Oct 302015


As though interaction on twitter wasn’t reductionist enough (although, immensely enjoyable & addictive) – they have introduced a binary poll. Yes or no. It is great fun, terribly addictive and requires even lesser interaction. I am expecting polls to take the form of – should I have chappati for breakfast or should I have toast. Should i wear pink nail polish or should it be green. Should i have cream on the top, or fat free coffee. Does this dress look better on me, or does this top ? Random, everyday decisions where others jam in to help, otherwise mundane decisions. It could also help for finding preferences – do you prefer Modi or Gandhi ? Do you prefer family drama or murder mysteries.



I asked this, of my TL on twitter

And the answer was more surprising than i believed. More people on my TL felt that political content was interesting than not. My experience looking at traffic trends tells me, that yes people are interested in political content, but more are interested in entertainment content. On any given day, a piece on Bigg Boss 9 will do better than a piece of political content -unless it is some politician shooting his (and, usually it is his) mouth off, and trying to create a media stir.

The sample size, of course, is low. And, rather uniform – users of twitter. English speaking. Following my posts. Possibly with a higher degree of ‘news’ consumption than those who follow a film handle or use twitter for mere interaction.

Other users of twitter weren’t so boring (as my poll makes me) – Here is @shubhashish with a classic take on a old question



Oct 252015

I have been reading, marking and re reading bits of Orwell’s essays, that form part of a collection i got for next to nothing, in one of the amazon sales.

The essay I really enjoyed was on the author and social commentator, Charles Dickens. I haven’t read of all Dicken’s works. Great Expectations, Pickwick Papers, Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and David Copperfield – i remember having read. Of these, the only one’s that have left a mark are the Tale of Two Cities – Madam Defarge gave me nightmares; Oliver Twist – Faggin and Sikes were memorable characters; and i remember crying for Nancy; and Great Expectations – Ms.Haversham was the single spookiest character in English literature of that era. I have seen a number of adaptations of Dickens’ works, when i was a student. And, i really never thought too much beyond the fact that it was a good narrative.

Reading Orwell on Dickens, kind of slightly shifted my reading of Dickens. All authors tend to be recorders of their era. Even if the book is a love story, the milieu and social mores become very evident in the background information about the characters or the settings. And, given Dickens’ themes – the question asked is – what were his politics? Did he have any? Given that Orwell was writing in an era where socialist ideals, and Dickens wrote in an era when labour reform had already begun – could Dickens have been a socialist ? Orwell doesn’t think so

The truth is that Dickens’s criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places. Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens’s attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as “human nature.” It would be difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the economic system is wrong as a sytem. Nowhere, for instance, does he make any attack on private enterprise or private property. Even in a book like Our Mutual Friend, which turns on the power of corpses to interfere with living people by means of idiotic wills, it does not occur to him to suggest that individuals ought not to have this irresponsible power.

However, it was an era when the slightest criticism of the class structure was seen as being pro-socialist. So much so that Macaulay refused to review a book by Dickens. (yes, the very same Macaulay)

 “It is said that Macaulay refused to review Hard Times because he disapproved of its “sullen Socialism.” Obviously Macaulay is here using the word “Socialism” in the same sense in which, twenty years ago, a vegetarian meal or a Cubist picture used to be referred to as “Bolshevism.” There is not a line in the book that can properly be called Socialistic; indeed, its tendency if anything is pro-capitalist, because its whole moral is that capitalists ought to be kind, not that workers ought to be rebellious, ”

Dickens, was not a revolutionary. rather, he believed in the innate goodness of people and their ability to do the right thing.

“It seems that in every attack Dickens makes upon society he is always pointing to a change of spirit rather than a change of structure. It is hopeless to try and pin him down to any definite remedy, still more to any political doctrine. His approach is always along the moral plane, and his attitude is sufficiently summed up in that remark about Strong’s school being as different from Creakle’s “as good is from evil.” Two things can be very much alike and yet abysmally different. Heaven and Hell are in the same place. Useless to change institutions without a “change of heart”—that, essentially, is what he is always saying”

For Orwell, the clash between those who want to change society inside out, and those who believe in gradual change through the changing of individual minds, is  like an ongoing fight. Unlike Hegel’s dialectic this one is rather more violent

“Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old—generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another. Marx exploded a hundred tons of dynamite beneath the moralist position, and we are still living in the echo of that tremendous crash. But already, somewhere or other, the sappers are at work and fresh dynamite is being tamped in place to blow Marx at the moon. Then Marx, or somebody like him, will come back with yet more dynamite, and so the process continues, to an end we cannot yet foresee.

