The Speciality of Nothingness

In this age of platforms and pipelines, of scale and splendor, with modernity’s elaborate invisible structures making us their unwilling subjects, it’s time to reclaim the quietness, calmness, disconnectedness, the beauty of being oneself sans pretenses and appreciating the non universality of being small, special and having a voice which cannot be commoditized on an e commerce platform because not everything can be OLX par bech de. Because being oneself is the art which we have lost in our hyper connected world. Try to be no one for a day is also applauded: that’s seals the day, isn’t it?

Small Voices Matter: Social Change at the Margins

Small Voices aka Soloprenuers are an important pivot in making our communities more vibrant as group think is avoided and their risk appetite in curating a world towards normative ends is greater. Scale as a narrative is over hyped. We, in the private sector are driven by the animal spirits of growth ensconced in the ever evolving construct of modernity. The growth narrative is hinged on scale; big numbers and steep percentages and the media seems to be enchanted with them, rarely questioning the real impact in the ground.

Community activists are often a lone breed. They are driven by by a passion which chars them. The small, feeble voices which they echo, is often ridiculed by fellow members as spending personal resources on activist causes which might not bear fruit. The apt example is of the migration NGO’s in Singapore and Malaysia, or even the initiatives focused on transient domestic workers in India, who travel from one end of the country to the other to eek out a living.  These social ventures are focused on empowerment, advocacy and giving a voice which shatter mainstream media narratives such as Bangladeshi construction worker poets in Singapore. But, the focus population is transient, and help from these community activists might be a measure of last resort to the target community. These community activists are often hidden, silently toiling away at the margins helping these subaltern communities. Where does the impact assessment paradigm of grants based funding help in improving the ecosystem, as most soloprenuers  are self or crowd funded, and often do not have the bandwidth to even apply for grants such as a young Singaporean woman trying to help women Rohingya refugees with skills training in Malaysia or couple of friends trying to light up villages in North East India . Institution building takes resources, and a dedicated team. Small voices often work with volunteer consultants and well wishers who dedicate their time and money behind a cause in the form of an event or two, but a protracted conversation on social change needs a distinct fire in the belly which these small voices have, often banging their heads against a wall. But, they still continue working with every new member of their partner community such as Mr AKM Mohsin of Banglar Kantha-Dibashram in Singapore, working with Bangladeshi blue collared migrants for over two decades.

These community activists work in marginalized communities on specific issues, and depend on social media as a free loud speaker to bring these important voices whether the auto driver or the house help in Delhi or the Baul practitioner in rural Bengal. This however, does not discount the materiality of the requirements of running a program on social change, only that scale is often not the solution and that resources are an aid, not a silver bullet.

Impact is catalyzed one conversation at a time, and does not need a grant application to be written. 

Conversations with Cabbies: Delhi Edition

Just met a super courteous elderly Sikh man Sukhdev Singhji in Nehru Place after our biannual health screening, who drove us home. He broke bread with Sir Ben Kingsley during the making of Gandhi and Satyajit Ray during ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi’ as he worked for the producer of these films. He drove for 8.5 years on behalf of the Embassy of Western Sahara. We were discussing Polisario Movement and Magrebi Colonial Politics driven by phosphorus during the 15 minute drive. Some days do make me wonder about the sheer wealth of understanding academic life outside the ivory tower of Commercialization. 13912303_10209515296546991_5143950716427599829_n

Bhatt on Bollywood

Mahesh Bhatt to Karan Thapar in an India Today TV Interview: ‘We make two kinds of films; to comfort the jolted, and to jolt the comforted- for the jolted it is an ice pack and painkiller, and for the rich, pain is an aphrodisiac’ in response to a question on whether cinema is for changing the world.


‘We are not in the truth peddling business, we are in the illusion manufacturing business’

No one articulates it better than Mr Bhatt; the provocateur exemplar.

Reimagining Azadi: Making it matter

Happy Azadi Day India. May we reimagine the way we look after marginalized communities from Bastar to Bombay as we turn 70. It seems too many folks are squeezed in the middle and on the margins. The business of democracy is an imperfect transaction, and we seem to be operating on an auto pilot mode, the energy to change the drift of the discourse on inclusive growth and buy in is missing big time. The nationalist rhetoric has to move from the Times Now Studios to the actual project delivery in the micro politics of everyday life. Let’s talk more with humility with our community members to improve livelihoods wherever we are.

The future does not lie in a utopian city overseas for the middle class, or the urban centre for the poor, it lies where we are. Aspirations need to be actualized in order for a real Idea of India to matter from the text to experience. Let India be prosperous and peaceful for the year ahead from Imphal to Anantnag. Bharat Mata Ki Jai!

Scale or Intellectual Independence: the funding holy grail for non profits

It is a well known fact that non profits and policy thinks alike generate funding from corporate sources to influence the discourse on ideas rather than the normative objective of independent research, which is often spewed about with zero conviction. Nothing is independent if the staffer bills are not paid and the rentals are due. Both the stakeholders are cannot claim to hold the moral ground than consultants and lobbyists.

The reputational capital is compromised; so why maintain the charade?

Fund raising always has strings attached. ‘Please read the T&C carefully’ one does not have to read The New York Times reportage  to be aware of this funder- grantee conflict of interest tangle. Just read out a grant call aloud to understand the politics of development. Oh yes, a grant needs to be filed to study it right?

The only way to retain independence is to self generate revenue or be self funded. The scale is then impacted. Impact should be an outcome and not an indicator. The moral entrepreneurs are no better than the real estate agent around your block.