little Words, which he wrote as a multi-part series for The St Petersburg Times in 1996. This is how the newspaper introduces Three Little Words on its website:
Author Roy Peter Clark worked for two years to piece together this intensely personal family history. The story, which unfolded here and on the pages of the St. Petersburg Times over 29 days, challenges us to reconsider our thoughts about marriage, privacy, public health and sexual identity.

It is a touching story about a journey of trust, betrayal, and redemption. Make time to read it. You will marvel at the writing style — this is what journalism is about. Read it here: "Three Little Words".
  • Photo courtesy: Poynter 
UPDATE (June 15, 2013)
An e-mail from Roy Peter Clark
that I will always treasure:

From: Roy Peter Clark <>
Date: Sat, Jun 15, 2013 at 12:13 AM
To: Ramesh Prabhu <>

Ramesh, thank you for your kind thoughts and your generous words.  I'm delighted that "Writing Tools" is working for you and your students.  And cheers to you on your own devotion to the craft.  -- Roy

Roy Peter Clark
Vice President and Senior Scholar
The Poynter Institute
801 Third Street South
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701
office:  727-553-4227

author of:
 "The Glamour of Grammar:  A Guide to the Mystery and Magic of Practical English"
 "Writing Tools:  50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer."

  • Both the books mentioned above have been placed in the Commits library for the benefit of our students.


Why isn't the Press Council doing more to end the unethical practice of "paid news"?

That is the theme of an op-ed piece in Mint by P.N. Vasanti, director of the New Delhi-based research organisation Centre for Media Studies.

Here are some relevant excerpts for the uninitiated:
While there has been debate on and off over the relevance of the Press Council in the prevailing media scenario, the debate over so-called paid content has revived the argument over the role of the agency and whether there is any point in keeping it alive.

At the core of the latest controversy is the sale of space in the print and time in the electronic media. What’s carried in that space or time isn’t labelled as advertising for the benefit of readers and viewers, but masquerades as legitimate news.

While this trend itself is not new, it has become more deeply entrenched and even institutionalized in recent times. P. Sainath broke the story in The Hindu about politicians who engaged in the practice during the Maharashtra state elections of 2009. He even gave specific prices for the various types of coverage sold by newspapers, besides showing how the same write-ups praising chief minister Ashok Chavan were carried in three different newspapers during the elections.

Media students will find the whole article instructive.

"A journalist shall protect confidential sources of information"

And no one, not even the government, should force journalists to reveal their sources.

Here, in this letter to Tehelka (May 29), Bangalore-based Gauri Lankesh, a former editor of Lankesh Patrike, describes how the united media fought back when the Karnataka government tried to curb the press:
“In our democratic system the fourth estate will brook no interference by the Establishment." That was the stinging message sent by Prajavani, a Kannada daily, to the government of Karnataka last week.

The BS Yeddyurappa-led BJP government -- which is floundering between sexual scandals and financial scams -- had set forth to curb an independent and critical press. Last month, it had tested the waters by issuing threatening notices to two journalists of Prajavani.

In those notices the police of Shimoga district had threatened to charge reporter Rahul Belagali and Associate Editor Padmaraj Dandavati under the dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967, and various other Acts if they did not reveal the source of information in connection with an interview of a Naxal leader which was published sometime last year.

The notices -- instead of making the journalists meek -- made the media see red. When the Editors Guild of India rapped the knuckles of the state government saying it had no business to ask journalists for their source of information, Prajavani was emboldened. It launched a campaign against the government to protect the rights of the media.

Various groups of journalists joined the campaign and held protests across the state. Journalists of Shimoga  -- Yeddyurappa’s home district -- went a step further and threatened to boycott a press conference by the chief minister unless the police withdrew the notices.

In the face of such a strong resistance by Prajavani and a united media, a shamefaced government was left with no choice but to immediately withdraw the notices.

In the State’s war against the Maoists, it was the government of Karnataka which took the first step towards gagging the media. That Prajavani and the media did not allow the government to succeed in its machinations is heartening. In doing so, they have set a commendable example to others across the country. -- Gauri Lankesh

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How to write your first book

Sidin Vadukut is the managing editor of, Mint's website (one of the best I have seen). He is also a technologist (National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli) with an MBA degree from IIM-A. Now he also has a novel to his credit, Dork! The Incredible Adventures Of Robin Einstein Verghese. He was in Bangalore recently to launch the book (you can read about First Year student Dipshikha Kaur Chowdhury's interaction with him in The Commits Chronicle).

Back in January, when Dork! had not yet been released, Vadukut wrote an eloquent and instructive article in Mint describing how he wrote his first book. Reading it will also give you an insight into the publishing world in India.

