Saturday, June 29, 2013

Don't get burned by your online profile

From an article published in Bloomberg Businessweek two days ago:

Think before you post, especially if you’re looking for a job. Seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Yet despite all the advice and warnings to be cautious with social media, job applicants continue to get burned by their online profiles.

Read the piece in its entirety here: Hey Job Applicants, Time to Stop the Social-Media Sabotage.

Afterwards, learn how to scan and delete your old, embarrassing posts from your social networking site: "Get rid of digital clutter".

And you will also want to read this post that I discovered on the Time magazine website: "Facebook Etiquette: Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes".


Friday, June 28, 2013

It feels as though I have unearthed a gold mine and discovered a time machine at the same time: When reading a book becomes an experience of a lifetime

History, be it fact or fiction (!), fascinates me. One of my all-time favourite books is Travels with Herodotus, by the legendary Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski. I have also enjoyed the sagas written by James Michener and James Clavell. And every now and then I dip into I Wish I'd Been There: Twenty Historians Revisit Key Moments in History.

So how could I not order A History of the World in 100 Objects from Flipkart after I first chanced upon the book at a Reliance TimeOut store? (It's called "showrooming", Reliance. Get used to it.)

For more than a fortnight now, whenever I have had the time, I have been obsessively reading up on each of the historical objects described intelligently and — yes — lovingly by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum.

A History of the World in 100 Objects, which is based on the BBC Radio 4 programme of the same name, is such a treat that I find myself re-reading almost every chapter.

"This wonderful book transports us to every corner of the globe." — TOM HOLLAND, OBSERVER

And, after I am done with each chapter — I am a quarter of the way through the book, object by object, one object to a chapter — I head over to the BBC site dedicated to the programme. Here I can listen to the original radio programme, go through the transcript, examine the selected object in glorious colour, read additional comments by experts, study relevant timelines... it feels as though I have unearthed a gold mine and discovered a time machine at the same time.

"Vivid and witty, shining with insights, connections, shocks, and delights." — GILLIAN REYNOLDS, DAILY TELEGRAPH

From beginning to middle to end, each chapter fairly radiates energy. Neil MacGregor tells the story in so vivid a style that I keep asking myself: How does he do it?

For instance, MacGregor has to come up with a hundred different chapter introductions; he has to meld historical facts and dates with his own interpretations and understanding; he has to incorporate the views of experts; he has to explain why each object is important in today's context; and he has to come up with a hundred different chapter endings.

And, this is perhaps just as important, he has to make it interesting for the reader from first word to last. 

"One can only remain grateful to Neil MacGregor for inviting us, his readers, on this wonderful journey." — RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE, THE TELEGRAPH, KOLKATA 

Let us take, at random, a few opening lines (not the entire first paragraph):

OLDUVAI STONE CHOPPING TOOL (1.8-2 MILLION YEARS OLD): "This chopping tool is one of the earliest things that humans ever consciously made, and holding it puts us directly in touch with those who made it."

OLDUVAI HANDAXE (1.2-1.4 MILLION YEARS OLD): "What do you take with you when you travel? Most of us would embark on a long list that begins with a toothbrush and ends with excess baggage."

CLOVIS SPEAR POINT (11000 BC): "Imagine. You're in a green landscape studded with trees and bushes. You're working in a team of hunters quietly stalking a herd of mammoths. One of the mammoths, you hope, is going to be your supper."

PARACAS TEXTILE (300-200 BC): "Looking at clothes is a key part of any serious look at history. But, as we all know to our cost, clothes don't last — they wear out, they fall apart, and what survives gets eaten by the moths. Compared with stone, pottery, or metal, clothes are pretty well non-starters in a history of the world told through 'things'." 

CHINESE ZHOU RITUAL VESSEL (1100-1000 BC): "How often do you dine with the dead?" 

There is plenty to learn, too. An arbitrary example:

LACHISH RELIEFS (700-692 BC): The strategy of shifting populations has been a constant phenomenon of empire ever since [the time of King Sennacherib, the Assyrian ruler]. Perhaps our nearest equivalent — just about in living memory — is Stalin's deportation of peoples during the 1930s. Like Sennacherib, Stalin knew the value of moving rebellious peoples out of strategic areas and relocating them far away from their homelands.

And here's the concluding paragraph from the same chapter:

Sennacherib was not quite as bad as Stalin. Cold comfort for the victims. The Lachish Reliefs show the misery that defeat in war always entails, though of course their main focus is ... Sennacherib in his moment of triumph. They do not record Sennacherib's less than glorious end assassinated by two of his sons while he was at prayer to the gods who had appointed him ruler. He was succeeded by another son, whose own son, in his turn, conquered Egypt and defeated the pharaoh Taharqo, who is the subject of the next chapter. The cycle of war that Lachish Reliefs show brutal, pitiless, and devastating for the civilian population was about to begin all over again. 

