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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The blog writer looks back

Now that I have been blogging for two continuous years (and an enormous number of people, including lots of celebrities both in India and abroad are doing the same), let me look back and reflect upon the experience.

Many people now have access to reasonably fast internet connections (in India it started happening only about five years ago, but that’s not much behind the west), and there are lots of web services like blogger.com to provide the necessary technical support very cheaply or for free, so I suppose it is natural that all sorts of people would start writing diaries on the net. A couple of savvy old boys got me interested, I made a tentative beginning, it took some time before my blog (or weblog, to give it its original and already-almost-forgotten name) started drawing people’s attention (mostly my ex-students, but also some of their friends/mentors/relatives) and comments, and then I was hooked. Since July 2006 I have posted 60-plus articles on all sorts of subjects, from religion to Harry Potter to poetry to career counselling to humour to personal reminiscences, short and long, at the rate of about three posts a month in recent times. Till date the blog has been visited almost 15,000 times, counting the 4000+ plus that the previous sitemeter had logged before I accidentally uninstalled it (which I consider rather good for a provincial non-celebrity who refuses to make his blog look sexy), and on average each post draws about 20 comments. I have just installed a poll for people to tell me why they like it, and I got twelve votes within the first two days (do vote; or let me know by email that it’s not working). I get a lot of hate mail, too; the less said about it the better. I prefer to laugh it away as the price of fame (however modest that might be in my case)! I am also toying with the idea of linking my blog to a Google program called Adsense: they supposedly pay you every time someone clicks on your blog. The only thing that’s holding me back is the thought that my blog would be cluttered up with advertisements yet not make me any significant money, because it’s just not popular enough on the scale that Google is looking for. But it feels good to be able to stay in touch with lots of people whom I could never have otherwise chatted up with, home-bird that I am, and my interlocutors scattered around the world. So long live the internet: it was created with just my kind of person in mind! I have written a diary since I was seven, and continued the habit till I was almost thirty; now the net has got me back again, only this time there are scores (or maybe even hundreds) of others who are following my thoughts around, more or less keenly. I wish, though, that more people would get back more often with intelligent, informed and sympathetic comments.

Here are a few discoveries I have made as a regular blogger:

1) Net penetration in India is still abysmally low (especially if you compare with the degree of penetration that fridges, mobiles, motorcycles and TV have achieved). That’s one genuine reason why many people cannot keep in touch even if they might wish to; 2) most people who visit don’t read closely and with understanding, which I can make out from the average time spent by any visitor after clicking on to my homepage, as my sitemeter informs me; 3) few people have the time, energy and opportunity to write long and serious comments (yet a lot of them apparently have enough of all three to write abuse); 4) Most net users are young people (and naturally ill-informed and having little experience of real life, which they try pathetically to cover up with an arrogant attitude); the comments would have been, I think, far richer, more frequent and more varied if people of my generation and older had logged on in large numbers, but they don’t (why, I wonder? They are quite comfortable with all kinds of other gadgets like cars and mobiles and iPods and microwave ovens, as I can see all around me. And of course very few of them are genuinely busy as they claim: otherwise so many fathers and mothers could not have waited patiently outside my gate for their children at my tuition day after day, year after year. And they always have time enough for their gossip-circles, clubs, parties and every wedding in town – oh, and by the way, I have checked out for years and years that these parents as a rule don’t read newspapers either). I have been an oddball in all sorts of ways, now I have found out yet another! 5) Few bloggers read others’ blogs. Westerners, in particular, don’t as a rule read blogs by Indians. So, alas, the Net is not really succeeding in forging a global village inspired by mutual knowledge, respect and understanding – not, at least, as yet. 6) The most traffic is drawn by blogs with a lot of pictures/cartoons (especially of the porn/soft porn variety), or those offering fashion tips and updates on the latest gimmicks and gizmos on the market (‘Boys’ Toys’, as Discovery Channel called them), not those discussing serious grown-up stuff (like, say, politics – unless it’s all about mudslinging – economic affairs, philosophy, literature, art, high-level science or charity). Says a lot about mankind, doesn’t it? 7) Hurry, pretence and bad manners give wrong impressions very quickly, and turn people off – it does to me, and I am sure a lot of other decent people react the same way. Too many people have this silly notion that on the Net you can pretend to be whoever you like, and be as rude and brusque as you like, and lie as much as you like, and nobody will find out, and nobody will mind if they do find out (that includes current and ex-students of mine who say the kind of rude things – often unthinkingly – to me over the net which they wouldn’t dream of doing face to face). So this is a reply to a question put to me by Rupam Mukherjee recently: it is indeed difficult to have genuine conversations (leading up to genuine and good relationships) over the Net. But we mustn’t give up trying too easily, must we? 8) people these days are so not well-read, yet they have neither any shame about it, nor fear that they might fall by the wayside (I said in one of my posts in my orkut community that ‘leaders are readers’), nor stop to think that they owe a well-read and much older man the courtesy of at least reading up a few things before they start shooting their mouths off at him, even though they hardly know what they are talking about (a little boy doing physics, who by his own admission has read virtually nothing but physics – not a word of whole libraries on theology, metaphysics, epistemology, semantics, logic, dialectics, history, you name it – presumes to tell me that I don’t know the difference between causality and determinism, when an hour’s face-to-face discussion would have convinced him that I have forgotten more about the subject than he in all probability will ever learn!!! Talk about empty vessels). I contrast this (alas, now all too common) type with the Upanishads categorically specifying humility in front of superior wisdom as an absolute essential for the progress of learning, Socrates declaring that the only thing he was sure about was that he wasn’t sure about anything, Newton comparing himself with a child collecting pebbles on the seashore, Russell saying that the highest hallmark of civilization is always remembering that I may be wrong, and Steve Jobs urging the young to ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’. What lesson does the contrast teach me about today’s ‘educated’ people? I know now why so many wise folks sneeringly refer to doing a PhD as ‘phudding’ (Many of these will soon be bringing over their kids to my tuitions, and resent it that I deal so dismissively with them!)

