Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A trip to an Indian village


A trip to an Indian village: 

Grandchildren coalesce around a frail woman.
The burning embers,
And the biting winters,
Act like natural glue.

The Women of the House lost in the dark
Their shadows floating on the mud walls.

Men huddle together,
sipping tea,
casting an occasional glance
to watch out for flying sparks.

The moon and the stars shine brighter
Than the dim lit bulb powered by a generator
Old bulbs with weak filaments -
a grave reminder of a village fallen off the power map.

Children sit quietly listening to the old woman
As if she cast a spell.
Everyone is amused,
Though only half-believing
Her stories,
Punctuated only by her incessant coughs.
She has the loudest voice of all.
But her grip is beginning to loosen
Even the younger folks see through her.
A matriarch in a highly patriarchal society
Her spirit is admirable.

Her stories hang around like angels
Above the thatched roof,
Guarding her from the evil,
As the night becomes intense.

In the mornings,
The menacing darkness
Gives away to a horizon
With fields upon fields
Stretching far and wide.
Cattle and kids alike
Roam the streets.

Water sputters out
Of a tubewell
Well-oiled after decades of use.

Photographs from the past
Lining the walls
Tell stories,
Which people take for granted.
The political context comes alive
When someone narrates the events
Around the pictures.

Little boys flaunt
Celluloid-inspired behaviour.
Their body language
Exuding a political culture
Of the region.
Unbelievable.

The courtyard frames the discourse
In this family, in this village.
One can think of it,
As the smallest unit
Of negotiation.
Or may be not.
Often, there is no negotiation,
Only dictum.
Laws are made,
Rarely challenged.

Despite the cast in stone rules
Steeped in tradition,
There is certain endearing warmth
And simplicity in this way of life,
Which stays with you,
Long after the
Village road becomes farther and farther
In the rear view mirror of a big vehicle
That drives away to town.

Nostalgia mutates our honest feelings.
We city folk are like that - manipulative.
We like everything in sepia,
but find it hard to accept things,
as they really are.





A Rape in The Capital


A Rape in The Capital

A rape.
Bystanders watch.
Protests erupt.
Politicians cry.
Governments lie.
Police shirk.
Girls shiver.
Nights become colder,
Darker.
A harsh winter,
In more ways than one.

"Let protests continue
just a little bit,
to let off the steam..."
..They speak in the
corridors of power.
When the tide breaks
against The Walls,
Water cannons are let loose.
A stained culture
washed in a hurry.

Biases become visceral.
A gender lies exposed
to vulnerability
across all classes.
The hypocrisy
shines luminous
laying bare
our motives
that made this hell.

Life goes back to normal?
Not this time.
Not again.
Angry for now,
but who knows?

--

For those unfamiliar with what happened in Delhi in December 2012:

Life can be so unpredictable in India. In this case, one had just finished watching a movie on a Sunday, an hour later, she boards a bus, is gangraped, (insides pulled out), thrown off the street, cars drive by without offering to help. (Her accompanying friend is also brutally assaulted.) Police come late, take her to a less than best hospital in the capital. She fights for her life for the next 13 days, spawns an outrage and widespread protests and (shifted abroad, to avert chaos), dies in Singapore. What follows is a so-called soul searching by India, a commission constituted at least 50 years later than it should have been, to look at how offenders against sexual violence can be dealt with more stringently. What continues, however, is the routine, institutionalised brutality against women at all levels, in varying degrees - from denying life to denying choice. We are all culpable.  


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Café Mozart


Café Mozart, fall 2012

Had never imagined such a hedonistic life.
Skipping from café to café
Story to story
Idea to idea
All in a day.

Some call it listlessness,
I dangerously call it pleasure.

Sipping beer
Basking in sunshine
That holds a promise,
of a winter which is setting in.

People here call it terrace café.
In "Naarth-India",
its called chajja.

Endless preoccupation,
A never ending compulsion
To tweet my take on the weather.
Like whose life will change, my friend?
Not my friends’ who
Closer to the equator,
are grappling with 40 degrees plus.

It is so amazing to spend time by myself.
But just so much…
When solitude turns into loneliness,
it may be problematic.

As for facing truth and
staring at an art deco wall,
That’s for another day.

A couple of decades from now
When I will have more gray hair
Than I do today,
hopefully I will have some hair left,
I will recall today -
One of the rare days
When my hair is picture perfect :)

By the way, we undid.
As much as we could.
Time for another beer!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bar Tabac


BAR TABAC

I might as well do it.
I owe a eulogy and tribute to
Bar Tabac.

My favorite watering hole in town.
Has given me shelter
On many days.
Have banged out a couple of
Thousand words here
On sunny, winter mornings
And hot summer afternoons alike.

I can feel life pass me by here.

The owner is a calm, quiet guy
Serving tea in Turkish cups and kettles.

He lets me "be".

If there was one realistic bubble,
This is it.
The slightly worn out furniture,
Posters of cigarette brands of yester years
And a menu board chalked in different colors.

It is mostly old people and
A few freelancers like me,
Who often come here.

In the evenings
The café transforms itself
Into a bustling bar
With kwak glasses clinking
On every other table.

With its soft music, jazz mostly,
It keeps ugly thoughts at bay.
May be that’s why I like it so much.
And I return, again and again,
For solitude and coffee.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Venezia


VENEZIA

Floating boats, floating platforms
Lulling people into complacency.
A sudden thud, when a boat
Anchors momentarily to take in people.
Water drains in and out of the lagoon
Into the Adriatic Sea,
draining away hopes and dreams,
Bringing in new ones.
The lighter ones float,
the heavier, sink.

People on water taxis,
suspended in sunsets,
Looking at directions,
Hung about in the middle of the water
Standing stoically, trying to look cheerful
Atop lonely checkposts on this
Unique waterway.

We were in a palace,
When a big ship
Shocked the city.
It is the biggest ship,
Biggest anything
I have seen in a long time.
The ship, I insist, was bigger than Venice.
But Adi feels, I was too overwhelmed.
(his nonchalance is notorious by now)
Thankfully, my parents shared my enthusiasm
about how big the ship was.

The intercontinental cruise,
Several stories high,
parked itself, outside the city,
as if to respect the grandeur of Venice
and not steal its thunder away. (Although it did.)

Dilapidated doors in Venice
Tell a thousand stories,
So do the windows,
As confirmed by our
Mournful Gondoliere.
Macro Polo lived here,
He points on a trip
That every tourist takes.

Tourists are strewn
Over the steps
Of large cathedrals.
Gargoyles, higher up
Look down with boredom.
Me thinks, they do not make
Men, who make Gargoyles
Like those, anymore.
Wicked imagination needed,
With a brutal hand of a sculptur,
To knock out such ferocious features.

We strayed into a painter’s studio,
Whose hands swiftly floated on paper,
Followed only by charcoal
To manifest in a beautiful sketch,
of boats tethered to poles
in a quiet alley.
Captured forever,
In an iphone video.

In the many bridges to nowhere,
We were happily lost.

There was a certain melancholy
On the streets of Venice,
Perhaps from new illegal
Immigrants from Africa and Bangladesh,
Selling goods, they would not buy.

Sitting at San Marco square,
Which Napoleon referred to,
as the drawing room of Europe,
We watched dancers of the
Hare Rama Hare Krishna cult.
The world does converge in Venice.

An island off the city,
Calmed our souls,
But burst forth
Here and there
In colourful glass,
Showing irrepressible happiness.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Wait in Suburban Delhi


One evening in Nuida (Circa 2003)

Tired,
Anxious,
Yet looking forward to meeting you
I stood nervously
At a bus stop
On a dusty road
In Noida,
In the midst of a cacophony of noises
Urging people to board unsafe buses.

You,
emerged from an unruly traffic,
Full of deviant drivers,
And smiled.
Crossing the road
And yet not losing sight of me,
You caught my arm.
We embarked on a state-run bus
Luckily found seats.
Shy and conscious,
We melted into a hot Delhi summer evening.
Our hopes and identities
Mingling with those of a million others.


p.s. Non-Indians please note: The place is called Noida, but bus-conductors pronounce it as 'Nuida'. 


An invite for a housewarming party


We moved. Again. This was written when we dropped anchor in Switzerland last year.

After a long period of staying apart,
we have finally come together,
and have set up a home away from home.
Our books stand next to each other
so do random objects that have traveled
from different places.
A little of both of us.
We invite you into our new house
to share this space,
at our house warming party.
We also want you to add color and diversity
for the festival of colors in India – Holi.
Please bring something to drink
and many stories to share.