Oh joy! I have waiting for me another 75 chapters bursting with such scintillating writing.

Mary Beard reviews A History of the World in 100 Objects in The Guardian: "Brilliant on radio, Neil MacGregor's 100 objects also make a marvellous book".

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The television journalist who towers head and shoulders above the... worst

He was just asking to be sacked:

And sacked he was:

FROM THE NEWS EXPRESS WEBSITE: "News Express Channel did not broadcast this video of Mr. Narayan Pargaien but it was uploaded by someone we don’t know, Mr. Pargaien was working as a Retainer with designation of a Reporter and on Tuesday (25-06-2013) This Channel terminated Mr. Pargaien with immediate effect, as such an act by the reporter is a Grave misconduct which goes against cultural values of our Channel."

But Mr Narayan Pargaien, who was reporting from Dehradun on the Uttarakhand flood disaster, is trying to defend the indefensible. He told the Indian Express:

"They [the locals] forced me to ride on the shoulder of a local. They told me they won't allow me to cross the river on my own," he said, adding that he could not refuse them.

What was he thinking?
  • Commitscion Dipankar Paul (Class of 2009) has posted, on my Facebook status update, the link to Mr Narayan Pargaein's interview with News Laundry. You can watch it here. And you can also watch that reprehensible P-to-C, which, following a legal complaint by News Express, has been removed from the site on which it was first uploaded.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I'm so glad I've this book waiting for me delivered Lunch with the FT: 52 Classic Interviews a few days ago. I have been waiting to tuck into it after I finish what I am reading now (Following Fish, by Samanth Subramanian, and three other books). And snacking on Anvar Alikhan's review in Outlook last night has only served to whet my appetite.

Here's an excerpt:
We have everybody from Donald Rumsfeld to Angelina Jolie, from George Soros to Imran Khan, from economist Paul Krugman to Albert Underzo, co-creator of the Asterix comics. There’s even Saif Gaddafi, the doctoral student son of the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi (though one wonders what wicked thought process led to him being invited). These personalities are drawn into conversation by the FT’s interviewers over a leisurely meal at any restaurant of their choice, accompanied by a bottle — or two — of wine, which, of course, is a wonderful device to get them to drop their formal persona, and reveal a little more of themselves than they otherwise would have.

Read the review in its entirety here: "Autocrats of the Talking Table".

And here, on the Financial Times website, you can read one of the more recent Lunch with the FT columns: "Kim Dotcom: Over salad and club sandwiches at his $24m rented mansion in New Zealand, the internet’s most wanted man says his crazy days are behind him".

Death to the adjective! (Or so say some of the great writers)

When you catch an adjective, kill it. 


The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.



The adjective is the enemy of the noun


If the noun is good and the verb is strong, you almost never need an adjective.


Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me?”


Forward motion in any piece of writing is carried by verbs. Verbs are the action words of the language and the most important. Turn to any passage on any page of a successful novel and notice the high percentage of verbs. Beginning writers always use too many adjectives and adverbs and generally use too many dependent clauses. Count your words and words of verbal force (like that word “force” I just used).

  • This is just a tiny sample of the wealth of writerly wisdom available on possibly the best website ever for writers looking for advice, "Advice to Writers", curated by author Jon Winokur. (Winokur also has an interesting post on Huffington Post on the best books on writing books. Check it out here.)

Rajesh Parameswaran: An exciting new practitioner of the short story form

Rajesh Parameswaran is some cat. His book of short stories, which I bought for the college library a few months ago, is unlike any work I have read by young Indian practitioners of an art form made popular by some of the great writers, such as O. Henry and Raymond Carver (regrettably, when it comes to short stories and Indian writers in English, I am not able to recall the Big Names, though Manto comes instantly to mind if I think of regional writing, while our very own Anjum Hasan is an excellent representative of the youth brigade).

I was reminded of Parameswaran's book last night when I came across an interview with him in the latest issue of Open magazine. He says he is writing a novel now — one more book to add to our library, for sure — and he talks about how different writing a novel is from writing short stories, but, all the same, he remains a champion of the short story form, as is evident in this excerpt from the interview:

Q. Do you see the short story as a sort of testing ground for fiction writers?

A. No. I think that’s a little bit of a dismissive way to think about it. There are so many writers whose careers are [the short story] — George Saunders, Lydia Davis, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro. I think it’s a great form in and of itself. I still will write short stories. It takes less time to fail at a short story than it does at a novel. So if you want to fail a lot and fail quickly, as they say, then you can do that with a short story in quick succession. To me, that was reassuring. I did end up spending years and years at it, but I think the idea of spending six years on a novel and failing, at the time was, to be honest, more than I was willing to risk.

