Writing about Written Art

If you pound the pavement, immerse oneself in a community, solidarity and stories flow, the digital pen suddenly takes up a form of authenticity. The entire mad rush for stories, to ‘build a portfolio’ mindset is the main reason for shallow writing. If there is a listicle site, you have a Caravan too. Written text is more than mere words, writing happens before the word is typed and after the word has been typed. Text is imagination, and takes up a life on its own once it is done as it is archived and is the realm of the scholar. The written work as visual art is quotidian politics. 140 characters or 5000 word long read, the art is there. Writer goes beyond the data, while the scholar is defined by it.

Writing as more than Communication

Writing is more than dishing out information, it’s about expression, aesthetics and shattering the silence. Mediocre writing is insincere at its heart. Great writing is not verbose, yet detailed enough, engaging and not indulgent. Writing is the mainstay of communication as we write emails, chat or write consulting reports. Great writing as a skills takes years of practice and mentoring by seniors who are amazing communicators themselves. Read material which expands ones imagination rather than sheer vocabulary. Writing after all is more than articulating data in words but about informing new visions for the future.

Note on Writing

Writing is very personal act for me. I let the stories stir me before I write them. It’s self expression, activism and performance all rolled into one bundle. There are inequities to be called out, inspiring tales to be narrated and conversations that need to be captured. Independent , fearless writing unlocks an energy which is catalytic. I shall write these tales of social change. ‪#‎writing‬

Writing as a mode of Activism: Do the structures listen?

“I will tell you this, I may be dead, but my ideas will surely not die.”

        – Saro-Wiwa, Ogoni-Nigerian Writer speaking to the tribunal that sent him to the gallows

I grew up in the milieu of post liberalization middle class India and the diaspora in the Gulf resembling  a similar socio-economic sentiment, which held the socialist ideals in great contempt as the economic ideals then were of the emerging Asian Tigers. The downfall of Calcutta from an industrial powerhouse to a pale former shadow, due to the policies of Left Activism such as ‘Hartals’ (Public Strikes) and a poor work culture; framed activism, and speaking for the margins pretty passé. I grew up in a household filled with Marx and Engels and ‘Das Capital’ being a prominent feature in our house library in Navi Mumbai. We did not have fancy couture furniture, but we surely had Marx.

Activism was framed in the 1990’s Star News and India Today fed discourse as a relic of pasts economic sins.  Activism was the forte of the chic ‘jholawala’ the well-heeled latte drinking intellectual usually a product of the famed Jawaharlal Nehru University, Presidency or a Tata Institute of Social Sciences with an Oxbridge or Ivy League degree. The other extreme was the grassroots activist working in the rural hinterland in India, with demonstrable sympathies towards the left.  This was ‘India Unbound’ in the words of Philosopher-CEO Gurcharan Das, as the IT/Engineering Major-MBA combo educated urbane Indian was out to seek his pot of gold (Humanities Majors in India simply do not make the mention even). The Infosys-HCL success story was shamelessly circulated a number of times.

The poor, marginalised Indian was not sexy enough for primetime news. ‘India Shining’ failure ushered in Left supported socialist politics of the Congress for a decade. More than secular progressive politics, graft and slow development dominated the discourse. It was known as the ‘missed decade’ by the TV Studio commentators. This was the decade that supposedly would have brought India in touching distance of China. We had a ‘Harvard Man’ in office, in the words of the most influential global justice activist and writer of our generation Arundhati Roy. Yet, unbridled greed filled orgy of graft derailed a government which had some good social welfare programs on ground such as MNREGA and Public Health initiatives which this Modi regime is dismantling in favour of private sector involvement, as Dalal Street dons wield influence rather than the aganwadi worker in rural Ratnagiri. Activists of all color as represented by the corporate media as road blocks towards the utopia of late capitalism. People displaced and killed by riots or by mega projects are simply footnotes in a report, gathering dust in a ‘sarkari’ office.

No one will scream ‘The Nation Wants to Know’ for the invisible Indian who cannot buy a share for a blue chip. Activism is not aspirational, the 42 inch flat screen TV in the living room is.


Activism and writing are connected with the common bond of language. The limitations of language is the limits of our imagination in the words of Wittgenstein.

