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One of the great tragedies of life is that by the time we have lived long enough to gain wisdom, we are not young enough to do anything with it. This is why technology from the Gutenberg press to your podcast app is so marvelous. We have access to the wisdom of others. This is also why I love these long, rambling conversations I have. The point of the conversation is not always a subject that might have sparked it off, but instead what you get to learn in the digressions that you dig through the side loads of someone's mind.


My guest today has been a dear friend of mine for a couple of decades and we've spent countless hours talking about many, many things. And yet in this conversation, I learned a lot about him that I hadn't known earlier. And I also got much food for thought about the world we live in and about my own self.


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host, Ahmed Varma. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen. My guest today is Brain Bonica, a legendary journalist who's been whipping up a storm in the media since the late 1980s. He's best known for his cricket writing and his ball by ball commentary for Rediff in the mid 1990s might well have been the first blog in the world. He's also been a managing editor at Rediff and Yahoo!


And has taught both journalism and writing to countless young people. In fact, before recording this episode, I recorded a session on writing with Brimm for the YouTube channel, a window in the writing community that I ran. That video will be released on Wednesday, March 24th, three days from now. We spoke about sports writing and writing in general over there. But in this conversation, we didn't cover many of the subjects you would associate with brain. There is little talk of cricket and writing, and we spend just the last half an hour talking about journalism.


Instead, for the first two and a half hours, we discuss broader themes around life and art, and Preme shared a raw, intimate account of his life that I found both moving and inspiring. This conversation will always remain special for me. But before we get to it, let's take a quick commercial break. Why should we read books, I can think of many reasons, but one is that they teach us how to live. To give you a sense of this, allow me to recommend an online course for you.


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They also have an app where you can listen to the audio of these courses the same way you listen to podcasts and it will cost you nothing. You get one month of unlimited free access if you use the following, you all the great courses plus dot com slash unsign. That's right. Unsign the great courses, blogs, dot com slash unseen for one month of unlimited free access. It's time to start learning. Welcome to the scene in the unseen armor, they used to say that unless you have been profiled in the caravan, you haven't arrived.


I think the modern version of sunglasses appeared on the number two on my podcast. You don't exist. So thanks for having me again. No, I'm very happy to have you and you have arrived in the past. You have been on a couple of episodes in the past. We did an episode ages ago on the street, the media, and we did there was an episode where you and Gideon Haigh were the guests and we spoke about money in cricket.


And to be honest, I was actually looking forward to today's conversation because sometimes, you know, all the researching and prepping and everything for these episodes gets like really intense. And then you have photo sessions with people who may not know very well. And, you know, it all starts piling up, so to speak. I thought that, you know, let me just have a relaxed conversation with an old friend where we can just shoot the breeze.


And I don't really need to do much prep, but sort of just sit back and chill. So what have you been doing during the lockdown? How have the last few months treated you?


Well, it's been kind of it's been kind of odd, really, because dating back to January of last year, the previous two months, December, I had taken off. But in October the and I had spent time in Kerala, people walking basically along the coastline started at Columbia, Tim Kanyakumari, and came down the Getler coastline in November. I went back I started at Trivandrum Kornblum and went all the way up to Collum. Basically, we were researching what was happening to the coastlines and it was triggered by the fact that we were looking up some statistics and we realised that a survey in 2012 said that there was forty percent coastal erosion.


A similar survey in 2016 said that number had gone up to 63 percent. That's a massive, massive deterioration of coastline. And that sparked the sort of curiosity. But we weren't quite sure how the project to pan out or what it controls would be. What we wanted to do was what we typically do with these kind of stories. Go there, see what there is to be seen, and try and get a fix on how on what is happening and therefore what the story is shaping up to be.


So we went without any preconceptions. We were just talking to people. We were just walking the coast documenting what was December. We decided to take a month off it as opposed to start again in January, which didn't happen for a multitude of reasons. But February was fixed. And then we started hearing about covid early indications. If you remember, one of gateless first cases was in late January. At that time, officially, that was supposed to be no covid and pose no threat.


And if you remember the health ministry saying, well, this is just nonsense and all of that, but somehow I didn't have a comfort level with that whole thing. And March is supposed to be all about days. And you know that my boat drags, but our wedding anniversary, all of that. So these things come fairly close together is the wedding anniversary is first lady's birthday is 15. So typically during that time, we take a fortnight off and go somewhere.


We were planning that and somehow neither of us felt comfortable going and staying in some place. So we said, look, let's just spend a quiet day at this time. We spend it at home to our own time and all of that. So we didn't go and then everything blew up. So suddenly it was, you know, there's this whole thing of being confined to the four walls going out only when necessary. Maybe once a week you go shopping for vegetables and stuff and that's it.


The rest of the time you stay put. And since then it's been it things started slowly. We got to a point and also got a grant from NATO to do a story. Again, it was a combat related story, but Nigel was very particular that you don't put yourself at risk. So you're not supposed to travel if conditions are not absolutely normal. So that was kind of I was trying to figure out when I could go back in September that it became October.


It just kept postponing. And then we started having a series of deaths in the family. Three people, all aged eighty two, all very closely related for two of them. I couldn't go for one of them. Nobody could go. It was during the quarantine period and nobody was allowed. So the neighbours actually did the last rites and stuff. Then there was another one. And then in January, there was my uncle, the man who literally brought me up.


So so it's been I think after that I haven't quite gotten back to a sense of normalcy. I keep I think I think I do things these days more as a distraction, you know how it is and joined families. That is not the end of anything. One, there is a ton of paperwork. There's only my aunt was a widow. She needs help. But also the remaining members of the family are suddenly aware of mortality. I think so.


There is a constant reaching out and sharing stories and stuff like that.


So it was it's, I think, been very hard to escape the aftermath, to actually find the. Private space to grieve and come to terms with it. And so, yeah, I mean, I've been watching the cricket off and on the English series clubhouse started. So some of these guys there's a guy called UNCAC Mendon, who's a producer, but he wrote me into doing what he called to watch along.


So the match is going on and you're commenting every now and again going things like none of it is really work that I want to do that I'm supposed to be doing. But it's I think for me, a way of easing back into a semblance of normalcy, let's say. I mean, obviously not the same kind of experience, but what is it like for you? You've been hyperactive. Actually, it appears to be that way.


I mean, as you know, I work from home for, you know, more than a decade since I left Crakanthorp, basically. So in that sense, it was pretty normal.


And I am the kind of person who likes to stay home and read. Typically, I was just extremely fortunate in terms of, you know, extremely fortunate and privileged or didn't really face the brunt of any of the shit that went down, started my online course, which, you know, took off and went well. And it was interesting. I wonder if this has happened to you. And your initial question that comes up is that, you know, I did an episode with Chris Kaschalk where he was talking about this pyramid of learning, like, how do you learn the best?


And, you know, at one level, if you're told something, you learn it. If you if you have to write it down, you learn it better and so on and so forth and so on. And then the deepest way of learning something is by teaching it. So I realised that, you know, I keep I mean, the main thrust of my writing course is, of course, to kind of, well, help the participants be more mindful of the language they use and obviously build a frame through which they can look at the writing would be more mindful.


And then the idea is that by the end of the course, they are their own writing coach. They don't really need active guidance as such. And I found that I became more mindful as I was kind of teaching. It was it was interesting as it happens. I mean, you've taught so many things, writing, journalism, the whole gamut. Has that kind of happened to you?


See, I I used to do journalism workshops for symbiosis when I was in Bombay. I'd go down to Pune. I did that for a couple of years. The idea being that you go down on a Thursday night and Friday and Saturday, you are at the disposal of the students and it's full day sessions and then you hang back on Sunday because the kids just want to talk and stuff. But at that time, I was also a practising journalist and I don't think I thought about what I was getting out of teaching so much as this is just something I was doing it pro bono.