In the interview, Parameswaran also talks about how reading influences his writing and what he does to combat writer's block. Read the article in its entirety here: "The Carburettor".

And you can read The Hindu's review of I Am an Executioner here: "Beyond the Pale".
The short story that "did more in nine pages than most novels do in nine chapters"

An innovative and revolutionary short story series in "Mint Lounge"

If great stories bring people together, then Wattpad helps people bring great stories together

Sunday, June 23, 2013

There are Agony Aunts. And then there is "Dear Sugar", the most compassionate in-your-face advice columnist ever

She has been described as the perfect guide for those who have got lost in life.

For a few years, the blurb on the back of her book informs us, tens of thousands of people — the frightened, the anxious, the confused — turned to her.

And she responded with advice that "was spun from genuine compassion and informed by a wealth of personal experience — experience that was sometimes tragic and sometimes tender, often hilarious and often heartbreaking".

She went by the moniker "Sugar". The world now knows her as Cheryl Strayed. And a selection of her columns was recently made available in book form, a copy of which I have just bought on for the college library. On Goodreads, there are more than 6,400 ratings for Tiny Beautiful Things, and some 1,400 reviews — it's that popular.

Here is an excerpt (the last paragraph, actually) from a two-page letter written to Sugar by a woman reader who wants nothing more than to be a writer and to be recognised and appreciated for her talent but who fears she is not good enough:

How do I reach the page when I can't lift my face off the bed? How does one go on, Sugar, when you realise you might not have it in you? How does a woman get up and become the writer she wishes she'd be?
Elisa Bassist

And here are the last few paragraphs from Sugar's six-page-long response:

Writing is hard for every last one of us — straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.

You need to do the same, dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy talented tortured rising star glowbug. That you're so bound up about writing tells me that writing is what you're here to do. And when people are here to do that, they almost always tell us something we need to hear. I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart.

So write, Elisa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a mother****er [asterisks mine].

You can read the letter as well as Sugar's advice in full here.

And you will want to know what happened to Elissa Bassist. Here is an excerpt from the FAQ on her website (yes, she is now a well-known writer):

Elissa Bassist is the editor of the Funny Women column on Her writing has appeared in The New York Times,, Slate, The Paris Review Daily, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, Jezebel, The Daily Beast, Salon, The Rumpus, and most recently in Get Out of My Crotch, a collection of twenty-one writers responding to America’s war on women’s rights and reproductive health.

In April 2013, she contributed to Men’s Health, unlike every other month when she does the opposite. Elissa co-edited the anthology Rumpus Women, Volume I (published by The Rumpus Paper Internets) with Julie Greicius. Before moving to Brooklyn, she produced and co-hosted the Literary Death Match in San Francisco. 

And here you can read a conversation conducted by e-mail between Strayed and Bassist two years after that letter was published. In this conversation the two "revisit many of the themes from the original letter, and examine how their professional and artistic landscapes have changed".

As I noted in the headline, there are Agony Aunts. And then there is "Sugar".
  • Interestingly, in the book, Sugar addresses a question most of us have about the many Agony Aunt columns in newspapers and magazines (and, of course, on the Web):
Q: Are the letters you publish really sent in by anonymous people? Most are so well written that it seems you or The Rumpus writers must be creating them.

A: The letters published in my column and in this book were sent to me by people who sought my advice. In most cases the name and/or e-mail address of the letter writer is not visible to me. I do not write the letters, nor does anyone at The Rumpus. Because I have thousands of letters from which to choose, well-written letters probably have a higher chance of being plucked from the pile simply because they are more concise and complex. I agree with you that the letters are lovely. I have even more in my inbox.

What I can't help thinking: Even here, good writing matters.

"The many lessons I learnt as an intern with a leading Bangalore newspaper." Plus: "Professionalism, the Commits way"

Commitscion Monalisa Das (Class of 2014) recently spent six weeks as an intern with Deccan Chronicle in Bangalore, working with the features section, Bengaluru Chronicle. Here she talks about the experience, and also discusses what it means to be a professional in a highly competitive industry (these two pieces were first published in The Commits Chronicle on April 28, 2013):


The internship at Deccan Chronicle was my first working experience in the professional world, my first real stint with journalism. When I first began my internship I had a lot of inhibitions. I had never thought I’d be working on a tabloid; hard news was my thing. Part of me wasn’t even sure that I would be up to the mark. 

In fact, after almost a month with the paper, I was still learning, absorbing, and understanding the rules of the trade, the bottom line being “you need to be good at whatever you do”.

