Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Death of Blogging

Remember the days when everyone had their personal blogs? The days when you posted fearlessly and someone actually read it? The days when you met new people through your blog? Those days are over.
Read my article in the Spark magazine which goes into a journey through that phase.

The Death of Blogging

The year was 2004 and I had launched my personal blog titled ‘Solilowkey’. Now that I think back to it, I can’t put my finger on what prompted me to enter the world of blogging. I had been an accidental writer through my school and college years but there never was a fixed outlet for all my work. I had the frequent daydream of being a successful writer whose books would adorn the shelves of bookstores and who would read from his books to spellbound listeners. However, there was no intent to pursue that dream. The blog was a certainly a new outlet but without a particular focus.
Blogging was an accidental discovery but it turned out to be a fortuitous one. I started writing more regularly than I had in a long time. Short stories, poems, commentary on all things I cared about, translation of ghazals – they all made an appearance on those virtual pages. For someone who had not kept a private diary, I was now maintaining a public one.
The beauty of the blog wasn’t just that I was writing. It was that I was now engaging with readers. Since there were no other means of promoting the blog (social networking sites were non-existent then), the people who came to the site were the ones who stumbled upon it. And they read. And stayed. And commented. Through these interactions and my own process of stumbling upon other blogs, I slowly formed a network of bloggers. These were strangers who were hiding behind online identities. Our only knowledge of each other were through the words we had shared. In some cases, the barriers of the anonymity were breached and I made new friends. The kind whom I had not met in real life but whose essence I had become familiar with through their words. For what else is writing but a conscious effort to bare your soul.
Blogging was new. Blogging was attractive. And blogging allowed for discovery. The internet was growing by the day but without the presence of social networking, people relied on e-mail and instant messaging solutions to communicate with one another. In short, the distractions were limited.
Some Indian bloggers that I knew turned my daydream into their reality. By being diligent about blogging and offering interesting content, they started building a following that would far exceed amateur bloggers like me. Bloggers like Arnab Ray (of the Great Bong fame) would go on to publish books, fuelled by a recognition that his blog had allowed him.
While they had been launched in 2004, Orkut and Facebook started really catching on as the decade was coming to a close. A new form of dopamine was unleashed on this world. Suddenly, everyone’s basic desire to be connected intimately to the lives of others came true. The possibilities were infinite. You could spend hours trying to hunt down the people you have lost touch with. For others, the engagement was passive and yet time-consuming. The age of the smartphone also meant that this addiction was fed during every waking moment. If this was not enough, a low bandwidth messaging solution called WhatsApp also invaded this space. And let’s not leave out the democratisation of video content through YouTube.
Suddenly, the world was in your pocket and was refusing to leave. The reading habits of people changed slowly but surely. This might not have been a conscious choice but with a finite amount of time at hand, something had to be nudged out for a new way of life to take its place. When I reflect on my own habits, I realise that I went from being a voracious reader of both online and offline content to spending an enormous amount of time on social networking sites.
I was posting on my blog with the same frequency but fewer people were reading it. Bit by bit, the other bloggers I knew started exiting the medium. Their rationale was very similar. No one ever came. No one ever read. The conversation with the readers which was one of the more enticing parts of the experience was vanishing.
Only the top thrived and prospered and they did so by bringing their blogs to the newer platforms. They would have active Facebook profiles and would share their blog posts there. In turn, like a rolling stone, good articles would get picked up and passed around. For the rest of us, it was down to watching cat videos and liking pictures of each other on Facebook.
Fast forward a few years and we are now squarely in the world of dwindling attention spans and increased distractions. The same social networking tools that were once in their stages of inception now have tentacles that reach deep into any empty moment that poor humans might have. You would know this if you have ever received every forward ever in your family WhatsApp group, or an ongoing thread on Twitter that you can’t get out of, or those pictures on Instagram by your favourite celebrities who simply can’t stop posting, or those pesky Facebook user targeting algorithms that hook you with exactly the things you ‘need’ to read.
In this new world, the blogger is fighting a losing battle. A well-written short story never has a chance, being buried in the avalanche of everything that sits atop a pile waiting for attention. Even the type of writing that grabs eyeballs has differed. WhatsApp is primarily driven by misinformed forwards and GIFs containing good morning wishes. Facebook is littered with short Instagram style posts focusing on humour. Even the long form of writing is mostly governed by your echo chamber. Outrage writing or deeply personal stories make the top of that list. A blogger would now have to truly put their writing explicitly in front of the readers to get eyeballs.
I deal with this issue personally. When I publish my short stories and share them on Facebook, I often post and re-post it because I have little faith in Facebook’s algorithm to show this to the end user. Often times, I actually (against every fibre of my being) send these articles in instant messages to my reader to get them to pay attention.
Blogging is dead. The age of serendipitous friendships between bloggers is passing. The blogger as we know it needs reinvention, or risk being irrelevant in a world that increasingly values short and vapid things to read.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Annus Moviebilis V

Year five of tracking movies seen and I am happy that the #100moviepact that I signed up for was met. This was my highest score in recorded years.