It is just something that I think there was a guy called Satchidananda who was the dean at somebody else's journalism course. He's the one who wrote me into it and it was fine. You just drive over once, I think a month or so. Um, I think when the penny dropped for me, it was when I taught alongside Paul Salopek during the Out of Eden walk, we did three workshops in Delhi, Chennai and Calcutta and then the Delhi workshop.


We were coming straight out of that out of Eden walk. We literally drove down to Delhi and did the workshop and a lot of them were actually practising journalists from the WYO from from India. Next president was people from print, from caravanned. So it's all of that. And the initial structure was that Paul does a Don Belt, who was the WHO for 40 years, was a writer and senior editor at National Geographic before he became a full time instructor.


So Don and Aatif for the visuals were supposed to be teaching. I was kind of floating. There wasn't much that was part of the set curriculum. And on day one, the cause was basically like we taught some some theory, but we fixed an area and it was all old. And the idea was that the cohort goes out there. They first have to identify story ideas. They have to pitch it. We question the pitches. Once it is accepted to go, they report it.


And at the end of reporting day, you come back to base and we discuss what you've seen and heard and how you've taken notes and stuff. And if I do that, you go back next day to fill in the blanks. The day after that, you come in and start drafting a story and we all will see every part of the process. We work individually with the students.


So the first idea was basically to read broadly what you needed to know when they were doing that kind of journalism narrative. And I remember there was Paul's session in the morning, followed by dawn, followed by Arpit. And at some point Paul said, print, can you do a quick session on structure? Because I left that out. So I did an impromptu session of about 15 minutes. And the thing was there was very little notice. It was about.


An hour before I was actually doing this was when Paul told me about it, so I was suddenly thinking, OK, how I mean, you know how it is. There are so many instructors. There is no defined template that you can just pull out of a bag and hand it over to the students.


So it's trying to think of how to get them. How do I give them a way in which they can think structure for themselves as opposed to my prescribing a structure? And I ended up using the fishbowl as an example and how to organize material around the fish bone, which is the simplest and the the most malleable form of structure in the story. And I think that is when the penny dropped, I realized that by being forced in that finite amount of time to think through a particular aspect of writing and to then be able to explain it to practicing journalists in such a way that they were able to absorb it and then immediately apply it.


The next year, I forced myself to think through a whole lot of structures and disciplines that I had learned and then refine it and boil it down into a I think it was a 20, 25 minute quick talk with sketches on a whiteboard. And that is when I realized the value of teaching not so much for the students themselves, but for me personally, because it made me go back to those principles that made me think of things that.


I don't know if it's the right word, but you know how we do things by instinct and then somebody says, how did you structure it? And your reverse engineering and saying, see, I thought this way, that you don't actually you just sit in front of the computer. And the experience of all those years of doing it comes forcing me to think from then I actually started thinking through a process.


So there were two other workshops in Denmark, the United, our own workshops and all of that, more than what I conveyed or what we conveyed to the students. I think it was boiling down everything that you knew or thought you knew, understanding what you didn't know, trying to find the answers for that and then structuring it all in such a way that it was useful. I think that, yeah, you're right, I appreciated the writing and editing process more after don't tumultuous.


That's really interesting because, you know, one of the things as you were speaking that struck me is that how we learned, whatever it is that we do, whether it is the writing or the journalism or whatever else, is often through a kind of osmosis where we are not thinking consciously that these are the first principles and it flows from this to this and from this to this. And this is why we do it. We learn things by osmosis.


Sometimes we learn the right things. Sometimes we learn the wrong things, which is why so much of my own writing makes me cringe. And that's kind of how we go. But much more useful way of doing it is, of course, by approaching it from first principles and kind of building a frame through which you can and of course, adapting that frame as you go along, but having some kind of frame rather than things happen arbitrarily now. Now, there's a question that arises from this, which is sort of tangential, but not quite, which is that people often make a distinction between art and craft, as in, you know, the craft is sort of how you're putting the table together or how you're making the sculpture out of a block of stone.


And art is that beautiful thing, which you cannot put in words, which you cannot break it down. And I have recently been thinking that actually they're no different. I mean, there is a difference. And the difference is that art is basically craft, which you cannot articulate, which you cannot break down into principles, but that there it's implicitly kind of happened, like when a musician sits down and creates a beautiful tune. It seems like art, like when he's producing it and when he's adding other instruments that Ashcroft.


But when he composes it, it seems like art. But at a level beyond articulation, it's actually craft because he's put those notes together because they have a certain effect on the brain of the listener and they will certain neurons will fire in certain ways. The listener will feel a particular way, and it's intuitive. So the more we understand art, everything kind of breaks down to the level of craft, which again, and I'm thinking aloud and it's the first time I've taken this thought a little further than this, which is that if this is correct, and I believe it obviously is, if this is correct, that everything can be broken down like that, then, you know, when we speak of that hypothetical situation of artificial intelligence creating art, can you write a novel which is as good as something by Updike?


Or can a monkey with a typewriter write them Shakespeare, for example? And of course, an essay is not a monkey with the typewriter. You know, that's brute force. Machine learning is just a whole different ballgame. So what are your thoughts on this?


I don't know if it's if it's possible to say that art is merely a craft that we're not able to articulate. For me, it's kind of like this. Funnily enough, like unkillable. The other day there was this South African cricket coach, Tollywood joined in and be the, among other things, discussing what sets certain players apart from other players. We were actually watching that actually at that time. And this was I think in the previous one, they had not the one that just got over.


And we were looking at how Virat was playing well within himself and his position wasn't all that good.


He needed to be there. He needed to do both. He needed to keep the school going. And at the same time, he needed to be there till the end. And we were watching him cycled through the girls.


And Jodi was making this point that some players I mean, they say that some players have multiple years and stuff like he said. Yeah, they do. I mean, some players have just two years or three years or whatever, somehow five or six. But he said it all is built around that first skill, which is the absolute craft of batsmen, the defence, the Simmi defence, which is basically a kind of offensive defensive where sort of being a ball that you're playing it a little bit more with the intent and, you know, taking the single or whatever, followed by the offensive strokes, which are merely extensions of defensive strokes when you think about it.


So he was talking about how if your basics are strong, then somewhere along the way your personality comes into it as well. So if it gets syntax to a room full of people and make them all right in a particular fashion, fine. But if we did see that same syntax and the basic principles of writing how to cross the lead, how to do translations, all of that, how to how to work on an ending and leave it to people to then take it from there, then individual personalities kick in, which is where voice comes in, which is where art comes in.


Some people will produce well crafted prose and some will produce magic. And that difference, I think goes to personality. That difference goes to goes to that individual and has a peculiar sense of aesthetic. One reason why we're not able to precisely articulate what the art of writing like the art or anything else is, is probably because of that that the art part comes from. Everything that we have known and learned and experienced and gone through, which is which has made us who we are.


And that translates into how we do.


I had this magic moment once when I was in my day to go to was about to release his first album. He was making a name for himself, his stake, and he was working on an album called Plimsolls, which up with his mom and I called Utrillo Cost for an interview and he called me to the recording studio. We were sitting and talking to locals, explaining certain things, and I was just tapping the table. As I said. Do you play as they used to play the drums at one time?


So we started vibing at that level. We started talking about, you know, drum batons and wooden batons and stuff like that. And he is a drummer. So after that, he said, OK, I'm going back into the recording room. Would you like to come? So I went in there and what these guys were doing was they've done the recording on, but they had no script, no plan what to lokos doing, what he would say to the drums and he would just start to pick up from a very basic pattern and you would start complicating it and probably sitting there quietly listening.


