One of the downsides of being a journalist is you can never indulge in any activity, not even your pastime, without taking mental notes that could be used in the near future as raw material for a story or column. So much so that you find an activity gratifying only after you have written about it. So after a few weeks of blogging, I ended up writing the following column for my paper. After the paper went for printing, I realised I could have written much more, but the scope of the subject is so wide that you are bound to miss out many things. So if you like what I wrote, I would be happy. If you feel offended for some reason, I am sorry.
The neighbourhood I moved into a little over a month ago has — or so I am told — about a 100 million homes. So far I have been able to look into only a few. Most of them are warm and friendly, a few, extraordinarily welcoming, the rest polite enough to keep a conversation going. The interior designs of these homes vary, naturally, with the sensitivity and temperament of the occupants: some only have the bare essentials, some over-decorated with colours, and some cluttered with too many details.
A handful of my neighbours have really been nice to me. They not only paid me return visits but they now make it a point to meet up almost every day. We all have stories to tell, thoughts to share, words of wisdom to spill. And through them I am meeting many others. My circle is growing. Life isn’t bad at all in Blogosphere — yes, that’s the name of the neighbourhood I’ve moved into. Every day is a party, where you hold forth every morning or evening — and often late in the nights — on subjects of your choice.
But it is a very lonely party. No one is there in reality: the inhabitants don’t have a face or a torso, only the mind, which is visible in the shape of written words. These written words are the sole identity of a blogger. I am one now.
Not so long ago my image of a blogger was that of a bleary-eyed man who barely leaves his computer except for taking, maybe, bathroom breaks; who has food home-delivered and whose computer table is cluttered with empty coffee cups and Coke cans and peppered with bread crumbs and cigarette ash. Then one day a friend suggested: “Why don’t you blog?”
No ordinary friend this — within weeks of meeting her I fell madly in love with her. We shared the same taste in music and literature. We had the same feel for words. We were obsessed with the craft of writing. The chemistry simply worked. But it worked without the physics or the biology: we never met. She was one of those kindred spirits you chance upon in cyberspace — who you know only by a Yahoo! ID but who makes you eat out of her hand even without revealing her face. So I signed up at blogspot.com.
Thus began my journey from the Earth to Blogosphere. Upon arrival, I found that Blogosphere not only had a flourishing literary scene but also parallel, and thriving, journalism. Poetry, tiny pieces of fiction, diaries, essays — these are commonplace. And then there is the journalism — news, views, reviews, reportage, travel writing, which can be found in plenty. What is really an eye-opener is the ‘investigative journalism’: a blogger often doubles as an investigative reporter, without intending to be so.
A young Chennai blogger who calls herself Nina (duffilled.blogspot.com) drew attention of the electronically-literate community to the plagiarism going on in a newspaper highly regarded in the South. The star film-reviewer of the paper, Nina pointed out, had been lifting passages from the New York Times. The reviewer happens to have his own website which shows him sitting with his laptop and smiling at the camera, while the accompanying text proudly claims that he had spent 21 years in that paper covering dozens of important events. But now the reputation lay punctured by a blogger, who quoted passages from earlier-published reviews in NYT alongside reviews written by him for the same movies.
Gone are the days when copies of NYT or the London Times were delivered only in the hallowed corridors of newspaper officers. Those days you could copy — this is not to suggest that people copied — because you knew nobody would get to know. The world has shrunk. Today, almost every blogger has linked electronic editions of NYT or Guardian (even New Yorker) to his or her blogsite. They read everything. Steal from other papers and they will instantly know.
Bloggers also gave a tough time to the new-age management guru Arindam Chaudhuri, who runs the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM). A couple of bloggers, Rashmi Bansal (editor of JAM magazine whose views you can read at youthcurry.blogspot.com) and Gaurav Sabnis, an IBM employee (gauravsabnis.blogspot.com), had ‘exposed’ the IIPM, alleging that the institute was not as great as it claimed to be. A nasty blog war ensued in these sites. According to newspaper reports, IIPM demanded Rs 25 crore from JAM for the “presumed loss of goodwill.” And Sabnis, an IBM India employee, according to the reports, not only lost his job but was also served with a Rs 125-crore legal notice from the IIPM.
The point is, blogging is no longer a passion or pastime. It is serious business. In countries where the press is not free, bloggers are the real journalists. In vibrant democracies, bloggers are turning out to be watchdogs. And in India, you now have bloggers’ meet and awards.
I avoid writing about current affairs not only because I would run out of ideas (and steam) when I write for the newspaper, but also because the blog is a personal space, a diversion, an outlet. So I post stuff about my take on life, my nostalgia, my moods — something a serious newspaper reader might not find very amusing. Out there, however, there are many kindred spirits who relate to my thoughts, just the way I relate to theirs. I am discovering new bondings, new chemistry — the chemistry which works without the physics and the biology.
Postscript: Last few weeks it rained heavily in Chennai. One weekend was so bad that I did not step out of home. Those two days, I sat in front on the computer, writing and surfing blogs. I did not shave. The food was ordered — all the meals. The ashtray was full. Empty cups were all over the place. By Sunday night my eyes hurt and I began to feel giddy. Monday morning when I saw myself in the mirror, I looked like the blogger I had once imagined.