The Big Deal About Blogging

This is the 14th installment of Viewfinder, my weekly column for Yahoo! India, and was published on July 29.

At about the time this column is published, I’ll be speaking at the Asian Bloggers and Social Media Conference in Kuala Lumpur. The organisers contacted me a few weeks ago and asked me to give a half-hour talk on blogging. My first reaction was, Oh no, what can I say about blogging that hasn’t been said already? The subject is so 2004, and anything one can say about it sounds obvious: Yes, blogs make the tools of publishing available to all of us, democratise free expression, and yada yada yada. Yawn.

I thought about it some more, though, and realised that the subject is a very personal one for me. Over the last seven years, blogging has changed my life. As a medium, it has offered me opportunities I did not have as a mainstream journalist. It has broadened and deepened my perspectives of the world around me. It has sharpened my craft as a writer. It has introduced me to ideas and people I’d never otherwise have known. How this has happened, how this medium can be so powerful as to have such an impact on my life, seemed worth exploring. So I agreed to give the talk, which is titled, What’s the big deal about Blogging?

A little background: In 2004, I was a mainstream journalist. I had worked in television and written for newspapers, and at the time was the managing editor of Cricinfo. It was a fun job, and a great place to work in, but I was itching to go beyond the usual formats offered to me of cricket coverage: the match reports, the analysis, the colour pieces, the features, the news reports. These were all categories with familiar templates, and not much scope to go beyond them. I was just beginning to read blogs from around the world, and thought I’d try this new medium. 23 Yards was born.

I had taken baby steps into the medium. I did not use a blogging software for 23 Yards, but improvised within the content management system that Cricinfo then had. Some of my posts, when I look back on them, make me cringe. There are parts that are wordy, preachy, self-important, self-conscious, and lacking of the economy I would come to pride in myself in the years to come.

In December 2004, I started winding up 23 Yards, having decided that I was sick of cricket, and needed to detox. I began India Uncut. I planned it as a filter-and-comment blog. Several times a day, I would link to pieces on the web that I found interesting, and share my views on them. I would intersperse that with ruminations on issues that mattered to me, and occasional reportage, when I was travelling and there was the scope for it.

At the end of that month, the tsunami struck Asia. A friend told me that he was going to travel down the coast of Tamil Nadu, and would be glad if I would accompany him. I accepted his offer, and for the next few days, we went from one tsunami-affected area to the other. I felt the need to write about those experiences, and rather than use my journalistic contacts to write about it for a newspaper or magazine, I chose to blog. I’d keep taking notes, and every time we saw a cyber cafe, we’d stop for a few minutes and I’d upload a few posts.

I returned home to find that my posts had been linked to by bloggers and mainstream publications across the world, and the traffic was stratospheric. Once the initial spike had settled down, I realised that I now had a regular readership. And as I continued to blog steadily, it continued to grow. It didn’t matter that I was nobody, that I was new to this, that India Uncut was so fresh into the world. As long as I consistently put out compelling content, I would have readers. The only limit on me was me.

That period taught me a few important lessons about blogging—and many more would follow in the years to come. I’ve summarised a few of them below. (Note that when I use the term ‘blogging’, I include much of ‘social media’ in it. Twitter is micro-blogging, after all, and I was writing posts of that length and Twitter-like frequency on IU before Twitter existed—many Facebook posts are also effectively blog posts.)

1. Blogging captures the moment. One of the most attractive things about blogging to a mainstream journalist is that it has immediacy, and is not a slave to news cycles. A newspaper journalist, if he sees something today, will find it published tomorrow. A blogger can put it out there within five minutes, and it can be read (and linked) around the world in ten. Today, when everyone’s using Twitter and newspapers handle their websites much better, this doesn’t seem like a big deal. But when I was travelling through coastal Tamil Nadu in 2004-05, in the aftermath of the tsunami, it was huge.

2. Blogging frees you from the dictates of length. In a newspaper or magazine, one is bound by word limits. But when you’re writing for the internet, word limit does not matter. Your posts can be as long as you want, and you do not have to trim needlessly or submit to a sub-editor somewhere doing so. Also, importantly, your posts can be as short as you want. Sometimes, you might want to share a simple thought or an anecdote, which would otherwise not bear expanding into a full-length piece. Blogs allow you that luxury. Consider, for example, these posts of mine from the time of the tsunami: 1, 2, 3, 4. What could I do with them if I wrote for a newspaper?

