Thursday, March 28, 2013

"A good day job takes the pressure off the writing"

Abraham Verghese, the author of Cutting for Stone and other best-selling books, is also a full-time physician and professor of medicine. How does he manage both careers?

Verghese, pictured left, writes in a column for The Washington Post that when he is asked for writing advice, he offers this:

Get a good day job, one that you love, preferably one that consumes you and that puts your boat out in the river of life. Then be passionate about it, give it your all, get good at what you do. All that gives you plenty to write about, and it also takes the pressure off the writing. Counting on writing to pay the mortgage or your kid’s college tuition is decidedly risky.

Learn more about the good doctor for whom time-management seemingly poses no challenges: "Abraham Verghese describes his writing life".
  • Photo courtesy: The Washington Post

The art of reviewing a book (and it's an art — make no mistake about it)

At a time when unpaid bloggers online are gaining influence at the expense of professionals, we need to convince the public that good reviewers exist, and are still worth listening to. Otherwise, our readers will continue to look to the internet for news, and the art of the book review will join the typewriter in the trashcan of Time.

These are the heart-felt words of author Joanne Harris, writing in The Independent. To understand better the art of literary criticism, and to know why you should not give away the plot in your review, read her illuminating column in its entirety here: "Criticism is fine, but do you have to spoil the plot?"

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Children's novels? Actually, they are for everybody

The Wind in the Willows, which I first read in the '90s in Dubai; Charlotte's Web, which I read last year while on vacation in Coorg; The Phantom Tollbooth, which I read on my Kindle Fire in January while holidaying in Satem, my wife's village in Gujarat; and Bridge to Terabithia, which I have just finished reading — they are all labelled "children's literature", but they are such marvellous books (with so many memorable characters and enduring stories) that book-lovers of all ages will enjoy reading them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Yes, Justice Katju, journalists today do need minimum qualifications

I may not agree with some of the pronouncements made by the chairman of the Press Council of India. But I think Justice Markandey Katju was spot on with his recent comments on the issue of minimum qualifications for journalists.

Twenty years ago, or going even further back, it was perhaps enough to be literate and have an interest in reading and writing to become a journalist. And becoming a journalist in those days usually meant joining a daily newspaper. Which is what I did after obtaining a B.Sc. degree — I became a trainee sub-editor with Mumbai's Mid Day in June 1981. Like many journalists of the era, I "learnt" on the job. Of course, it helped that my father was a journalist, with PTI, so I had been introduced to some of the principles of journalism at an early age. It also helped that, at Mid Day, I had some wonderful colleagues who were willing to teach me before thrusting editing and page-making responsibilities on me.

Today, journalism is much, much more competitive. Today, journalism is much, much tougher with newspapers and TV news channels and online news sites all engaged in a race for audiences and advertisers. The old-school-type of journalism will not work today. If you join the editorial staff of a newspaper or magazine or TV news channel, you will not have the luxury of friendly colleagues and seniors taking time out to teach you the ropes. You will be expected to pull your weight from Day One. How will you do that if you have not been taught the necessary skills, if you do not have the minimum qualifications expected of someone who wants to become a journalist? (Full disclosure: I teach journalism at a media college in Bangalore.)


As V. Gangadhar writes in The Hindu today...

"Yes, learning on the job is fine, but how? A cub reporter assigned to cover a major event would not know how and where to begin or end. On the desk, can an untrained sub-editor cut a long story to its required length, provide subheads and give a suitable, catchy heading?"

Exactly. So why are so many old-school-type journalists annoyed with Justice Katju? I can't understand it. And neither can Gangadhar:

Will the journalists who made snide comments on the Katju remarks appoint young people without previous experience in their publications or channels?

Gangadhar makes one other point that I am wholly in agreement with:

[Journalism] schools must improve. Mumbai University granted affiliation to dozens upon dozens of BMM and BMS departments without caring to examine whether they had any kind of infrastructure, like library facilities, classrooms and qualified teachers. After a couple of years, the university, in its wisdom, abolished entrance tests and decided that applicants to these courses should be admitted on the strength of their standard 12 marks, completely ignoring the fact that the cramming habits [encouraged in] and inflated marks awarded by junior colleges are not enough to judge the different needs of a journalism course.