And suddenly she would start singing, mostly humming or just just using basic Saregama notes. But she would be matching that rhythm pattern. So as Shoba caught up to that, local change and trouble would change with it, and they were creating music on the fly. And it was magical to watch because there was no script, there was no preplanning. Neither of them knew where the other was going. And it was jazz fusion, almost like in front of you.


And at the end of the day asked to know because that's going to make it to the final cut. And he said, I don't know. What we're doing is just riffing and seeing what comes. And maybe there will be snatches here, which will be the foundation of a piece that we didn't do. When I got that album, I was thrilled to see that there was one particular. But it's not even a full song just a little bit, which I instantly recognized.


I was there when this was being created and that was magic. And that that came from not Lokes mastery of the instrument or showboats mastery of voice, but from their mastery of themselves, I think, and how they could they could translate that into their practice. I was just saying that's probably a very convoluted answer, which didn't make much sense, but it's the best I had to do it.


It made a lot of sense. Many strands are to unpack like first of all, you mentioned Colin Cooley. To me, it seems like if you could do a time lapse of his career over maybe the last 12 years, I think you that time lapse would show you craft turning into art. Like I remember when, uh, you know, we first saw him as a teenager. I don't know how you felt about it, but honestly, to me, he didn't seem impressive at all at that time.


You know, he he would play well square of the wicket, but some of his stroke play was limited and he just didn't seem to really have it. And and and that just changed. And it changed because obviously, because of his incredible work ethic, where he put in those thousands of hours in the nets and initially it was crafted as mindfulness. You kind of work on different aspects of it to do it again and again till they become second nature to you.


And then, like you said, all the rest of you comes into it and you can kind of sort of express yourself in a sense. It is an aside here. And the side, I think, possibly applies more to sport than to, say, writing or art, which is that it came across as older interviewed Bobby Fischer recently and this was taken when he was in his 60s. And Fischer basically said he had no interest in just any more, did not exciting because opening Kurti was so far that studying opening theory was a big part of making it to a certain level.


And he said that, look, these days, the thirty year old ones that, you know, till the 18th move, you're basically playing what you have studied. And, you know, very often when I watch a Top Gun monster game today, you know, somebody will lose and he'll say, Oh, I forgot the Movado. And, you know, and a lot of the creativity goes into trying to figure out what your opponent hasn't prepared for or where you can find some random sidelines and all that.


And he said that doesn't excite him. And similarly, that was one of the things that at an intellectual level turned me off from poker, which is that point where you realize that initially when you look at it as an outsider, it's very personality thing. You know, people are bluffing. People are looking for talent. All of that shit is happening. But the more you play it, the more you realize that it is almost to the point that there is something called perfect play and that doesn't allow for personality policy.


The deeper you study, the better you will be. And you play in certain ways, but you can't look at the way a particular person is playing and see that high utopia here. And I guess and even with cricket, like, I've often kind of muser loud on whether if there was an alpha zero of cricket, what it would find like, you know, for the benefit of my listeners, what I did to chess basically was that it played itself thousands of times and then it came up with new heuristics for playing chess and it played or what was until then the best chess software in the world, which was Stockfish.


And, you know, if our top player, Magnus Carlsen, is running 800 plus in terms of rating, Stockfish would be about 25 hundred and it had been developed over 20 years. It used brute force. It did go crazy. Number of calculations, millions of calculations per second. And Alpha zero did a fraction of those calculations per second, uh, and destroyed Stockfish. And one of the reasons was that it found that many of the heuristics that humans had internalized were just wrong and that, you know, it found kind of more intuitive ways of doing things.


And I always thought that, you know, if there was something like that for cricket, we would take the laws of physics. You take the laws of physiology, you put all of that together. You might actually discover that some of the dogmas in cricket are possibly wrong. You know, people used to criticise Bradman and say, where is back live coming from? People criticise Steve Smith for his technique or we shall, for example. And the thing is, it's not that these guys are doing anything wrong.


Maybe they're doing something right by accident. You know, we don't know what the optimal is. But when you find the optimal, everybody will move towards that because, hey, that's optimal. But I get that, you know, both in sport and art, there's a role for personality. But I think the craft is sort of a minimum requirement in terms of, you know, like the coach you're offering to set your own clubhouse, that, you know, that basic stuff, the defensive stuff you have to first get right.


And then the rest of it flows. So, you know, after this aggression and another aggression, by the way, you're talking with gears. And I remember if you remember back in the 80s, they used to say Ravi Shastri has only to give his first gear and fourth gear because he would do Tuktoyaktuk and then he would go bam, bam, bam, which was a lot of fun doing commentary. One could say that Shastri had only first gear, which was all the cliches he would fall back upon, and Navjot to do had only the fourth year.


Yeah, but, uh, so I have a question which actually, you know, struck me from when you spoke about travelling around and doing all of these, uh, stories. I think one of the things that all of us struggle with is to not get jaded, to be able to see the world in new ways and to be able to see with new eyes. Typically what happens is we see the world around us and then we are used to it and then we don't see it.


You know, it's there. We take it for granted. It is what it is. We don't actually see it. And it seems to me that, you know, like in my episode with anybody, we spoke about how as a writer, you constantly have to force yourself to see with new ways. In your case, you've also travelled, you know, and when you're travelling, especially with the intent of writing, you are seeing things with new eyes.


You always kind of redefining your vision of the world. What is that process like? Is it a process you've thought consciously about, you know, and is it an enriching process? Are you a different person from in fundamental ways, from what it would be if you hadn't done all this sort of travelling and writing and seeing in new ways? Actually, I think I had one of those those early days when I had no idea what I wanted to be.


It's not a it's I suppose journalists at some point start saying, you know, I always wanted to be a writer. In my case, no, I knew that I liked reading. I knew that I liked the magic that words can can create. And that's it. And that was just like a liking for music or just sitting at a drum kit and playing and seeing what comes, but not with any conscious mind that I wanted to do this for a living or whatever.


It's over time. And there was that period after I dropped out of college and until I got my first job as a journalist, when pretty much it was a very fraught time at all because one, I was the family's eldest grandchild, too. It was a family that was hugely academically accomplished. Pretty much everybody was, you know, highly educated and doing all sorts of big things. And I was I was supposed to be the hope of the family and all of that.


And I did my experiments with drugs and dropped out and at home and became very, for want of a better word, very difficult to just exist, because there was this constant din in my years about what a wastrel I was and how I had destroyed the hopes of not just my mom and dad, but of the entire extended family. All of that was coming into the thing. So my escape at that time was initially I had a bike. I mean, I had a bike in college.


So I take the bike and just head off into some parts of Dublin with absolutely no agenda, no nothing. And I just just go get a bike lanes took me. I mean, you go along the road and then side of the road and then at some point, I mean, I wasn't earning any money and the Delacombe was if you don't we we're not going to support you. I mean, there is a house for you to sleep in if you want to.


And there'll always be food on the table anytime you want. But that's about it. We're not giving you any money for anything at all. So I sold the bike and then I started taking these bus rides. So I just go to the bus stand and hop on the first bus that I find and go somewhere. And it is alone. It is during that period that I realized that. The thing I love best was to go to a place that I knew nothing about and just to sit there and let things happen, people would come up and ask you where you're from and what you're doing there.


And they would tell you about themselves and they would take you around and show you things. And that became, for me, I think, the trigger that got me into journalism. Once I got in there, I realized that journalism wasn't what I had imagined it to be in the sense of, you know, I'd done some freelance writing here and there during the same period.


But actual professional journalism that started in 89 when I came to Bombay and my initial idea of journalism or the dream that I had of of going to all these places and seeing all of these things didn't quite materialize that way because journalism was incredibly transactional us and somewhere to do a story to come back. And you know how it is, right? I mean, if this is a story, then you go to that place, you know, quickly what you need to make a note of to get that scene right.


And then you need these two or three eloquent quotes from all the affected parties. And and it's it's hunting and gathering very quickly what you need and then coming back to base, writing the story, rinse, repeat.