3. Blogs contain multitudes. A blog post can have added dimensions in ways that a print article can’t. For one, you can use hyperlinks to encompass immense content that might otherwise have to be explained to the reader. Because of that, the need to simplify or give context is reduced—and you provide a valuable service to your reader in the process. Two, whether or not a blog has comments enabled—some high-traffic blogs disable it because they can’t control the noise-to-signal ratio—a blog post or a tweet stands a high chance of becoming part of a larger conversation, with other bloggers linking to it, commenting on it, tearing it apart and so on. There is much value in this both for the reader and the blogger, who can grow intellectually if he has the humility to listen.

4. Blogging enables greater breadth of coverage. This point is especially important during a catastrophic event of such magnitude that it stretches the limits of traditional media. While newspapers and television channels struggled to cover the tsunami adequately with their limited resources, bloggers posted regular updates, and one now-defunct website even posted SMS updates that enterprising citizen journalists sent in. (Those were pre-Twitter days.) More recently, during 26/11, the most immediate coverage was to be found on Twitter, which provided a more vivid and powerful picture of proceedings than the TV channels could manage. Once the channels and newspapers got their act together, it was different, but in the immediate chaos that day, the best news was crowdsourced.

5. Blogging enables greater depth of coverage. The biggest problem with mainstream media, especially in India, is that journalists are generalists. They don’t have specialised knowledge about any subject, and consequently often get the nuances wrong, and are unable to cover any issue in great depth. The reason for this is simple: specialists are busy doing whatever they specialised in, which is, for them, more lucrative or satisfying than journalism. Where is their voice to be heard?

In blogs, that’s where. A specialist may not have time to write for a newspaper, but can certainly blog about the subject, at his own pace and convenience. This vastly improves the depth of coverage of practically any subject you can think of. As an example, see the difference economics blogs like Marginal Revolution, EconLog, Cafe Hayek and the Freakonomics Blog have made to the coverage of economics. Not only do you have specialists from across the spectrum expressing themselves on the subject, but there is also a continuous dialogue on these subjects, happening across blogs and Twitter streams and continents. We take such depth for granted today—but isn’t it astonishing?

6. Blogging keeps Mainstream Media honest. Much of the mainstream media, especially in India, is immune to criticism, but the Blogosphere (and the Twitterverse) does play the role of a watchdog of sorts. Bloggers have exposed plagiarism in the mainstream media (1, 2), regularly catch journalistic sloppiness, and all this attention surely plays a part in making journos (and their editors) wary of screwing up. It’s no panacea, of course, especially in India, where one of our biggest publishing houses continues selling editorial space despite years of screaming from all of us. But we’ll keep screaming, and one day we’ll be loud enough. I hope.

7. Blogging keeps bloggers honest. Bloggers need watchdogs as much as the mainstream media does, and the Blogosphere plays this self-regulating role. Every post you write, every errant sentence, is liable to be taken apart by a fellow blogger somewhere—especially if you write about hot-button topics like politics, economics or Himesh Reshammiya. Trust me, the criticism is never-ending, and while much of it can be superfluous, some of it can also be sharp and precise. The result of that is that you cannot slip up, and be sloppy in either your thinking or your writing.

8. Blogging enables the Long Tail of Opinion. Sorry for the jargon—and this is, again, a fairly obvious point. Blogs enable relatively rare strands of opinion to find their rightful constituency through the internet. Libertarianism in India, for example, was surely non-existent, or at best fragmented, before the internet came about. Thanks to my blogging, though, I discovered a host of fellow libertarians around me, met them in person, made friends with them. Since we kept blogging about our ideas, that way of thinking found an audience out there it would not otherwise have had. Since ideological opponents kept engaging us, we had to question, sharpen and refine those ideas, which made for much better dialogue all around. I use Indian libertarianism as just one example, but this is true for just about any kind of ideas out there—including the Cult of Cthulhu. Fhtagn, okay?