Read Gangadhar's enlightening column in its entirety here: "Indian journalism at ground zero".
  • Senior journalist Bala Murali Krishna, who now works as a financial writer and blogger, commented via e-mail:

    With the (needless) debate having been started, I would say this:

    Do we need better educated, more knowledgeable, more independent and more ethical journalists?

    The answer is a resounding yes.

    Do we need a state-sponsored (or privately sponsored) organisation to specify educational qualifications for journalists or issue any form of certification?

    The answer is a resounding no. Look at what we have done with Medical Council of India, which, in theory, should be far easier to regulate.

    Also, is stipulation of minimum qualifications or certification the way to raise the quality of journalists?

    Highly debatable.

    Bala Murali Krishna 
  • Shagorika Easwar, who was my colleague at Khaleej Times, and who now runs two popular magazines (Desi News and Canada-Bound Immigrant) in Toronto, Canada, also commented via e-mail:
I concur! Totally! You know I learnt on the job, too, but then I had you to run to with doubts. It was also a slower, gentler pace when we didn't feel compelled to project a know-it-all attitude. It was okay to ask questions and have a senior journalist guide you. Unlike today, when the competition is so fierce that no one wants to risk saying they don't know something. In the process, they forget that they risk displaying their ignorance to a much larger audience. Case in point: Sunetra Choudhury reading the news on NDTV the other day described a meeting as "inclusive". The word she was looking for was inconclusive! But then there are journalism schools and then there are journalism schools. Also, to be fair, the onus is on the student to actually learn and benefit from what is being taught. I get e-mails and submissions from recent journalism grads with the most bizarre sentence construction and grammar.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Easy" reading is not always "good" reading, or even "interesting" reading

Here are two paragraphs from Easy Money, by Swedish novelist Jens Lapidus:

He kept a log with daily notes from every workout session at the reception desk. Mrado's goals were clear. To go from 270 to 290 of pure muscle before February. Then change up his strategy. Shred. Burn fat. By summertime: only muscle. Clean, without surface fat. Would look damn good.

He trained at another place, too, the fighting club, Pancrease Gym. Once or twice a week. Guilt got to him. Should go more often. Important to build muscle power. But the power had to be used for something. Mrado's work tool: fear. He went far on size alone. In the end, he went even further on what he learned at Pancrease: to break bones.

I had picked up Easy Money from the Just Books library, lured by the blurb on the cover: "An epic European thriller to rival Stieg Larsson". But after plodding through less than one-third of the book, with its frustratingly fragmentary sentences, I gave up.

That weekend I came across a review of Easy Money in DNA. And I was glad to note that there was at least one other person who shared my feelings about the book. "[There] isn’t much explanation for most of the ... things that ail this 470-page sorry excuse of a thriller," Krishnakumar Padmanabhan wrote in his review. He also made it clear that he, too, wasn't impressed by what he referred to as "clipped, telegraphic prose". Read his review in its entirety here.

Now, for a complete contrast, here's a passage from The Way by Swann's, the first volume of Marcel Proust's magnum opus, "In Search of Lost Time":

The air was saturated with the finest flour of a silence so nourishing, so succulent, that I could move through it only with a sort of greed, especially on those first mornings of Easter week, still cold, when I tasted it more keenly because I had only just arrived in Combray: before I went in to say good morning to my aunt, they made me wait for a moment, in the first room where the sun, still wintry, had come to warm itself before the fire, already lit between the two bricks and coating the whole room with an odour of soot, having the same effect as one of those great country 'front-of-the-ovens', or one of those chateau mantelpieces, beneath which one sits hoping that outdoors there will be an onset of rain, snow, even some catastrophic deluge so as to add, to the comfort of reclusion, the poetry of hibernation; I would take a few steps from the prayer stool to the armchairs of stamped velvet always covered with a crocheted antimacassar; and as the fire baked like a dough the appetizing smells with which the air of the room was all curdled and which had already been kneaded and made to 'rise' by the damp and sunny coolness of the morning, it flaked them, gilded them, puckered them, puffed them, making them into an invisible palpable country pastry, an immense 'turnover' in which, having barely tasted the crisper, more delicate, more highly regarded but also drier aromas of the cupboard, the chest of drawers, the floral wallpaper, I would always come back with an unavowed covetousness to snare myself in the central, sticky, stale, indigestible and fruity smell of the flowered coverlet. 