In the concluding paragraphs he offers a bonus to everyone intested in knowing more about writing and writers:
As for your first book, a good place to start is perhaps with a few audio interviews with the best authors. These interviews will tell you not only how these writers find inspiration, but also how, where and, most importantly, why they write. Get them here:

Afterwards, read this excerpt from Dork! and check out Vadukut's blog, Domain Maximus.
  • A copy of Dork!, autographed by the author, has been placed in the Commits library. Thanks, Dipshikha!

The best cameras for under Rs.50K

Zahid H Javali offers a comprehensive beginner's guide to buying a digital camera in Mint.

He discusses the pros and cons of 10 digicams, from the Rs.10,000 Sony Cybershot DSC-S930 to the Rs.49,999 Canon EOS 550D (pictured).

This is an excellent compendium for those about to buy their first digital camera.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The most professional newspaper coverage of the A-I tragedy in Mangalore

The loss of human life is always a terrible thing. But when the first hint of a disaster arrives in newsrooms, it's the logistics of the ensuing coverage that dominates the thoughts of the people in charge. Decisions are made at this point about sending reporters and photographers to the spot, about calling in extra staff, about making room for all the stories coming in from different sources.

Another important point of debate: What should Page One look like?

On the day after Air India flight IX-182 crashed while landing at Mangalore airport, it's Bangalore's DNA that stood tall in terms of coverage, with reports and pictures that explored every aspect of the latest tragic chapter in the history of modern civil aviation.

Look at Page One:


This front page reflects professionalism of the highest order. No other paper in Bangalore had a front page dominated by a picture in this fashion. DNA's editors also focused, rightly, on one of the survivors when deciding the banner headline. And the newspaper management, in an exemplary gesture of sensitivity, and also to make space for the news, chucked out the front page ads, including the ear panels.

There were 10 other pages in the paper providing what it called "hypercoverage" of the tragedy. And the lead story in After Hrs, the features supplement, focused on air crashes too.

Undoubtedly, a comprehensive, coordinated, concerted effort. Not easy at the best of times, devilishly difficult at the worst of times. So kudos to Team DNA.
  • Arpan Bhattacharyya (Class of 2010) comments: Just one word: SUPER!

    ToI had an ad saying, ironically enough, "Impact Readymade Raymond". Rather tasteless. But desperate TIMES calls for desperate...

If advertising is going to be your career...

...and you have a portfolio ready, you may want to consider taking part in "portfolio night" -- "an opportunity for junior advertising professionals and students to meet the top minds of the industry and have their work reviewed."

Take a look at some of the names on the roster of judges who attended India's first portfolio night in Mumbai on May 20: Piyush Pandey, chairman of O&M; Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman of McCann Erickson; and R. Balakrishnan, chairman and chief creative officer of Lowe India.

Read all about it here in this comprehensive feature by Gouri Shah in Mint.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Intros that address readers, intros that don't

Take a look at this intro in today's DNA. It's the lead story on Page 1 about India's first 3G spectrum auction:

Consumers across the country will be able to not just hear, but also see the person they are calling on the mobile phone by November this year, thanks to the successful wrap-up of India's first 3G spectrum auction. The availability of spectrum will enable mobile operators to provide new services like TV on mobile, games, and music, while also improving voice quality and reducing call drops.

This story was reported by Sreejiraj Eluvangal from New Delhi. Look how readers are drawn into the story with a description of the benefits that will accrue to them when 3G becomes a reality.

Here's the second para:

The government will collect Rs67,719 crore as its share of the booty from seven successful bidders, with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Essar bagging the most lucrative circles. The two biggest cities in India, Delhi and Mumbai, will see 3G services being launched by Vodafone, Bharti, and Reliance Communications. According to operators, they are likely to start work on network planning and installation as soon as the provisional spectrum allocations are confirmed on payment of the requisite bid amounts.

The bid amount, the names of the auction winners, and some jargon in the form of "network planning and installation" and "provisional spectrum allocations" are not used in the intro because they can put off readers and prevent them from getting into the story quickly. The bid amount is also mentioned in the strapline, so, to avoid "stuttering", there is no repetition in the intro.

Now read the first few (messy) paras of the Times of India report by Shalini Singh:

After tremendous hype, hoopla, 34 days and 183 rounds of aggressive bidding by nine players, the 3G auctions drew to a close on Wednesday after raking in a whopping Rs 67,719 crore for the government.

The 3G bounty is almost double the original revenue estimates of Rs 30,000 crore by telecom minister A Raja and more recently, Rs 36,000 crore by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Effectively, this translates to Rs 16,750.6 crore for a single pan-India slot of 3G spectrum. The government auctioned three pan-India 3G slots with additional spectrum in Punjab, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir. BSNL & MTNL were already allocated 3G spectrum a year ago. They did not bid, but will now have to pay the 3G auction price for their spectrum holding.

Vodafone, Bharti and Reliance bagged the plum Delhi and Mumbai circles for a whopping Rs 3,316.9 crore and Rs 3,247.1 crore respectively.