9. Blogging breaks down geographical barriers. This again sounds banal, but let me give you a concrete example of this. A few years ago, the Indian government, in its efforts to ban one particular Blogspot site they found objectionable, ended up blocking all of Blogspot. So suddenly, one day, tens of thousands of Indian blogs were inaccessible to Indian readers—and even their authors. Naturally we kicked up a fuss, and the matter got sorted out. But while that happened, guess who came to our rescue. A group of Pakistani bloggers got together and created and popularised proxies through which all these Blogspot blogs could be viewed by readers in India. (IIRC, they had been through similar censorship issues, and had the tools ready.) We were divided by geography and popular political rhetoric—but united in our commitment to free speech. Blogging enabled us to find (and support) each other.

10. Blogging can help you find your voice as a writer. When you write for a mainstream publication, you are bound by house style, and the whims of the editor or copy editors you work with. The copy you write is seldom quite the article that appears. A blog, on the other hand, is all you. It gives you the luxury of space and time to find and refine your own voice as a writer. You might initially be awkward and self-conscious—but as time passes, you will get into your groove. Pick any blogger who has been writing for a few years, compare his early posts with some recent ones, and you’ll see what I mean.

11. Blogging sharpens your craft as a writer. When you write a blog with one eye on building a readership, you cannot bullshit. At a functional level, your writing has to be spot on. Your readers have countless other things they could be doing with their lives, and hazaar links to click on if you bore them. You cannot be self-indulgent, and your prose cannot be flabby or long-winded.

When you write regularly for such readers, your writing is bound to improve. I wrote an average of five posts a day for the first few years of my blogging—my frequency has dipped alarmingly since, alas—and have probably written more than 8000 posts across blogs and platforms. That kind of practice is bound to have an impact on your writing. Many of my early posts make me cringe today, and I’ve clearly improved hugely as a writer. And as I keep writing, hopefully I will keep improving. (Also see: Give Me 10,000 Hours.)

12. Blogging rewards merit. As I learned after my coverage of the tsunami, the blogosphere is meritocratic. Not only is there no entry barrier, all you need to do to build a readership is consistently produce compelling content. It is my belief that writers on the internet invariably get the audience their work deserves. (Size may not always be an indicator of quality, as a good niche blog may have less readers than a so-so mainstream blog, but my point is that it will find its potential readership.) The internet is viral, social media is social (duh!), and the word gets around.

13. Blogging expands your world. From a reader’s perspective, the sheer variety of content that blogging enables introduces one to ideas and content we may not otherwise have come across otherwise. There’s a lot of such content out there, and over time we find out own filters to navigate this content. Thanks to blogs, I’ve learned much more about the world than I otherwise would have.

From a blogger’s perspective, the world expands as much. Most of my close friends today are people I met through blogging—many of them also bloggers. At a personal level, this is what I cherish most in my journey as a blogger—the people I have met, the friends I have made. Much as I mock the term, maybe there is something to be said for ‘social’ media after all.

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Earlier pieces on blogging:

In Defence of Blogging

Blogging Tips From a Jaded Veteran

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Previously on Viewfinder

The Oddly Enough Species

The Beautiful Game of Poker

Beauty and the Art of Winning

Football and a Comic Marriage

Beware of the Cronies

Indian Liberals and Colour Pictures

We are All Gamblers

Homeopathic Faith

Give Me 10,000 Hours

Match ka Mujrim

The Man with the Maruti 800

Internet Hindus and Madrasa Muslims

The Hazards of Writing a Column

Vir Sanghvi’s Cognitive Dissonance

Reader Mani Shankar writes in to point me to a post by Vir Sanghvi in which he hits out at people “who blog and tweet”. I have three things to say about it:

1] Sanghvi criticises bloggers and blogging… in a blog post. Is there not a little bit of dissonance there? If he is blogging, he is a blogger. And yet, his criticism doesn’t seem directed at himself.

2] He attacks a straw man and generalises madly. He’s upset because some bloggers “complain that the media are only interested in circulation and viewership (or TRPs)”. (He doesn’t link to any of them.) He finds this criticism invalid, so he generalises about how bloggers “regard themselves as an elite.” Which bloggers? All bloggers? Me also? Him also?

This is as silly as my attacking the writing skills of Indian journalists because some journalists mix metaphors. It would be fallacious of me to generalise in that manner, and far more productive for me to link to a specific journalist whose writing falls in that category—as I did a few days ago with poor Bobilli. Should I have generalised about Indian journalism on the basis of Bobilli’s writing?