So for a long time, I got sucked into that the brief period when I could actually like for instance, when elections were on, Nicolau would send me off to some part of the country or the other. And he was good enough to not tell me what he wanted from me. So it was basically just go there and explore. And those times I used to love to read the rest of the time it was dysfunctional writing cricket happened, which made it even worse because, I mean, I was captive to the TV camera and my laptop and keyboard.


And I think once I got out of that. Is when I told myself that I don't want to go back to that, I don't want to become I still edit sometimes for some people who send me stuff, I do my own writing for myself, but. I realize that. Nothing quite comes close to. How alive you feel when you're in a place that you know nothing about and it slowly unravels and it opens up to you and it is probably during that time, it also happened that that is when Paul Salopek started this out of Eden walk and we started getting in touch with each other.


So I was following the walk and then the whole thing of walking with him, which is typically going to unknown places, I mean, we had absolutely no idea where we ended up at night, who we would end up in the middle of, what their concerns would be. And it was just sit back, absorb, you know, you're not forcing the story. You're not even fussed whether there is a story or not. You're just there to see and hear what there is to be seen and heard.


And I think that made it incredibly difficult for me to go back, hasn't made it incredibly difficult to go back to what it's called day to day journalism and kind of stuff that we do, which is fill in the blanks of what it is. But, yeah, it's it's brilliant because it also makes you break we talked about crafts and templates and stuff, it need to break away from that because every day is a new experience and nothing prepares you for that.


Right. So you have at one level to think in terms of what you're hearing and. You know, that old thing we keep telling students, right, if it's not clear to you, it's not going to be clear to the reader. So you're looking for clarity so far. And I just I'm not explaining what his problem is with MSP. And you don't have a clue what his life was like. So you get him to go into detail and you try to understand that and then you ask questions when things are not clear until it's all fixed in your head.


But then you have to. Go away from all the templates that been taught to use or have used or like you said, internalize to osmosis and come up with a way to tell this in such a way that it makes sense. So it is a constant sort of and that's that's the fun, I think, of being in the field. It's a constant reinvention of yourself, of what you think, you know, and at the same time, it's a constant infusion of new things and your thoughts and your new lives that you knew nothing about.


And, yeah, it's magic. Yeah, and you know what you say about, you know, being able to like when you were on the road with Paul Salopek and you just travelling around in this region, you don't have to sit down and write a piece the next day and that allows you to just kind of relax and imbibe and all of that. It seems to me to be, you know, so important a part of that process of seeing.


Because sometimes also what happens is when you're a writer or a travel writer, you go somewhere, you say, I'll write a travel piece or I'll write a book or I'll do this. The desire to see changes the way you see and what you see. And I think that that can often be something that distorts the way that you see the world. And that's just one of the many anxieties that shape us. I mean, even otherwise, I think outside the context of writing into a social context, the anxiety to appear a certain way to others or to get the validation of others or to be seen as someone, you know, compassionate or intelligent or whatever the case might be, then shapes your behavior and then shapes you and all of these outside forces.


We should not really matter then kind of end up changing the person you are and shaping the person you are. And I don't know if there's an escape for that because, you know, you can delude yourself into thinking that you're free from that desire for validation or the anxiety. As you can see right here, I am going to be one of those people who is not always trying to signal virtue, but even by telling yourself that you are, in a sense, signaling virtue to yourself so it can get into these complicated loops.


You know, whenever you say something that might be unfamiliar to my readers who don't know you as well as I do, I quickly try and fill in those gaps. You refer to in the clinical was your editor at Rediff, which, you know, both of you were kind of part of the startup team right from the beginning almost. And you mentioned Paul Salopek and kind of working with him. So, you know, can you talk a little bit more about that?


What was it that drew you to that project or just walking to strange, unfamiliar places? And also, the other thing here that strikes me is that Paul, of course, was walking through India or Pakistan all over the world. He's walking, but he's walking as someone who is a stranger. His eyes are seeing these things for the first time. In your case, that is not the case. You have even if not seen that exact geography for the first time, you're an insider in a certain way.


This part of you that is translating for Paul, I mean, not in terms of language, but just in terms of perspective. And this part of you, which is also seeing things maybe through his eyes for the first time. What was that whole experience like? What was the project? Even just talk a bit more about that. Yes, digression before that, Nicole was actually the only editor that I've ever worked with. So he I worked briefly with Vicent, kind of Billy, who's the father of I'm not going to believe if that was a free press, but that was for about six months.


And then Nicole called me over what they post when he was taking over as editor. So and then Post followed by the media group, followed by Sunday Observer, followed by Rita. So as far as working with editors is concerned, is the only one I worked with. I think it was about five or six months after he started his project that I came across it, one of those random links. And I went and looked at the Out of Eden Walk website.


And I was struck by the enormity of a man saying that I'm going to walk twenty three thousand miles and that he's starting somewhere in the middle of Africa and going to end up at Tierra del Fuego at the extreme tip of Latin America to trace the migratory path of ancient Rome. And that was the idea of the project. And something about the scale and the scope of it was enormously appealing, the ambition, because I was looking at, you know, you mentioned travel writing.


I was looking at going places and travel writing as opposed because we go there. If we are expected to write a travel piece, we are trapped in this thing of how can I go to, say, Agra and not write about the Taj Mahal. So you end up with these things must do kind of things and your space is finite and you hit all the high spots in your pieces, just like every other piece of I'd love to see a travel piece where somebody just spends time with the locals of Agra, keeps the Taj in the background completely, and just talked to them about what it is like to be, you know, does this place where there is all of humanity just flowing past, but you don't get to do those kind of pieces.


Right. And those are the kind of things that used to attract me. And suddenly there is this man who, like you said, is walking into the unknown and unfamiliar every step he takes.


I learned later, once we started engaging, that he does a tremendous amount of research. He reads everything there is to know about a country before he actually sets foot inside the country. But that whole project had this enormity to it that was magnetic. And at that time we were doing Peepli that is out detail body, the Army and Gillenwater and some of our stories eye.


And he started reaching out to us and we started sort of doing back and forth initially to DM's and then emails and stuff. Later when he was in fact, when he was in Afghanistan is when he started mooting the idea of us joining him on that walk. Then he walked through Pakistan, and by then it kind of got firmed up that the people would be walking with him. And like it said, it was for instance, we started a number of time and we met him at the Wagah border and walked to Amritsar.


And then we spent about five, six days in Abbottabad itself. I've been doing writable for about three or four times. And you have a concept of that place. There is the Golden Temple and that is the life all around it. And then there is the larger, which is businesses and all of that.


And this time when we were number to those, Paul, those and it was me and one of us would always be with Paul for translation and, you know, things like that. And to see what Paul was seeing to things that you take for granted, he suddenly stops and looked and says, what is this and how did this happen and what is the origin of this? And, you know, things like that. These are questions that don't even go to us because it is so familiar that we think we know it and we don't really question that assumption of knowledge.


So seeing through those eyes suddenly made me realise that there was so much about things that I have taken for granted that I didn't know about. And I mean, those the physicality of it, the work itself and in the blazing heat of summer is when we decided to go when we ended up walking and just done so. That was it was not something that you do by choice, but whatever it was, I think that was the standard feature for me, that you're constantly seeing things that, you know, I was for.


For instance, when we go to a strange place, we are constantly looking at signboards and we're looking at at the backs of rickshaws to see what the stickers are. And everything is new and unfamiliar with trying to absorb it all. But for the life of me, I don't remember what the same board is, a street away from my place. What signboards are it? It's a blur. You don't see it. And our country is that similar known place.


You've gone there to do report on politics.