March 2011

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Undoing

Undoing

Long, long, time ago,
I am not breaking into a popular song, no.
I read this book
that came my way
and I was hooked.

Well, the book was called Undoing, written by an American. Initially I dismissed it, as just another
Westerner-meets-Eastern-Philosophy-Types, but what a book! It was an anti-thesis to everything that was
being told around me. It essentially said: slow down and face truth, get off the carousel. Although reeling under the impact, you land up, if you are lucky like me, in front of a vast expansive lake. The vista takes you in, and consumes you in whole. You do not exist any more.

Funny that I met a friend, who arrived at this same conclusion independently. The lake consumes us, both.
And the mountains are witness to this. I am telling you, this was destined.






Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Today

It seems I will succeed inspite of myself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On getting back to school

On getting back to school:

Besieged by global problems of poverty, pollution,
conflict and corruption
I enrolled into a course on development.
or so I would have myself believe!
Tired of being a fence sitter,
Merely writing about problems
Instead of trying to solve them.

A betrayal surely,
To my first love: journalism.
But betrayals often result
In unintended consequences.
So here I am
Back in school again.
This time in Geneve.

I have done this before.
Betrayed science in favor of journalism.
Clearly, the search never stops.
Even a decade later.
Happily lost.

All education can be justified.
It seems.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A simple wish

For Tito

I am sitting in a corner of a big library.
From the glass around me,
I can see grass growing,
and many many tall trees.
Occasionally, there is a man walking along in the woods.
I am convinced its a ghost.

Anyhow, when you come here,
I will bring you to this place.
Where I have spent many afternoons
reading and writing.
Isn't life about all this and more?

I miss you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

View from a café window

View from a café window

Going back to my formal life
Of a journalist
Has been a pleasure.
I am typing away at my keyboard
Hoping my stories will surface
On newspaper pages back in Delhi
Or show up on a website out of London.
Or in a crisp Swiss-French magazine across the road.

Uncomfortable, sitting across
two highly attractive French men busy at lunch.
I am at work chopping 300 words of a story.
Never found it easier to concentrate,
Of course I am pretending.
I am thinking
They are thinking
Why is this weird brown woman
Working in a café full of chattering women
Gorging on delicious pizzas.
I have, of course, ordered only café.

Happiness is staring at this old ceiling.
Feeling this music,
And being transported to a 100 years ago.
Well, the place can be kitschy
But who am I to make a statement
On the European style of café décor.
From where I come, there is no décor
Strangely liberating you know.
And anyway, the Goras love anything remotely colonyesque :)

From inside, the world looks different.
Inquisitive folks peer in
To see if there is place here.
The druggies, the cold and hungry from many nights
Crave for a cup of coffee
But not all can pay 3.30 CHF for one,
Even if it is -2 outside.
Bright and sunny though
One of the predicaments of this place
To employ a terrible cliché:
Harsh beauty of a sunny winter day
One that makes u sad and positive at once.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Now?

My own is guess is something is going to give. And, soon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

An ode to New York City

Its been exactly one year, since I left NYC. Here is a tribute:

New York New York: (Forgive the unoriginal title.)

The subway ride
The towering skyscraper
Chase me around.
The impatient wait at the signal
Alongside a dog,
More patient than I.
The Washington Square arch follows me.
Everywhere.
Numerous summer, rainy and winter mornings
Full of music, people, babies
Or druggies, if it was too early or too late in the day.

At Le Pain Quotidian, my friendliest self there
I would sit with me
And have long conversations
About purpose, ambition and meaning.
My loneliest self, at Dunkin Donuts at Herald Square.
The place where I broke down
Unable to believe
I was left with $5 in my Chase student account.
(Dad intuitively wired 2000 bucks later that day!)

Once I misplaced my wallet,
At a restaurant,
Whose name I can’t recall,
Overnight it was safe,
Till I found it the next morning.

Walking along the stretches in Central Park
Wished I had company.
But the giant city
Takes you in her fold
Pointing to others
As lonely as you
Reveling in a dream come true.
Seldom did I so willingly
Become a part of the multitude
Perhaps in Bombay?

How many interviews had I attended
Sitting on a park bench?
Had pitched more than one story to many a distracted editor.
Sigh, all that to naught!
How many fights that took shape and resolved
On cold, lonely, brightly lit squares
A conversation 6 hours away in Europe.
Invariably the line would go dead
After exhaustion and pointlessness.

My afternoons at Hoboken,
All by myself, at times with Anuk.
Or biking around.
Achingly looking at the
Skyline in front of me
Squinting my eyes to see
If I could ever make it in Manhattan.
I did not.
Unbelievable, that it was a swamp hundreds of years ago
According to NatGeo.

Was told I could not write.
Fair enough.
Just that my dad could never believe
That Americans spoke correct English :)

I was fired in this great city.
Humbling?
Naah! I still haven’t learned to Photoshop!

Dying newspapers,
Enlivened by innovation
by jobless yet inspired journalists.
Infectious.
Makes you believe in the impossible.
The sad part is,
For now, SEO is winning.

Lots of great memories though:

The sun coming up literally
On the street,
With coffee and incomplete sleep
At 8 in the morning
I would rush to work
And then to class.
Finally would wind up at the subway
Only at 11 p.m.
Rain or shine.
A call from Ma completed each day.

Met Caroom,
At a bar
On Halloween.
Sulking, yet happy that I’d no friends,
this man with a McCain/Obama mask
Felt sorry for me and became friendly.
We remain buddies till today.

Watching Guru Dutt movies back to back
At Lincoln Center, with my filmmaker friend.

On a surprise visit,
Joj. jumped at me on 14th street.
One of my happiest moments in the city.

Treasured going for those David Harvey lectures
When I smuggled myself into CUNY.
Readings from Das Kapital,
At the center of modern finance!

Loved rummaging through old books,
in front of Stern
before classes began.

Guess I loved working on Wall Street
Although the world around was crumbling.
Working for a law mag. reporting on bankruptcy.
That sky scraper there, was on the market.

A Canadian indophile, a serious Alaskan
And a sweet Trinidadian,
are all good friends from that period.

Became lifelong friends
With Indian techies :)
Rediscovered old friends:
Climate scientists, cancer researchers,
Unwilling Silicon Valley geeks and political do-gooders,
Clearly, we still had lot in common :)

Snow storms accentuated solitude.
Made things look more beautiful
Than they actually were.

I just loved being by myself.
Far away from Indian public sector services
That made life miserable. (Lol.)

Remember the church in front of Rich’s house
Coming back home,
I would often find either of my parents
Waiting on the porch for me
Lost in thought.
Perhaps thinking of home.
I would smile involuntarily when I spotted them,
As I turned the corner at the signal
Where a bingo board for the local community stood.

Men and women of color
Would holler outside my window.
This not Bronx, but Jersey.
It was so brown, that the whites stood out.
Lots of good food and loud music,
Plenty of local languages.
More heterogeneous and ultra-nationalist
Than an Indian metro.

I once met a dead friend in a dream
At the 63rd Lexington Avenue station
With several floors of platforms,
trains crisscrossing at some point.
Middle of a crazy New York rush hour,
My dear friend, now long gone
Was talking of nothing in particular.
I first landed in Manhattan,
When his body was not even found
After a fire accident on a train.
Tito was still in the hospital
Recouping from typhoid.
Sitting alongside on the plane
was a young Pakistani doctor
Who was detained for questioning on arrival.
What came of her, I do not know.
Such was my arrival in New York.

My departure was as dramatic
Nearly threw up,
And good friend, Parul, accompanying me to the airport
Asked the cabbie to pull over so I could breathe.
Paro called from Hong Kong that day
Just as I was giving up the American dream.
Guardian angels have perfect timing.

The deadpan and sometimes sad expression
On the Ukrainian gate keeper,
A former mathematics professor
At my University department,
Was a reminder that the land of opportunity
Can be unfair to many.
Not just to immigrants.

Waiting on a bench in a quiet street in Brooklyn,
I had made peace with my departure.
Met my professor and said goodbye.

My memories of New York
Are accompanied by feelings
Of exhaustion, hunger and curiosity.
Also of delight, enthusiasm and discovery.
And profound sadness,
Of a time gone by.
In equal measure
Did I loose and discover myself.
Liberating.

p.s. This list is by no means exhaustive and
am I not glad about that!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Unhurried, collected

Leisure

Soon, I will miss these days of leisure.
To paint evenings stretched out before me
The way I want.

With a graceful tree
And Tibetan flags for company
While I work
How can I complain?
The colorful flags usher in soothing summer wind
Mountain air from the Alps or the Jura range,
That can be seen in the distance.