3] Finally, when people (bloggers or otherwise) criticise the media for chasing TRPs, they are effectively criticising them for catering to the lowest common denominator. Sanghvi attacks them for feeling this way, and calls them an elite. But hey, wait a second, what about when journalists criticize politicians for the exact same thing? As when Sanghvi himself writes:

If we are led by the lowest common denominator then that is where we will remain in the community of nations: at the lowest level, without any hope of catching up with the rest of the world.

The “elite bloggers” Sanghvi mocks presumably hold the same sentiment about our media. Can Sanghvi not take his own medicine?


There’s another response on Sanghvi’s post over at Retributions. I think this is by one of those “pseudonymous bloggers” Sanghvi is so upset about. Heh. Correction: The post is by Rohit Pradhan, who’s not been pseudonymous for a while now, I’m told.


Also read: An old piece by me, “In Defence of Blogging.”

Blogging Tips From a Jaded Veteran

A couple of years ago, Penguin asked me to contribute a chapter on a book they were bringing out for kids giving them writing advice. The book, Get Smart—Writing Skills, is in bookstores now. I contributed a chapter with tips on writing a blog. It basically contains lessons that I’ve learnt over my five years and 7000+ posts on India Uncut—but it need not apply to anyone else. Still, in case someone finds it useful, here it is.

Writing a blog can be the most enjoyable kind of writing you do. There are no restrictions on a blogger: you can write as many or as few words as you want, and there is no one correcting or editing your writing, saying ‘write like this’ or ‘write like that’. What’s more, you can write about anything you like, and are not restricted by subject or style.

If you wish to write a blog for your own satisfaction, and don’t care about building a readership, then you don’t need to read the rest of this piece. Write whatever you feel like, and more power to you.

But if you want to be a widely-read blogger, with regular readers who take time off every day to read your blog, then you need to work hard at it. The reason for this is the nature of the medium.

When readers buy a book, they are mentally prepared to spend a large amount of time with it. When they pick up a magazine or a newspaper, they are less patient, but there is still some commitment there. When readers visit a website, on the other hand, they are probably doing many other things at the same time. They could be chatting with people, sending and receiving emails, perhaps playing a game somewhere — and other websites might also be open, in various windows or tabs. Your blog is competing with all these distractions. If your writing does not grip your readers’ attention and keep them engrossed, they will move away to something else just by clicking their mouse.

To be a successful blogger, thus, there is just one rule you need to remember: Respect your reader’s time. Any advice I can give you on writing a widely-read blog flows from that one rule.

Here are some of the things I have learnt about blogging.

There is nothing as intimidating to an Internet surfer as pages and pages of text, or long, wordy paragraphs. Your friends and relatives may suffer through it, but why should a stranger? Keep your content as crisp as possible. Use the shortest, most common words possible. Use simple sentences. Make sure each sentence adds something to what you are trying to say: otherwise, cut it out.

The most common mistake an aspiring writer can make is to show off his writing skills. Do not do this. Writing is merely a means to an end: people write to tell stories, express points of view, and so on. It should be as simple as possible. If a reader actually notices your writing and says, ‘Wow, this is so well written,’ then you are not writing well. Your writing should not be the focus of the blog — what you are writing about should be. Style should be a slave to substance.

Are you writing it because you are passionate about a particular subject? Do you think you have a unique take on things that you want to communicate? Do you like telling stories? If you are clear about why you are blogging, it will make you a better blogger.

It will help you write smoothly if you can imagine your ideal reader. Here’s a trick I use sometimes when I am stuck in the middle of writing a difficult piece: I pretend that I am sending an email to a friend. That helps me finish what I am writing without getting too stressed out about it. One can always polish the piece later.

There are millions of blogs out there, and there is only one thing unique about your blog: You. Try and add a little of yourself to every post you write. It could be a point of view; it could be an anecdote you share related to the subject of your blogging; it could even be just a wisecrack. Your blog is the one space where you can share yourself with the world—don’t hold back.

If you want to build an audience of regular readers, you need to blog regularly. They should keep coming back for more – and get something when they come back. Remember, even a small thought lasting one sentence is enough for a post, so don’t hold yourself back.

Equally, don’t blog just for the sake of it. If you are bored of blogging, your readers will get bored of reading you. You may force yourself to write, but your readers won’t force themselves to read. When the juices aren’t flowing, give it a rest.