Bharti, Reliance and Aircel won 13 circles each, Idea 11, and Vodafone and the Tatas 9 circles each. S Tel got three circles while Etisalat did not win a single one.

This story appears to be told from the government viewpoint how it stands to gain from the 3G auction and it's packed with numbers and details that are mind-boggling for the ordinary reader.

Which approach is better?

In my view, DNA's, by a long shot. DNA also provides a helpful sidebar that gives readers answers to the questions, What is 3G?, What's the right way?, and What will the cost be like?

When newspapers prefer advertisers over readers, it shows in the reporting too, doesn't it?
  • Dipankar Paul (Class of 2009) comments: Absolutely!
  • Arpan Bhattacharyya (Class of 2010) comments: I agree! One more point about the ToI intro:

    After tremendous hype, hoopla, 34 days and 183 rounds of aggressive bidding by nine players, the 3G auctions drew to a close on Wednesday after raking in a whopping Rs 67,719 crore for the government.

    If you read the paragraph, the writer has made a fundamental error (at least in my humble opinion), something that I am fanatical about when I write. I don't like the use of the word "after" twice in the same paragraph, in this case. It's like saying, "After I went to my uncle's house, I had a wonderful time after he made me a lovely lunch."

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    If it's your dream to be a novelist, you must read this...

    Master storyteller and long-distance runner Haruki Murakami is probably the best-known Japanese novelist in the world today, thanks to quirky bestsellers Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (a collection of 24 short stories), Kafka On The Shore (a full-length novel) both of which I have read and many more.

    In Japan Murakami's popularity is such that the publication last month of his first novel in five years, 1Q84, set off a frenzy among his fans, forcing his publisher to increase the print run.

    He also writes non-fiction: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was published in July 2008 and immediately became a bestseller. I chanced upon it at the Just Books library in JP Nagar a few months ago and, because I have been training to run at least five times a week at the gym, I was able to benefit from many of the insights Murakami offers.

    But this is what really struck me. There are many people, most of them youngsters, whose dream it is to write a novel. It is to them that Haruki Murakami really addresses these excerpts I have chosen from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Look at the three traits he lists as a must: talent, focus, and endurance. And see how he elaborates on each of these traits below:

    IN EVERY INTERVIEW I'M ASKED what's the most important quality a novelist has to have. It's pretty obvious: talent. No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don't have any fuel, even the best car won't run.

    The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can't control its amount or quality. You might find the amount isn't enough and you want to increase it, or you might try to be frugal to make it last longer, but in neither case do things work out that easily. Talent has a mind of its own and wells up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that's it. Of course certain poets and rock singers whose genius went out in a blaze of glory people like Schubert and Mozart, whose dramatic early deaths turned them into legends have a certain appeal, but for the vast majority of us this isn't the model we follow.

    If I'm asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that's easy too: focus the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever's critical at the moment. Without that you can't accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you'll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it. I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every morning. I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I'm writing. I don't see anything else, I don't think about anything else. Even a novelist who has a lot of talent and a mind full of great new ideas probably can't write a thing if, for instance, he's suffering a lot of pain from a cavity. The pain blocks concentration. That's what I mean when I say that without focus you can't accomplish anything.

    After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you're not going to be able to write a long work. What's needed for a writer of fiction -- at least one who hopes to write a novel is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, two years. You can compare it to breathing. If concentration is the process of just holding your breath, endurance is the art of slowly, quietly breathing at the same time you're storing air in your lungs. Unless you can find a balance between both, it'll be difficult to write novels professionally over a long time. Continuing to breathe while you hold your breath.

    Fortunately, these two disciplines focus and endurance are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened though training. You'll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you'll expand the limits of what you're able to do. Almost imperceptibly you'll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner's physique. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee the results will come.

    In private correspondence, the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn't write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated. I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him.

    Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labour. Writing itself is mental labour, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labour. It doesn't involve heavy lifting, running fast, or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study. If you have the strength to lift a coffee cup, they figure, you can write a novel. But once you try your hand at it, you soon find that it isn't as peaceful a job as it seems. The whole process -- sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track -- requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there's gruelling, dynamic labour going on inside you. Everybody uses their mind when they think. But a writer puts on an outfit called narrative and thinks with his entire being; and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion.

    Later in this chapter, Murakami discusses the impact of his running on his writing:

    MOST OF WHAT I KNOW about writing I've learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn't become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would have definitely been different.

    In any event, I'm happy I haven't stopped running all these years. The reason is, I like the novels I've written. And I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of novel I'll produce next. Since I'm a writer with limits an imperfect person living an imperfect, limited life the fact that I can still feel this way is a real accomplishment. Calling it a miracle might be an exaggeration, but I really do feel this way. And if running every day helps me accomplish this, then I'm very grateful to running.

    People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.