Having mountains for company
Is not necessarily a bad thing.
But they are like grandfathers who were once fun:
Unanimated.

After a day of wandering,
hours of imposed self-motivation,
these hours are welcome.

Diffused with music
Of classical singers of my choice.
Alone.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Transition

The road has forked for so long, there is a gorge now.

Anyway, I should start blogging again man, irrespective of my employment status.

Was hot today by Switzerland standards. Seriously, whats wrong with me? Have I forgotten my rookie reporter days of walking to Delhi Sachivalaya in 45 degrees temperature, only to come back empty-handed without stories.

Promise to myself, will start writing.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

IIM professors on research, faculty appraisals and the status quo

At my first job as a rookie reporter, I was faced with an eccentric bureaucrat determined to ruin the autonomy of the IIMs following the decision of his boss, the then minister for HRD Murli Manohar Joshi who decided to cap fees at IIMs in 2004. A bunch of theories surfaced on whether or not IIMs deserved autonomy, the legal basis for their establishment that defined their autonomy, what the impact of lower fess could have on their finances etc. There was a split right through the middle, the IIMs were divided on whether they would toe the government line and let the ministry decide issues of fees and finances. In fact, a visiting IIM faculty Sandeep Parekh also filed a PIL to challenge the HRD ministry.

I’d, at that point, a love hate relationship with my editor, as most reporters do. So I pitched this story, to look at issues of how badly funded research is at the IIMs, the disincentives for the faculty, the system of appraisals that does not encourage research, etc. After trekking up to Gurgaon to visit a top management institute using a DTC bus (office refused to fund taxi fare to a wet behind the ears reporter), and a fair amount of research coupled with misplaced enthusiasm, the story was ready. But it was never carried. I was, naturally, crushed. As with all newsrooms, this one fell through the cracks. But it turns out the story had seeped into an old email draft. Presenting to you, one of my first heartfelt efforts as a journalist: -

(The names have been changed. Clearly, because I had no face to show my sources, after my newspaper killed the story. [Some of them called accused me of wasting their time.] Also, it’s been seven years for god’s sake. A lot must have changed on the ground, but some of the issues may still be relevant.)

IIM professors on research, faculty appraisals and consultancy

Priti Patnaik
New Delhi
April 2004

Notwithstanding the controversy on whether or not India’s premier management institutes deserve autonomy, one issue that needs to be probed further is the matter of faculty research and their performance appraisal at the IIMs.

On a March afternoon in New Delhi, I met up with a bright and disgruntled professor. A former faculty at IIM-Lucknow, my source has serious doubts about the future of Indian management research. He throws a litany of questions at me and at the world at large: Out of the 350 odd faculty at all the six IIMs, how many have taken to original research? Why has there been little knowledge creation in the past 40 years of their existence? Why is that of the 1000 IIM alumni teaching across the world, only 40 teach at the IIMs? How many IIM professors have been economic advisers to the government?

Are the pillars, the faculty in our centers of excellence not performing? Are our centers of excellence actually, centers of mediocrity? He finally stops.

On an average, the faculty at the IIMs does not teach more than two courses a year. He claims that putting together all the time necessary for preparation, the faculty does not need to spend more than 45 days worth of man hours for teaching. So what does the faculty do for the rest of the year, not taking into account consultancy?

If one glances through a copy of the study material circulated at IIM-Lucknow for instance, "Competitive Strategies for Internet Organization", it is found that most of the articles are attributed to the Harvard Business Review. Why are there so few India specific examples? Even if there are, most of the research work has been done by a CK Prahlad or a Sumantra Ghoshal, who are people of Indian origin and who have done their research in universities abroad.

What are the faculty appraisal norms at the IIMs? Are there serious discrepancies in the faculty appraisal systems across the IIMs? While it may vary across the six institutes, broadly, the faculty is supposed to work for 6 credits or points. Every course taught is awarded one point. If the same course is taught across three different sections, one can earn three points. At the most each faculty handles two courses.

A source at IIM-A, explains that there is an academic activity annual plan laid out every year, to be followed up by the Faculty Development Evaluation Committee. In Ahemdabad, out of the 6 units for performance evaluation, three units are awarded for teaching, two for research and one for administrative related work. But at IIM Lucknow for example, 75% of the appraisal gives weightage to teaching, while the remaining 25% is allotted to research.

Why is the faculty to student ratio being wielded in a manner that restricts the argument for increased student intake at the IIMs? One reason is, faculty feel that an increase in the number of seats would result in the increase in the number of sections where in the faculty spends more time just teaching the same course, leaving little time for research. (The IIMs have retained a crucial tool for monitoring faculty performance, by way of student evaluation, first initiated by Vikram Sarabhai.)

At IIM-C, the minimum expectation is 5 credit equivalents per faculty per year. Each credit is worth the effort in teaching one course of 20 twenty students, for one full term including preparation, teaching, conducting, grading and coordinating the course. All other activities including floating new courses, research, writing papers and cases, doing executive training etc. are worth certain specified credit equivalents. A source at IIM-C says that almost all faculty members complete much more than the minimum requirements.

If the responsibility of the faculty comprises teaching, research and consultancy, how much importance is given to research? How much money is being spent on research? Apparently, a lot of emphasis is given for research and creativity potential during faculty recruitment. At IIMC one can choose how much of teaching and how much of research one does, provided all institutional requirements are satisfied. The source says teaching and research are both extremely important criteria in the selection and promotion process.

What are the norms of assessing academic research across the IIMs? It is not very clear what kind of action is taken against the faculty if he/she is not able to meet the annual requirements for research. The appropriate authority to take action if any, is the Director of the institute.

An expert at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, has suggested various direct and indirect measures to gauge research quality. While direct measures could include originality, productivity, dissemination, the number of citations to the he has received, his visibility in journals of repute, press coverage of his research work; indirect measures could be indicators like whether the faculty has been editor of a distinguished journal, his contributions to professional conference management, number of text books he has written, among others.

How many professors at IIMs can claim visibility in journals of international repute, or have been asked to present papers at conferences where there are rigorous norms of peer review? With the bulk of the research on India, it is very unlikely that the majority of the publications will see the light of day in an American or major foreign journal. The source at IIM-C believes that it is not the visibility that matters, but the contribution to knowledge that counts.

One insider acknowledges that the research carried out by the faculty of IIMs are either too specific to India or theoretical and hence not applicable all over the world. He agrees that the total volume of research is inadequate. Some feel, there is an absolute dearth of India specific research at these institutes, which run on consumer surveys in the U.S. (A claim not verified). There is great need for "generating knowledge” especially in areas of HRD, or marketing for instance. How long will the Management schools of India teach through the American perspective? What is the Indian equivalent of Customer Relationship Management, the disgruntled professor questions. How does one create a faculty culture that makes mediocrity among faculty members unacceptable? "The equilibrium is mediocrity, anyone else performing, upsets the status quo,” the professor grumbles some more.

It appears, the faculty have to reach an eventual 'trade off' between time and resources. At IIM-Lucknow for example, minimum seed money of Rs.30,000 is given to the faculty on a yearly basis. Professional research is always individual or collaborative. The institution may indicate thrust areas and encourage research projects to the taken up by teams of faculty. It is not clear whether the research agenda of the faculty is in sync with those of the institute.

A former IIM faculty at a think tank, debunks two myths regarding the IIMs and research there. One, anyone serious about research, the IIMs give enough leverage and resources. It is difficult to dismiss the number of publications from IIM-A for instance during 1967-2003. Over 400 books, 3035 articles in various journals, 2000 odd papers presented at various conferences , over 1000 seminars conducted, another 1770 working papers, were produced at the institute over the decades.

But she also says that the training at the IIMs is way too structured, something that encourages very little 'independent' thinking among the students. Not only is the industry, academia interface dismal, but equally low is the interaction between the government and the academia, the source adds.

The hype of the IIMs revolve only around dollar denominated salaries and not what they had been originally intended to do: to become Socially Conscious Centers of Learning. The brand equity of the institutes becomes all powerful than individual efforts at research. Even when painstaking research on socially relevant issues has been carried out, at the behest of the government, there have been instances where the concerned government department has not paid heed to the pointers in the research. The willingness of policy makers to utilize faculty resources at these institutes is also under question.

Another renegade IIM-B professor, while research at the expense of teaching is not a good idea, but research at the expense of consultancy work is a great idea. She also adds that there is little recognition and reward for research at the IIMs, unlike universities abroad. The atmosphere conducive for research is lacking at the institutes, with the exception of IIM-A, she adds.