You will notice that there is only one entry under the label ‘Books and Movies’ so far. A few people – keen readers and serious movie watchers themselves – have asked why I haven’t written many more essays of the same sort. Just look at the number of comments (and check out Abhirup’s experience after writing an ‘evaluation’ of a good movie by clicking on the link called ‘Thoughts of an idiosyncratic mind’ given here under the heading ‘I frequently visit…’) and you will understand why. The hardest thing to find in today’s world is people who can think and feel, and books and movies call for thinking and feeling in a very serious and sustained fashion. I wish my blog could draw such rare people to me: that would create a community I could cherish. I keep getting the depressing feeling that we are drowning in an ocean of philistinism, a world full of people with money in their pockets, degrees galore under their belts, and nothing (other than technical manuals and the grossest of basic instincts – greed, sloth, vanity, envy, spite) in their heads!

One more thing. Do visit the blogs of a few of our celebrities – compare those of Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, for instance. Just find out what ‘turns SRK on’. What does it say about his personal culture, and that of his family? And if these be our cultural leaders/icons, can there be any doubt that we as a nation are going to the dogs?

On the whole, the net reflects the world as it is in microcosm, except for the fact that is still populated too heavily by the young, uninformed (in all matters other than the purely technical – my daughter picks up the tricks of using every new gadget I buy much faster than I do, and I use her youth to advantage, but that is not a reason I respect her for! She’ll have to accomplish much bigger things first), irresponsible and fancy-free, and that people take more liberties there than they generally do in real life. Maybe things will get better with the passage of time, as net users age and mature and learn some good things (such as manners – vastly harder to pick up than software code!) the hard way.

