Friday, July 29, 2011

Chetan Bhagat on how to take your English to the next level

I am not a big fan of Chetan Bhagat's books. 

I have to say this about Bhagat, though he has got young people reading. That is reason enough to admire him.

He seems to have his finger on the pulse when it comes to knowing the minds of young people and knowing what they like that is a real gift. And young people seem to identify with him. They seem to like the thought of a best-selling author who writes for them, not for a so-called elite readership.

In this context, advice from Chetan Bhagat on how to improve one's English is sure to be taken seriously by his numerous fans. Which is why The Times of India recently published Bhagat's five tips on how to take your English to the next level. If you think your English skills need polishing, these tips are sure to help:

1. Read something in English you enjoy. People may prescribe classics and you may look good reading them, but if you don't enjoy it, you won't absorb it. Typically, you will enjoy something that is slightly above your current level of English. And if that means comics instead of classics, so be it.

2. Watch English movies with English subtitles. Many TV channels have this now. Listen to the dialogue first. If you can't follow it, read the subtitle. Keep doing this until your dependence on subtitles declines.

3. Spend time with friends, relatives or colleagues who often speak in English. While you may not feel confident enough to keep pace with them, at least you can listen and understand them.

4. Create a group of people whose English is at your level. Meet every week and debate a current topic, making it compulsory to use as much English as possible.

5. Work on your inner confidence. There is a stupid arrogance in people who know English well and they often make fun of people who don't know it. Let that not deter you. Every mistake is a lesson learnt.

Remember, English is not a monster. It is a silly little language that is easier to learn than making good paranthas or driving a car in rush-hour Indian traffic. And once learnt, all the benefits of the globalized world it offers are yours for life!

Easy-to-practise advice offered in easy-to-understand language. That is the hallmark of Chetan Bhagat's writing. Is it any wonder he is so popular?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is Rupert Murdoch really the villain we make him out to be?

Perhaps, yes. But, as Aakar Patel points out in his Mint Lounge column, there are a few actually, quite a few good things journalists (and media students) will remember Murdoch for "even as he is attacked, rightly, for the sins of his employees at the News of the World".

Here is Aakar's intro:

To those who love and understand this profession, Rupert Murdoch is the world’s greatest newspaperman and its finest editor. Among those who have crafted newspapers, a rare and beautiful talent, he is without equal. He has defined without question all modern tabloid journalism but arguably also most of its broadsheet trade. This might appear strange, but he isn’t prejudiced in that sense and doesn’t discriminate between short, fun-loving newspapers and tall, prudish ones.

After that 24-karat intro, who will not want to read more? Go to Rupert Murdoch's lust for newspapers and learn why Aakar says Murdoch is the hero in the story of 20th century journalism.

Murder your darlings...

...and other great advice on writing from ten writers ranging from American journalist Dominick Dunne to writer and cartoonist Scott "Dilbert" Adams. Here's what they say:

1. Write one inch at a time
2. Finish your first draft
3. Get over it
4. Simplify
5. Murder your darlings
6. Lead with your best
7. Write with authority
8. Stand out as a real person
9. Remember to play
10. Show up for work

If you are interested in becoming a better writer, you are sure to benefit from paying attention to what the experts have to offer on the subject: Ten writers recall the best advice they ever received.

Which piece of advice is your favourite? My students know I'm a big fan of No. 5.
  • Re: "Murder your darlings" British literary editor and novelist Diana Athill has a slightly different take:
You don't always have to go so far as to murder your darlings—those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page—but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they'd be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect—it's the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The best coverage of the "News of the World" scandal


And the best headline, too (inside pages): "Tabloid bites man". Read the cover story here to understand what really prompted Rupert Murdoch to shut down a 168-year-old newspaper.

(I have heard of and read about newspapers and magazines shutting down for business reasons mainly not enough readers so not enough advertising but this is the first time an owner has killed a newspaper because it was caught doing something wrong. And the saga is not over yet, as you will know from reading the newspapers every day.)
  • Newsweek, meanwhile, has a scoop that will be of great interest to journalists and media students. In a first-person account, the editor-in-chief of The Guardian, the newspaper that exposed the phone-hacking scandal, tells us how some dogged reporting by veteran journalist Nick Davies led to the brouhaha that now threatens a global media empire. Read the fascinating story here: "How we broke the Murdoch scandal".
  • Photo courtesy: Newsweek

"What Mumbai spirit?"

That is the headline of a blog post on the New Yorker magazine website. Written by Naresh Fernandes after the Mumbai blasts on July 13, the piece gets right down to brass tacks in the opening paragraph itself:

Three hours after a bomb turned a bus stop in Dadar, in central Mumbai, into one of those ingenuously twisted metallic installations that the city’s minor sculptors so love, a murmuring crowd converged on a multiplex less than fifty metres away. What seemed to be the problem? “They’ve cancelled the 10 P.M. show of ‘Delhi Belly,’ ” a man in shorts with an angry demeanor explained. Surely no one had the stomach to watch the scatological sleeper hit on an evening on which three blasts in southern Mumbai had left eighteen people dead and about a hundred and thirty wounded? “These kinds of things happen all the time,” the man replied. “Why should we put our lives on hold just because there have been a few bomb blasts?”