Reward and recognition from research is limited to individual satisfaction, promotion, selection processes, and professional recognition in academia. But when was research lucrative? It is mindset for research that is important. Surely performance linked incentives for research can go a long way in tapping all the potential available.

If the challenge of knowledge creation is to be met over the next two decades, a paradigm shift is necessary. The IIMs must transform themselves from being merely application oriented institutes to centers which are involved in fundamental theory building, extracting principles, a leading academic said. While one believes that to solve the problem of research deficit, the IIMs could hire faculty exclusively for research, another professor feels that the best laboratory for research is the classroom, interacting with the students.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Cricket in the neutral country

World cup final in Switzerland

Quiet as hell.
But inside a house in Pully,
Across the great Alps,
Six Indians were going berserk
In a room was full of trepidation.
Choicest abuses floating in the air.

Hitherto, well-mannered men and women
Were spitting venom at the drop of a ball
Or jumping at a boundary cut short.
An optimist in the disguise of an incorrigible pessimist
accused by others as supporting Sri Lanka,
was nervous to say the least.
Another stopped short of kissing Tendulkar’s face
On the wide flat screen TV that
Gratefully lapped up live streaming from ESPN.

The group was constantly interrupted
By an inquisitive sardar from Berne.
My heart went out for him,
But like Gambhir,
He had chosen his day.

The morning had begun,
singing eulogies to Indian fielding.
When the Indian batting began,
A bunch of us died,
several times.

Pancakes were consumed mournfully.
Slowly, as the gap between
the number of runs and balls remaining narrowed,
beer bottles were opened one after another.

Barely had the helicopter shot been delivered
The group broke into joy and shouts of victory.
Hugging each other, they went out.
In search of mutton biryani
At the only Indian restaurant open in town.

So that’s how we welcomed
The biggest day in Indian sports,
that all of us, grew up,
waiting for.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Online/Offline

Slipping

I am slipping through my tweets,
have spread myself too thin.
I am bubbling up through the crevices of the internet
Shreds of my body surface on search engines.
A tissue here,
a bone there.
I have lost the capacity to be whole again.
Can someone just shut me inside a book,
never to come out again?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coffee

Instant poetry with un-instant coffee:

Location: Café de la Presse, Geneve.
Over a hundred years old.
The chocolate wrapper tells me.
I have ten minutes to write something meaningful.
Accompanied by amazing European coffee,
That it has been produced by FairTrade in a poor country
Is another matter.
Serious coffee must inspire serious thought.
Else, it is an insult to the coffee.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In you, we distrust

I wrote this for The Hoot:

In you, we distrust
Jan 20, 2011.

Indian media is unique. It will lose readers not because they will soon move online, but because they may not trust the media very much. By losing credibility, they stand to alienate their readers, even before such a natural transition comes about.

As if the online challenge was not enough to grapple with, traditional media has neatly worked out a credibility problem. Indian newspapers and perhaps, broadcast news (notwithstanding the entertainment element) do not have much time left before the online germ that has decimated traditional media in the West, infects them. The sustainable online business model is a challenge. But the greater challenge, before monetizing the online model, is restoring the trust of the public. A quick poll will tell you that readers love the media as much as they love their politicians. We have almost become like bankers in the West, loved to be hated.

Young Indians have a mind of their own. They are innovative and believe in doing things themselves. There is no reason why India, which is already high up on the social innovation index, will not embrace media entrepreneurship. The truth is, not many youngsters read newspapers or watch news and if they do they are beginning to be deeply skeptical. With a number of competing objectives including making their presence felt on social networks, poring over newspapers does not seem to be their idea of getting “informed”. They care less about innovation in advertising and even lesser about innovation in editorial. The youth spend on an average 97 minutes a day on television, 70 minutes on the internet and 32 minutes reading a newspaper. This is according to the National Youth readership survey 2009, conducted by the National Book Trust and the National Council of Applied Economic Research.

In the not-so-distant future, people will continue to get their own news whether from self-obsessed journalists or otherwise. My guess is India's press will survive. This country has survived worse. People will do their own thing through websites, blogs, podcasts and powerful social networks and leave media machinations to remain as fiefdoms of political parties and companies.

There are enough people within the media who still believe that the media is the Fourth Estate. Never mind media magnates who believe newspapers to be great advertorial products capable of generating revenues that are invested far and wide in order to become a ubiquitous powerhouse. Just as regulators need to be smarter than those who are regulated, journalists need to be at least as smart as the people they are reporting about and the people they are working for.

Like others, I listened to the Radia tapes partly in horror, partly knowing what was coming next. I knew the intonations and the laughter in a few conversations, for some of them were my erstwhile colleagues. It wasn't exactly news to those of us in the media it was an acknowledgement of an old problem. Nevertheless I was angry for being a part of this machinery, hurt and cheated as a reader.

There are two parts to the unfolding story. One is ethical. Yes, we blew it big time. Two is quality itself. Why isn't anyone talking about it? Many developing countries have vibrant media where quality may not be top notch, but at least there is a pretense of ethics. Paid news is sacrilege. It remains to be seen what the Group of Ministers (GoM) on paid news will finally have to offer.

The quality issue will be addressed if and when the sector is opened up for foreign competition. But there are well-funded engines that power “the status quo” - powerful enough to block an increased FDI in the print media. Of course, they have only bought time for now.

Often top editors bemoan the quality of people entering the profession. Since journalism became glamorous a decade ago, youngsters came in droves into the profession. Rookie reporters are soon asked to wake up and smell “the paper trail” as it were. It is hardly the original paper trail that backs good, solid old fashioned journalism. Youngsters quickly learn that old fashioned journalism will not really take them where they want to be. Many young Turks in journalism behave more as fixers than as journalists.

The currency for “good” journalists as we know today, are the ones with access to the “papers” - the parallel information network laid out exquisitely by hardworking lobbyists. (Ms Radia is one of the smartest people in the tapes.) The leaks and the taps of this information pipe, plumb the depths of editorials in newsrooms. The “dossier-ed” journalists are also called papertigers, who obviously roar! They are seen on front pages, and are omnipresent on TV, and heard on tapes. So either one subscribes to this well-directed information flow to climb up the newsroom ladder, or one is left outside the coterie. Many of us routinely missed these “page-one” targets. We were clearly outside “the flow”. These choices are made clear, made visible. Never mind motive, authenticity, sourcing and for that matter, accuracy, in the flood of information that cruises through news desks. Frenzied competition is hardly an excuse. Cynicism aside, we need a new metric to gauge good journalists. Visibility or access alone will not help.

To be sure, there are the conscience keepers in the system, but unfortunately they too are co-opted into the status-quoism. I think there is definitely, a leadership issue here. The stakes, we are told, are high. Everyone needs to be promoted to meet the rising aspirations of upper middle class India. (Note, I did not say middle class.). Anyone who drifts into the profession is well aware of the hard work and the fact that money and rewards are not always commensurate with the efforts. We often forget that we are delivering a public good (like collecting sewage, perfect analogy in this case, or issuing rail tickets. Whoever said this was glamorous?) We are, but watchmen and watchwomen.

Yes, reporters are the foot soldiers in any newsroom. But pray, why can't we have more editors who work harder than reporters, so that they can rip the story apart? Can we have more editors who are downright critical and skeptical about a story, and can smell a “plant” from a distance? Can we have more editors who are not pushing an agenda because of their “good” friends in the corporate world, or for that matter in the government?

Way too many people complain about governance and why “good” people don't get into politics. Who wants to get their hands dirty? Media has almost become a place like that ??" for young conscientious adults who have better options than to work as a journalist.

There have been many bright minds driven away by the status-quoists. We need bright people, who should come and work hard in journalism throw away super jobs in finance and everything else that an emerging economy like India offers, so that they can continue to languish under listless editors with agendas to push. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are journalists disgruntled or otherwise who leave reasonably well-paying media jobs just so that they can do some “real” work and bypass the hypocrisy and drama that this profession also offers.

But some of us in the media who care about the profession may want to initiate changes. Instead of just becoming the unoriginal angry young/old, man/woman, we could perhaps try to resist getting co-opted in the system to begin with. While we want to be a part of the change, we do not want to be the ones to usher it in, because we are scared of upsetting the applecart. I think there should be a campaign against loving bosses and sources too much. A ban against agreeing too much, too easily.

Unfortunately, at times as crucial as these, we become astute fence-sitters. As journalists, we never have to take a stance with the fear that we may be seen losing our objectivity. But we know that an objective journalist is sometimes a spineless one as well.