I was lucky to be working in an organisation where things happen the way they should. My editor is strict, I was warned. What I understood, and came to appreciate, was that she is not ready to compromise on quality. That is sacrosanct. I also learnt that no one is indispensable and you are doing no one a favour by working.

Let me share what I grasped during this stint.

First, you need to be sincere and dedicated to your work. As an intern, you can’t expect people to offer you the opportunity to cover big stories. Trust me, you aren’t ready. Besides, it’s always better to begin at the bottom of the ladder. Whatever work is given to you, show an interest; do not feign it. You might not get a byline so what? Realise that your work is at least good enough to be published.

Second, and you must have heard this a billion times, you need to be on good terms with your colleagues. I was lucky to have such cooperative colleagues. As a journalist, you need to know lots of people your colleagues are the ones who will provide you with your initial contacts. Be nice to your colleagues; ask for help when you have a doubt. But make sure you do not pester them and antagonise them. They have their own assignments to take care of, and they aren’t there to teach you. A little chat about things unrelated to work doesn’t hurt, though.

Third, social media is a journalist’s friend. When I reached a dead end regarding a contact I needed urgently, Facebook was my saviour. Friends of friends of friends usually know someone you are looking for. In my case, I can’t but not mention Sneha Sukumar, my classmate. She somehow always happened to know people related to my story. Call it luck or coincidence!


When you work in the features section of a daily newspaper, you get to talk to a lot of famous people (and many not-so-famous ones, too). The glamour wears off after some time. A lot of hard work is involved, after all. Every column that you see in print is a well-thought-out process. Another important lesson: Be prepared if people do not want to talk to you or are rude. No one gives a darn about your story. They have work to do. Be polite, be courteous at all times.

One of my bosses called me “Smarty” because I once went to her with a story idea that had already been covered. Afterwards, before I submitted a story idea, I made sure it hadn’t been done before. How did I do that? I read. Like crazy. Because ideas aren’t as easy to come by as Abhishek Bachchan makes it seem in the TV commercials. And I read everything from The Huffington Post to the Guardian and Bangalore Mirror. You never know what will work. You need to keep looking, only then will you get what you want.

I usually worked on a lot of columns, snippets, and a story that became the second lead once in a while. I got only one day off in the week but I did not complain. Because when I saw my name in the papers, I knew it was worth it. When people asked if I liked the work, I said I did. It was definitely not a bed of roses, but then roses are so not me.

When you work in the industry, you come to know that Commits has a well-deserved reputation. Commitscions are expected to be smart, dedicated, and hardworking individuals. Anything less is just not acceptable. When you are working in a professional environment for the first time in your life, it might be a little difficult to live up to those standards. So how do we beat the odds?

We learn most of it in class. And by learn I do not mean mugging up from textbooks. We are taught how to work and behave like professionals. Slowly and steadily, we imbibe “professionalism”. From maintaining 100 per cent attendance to being punctual, from adhering to deadlines to juggling multiple roles, each is a step towards a better us. For some this can be achieved only through conscious effort; others just fit in.

Day in and day out, we attend classes tirelessly. We crib now and then and we often pay fines for certain transgressions. Presentations and assignments are a way of life. Social life is a distant dream. But just as every cloud has a silver lining, when you peer through the gloom, you will find light.


Most of us suffered stage fright before we came to Commits. Today we do not just speak up, we often surprise. At the risk of sounding immodest, I would like to add here that I received some lovely compliments for my speech during our vice-chancellor’s recent visit to Commits.

In a way, all those hours spent at the grindstone pay off. Our teachers are the best we have, and all those assignments and presentations later, we do appreciate their efforts.

Today, almost a year into our Commits journey, most of us are sure about our career choices. Being clear in your mind is a good feeling. Some of us, however, will always be the confused kind. But it just gives us more options to explore. We are smart and skilled individuals. We are future competition for other professionals as well, confident in the belief that we can thrive and be successful in almost any field.

I am not sure I would have done better if I wasn’t from Commits.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

When a journalist is too close to a story, it is not a good thing. Here's why

On his Guardian blog on Monday, Roy Greenslade wrote about the Charles Saatchi-Nigella Lawson throat-grabbing episode.

Greenslade, a former newspaper editor, professor of journalism at London's City University, and media commentator, appeared to play down the incident in his post. And instead of upbraiding Saatchi, Greenslade chose to pass sly comments about the newspaper that printed the graphic pictures of Saatchi repeatedly grabbing his wife by the throat in a London restaurant.

Read the post here: "Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi: story behind a red-top scoop".

(The term "red tops", as defined by Wikipedia, refers to tabloids with red nameplates, such as The Sun, the Daily Star, the Daily Mirror ... and distinguishes them from the Daily Express and Daily Mail. Red top newspapers are usually simpler in writing style, dominated by pictures, and directed at the more sensational end of the market.)