That's one sentence, 284 words. Not "easy" reading, I agree, but what masterly descriptions in just one sentence! From the air "saturated with the finest flour of a silence so nourishing, so succulent, that I could move through it only with a sort of greed", and the sun, "still wintry", which had "come to warm itself before the fire", to "the poetry of hibernation", and, finally, the narrator's "unavowed covetousness to snare myself in the central, sticky, stale, indigestible and fruity smell of the flowered coverlet". I began reading The Way by Swann's many, many months ago. Now you know why I am nowhere near the end. You don't just read Proust — you read and re-read and re-read. That is the only way to enjoy this phenomenal work of art, to learn how to construct those winding sentences, to lose yourself in a world long-vanished.

I may not read Proust every day. But I am never going to throw him aside as I did Jens Lapidus.
  • Want to know more about Proust and In Search of Lost Time? You can read the first chapter of Proust's Way: A Field Guide to 'In Search of Lost Time', by Roger Shattuck, here.
  • The famous writer Germaine Greer can't stand Proust. She explains why, in a well-argued feature she wrote for The Guardian, here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

New Yorker writer Susan Orlean's four pieces of wisdom for writers

  • You have to simply love writing, and you have to remind yourself often that you love it.
  • You should read as much as possible. That’s the best way to learn how to write.
  • You have to appreciate the spiritual component of having an opportunity to do something as wondrous as writing. You should be practical and smart and you should have a good agent and you should work really, really hard. But you should also be filled with awe and gratitude about this amazing way to be in the world.
  • Don’t be ashamed to use the thesaurus. I could spend all day reading Roget’s! There’s nothing better when you’re in a hurry and you need the right word right now.
For more, visit this post by my favourite blogger: "Susan Orlean on writing".

Friday, March 15, 2013

Quotes from books, quotes by writers... to inspire, influence, and induce a new way of thinking-1

This was published in the first anniversary issue (February-March 2013) of Books & More magazine:


Quotes from books, quotes by writers... to inspire, influence, and induce a new way of thinking/RESEARCHED AND COMPILED BY RAMESH PRABHU 

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.”
— English philosopher A.C. Grayling, in a review in the Financial Times of A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

“A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.”

— Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

“Give me a man or woman who has read a thousand books and you give me an interesting companion. Give me a man or woman who has read perhaps three and you give me a dangerous enemy indeed.”

— Author Anne Rice in The Witching Hour

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.”
— Austin Phelps, American Congregational minister and educator

“Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books.”

— Gloria Jean Watkins (better known by her pen name Bell Hooks), American author, feminist, and social activist

“You're the same today as you'll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

— Author, speaker, and entrepreneur Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, who rose from the squalid poverty of the Great Depression to be hailed as one of the top twenty speakers of the 20th century

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

— Confucius

“Having your feet up is the first condition for enjoying a read.”

— Interior monologue of The Reader in Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's  Night a Traveller

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”

— Dr. Seuss in I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer, poet, and cartoonist most widely known for his children's books written under the pen name Dr. Seuss.

“If you can read this, thank a teacher.”
— Anonymous teacher

Copywriting and the power of creativity


Commits alumnus Ajay Kurpad (Class of 2011) joined Saatchi&Saatchi Focus in Bangalore as a copywriter last November. And he already has some sterling campaigns to his credit. The most recent? Something he did for Bosch, the technology and services company. Here Ajay explains how he went about his task:

Every year, during the first quarter of business, Bosch organises an event called ‘Proteam’ for its employees from all over the country. This three-day affair, which the company hosts in recognition of the employees' hard work, is usually conducted in lavish style at a spectacular location. This year was no different. Like every year there was a theme around which the whole event would revolve.

The theme of Proteam 2011 was "Superheroes". So, as part of the creatives, we at Saatchi were asked to design "standees". These standees are posters which are mounted on stands and placed at crucial points around the venue where they get maximum visibility. The standees had to link the Bosch Automotive Aftermarket products to Superheroes.

