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The Inscrutable Novel

By on Aug 29, 2009 in Reviews | 0 comments

My rating of The Inscrutable Americans by Anurag Mathur: 4 / 10 Publisher: Rupa & Co MRP: Rs 95 To be honest, I never bothered to read this book completely – until now. Until I came to know that this book is in its forty-second reprint. I don’t know whether Rupa (the publisher) pulled a fast one by printing exceptionally small batches of the book or whether it has actually sold enough editions to go into a 42nd reprint. Methinks it’s a bit of both. This book has been around for ages – the fossilized 1000-pound dinosaur of the Chetan Bhagat genre. Being in its 42nd avatar certainly doesn’t seem to have alerted Rupa copy-editors to spelling mistakes and such, a few of which I encountered while reading. (I’m not considering ‘deliberate’ mistakes which are part of the character.) The story is about a guy who goes to the US of A to study (chemistry) and goes on forever about his family’s hair oil factory in the hick town of Jajau in Madhya Pradesh. Sadly, this book can be summed up with these words – sex, and lots of stereotypically bad grammar. What could have been powerful social commentary makes brief appearances but disappear before you can say ‘Loch Ness Monster’. Those bits are wrapped up in small passages. Understandable, if you are writing a humour novel. The Inscrutable Americans isn’t. There are passages which are funny – letters from the protagonist to his younger brother back in India almost invariably so – but those are because of the broken English the protagonist Gopal uses. You could experience the same brand of comedy by visiting any forum on the Web (Rediff’s comments section jumps up saying “Me me” at this point) without having to part with Rs 95 for this book. As for everything else in the book, it’s an unmitigated disaster. Both the book itself and the storyline. You might cackle a few times at the quintessentially unlucky protagonist, like you might if you find a stranger slipping on a banana peel on a sidewalk – but after a point you really don’t find any emotional connect with the character. You pity him towards the beginning, might just even root for him but in the end you get a tad bored with the words ‘sex’ and ‘hair oil’ repeating themselves too many times without getting anywhere. Goddammit man, I’m not asking for on-print sex – I’m simply asking for a story which doesn’t get monotonous. I have a word for this genre of ‘novels’. It’s ‘publishitting‘, noun, which means ‘when you publish shit on paper‘. The cornerstone of The Inscrutable Americans is that it appeals to that clientele which speaks English similar to that of the protagonist. “Here,” they say, “Brother is like us and going to Amrika and trying to bedding Brooke Shields and is respectfully trying to restraining himself to Respect Revered Grandmother wish”. My sympathies to you folks. Go ahead and enjoy this book. I certainly did not. PS – I hear this so-called ‘novel’ has been made into a movie too. The...