    It is to your advantage to go out and buy (and read) this book. Here are the relevant details: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami; translated by Philip Gabriel; published by Vintage 2009; 192 pages.
      And if you find you're struggling with distractions when you're trying to get on with your writing, Mint's tech column Download Central has just the tool for you. It's an app called Writemonkey that hides all the windows and applications and forces you to type in a full screen text editor interface with very soothing colours. Like the idea? Go for it!
      • Commits alumna Sanaa Aesha (Class of 2008) comments: Writemonkey took me back to the good ol' feel of pencil against paper. Nothing shiny in between. Just better handwriting. So I guess this takes care of focus. Endurance, however, will take more than a monkey to achieve.

        Monday, May 17, 2010

        A book that attempts to inject a gender perspective into journalism

        Here's some advance information from Zubaan Books on a book that will be of great interest to all media students and also to journalists:

        Journalism as if Gender Matters
        Kalpana Sharma ed.
        Zubaan Books
        Pages 304; Price Rs.395
        Toilets, trees, and gender? Can there be a connection? Is there a gender angle to a business story? Is gender in politics only about how many women get elected to parliament? Is osteoporosis a women's disease? Why do more women die in natural disasters? These are not the questions journalists usually ask when they set out to do their jobs as reporters, sub-editors, photographers, or editors. Yet, by not asking, are they missing out on something, perhaps half the story?

        This is the question this book, edited and written by journalists for journalists and the lay public interested in media, raises.

        Through examples from the media, and from their own experience, the contributors explain the concept of gender-sensitive journalism and look at a series of subjects that journalists have to cover -- sexual assault, environment, development, business, politics, health, disasters, conflict -- and set out a simple way of integrating a gendered lens into day-to-day journalism. Written in a non-academic, accessible style, this book is possibly the first of its kind in India -- one that attempts to inject a gender perspective into journalism.
        • Kalpana Sharma is an independent journalist, columnist, and media consultant based in Mumbai. She writes regularly for several newspapers and websites on a range of issues including urban development, gender, contemporary politics, and the media. She was, until 2007, deputy editor and chief of bureau, Mumbai, of The Hindu. She has also written and edited several books and is a founder-member of the Network of Women and Media, India.
        • Four other women journalists have collaborated on this book, edited by Kalpana: Laxmi Murthy, Rajashri Dasgupta, Sameera Khan and Ammu Joseph, who has written three of the chapters.

        Thursday, May 6, 2010

        How the press can endorse a political party...

        ...and, at the same time, disparage the prime ministerial candidate of a rival party:

        That's Britain's Daily Mirror for you, on the day the country goes to vote.

        How well do you know your men?

        Tehelka has this occasional series on Indian men, which the magazine began with this hilarious look at the contradictions in the Malayali male by Nisha Susan, the magazine's assistant editor.

        Here is an excerpt:
        (Yet,) seeking the typical Malayali man is a slippery affair. Each one looks out moodily and introspectively at you from behind varying amounts of facial hair. He’s sure he’s not typical, sure he’s misunderstood by his community. Simultaneously, he likes being Malayali and sure he’s the distilled Malayali, and others crude abominations.

        Then came the dissection of the UP, or Uttar Pradesh, man by Annie Zaidi, the Mumbai-based writer and author, who brings up the three broad categories into which she cast the UP man when she was growing up:
        White chikan kurta-clad sons of former zamindars who continue to rear pigeons and fly kites as a full-time occupation and sometimes carried guns, almost like a liability; the lean, inscrutable rickshaw-pullers/stone-breakers/gardeners; and the westernised, English-speaking intellectual. There was a time when, if a Hindi filmmaker wanted to create the character of a provincial intellectual, he would place the character in Allahabad — once known as the Oxford of the East. By the time I grew up, UP had cast off any intellectual pretensions it had and settled firmly into a mould defined by politics, caste and religion.

        Now, in the issue of May 1, Tehelka holds a magnifying glass over the Marwari man. "Don't show me the money, show me your mummy" is the headline to Tusha Mittal's insider piece on a world that is easily recognisable if you're a Marwari, like Tusha, one of the magazine's principal correspondents. Here is an excerpt:
        At his core, the Marwari man is a staid, almost docile, apolitical creature. Independent thinking has never been a good value. Asking questions is taboo.
        That is why a good Marwari mummy was horrified when her 16-year-old boy declared he wanted to be a journalist: “I have failed to bring you up”. Soon, the trauma took on entirely new proportions. “English honours? Isn’t that what girls do?” That was the first time the boy realised what it means to be a Marwari man. (Unless 3/50 in Math counts as the definitive moment of truth.)

        What has been deemed sacred in the Marwari home is “respect for elders” — a master stroke, a classic euphemism to ensure the old patriarchal values remain unchallenged and unquestioned. In the Marwari world, the daughter is merely an impediment in the quest for a son. A child of privilege, the Marwari man has always been comfortable with this status quo. “If the first child is a daughter, there’s a fear of what the second will be,” says Reshma Jain, editor of Marwar. If the second is a girl, try a third. If that fails, the bride and her chromosomes have clearly not understood the good values that prevail in Marwari society.