Step 1: The first step was to find the best superheroes to fit each product. This involved hours of work and research in the world of Marvel and DC. Finally we chose Flash, The Human Torch, Iceman, Black Bolt, Wolverine, Aquaman, The Green Lantern, Black Lightning, Jean Grey, Mr Fantastic, and Spiderman. At the end of it, it took me a superhuman effort to actually like any superhero any more. But all said and done, we did a good job. We then put everything together as a PPT presentation and sent it to Bosch. Fortunately, the company approved it in the first go.

Step 2: The copy had to substantially prove why a certain product was like a particular superhero. That was not hard, though. All I had to do was link the superpower to the product’s USP. This is where the use of flowery language and a talent for beating-round-the-bush came in handy.

In the meantime, P.P. Mani, my art director went about scouting for images of all the shortlisted superheroes. Then, with the power of Photoshop and Illustrator, he made them even more macho.

Step 3: With idea in place, copy in hand, and images ready, we started the linking process. Initially we thought of just following standard procedure of juxtaposing the product and the superhero. However, the art director decided to take it to the next level. He thought of incorporating the product in such a way that it would look more visually appealing.

The end result:

The Flash, one of 11 superheroes used in the campaign.

Each artwork was 8 ft x 4 ft and was displayed along the corridors of The Leela, Kovalam, during the event. People were actually posing next to them and clicking photos. As you can imagine, a lot depended on the art and my art director who has been with Saatchi for almost 17 years got it spot on. Eventually, I ended up managing most of the campaign, except for the film, for which I just about made some contributions at the script level.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How to impress your boss, wow your colleagues, and get everyone to like you

We all want to be liked. Especially at work, which is where we spend most of our productive waking hours, interacting with our colleagues and bosses and clients.

But what can we do right that will get everyone to like us? And what are we doing wrong that causes people around us to not like us?

My advice to my students, when they start out in the industry, is to first get their peers and their bosses to warm up to them. I tell them they can do this by making intelligent conversation, by asking questions, by being assertive in a nice way, by showing an active interest in what's happening around them, by being lively. Of course, I am taking for granted that they are also good workers.

Now here's Jeff Haden writing in Inc. magazine about how you can make a good impression and how you can get people to genuinely like you. Haden has compiled a list of things that highly likeable people do and suggests you learn from them.

Haden says remarkably likeable people...

...lose the power pose (see picture below and read up about it in Haden's column)

...embrace the power of touch

...whip out their social jiu-jitsu

...whip out something genuine

...ask for nothing

..."close" genuinely

Read this highly relevant article in its entirety here: "6 Habits of Remarkably Likable People".

  • Speaking of time-management, here's a pertinent post by author and former Wall Street Journal coulmnist Alexandra Levit: "5 Work Habits to Break Today", including "being 10 minutes late for everything".

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose, interviewed together for Mint's "Love Issue 2013"...

...and a lovely interview it is, too!

Here, in an excerpt from the interview, is a delightful exchange between the couple:

Rajdeep and Sagarika met for the first time in 1986 in Jamshedpur, now in Jharkhand, where they had gone for an interview with Russi Mody, former chairman of Tata Steel, for The Rhodes Scholarships.

“She got it. I did not. I am still trying to get back,” says Rajdeep.

Sagarika says: “In those days, Rajdeep was extremely laid-back; in fact, he was so laid-back that he was horizontal. I remember when the results were being announced he was sleeping somewhere up there in his room.” Rajdeep tries to defend himself but ends up muttering while Sagarika ploughs on: “I remember thinking to myself ‘Does this guy really care about the scholarship?’”

But now, Sagarika says, “Rajdeep is a workaholic, a newsaholic, a journoaholic. Thank God he is not an alcoholic.” Sagarika feels that as editor-in-chief, Rajdeep should not be taking so many decisions. “He is obsessed with what’s on the ticker, the top bands. This way the people who are doing the work are not empowered because they keep trying to second-guess him. In fact, my team is obsessed with Rajdeep. I delegate much more and believe if you empower people, things run on their own and you get fresher ideas.”