The New Hindu

By on Aug 20, 2009 in Reviews, Stop The Press, Tech Takes | 4 comments

The Hindu is probably one of the most old-fashioned major newspaper in India. While all the others have moved on to the “Yay us! We have full-colour newspapers!” bandwagon, The Hindu staunchly refuses to give anything other than black & white. And with its strong focus on South India events even in the Delhi edition it says a big “FUCK YOU” to all ‘naarth Eendyen’ newspapers like Times of India and Hindustan Times. Without a doubt, it’s the best copy-edited, best written, sane and sober newspaper in India. The effect of all the roofies that the editors at Hindu took seems to be wearing off – they have discovered the Internet! “Oh look, this Facebook thing is ossumz!“ So The Hindu decided to give its website a major upgrade. The old site is still lurking around at thehindu.com – in all its 1990s Internet glory; the new website is at beta.thehindu.com. This redesign has been done by Mario Garcia Jr. Mario Garcia Jr, in case you haven’t heard of him in Hindustan Times, where they brag about getting redesigns done from him on the umpteen number of times it has ‘changed’ over the past few years. Journalism outsourcing professionals in India have been out-Bangalore’d by a Floridan! As someone else puts it, “Future contestants of Mastermind might like to consider “Indian Newspaper Design” for their specialist round. The answer for all 10 questions is Mario Garcia.” Consider what we have had to deal with so far. A cursory look suggests that the designer of the Hindustan Times website had an Uzi pointed at his head while he was designing the website, with some sub-editor saying “Naach Basanti, naach” in the background while yet another editor shouted “I want like, every, goddamn news article section to be on the front page. It’s so cluttered that the basic idea behind this is “Let’s put a link every 1cm and hope the user clicks something, even if accidentally.” And then HT editors keep wondering on their blogs as to why they aren’t earning revenues through ads. If guys like these stay around a bit longer, journalism will be dead. Times of India‘s website is a tad better than Hindustan Times. Their delight knew no bounds when ComScore (quite probably made a mistake and) declared that TOI’s site was the most trafficked in the world. Maybe it was the whole subdomain thing which bamboozled ComScore, because I kinda find it hard to believe that with the number of Internet users India has, TOI’s site got more visitors than any other newspaper website in the world. TOI’s site design is a bit better but still somewhat cluttered. Coming back to The Hindu’s redesign – what I wanted to say was “This is fantastic!”. The design is really clean. Everything is arranged in a proper fashion – heck, they even placed the ads properly rather than jamming them anywhere, anyhow. When you land on the website, you eyes scan easily through the content without getting overwhelmed with information. There are flashing scrolling tickers and animated jumping monkeys to distract you. Also, The Hindu has decided to implement with a ‘web first’ policy – which means that from now on their reporters will publish their stories first on the website, then in print. Most other newspapers keep breaking news to a minimum, opting to publish online only very important breaking news via dispatches from agencies. Hindu‘s idea, if it takes off, could mean a day when the online version of a print newspaper – that too one of the more traditional ones! – is given more importance. Why this makes sense is that fresh, original content being posted on the website first, a lot more people might be interested in reading news there – thus increasing potential for ad revenue. I don’t know about other, but I for instance only check online news sites in case some major event has happened and I want new news updates – or in case I need to link back to a news story. And with an uncluttered interface, chances are that readers will stick around longer and read more of Hindu‘s content. Douglas Adams, in his essay What Have We Got To Lose, was right on target that the future of media is online. Years after he originally wrote this article, its astonishing to note that most people associated with news media still think the same way, websites are still made with the same thought process like the early days of the Web that DNA has described in the essay. I urge you to read his arguments on why digital media makes sense for everyone – even media house owners once they get it. Originally posted at...

Delhi Bloggers’ Meet #30 – Meetup with Shashi Tharoor

By on May 22, 2009 in Personal | 3 comments

Delhi Bloggers’ Bloc conducted DBM#30 on 21st May 2009 at The Attic, Connaught Place. It was convened at such a short interval after DBM#29 because noted author , former UN diplomat and now-politician Shashi Tharoor was in town (silly me – of course he would be in town…he’s in the friggin’ Parliament!). He agreed to attend the event. The venue had space for 60 people, but a little bird told me that only 42 people turned up. While we were waiting for him to arrive, some of us bloggers / twitterers were joking that we would be able to estimate how corrupt Shashi Tharoor is (or isn’t) by observing how late he turned up for the meet. And he arrived right on time! Shashi Tharoor spoke about his impressions of social media (he tweets too) and whatever small role it played during the election process. His campaign manager also spoke about the use of technology beyond Internet, such as automated phone calls. A valid query which was raised at this point was that in the 2004 India Shining campaign, the BJP had automated calls with recordings of Vajpayee played too – and weren’t that successful. The answer was that in this particular case they tried to make the call sound as ‘realistic’ as possible, with ambient background noise (BJP campaign had ‘India Shining’ elevator music playing in the background), pause after saying hello, recording was in Malayalam etc. Which makes me think – if the call was so realistic then why didn’t the voters think it was rude of the bloke at the other end to not have a proper conversation and hang up abruptly. Not all the voters would be tongue-tied, would they? There was a Q&A session which took up most part of the meet. Old people mostly hung around and listened while the youth brigade kept pestering him with questions ranging from ‘effectiveness of the UN’, ‘sequel to his book The Great Indian Novel ‘, to ‘is the Congress party considering listening to feedback on the blogosphere, now that they have an MP who tweets’ (that was me). Shashi Tharoor cames across as a really candid and honest guy saying stuff other politicians wouldn’t have the balls to say off-the-record. As interesting as it was, the session had to be wrapped up because he had another interview scheduled at The Park hotel nearby. Before he left he was gheraoed for autographs, photographs, childhood reminiscences and ‘Parliamentary language’ (read ‘pull him by the kurta and go “No, you answer my question first!”). The gentleman in question had to make a precipitous escape to stay on schedule for his next interview. Photos from Delhi Bloggers’ Meet 30 with Shashi Tharoor are available on my photo...