The English educated elite dominate structures of power. I am one of them. English is not a language in India, but a ‘Class’. English has the appeal of connecting the average middle class Indian to the global circuit of capitalism. The IIT’s and IIM’s have their content taught in English and not in the vernacular languages. English bequeathed by our former colonial masters, has helped the South Asian diaspora to be enormously successful. We have had a rich literary tradition of Indian writing in English. Chetan Bhagat, the enormously commercial writer in English, has brought ‘Ingris’ to the first generated educated in India. He has democratized reading in English to the masses, however pop culture it might be.

But, the chasm between India and ‘Bharat’ is accentuated by the access to the English Language as well. English perpetuates an elitism driven by language, and removes the Lutyens Delhi elite from the conversation on the ground in Satara or Purulia.  There is a positive in knowing English as it gives the writer the access to engage the world.

How many vernacular translations do we read?

English has enabled us to converse with global commercial and political elite and sometimes challenge them. Access to the language has been us the cultural resources to challenge dominant thought processes of the times. Aruna Roy, Yogendra Yadav, Harsh Mander and Medha Patkar all speak in English to engage with the wider world with the stories of struggle and resistance and build solidarity with the movements of the global south.  Many an underground Naxalite leader has been known to be well-versed in English. Power is reinforced and circulated through the language, and writers have used this weapon to challenge the present, in the hope of a better future.

Does the knowledge of English alienate the urban Indian from having the consciousness of the marginalised?

Lobbying for social change, unfortunately needs the lexicon of resistance, and English is unfortunately the Lingua Franca for achieving this end. Ambedkar encouraged his followers to learn English as a tool to beat caste oppression. The language of the ruling class is not oppressive and emancipatory at the same time as it depends on the context. The subaltern who are erased from the mainstream discourse, often are erased due to the inability of communicating in the language of power. Writers although guilty of the ‘politics of representation’ in text, lend a voice to the silenced and this is the essence of activism; speaking up when all others are muted.


Writing as a form of activism enables the helpless soul to speak to the structures of power, even if it does not listen. Rob Nixon in his seminal environmental justice work ‘Slow Violence’ writes

“In one of his final letters from detention, Saro-Wiwa assured his friend, the novelist William Boyd: “There’s no doubt that my idea will succeed in time, but I’ll have to bear the pain of the moment. . . . the most important thing for me is that I’ve used my talents as a writer to enable the Ogoni people to confront their tormentors. I was not able to do it as a politician or a businessman. My writing did it. . . . I think I have the moral victory.” “

Saro-Wiwa used his writing as a strategic tool to voice out the oppression that his Ogoni micro minority faced in the oil rich delta region in Nigeria. The oppressors were the state and multinational companies in his words. He faced the gallows as he used his writing as a tool for activism. The gallows did not silence his ideas of fermenting resistance. Silencing a writers voice, amplifies his message, and this creates the resistance he ultimately wishes to generate against the military dictatorship and the transnational oil corporation bed fellows, which have laid the delta region polluted and bereft of its natural ecosystem. Saro-Wiwa utilized his writing to force the structures to listen to him. Activism needed guts, which he had in ample measure. His death brought the focus on the oppression, which was the ultimate oppression in it itself.

His writing succeeded. Arundhati Roy in our times speaks against the ‘Upper Caste Hindu Corporate State’ that is India and sometimes speaks to Ed Snowden in Moscow regarding the Anti Imperialism Project, which she has so successfully written and spoken earlier. Her voice brings the global lens on anti-minority and anti-poor projects in India in a space where it is a rare flicker of hope.

Writing becomes impactful with guts. Activism is all about guts and intellect, hence writing and activism are good bed fellows.

Move in the ‘Write way’ : reflections on writing

I have been writing since I was young, normally more mature than my age group at school. So I did not really find a platform apart from the ambitious English teacher who saw potential in me, as normally my stuff was not fit for the school magazine but for the India Today Magazine. But i still got things on to those limited school time platforms anyway such as good grades in english.  I always believed in creating value apart from the school textbook and exams. Both my parents being academics, I was fortunate to have a library of my parent’s books to my disposal and lots of daily newspapers to read. I was well read as a teenager, but my limited interest in studying for grades apart from English and Social Science did not instill my parents confidence in me as grades were key to successive progressions. I did well in them and in Biology and Chemistry until Grade 12 as I am memory-based person. I remember things well, so History and Politics (somehow connected, still have not fully understood the connection) fascinated me and I was in awe of how individuals ran society. I had floated one day to my father the idea of studying History in Grade 8, and he like a concerned Indian parent shot it down. I was discouraged by other folks too when I started writing. A few people told me that writing is not my cup of tea as my writing was not up to the mark, as per the hallowed high priests of liberal arts academe. So dreams of being a Ram Guha was stopped in its tracks pretty early. I do not normally take a no for an answer, and which my detractors soon found out to their peril.