Rajdeep interjects: “I have a resolution — to leave office by 6pm on Friday. I have left office early for the last few Fridays.”

POWER COUPLE: Sagarika and Rajdeep photographed for Mint by Priyanka Parashar

Read the feature by Seema Chowdhry in its entirety here: "Airing both sides".

What is a writer's work worth?

That is the question posed in a thought-provoking column by senior journalist Kelly McBride on Poynter. She wrote her piece after freelance journalist Nate Thayer wrote on his blog about how The Atlantic magazine tried to get him to write for free.

McBride says the internet has totally messed up a simple pay scale. She explains:

Back in the day, freelancers got paid roughly by the word. Sometimes it was as low as 10 cents a word. Everyone was shooting for $1 a word, and some people got more than that. Hotshots might get $10,000-$20,000 for a fabulous magazine piece. There was a lot of variation, but there was also a standard rate that people were shooting for.

Now, trying to pin down how much a writer should be paid is an impossible task. It’s simply unknowable.

Read the column in its entirety here: "Most everyone gets asked to write for free, only some people say yes".

And read the blog post that started the whole debate here: "A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013".

How do you make sure you’re writing right?

Here are seven helpful tips provided by Mark Nichol, editor of the Daily Writing Tips blog:
  • Look up the definition of an unfamiliar word and be sure you understand the meaning before you use it.
  • Search a thesaurus or a synonym finder for the precise meaning, taking care to notice the different connotations of similar words.
  • Keep your writing clear and coherent, and avoid pretentious or overly formal language.
  • Select the strongest nouns and verbs before you select adjectives and adverbs.
  • Seek opportunities to use repetition for rhetorical effect while, at the same time, you watch for careless redundancy.
  • Read your draft aloud to help you refine grammar and usage. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it probably doesn’t read right to your audience, either.
  • Ask someone else to read your writing and critique it.
Read the post in its entirety here: "7 Tips for Editing to Improve Usage".

Also read Mark Nichol's recent post: "Does Good Writing Matter?"
"10 Tips about Basic Writing Competency"

"Want To Be Taken Seriously? Become a Better Writer" 

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Want To Be Taken Seriously? Become a Better Writer"

The number of poorly written emails, resumes and blog posts I come across each month is both staggering and saddening. Their grammar is awful. There are dozens of misspellings. Language is much wordier or more complex than necessary. Some things I read literally make no sense at all to me.

I can imagine my students thinking, "There goes RP Sir, riding his favourite hobby horse again." But those thoughts up there have been expressed by an American CEO, no less, who is also a New York Times best-selling author and keynote speaker.

Dave Kerpen's post on why you should become a better writer if you want to be taken seriously first came to my notice when I checked my LinkedIn account the other day. In the same way his arguments resonated with me, they appear to have struck a chord with many others because this post, as of today, has been tweeted about by more than 3,000 people, shared on LinkedIn by more than 18,000 users, and has attracted more than 8,000 "likes".

Kerpen does not talk down to his readers, as is obvious from a point he makes in his post:

It's not just you who must become a better writer — it’s all of us. I'll be the first to admit, I too have had to learn to become a better writer.

Kerpen then elaborates on the methods he used to become a better writer over the past several years. Here are the bullet points:
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Say it out loud.
  • Make it more concise.
  • Work on your headlines.
  • Read.
You can see for yourself what he has to say about each of the first four points here. Since I consider "good" reading to be essential for good writing, here's Kerpen's last point in full:

Besides practicing writing, the number one way to improve your writing skills is to read great work. I read at least one book per month, at least 20 articles per week, and countless tweets, Facebook posts and emails per day. I know we all have limited time, but truly the best way to become a better writer is to become a better reader [emphasis mine].

I now "follow" Dave Kerpen on LinkedIn. You may want to do the same.