You've gone there for some other reason and you think you know it all and you suddenly realise that there is so much more to it and there is so much. There is so much that is new in the seemingly familiar and that I think was the magical part of that particular experience. You talked about seeing it policy for the first time and are seeing it through his eyes. I think that bit about us seeing it through his eyes was was the takeaway because.


Things that we would have passed by generally, the things that he would stop and stare and want to know more about, and initially you you have this look every day. You have to go a certain distance. And that distance is kind of not predetermined because once you leave a town, the only thing you can do is you walk until you get to some form of human habitation where you can ask people that they can shelter you for a night and stuff that could be 30 kilometers away.


It could be 40 kilometers away or more.


So there is that urge to get to that place. And walking 40 kilometers an a day is pretty much eight to 10 hours in the middle. Well, Paul, Stobbs said something that that seems very obvious and stopped examining it deeper. Initially, there is that fretfulness in you. It's like, look, I mean, what's the big deal? Can be more one. But then you see what he is looking at. And you see later when he writes these pieces, what he makes of these little things that you see.


And suddenly it occurs to you that nothing is too trivial for for your attention. Nothing is too trivial for for a human being, let alone a storyteller. And if your default setting is to tell stories, it really is magic when you take the time to slow down, to even question assumptions, to see things again that you have already seen and see it with new eyes. So I think this whole thing changed me as a person. I don't know.


There was a time this was before the lockdown. There was one moment of epiphany, or at least I don't know. I felt that somehow I've forgotten how to write. And this was because somebody gave me an assignment and then I don't. So I don't think that I could do justice to it. And I still think that you know how to sort out my life, so I started reading about it and I thought for a bit and said, listen, I wanted to do one thing within a week.


Find something in our neighborhood that you would like to write about and write it just for me, it's your gift to me. And what I did was I just walked around the streets. Fringing my house and I found a little human story and I wrote that and I gave it to her and she came back and she she gave me back the printout with you haven't forgotten how to write and a little heart symbol. And it all kind of came together at that point that such a beautiful story.


Can you give me some examples of what you were referring to about about seeing through policies like the, you know, something that he saw where you wondered like what is this? Why are we even stopping her?


And and then something else happens after that.


Yeah. For instance, if you go to, say, the Golden Temple, one of the things that you take for granted is the longer that whole thing of service so early morning when you go there, you find people actually cleaning the place where the food was kept. It generally, by definition, becomes moderate people walking up and down. So there's this constant stream of people who are pouring water and then using a big scraper to get rid of that mud.


And pretty soon it becomes muddy again and they start doing it again. Then you go into the Golden Temple and you'll find, for instance, there are these steps, the tank only up to a point can you climb down and washes. And so there are a couple of steps and steps because they are submerged in water 24/7, 365, they can get kind of mossy and slippery and all that. Right. So there are these three or four people who have these rubo long handled rubber scrapers and they just keep scraping the steps all along.


And they as soon as they're done with one down, they start all over again and then somebody else comes and takes over. I've been to the Golden Temple and I've seen this and everything, OK, longer and service, but for Paul it is like for you what what what brings you here? And we realize that these kids who are doing it early in the morning, the college students who before college, they come there at four o'clock in the morning and they start doing this.


They do till about six thirty seven and then they go to college. Meanwhile, office goers come in at about seven a.m. and they start, you know, helping until it's time for them to go to the office. And then some senior citizens are coming in who have the day at their disposal.


So it is not just for us. The thing is, volunteers are cleaning this, but it's not that. It is actually. These are people who have other things to do and who think that it is necessary for them to find that time and put in that effort irrespective of lost sleep or, you know, all of 10 other things that are getting their attention. And Paul would meticulously every time we went to the Golden Temple multiple times. So every time we went, there would be a fresh group of people and he would want to know who they were and what their background is and what what is it that they get out of the what does that feeling and it was amazing when these kids started talking about a regular college kids.


And there was one moment when we were actually standing there and watching a couple of the kids who had done the deed for the day they went and they changed into the clothes that they were going to go to college in. And it was a classic ripped jeans and a T-shirt, and they had a bandana knotted up and all of that. And these kids were dead from apparently three forty five till about six thirty years or so, just cleaning the mud that people had tricked into that place of the footwear that was.


In all, my previous trips never occurred to me to find out who these people are, why are they doing this? What do they get out of it? What what is it that drives them? And they don't do it just once in a while. They commit to months of this. OK, this month we are coming here at this time and doing it and then somebody else is taking over or whatever. That was one of I mean, you could go on pretty much everything.


It was like things that I had taken for granted were what controls I, because for him everything was new and strange. So he did not know to ignore certain things.


Put it that way to say, OK, this is not part of my story and this is not part of my narrative.


My golden narrative would have been about us. It would have been about, you know, the correct grunts I had been right. And that the dogmatist rituals that take part around it and Alekos was about people and yeah, that is that was one of them. There were so many moments of pure magic because of this.


You know, that's fascinating. And again, so kind of inspiring. You know, I remember when I was sort of traveling through Pakistan in 2006 following the cricket tour, and I was also kind of blogging from there frequently, not exactly life blogging, but apart from the cricketer, you know, just go out with my camera, shoot everything. Spent a ton of time just almost photo blogging, as it were. These are, of course, the days before Instagram and all of that take off.


So it was all coming on my blog. And at one point I kind of asked myself that. How do I maintain this balance that on the one hand, it's nice that I'm noticing things and that they're not not normalized and I'm not just looking at them with the day to day, but on the other hand, there is also the desire to find something remarkable everywhere. You know, every stone on the road has a story behind it. And how do you kind of balance that?


But I think you're not thinking of it now. I'd rather that one goes too far in trying to see then not see at all like I have. You know, it just strikes me right now that, you know, 15 years after that, in all this time that I've been living in Bombay, I have never gone out in Bombay with my about and done kind of photo blogging and sort of look for stories like this. Another thing that struck me as you were saying, the things that we take for granted or we don't even notice and we don't ask what is the story behind it?


I remember a long time back someone had tweeted, I can't remember who for the life of me, but I vaguely have the impression it was someone who worked at the Hindu. But someone had tweeted about this interesting artifact on the roads of Tamil Nadu, where there are sort of these ledges which are at shoulder height or so on, and nobody knows what the purpose is. And she asked around and nobody had any idea what they're doing. There's no apparent function.


They're there on the highways or they're on the roads and all of that. And then she later discovered that, you know, laborers who carry things on their head, you know, that's where the rest where they just transferred that load to that ledge, which is why the height, which is why everything and it struck me is so interesting there. It's something that is not in use anymore, something that no one remembers. And yet it carries sort of a piece of the past.


It's all this sort of social and historical significance embedded within it, which I yeah.


They call to me. Thank you. So Matangi translates into lot better. And you find that right across the countryside, everywhere I was thinking I mean, you mentioned going out and doing a mix of cricket, plus, you know what I see and what I get and all that.


You also did the same thing after the other immediately after the tsunami when you and that should have been from that particular experience of not going with a particular story and mind so much as just go in there and. Seeing what there was and then figuring out how to tell that story, how to get to that story in words or images or whatever, you know.


In fact, I even wrote a piece for you when you were read it again, and I wrote a piece for you about Nagapattinam and just the horror of the just stepping over bodies. And I think this must have been four or five days after we get there and the bodies are still there. And it's and VIP's are doing helicopter trips where they literally helicoptering over and, you know, showing concern and all of that. And that was interesting. That was that that was also interesting because I you know, I was like one thing I realized and when I realized it, it just hit me hard and it never left me was and I wrote a very short post about it was I've stopped clocks like across the coast of Tamil Nadu.


When you went to affected villages and all that, you would find that the clock started to stop when the waves hit and they had stopped at different times. So almost by, you know, looking at these stop clocks, you could see when disaster struck. Again, it's a static illustration of something so kind of momentous and one doesn't know what to make of that. But it's just for me, it's kind of a powerful image. Yeah.