The very next day, Greenslade published what he referred to as a red-faced apology:

The post began:

I am mortified to think that people viewed my posting yesterday about Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson as some kind of defence of domestic violence. That was not my intention at all.

However, after so many e-mails — not to mention much outrage on Twitter — I concede that I expressed myself very badly indeed.

And towards the end of the short post comes the lesson all journalists will do well to heed:

Sometimes one is too close to a story, and this is the irony: I was clearly over-compensating for the fact that I have been a friend of Nigella's ever since we were colleagues on the Sunday Times more than 20 years ago.

In order to be scrupulously fair about the incident, showing no favour to a friend, I went way in the wrong direction. I therefore owe her apologies. And I apologise also to all those, including several Guardian colleagues, who thought I'd taken leave of my senses.

Read the mea culpa here: "Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi: why I called it wrong..."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Quotes from books, quotes by writers... to inspire, influence, and induce a new way of thinking-3

This was published in the June-July 2013 issue 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 

“The lessons one learns at school are not always the ones that the school thinks it is teaching.”
— Salman Rushdie, in his memoir Joseph Anton

“When they’re young, they step on your toes… when they grow up, they step on your heart.”
— “Charlie Brown” telling “Lucy” what his grandmother — “quite a philosopher” — says about children, in You’re a Winner, Charlie Brown!, by Charles Schulz

“Women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.”
— American comedian George Carlin in When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?

“Perhaps only a truly discontented child can become as seduced by books as I was. Perhaps restlessness is a necessary corollary of devoted literacy.”
— Journalist and author Anna Quindlen in her bestseller, How Reading Changed My Life

“Art is what you can get away with.”
— Pop art pioneer Andy Warhol, quoted in The Form of Things: Essays on Life, Ideas, and Liberty in the 21st Century, by A.C. Grayling

“A smooth sea never produced a skilful navigator.”
— C.D. Narasimhaiah, founder-editor-publisher of the 60-year-old journal, The Literary Criterion, on his attitude to the obstacles he overcame to keep the publication going, quoted in a recent article in The Hindu (CDN died in 2005)

“I would sooner be bored by Proust than amused by any other writer.”
— British playwright, novelist, and short-story writer Somerset Maugham, in Ten Novels and Their Authors, expressing his admiration for Marcel Proust’s magnum opus, In Search of Lost Time

“If we think to regulate printing we … must regulate all recreations and pastimes.” (In other words, other liberties depend on a free press.)
— English poet John Milton, best known for the epic Paradise Lost, in a 17th-century polemic against press licensing, quoted in The Economist

“He is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron — forever there and not there.”
— Bill Bryson, best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and on science, in Shakespeare: The World as Stage, lamenting that we know so little of Shakespeare’s life

10/10 for a newspaper story written by an intern from Commits

Commitscion Natasha Rego (Class of 2014) lived up to my expectations (and perhaps exceeded hers) when she filed this brilliant story for Mumbai's Afternoon Despatch & Courier, the newspaper I helped to launch in March 1985.

Natasha, who is a co-editor of the college newspaper, worked as an intern with the Afternoon for six weeks over April-May and earned her first byline with this story about the "bottle bulbs" that are lighting up the lives of the city's slum-dwellers.

When I first read the article after she had sent me the link, I wrote back:

What a FAN-TAS-TIC story, Natasha! From idea to execution to presentation, I give it 10/10.

And then I asked her a few questions to understand better how she got the idea for the story in the first place and how she went about getting the facts and putting them together:
  • How did you get the idea?
Facebook, of course. Although many ideas have come to me when I take extensive walks around this city, I chose to work on this one because I related to the girls about whom I wrote, and it was a slum story (I've been wanting to enter a slum since I arrived and this seemed like a perfect opportunity).

  • How did you go about working on it?
I read everything on the girls' website and Facebook page, especially the press coverage that they've received in the past. I found that it told a one-sided story — that of the girls. I wanted to try and tell one that included the people who benefited from the work of the organisation.

  • What were the obstacles and how did you overcome them?
Language — my biggest drawback in Mumbai. But the girls that I went to the slum with translated for me, and a surprisingly large number of people spoke English.

  • What was the contribution of your bosses and colleagues?
Sub-editor and colleague Prasad Madhukar Patil pushed me to submit my photos and write stories after he saw my editing work.

When I asked Deputy News Editor Robin Shukla what I should keep in mind when I went out to cover this story, considering it was going to be my first, he gave me some good advice. He said not to be influenced by anything in the reports that I had read, and to give it my own "new" perspective, because I'm so new to the city.

Editor-in-Chief Carol Andrade had the final say, of course. I think she liked it.