PS: You may also want to read Kerpen's views on how your attitude at work is everything.  Check out this highly relevant post, too: "Best Advice: Always Show Your Friendship First".
  • Photo courtesy: Dave Kerpen

1. If you want to be a versatile writer, here's some practical advice

2. "The five traits of a successful writer"

3. Here's how to make time to read 

4. If you don't read, you can't write  

5. In one quote, the essence of writing 
  • EXTERNAL READING: Simon Kuper, writing in the Financial Times, argues that texts, blogs, e-mails, and Facebook posts are affecting other kinds of writing mostly for the good. Read his column here: "How social media improved writing". I am obliged to Apar Dham (Class of 2011) for the alert. Apar wrote in an e-mail to me today: "Some food for thought at the beginning of the week? I remember you always cringing at the language youngsters use for texting, Twitter, Facebook, etc. So I thought that this article might make for some interesting reading." It sure did, Apar!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why we should applaud Amish (and ignore what purists say about his writing skills?)

I admire Amish (who prefers to go by one name) and Chetan Bhagat. Not for the quality of the writing in their books, but for writing books that have got young people reading them and enjoying them and starting conversations about them.

Just today I met five young women who had come to Bangalore from Coimbatore to write the Commits entrance exam in the essay section of the test, all of them chose to write about either The Immortals of Meluha or The Secret of the Nagas, the phenomenally popular books that form part of Amish's Shiva trilogy. Each student is now looking forward to reading the final installment, The Oath of the Vayuputras, which Commits alumnus Harish Agarwal (Class of 2004) has already read and proclaimed, on Facebook, to be a must-read. "What an awesome one-night stand it was," he wrote earlier today.

Amish, who was also in the news recently for receiving an advance of Rs. 5 crore for his next series, may not score a lot of points with purists or with those who prefer their books to be a little more, let's say, literary. But he has created, along with Chetan Bhagat, a new market for fiction and fully deserves his success.


Tehelka last month published a long interview-based feature on Amish; he is also the subject of the cover story in Mint Lounge today.

Here is Sunaina Kumar writing in Tehelka about Amish's readership:

Amish found a gap between the scholarly versions of the epics, the middlebrow (Devdutt Pattanaik) and the square (Ashok Banker), writing in cliffhangers, making up plot details, including battle scenes, a tender love story, and a hero who seems to have walked right out of American popular culture. Amish’s racy, slangy prose is not above the sort of jarring scene in which Shiva says things like, “Dammit Sati! I can’t figure it out.”

Later Kumar discusses his writing:

[In] the hands of a more able craftsman, the narrative would have soared. There are ideas in Amish’s novels — new concepts, action underpinned by philosophy, relatively radical notions of a caste-less society (he has dropped Tripathi, his caste-based surname) in which women lead from the front, and a clever twist to the good-versus-evil debate. Many of his ideas deserve to be expressed better. It is Amish’s writing that lets down his storytelling, his ideas. For instance, his characters talk in a peculiar, pedestrian English, mixing generous helpings of slang with words like “gargantuan” and “plethora”. Or they talk in all caps that end in a blur of exclamation points.

Amish’s answer to critics, Kumar says, is that he writes in a style that does not talk down to a vast majority of Indians:

“I write the way I think ya… I believe in one thing ki boss I am gonna be who I am. Some people will like it, some people will not, that’s cool, but I am clear I am not going to change.”

How can you not want to know more about this unassuming millionaire author? Read the feature in its entirety here: "The Pied Piper of Meluha".

Now here's Mayank Austen Soofi writing in Mint Lounge after speaking to the author himself and also to readers and publishers in an attempt to understand the reasons for Amish's remarkable popularity:

Some novelists at least have moved into the category of fast-moving consumer goods.

And here are some relevant quotes from the article:
  • “The series gives me a different take on Shiva, and Amish’s writing is wonderfully colloquial. His Shiva uses everyday words like ‘dammit’ and ‘bloody’!” Vanita Ganesh, a college student in Gurgaon, who has already finished reading all 565 pages of The Oath of the Vayuputras
  • “Amish’s story is beautifully crafted and written in the language of the common man, and that’s why everyone is reading him.” Amish's literary agent Anuj Bahri, the owner of the landmark Bahri Sons Booksellers in Khan Market, New Delhi
  • “His books don’t interest me much, neither the content nor the style.... I like to be challenged and surprised by the books I read. Buying them is an effort to know more about spaces, places, ideas and people which/whom I know little about. We are anyway surrounded by the mundane, and too much of our own language.” Arpita Das, publisher of the Delhi-based Yoda Press
 Read Soofi's piece in its entirety here: "The sound of money".
  • Photo courtesy: Kalpak Pathak/Hindustan Times
PS: I have ordered The Shiva Trilogy from Flipkart to see for myself what the hoo-ha is all about. Afterwards, all three books will be placed in the Commits library for the reading pleasure of our students.

