What it takes to be a writer

Mantri Miscelleny 228

After reading Kushwant Singh, I can see why I haven’t become a writer. Writing on ‘what it takes to be a writer‘, Kushwant in his latest, and presumably, the last book, ‘Kushwantnama’ says, ‘at times you sit for hours staring at a sheet of blank paper in front of you. You’ll have to have the determination not to get up till the sheet is filled – doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish. The discipline will prove worthwhile’

I haven’t made it , because, among other aspects,  I lack the determination to sit through till the blank sheet gets filled. Having made  many attempts at a book, on a lifetime in journalism, I report that i have  never got beyond making false  starts, at putting it all on paper. Doing an article for newspaper was different.  I was used to leaving my desk, to step out for a smoke or stroll, a couple of times or more,  before turning in my 500-word newspaper story.


Scope for coastal cruises

Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) has sent the shipping ministry a proposal for development of coastal shipping for movement of goods. Apart from relieving the pressure on roads,  which carry some 57 percent of goods, coastal shipping offers a better, and safer mode for transporting high volume items such as coal and fertilizer, and also hazardous material.

As railways and road network led to development of economies of scores of small towns in the country’s interiors, a shipping line along the coastline would boost our smaller coastal towns. Developing coastal shipping routes, for freight and passenger movement,  would  open out tourism possibilities in small towns located on the 7,500 km. plus coastline in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.

CII ought to follow up its proposal with workshop, seminars, engaging the shipping, surface transport and tourism ministries,  with relevant industry, and tours operators, to take forward the idea of coastal cruise and passenger shipping for development of a host of smaller coastal towns such as Calicut, Kottayam, Balewar, Daman and Porbandhar.

Husk power pioneers






Gyanesh Pandey and  Ratnesh Yadav  are the Patna lads who, after a stint abroad, chose to move back to their rural roots to light up  Bihar. They have set up in Bihar villages  mini-power units that generate electricity  from rice and mustard husk. The first village where they generated rice husk electricity was Tamkuha, which, in Maithili, means ‘fog of darkness’. Pandey and Yadav have since cleared ‘the fog of darkness’  in 80 other Bihar villages.

Interestingly, these guys returned to Bihar from abroad, with hopes of generating power from Jatropha. But then their  Jatropha initiative turned out, as Pandey put it, to be a ‘greenwash’. When they were clueless, wondering what to do next,  someone came along to sell them a duel-fuel system – producing electricity with a mix of husk-based gas and diesel. But then, can’t husk work on its own as fuel ? Because Pandey and partner raised this question, we now have the husk power system that is lighting up our villages.

Making of folk history, online

Photographer Anusha Yadav has found us a refreshing  way to record history, by giving voice  to  photos  pulled out from people’s family albums. It’s from individuals and their lives that folk history is made. And with this purpose in mind Anusha founded the Indian memory project – an online visual and narrative.  The project evolves folk history of a community, region or a nation through photographs found in people’s personal archives. This four-minute video, comprising assortment of photos from family albums, gives us a sense of folk history.

A sound track, with haunting music by Roger Subirana Mata, drives the still shots into a moving narrative.  Anusha has taught us a way to turn history ( otherwise dreadful bore) into an engaging subject, even for school kids.

Any family photo, pre-dated 1991, along with remembered stories and anecdotes would qualify for inclusion in the Indian memory project. Clicking through the project’s blog I picked out a family photo at random, to read what the photographer has to say. The young man in the family photo was a grandson of  Salil Chowdhury and the accompanying text related to the life and times of the famed music director.

Anusha Yadav’s  work appears to set my blogger friend C N Ramesh thinking, about mobilizing his Mysore-based friends  to create a photo blog,  inviting Mysoreans to contribute photos from their family albums to build up  online folk history of his native Mysore.  Hopefully, we would soon have a Mysore memory project going  online. I would suggest that Ramesh and his friends make it bilingual – English and Kannada.


