Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An ode to punctuation

From The Commits Chronicle archives: 


Ajay Kurpad (Class of 2011) thought he and the rest of the batch were losing their marbles as I took the class though the basics of punctuation. Here’s his angst-ridden “ode” to punctuation:

Forgot your punctuation? Stop hyphen-ventilating. You just have semi-colon cancer. You are not running a 100-m dash. After all, your feet are like ellipses.
If you have a period (pun intended), then you must have read the wrong Commasutra. Brackets are barricading your mind and are trying to colonise you.
People will put a question mark on your mental stability now. The apocalyptical apostrophe’s apostle is out to slash you. So don’t forget your punctuation.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What happens when a crusty old journalism teacher takes on Gen-Y?


The reactions came in almost as soon as people received the link via e-mail.

Here's what my 60-year-old brother-in-law, Praful Patel, who lives in England, had to say:

Hi Ramesh,

I can empathise with Gen-Y, so do agree with most of their comments.

The one that I would disagree with is the traffic behaviour. They do have  a choice of setting out earlier so that they can minimise risk to themselves along the way.  Yes everyone is young once but we all want to be able to look back and say that! 

And here's the response of a twentysomething management professional, Ankita Maurya, who lives in the U.S. (she is the daughter of a good friend):

You sure are tough on them! Millenials/Gen-Y are getting a really bad rap these days... in the US and in India, too, by the looks of it... a lot of the criticisms are true... but I just think our priorities are shifting... we have seen our parents go through the grind... we are now trying to figure out how to not do that and work smarter!
  • Ankita also shared this link to a YouTube video:  

My 14-year-old nephew, Vinay Pai, with whom I play squash, echoed Ankita's sentiments. "Your accusations are too harsh," he told me. :-)

And senior media professional Pratibha Umashankar had this to say:

Absorbing read! Insightful, too!


Hi Ramesh!

Well, you succeed in holding the interest of youngsters, which is fantastic!

About Point #1, the Internet has loads of stuff by people who mistakenly think they are journalists, and then you have impressionable minds (can’t generalise, though, because there are also the discerning), who take almost everything that’s published there as gospel. Sifting through is an important skill, but what is the baseline? Also, the Internet is filled with a mish-mash of opinion that is passed off as news.

B Surendar
Editorial Director & Associate Publisher
CPI Industry, Dubai

Great comebacks, except for No 13. Guilty as charged! Love your students.

I just might steal this idea; in fact, I am wondering if I can actually do that and give Commits the credit. Let me know. If yes, you will have to send the text in Word format.

Patrick Michael, Editor, Khaleej Times, Dubai

I love it!! Both sides have made their point well. But I love the comeback in No. 4!!!! :))

Nadia Michael (Patrick Michael’s older daughter,
who also lives in Dubai)

Loved this! I'm a fan of # 1...!

Nastassia Michael (Patrick Michael’s younger daughter,
who lives in Toronto, Canada)

Hi Ramesh,

Fun feature! Who asked us to score higher than Lakshmi aunty's daughter, indeed! However, in solidarity with people of a certain age, I never asked my kids to match the scores of other kids so long as they were achieving their potential and I don't know any crusty journalism teacher. Do you??

Shagorika Easwar
Canada's #1 South Asian Magazine
17th Well-Read Year

New Vision For Newcomers

Thanks! Interesting read. The Gen-Y answers do come across as a bit rude and cynical. I wonder if it's the Buddha himself because he or she seems to have understood everything of the human condition and world matters, not just of what relates to this generation, but even the previous ones. And not even one instance of "You're right, and I agree, and this is what we can do to co-operate to achieve betterment together." Which is a bit sad.

There is some cynical anger there, which is fine I guess. It does define this generation. Including me, as you can read ;)

Arjun Chauhan, a twentysomething TV
production professional who lives in Mumbai

  • From Shreya Dutt (Class of 2010)
Reading The Chronicle cover story I couldn't help but smile. It reminded me of how I used to think even a couple of years ago. But as you evolve in your career and your personal life you learn to distinguish between the idealist answer and what really works for you.

What struck me was the career-goal bit. You will be stretched at work, you will be pushed against the wall sometimes, and you will want to be in a position when you listened even half-heartedly to those who have more years to you on possible situations you will encounter along the way.