As can be expected, this article did not go down well with some readers, who have been scathing in their comments.

Disclosure: I grew up in Mumbai (then known as Bombay) and lived there for 30 years. As such I am all for lauding the Mumbaikar's spirit. But human nature is such that we tend to (and need to) move on after a tragedy. In that context, Naresh Fernandes may not be far off the mark when he writes what he does in the concluding paragraph of his post.

Read the piece in its entirety (and the comments) here.
  • Thank you, Arpan Bhattacharyya (Class of 2010), for sending me the New Yorker link.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bajrangi and the case for "brand security"

Have you watched the new television ad for Center Fresh gum? The ad shows a bank being robbed. When the thief takes off, the staff starts screaming for security. To their surprise, the thief runs back in. He is the security guard, Bajrangi (see below).

I thought the ad by O&M was funny, clever, and so typical of Center Fresh. I was surprised, therefore, to read the comments by advertising expert Prathap Suthan in Mint. Suthan, who features regularly in the newspaper's Spot Light column, says if he had seen this film years ago, he would have "fallen down, broken my crown and come tumbling after".

He continues:

The production’s all right. The cast’s all right. And the acting, direction, grading, lighting and music is at par. It made me smile. But that was it. It didn’t make me ooze laughter. And it didn’t make me watch it online till I got sick.

And then he makes an important point, a point that should be noted by all those aspiring to an ad career:

I personally have an issue with crime as a brand core. Especially when crime is north-bound. Kidnappings. Heists. Scams. At a deeper level, it corrodes the brand from inside. Innocent fun is one thing. Making crass cool is arsenic. Of course, I’m not the defined target audience. But I happen to be more than a moron who watches television.

Suthan also elaborates on whether this particular strategy works for the brand and he explains how a brand can stand out in such a crowded segment. Read his views here.

Why "Delhi Belly"?

Trust Mint Lounge, possibly the most cerebral of India's weekly publications, to figure out that a feature on a "stomach disorder" named after the country's capital would be the perfect story to be published in the week that the Aamir Khan-produced film hit cinemas.

Headlined "We are landing in Delhi, loosen your belts", the article traces the history of Delhi Belly (the stomach ailment, not the film) and provides some interesting asides:

It’s not Al Qaeda, but Americans take Delhi Belly seriously. According to a US diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity since he is not authorized to share this information, his embassy in New Delhi maintains a laboratory devoted to testing for germs and diseases such as Delhi Belly. Embassy staff often arrive at the office carrying small brown bags that have jars with “poop” samples to be tested at the lab.

It must have taken some doing for the writer, Mayank Austen Soofi, to extricate this piece of information from a diplomat. We also learn that there are limericks on Delhi Belly. Here's one:

A New Delhi tourist called Justin
Sensed a stir in his lower intestine
He made a dash for the dunny
But he felt something runny
Now his shorts are consigned to the dustbin.

We are told that that there is no record of the phrase's first appearance but R.V. Smith, author of several books on the city, claims the term first appeared in the summer of 1857:

The Indian mutineers had taken over the capital and the British were encamped on the Ridge where many of them were incapacitated due to upset tummies. It was they who coined the term Delhi Belly.

We are also given the other side by Delhi-based Delhi-based Prof. Pushpesh Pant, author of India: The Cookbook:

Delhi Belly is dead. Now our hygiene standards are high, bottled water is available everywhere, dhabas cater to foreigners and many eateries serve gol gappas with mineral water. The Delhi Belly scaremongers are the types who dine at five-star hotels and who like to run down India, which is now a powerhouse economy.

Whether you are outraged at the thought of an attack of the runs being labelled Delhi Belly and want to know why this is so or you just happen to love soaking up new information, this article is an excellent example of a good idea executed well. Read it in its entirety here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How wait-and-watch policy paid off for Bangalore Mirror journalist

S. Kushala, the intrepid Bangalore Mirror journalist, writes in Monday's edition:
When we were tipped off about a retired judge making his own way to take an illegal turn on M G Road towards Rest House Crescent Road, we brushed it off as a prank. But since our khabri is a reliable one, we thought of checking it out for ourselves. We were told that a unique “ribbon cutting” ceremony takes place almost every morning on MG Road.

Two photographers and this correspondent stationed themselves strategically at the entrance of Rest House Crescent Road on MG Road last week, between 8-9.30 am. We could not believe our eyes when on Saturday, the incident actually happened.

And what happened became an exclusive Page One story (see below) for the newspaper that prides itself on breaking news:



Read the full story here (Monday, July 4, Pages 1 and 2).

Incidentally, even as I am writing this, S. Kushala is at Commits addressing the new students, talking to them about the joys of journalism, and discussing this very story with them.