Contemporary Indian philosophy can be encapsulated in two words “Chalta hai”. Eulogies have been written about our approach to fixing a problem by “Jugaad”. It is a cultural issue, and the media is no exception. No sirs, it is not ok.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Evening

Evenings

Why is it that the most beautiful evenings
Are the ones spent alone?
Not necessarily the saddest.
Far from it.
The lake in front of me
Urges me to paint on my canvas.

I need to discover another café.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Breakfast

Breakfast

Sunlight filtering through the skylight
Making even ordinary breakfast special.
But that’s your complaint.
That the breakfast in ordinary
Dear partner
You miss the sunlight
And the light that fills our lives
What makes it special
Is the steam wafting through the rays
How lucky that our table
Is blessed with so much light.
But alas,
You are a slave to your tongue
And slave I shall be,
For you and only you,
To make your life extraordinary.

Simple Pleasures

Simple Pleasures

I am not sure deriving joy from simple pleasures in life
Is necessarily a good thing.
This is just loud thinking.
Wired Magazine convinces me otherwise.
I am not talking about gadgets.
But you know, this whole online living.
It’s more meaningful than my offline life
If you ask me.

Silence

Silence

The language of silence
Was never more articulate.
It has words that we discovered,
never knew existed.
Conveying,
what the most sensitive word cannot.

There are benefits of silence as one comes to realize
For one, you conserve energy
You never regret saying anything
Because you don’t say anything.

The idea is to still the mind
And become proficient in the language of silence.
It can even be put as a skill on a resume`.
Something not everyone can claim to learn.

One needs many, many days of silence
To compensate for everything said.

Of course, silence does not mean kindness.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Wait

A wait at the bus stop resulted in the following:

Beautiful?
Cloud vs mountain.
The debate continues
But they coexist peacefully.

I’d rather be thoughtless than thoughtful.
Hate me for it, if you have to.

There is too much pressure
To find meaning everyday.
Sometimes, it just takes a bunch of sparrows
To remind you that ecological balance in
Lausanne is good, and therefore meaningful.
On others, it takes 4000 words of crap
To restore meaning.
It takes too long to
Realize that meaninglessness just “is”.
Rather liberating and beautiful.
If one accepts that the larger picture is
Meaningless and futile,
All resistance will disappear.
To partake happily, without passion
in meaninglessness,
is the real meaning.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Sans horizons

When we see no horizon
Does that mean life is here.
Look no further?

I literally can’t see the horizon
On many days
The sky and the lake are all white.
It could mean
Life is here.
Now.

It brings a sharp clarity to everything
A blinding present, may be!
It can also perhaps mean
a future which is really obscure
Too simplistic, that.

I saw beautiful moving photographs
On my computer screen
That brought the world alive
Of riots, floods, guns and blood
In this quiet Swiss town
That has no horizon to speak of.

I don’t know what it means
“Broadening horizons.”
I landed here after conquering
Many horizons
Chasing with ever greater ferocity
Only to finally come to a place
That has no horizon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Worse verse

NATURE:-

The sky teaches me colors
Had never known
Existed.
It evokes emotions and emptiness
And vast spaces inside me,
Hitherto, latent.
The trees acquire different hues of orange
As the sun progresses.
So does the lake,
The clouds above it,
And the mountains beyond.
The people living on the horizon
Acquire the same colors.
Fantastic and impossible
Versions of lavender.
Nature overwhelms me,
Seeps into me,
Spilling from my fingertips,
Melting into the keyboard
And crystallizing on the word file
In front of me.
So much of color
just turned black and white.
This is what we do in our attempt
To intervene with language.
Words ruin it beyond measure.

I am stuck with RBI’s exchange rate policy
And the sun is setting in front of me.
Damn.

Have lost myself in this beautiful country,
lost my mind and body.
Had no soul to begin with.
Something worth learning from nature:
To be stoic,
Faced with storms or snow.
I meet monsters, a reflection
Of my many different selves.

A day can be made in an instant.
Like watching a group, canoe in the great lake,
against the giant sky.
The quest is to watch out for many such instants.

That we call beauty is only science
Refraction of light
There is no point
Getting ridiculously emotional
About sunsets.
Is snow more spiritual than rain?
Snow falls more gently,
More softly, than rain.
Lighter, it seems to be in no hurry.
But one must rise, not fall.

Music.
Redeems the soul
Like no other prop?
Nature, a close second.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Heaven's Lake

Man. Its been a while since my last post. Nothing much has happened, just that I moved continents to start a new phase in life. The most exciting thing about this phase is staring at a lake, across which the French live.

My roof has three windows. That is more than my share of sky I have been vying for, in all these years.

It appears I am at crossroads. Should know in a while, where it is all leading to. For the moment, it will be about trekking up unknown territory in an alien land.

I miss New York City - and hope to go back at some point in the future.

Signing off, from the neutral country.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Berozgari

Unemployment was never so romantique. Lofty ideas uplift you (there isn't much else.)
Writing my umpteenth cover letter, extolling myself, as the god's gift to journalism, I wait and wait for that email and that phone call, when I would suddenly sit up. "Yes Sir..."

Friday, April 09, 2010

Strange...

...how our online identities have become a burden. It is not fun any more, as it used to be, when I first started blogging. Too much of self-censoring and self-importance.
Much to my relief, FT's Lucy Kellaway, says that it is fine to have skeletons falling out of our online identities. An employer must look at the larger picture and not nuggets of personal information strewn across blogs and social networking sites.

Well, there is lots to say these days. I have got time, since I am literally jobless. But I think I need to write for myself. Also working on a website. Lets see where that takes me.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Beatnik!



San Francisco - March 2010

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why we love to be anti-establishment.....




I am not a major Roy fan, but this was interesting.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Dazzling Ignorance



(Column written for a class assignment. Indian election result prediction, gone wrong.)

Why Congress should not come back to power?
New York
May 4, 2009

Manmohan Singh, then the future Prime Minister of India, was greeted with stone pelting by staunch supporters of Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the Congress party in India. His car reversed is great speed away from the Congress headquarters in New Delhi, where Gandhi had just declared that she would not become Prime Minister after the election in 2004. India’s obsession with dynastic politics was manifest in a man who held a gun to his head, threatening suicide if Gandhi did not lead the new government. I was one of the hundreds of bystanders watching the circus even as my editor kept calling from office to stop having fun and come back to office to file the story. That was five years ago. Gandhi nominated reformer Singh as Prime Minister and he did pretty much the same, for most of his term for the next five years: bowed to pressure in every form, whether from Gandhi, or his coalition allies and reversed his reformist reputation with great speed.

Sonia Gandhi, Italian-born head of Congress party decided to give up ruling the country to her more trusted lieutenant Singh, who had ushered in far-reaching economic reforms in 1991 that saved the country from a sovereign default. Singh, an economic scholar of impeccable repute, unfortunately turned out to be one of the most indecisive PMs ever.

I remember walking ‘into’ a new government in 2004 when popular vote threw out the right-wing ruling party. One could easily sense the change just walking around in the corridors of power; the brokers of the erstwhile government had been rendered powerless. The left parties had won an unprecedented 62 of over 500 seats, big enough to make them powerful negotiators in the coalition government. In the months to come, they would oppose every important reform crucial to the economy from labor issues to infrastructure. Government’s ceaseless attempts at pushing reforms in the financial sector to reduce its equity in state-owned banks and insurance companies were stymied by political pressures.

Singh’s tenure was punctuated by constant threats by the Left allies. They finally pulled the rug, when Singh went after his prized trophy of striking the nuclear deal with the U.S. in 2008. The only credit the government deserves is to have ignored the hawks and steered clear of a war with Pakistan after the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008.

The government has left the economy in shambles. The government’s fiscal deficit is projected to rise 10% of the gross domestic product, much worse than what it inherited from the previous government. Its off-balance sheet expenditure has risen largely because of it populist schemes of waiving loans for farmers, subsidizing oil and fertilizer. If the Congress does come back, it will have to clean up the mess it created in its previous stint.

Its plan for guaranteeing 100 days of employment is one of the biggest sources of corruption. In 2006, his government implemented the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to provide 100 days of work to 30 million families in 200 of the nation’s poorest districts. It is unclear how many India’s 40 million poor farmers, many of whom hold less than 2 hectares of land, benefitted from Singh ill-advised, hastily drafted loan waiver scheme. It appears, the program that costs nearly $15 billion did more to enhance bottom-lines of state-owned banks than to improve the lot of poor farmers.