2008: 99
2014: 86
2015: 105
2016: 116
2017: 132

The full list of movies can be found here: https://1drv.ms/x/s!AsQ_MU1XkvrDiNBYccb81rTOPrnS_w 

In addition to tracking the movies that I watched, I also tracked shows this year. The count for total seasons of shows watched was 24.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Whiff of Perfume

It is the simplest actions that trigger the sweetest memories.
My poem in this month's Spark magazine is an ode to a small slice of my childhood, prompted by my own children.

A Whiff of Perfume

On lazy Bangalore Saturdays,
when we are about to set out to eat
and then return for a well-earned siesta,
my boys come to me with their arms raised,
waiting for me to spray my perfume
on their shirts over their armpits,
on their unsullied bodies,
rejoicing in this little ritual −
quite unnecessary yet wholly satisfying.
It takes me back to my many summers in Surat,
an annual ritual of my childhood,
when my cousins and I
would raise our arms in surrender,
to the uniform perfume that was sprayed on us.
United in blood, united in fragrance,
we would exit into the streets
of a city that didn’t seek a
sense of purpose to exist.
Nothing ever happened there –
nothing needed to.
We were happy in this nothingness,
enjoying somnolent lunches
and waving newspapers to convene air,
when the electricity deserted us,
spending hours playing cricket
and walking through the by-lanes of an old city,
evading the motorcycles that narrowly
dodged the cows on the road.
Dusk would see us walking back home,
washing the city off our hands and feet,
changing out of the clothes
from which the perfume had long evaporated,
and eating food under the loving gaze
of our grandmother,
who never asked what we did
in a place where nothing ever happened
and nothing ever needed to.

Monday, November 06, 2017

The Metamorphosis

A short story of a friendship that hits a pause button for years. What happens when they try to press play again? Do old equations change? Do people change? My latest short story in the Spark magazine. Read on.


The Metamorphosis

Prashant first saw Sanjeev when he walked into his classroom on the first day of fourth grade and found a new addition to his class from the previous year. A boy was hunched over a wooden bench, carving something intently into it with a metal compass. His hair was dishevelled and the pocket of his shirt was torn. A crimson line streaked across his arm.
He had clearly been in a fight and was worse for the wear. Whether he had been victorious – it was hard to tell.
Prashant found himself inexplicably drawn to this battered and bruised boy who seemed to be lost in a world of his own. He sat next to him and struck up a conversation.
“Hey, what’s your name?”
“Oh, and where are you from?”
“What are you carving?”
There was an easy symmetry to their conversation. Sanjeev’s frugality with words was compensated by Prashant’s generosity with them.
Between the words and the silence, time ran circles around the clock, pages of calendars were turned many a time and the years piled on. Their friendship had grown as thick of the weeds lining the outer walls of their hostel.
On the last day of their school, they sat on the terrace of their hostel and drank beer for the first time in their lives. They could see the city stretch far into the horizon from that height, inviting them to join its masses.
Their lives took on different paths once they left the cosy confines of their boarding school. Prashant chose a path that would eventually lead him to getting an MBA. Sanjeev decided to join the armed forces. Prashant remembered being very surprised when he heard the plan. His friend Sanjeev, who had never vocalised his patriotism, was showing his admission letter from the National Defence Academy.
When pressed, the quiet fellow that he was, he merely said, “Someone has got to guard the gates.”
The two stayed in touch for the first few years. Slowly, new companions filled the void that they had left for each other. The words dried up between them and they fell out of being in each other’s lives. Prashant got his management degree, Sanjeev his military rank.
The fragility of the silence between them was broken when Prashant unexpectedly got a call from Sanjeev’s mother on a Sunday afternoon.
“How is Sanjeev, aunty?”, Prashant asked, surprised by the unexpected voice on the other end of the line.
“He is fine, beta. It takes a lot to get him to call us and tell us about what he is up to, but he is doing fine,” said his mother, laughing.
“Where is he?”
“In Kashmir.”
“Doing what?” Prashant queried, feeling silly even as he asked.
“Fighting the terrorists,” her voice quivered.
“You know, he is expected to come home at the end of the month. His sister and I thought we’d surprise him with a birthday party. We haven’t seen you in so many years; I thought he’d be really pleased to see you.”
“I’ll let you know, aunty” Prashant responded matter-of-factly. “Take care.”
Seven years, he sighed. “Seven years since I have seen him. How did we manage to do that after being so close?”
He opened the freezer and took out a bottle of cold Bira beer. Sanjeev would have liked it, he said to himself.
Sanjeev, my friend. He must be enjoying the famed apples of Kashmir while meditating on a rock covered with snow perched on a high mountain.
And now memories came flooding. Memories that were buried. Memories that were now the bottom layers of stratified rock, crushed and aged.
Suddenly, Prashant found himself opening up his laptop and starting to type, a subconscious drive coercing clicks on the keyboard from him. He imagined himself making a little speech in Sanjeev’s honour at the party.
“Sanjeev is a true friend.”
“In all the years that I had known him, Sanjeev has always been a rock. Never wavering, never dithering. Always sure of his beliefs and ready to fight for them.”
Prashant’s mind drifted to the solitary figure of Sanjeev standing in the middle of a circle, as the seniors who were ragging him, continued to heckle him for not going and proposing to a girl. But he hadn’t uttered a word.
“Sanjeev has always been a man of few words but the words he spoke were never said in vain. He has always been, above all, a genuine person,” he typed.
Prashant couldn’t help recalling how when his father passed away, Sanjeev had stayed by him for days at a stretch. In those silent days where Prashant mourned for his father, Sanjeev matched his silence, only breaking it once to put a hand on his shoulder and tell him, “I am sorry for your loss.”
The little speech took shape as Prashant emptied the vessel of his memories for his friend onto a Word document. He then pressed the Save button, shut his laptop and slept contentedly.
Days passed and one evening, when the neon lights across his building had come into life, Prashant’s phone rang. The voice at the other end of the line was unmistakable.
“How are you?” asked Sanjeev.
He had come back from duty a week early and surprised his mother. Her well-laid plans of a surprise party were thwarted.
It was his turn to surprise the people who had been there for him. Would Prashant like to meet?
“Yes, of course.”
The two old mates met the next evening at a bar.
“Beer?” asked Prashant.
“Whiskey,” Sanjeev asserted, smirking.
Prashant raised his eyebrows slightly in surprise. He sipped his drink quietly while a stream of words flowed from Sanjeev.
“Doing the right thing is overrated.”
“Why should only the bastards pulling the strings get a cut?”
“I am done with this job. Another six months and I am out.”
The city slumped into the depths of night as Prashant sat and listened to his friend from another age. That embattled, bitter pragmatist, who seemed to have buried the dreamer that Prashant knew, somewhere, much like his memories.
When the evening got over, they shook hands and went their ways. When Prashant got home, he turned on his laptop and pulled out the speech he was intending to give. As an afterthought, he typed:
“I missed Sanjeev. I will always miss him.”