The Thousandth Post

By on Jan 11, 2009 in Personal | 19 comments

When I told Rach that this milestone was coming up, his first response was “What are you going to do about it? Write a post that this is post number so-and-so?”. That wasn’t my initial idea, even when I’d spoken to him. I’d thought of writing something about I won’t tell you. When the moment arrived, I just couldn’t bring myself to dismiss it off as a footnote. There was a ‘false start’ to this post around September last year. The post count on my WordPress database was inching towards 1000, so I sat down to see my previous posts. I discovered that duplicate entries had been created on my blog when I had restored from the Great WordPress Crash. I deleted those entries and this post was put into cold storage. When I made my 500th post, Abhishek pointed out that I was making a bit too many ‘milestone’ posts. Now, the time has come when I can make another ‘milestone’ post with proper justification. :) (And I promise, the next milestone will be at 2000.) Posting was a bit subdued as I was watching my post counter all the while, but now that’s it’s done I can be a bit more free. (That means Anuj’s old archives will start getting repopulated on this blog. I’d put that on hold for a while.) I thought it would be a nice occasion to switch to a new theme. Here you have it! The new theme should considerably improve readability; the last one’s color scheme left me very little choice to play around with. This one’s color scheme offers me more options for customizing. I made a few other changes – like showing links in my blogroll in a random order. I noticed that keeping it alphabetical might have caused some links I wanted people to go to didn’t get enough attention. Since I don’t want to bother about ranking each link individually nor show them alphabetically, random should be a good compromise. No advertisements right now, but expect them to be back in a while. :P Reaching this point involved a lot all fun and no work over a period of three years, but arrive it did. Something which started off in 2005 as nothing other than checking out a newly-maturing platform called Blogger.com (and hardly a trickle of visitors initially; blogging wasn’t THAT big back then) has now turned into a hosted blog running on WordPress serving thousands of visitors a month. Along the way this blog made it to the top for a lot of people looking for information about quizzing, computer symposiums, and school education in Delhi. I made a whole lot of friends too! More than anything, that is what I cherish the most. Social media and its power to connect people is amazing. Participating in this medium of free exchange of ideas from different people as they want it, when they want it. Feels gratifying at least some of the content on this blog has given help, advice, support, food for thought or laughs for a tiny fraction of people on the Web who came across it. Thank you, dear readers, for your patronage over the years! I could not have done reached where I am without you folks. (Oh, and incidentally, it’s also my thousandth status update on Twitter today. Yeah, I synchronized it.) Ever wondered why my blog is titled ‘Needlessly Messianic‘? The Answer shall be revealed when you click here  (just do it...

The Quiz Blogs Mega RSS Feed

By on Jan 10, 2009 in Personal | 2 comments

Keeping in touch with the torrents of data generated by quiz blogs (most of them from India) can be quite a task. Quizzing is so popular that there are hundreds of quiz blogs in the blogosphere. Subscribing to these blogs – via RSS readers or email – can get quite messy as there are so many of them. Which why I thought of creating this ‘mega’ feed – one which would contain updates from the most active and reputed quizzing-related blogs. You can subscribe to Quiz Blogs Mega RSS Feed using an RSS reader or get updates from it delivered to your email inbox. All for free. Now you won’t have to bother any more with managing multiple feed in your RSS reader or your inbox getting flooded with multiple emails. I’ve created a page for Quiz Blogs Mega RSS Feed on my blog. Check it out for more information on how this project was implemented, and for any updates on its...