Every quarter, the government conducted self-congratulatory press conferences taking credit for the rising stock market levels signifying investor confidence (or speculative activity as they case was) and the high GDP growth rate. The economy grew for 8% per annum for four straight years. In 2009, India’s $1.2 trillion economy may grow 4%, the fastest pace after China, at a time when the global economy is expected to contract by 1.7%, as per World Bank estimates. It grew by 5.5% in 2008.

Luckily for Singh, just as the rate of inflation touched double-digits, spiraling out of control on the back of ill-defined policy gaps in agriculture and infrastructure bottlenecks, the price of crude began to fall. Though inflation is now close to zero, the prices of essential commodities continue to be elevated.

Never before has there been greater clarity in the outcome of the Indian elections: a hung Parliament according to both the most astute political pundits and the most flippant commentators on TV. The Indian voter is cursed with this lack of choice, born as a result of years of disengagement with politics. However, the middle class in enraged this time. Apart from complaining about slower broadband connections and congested roads for their ever bigger cars, this is the first time, they were exposed to the unprecedented terror in Mumbai last November, bang in the middle of the financial district, unlike in the faraway valleys of Kashmir.

If Congress survives the anti-incumbency tide, it will form a government after cobbling together an opportunistic post-poll alliance. The alternate scenario of the saffron brigade - India’s Hindu right wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) heading a coalition is anathema. It has barely been able to wash the blood off its hands. Despite a rather saleable slogan of ‘India Shining’, the BJP’s spin doctors, could not ensure a win last time chiefly because of its non-secular credentials, besides leaving rural Indians out of the fabled growth story. Singh’s government has as much blood on its hands, by the sheer inaction as it stood mute to over 60 bomb blasts across several Indian cities in the last year alone.

The pressure of coalition politics has almost been the most fashionable excuse for successive governments in recent years. Rising influence of regional parties will be the most defining change in this year’s elections. Some of the states in India have a population as big as Europe. More than one regional politician has the potential to play king maker, since neither the BJP nor the Congress can win absolute majority.

Heading the largest Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), is Ms Mayawati who belongs to what is reckoned as one of the lowest rung of India’s caste system. She may be within touching distance of playing queen and negotiating for her pound of flesh in the new coalition. Congress has virtually no presence in UP. This possibility is already giving sleepless nights to majority of the upper caste politicians and middle classes. As much as she is a symbol of Dalit empowerment, she exemplifies the venal nature of Indian politics. Her administration has done little to uplift the plight of the downtrodden in her state.

There are a couple of dominant themes in Indian elections that manifest year after year: addressing urgent issues of water, sanitation, education; lawlessness; the ever-widening gap between the rural and the urban; ensuring safety for minorities, and of course terrorism. More things change more they remain the same. The government does not even come close to solving these fundamental and some recalcitrant issues. Congress which has ruled nearly five of the six decades since India’s independence hardly seems right for the job.

Ends

Saturday, May 02, 2009

U, the Editor











Citizen journalism in India (Written for Yojana April '09)

Priti Patnaik
New York

For Argumentative Indians seizing citizen journalism initiatives and expressing themselves through platforms like blogging, is but natural. In a country of more than 1 billion, this deluge of opinion and angst will sooner than later flood the new social media bursting forth through nearly 50 million internet users.

Eager to exploit the rapidly lowering cost of publishing technology on the web has created opportunities for citizen journalism. While there is tremendous responsibility on people to “become” journalists since they need to be fearless, most citizen journalists are coming in on their own terms – as they are. Citizen journalism can take on forms including the relatively old blogging, uploading photos on sites like Flickr, or shooting videos and putting it on YouTube and now micro-blogging or twittering.

Like other readers in the world, Indians are getting increasingly distrustful of mainstream media and taking active interest in the way they want to consume and process information and news. At least those fortunate enough to be on the right side of the digital divide are becoming conscious about who is telling them what and rejecting what they do not want. Some are even setting the agenda as it were. There is an attempt to bring greater accountability to the various forces in a democracy by raising pertinent questions, or bring attention to issues sidelined in the mainstream media. Some of the popular blogs include India Uncut, Vantage Point, Indian Writing, and the Blank Noise Project among scores of others.

With professionals of all hues blogging about their area of expertise, possibly unmatched by reporters, journalists could well become information curators. Besides, with governments getting more transparent in their operations and seeking to interact directly with citizens, the conduit that media was, will effectively change. If news junkies can aggregate news at a much cheaper cost than a brick and mortar newspaper company, it does stand to threaten the future of newspapers. The entire supply chain of information is changing and news businesses cannot escape this all-encompassing change. The question is what readers want. Do people really want to trust a team of people capable enough to collect and present information intelligently in news pages?

In his book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People for the People by Dan Gillmor, examines this notion of a citizen journalist, how the internet impacts both and governments and the traditional press at it were. The fact that the passive reader or the audience now is playing an active part in news production will alter forever the dynamics of news consumption.

The digital divide is in effect a boon for newspaper companies in India at least in the medium term. While millions of man-hours of journalist experience are valuable for any community, but if the community itself decides to determine what is important, things stand to change. The entire power equation is changing. The architecture of participation as it were, will change more than traditional players will like. It is always easier to talk about democracy than about the democratization of journalism or the media!

Though hesitantly at first, mainstream news organizations have begun to think about engaging with their readers more keenly. They realize that gone are the days when they could be blatant about their biases and allegiances. Everything becomes magnified in this new age of relentlessly being “connected”. After all you can easily twitter the editor or the reporter of the publication if you disagree.

Citizen journalism has changed forever the way justice is dispensed in a country where lawlessness is rampant. At least those crimes etched in short-lived public memory will find it difficult to subvert popular imagination and justice as it were. The way protests are registered, documented and gather steam – is all a part of this by now not so new phenomenon.

Many feel that the on-going elections will see aware and conscious voting driven by loud conversations on the internet. While the Mumbai terror attack is still fresh for young and old Indians alike, those engaged on the internet with each other and their quasi-political groups will align themselves with their affiliations accordingly. Although it is bit of a joke that political leaders are finally taking efforts to engage with this no-nonsense brigade of the net savvy voter, I am not sure if they are celebrating this aspect of the demographic dividend. After all there are reports about falling number internet users due to closure of many internet cafes who have come under pressure from the police in the aftermath of terror attacks.

Last few years have shown, how bloggers could be in some cases more accurate and less biased than some of the mainstream news organizations even as crises were unfolding. Especially mapping relief measures in riot affected, flooded, earthquake, tsunami hit regions – typically capturing a moving image of a crisis, providing helplines to victims, bloggers have been commended for their role. However, it is not clear if bloggers enjoy the same degree of immunity as a mainstream journalist. Will giants like Google take the side of authorities and governments, surrender bloggers to endless litigation? The precedents do not portend too well.

Apart from the web, the ubiquitous mobile phone will go a long way in both mobilizing voters and drumming up dissent. Text messages flowed thick and fast during crisis and natural disasters, and have come to be reckoned as an authentic live stream of news and information more informal than the blogosphere. Handset manufacturers and software developers are coming together to design phones and application for low income earners.

Along with simplicity of the applications, the user interface is being designed in a way to empower the people to leverage it for payment systems, healthcare, agriculture pricing and of course organizing protest marches, campaigns and demonstrations.

Social media watchers believe that going forward corporates will use these tools to improve customer service. Netizens will exploit exclusive social networks.

To be sure, there are pitfalls of this participatory media - for even as people are drawn together, they may be drifting away and excluding those not in their ideological spectrum. There is the other risk of going hyperlocal. While there could be merits of a website for the community, by the community and of the community – it may be harmful in the long term if citizen journalists exclude external developments altogether.

The death of the newspaper in the far away shores of the U.S., is if anything an alarm bell, for the relatively stable Indian newspaper industry. With increase in broadband connections and hyper active minds of those now in school, sooner than later newspapers will be forced to explore a new revenue model for their websites and not mere extensions of their print editions. Indian newspapers will not take a century to disappear unlike their Western counterparts, the process can be shorter.

Consider this – how short lived even the best strategies can be, given the rate of change:

That people like information flows which are dynamic and not packaged and static anymore, is best exemplified by Microsoft’s plans to shut its Encarta Encyclopedia. The CD-ROM version of the encyclopedia that killed the Britannica Encyclopedia series, has now succumbed to pressure from free reference sites such as the Wikipedia.

With 75,000 active contributors for Wikipedia, Microsoft can far from compete. Encarta was given away to promote sale of computers and peripherals. With a marginal manufacturing cost of less than $2, the Encarta CD-ROMs wiped out the decades old Britannica. And now, in less than 5 years, Wiki model has made Encarta the innovator’s new dilemma.