        All these pieces are laced with humour and written in good faith. Even so, there seem to be plenty of home truths for readers to absorb and think about.

        Here Kirti Bhotika (Class of 2008) gives us her reaction to the analysis of the Marwari man after I had sent her the link by email with my question: Anyone you know? Or recognise?
        Hahaha! Pretty much the whole clan!!! Why do you think I am marrying a guy who's NOT a Marwari :D
        Most of the article is absolutely true, Sir. But yes, things are changing. I have cousins who are working, (and no, they are not interior designers or fashion designers running a small boutique out of that extra useless room in their big houses) who are serious about their careers AND with the consent of not just their husband but the whole family! And I really admire those families. But yes, it is true that these kind of families would only be a small percentage. Another change that I have noticed is that Marwaris are happy if a girl is born - I must mention here that my father was overjoyed when I was born and distributed pots of rasgullas to the family, extended family, neighborhood, etc etc etc. :) What can I say, I am blessed! It's no longer a taboo when a girl is born in the family... There have been innumerable incidents of a son/sons betraying the father so finally it's dawned upon them that girls prove to be better in the long term. Yes! Girls rock! 

        And Sir, among all the cons, I love the pro that we still are so attached to our culture and traditions - I don't know where else would one follow all of it, with so much pride. It's a lot of fun and binds us together, I wouldn't want to let go of it.

        Yes, the weddings are bit show-off, but that can't be helped - our fathers believe, you got it or not, you flaunt it. Am not particularly happy about this...

        Would just like to end with this - every clan/caste/religion has its own set of pros and cons and we should strive to accept the pros and change the cons as much as we can, for the progress of our society.

        All valid points, Kirti. What do others have to say?
        • The July 10 issue of Tehelka has Pragya Tiwari's illuminating piece on the Bengali man. Read it here.

        It's rare to find a business story about Ekta Kapoor in Indian magazines or newspapers

        And even more rare to find a well-written one. So it was a treat to read this excellent analysis of the trials and tribulations and, now, the comeback of India's soap queen in Forbes India. The authors, Saumya Roy and Deepak Ajwani, have clearly done their homework and, just as clearly, they have spent time with Ekta getting to know her, her style of functioning, her working relationship with her new CEO, Puneet Kinra.

        Here are a couple of excerpts:
        Impulsive decisions, once the norm at Balaji, have given way to thought-through processes. Former employees recall how shifts would run late into the night, when a last-minute phone call from her would require them to throw away the portions shot through the day and reshoot. 

        Kapoor is no longer that capricious: “We’ve taken very strong calls that no last-minute changes are needed. If the script needs to be rechecked, then the script head, who we have now, rechecks the script after we write. No longer am I that involved with any one show that I’m making these night calls and changing everything.”

        And then Puneet Kinra enters the picture:
        She can’t do it alone. That’s why she brought in corporate finance professional Puneet Kinra to realign Balaji’s strategies and fix the operational irritants.
        At first look, Kinra couldn’t be more different from Kapoor. He is the perfect foil for her creative, passionate self. This 38-year-old ex-PricewaterhouseCoopers hand is all about processes, risk management and cost control. But together, they seem to be evolving a formula to keep Balaji Telefilms a creative-focused but soundly managed entertainment enterprise.

        Good writing makes good business sense, doesn't it?
        • Thanks to Nilofer D'Souza for the tip-off.
        • Photos courtesy: Forbes India

        Reading CAN help your writing

        Time Out Bengaluru, in my opinion, is the best "local" magazine in the city, for the writing, the editing, the headlines... the ideas! Take this review of the Zeus Sports Bar on Brigade Road in the latest issue.

        Read the intro:
        Manohar Crest is no Mount Olympus. If you’re in this building on Brigade Road, you will not, like Zeus, be able to cast your eyes upon lands far and wide, watching as Hades makes off with the white-armed Persephone. You might, however, spot someone barely escaping the maws of death – or the left front wheel of a BMTC bus, as Bangalore calls it – near St Patrick’s Complex.

        The reviewer, Kankshi Mehta, knows a thing or two about Greek mythology so she's able to add that divine line about Zeus, and Hades, and Persephone. Isn't that clever?

        Continue reading and you'll see more Grecian references, including this one:
        And now, onto the food. If you’re a vegetarian… well, there really is only one way to put this, and in order to do so, one must turn one's attention to a scene from that iconic insertion of Greek mannerisms into popular culture, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Here, Toula Portokalos’s suitor, a vegetarian, is being introduced to the family, and this is what transpires: Toula: “He doesn’t eat meat.” Aunt Voula: “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?” Stunned silence in the room. Aunt Voula; “Oh, that’s okay. I make lamb.” Okay, it’s not that bad, but still, vegetarians get slim pickings at this bar.