If you are to deliver a presentation at the end of the day, your boss will not be interested to know about all the ad hoc work you were given through the day. If you have a wide range of projects that don't hold your interest, complete those projects anyway. You never know when you will need to step up to do that same job you absolutely detested in college. And I assure you there will be many times like that.

The workplace of today is evolving at a rapid rate. Though there is value for people who have defined skill-sets, there is greater value for people who are equipped with multiple skills. If you want to be a copywriter, you should know how print, television, social media, and digital media function. This is applicable to all disciplines in media.

As for sucking it up, I groaned every time I heard the phrase. I groan even today. Only difference is, I know that it is a reality that isn't nice, but, a reality nonetheless. The world doesn't stop if you're unwell, or if you have suffered a personal tragedy. Neither does business.

And as for advice, I am all for learning the hard way, but a little flag-off from time to time never hurt. :)

  • From Sushmita Chatterjee (Class of 2008)! I loved this. Great going, Ramesh Sir. :)

  • From Tapasya Mitra Mazumder (Class of 2013)
I am wondering, how did you let that pass under your nose?

The copy's rudeness is quite appalling, but I'm sure your "accusations" won't change a bit in spite of all that rudeness.

What's the point then, may I ask?

  • From Noyon Jyoti Parasara (Class of 2007)
Fun read, but I am not sure if I would have accepted this as the lead of The Chronicle.

This could be in another designated section. No?

About the answers to your accusations... the cycle goes on. Not all accusations are correct, neither are all answers!

  • From Sherry-Mary Jacob (Class of 2007)
Wow! What a way to lighten my Tuesday brain. I have saved the link in my drafts folder. The next time my dad lashes out at us with his favourite emotional dialogue, I know where to fetch my answers from. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it, Ramesh Sir. :)

  • Faye D'Souza (Class of 2004) shared a link to a Huffington Post article on my Facebook wall with this comment: "This answers a lot of the questions you've been asking."

After reading the piece, I commented on Facebook:

I was especially struck by the soundness of this comment:

"Gen Y has 'unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback,' and 'an inflated view of oneself.'

"[Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor] says
that 'a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren't in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting."

And I also wrote that I agree 100% with the advice provided at the end of the article: 

1) Stay wildly ambitious. The current world is bubbling with opportunity for an ambitious person to find flowery, fulfilling success. The specific direction may be unclear, but it'll work itself out just dive in somewhere. 

2) Stop thinking that you're special. The fact is, right now, you're not special. You're another completely inexperienced young person who doesn't have all that much to offer yet. You can become special by working really hard for a long time.

3) Ignore everyone else. Other people's grass seeming greener is no new concept, but in today's image crafting world, other people's grass looks like a glorious meadow. The truth is that everyone else is just as indecisive, self-doubting, and frustrated as you are, and if you just do your thing, you'll never have any reason to envy others. 

Afterwards, I wrote to some young people I know, asking them if they thought that this advice is helpful for those who are about to begin a career.

Here is the response I received from Ankita Maurya's younger sister, Shweta, who is a college student in the U.S.:

Ankita and I were just talking about this article a few days ago! I think the first two points are meaningful to me. Just because reality does not meet my expectations doesn't mean I should lessen my ambitions — I still want to aim high!

But the reality of not being as special as we think is important — I know that my friends and I have left school with inflated images of how unique each of us are. It's not just that we think we are unique, but we think that we can skip hard work and immediately obtain our dreams once the world learns about our uniqueness — as if these things will be handed to us because we are as special as we believe.

The second point is a good reminder that we must still earn our place in the world and at work and leads back to the first point: stay ambitious.

And there were comments by Commits students, too.
  • From Sneha K. (Class of 2014)
That was some pretty awesome advice! Especially, "to dive in somewhere."
Just what I needed to hear today!

Thank you. As always. :)
  • From Diyotima Sinha Roy (Class of 2014)
I agree with the second point. You are not special; you have to work and gain experience to be special! :)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wondering which book to read next?

Bookish can help with some great recommendations.

All you have to do is visit the website and, in the dialog box on the home page, key in the name of a book it can be something you have read, for instance, or a book you are reading now. Automatically, you get personalised recommendations based on, according to Bookish, the insights of editors and other book experts, plus various book characteristics that include their subjects, the awards they've won, and their authors' writing styles.