In the West, some of the websites that run on user-generated news plan to offer subscription services to mainstream news organizations. This will impact the way news is gathered and distributed by traditional media companies including newspapers and television channels that hitherto have not relied on user-generated content. At the same time, many innovators in this space bemoan the fact that there is natural resistance in people to overcome this barrier to be identified as a journalist and take a while to get over this inertia. Media innovators are of the view that news companies want to engage and interact with users of information, and hope to cut costs by relying on user-generated information, for any digital community is energized by interaction.

This is recognized by advertisers as well. Indications are that advertising costs for user generated content will better or at least as good as what mainstream media commands. After all, the level of engagement for an advertiser on a user-generated platform is quite high.

Whether it is bloggers reacting to authorities cracking down on the freedom of expression of the online community, or bloggers inflaming passions on either sides of the LoC, social media is a new animal. Neither inhabitors of this world, nor those wanting to enter it, can quite put a finger on how this will evolve. As one technology activitist put it, the genie is out of the bottle. There is little regulators and governments can do. This is something even media companies should contend with.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Vote for the not so new leader - plenty of choices

'What can I do if there are no rains?'
Shashikant Trivedi / New Delhi April 26, 2009
Business Standard.

If the Centre does not supply water and power, he can do little to intervene, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tells SHASHIKANT TRIVEDI

After regaining the mandate in the Assembly elections five months ago, you are facing voters again after such a short period. How do you rate your chances in a situation the state capital does not have regular water supply?

Why only the state capital, the entire Madhya Pradesh is facing its worst-ever water crisis. Ujjain is being supplied water once in ten days. I am helpless. The rain gods are playing truant. What can I do if there are no rains?

But what about power? Rural areas are facing 12-15 hours of power cuts. Thermal and hydel power stations are in your hands.

Again, our hydel power project reservoirs are dry as there have been no rains. Worse, the central government has cut our power quota by more than 300 Mw and coal supply by five million tonnes. How can a state government run thermal power plants without coal? The central government has done so with mala fide intentions.

You are the chief minister. The voters will look to you for water and power

I have taken out nyay yatras (justice rallies) to focus on the unfairness of the system. Our Centre-state relationship is such that the state is at the receiving end in some situations. I am eager to trigger a debate on the issue. People are rallying behind me and my government.

As a chief minister, you are responsible for ensuring at least drinking water to the people. Nyay yatras cannot be a solution to drinking water problem.

I don’t believe in propaganda. As a chief minister, my duty is also to bring the truth to light. I have written several letters to (prime minister) Manmohan Singh ji. Strangely, he replied that we should import coal. When we produce millions of tonnes of coal, why should we import? Millions of rupees of investments are feared to be stuck due to power shortage. Who is responsible? As regards contingency plans, I have asked my officials to make better arrangements for drinking water. We have earmarked separate funds for various projects. I am monitoring the situation, but unfortunately, we have only two options — use ground water or transport water to ensure drinking water in various towns and rural areas of the state. Meanwhile, the code of conduct has prevented us from swinging into action in various areas. We have requested the Election Commission to be lenient in this regard and allow us to arrange for water in some severely affected areas.

How long will these contingency measures sustain a state with 60 million people?

As of now, I am busy in the election campaign, please talk about elections.

As a chief minister, how do you face voters on the water and power issue when one of the biggest lakes of the world in front of the chief minister’s house has dried up? And two mega projects to supply Narmada waters to Indore and Bhopal are facing difficulty

I am confident that my party will win a sweeping majority in the General Elections. As I said, people are rallying behind us and are eager to vote the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) out of power. They have widely accepted our schemes like the Ladli Laxmi Yojna, the Kanyadan Yojna and other development plans which I don’t want to repeat. Narmada water will reach Bhopal by September 25.

But our sources say the consortium completing the project is facing some technical problems

No, I have been told the project will be completed in time. The deadline is September 25. And I mean this.

You managed your party’s win in the recently concluded Assembly elections. What was your strategy? Are you trying to replicate it in the General Elections?

We are overwhelmed by the public response that Advani ji is the best leader in India. Our poll strategy is two-pronged. One, tell people that Advani ji is the next prime minister as he has been unanimously elected the prime ministerial candidate of the National Democratic Alliance. Advani ji is a public leader while Manmohan Singh ji is the choice of one person. Second, we want to point at the biased attitude of the central government towards Madhya Pradesh on power.

Do you mean to say that inflation, slowdown, etc, are not issues?

I mean that we are raising the issue of the central government’s failure on all fronts. The market is not governed by a few people who can steer the Sensex in any direction. The Indian market and economy are run by farmers, labourers, thousands of workers, street vendors, etc. Manmohan Singh ji has failed to understand this economics. If there was a global meltdown, he was not expected to sit idle but to give states a direction on employment generation, new plans and newer ways to remain insulated from the meltdown. But he and his government belied our hopes.

Your image is that of a leader who comes from a farmers family, rural, or semi-urban at best. How do you manage polls successfully?

Just because I am from a rural background or a farmer does not mean I don’t understand urban grievances. My government made endless efforts to ensure my party’s victory. The voters vote a party for its promptness and speedy disposal of problems. The poorest of the poor are high on my government’s priority. My social schemes are well accepted across Madhya Pradesh. There are flaws in the system. You cannot make it foolproof. There is always room for improvement and we are promising improvement and better facilities provided voters give us a comfortable majority at the Centre. I have a five-year action plan and I will come up with a detailed plan in June.


Are you going to score over Narendra Modi in your party?

I am nowhere near Modiji. He is a great leader. I am a small party worker.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jai Blogging

I am not justifying this: but I am having fun.
All powerful blogging has challenged both SRK, KKR and the media.
Newspapers will soon be carrying more stories on blog entries than they like.


Also, read this: a Journal article on bloggers to be made liable for the brands they endorse, even as they are rewarded.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The fate of slumdogs






Will the press stop talking about the fashion shows that slumdog actors were a part of? Can they start talking more about why Azhar still sleeps amongst rats?

Party was over long ago...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Waiting to happen

Please refer my previous post of the "issue". That sounds prescient now. But it was not a slum dog who did it, but a privileged member from the media who had access to the establishment.

The shoe throwing incident, brings another episode to mind. I remember how I got into an argument with my ex-boss about how there should be no pretenses that we Indians are basically uncivilized. This was when one cricketer slapped another on field. Apart from the fact that both incidents were hilarious and both gentlemen at the receiving end should have seen it coming, its still drives home the same message - that we do not know how to express ourselves constructively. But who cares really? We are after all as a society are as uncouth as one can get, despite increasing our footprint on the Forbes list, below the veneer of progress, we are deeply unconcerned and unashamed of the inequalities...etc etc...So to pretend we are civilized is a joke.

Now coming to the "baser" level of the issue: the shoe throwing incident itself will not accomplish anything. It will not bring justice to Sikhs nor will it make politicians in general less arrogant. It is at best symbolic. But thank god, it is at least symbolic. Predictably, the journalist has become a hero overnight. I deeply regret not being around for this briefing. I am guilty of drawing vicarious pleasure, having witnessed this behavior from the minister concerned during the last five years of this administration. One instance, where his car nearly drove over journos standing outside North Bloc, having knocked out a potted plant in the process. Fitting as it may be, it has come at the very end of the tenure of the current government. I attribute such episodes to cosmic design. I hereby celebrate such spectacular dissent. But what a great liberal government we have. If preliminary reports are to be believed, the journalist has been let off without a case being registered against him. We will only know in future, what are the real consequences he will have to face. And guess what across party lines, this incident has been "condemned". Of course. (Clearly, we are more civilized than Iraq, where the journalist was given a three year sentence)

While journos in general are not popular among politicians or otherwise, I still feel, my community as it were, deserves more respect despite our accommodating attitudes to "free lunches", shoddy work, sensationalism and the like. That's a cultural thing about Indian journalism, but its fine. Not everybody is guilty of these vices. But the larger point, I am trying to make is, politicians whether in power or otherwise will need to be "professional" in their interactions with the media. More importantly, they should be courteous even while dodging questions about issues of "serious concern".

Although, I have spent relatively less time as a journalist, I have time and again observed how very senior reporters and editors who have spent years in the profession are less reactive about being meted out such treatment by the powers that be. For one it may show, the maturity of media people on not spending too much time fretting about "baser" issues, but on another, it calls for some serious overhaul in the way we see ourselves. My contention is why should we take "attitude" from anybody? (To be clear, for the moment, we ignore the attitude of extreme "self-importance" many journalists throw around)

p.s. I do hope some mainstream newspapers will stop the vulgar, repulsive display of affection for Finance Ministers.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Intro

New York Times
Paris
March 31 2009

As high winds buffeted the Mediterranean, at least two vessels smuggling illicit migrants from North Africa ran into trouble off the coast of Libya and more than 200 people seeking a new life in Europe may have drowned, officials from the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday.....Read here for more.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Self Obsession

"I" got the better of "Me" and led me to put my snap on this page.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Something wrong with this picture?