  • What has the feedback been — from colleagues, from readers, from those featured in the story?
One of my bosses said that this is the kind of stories the newspaper should be doing.

  • What was your reaction to seeing your story in print?
I did not go to work the day they processed this issue, so I didn't know it was going to get a full page. Walking to work the next day, I picked up an issue to find that it was spread over page 5 and had a border to make it stand it was a special story. My sub-editor boss later told me that he told the page designers to put the border in.

Natasha, who is a discerning and savvy photographer, too, later published another interesting feature in the Afternoon. This one concerns an unsung organisation that teaches art to slum children. Read it here: "Everyone is an artist. No conditions apply!" (The photographs that accompany this piece, as well as the article on the "bottle bulbs", were shot by Natasha.)
  • Commitscions, our brand ambassadors, have done well for themselves in the media industry and they have done us proud, too. Here are just a few of the many stories written by those who have become, or will become, journalists:
1. An excellent example of an interview-based local feature (Dipankar Paul, Class of 2009)

2. Gutsy Commits student's story in Bangalore Mirror — an inspiration to women everywhere (Ankita Sengupta, Class of 2013)

3. "My mum has my FB password. Big deal" (Sonakshi Nandy, Class of 2014)

4. Asha Bhosle: The Eternal Indian Idol scroll down to "An interview with Asha Bhosle in Kuwait" (Priyanka Saligram, Class of 2009)

5. Reading Made Easy — Why Just Books Libraries Work (Nilofer D'Souza, Class of 2009)

6. Jet lag is for amateurs (Ayesha Tabassum, Class of 2007)

...and, finally, a Page 1 story in yesterday's Bangalore Mirror by Tapasya Mitra Mazumder (Class of 2013), who only joined the newspaper five days ago:

You can read Tapasya's report here. Well done, all!
UPDATE (August 11, 2013): Natasha Rego and some of the photographs she made when she was in Mumbai were the subject of a "Diary" item in The Afternoon yesterday:

Read the item here: "Picture Perfect!" (go to Page 3)

An inspiration for young journalists and media aspirants everywhere

At two weeks short of 30, Amol Rajan (pictured) has been appointed editor of a leading British newspaper, The Independent.

And look at his pedigree, as outlined in a Guardian profile by the newspaper's media correspondent:

Described by colleagues as politically astute and progressive-minded, Rajan possesses a number of traits favoured by [proprietor Evgeny] Lebedev in his youthful senior editorial team....

A keen cricket fan, Rajan is the author of a 2011 book on the sport called Twirlymen: The Unlikely History of Cricket's Greatest Spin Bowlers. He is also a devoted foodie, writing a restaurant column for the Independent on Sunday and appearing as a judge on BBC1's MasterChef in April.

After graduating from Cambridge, Rajan worked briefly for the London Evening Standard before moving to Channel 5. Two years later, he joined the Independent as a news reporter, later moving on to stints as sports news correspondent, assistant comment editor and deputy comment editor.

What a terrific track record that is! Surely, Amol Rajan is an inspiration for young journalists and media aspirants everywhere.
But, as the Guardian's assistant comment editor writes, Rajan will have his work cut out for him. Read the article here: "It's great to see an ethnic minority editor of a British newspaper. I hope his appointment sends a message to the rest of the media".

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When I want friendly and learned voices to give me advice...

...on which book to read and why I should read it, I turn to my two prized possessions:


  • CLIFTON FADIMAN (May 15, 1904 – June 20, 1999), co-author of, and the motivating force behind, The New Lifetime Reading Plan, was an American intellectual, author, editor, radio, and television personality. Here is an excerpt from his obituary in the New York Times:
He lost most of his sight as a result of acute retinal necrosis in his late 80s. But according to his daughter, Anne, also a writer, he continued to vet manuscripts for the Book-of-the-Month Club, as he had since 1944, by listening to unabridged tapes of the volumes in question especially recorded for him by his son Kim. He dictated his assessments to a secretary. He continued to participate, by way of conference calls, in the club's editorial board meetings until March.

While blind he brought out a new edition of The Lifetime Reading Plan, a guide done with John S. Major that was intended to introduce Americans to the classics of civilization, and he was the general editor of World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse From Antiquity to Our Time.

Late in his life the book world honoured him for his love of the printed word by awarding him the 1993 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
  • MICHAEL DIRDA, author of Classics for Pleasure, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post Book World. For more details, visit his home page on the Washington Post website. And here you can access the Goodreads synopsis of Classics for Pleasure.
  • Coincidentally, a book written by Clifton Fadiman's daughter, Anne, At Large and At Small, is another cherished possession in my library. 

When you have two hours to shoot ace director James Cameron...