Once again, as in his essay on his rather brutal boarding school, Orwell makes some biting observations about the irresponsible rich of that era

“What now strikes us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is their complete irresponsibility; they see everything in terms of individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community exists”

And, finally on Dickens’ writing

“I have been discussing Dickens simply in terms of his “message,” and almost ignoring his literary qualities. But every writer, especially every novelist, has a “message,” whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda. Neither Dickens himself nor the majority of Victorian novelists would have thought of denying this. On the other hand, not all propaganda is art. ……D. H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was “a gigantic dwarf,” and in a sense the same is true of Dickens. There are whole worlds which he either knows nothing about or does not wish to mention. Except in a rather roundabout way, one cannot learn very much from Dickens. And to say this is to think almost immediately of the great Russian novelists of the nineteenth century. Why is it that Tolstoy’s grasp seems to be so much larger than Dickens’s—why is it that he seems able to tell you so much more about yourself? It is not that he is more gifted, or even, in the last analysis, more intelligent. It is because he is writing about people who are growing. His characters are struggling to make their souls, whereas Dickens’s are already finished and perfect……In my own mind Dickens’s people are present far more often and far more vividly than Tolstoy’s, but always in a single unchangeable attitude, like pictures or pieces of furniture. You cannot hold an imaginary conversation with a Dickens character as you can with, say, Pierre Bezoukhov. And this is not merely because of Tolstoy’s greater seriousness, for there are also comic characters that you can imagine yourself talking to—Bloom, for instance, or Pécuchet, or even Wells’s Mr. Polly. It is because Dickens’s characters have no mental life.

And, finally on what Dickens was going to be remembered for – the ability to voice that sense of outrage, at injustice that leads to the idea of freedom and equality being curtailed. Orwell believes that it is because

 since the French Revolution, the Western world has been haunted by the idea of freedom and equality; it is only an idea, but it has penetrated to all ranks of society. The most atrocious injustices, cruelties, lies, snobberies exist everywhere, but there are not many people who can regard these things with the same indifference as, say, a Roman slaveowner. Even the millionaire suffers from a vague sense of guilt, like a dog eating a stolen leg of mutton. Nearly everyone, whatever his actual conduct may be, responds emotionally to the idea of human brotherhood. Dickens voiced a code which was and on the whole still is believed in, even by people who violate it. It is difficult otherwise to explain why he could be both read by working people (a thing that has happened to no other novelist of his stature) and buried in Westminster Abbey.

 Worth buying the book

George Orwell - A Collection of Essays

George Orwell – A Collection of Essays

Oct 172015

Bhimsen Joshi having a lot of fun, signing this very famous composition in Raga Yaman.

It is a drut bandish – drut (fast tempo), and bandish (literally a composition that is relatively fixed).  I have, in my collection somewhere, the same bandish sung by a much younger Bhimsen Joshi – that performance was seductive. The song is about a woman in the throes of longing for her piya ( lover or beloved  ) . Bhimsen Joshi with his deep baritone voice singing a part that is about the pangs of longing felt by a woman, is quite outstanding.

This is a version by Lata Mangeshkar

And, this is a very different variation of the same bandish – Abida Parveen



Oct 152015

Interesting read on why Twitter is dying 

Here’s my tiny theory, in a word. Abuse. And further, I’m going to suggest in this short essay that abuse — not making money — is the great problem tech and media have. The problem of abuse is the greatest challenge the web faces today. It is greater than censorship, regulation, or (ugh) monetization. It is a problem of staggering magnitude and epic scale, and worse still, it is expensive: it is a problem that can’t be fixed with the cheap, simple fixes beloved by tech: patching up code, pushing out updates.

If twitter were a bar, would you frequent a place with abusers. I have found my interactions on a public timeline going down. Most of my nuanced conversations take place on twitter DM or FB chat. These are with people of different political / religious persuasions. We avoid chatting on a public TL – seriously who wants unpleasantness and unpleasent people  interrupting an interesting conversation?

twitter dying

twitter dying – image courtsey – uptown magazine

Worth reading the entire piece on the Medium.

Oct 152015

Every year, for the media studies programme that I have been teaching for the last decade or so, i try and set assignments that get students thinking. The course, in addition to the syllabus, has documentary viewing, reading of select articles and projects.

This year students had to read one of the following – V for Vendetta, 1984. Fahrenheit 451 – and discuss it’s relevance in the modern world in general, and India in particular.

Many students quoted ISIS propaganda, or Chinese censorship, or censorship in the middle east as examples. Also discussed were the two girls from Palghar who got arrested under the IT act, post their facebook post on mumbai shutting down after Bal Thackeray’s death. But, the majority of them spoke about Facebook and Google being able to track them, know their preferences and monitor what they do.

For them, it is less about government, because government is not a part of their lives. Except once in 5 years. But, google and FB are. The average 22 year spends  increasingly larger chunks of  time and energy online. They are pouring out their lives on these sites. And, now they are worried about what the faceless corporation knows, and can do with that knowledge.

I seriously get spooked out, when i search for a book on google (or a film or anything else) and when i access my gmail, an ad for that product pops up. I know i can disable it (i.e., not see it) but that data is still being collected and collated. Sooner or later, it will be used – most likely against your best interests. And no, going incognito is not going to help.

What was interesting is that this generation (mind you the sample size is small – one class in one college in one city) seems to find the giant, faceless corporation far scarier than the government

the crow
why a crow picture, i couldn’t find anything else :) and, i kind of like crows