Prashant realised that the last sentence read more like a eulogy. A remembrance to a person who wasn’t there anymore. And wasn’t that apt because the person he searched for was no longer there? Lost to life. Lost to war. Metamorphosed.

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Mirage of Choice

Choice is confining. Dreaming is limitless. And yet we are bound to what we manage by the choices we make.

Read my poem in this month's Spark magazine that explores this theme.

The Mirage of Choice

She wishes life was arranged like
The chiaroscuro of a cobbled street
The darkness allowed to coexist
With the light within her that
Waxed and waned like the
Trenchant moon outside her window
She wishes she was a tree
Whose roots she could hide
While they spread unbeknownst
To the world that pried and stared
And willed her to melt down
Like a cube of ice under the hot sun
She wishes that she could dream
Without the practical considerations
That shackled the flight that dreams
Should be allowed to take
Not weighed down by the drag of reason
Not burnt like the wings of Icarus
She wishes that she could choose
The life that she wished for
That she would point to a closed fist
And would always find a coin within it
That every choice was a deliberate move
Always made to move her forward
She wishes that true choice was not a myth
That she could choose the wishes
That would inevitably turn to reality
That her outcomes were not
The dispassionate verdicts of probability
And her choices were not curses in hiding

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Of Dreams

I wish I could dream
The dreams of my children
Those impractical, juvenile,
Infantine trips to worlds
That I now know to
Be fiction
There hardly is a point
In dreaming dreams
That are impractical
There are no gardens
Where the fountains
Have the elixirs
That imbibe me with powers
Or butterflies
Resting on rhododendrons
That are in fact
Filaments of gold
Sewn together
By a magical hand
That I waved
I’ll merely kiss my kids goodnight
And watch their eyes droop
As they fly out to their lands
Awash in belief
I will close the door
And silently bid them goodbye

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

An Ode to Lake Bellandur

The lake that catches fire. The lake that spews foam. And now, the lake that inspires poetry.

The Bellandur lake in Bengaluru is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Here's an ode to it.

#Bellandur #BLR #poetry

An Ode to Lake Bellandur

And the white clouds floated on land
Past the clutches of those pesky weeds
Trampling the iron mesh of tyranny
Snowy glory on a tar-filled road
Lake Bellandur flowed onto the roads
Spreading liberally, its blessings in foam
Like a Dali painting unshackled from a frame
White Christmas on a sizzling morning
What do they know of you, of Bellandur?
Calling you a lake of filth
A symbol of greed and decay
The death knell for a verdant city
Why do they only see that fire on your surface
As waylaid chemicals in a giant bog?
The stinging smoke as poison to the lungs
The clingy weeds as shackles on growth?
Ignore the accusers, avoid the guilt
Your sprawl matches that of the city
Your failures nothing but its inaction
You are but a mirror and nothing more