...for a National Geographic magazine cover, how do you do it?

This is how Marco Grob did it:

Read up on the fascinating details here: "Behind the Cover: June 2013".
A tribute to an amazing photo editor

Photography buffs will go nuts when they read these tips on the NatGeo website

How to get people to read — and appreciate — your Facebook posts

PLUS: Check out the National Geographic style guide, which comes highly recommended by  Mark Nichol, editor of the Daily Writing Tips blog: "This free online resource from the National Geographic Society doesn’t show up high in search rankings, but it’s an excellent resource. (And, seriously, have you ever seen a clumsy sentence, a grammatical error, or even a typo in National Geographic?) Unusually terse but clear entries are organised alphabetically, and the site includes a directory of new and altered entries and, especially helpful, one of terms and rules that contradict other authoritative resources or are exceptions to the norm."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"If you need me to motivate you, I probably don't want to hire you"

A few months ago, my good friend Monica Chauhan gave me a wonderful book as a gift. Drive, by Daniel H. Pink, offers the most cogent explanation of motivation I have read in a long, long time.

Here's an important excerpt from the book:
As organisations flatten [in terms of hierarchy], companies need people who are self-motivated. That forces many organisations to become more like open source projects. Nobody "manages" the open source contributors. Nobody sits around trying to figure out how to "motivate" them. That's why Linux and Wikipedia and Firefox work. ... One business leader, who didn't want to be identified, said it plainly: "If you need me to motivate you, I probably don't want to hire you."

Watch Daniel Pink expound on his theories at TED:

And, afterwards, think about buying the book. You can also visit Daniel Pink's website and sign up to receive his free e-mail newsletter (which is what I have done).

What a great intro!

Only a journalist well-acquainted with the tools of her trade could have come up with this opening paragraph for a feature on rock 'n' roll's new rule book:

Roll over William Strunk, and tell E.B. White the news. The music business now has its own grammar guide that might have had the "Elements of Style" authors singing the blues.

Combine that intro with a headline to match and you have a winning combination. Who will not want to dive in?

Check out Hannah Karp's brilliant piece in the Wall Street Journal here: "Grammar Rocks: These New Punctuation Rules Are fo' Realz".

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

If great stories bring people together, then Wattpad helps people bring great stories together

Wattpad, the app I discovered on Amazon and installed on my Kindle Fire last week, gives writers (well-known and unknown) a ready-made platform to publish their stories.

Canada's most famous author, Margaret Atwood, is a Wattpad fan. Not surprising considering Wattpad is based in Toronto, Canada. But it is surprising considering Atwood is a writer with considerable gravitas and an unlikely champion of an online story-sharing site that is, as she put it herself in a piece she wrote for the Guardian, "heavy on romance, vampires and werewolves".

Let Atwood explain why she is all for Wattpad:

On Wattpad — using your computer, tablet or phone you can post your own writing. No one need know how old you are, what your social background is, or where you live. Your readers can be anywhere.... You'll have readers who leave encouraging comments on your message board, thus boosting your morale.

Atwood then tells us what it was like for young writers of her pre-internet, pre-Wattpad generation:

We put together little booklets with our writing in them our handwriting for a readership of two: our parents. We went on to place an ill-advised poem or story in the school yearbook, to the secret derision of our classmates. We had to use our real names, which meant that many of us hid our most heartfelt writing in our sock drawers.

Atwood also dispels the notion that young people aren't reading but playing video games instead:

You don't get that impression from Wattpad, possibly because the site emulates features of video games: participation. Like Dickens during his serial publication of Pickwick, Wattpad writers get feedback from readers, and may shape their stories accordingly.

Read Margaret Atwood's article in its entirety here and then head on over to Wattpad to discover the kind of stories that you love to read. And if you're a writer or harbour hopes of becoming one (as do a few of our students), let Wattpad help the world discover your talent.
  • UPDATE (June 13, 2013): Commitscion Ashwin Shanker (Class of 2015), an avid storyteller who read my post on Wattpad, has drawn my attention to another story-sharing site: "I checked out Wattpad and I have created an account," Ashwin wrote in an e-mail. "I felt it's more like Readwave, which I'm a member of. I have published all my work on Readwave and keep getting good response from the international community. My Readwave profile can be accessed here. All my short stories and a few poems have been published on this site."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to spot lazy a.k.a. mediocre travel writing

Travel writing seems easy: Go there, do that, write about it (and don't forget to sprinkle the superlatives among the facts and figures).

But there is good travel writing. And there is lazy travel writing.