UPDATE (March 24, 2013): Commitscion Ankita Sengupta (Class of 2013), who now works with Deccan Herald in Bangalore, interviewed Amish for the newspaper's website when he visited the city earlier this week. You can watch it on YouTube:

9 a.m. to 11 p.m., a typical workday for one of India's best-known TV journalists

Shereen Bhan has been a CNBC anchor for more than a dozen years now and she has a host of journalistic achievements to her credit. In an interview with, Bhan has discussed a few aspects of life as a television journalist, which TV hopefuls will find enlightening. (This interview was conducted in 2007. No matter. Given the fierce competition among our news channels and the consequent unrelenting pressure on television journalists, what she has to say is even more applicable today.)

If you're not extremely ambitious and if you're not willing to work extremely hard, any other skills you have may prove to be unhelpful in the rush-hour-at-all-times world of television news. Given below are excerpts from the interview, chosen especially to give television journalism aspirants an insight into what it means to work with one of India's top TV news organisations.

What is a typical workday like?
My day start at 9 am and wraps at 11 pm so it is long! Mornings are spent with reporters as I head the bureau. Some days I have interviews and events. Afternoons are spent editing scripts and planning. Later, 8 pm to 10.30 pm is time spent in the studio for CNN-IBN and CNBC.

You are one of the most recognised faces of Indian news today, what do you credit for your success?
Hard work, commitment and perseverance. I have very rarely said no. I have worked for almost every channel on Network 18. CNBC, Awaaz, CNN-IBN, South Asia World. I have tried to be as versatile as possible. So business, politics, feature programming, I have done it all. I have also stayed away from positioning myself only as an anchor. I have always produced my shows and I will continue to do so. I have also tried to be a nurturing team leader and take people along, which help our shows look better.

That one needs to be outgoing for a career in television goes without saying. What are the other personality traits you think an aspiring TV journalist needs?
The ability to handle pressure is a must. It is a tough job, both physically and mentally taxing. You have to be on your feet for long hours and mentally alert every second. Operating in a live environment means reacting to news as it breaks, making sense of it in a few seconds and adding value in a couple of minutes.

Good communication skills, comprehensive knowledge of current affairs, writing are important as well.

What advice would you have for aspiring TV journalists?

Don't do it for the glamour. There is nothing glamorous about it. A large chunk of a TV journalist's job is donkey's work. Standing around for hours to get a 20-second sound bite is about perseverance not glamour.

Be prepared to say goodbye to your social life and get ready to be on call 24x7. Ignite a fire inside you, not just to do big stories and interviews but also to do good quality work, that's fair and honest consistently.

What do you think is the most common mistake newcomers make? What advice do you have to give them in this regard?

Wanting to taste success without doing the time you have to be patient. You have to get your hands dirty. Don't box yourself into roles and responsibilities. Learn to multi-task. Learn to work in a team. TV is all about teamwork.

You can read the full interview here: "You have to react to news as it breaks: Shereen Bhan".

Friday, March 8, 2013

Is it "Charles's book"? Should that be "Charles' book"?

I prefer "Charles's book". So do Strunk and White.

And so does Poynter guru Roy Peter Clark, whose post on the subject I re-discovered when I was going through old e-mails.

Clark is a superlative journalist who writes with felicity and fluency. And he's extremely well-read to boot. Read the post I'm referring to, as well as his other columns on the Poynter website, to better appreciate what I'm talking about.

But to return to "Charles's book" vs "Charles' book". Here's an excerpt from Clark's post:

Professor Strunk tells us to add apostrophe plus s no matter the final consonant in the noun and cites as examples “Charles’s friend” and “Burns’s poems.”