For instance, when I typed "The Lowland", Jhumpa Lahiri's Booker-nominated novel, here's what Bookish came up with:

Try it out yourself. If you're a booklover, it's not only fun; it will also lead to some serendipitous discoveries.
  • Bookish lets you read samples, too, and currently you can also check out the guide to the best new books expected to be launched this fall. 
  • By the way, if you love to peruse book lists, A List of Books has 13 "Top 100 Books" lists combined and condensed into one master list 623 books in all. Check it out here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What it means to be a freelance photographer

Commits alumnus PRATIDHANI TAMANG (Class of 2012), who works as a freelance photographer in Bangalore, explains what it takes to work on one’s own terms

I have no boss. And every day is the weekend; at the same time, every day is also a workday.

That’s because I have been “job-less” by choice since I graduated from Commits a little over a year ago.

But not having a job to go to does not mean not having to work.

So I do work, but on my own terms. You see, I am a freelance photographer and cinematographer.


The first thing I want to make clear here is that being a freelance photographer is not for everyone (as my senior, Nishal Lama, from the Class of 2008, will corroborate), so don’t splurge on that latest Canon or Nikon just yet.

The biggest problem when you work as a freelancer is that hundreds of people will appreciate your work and make business inquiries. But after you send them an estimate, they will just vanish into thin air. Out of hundreds of formal discussions, only five or so jobs will actually work out.

Also, sometimes, there is no work for long periods of time, which can be very frustrating. I think it is this fluctuation in work schedule that scares many freelancers into opting for a regular full-time job.

On the flip side, I am sometimes offered loads of work, but I feel too lazy to take it all on. There is no boss to scream at me, so why bother!

When I first started off I already had a few contacts, thanks to whom I was able to bag my initial assignments. I explored many new places and I made many new friends. That was amazing! As for making ends meet, the money is certainly coming in, though not as fast as I would like. The thing is, I have to make humongous investments in my gear: there’s always something I need to buy to upgrade my equipment, or so it seems.

But there is mostly satisfaction in being able to have a huge amount of control over the work I choose to do.

Bottom line: I love my life right now. Having said that, I know that sooner or later, like most freelancers, I will have to give up this gig and go in for a 9-to-5 (yikes!) or set up my own business (very different from hangin’ out solo). I see the latter happening, but I think there is time enough for that.

Till then, I am going to savour, and live by, Pink Floyd’s dictum: “Shine on, you crazy diamond.”


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Talking about how busy you are has another undesired effect: It makes you seem ineffective"

Back in May I had published this quote (among others) that I had read in The Thinking Life, a thought-provoking book by P.M. Forni:

" 'I have no time,' we say, but we do, we always do. What we lack is the will or wisdom to commit our time to goals that would be smart of us to pursue. If you are really motivated to do something, you will make time for it. I am not arguing that you are not busy. Most of us are. I am simply urging you to consider that you are only as busy as you let yourself be."

I chose this particular excerpt to make the point that if we care enough about what we have to do, we will always find the time in which to do it.

The operative words are "what we have to do". And also "find the time".

Whether we are in full-time employment or in pursuit of an academic/vocational course, we may have little or no say in the nature of the tasks assigned to us. It is rare for a boss to ask you if you would like to do this or that job. And there is certainly no point in grumbling about the lack of time. When such is the case, surely it is to our advantage to tackle any assignment head-on by making the time for it and by caring enough about the outcome?

After all, if you love what you do, you get to do what you love.

Now here's another perspective on this tendency that many people have of asserting they are "busy as usual". Writing in The Week, the magazine's business editor Carmel Lobello says it is time to stop talking about how swamped you are because...

...talking about how slammed you are can actually damage your ability to connect and interact with people, which is bad for all aspects of life.

In Harvard Business Review, entrepreneur Meredith Fineman says, "To assume that being 'busy' (at this point it has totally lost its meaning) is cool, or brag-worthy, or tweetable, is ridiculous."

As my cool students would say, "True that."

Read Carmel Lobello's enlightening column in its entirety here: The worst word in business: 'Busy'.