Now Peter Greenberg, travel editor of American broadcaster CBS News, has helpfully provided 10 top tips on how to spot — and avoid — lazy travel writing. Here they are in bullet-point form:

1. Most Travel Writers Are Not Journalists

2. Most of Them Aren't Good Writers

3. They Are More Focused on the Fact They Got to Travel Than Why They Are Traveling

4. They Are More Focused on the Destination Than the Experience

5. Most of the Pieces Written Are Based on Price, Not Value — or Cost, Not Worth

6. So Much of Travel Writing Reads Like Bad Brochures

7. Most Travel Writing is Obsessed with Product, Not Process

8. Tell Me Something I Don't Know

9. Introduce Me to Someone I Don't Know, But Should

10. Stop with the Lists!

Read Greenberg's trenchant post in its entirety here: "The 10 Problems I Have with Lazy Travel Writing".

  • For what it's worth, here's the link to one of my travel pieces, which was published in the Khaleej Times after my return from a visit to Malaysia: "Blast from the past: Travels in Malaysia". I shudder to think what Peter Greenberg would have made of it.
  • And, again, for what it is worth, the two most absorbing travel books I own and have read are Travels with Herodotus, by the great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, who began his life as a foreign correspondent in India, and Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific, the only travel book I have read twice.

"If there’s any degree employers should value when hiring for a writing or editing job, it’s one in journalism, or mass communication"

Mark Nichol, editor of the Daily Writing Tips blog, has expressed surprise, in a recent post, over a job listing that "[perpetuates] the absurd notion that a degree in English — or literature, for God’s sake — is the ideal preparation for work as a writer or editor".

There can be some merit, Nichol writes, in having earned an English degree, but English majors do not necessarily master composition, much less the finer points of grammar, syntax, usage, punctuation, style, and the other components of writing, and revision of assigned papers is of little use in acquiring editing skills.

Nichol then asks an important question:
What academic preparation, then, should students — and employers — value?

Read Nichol's post in its entirety here to know the answer.

Suck it up!

Two years ago I had a blackout after waking from a nap in the afternoon (yes, I like my Sunday snoozes). The fall resulted in a dislocation of the collar bone in the left shoulder and the doctors at Apollo Hospital, where I was driven by my cousin, put my left arm in a sling.

But my right arm was free and my mind was active as ever, so I spent my time reading, replying to e-mails tapping away with one finger and even playing Scrabble on Facebook.

(Bear with me; I will come to my point soon.)

Two of my students had come home a couple of days later to shoot pictures for a story about home libraries in a soon-to-be-launched books magazine the sling is at a comfortable angle in the photograph below and I can afford to smile.

But two days after their visit, I went back to the hospital for a check-up as advised. The orthopaedist then ordered me to have my arm "locked in position" for the next 4-5 weeks he referred to this phase as "commando training" and the sling was then attached at an "acute" angle:

I had to lie down every now and then to relieve the pressure of the strap on my neck.

But life went on.

What can you do with one arm bound in a sling?

I discovered you can...

    ...make (tea-bag) tea

    ...take out the garbage

    ...bring in the newspapers

    ...wipe and put away washed dishes

    ...fill water in the purifier, fill the water bottles

    ...make simple breakfast (toast, cheese, jam) for yourself and your spouse

    ...correct answer sheets, evaluate TV news bulletins

    ...hang clothes to dry

    ...slip your legs into shorts or trousers

    ...walk with your spouse to the neighbourhood store to buy groceries

    ...take the (automatic) car for a drive in the safety of the basement parking area (to keep the engine tuned), watch TV, answer e-mail, update your blogs, play Scrabble on Facebook

    Any wonder, then, why I was counting my blessings?

And now to come to the "message" of this rather elaborate story. It's very simple, three little words that I always utter in class when I meet our new students for the first time:


Commits alumnus Dipankar Paul, a brilliant photographer himself, did some nifty Photoshopping to transform an injury-hit teacher into an able-bodied warrior:


Monday, June 10, 2013

25 books that will give you a better perspective on life and also help prepare you for the workplace

by Clayton M. Christensen, with James Allworth and Karen Dillon

2. How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere: The Secrets of Good Communication
by Larry King, with Bill Gilbert

3. The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction
by P.M. Forni 

by Eric C. Sinoway, with Merrill Meadow

6. The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude
by Randy Pausch, with Jeffrey Zaslow

8. Man's Search for Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl

9. Kiran: The Power of One
by David Viscott

12. The Professional
by Vikram Akula

29. Jonathan Livingston Seagull
by Richard Bach

20. The Secret
by Rhonda Byrne

by Shreyl Sandberg

2. Tuesdays with Morrie
by Lois P. Frankel

5. Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives
by Laura C. Schlessinger
  • UPDATE (June 15, 2013): All five books have now been ordered from; two have arrived already and the rest should be delivered in the next few days. All five will then be placed in the Commits library.