Want to experiment with your writing a bit? This is a good space to do so. When I was a cricket journalist, my boss once told me, ‘If in doubt, play your shots.’ I’d give you the same advice. You never know what you may find out about yourself – and trust me, any regular readers you have won’t mind.

Contractions and short forms may be convenient when one is sending SMSs, but they should be avoided when you write a blog. I say this not because I am an old-fashioned purist, but because SMS-speak is simply harder to read. Contrast these two sentences: ‘grt meeting u, c u l8r’ and ‘Great meeting you, see you later.’ I don’t know about you, but I find that I have to pause and interpret the first sentence, and the second is easier to read. Why would you want to make your reader work harder than he needs to?

The more value you will provide to your readers, the more they will come back to your blog. The greatest service you can provide to your readers is by expanding their knowledge. The easiest way to do this is by using links. The beauty of the Internet is that a single site can contain multitudes: in a single paragraph, you can put a number of useful links to the subjects you are talking about that your readers find interesting and enlightening.

Don’t worry about your readers leaving your site by clicking on a link. If they find the link to be of any value, they will automatically credit your blog for it, and come back to read your next post. But don’t overdo the links. An overuse of links leaves the page looking ugly and cluttered, and confuses the reader. Remember, respect the reader’s time.

Too many bloggers, drunk on the power they feel while blogging, talk down to their readers. Do not do this. Treat your readers as if they are as smart as you, if not smarter. If you have comments, don’t behave like a king granting an audience to minions. Be respectful of others’ opinions and points of view. As a friend of mine once told me, ‘Speak as if you are right; but listen as if you are wrong.’

Inevitably, while blogging, you will enter discussions. These could be in your own comments space, or in someone else’s. Many such discussions become ugly because they get personal. While conversation is generally a win-win situation, as all parties concerned learn a little more, discussions that are personal are just the opposite – everybody feels bitter and angry, and they are a waste of time.

So what to do in a situation like that? Simply remember to focus on the argument, and not the person. Do not question his motives, his intelligence or his parentage. Just state your point of view without reference to the person you’re arguing with. Do it simply and crisply, and neutral readers will be inclined to agree with you. Even if they don’t, they will at least respect you.

A lot of bloggers treat blogs like personal diaries, and write about their lives. There’s nothing wrong in that. But we should remember to respect the privacy of others when we do that. Before we blog a conversation with someone, or quote from an email we received, we should take permission. If something is in a public space, like a concert we went to or a blog post we read, then we can write about it freely. But if it is private, it should stay private.

This rule doesn’t affect your readership. If you blog juicy gossip about your friends and classmates, your blog may attract a few readers. But your friends, if you have any, will be careful of what they say in your presence. You will not be trusted, and once the juicy gossip disappears, so will your readers.

Writing a blog is not just about writing. When we are in a bookshop, we are always more inclined to pick up a beautiful book than an ugly one. Similarly, your blog should be clean and easy to read. Don’t clutter the sidebar with too many links or widgets, as fledgling bloggers tend to do. You or your readers won’t use most of them, and they will add clutter to the page. Link to all your friends and the blogs you like to read, but ask yourself if the other things you are adding serve a purpose. For example, some bloggers add a clock to their sidebar. When every computer displays the time anyway, this is redundant.

Whenever you can, use a picture with your post. It makes the site look colourful and vibrant. However, make sure that the picture you use is not someone else’s property. Use pictures in the public domain. If you do use a picture without being sure of whether it’s okay to use it, add a link at the end of the post acknowledging where you got the picture from. Isn’t that the minimum you would ask for if someone used pictures taken by you?

This is my last piece of advice, and possibly the most important one. If you don’t enjoy yourself, your readers won’t enjoy reading your blog. Blogging won’t make you a millionaire, so you should only blog if you love doing it. If it’s fun for you, then all of the above advice might be redundant, for the act of writing a blog will be its own reward. So log on and have a blast!


Box 1—Web Design

• Do not clutter your page. Keep it clean and easy to read.

• Organize the content well. Make it easy for the reader to find anything on your site.

• Make sure your site loads quickly.

• Do not use fancy or colourful fonts. The text should be easy to read.

• Go easy on the graphics. White space is good.


Box 2—Traffic Generation

• Write about things that interest you. If they don’t interest you, what you write on them will interest no one else.

• Join conversations on other blogs. If you add value, people will check out your blog.