Despite the disappointments and unpleasantries, my own experience hasn’t been too bad on the whole. I have got back in touch with a lot of good people – sometimes even been happily surprised that they remember, care and listen still – and I keep getting very nice comments and requests and suggestions for more, and thanks for putting me in touch with other interesting blogs/websites (it also amuses me to see that some people – nominally adult and supposedly employed, even in government! – go to great lengths and waste their precious time just to tell me they don’t like me). A lot of people who for one reason or another won’t write comments have assured me by email, over the phone or face to face that they eagerly keep track of whatever I am writing, and I mustn’t stop. Some (including current pupils of both sexes) have told me that reading all those posts – ‘What sort of person am I?’ in particular – has helped them to know me much better than they otherwise could have, and they are glad they took the trouble. So I have decided to carry on blogging for some more time. Someday, maybe, the blog is going to become an important adjunct to my tuitions. Meanwhile, here’s wishing more power to both admirers and detractors. I only wish the latter would write some sense. Even invective is welcome, if only it is informed, relevant and flavoured with wit (and of course, on my blog, I decide what is and what is not – that’s elementary, isn’t it? Some people are so intellectually-challenged that they have trouble understanding even that much!). Otherwise, as Professor Dumbledore told the house elves, you can call me a barmy old codger if you like: if that says anything at all, it’s only about you, and I’d much rather not know! Nature abhors a vacuum; so empty minds quite naturally fill up with nonsense and filth. Not something you ought to exhibit to the whole wide world.
[P.S.: My daughter very kindly took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to draw the Happy Birthday cartoon for the blog on top of this post]

One more thing, July 08: Do look up Stotra's comment after this blogpost!


11 comments:

Tanmoy said...

Dearest Suvroda,

First, congratulations on the blog birthday and good cartoon too. Two years is a long time (though your blog is chotobhai of mine!!.

I love everything that you say because it indeed helps me. Despite having grown up in the traditional sense of the term, a person like me is heavily dependent on mentors like you whose writings gives direction to my thoughts. It is difficult to describe after so many years how you have been helping me but you know, you do. In a way, you have been helping me to help myself.

I am grateful to you for that.

I wish you good health always and hope this blog becomes much more powerful a tool. Knowing you I am sure something more innovative in writing is coming soon.

Take care and my regards

Tanmoy

Rupam said...

NAME: Rupam Mukherjee
E_MAIL: rupam.mukherjee@gmail.com

Sir,

First I must thank you for this thought provoking article and kindly mentioning the question I had put to you. I would take up one of the many issues you have touched upon in this essay: "Blogs written by today's celebrities and consequent downfall of moral standards".

You seem to have a great disappointment (understandably so), with today's youth and their generally arrogant attitude. In this context I would like to mention one incident that I found in the "rediff.com" orbituary for the Late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw:

One reader recollects: He had visited a school as chief guest in a sports function. There, the topic of morality of youth somehow came about. He mentioned that he felt no resentment towards the youth of today, simply because his generation had Swamiji, Netaji, Maulana Azad, Pandit Nehru, Gandhiji and such idols to follow, while these young men had none. With a total lack of idols, he felt whatever they have done and learnt is to some extent commendable.

This observation is quite commensurate with your opinion about today's celebrities. However, I think to generalize the youth like that would be improper. There are some good people no doubt. I personally know some men and women of extraordinary integrity. Hence, somehow, it is a matter of chance that so many not-so-good people come to cross you.

Regards,
Rupam

Rajdeep said...

Happy Birthday to your blog and best wishes! Vive la Suvro Chatterjee bemused. Best wishes to you Sir. Rest in my mails. Take care!

NA said...

Happy Birthday blog! Here is looking forward to more intellectually stimulating discussion over the years.

~Mayuri

PS: Sir, I didnt know Shahrukh Khan had a personal blog (There was one IPL/KKR special blog, but he doesnt post there anymore). I also did a google search but I didnt find anything.

SleepyPea said...

Dear Suvro da,
All I'll say for now: I wish a great big cheery and happy (somewhat belated) Birthday to your Blog. I look forward to reading and re-reading and going back and forth on your grand blog. For indeed it is a grand blog, and one of the best things for me is being able to hunt down a post that I want to read again for some reason or none that I can clearly define. Pupu did a lovely job with the birthday-blog-cake!
Take care. Love and best wishes.
Shilpi

Aakash said...

Dear Suvroda,

Wishing your blog the very best for the years to come.
It has brought a lot of like-minded people together and it has been a pleasure to know the variety of ideas on a given topic. What's more, I've come to know you a lot more through this blog.

With regards and wishes,

Aakash

Sayan said...