        And the flourish at the end:

        Here is a definition of opaA Greek word that may be used as an ‘exclamation’, or ‘utterance’, or ‘declaration’, or ‘affirmation’ or a lovingly gentle way of telling you to ‘Stop’ ... depending on the situational context. It is a word or pronouncement of celebration; the celebration of life itself.

        Kankshi Mehta is one well-read journalist who's also well-versed in popular culture and what a difference it makes! Agree?

        Wednesday, May 5, 2010

        All hail The Caravan for giving us...

        ...some marvellous reads in the latest issue. There's hardly any magazine in India that opens up its pages wholeheartedly to long-form journalism, so those looking for something substantial to sink their teeth into, in a manner of speaking, will gladly devour the May issue.

        Look at the treasures on offer:

        1. Who the Foucault Stole My Cheez?
        A brief but wildly satirical and clever piece by "Timothy Paperphadkar" on the dead-end nature of academic seminars.

        2. Paperback Messiah
        Who doesn't know (about) Chetan Bhagat? And which young person hasn't read at least one of his books? No hands going up? That's not at all surprising considering India's most popular author in terms of sales has become a youth icon in less time than you can say 2 States: The Story of My Marriage. 

        Here Srinath Perur immerses himself in Bhagat's world to learn what it is exactly that the banker-turned-writer has done to get millions looking up to him as their role model.

        Here are some excerpts:
        Bhagat has said he thinks of himself as 90 percent entertainer, ten percent reformer. This mix ensures that his novels occupy a strange literary register, one in which stories dealing with social concerns are written using the conventions of pulp fiction. In the tradition of pulp, Bhagat’s books employ linear plotlines, simple language and short sentences. Readers speak fondly about how quick-paced Bhagat’s books are and how they never get boring, something achieved by never requiring the reader to pause. Characters do not aspire to the complexities of realism, but are constituted of a few clearly defined characteristics in rough accordance with which they behave. They often behave in disjointed fashion, hurtling along from one mood to the next before the reader’s attention can wander. And they never respond to situations in nuanced ways which might require the reader to pause and reflect; their responses are clearly communicated through word, gesture or expression. To whatever extent possible, plausible stereotypes are employed over fresh and telling detail, freeing the reader from having to rely too heavily on the text. Events in the books can sometimes take melodramatic turns, and depending on what one is used to, this can require a significant ability to suspend disbelief.


        Interestingly, none of the Chetan Bhagat readers I interviewed seemed particularly aware of any larger message or intention in the books. Kavitha Gopinath, an ardent Bhagat fan, works for a telecom company in Bengaluru and was an enthusiastic audience member at the launch of 2 States. She says about Bhagat, “For me he’s the ultimate entertainer. His books are effortless to read.” Asked about the larger significance of his books, she says, “Honestly, I didn’t realise there was any. It was only when he spoke about it during the launch that I went, ‘Oh. Okay.’”

        Read the article in full here.

        3. Tales from the Indian Fish Trail
        A detailed investigation by well-known journalist Samanth Subramanian into the controversial Hyderabad fish cure. In the great tradition of the old New Journalists, Subramanian also volunteers to swallow the "miracle" fish live so that he can write about the whole experience:
        And then, suddenly, it was my turn.

        The most disconcerting moment of the entire process was a few seconds of stasis, when Harinath held the fish up, medicine gleaming in its mouth, and I stood with my mouth open as if it were the Eucharist wafer, dimly aware that I could still twist away and run. Then the stasis broke, and Harinath’s hand, full of fish, was in my mouth.

        From all the first-hand observation that evening, I must have somehow learned how to swallow right, because the fish went down, tail first, much easier than I expected. It was slippery and small, and although I felt an initial tickle, I think it had expired by the time it was a third of the way down my throat. Right away, though, I realized that it wasn’t the fish that was making people retch; it was the asafoetida, so strong and vicious that tears started in your eyes in that very first second. Then, as it slid down, it burned such a trail of further pungency down your throat that your hair stood on end and your fingers clenched involuntarily. Eyes still streaming, I grabbed at a bottle of water behind Harinath, although somehow, my mind had inscrutably fixed on its own preferred solution to the asafoetida’s pungency: fresh-cut mangoes.

        These paragraphs appear towards the end of the article, but the whole piece is bursting with lustrous writing.

        4. His Personal World of Sound 
        An entertaining profile of Vijay Iyer, the jazz musician from India who's galvanising the New York music scene. I love jazz and I play it often in my car and at work but I would be stumped if I were asked to talk about what makes jazz "jazz". So I am grateful that the author, Akshay Ahuja, has helpfully given me a few pointers:
        Today ... many no longer perceive modern jazz as a part of vernacular culture. As Iyer acknowledges, the music has become freighted, for whatever reason, with various anxieties. “There’s a certain kind of guilt factor that comes into play with jazz. People will be like ‘I don’t know anything about jazz...therefore I don’t listen to it, or therefore I don’t want to pay attention to it.’ And part of it is that people feel obliged to be experts on it in order to listen to it.”