• Link to bloggers you like. If they also like you, they’ll link back. This is called link karma.

• Use tags and/or categories for every post. This makes posts on any subject easier to find.

• Be topical. If you blog about a subject in the news, people are more likely to stumble upon your blog.

• Blog often. You won’t get regular readers if you blog irregularly.


Box 3—The Secret to a Good Post

• Write about something you know. Lack of knowledge is easily exposed on the Internet.

• Write about things you feel strongly about.

• Your post should have something only you can provide, be it opinion, humour or whatever else. Otherwise why should anyone read it?

• Increase the reader’s gyan by providing relevant links.

• Be crisp. Don’t waste the reader’s time. Keep it simple.


Box 4—Copyright Law

• Everything on the Internet is copyrighted by default. Even material without a copyright notice.

• Do not reproduce anyone’s posts in full without asking and attributing.

• Quoting people is okay. But always attribute and link back.

• For your own content, use a copyright notice. (Example: Copyright © 2009 [Your name].) Even without this, your original writing is copyrighted to you, but there’s no harm in making it explicit.

• If you don’t mind your content being used by others under certain conditions, choose a Creative Commons license that suits your purpose.


There’s another largish box after this that speaks about the different kinds of blogs I like to read. I’ve mentioned people like Prem Panicker, Amit Agarwal, Nilanjana Roy, Sanjay Sipahimalani, Nitin Pai, Jai Arjun Singh and Chandrahas Choudhury, as well as Sepia Mutiny. I hope they are overwhelmed by an army of kiddie readers now.

Frequently Asked Questions About MFS

While I was on my MFS book tour, the same questions about the book and me kept cropping up in all the cities I went to, from journos and from the audiences at the launches. I thought it would make sense for IU and MFS readers if I collected some of them and answered them here as well. These frequently asked questions are collected on this page, which will be expanded as more questions come in. You can also check out my bio page, and this interview. Meanwhile, here on the IU Blog as well, here’s the first set of questions:

On Indian writing in English, and where MFS fits in

There is an unfortunate gap in India between popular fiction and literary fiction. Readers of literary fiction look down on popular fiction and think of it as infra dig; and readers of popular fiction are intimidated by literary fiction, by any indication of heft or gravitas or self-indulgence. An Amitav Ghosh reader won’t read Chetan Bhagat; and vice versa.

I’d like my work to appeal to both kinds of readers. Plenty of Japanese writers manage to bridge this gap in their country, and writers like Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami and Yoko Ogawa are both critically acclaimed as well as wildly popular. There aren’t any writers like that in India writing in English, creating compelling narratives that are both entertaining and thought-provoking. I hope to fill that space with my novels. Whether or not MFS lives up to that is for readers to judge.

On whether I am a blogger or a novelist

I’ve wanted to be a novelist all my life—since I began to read, I wanted to tell stories, and I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else. I did various other things along the way, procrastinating furiously. In 2001, I took some time off and tried writing a book, but after 10,000 words, realised that it wasn’t working, and that I wasn’t ready for it yet, either in terms of craft or maturity. I bided my time till I was ready, and then eventually did get down to it. My Friend Sancho is my first baby-step in my career as a novelist. I don’t see myself doing anything else, ever.

Some readers of IU see me as a blogger-turned-novelist, as if I became successful as a blogger, found that I had a readership, and then decided to write a book. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve wanted nothing else in my life but to write novels, and blogging was just something that happened along the way.

Two of the four publishers who wanted MFS didn’t even know I blogged. The blog was irrelevant in that scheme of things, and my book found its way into the world on its own merit. I hope that is also how readers evaluate it.

On how blogging made me a better writer

I think of the facility to write as akin to a muscle. Just as working out daily in the gym increases one’s fitness, regular writing makes one a better writer. Blogging amounted to exercising my ‘writing muscle’ every day. I used to be a frequent blogger, and for much of my time as a blogger, have averaged about five posts a day. (I once put up 22 posts in a day; yes, I needed to get a life.) That’s a lot of working out.

Blogging also taught me one of the most important lessons of writing: Respect your reader’s time. When someone is online reading your blog, there are a thousand other things they can do with their time. The whole world is just a click away. If you’re self-indulgent, if you waffle, if you use 10 words where five will do, boom, they’re gone. To build a readership, you have to keep giving your readers value for their time. Blogging made my writing crisper, more economical, and less self-conscious. I’d like to think that these values reflect in the other writing I do.