This blog, since it’s inception has been my source of inspiration and courage. Since I renewed contact with Sir, courtesy this blog, I have discovered parts of myself that I thought never existed. I know that no ‘Thank You’ is enough. Even I am planning to read and re-read the numerous posts. However, I would urge Sir to write more on ‘Books and Movies’, perhaps highlighting their similarities and how both mediums of knowledge can be effectively used to convey the same life giving, immortal ideas (for instance say between the movie “Forrest Gump” and the book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” – one similarity being that a person can do what he wishes to do, simply because he desires to do it, and that there might not necessarily be any ulterior motive behind his work, a point that Sir has touched upon innumerable times) that truly great people have made their lives and character.
Sayan Datta

Sriranjani Datta said...

many many happy returns of the day(belated) to your blog... may it prosper and grow big providin more interesting and thought provoking stuff to us...
regards,
Sriranjani.

Arnab said...

Arnab Chakraborty

Happy Birthday!
Thank you for patiently sharing your thoughts for over two years. I enjoyed reading it. I will look forward to more.
Tell Pupu that she has done a good job with the birthday picture.

Stotra said...

I would like to inform all readers of this blog that as a fond ex-student of Sir's, I have just opened a community on orkut called 'To Sir, with love'. The url is

http://www.orkut.co.in/Community.aspx?cmm=49479168

Please visit, join and write, all who have good memories to share about Sir, and all those who would like to know him better!
Thanks,
Stotra Chakrabarti

Kaushik said...

Extremely sorry for the belated response.

Well yes, it’s two years you had built a bridge that sought a connect between minds, ideas and ideals, separated by the gradients of time and space (it’s not physical necessarily, for the neighbour next door may be aeons distant to you in his apperception of issues which seem so natural to you like the glistening blades of grass after a smart shower while the old man, down a generation or two and residing on the other side of the globe could gauge you from a half-spoken word with a twinkle in his eyes), extending a most gracious welcome to a whole communion of interlocutors, friends, eager to open up their hearts –offering a fertile reach and range of issues, from philosophy, politics, life, ethics, travel etc which provided an ideal grist to the ‘mind-mill’.

The once single lane bridge gradually gave way to multiple corridors and alleyways, converging to various destinations with clearly marked direction and theme tags to suit the manifold interests of the fellow travelers, both conscious journey-men eager to reach their ports of call, while quietly savouring, Bacon-like, the nuggets of wisdom dotting their pathways, to idle gallivanters and stragglers, not to speak of some occasional spoilers and polluters coming oddly in the way !!

I, for one, accessed the bridge quite accidentally a little more than a year ago and was immediately caught in a maze, as it were…. symptomatic of the imagerial hungry boy with little money to spare left to gape in a sweet shop with a tantalizing fare of culinaries at display .. I could slowly rein in my senses and tread cautiously, wonder-struck at the sheer depth and expanse of the subjects that each of the bridge fairways had in their stores, and was equally mesmerized to note the rich contributions of some of the fellow travelers, most of them younger to me but much matured and prolific in their learned dispositions.
Some expressions, words, ideas of the bridge-builder would trigger a whole chain of thoughts in me… I would often take nostalgic drives down the memory lane to recreate some of the long lost moments and reminisce wholly in those fond reveries.

When there are other bridges which seek to offer various kinds of glitzy trinkets, salacious giveaways, discounts, market and media-dictated incentives and unabashedly flaunt to ‘short-circuit large distances’ at half the traffickers’ time and cost to solely attract a higher volume of traffic,(not to speak of the allowances given to flesh trade and drug traffic) and there are, I know now, quite a few of the others with mindless loops and cul-de-sacs and weird diversions (enough to distract honest, gullible wayfarers), this one exhorts the travelers to ‘cross it’ the hard way, learning and discovering for themselves a whole gamut of experiences, rich and varied in their genre and beyond replication, with no short-cuts and cheap thrills promised in the process.

I only hope this grand bridge slowly and eventually revolutionizes the concept of connectivity, the connect that you have always dared to establish with your inner self , and through it with the larger and the ultimate one, imbuing the time tested principles of sharing and care, erudition and dignity, values of fairplay, beyond the crass ‘fetishism’ and commoditization of culture…. bringing in its fold all the like minded co-travelers, who would, you never know, would be forging small inter-bridges among themselves (remember the superbly visualized inter-connected stairways of the Hogwartz School?) and build a global communion of its own.

Take care, Suvro. Regards.
Kaushik Chatterjee