I studied Engineering for utilitarian reasons as a good Indian boy but reading my undergraduate engineering degree in Oman exposed me to fellow wannabe writers/policy wonks. So I wrote research papers on bioethics to socio-linguistics to public policy in those four to five years travelling throughout South Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East studying, working and exploring my self. The real break came in Singapore when I started writing for Green Business Times and started this platform. I got opportunities to write for other platforms and reading public policy and sociology really helped in fine-tuning my writing and thought processes. This got me on to International TV debates as an independent analyst and the gravy train started rolling.

My writing journey started pretty late in my opinion for a person who took writing seriously. I read diverse genres from Magical Realism to Fukuyama. Writers such as Pankaj Mishra and Pico Iyer are my literary man crush. I have never been to a creative writing course but reading the non-fiction master- pieces has been an education. I believe that writing is not a liberal arts majors territory only, because writers translate experiences of pain and angst in to words, and writing is a product of hard work as the Guru of Global Literature Haruki Murakami eloquently writes in his semi memoir on life, writing and running known as ;“What I Talk about When I Talk About Running” . This transformational read resonates with me as a writer. Writers according to Murakami have to work hard to churn out a narrative for the audience in mind, day in and day out. It is not purely, a function of talent alone but of diligence and discipline if one has to churn out a global writing and speaking career across decades and still your readership grows like this recent convert. One has to tailor his lifestyle according to his trade, like Murakami left running a Jazz Bar to write full time, moving across cities throughout the globe, to write, run and live. Till one does not stretch ones limits and trains in a disciplined manner in his passion or profession, a person cannot be successful in either one of them.

I rather used to be lazy to write on a regular basis, but I realized one fine day that as an Individual of limit talents, I was born to write and express my humble ideas in the public discourse on ideas. To write for me, is to exist. I am fortunate to have friends to read my work: Good, the not so Good as well. Writing is about exercising agency and writers are folks who write stories of their inability to communicate their expression of love to a woman, that too after she starts to date another guy they love in person but they would rather mold it in a fictional context in the written word and explore passions in the head rather than in the flesh.

I am currently writing a book (a multi year effort it is turning out to be as I have exacting standards sadly of myself) on the human experiences of urbanization and developing a long essay series on things and stuff in places where I live and experience in my personal capacity apart from having a fascinating day job in Policy Research. Fortunately, I do work in a place where I can write too. Passion and Professions can emerge if we wish to take the risk. Dr. Tharoor is a special kind of writer. Take a pay cut, if it comes down to that.

Keep Writing, as there is nothing more satisfying then someone relating to your story.

Urbanity : tale of a guy next door through globalization

This initiative of words is an attempt to celebrate the ordinariness of a boy next door, to break the myth of the super achiever and to quite revel in the constant stream of consciousness called life. My work also attempts to make sense of the post colonial, post risk world that we reside in with multiple mega forces that impact cities. Urbanization and Globalization are terms which we read or hear from self proclaimed pundits every day but what does it mean to a normal guy  in the cubicle making a living when interacting with the meta structures of global governance. It is my en-devour to operationalize these vague jargon’s through my personal journey via Muscat, Singapore, Mumbai & Gurgaon with other places making a special appearance.  The deeply challenging personal negotiation with my multiple identities is the backdrop, Writing for me is a deeply meditative experience.

  An autobiographical narrative from a first persons perspective will be candid, engaging and straight up. In this season of the Aam Admi, a guy next door shall unravel an intricate web of ideas unearthing cities, communities, breaking down phenomena into meaningful meaning. A story of the city, with all the sacred chaos.
Urban Democracy with Digital engagement and Sustainability with all its various nuances will be explored at a individual-society relationship level. In this meaning making initiative, I hope you would join me as i attempt to move beyond conference papers and taking blogging to a next level.  My book will be published online, if i do not find a publisher. Well I am not a Ivy League or IIM alum. Only those folks find publishers in India.

I really like p…

I really like pico iyers writing as it is like gourmet cuisine vis-a-vis fast food. Each piece authored has nutrition in every bite of a read. The FMCG-ization of writing (read Chetan Bhagat) along with a tweet a min generation has created an information addicted readership with scant regard for meaning, nuance and style. Good Writing is priceless.