And I think that's that's the thing about it. Right. I mean, one of the other things that I learned was we tend to think in story of story in terms of, okay, this has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and it has to have a point and it has to have a takeaway. Sometimes it is just something that is seen or heard or observed. It doesn't have a point necessarily, but it is there.


And and I realize that people identify the most with that kind of slice of life, if you will, the story of the clock. So, for instance, on this walk with Paul, we had this experience where we left Playskool Place and started the walk. And our destination for that night was something that on Google, it said, can be guesthouse, the India guest host. So he said, I'll get the guest out so maybe we will have a room to sleep in that night.


And so in Hannaman that I'd done something to my ankle and twisted it a little bit. So I walk, I think, about 20 to 25 kilometers. This was about thirty kilometers away. And towards that twenty five kilometer mark, I was really struggling. So Paul said, listen, why don't you hop on a bus and try to go ahead and sort of fix our place and all of that. So I go to this place and I realized there is no gestalt.


There's nothing I'm at the spot that Google indicates all the world was the world, about four shops on one side of the road. The rest of it is it isn't it is a agrarian. You can see fields everywhere and in the distance, the house, your house, that very, very far off.


So. At that point, I was I was kind of desperate because, I mean, what the hell are we supposed to do that night? Because there's nothing else as far as we can see when you look at Google Maps from there. So I was sitting in one of these shops, had cigarettes and soft drinks, and I was sitting there having a soft drink.


And I was his old man was looking at me very curiously and suddenly said, biddable. So I said, look, we came looking for this place called Degassed, he wanted to know who we and what we were doing.


So as I did, Garus album is doing this. And there's this lady Arbi, who is a photographer. They coming. So it's a matter that's your problem. You sit here and he climbed on those rickety cycling event of. A little while later, Amber comes some four or five people, including the old man, one day comes, comes up to me, says, come with me. The last shot in that line was actually a mill. So he opens that, calling shutters, pulls it up, goes inside.


And those those heaps of blood all over the place, sacks of it and grain that hasn't yet been pounded. He walks me through it, opens the rolling shadows of the back. And I would say there was this hard packed compound with the surrounding wall, which is part of the property. So he said, OK, so we were like, yeah, I mean, we can put up our tent over there and it sits, there is a wall and there is a lock and a gate and everything.




So you like your tend to be there. So those gates smiled at me and said give out evaporation so to Kitzbühel and he got me some soft drinks are sitting there talking a little while later a small. Three billion comes in and a bunch of kids help out with chokepoints points, four of them blankets, sheets, pillows and start setting them up. Again, another half an hour, 45 minutes later, one huge lorry comes in with these massive desert coolers, they're almost at your height.


I mean, it's it's that big three of them. And they set it up, the jerry rigged, an electrical connection from inside the shop to connect these things up. And I was looking at this and I was telling these guys, this subcommittee, I'm quite used to, you know, just a tent. And we could in typical, you know, the fashion of of the we keep saying rural, which which I find increasingly a pejorative term, but typical of people who live in the great outdoors.


That just said, you're a guest there. I'm going to let you sleep on the ground in some tent or whatever. Meanwhile, Paul had come and party and we were sitting and talking and it turned out the head of the clan, it was actually Tandi the clan. All the people that have the surname Tandie, they are one family, multiple properties, all engaged in agriculture.


So this guy, the oldest of them, was actually living apparently in a village that got by vacated during partition on the border of Pakistan.


He was a very small boy at the time and he talked about how this village was surrounded by seven Muslim villages.


And one day the Muslims came to them and said, look, you guys don't have to worry if you want to stay, but we'll guarantee your safety if you want to, you know, migrate into deeper into India will escort you to a place till you feel safe and then they will make sure that you're okay. So he talked about his experiences of migrating and then trying to make a life somewhere, finally landing up at this place and and, you know, starting a family and all of that and is sitting there taking notes at some point.


And in between all this out, he was thinking about dinner. So I remember she was saying, hey, you know what we can actually call the hotel that we were staying in and ask him to send some food in the car. It's not that far. Just thought about it.


So one of the boys and she was talking in English, one of the boys was hanging around the world. And suddenly one man marched up and said, what are you talking about, ordering food from a hotel? And all that food is being provided. What you thought we were going to stop. And after a while, he comes to us. You know, you recently saw that thing, right? That glitterati, some cricket thali or whatever. The greatest, biggest story ever does, I swear, was bigger.


And it had everything. It had the most incredible food I've tasted. It had Keer that was so rich and creamy. Everything is grown in the land. It was great food. And it was so thoughtful that they had a big bowl of corn and two small bowls, one of sugar, one of salt.


And this lady was saying, we don't know whether you take a good salt sugar.


So we proposed and these ladies took. They made us eat. Then doulas, OK, next morning, you come for breakfast at our place so you can like, look, we have to start at five o'clock because after of the you can walk in the day when the sun is already wet. So we have to start at 5:00 and all that.


And she was really pissed off and she said, what do you mean? You said you want you came out to hear our stories. You're only listening to the Bennion are coming and talking to us and all of that.


Next morning, four o'clock, we get up, we change into a travelling gear. And loading the donkey that we had. And suddenly the gate creaks open and these same women, a bunch of them the matriarch, her daughters in law, daughters, grandchildren, all of them coming steaming flasks of tea. And until then, we had never, ever had the coffee before we set out because, I mean, at five o'clock, that is going to give it to you, right?


It's only in the cities that you get all of this. These people had gotten up because they wanted to get here before we left. So they were there before they would have gotten up at three o'clock, made maybe. Dressed in their best clothes and walked all the way to give us this day, I just I just looked at that and my eyes just geared up because they know if I was to tell the story, what is the point? But to me, it's one of the most it's one of those moments that that will live forever within me because it's what it will be.


I suppose, in a way, we misread that, that that unquestioned acceptance of the other that unquestioned reaching out, helping us, doing things that are being asked to do things.


None of these are common in our world anymore, or at least not in the cities that we live in. And when this kind of thing happens, you just carry it. And at some point I write about it. But I don't know what people make of it. But it's that and those other stories. Well, it's a lovely story, and it kind of brings me to the theme of the kindness of strangers, like just today, I think possibly responding to my episode with the Ghazala Wahhab, someone made a comment somewhere.


I forget whether it was WhatsApp or Twitter or whatever. I think it was probably a message in one of my groups on WhatsApp. Apologies, because I've forgotten who said this, but they said that we are kinder to strangers and to our own people and that this kind of got me thinking like I remember when I for example, in Pakistan, you know, barring one incident, my experience throughout was the kindness of people like I remember we landed up there as journalists in Lahore and we went to a store to buy like batteries and all of that basic things for things in the moment to realized that we are journalists from India at the moment.


They realized we were from India. They refused to take any money. They simply refused, you know, and, you know, without even any rhetoric or Mamoun Namazi or whatever. But they just refused. And the warmth everywhere was pretty stunning and almost a sort of instinctive way to you. I mean, you've traveled a lot, right? And I'm guessing you've sort of experienced the same sort of natural warmth that comes from strange, like what's behind it.


Are there other cultural factors? Because it does seem to mitigate a lot of the toxic polarization that is around us in these times, that instinctively we still reach out, we try to help other people do. Having said that, I would say that if you're lost in traffic, never ask in India if you lost in traffic, never ask someone for directions, because even if they don't know, they will feel compelled to give you some direction or the other and you'll end up in the wrong place.


But that exception aside, you know, you have any thoughts on apart from the story you just told, it's almost like I'm asking a question after the answer.


But what what sort of explains this sort of kindness of strangers that we kind of get to see? And is there another side to our nation and our culture which is invisible to all of us, which doesn't get a chance to express itself? It's an interesting question, I don't quite know how to answer it, but let me try this. I love this. It's an old building that was converted into apartments. So it's just one apartment both. The landlord lives of ours, and I'm on the second floor.