On why I gave up journalism

I felt that writing a novel needed me to devote myself to the fictional world I was creating, and weekly deadlines for columns and suchlike got in the way. I had to make a choice, and so I chose to give up journalism. The process of writing MFS confirmed to me that writing fiction was my natural domain, and I don’t intend to return to journalism now.

Also, writing columns and op-eds require a different mindset from tackling literature. In opinion pieces, one is expected to pass judgments on things, to paint the world in black and white. Literature gives us more scope to acknowledge the real world’s complexities, and to explore its ambiguities. I rather prefer the latter—you won’t find me passing judgement on any of my characters in MFS, or in future books. No matter who the character is, there but for the grace of the FSM go we.

On why my blogging and journalistic concerns are not reflected in my novel

I blog a lot about economics and politics, and my columns were also on those subjects. But you will not find me talking about these subjects in MFS. Indeed, reading MFS will tell you nothing about my ideology or my political leanings, which is as it should be. Literature is about human beings, and, to use a much-abused phrase with a pomposity alert, the human condition. A book that pushes an ideology is, in my view, not literature but propaganda. You won’t find any of that coming from me.

On whether MFS is autobiographical

My Friend Sancho is not autobiographical, and Abir Ganguly isn’t me. I’ve never worked in a newsroom, or as a crime reporter, and none of the events in the book have happened to me. As a person, Abir is quite different from me, though his sense of humour is a bit like mine.

Writers are often wisely told, ‘Write about what you know.’ I’ve lived in Mumbai since 1995, and love this city and know it well, so obviously I set the novel here. And I know a fair bit about journalism as well, so that was also a natural choice for Abir. That said, Abir has no more in common with me than with any Mumbai journalist.

It could be argued, though, that the character of the lizard is based on me. To begin with, we’re both unnoticed observers of the world with an unusual perspective. And then there’s the reptilian looks. Also… ok, I’ll stop here.

On the voice of the book

The book is a first-person narrative from the point of view of Abir Ganguly, this immature, 23-year-old, smart-alecky reporter given to glib wisecracks. The voice of the book, thus, is his voice. As the story proceeds, and he is taken out of his comfort zone by his attraction to a girl he would not have noticed in normal circumstances, he changes in subtle ways, and begins to see the world slightly differently. This change in Abir is at the heart of this book—it is a coming-of-age story.

Every book has its own voice depending on what it’s about, and pov. My second novel is a third-person narrative starring an IAS officer in his late 40s living in a city in Central India, and will read quite differently.

More Q&A will follow on the FAQ page. If you have any questions of your own, send ‘em in. I can’t promise to answer all the questions I get, but will do so for any that haven’t already been addressed, and that seem to be of interest to many of my readers.

The 50 Most Powerful People In India

Business Week has just come out with a feature entitled “India’s 50 Most Powerful People 2009”. India Uncut readers will be pleased to know that I’m on that list. I come between Sachin Tendulkar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, and am not quite sure how to respond to that honour. What have I done to deserve this?

I was quite surprised, and much delighted, when I heard that I was on the list. I’m not sure I deserve to be there, but I guess my inclusion is Business Week‘s nod to the potential that blogs have for shaping public opinion, as also to the power of words in general—my columns for Mint, and otherwise, have been cited as a reason for my inclusion. I get quite cynical sometimes about the alleged power of words, and it’s nice to see that others are more optimistic. I hope they’re right.

This immense honour means that now I have to display gravitas and responsibility, and blog about serious matters that affect the nation. No more cows, no more WTFness, no more sex, no more imaginary dialogue. I’m going to be a full-on pundit now.

Ok, chill, I’m not.


In case you’re wondering why I come so far down the list, it’s because it is displayed by alphabetical order of last name. Heh.


And just take a look at Lalu’s magnificent ear hair. I don’t like his politics, but man, he is one stud machine, he is. No?

Raju vs Raju

Rohan D’Sa compares Venkatapathy Raju and Ramalinga Raju—or the ‘Spin Twins’, as he calls them.

It’s interesting how so many rocking Indian blogs, like those by Rohan, Ramesh, Anand, Saad, Krish and, of course, the venerable Arnab, are so strong on humour. And none of these dudes are frivolously funny—they provoke thought as much as they cause laughter. Given what Manjula Padmanabhan once said about the need for humour, could this flourishing of comic bloggers indicate that we live in depressing times?