PS: I remember that when I was working with Khaleej Times in Dubai, my colleagues would invariably respond to my friendly greeting "How are you doing?" with the retort "Surviving." But any time I was asked "How are you doing?", my response would invariably be "Thriving."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Author Mohsin Hamid on the difference between a novelist and a filmmaker

An excerpt from an engrossing book I have just finished reading:

As a novelist, I found it fascinating to watch a film being made. In many ways, Mira does what I do as a novelist — construct and painstakingly craft a story.

But she also does things I don't have to, like marshal 230 people for weeks on end. What I can do in a sentence or a paragraph, she has to build an entire set to do, and she needs carpenters, electricians and painters to do it.

I operate in a pleasant little cocoon, just me and my computer, quietly working away. She has to create this beautiful, impactful thing in complete chaos, with phones ringing, last-minute problems developing, traffic violations, electricity shortages — all kinds of crazy stuff.

I am much more appreciative now of how difficult it is to make a good film.
  • Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, in his short essay in Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist: From Book to Film
To read a review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist (the book) written by Commits student Rigved Sarkar (Class of 2010) for the college newspaper, visit the Commits website: "Musings of a man changed (".

To read a review of the film by New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, click on this link: "Dreams Are Lost in the Melting Pot". The New York Times also has an interview with Mira Nair.
  • In addition, you should visit Mohsin Hamid's home page to learn more about the novelist (his latest best-seller is How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia).

Sunday, September 1, 2013

How good is your grammar?

Find out by taking these interesting and instructive grammar tests:

1. From the Daily Writing Tips blog
20 Questions

2. From the Daily Telegraph (U.K.)
Good grammar test: can you pass?

3. From
Free interactive grammar quizzes 

4. From the Staples website (a quiz recommended by Commitscion Satish Perumal, Class of 2011)
Have you got a grasp of grammar?

5. Also, Grammar Monster has dozens of tests not only for grammar but also for punctuation. Check them out here.

And while you're at it, laugh your way through "19 Jokes Only Grammar Nerds Will Understand (The difference between knowing you’re shit and knowing your shit".
  • Meanwhile, I am grateful to Commitscion Supriya Srivastav (Class of 2011), for posting on my Facebook wall a link to this hilarious yet very instructive "Word Crimes" video on YouTube: 

So, did you learn something from watching that video? I sure hope so. :-)



For the best news analysis; for the best Edit and Op-Ed Pages; for the best sports coverage; and, of course, for the best reading on Sundays (National Standard is the only daily in Bangalore that comes with a full-fledged free magazine on Sundays).

Thank you, Shekhar Gupta, editor in chief of The Indian Express Group, for launching National Standard in Bangalore on August 15 and making newspaper reading a pleasurable activity again.

Bravo, Viveck Goenka!


For me, the ideal business model has always been good journalism allied with a robust top and bottom line. I take pride in the fact that this company has never declared a dividend. Whatever money we make goes back into the paper and to the cause of high-quality and empowering journalism.


To understand why this is a big deal, read the following Reading Room posts:

Bravo, Shekhar Gupta!

"... we never do paid news, or stretch any of the First Principles of Journalism."


We are today acknowledged to be one of the soundest news media companies within-our-size category. And no, we never do paid news, or stretch any of the First Principles of Journalism.


The truth is, it is overly simplistic to say, that we have a Chinese wall between marketing and editorial. We have never needed one. Because it is our colleagues in sales and marketing who have protected our editorial integrity with as much zeal and commitment as us journalists.


To understand why this is a big deal, read the following Reading Room posts:

Great news for media students, journalists, and newspaper readers in Bangalore:

On August 15, Indian Express launched National Standard in Bangalore:

Read all about it on sans serif, the blog published by Outlook editor Krishna Prasad: "A new paper in India’s most crowded market".
  • “The new paper will be a quality paper for quality young audience, and Bangalore is that kind of a market, evident from our online market. Our largest base for online readers is in Bangalore.”

    ~ Shekhar Gupta on why Bangalore was chosen as the National Standard's launch-pad in the South
    (read Gupta's interview in Business Standard here)


I have never understood why 'hard work' is supposed to be pitiable.

True, some work is soul destroying when it is done against the grain, but when it is part of 'making' how can you grudge it?

You get tired, of course, but the struggle, the challenge, the feeling of being extended as you never thought you could be is fulfilling and deeply, deeply satisfying.

~ RUMER GODDEN, English author of more than 60 fiction and non-fiction books