You know, that guy is also Amando, the landlord, he's from Cabela, so you would think and I've been living in Wataniya, so you would think there is a lot that we have in common, right? I mean, preferences for beef and whiskey and all of that. The funny thing is we've not exchanged more than I would think. Three hundred, two hundred words in all of state because our relationship by definition is transactional. He's a landlord and I believe this apartment every month I have to make sure that the rent is paid in the Meadowlands is done and things like that.


And that's it. You'll see each other in the elevator. You say hi and and you hop up on your respective floors. The same thing with with people in this vicinity. You go out to restaurants, that whole array of vegetable sellers.


But and if you spend all your life just just going there, you ask for the vegetables you want to pay, the money that they ask you, you come away. That's it.


But those are some quite some time ago, one guy was so I bought vegetables and I was buying some fruits and I was in my hinda. And you know how pathetic that can be. I was trying to ask him for something or the other. And he was he was equally uncomfortable in the I don't even at this point in time know why we started talking. And indeed, probably because, I don't know, Canada and an English seemed an odd choice.


Right. So Hindi seemed the lingua franca. And well, this conversation was going on and I was fishing around for something. This guy spoke to the chap sitting next to him.


And so I just said, look, if I had known that you were in Tamil, why the hell was I giving myself of trying to talk in a language I don't quite know? And then they started laughing and he said, the boss down the street or pretty much anywhere in Karnataka goes and on the street where aldermen's. So the next time I pass by, he starts laughing and there will be.


And then there was this lady who says, you know, if I want things like broccoli and basil and all of that, does this this one this one lady who stalks all of that, she came to hear of the story. So she yelled out to me and said, You're the Tamil doctor in Hindi. And so I stood there and started exchanging conversation.


And now it is like the same transactional relationship just because of that, that one moment of connect, it has changed into when we go there, because if so, just this morning I was there and we were talking about the election and all the nonsense that's going on all day.


I think it is not that we have to go to a strange place where somebody identifies us as a stranger to be kind to us. I think it is just that wherever you are, you are partly responsible for that interaction is transactional or whether it is human to human. And the minute you make it human to human, it changes the dynamic. It is just that we can't be bothered enough. At least that's that's.


What I think about the way I see it, because I mean, even in Bangalore, these ladies are like you ask them for this, that and the other, you pay the money, you have an afterthought door. I need to lie. She just takes two lines and also it in my back in the day, you know, they don't they don't really think about it.


A guy who sits next to next to these vegetable vendors who makes these two liberties and all of that in the in the daytime. And occasionally these ladies are, you know, buying stuff from him and eating. And if I happen to go there that time, the greatest. But he's damn good to just be part of the dialogue kind of thing. And everybody it's just yeah, it works.


I mean, one of my feelings as a person, and this is probably true of most people, is the sort of the blindness to the armor and the blinkers that one wears normally. Like, I guess what happened to you. That story is that that armor sort of slipped for a moment and they that human to human contact and that opens everything up. And most of the time we have that armor around us and we probably kind of not even unaware, like, well, you know, one of the troops which kind of amuses me a lot is when journalists go to a foreign country or whatever, and their first report will be will come from talking to the taxi driver and the and they're it's like it's they haven't let the army go.


It's you know, there's almost no sort of condescension and dirt and just, you know, hey, tell me what your life is like and what you think of this. And then they'll make a report out of it, which is, you know, classic kind of lazy journalism. And I guess one way of getting the maximum out of wherever we are is sort of, you know, letting those facades kind of slip away and just connecting too much harder for introverts like me.


So what is one to do? Let's take a quick commercial break now. And, you know, it's kind of amusing that, you know, when I start my podcast, I like to spend the first part of the show talking about my guests sort of intellectual journey where they grew up, all of that. And and now I realize this was like a start before the start. We just discussing ideas and themes and which is great. But let's get to some of that journey as well after a quick commercial break.


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So if you're interested, head on over to register at India. Uncaught dot com slash writing. That's India slash writing. Being a good writer doesn't require God given talent, just the willingness to work hard and a clear idea of what you need to do to refine your skills. I can help you. Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm having a delightfully digressive conversation with my old friend, Priem Bonica, about his kind of journey journey through life zones so, you know, so ponderous and serious.


But let's let's kind of take me a little bit back to your childhood, because, you know, even when I and I'm a bit younger than you, but when I look back to my own childhood, when I look back to the 80s and the 90s and all of that, it doesn't seem like this world. Everything is so different. It's like you don't have all the knowledge in the world on top. You don't have you know, you you can't reach out to other people so much.


You are trapped in communities of birth and circumstance rather than being able to form communities of choice, as you and I have. And in fact, that's why you and I know each other. And so what were you growing up? Because, like, you've already spoken a little bit about how does grandchild or family. A lot of expectations, you know, and all of that is there. But what is your interior life like? What are you reading?


What kind of music are you listening to? How do you end up being a drummer in a band? Take me through some of their journey.


Yeah, I think I was born on the cusp of that nineteen fifty eight. It was that hinge point in Kerala history when the Joint Family was breaking up. So until that point in time, what you had was the patriarch and the matriarch controlling everything and all the kids would be living under the same roof, working on the family property, all of that, the Hindu succession like the Hindu Land Ceiling Act, all of that. I mean, the Land Ceiling Act, the Hindu succession mapped all of that game and then everything got scattered.


And for the children, it then became imperative that they go out and earn a living. So dad migrated to dad and his and the brother immediately next to him in age migrated to tonight. My uncle joined the public works department. My father joined the telephones department. They he met this girl, fell in love, made a huge drama at home saying, I like to marry this woman or I'll commit suicide and all of that stuff. And so then I was what I was typically at that time.


The woman goes to her mom's place for delivery dates. I was born in a place called Simplicity and Bulga District, and I think I was about five days old, three, five. I don't know how very, very early they drove down to Calicut to my dad's place and left me in care of my grandparents. So there were my grandparents. There were five other elders. So the children and children's children of my grandmother by her first alliance and there was one uncle, there were about 10 adults, some five, six family retainers and house.


And I mean, you were talking about us not being able, but when you were young to form communities of choice or to reach out to people and be like minded people and form interest groups and all of that, we didn't have electricity. So basically it was, you know, and it was kind of for me, I think it was a kind of a definite experience because as it turned out, my grandparents, my uncle, a couple of the other elders, they were all absolutely marvelous storytellers.


They were Sanskrit pundits. They had read the epics, the where does the Puranas all of that and then gone beyond that. So, for instance, my uncle would start talking about the Mahabharata and suddenly related to something from the Iliad, for instance, which he knew equally well. So evenings that what we call the stone and light line, that's the one that is kept in the central seating area and everybody gathers around it. And those conversations going on and stories are being told.


And so for me, I mean, like I'm like most people who sort of start reading stories before they hear stories. For me, it was like I grew up hearing stories and somewhere along the way to the rhythms of storytelling and all that came from came from that experience. I think I was there till about the thing was dad and mom were both working and neither of them would have been able to care for a young child, which is why this happened.


I think I was about 11 and barely able to manage for myself when I went over to Ginetta to my dad's place. And that came as a bit of a culture shock. On the one hand, there was this huge house where most of our land had gone away. There was still the land surrounding the house, the usual mango trees and jack trees and all of that, you were free to play. And also that entire area in this place called Calicut.


It was our family. So you could walk a mile in pretty much any direction without ever leaving the properties of extended families. So you had a ton of freedom. You just went out. And wherever you happen to be, you walked into that house and you had, you know, fed you and amused you or whatever. And then suddenly I was in this little apartment with, I think two or three rooms or sometimes you can go out and play because it's the road is right there and.