LK Advani Starts A Blog

One of the many grand old men of India politics, LK Advani, has started blogging. In his first post, he says that his “young colleagues” have convinced him that “a political portal without a blog is like a letter without a signature.” He also tells us this wonderful story:

In the first general election, when as a 25-year-old political activist I campaigned in Rajasthan for the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which had been founded in the previous year by Dr. Syama Prasad Mukherjee, even printing a rudimentary handbill was a novelty. Let me recount an interesting incident here. My party had entrusted me with the responsibility of managing the campaign in Kotputli. After studying the problems of the region, I prepared some literature explaining how the Jana Sangh would try to solve these problems if the people elected our candidate. I had also brought copies of the party’s manifesto for Rajasthan.

I reached the constituency about a month before the polling and resolved to remain there until the elections were over. As I began unloading the poll literature that I had brought from Jaipur, I saw our candidate standing at a distance and watching me bemusedly. I was half his age at the time, but he addressed me very respectfully and said, “Advaniji, would you like me and my workers to distribute this literature in the constituency? But where is the need for it? This manifesto and these pamphlets are totally useless in our election strategy. We would have to spend a lot of time and energy in distributing them. If you insist, we will do it. But that will not fetch us even a single additional vote.”

He then added: “Let me tell you one thing, Advaniji. No one can defeat me in this election. This is a predominantly Gujar constituency. And I am the only Gujar in the contest.” His next statement opened my eyes even further regarding the reality of elections in India. “Firstly, every single Gujar who goes to the polling booth is going to vote for me simply because I am a Gujar. Secondly, a majority of non-Gujars will also cast their votes for me because they know that in this constituency I am the most likely winner. They would not like to waste their vote by giving it to a losing candidate!”

I’m no fan of Advani or the BJP, but I think it’s an excellent sign that he’s blogging—I hope his posts are honest, and true to himself, and not exercises in public relations. All blogs by public figures reveal a lot about them, sometimes even in what they choose not to write about, and I hope that some of our younger politicians get online as well.

That said, I really don’t want to see Narendra Modi’s Flickr account. Can you imagine that?

India Uncut Is Nominated In The 2008 Weblog Awards

I’m pleased to inform you that India Uncut has been nominated in two categories at the 2008 Weblog Awards:

Best Asian Blog.
Best Political Coverage.

As far as I can tell, it is the only blog written out of India to be nominated in any category. It is also one of a handful of blogs nominated in more than one category. And will it win a prize? That’s in your hands, kind reader.

Wins are decided by voting, and readers are allowed to vote once every 24 hours, so if you enjoy reading India Uncut, go forth and vote. The category I have great hopes of is Best Asian Blog, so do vote there wholeheartedly. I’m most unlikely to win Best Political Coverage, where giants like Daily Kos, Townhall and Politico have also been nominated, but hell, we’re the world’s largest democracy, we know how to vote, so do vote there as well.

Interestingly, I seem to be the only nominee in that category writing about non-American politics, so I guess that’s an honour in itself. My posts on politics are here.

The 2008 Weblog Awards

The Pundit (And Desi Pundit)

Two quick plugs:

1] Girish Shahane, who used to write a column for Time Out Mumbai, was one of my favourite Indian columnists, for his crisp insights and analysis of contemporary culture. I always wondered what kind of blog he would write—and now we’re going to find out. Girish has ended his column and begun a blog, Shoot First, Mumble Later, that I have very high expectations from. Watch that space.

2] Four years ago, I had the pleasure of welcoming Desi Pundit to life. It has now been reborn in a new avatar, which young Patrix elaborates on here. Once again, I wish them all the best. May a thousand blog posts bloom.

Haruki Murakami And Charlie Parker

Ligaya Mishan goes to see Haruki Murakami at the New Yorker Festival:

[Murakami] began by telling the story of a jazzman who, when accused of playing “just like Charlie Parker,” handed his saxophone to his critic and said, “Here—you try playing like Charlie Parker.” He said that we should draw three conclusions from this:

1. Criticizing somebody is fun and easy.

2. Meanwhile, creating something original is very hard.

3. But somebody’s got to do it.

I know many bloggers who take point 1 very seriously—and stop right there.