This makes great sense to me because it echoes the way we would speak the word aloud. So it puzzles me that the “Associated Press Stylebook,” an influential work for journalists, argues that a simple apostrophe suffices after proper nouns ending in s, as in Agnes’ book and Jules’ seat. I don’t know about you, but when I read those aloud, the missing s hurts my ears, and on the page it hurts my eyes. I would say Agnes’s book and Jules’s seat.

Read the post in its entirety here and you will no longer wonder about the so-called extra s in Bridget Jones's Diary.

Why everyone should think before communicating through social media

Ilya Pozin, a contributor to the "Entrepreneurs" section on the Forbes website, has posed two important questions in a recent post:

On sites like Twitter and Facebook, do all old-school means of social etiquette get thrown out the window? Or do most people not even know what classifies as proper social etiquette to begin with?

In turn, he lists 12 questions that he says you must ask yourself before you hit "post" on Facebook:

Should I target a specific audience with this message?

Will anyone really care about this content besides me?

Will I offend anyone with this content? If so, who? Does it matter?

Is this appropriate for a social portal, or would it best be communicated another way?

How many times have I already posted something today? (More than three can be excessive.)

Did I spell check?

Will I be okay with absolutely anyone seeing this?

Is this post too vague? Will everyone understand what I’m saying?

Am I using this as an emotional dumping ground? If so, why? Is a different outlet better for these purposes?

Am I using too many abbreviations in this post and starting to sound like a teenager?

Is this reactive communication or is it well thought-out?

Is this really something I want to share, or is it just me venting?

Read Ilya Pozin's post in its entirety here: "Social Media Etiquette: 12-Step Checklist".
  • Thank you, Rigved Sarkar (Class of 2010), for the alert.

"Facebook: Boon or bane?"

"Are you revealing more than you should on Facebook?"

"How you interact with people on any platform on the Web and what you say about issues is an indication of the kind of person you are"

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why young people don't read: A media student's first-person account

Saumya Iyer is a First Year student at Commits. She is keen to be a journalist, but like many of her peers she is not a "reader". We have had many discussions about this, and yesterday, at my request, she wrote a blog post on the subject. "It’s kind of ironic you see, I want to be a journalist but I don’t read," she writes in the post. "It does sound strange for someone who wants to be in journalism but I guess that has never bothered me too much."

She also addresses the issue of why young people have no interest in reading:

As to why my peers don’t read newspapers and books and all that, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, maybe they just don’t want to. Period.  I’m guessing they have other more interesting or not so interesting things in life to busy themselves with. They are fresh out of their teens, they don’t want to take on the burdens of this world just yet, they want to remain as ignorant as possible for as long as they can.

Read her post in its entirety: "How I learned to like writing and not read enough".

I am curious, very curious, to know what other people, young or otherwise, have to say about this post.

My response to Saumya, meanwhile, which I sent via e-mail after I finished reading her post, is given below:

I loved it. I feel a little closer to unravelling The Great Mystery of why, if they can help it, young people won't read newspapers or magazines.

But I feel I should tell you, at the risk of antagonising you (again), that if you want to be a GOOD writer, you need to be a good reader first.

Please read these [Reading Room] posts and share your thoughts:

1. If you want to be a versatile writer, here's some practical advice

2. "The five traits of a successful writer"

3. Here's how to make time to read 

4. If you don't read, you can't write
There is also what I consider a "must-read" post Why you must read the link to which I had sent long ago to Saumya as well as to her classmates.

As I wrote to Saumya yesterday, thanks to her post I am a little closer now to understanding why young people don't read. But that does not mean I am any less baffled. Is there a way to fix this?
  • Thank you, Saumya, for giving me permission to publish this on my blog.
  • UPDATE (March 21, 2013): "I love books, and anything else I can read. I read everything and anything that I can find. I will never stop learning. But I also know that I can’t read as much as I would like to read. There is simply not enough time NOW. I have to keep track of so many things, at the same time that it essentially becomes an exercise in prioritising. And unfortunately books and reading takes a backseat. And I think I know why." MAITREYA J.A., Saumya Iyer's classmate and co-editor of The Chronicle, the Commits newspaper. Read his blog post on the subject in its entirety here.