Better half at Moulin Rouge.

Moi battling over accounting mid-term exam.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekend Viewing



One of India's many mutinies.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Coming Home



Courtesy: Reuters

Azharuddin Ismail: 'Salim' of 'Slumdog Millionaire,' near his house in slum area in Mumbai February 26, 2009. Back after walking the red carpet at the 81st Academy Awards.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Shoe Trend

Seasoned journalists will agree that it takes three to make a trend.

After Bush and Wen, we just need another Premiere to be hit by a shoe to make it a trend. What are the chances that India will follow suit? The repercussions of hitting politician with a shoe can be as dangerous in India, as it is in Iraq.

Lets see, who will be 'the third musketeer' as it were. It will take a slumdog to pick up a shoe and fling it at you know who!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Misty eyed over a book

I just read Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner (a little late in the day - but it is the first book in many years that I want to read again (apart from The Little Prince of course). The book speaks to us about certain painful truths - the death of a childhood that each of us have to confront, how some of us misunderstand fathers, mothers, siblings for the better part of our lives, how uprooted and yet comfortable we can feel far away from our countries and culture, besides being subsumed by forces beyond our control in this case Russians and then Taliban.

I do not remember the last time I was so "attached" to a character in a book. Have started looking for Hassan in the people around me! Can't believe that he didn't survive to meet his Amir Agha again.

Felt alive.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why we will see action now?

When America's 9/11 happened, I was in an Indian classroom. I found my fellow classmates (future scientists) unperturbed by the WTC attack. The point is they would probably be unaffected even if WTC happened in India. Not to mention my genetics professor who continued with the experiment as if nothing had happened. I sighed, resigned to the insensitive, apolitical youth in India's urban centres.

Years later, I am in an American classroom when India's 9/11 happened last week. I sighed again. Not surprised this time. After all it is in an emerging / poor country far away from American shores, how would anyone care?

But the apathy in both situations was very sad. The general level of self-obsession and insensitivity is disheartening. I mean how many people are struck by deaths everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan?

It is the worst time to away from my home, to be swept away by the mass hysteria of the tragedy, to be overwhelmed with grief, guilt and fear, to be a part of a revolution, to be a part of an ever-growing cynicism.....I am missing the Obama moment in India. I was at a loss, thousands of miles away, unable to share my shock, anger and angst with anyone.

But I am convinced we will see some action now - because its not just people at VT who got killed, which the media chose to ignore (who talks about the common man anyway), but because foreign nationals and rich people got killed, we will see action. After all, the government cannot get away when rich people are killed. It just amazes me - the kind of statements we saw from Corporate India - "greater engagements with seats of power, to effectuate change", said one CEO. Of course. Not a Maoist blast in a far away bottling plant (god knows who got killed), mind you, but CEOs ducking for cover at Nariman Point! (Not to belittle the loss of lives - a life is precious - rich or poor.) The government cannot ignore that. Paisa kahan se milega? So CEOs lining up outside North Bloc for the annual lobbying will acquire a new meaning now. It will be lobbying of a different kind.

My despondency aside, a friend of mine has traveled to Leopold Cafe from Hyderabad, to experience the energy first hand. He said, the atmosphere was electrifying. God speed to the people of Bombay.

Something else, amuses me. Whats with all this hate speech against our dear politicians? What has changed suddenly? They are the same. ("....only 200 dead") If people are indeed angry with them, let them not vote for the Right People in saffron then. We cannot swing to the other extreme again. No way. Thats exactly what the U.S. did - people want action, they vote for the more militant.

Praying that public outcry is not short-lived. Let them fight not just for terror attacks, but rail accidents, bad hospitals, clogged sewage, bad roads, usurped forest land and what have you. Why tolerate anything at all? Stop paying taxes!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bombay Battered

French nuclear physicist, wife rescued
Press Trust of India
Thursday, November 27, 2008, (Mumbai)

French nuclear physicist M George Vendryes and his wife, who were staying in Taj hotel in Mumbai , have been brought out safely from the terror-hit building, official sources said on Thursday. The 88-year-old scientist was in Mumbai to receive the Indian Nuclear Society's (INS) Eminent Scientist Award and was staying at the five-star hotel in south Mumbai, Department of Atomic Energy sources said. Terrorists are holed up inside the hotel where operation to flush them out is currently on. Both Vendryes and his wife spoke to the DAE authorities this morning and said that they were fine, the sources said. The award was presented to Vendryes at the annual conference of the INS held at the office of Nuclear Power Corporation of India at Anushakti Nagar in Mumbai.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Autumn

With two competing objectives of blogging for school and blogging for my own self, clearly this page is losing out. But am told that prospective employers will scorn at my uninhibited blogging on this page as opposed to a conscious effort to sound politically correct here. Although it has given me some basic discipline about putting my thoughts together....I miss slapdash blogging.

Well, a recent conversation with old friend Josh was something like this :
Me: How are you, the real you?
J: How are you, the one in the jar?
It kind of describes my life here. Canned. I do not rely on canned food at all, far from it. But life has been canned to specific time slots - water tight compartments.

Its autumn and am unused to so much beauty. That it begins to ache - this is the most predictable and idiotic line on this whole page. I was trying to sound like a certain someone. Anyway, it is surreal - yellowing leaves, falling all over. A pity that I cannot stand mesmerised forever looking at it.

Of the many dimensions of awakening that has happened in the last 2 months, notably rootlessness, explosion of ideas and stretching my limits (cycling at 11pm to get home), the most interesting has been my engagement with the internet. It may sound am only 10 years late into the scene, but it is true. An uncanny confession for a five year old blogger, but it is.

I will soon be doing the unprecedented. (Love this overused word - unprecedented crisis, intervention, election, victory....etc etc) I will start posting pictures on this blog. Now you know, my awakening has some tangible impact on my virtual life.

At the risk of overexplaining why am not here often enough - let me say one last thing on the subject - I talk to myself so much, that the last thing I want is to think aloud on this page. But I really do want to post everyday.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Studying again

It has been two weeks since I have been in New York. It took an astronomical amount of escape velocity to quit my job in Delhi and come here to study. Was so caught up with the whole transition that I didnt get time to blog about this all-encompassing change.

The cultural immersion has not quite happened, since I have been immersed in course work from the word go. I do hope I get to blog more as a student than I did, for the past five years as a reporter. So, in this grand oldage am psyching out about assignments!

There are lots of things I miss here, apart from home and family. I miss going to old Delhi for Tandoori chicken with Joji at 10.30 pm after work. I miss those "can't-believe-these-buggers" conversations with junta in general.

Hopefully, I will have more exciting posts, once I step out from the library...sigh..

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Direction to bloggers

Jeff Jarvis, journalism professor, City University of New York (Excerpts of his article in The Guardian)

I’m sad to see that hundreds of bloggers have been co-opted to give more attention to these free adverts for the parties. I wish they found their own way and hadn’t joined the press mob. They, too, want to feel important. Like journalists, they want to be on the inside. But that’s not where either should want to be. I saw a party official crow that bloggers were just another means to get a message out. They’re being used.

The attention given to the conventions and campaigns is symptomatic of a worse journalistic disease: we over-cover politics and under-cover the actions of our governments. We over-cover politicians and under-cover the lives and needs of citizens. . . .

We assume that covering politics is high public service. But too often it amounts to covering celebrity, except that political stars have less talent and worse wardrobes than real stars. There’s little difference between camping out at the end of Joe Biden’s driveway, as the press did, to learn nothing after Barack Obama picked him as his running mate, and staking out Britney Spears when she heads out for burgers. At least she may do something unpredictable.

We don’t need the press to tell us what the politicians say; we can watch it ourselves on the web. We don’t need pundits to tell us what to think; we can blather as they do on our blogs. The rise of mass media - primetime TV - ensured that conventions would never surprise again: they became free commercials. The internet then took away the last reasons to devote journalistic resources to the events - there’s nothing we can’t see and judge on our own.

This is all the worse in the US since our elections never end, and we have a half-dozen networks with hours to fill and hundreds of newspapers that apparently still have a few too many people with not enough to do. But, anywhere, it’s worth asking whether we spend too much covering politics and too little covering the rest of life.