Rupee, getting poorer by the day

The rupee value, on a fast decline, is close to Rs.65 to a dollar as I type this post. And a rupee is now equal to 0.0097 sterling. It was worth 1s. 6d. in the 1940s. An information booklet brought out by the soldiers hospitality committee in Bombay during W W II, describes the rupee as a silver coin about the size of a florin, is worth approximately 1s. 6d sterling. There are sixteen annas, a scolloped nickel coin half an inch in diameter, in a rupee…always test your rupees by ringing them on a hard surface when they should give a high clear tone. 

We had counterfeit coiners then. They are now out of business, presumably, because we no longer carry coins to the market. With ever-rising prices, paper currency, this too, in denomination of Rs.5 or more, is now the norm in market-place cash transactions. Those who use them say you no longer get leather wallets with slot to hold coins.

Dalits in the media

In the 30 odd years I spent in mainstream print media – The National Herald and The Times of India –  I can’t recall having come in contact with a Dalit journalist. But then I  couldn’t make out  from a name if the person is dalit.  And dalits, on their part ,  do not wish to have their identity disclosed.  Some, I understand, adopt a surname in a bid to conceal their caste identity.

Azez Ashraf,  who, for a magazine piece, tried to get in touch with dalits who graduated in journalism from New Delhi’s Indian Institute of Mass Communication, writes: “A couple took my call but accused me of encroaching on their privacy, which I was and for which I apologised profusely; there were a few who promised to meet me, but subsequently refused to take the umpteen calls I made to them”.

Ashraf’s three-part article on dalits in the media, appearing in The Hoot, a media

professional journal, merits wider exposure,  notably in the mainstream print media – both English and Vernacular. Extensive conversations that the author had with a score of Dalit  journalists reveal their feeling of  ‘discrimination against, and antagonism to Dalits’, notably, by other professional colleagues in the language press.  Dalits don’t seem to have much of a presence in the English media.

As I said earlier, I hadn’t come across a dalit reporter or a sub-editor in my three decades in print media. I did, however, have a dalit colleague during my three-year stint in the Press Information Bureau (PIB). In PIB I also knew a dalit, my senior in rank, who had joined the government service (PIB) after having worked  in private sector print media. Most newspapers those days (in 1950s and the 60s) paid journalists less than what they got in PIB.

In respect of dalits, however, there is a reason other than pay for their joining the govt. media agencies, in preference to private sector media, according to The Hoot article. Its author Azez put it, ‘  discrimination is a principal factor behind their (dalits) decision to leave the private sector media and opt for government jobs’.

A newspaper editor, in a comment on The Hoot article concedes that our media isn’t dalit-friendly. Mr A J Philip writes that he was advised by colleagues against his recruiting, for the Hindustan Times, Patna, a dalit post-graduate  student from Patna University.

My friend ‘Speedy’

S P Dutt (Speedy, to friends) and I have been friends since college days in late 1950’s.  We aren’t touch in the routine way, in the sense. We don’t e-mail each other. I don’t have his phone number. And yet I hear from him every other day, even though I don’t respond to him.

Speedy has this delightful knack of staying in touch with friends – his e-mail contacts –  by sharing with them links to a media story or magazine article that he finds interesting or useful enough to be shared.

I don’t read everything he sends me. And Speedy, presumably, doesn’t care what his e-mail recipients do with the media links he religiously sends to  e-mail contacts every other day. Some of his forwards are fascinating ‘finds’ I wouldn’t have accessed, had it not been for Speedy’s. I suppose he is aware of this. Which is why he keeps sending us his links, without expecting so much as a ‘thank-you’ mail from blokes like me.

The latest link I got, along with 14 other Speedy’s e-mail contacts,  relates to NYT book review of Nikita Lalwani’s novel, The Village.  The story relates to a film crew that goes to film the life and living in a unique Indian village. What is unique about the place is that this village is peopled by convicts who live there with their families.

I was surprised to learn about the place, of which I had not heard till now.The Uk-based author, Ms Lalwani, says she had visited about a decade back this Indian village modelled on a open-prison.  The convicts are allowed to seek work outside the village; and, according to the author, the village hasn’t reported any incident of escape in the last five decades.