        Part of the challenge of being a jazz musician today—or a painter or a poet, for that matter—is simply getting people to actively engage with the work and trust their response. “There’s no great mystery,” Iyer says. “It’s just about letting people in the door."

        Like most improvisational arts, jazz gains immeasurably from being experienced live. Every musician produces sound not just with an instrument or a set of vocal cords, but with the entire body. A melodic phrase can be formed with the motions of a pair of hands, its rhythms accented by the slide of a foot. As Amiri Baraka wrote of Thelonious Monk, “The quick dips, half-whirls, and deep pivoting jerks that Monk gets into behind that piano are part of the music, too. Many musicians have mentioned how they could get further into the music by watching Monk dance, following the jerks and starts.”

        Brilliant! Do read the article in full.


        Media students will also benefit from reading about NREGA, India's landmark welfare scheme, which is the cover story in this issue. 

        Also, there is a highly educational feature on the latest game the big boys (and girls) play: carbon trading.

        Sadly, the computer screen is not the ideal medium in which to enjoy long-form journalism. So if you can, buy this month's issue of The Caravan to savour the goodies. (For those at Commits, a copy has been placed in the college library.)

        If you are looking for more in the way of long-form reads, here is a site that's right up your alley. The editor, Aaron Lammer, sent me an email this morning after he came across The Reading Room while, he says, he was looking for Indian long-form journalism pieces. 

        At, the editors "post articles, past and present, that we think are too long and too interesting to be read on a web browser. We started this site to bring together our enthusiasm for both great longform reads and the excellent Instapaper reader".

        Check it out here and see for yourself what the Instapaper reader is all about.

        Tuesday, May 4, 2010

        How do you write about personal experiences?

        Especially when they leave a bad taste in your mouth and smack of racism? Here's a young Guwahati-based journalist writing in Tehelka on his encounter with a Delhi landlady:
        “Oh, you guys are Manipuris?” She intended a rhetorical question but wound up reiterating the popular geographical lessons that ignorance has taught her — along with probably another three-quarters of the population. The northeastern states have been muddled and shuffled to form this mess, stripping all civilisational peculiarity that is natural.

        To read the article in full, go here.

        If you want to be healthy...

        ...a lot depends on you and your attitude towards a healthy lifestyle, says Madhuri Ruia, a nutritional and Pilates expert who writes a column called Diet Desk in Mint.

        According to Ruia, there are three types of mindsets that prevent people from taking a step towards a healthy lifestyle:

        The “definitely, maybe” attitude: You have definitely decided to become healthy but keep postponing the day when you will start implementing the changes. It will be the first Monday of every month and...that Monday never comes.

        The “It’s just one life...” attitude: So why bother? You believe that this soup, salad and exercise routine is just too restrictive. The health craze is a fad that is bound to get shelved sooner or later. After all, people you know have managed to stay healthy on a paratha, pastry and party-till-you-drop lifestyle.

        The “It all comes back again” attitude: It is better to stay fat than diet and exercise. After all, once you stop the diet, the weight will all come back with a vengeance.

        Many young people today fall into one or the other of these categories. But I believe if you push yourself just a little every day you can work wonders, whether it is your health or your career.

        When I began running on a treadmill at The Zone Mind and Body Studio in Koramangala eight years ago, it took all my willpower to run at a stretch for... five minutes. But I kept at it and gradually I was able to run for 20 minutes without a break. Then I began experimenting with the pace and also the distance. Finally, totting up 2 miles or 3.2K in 20 minutes at 6 mph (9.6K per hour) became a breeze.

        Now I find a 20-minute run is very easy but, at 51, I find it difficult to maintain the 9.6K-per-hour pace from start to finish, so I have opted to go for distance. Yesterday, for example, at the gym in our apartment complex, I ran for 45 minutes without a break at the average speed of about 9K per hour and notched up 7K, burning up more than 500 calories in the process. As I said earlier, if you push yourself, you can achieve miracles.

        Back to the Diet Desk now. To brush up on your health attitude, and to learn how to motivate yourself, go here.

        Why am I asking you to do this? Because the media industry expects you to work long hours and gives you very few opportunities for long downtime, especially if you're a junior. Your health, consequently, is going be a factor in how well you do in your career. So make time for it now when you're still young 30-60 minutes a day, three days a week. I guarantee this will make a difference.
        • Photo courtesy: Mint 

        Yesterday, a few hours after posting the item about the role of exercise above, I hit the treadmill at our gym. Normally, after a longish run, I take it easy the next day. But yesterday I wanted to see if I could push myself again and I went at it hammer and tongs. Starting at 9K per hour, I increased the pace gradually till, in the 31st minute, I was running at 10.2K per hour. I topped out at 10.6K per hour and in 32 minutes 18 seconds I achieved my target of 5K. (The video posted above was shot on April 8, 2015. I'm running at 9kmph and I covered 6.2K in 45 minutes.)

        But, really, this is not a big deal for people who have been gymming for years. 

        In fact, running 12K over two days can be likened to a speck in the cosmos if you consider the case of Ranulph Fiennes, the Englishman who, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is the world's greatest living adventurer. He is also the holder of several endurance records. Here's one that is simply astounding, no other word for it:

        (FROM WIKIPEDIA) Despite suffering a heart attack and undergoing a double heart bypass operation just four months before, Fiennes, in 2003, carried out the extraordinary feat of completing seven marathons in seven days on seven continents in the Land Rover 7x7x7 Challenge for the British Heart Foundation. "In retrospect I wouldn't have done it. I wouldn't do it again. It was [nutrition specialist] Mike Stroud's idea". Their routes were as follows:
        26 October - Race 1: Patagonia, South America
        27 October - Race 2: Falkland Islands, "Antarctica"
        28 October - Race 3: Sydney, Australia
        29 October - Race 4: Singapore, Asia
        30 October - Race 5: London, England
        31 October - Race 6: Cairo, Egypt
        1 November - Race 7: New York, USA
        Originally Fiennes had planned to run the first marathon on King George Island, Antarctica. The second marathon would then have taken place in Santiago, Chile. However, bad weather and aeroplane engine trouble caused him to change his plans, running the South American segment in southern Patagonia first and then hopping to the Falklands as a substitute for the Antarctic leg.

        Speaking after the event, Fiennes said the Singapore Marathon had been by far the most difficult because of high humidity and pollution. He also said his cardiac surgeon had approved the marathons, providing his heart-rate did not exceed 130 beats per minute; Fiennes later confessed to having forgotten to pack his heart-rate monitor, and as such does not know how fast his heart was beating.
        • For more on the great man, go here.
        Ranulph Fiennes is such an inspiration. If he can run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, surely I can push myself to do that little extra every time I get on the treadmill. So yesterday, May 5, I gave it my all at the gym at our club. I didn't have a lot of energy at the beginning so I kept the pace at a steady 9K per hour. It took me a while 53 minutes and 25 seconds to be precise but, in the end,  I achieved my target of 8K, which is the distance from my home to Commits, and which takes me 25-30 minutes by car. I have done 8K on the treadmill before once, many years ago. But this is the first time I clocked 20K in three days. It is gratifying to know that one can get better with age.

        Thank you, Sir Ran!

          The bureaucrat who had to resort to using foul language to get minions to do his bidding

          The Open magazine issue of May 7 has at least two articles that are worth reading one by an Australian writer on her experiences of life in Mumbai as the wife of an Indian man. In the other piece, also a first-person account, B. Ashok (pictured below), IAS, private secretary to a union minister, gives us the "B, C and D of governance". Here is an excerpt:

          I called for the dictionary again and the librarian reappeared with his ledger in no time. But this time before he could speak out, I blurted out: “Bhen..Ch… D… do you need your job here or not?” Tears streamed down his face as the ledger disappeared and the dictionary made its appearance on my desk. (Hey presto, it works!) “Saaala, ainda mujhe lecture mat dena (Scumbag, don’t ever lecture me again).” Thus ends the first experiment with a resounding success.

           I can't recall ever reading a more revealing article by someone senior in government. To read the full piece, go here.
          • Photo courtesy: Open

          On marrying a "brown man"

          I have always wondered about the ramifications of a white woman marrying an Indian man and choosing to live in India. How does she tackle the questions, the stares, the obsequiousness? Apparently the editors at Open magazine had the same thought and they commissioned an Australian writer in Mumbai to chronicle her feelings and share her experiences about being married to a "brown man" and living with him in India. Her article is both poignant and revelatory. Here are some excerpts:
          How foreigners are regarded in India is a curious matter. Our white skin, and the belief that we have power and money, unwittingly elevates us to the top of the social hierarchy. Doors will open for me in India, while at the same time remaining closed for many Indians. Shop assistants will beckon for my attention,while ignoring other potential customers. Everyone wants to have a foreigner for a friend. I’ve lost count of how many times my neighbours have knocked on my door, asking me to meet every relative who visits them. They’re not interested in my husband, though.

          My husband is neither loudspoken, nor imposing. As a result, he often gets mistaken as my guide. I  remember one day, I was shopping at a stall at the Colaba Causeway market in Mumbai. My husband, who’d been looking at something else, came up to me and asked how I was going. The stallholder turned to him, and roughly told him in Hindi to go away and not interfere in the transaction.
          There have been ...occasions where my husband and I have visited the hotel rooms of male Indian friends staying in Mumbai, and it’s actually been inferred that I must be a foreign prostitute. The hotel staff did their best to prevent us from going to the room.

          Read the article in full here.
          • Photo courtesy: Open