I think that is when I started Googling in words, I started reading, and on the good side, one was Dad's voracious appetite for books, which meant that the house was constantly stocked with books. He was. Today, we talk about processes, how to inculcate these things in children, all that, I think he knew that intuitively. So he taught me to read through a simple process of deprivation comics that I look forward to and which I would get a huge part of the day.


After the exams, they suddenly disappeared. And it was just one book. It is called Obsolete by Those. And he left it on the table and they both went to work, I woke up later after the day after the exams, and I realized I had nothing to read. I couldn't find the comics. And I suppose I picked up this book and then put it down because there's no. Pictures or whatever, and then picked it up again, because what I was going to do and I realized much, much later than that, that had already taught me the basics of a bookmark, never the edges of the page.


You always use a bookmark. So he was looking at the bookmarks and then he realized that I had finished one book. Another one would appear. So Dr. Salleh was followed by laughing gas, which is followed by something else. And pretty soon that was all I was doing. I mean, I didn't need comics. And the other good thing about him was I don't think he bothered to differentiate books by age to say you're too young to be reading this, so you're too young to be reading that.


So whatever was in his bookcase and whatever took my fancy at that time, I just followed and read, so. In between the pages of those books and the old Stanley Gardner books and Agatha Christie and and, you know, Henry Cecil, the Westerns, Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, Max Brand, all of that.


I was also reading Faulkner and Somerset Maugham, and there would be Nathaniel Hawthorne, Raymond Chandler, Nabokov. So on the one hand, it wasn't a structured reading. And therefore and I I realized much later that I read a lot of books before I was old enough or knew enough to actually appreciate them. But at the same time. Somehow they all gelled together, and I think that is where the whole thing of I just love how words combine into stories.


So you're reading everything from at one in the Dostoevski at the other end of Dickens. And in between there is all this Pulp Fiction and stuff in your books that keep coming in Malayalam literature as well. So I had that transcultural experience and Christian High School, I think by the time my life went off the rails was I was good academically without actually trying to retentive memory. So you read a chapter once in a textbook and you pretty much knew what it was about.


So as acing my exams and that I think started all these ambitions and that is where this whole eldest grandchild thing comes from, that in mom typically.


Then in terms of medicine and surgery and things, and I was this uncle of mine who wanted me to be in the army, and I remember this family discussion that they finally settled on, OK, you can be an army surgeon and what like.


Yeah, but the thing is, I hated that whole idea of it. And it struck me with the greatest force when your electives begin and then standard. We had 11 plus one and then you elected for the same stream, which I had to do because of this whole he will become a doctor. And you had these practicals where you have to cut open cockroaches and stuff. And that just filled me with the kind of revulsion by the nose playing sport and our colleges, fairly encouraging of all kinds of cultural activity.


So I was doing a bit of theatre as playing cricket, badminton, football. And there was somewhere along the way, I think I progressed almost without knowing it from Sigrid's to go to hard drugs, and by the time I got to my degree, which was a Christian, I was addicted. And I had this of moment where I don't quite know what happened, what what what we used to do during those days. As you're taking hard drugs and you also carry downloads like Mandrax, for instance, Mandrax was the drug of choice at that time to bring yourself down.


So there would always be a strip of Mandrax in my pocket. And apparently one day I didn't go to college at all, I. I've taken some drugs, I don't I don't have very clear recollections of what exactly happened, what I do know is that mom went to office and she developed a migraine.


So she came back home and she found me lying in bed with froth, coming out of my mouth and stuff to those where there was a doctor is almost there and he happened to be at home. So he gave me he got my stomach flushed out or whatever and revived me. And at some point he told me you were about five minutes away from Daddy and if your mom hadn't come home, you were gone. Apparently, I swallowed an entire strip of Mandrax for I don't know what reason.


I mean, subsequently, the theory is that I was trying to commit suicide. I don't have any recollection of that. But yeah, then I was sent back to kind of get to be with my grandparents on the assumption that that kind of influence would be good for me and stuff, but the ambitions of others for me didn't die of all that happened was OK if I did.


He doesn't want to study science, let him study history, economics, Doublemint, and then sit for this exam, which again, he didn't appeal to me. The problem was that the family would sit around and talk about me and I will be there and they were talking about me, but not to me. And what I had to say that I was interested in English literature, which is what I wanted to take, and nobody was willing to listen to that.


The comment would be, what are you going to do, become a teacher in some school? What's English literature got to do with things?


So I went to college for what it was. What of those dollars? A six month period of recovery. I had to get the drugs out of my system. Then I rejoined college and I just went numb. I went around playing the drums with a little sort of ensemble group. Played Sevens football, which is very lucrative. Those days played cricket when I could, and the first year was languages, English and Hindi, which I did comfortably sail through the second day history, which I hated because I love history.


And the third year was economics. And I just couldn't understand why. I mean, I understood that part of economics syllabus, which had to do with the theories of economics. But there was a study in economics which for some reason I was expected to know the production of rice and wheat and pulses in India from the time of independence all the way to whenever that textbook was written, with no explanation about why these spikes or dips happened. And it was thought by probably one person who should never have been allowed anywhere near a college.


He would just memorize whatever it was the previous night and then come and regurgitate it. And so I just dropped out. I as long as college was that kept going and doing all the fun things that I like to do. And then I didn't write it down, which I think for my family was the final straw. So then I came back to Madras and. Yeah, life was, like I said before, somewhat fraught. Mom, stop talking to me, my dad conversations will be purely functional to just do that, go to the shop and get this whatever.


And I think that is when it hit me that. There was no. There was no prospects in those days for somebody who didn't have a degree or a certificate of some kind. So for a while I was a student in. Restaurant, and then I was playing the drums for a band and I gave that up because I remember back then you didn't have these cassettes and stuff. So what you knew about music was what you heard on radio selon.


And there was one program on Indian radio so they would have to stop dendrite.


So everybody heard the top then and knew those songs, you know, Hotel California, because it was Top of the Pops, you know. So when you're playing in a five star hotel like Cholla, the people who come there are the people who can afford it. And those days, not everybody it twice.


I just want to give and these guys will come and they would want to impress whoever they were with, with their knowledge of music. So they would send up a request. There was a song called One Way Ticket. Back in the day, and that was top of the pops of that day, it has played every single day and it was one night when I had to play that song seven times because it was requested seven times.


I just love that night. I just checked the stick. Look, I can't do this anymore. And I walked out of that. I was telephone operator for a bit because, I mean, Dad and mom were both intelligent. And so I hung around and learned that one. But that got boring. I mean, how many times are you going to say hello? This is a matter of how can I help you? So. And around that time, those.


Indian Express had a page called You Think, which is a combination of youth and ink, it was for young people to write in fairly bad construct, but it is what it was.


I was attracted by a particular writer who was writing under the name Andrew Licadho of Elderly Gods or Karnataka, the ruga, very rare and of comes from Belyando. Perminder And so I like the pieces that started coming and I remember I wrote a letter to the editor about one of those pieces. Next thing I know I get a postcard from this lady Commodity Day, who was then the editor of the speech and the features page. She said, if possible, can you come and see me?


So I went to her and she said, I love the way you composed this letter. You write. So I said, I don't know. I have never really written written outside of college essays or whatever it is. So she said, will you write for me? And she started giving me these little assignments for that page. And that started becoming fun, and I think that is when I realized that this seems like something I want to do, you think shut down for some reason or the other by then I met Abraham Mirali again.


Did they sent me to Abraham Riley, who was running a city magazine called a site, so he would give me a few assignments. The thing is. I was getting to write, but I wasn't really getting the pay was abysmal and there was no other and it was not a. It is not a full fledged form of livelihood. Those are guys from the Indian Express called British Girl, who was a brilliant journalist and a chronic drunk. I mean, he was a journalist primarily, but he was actually brilliant, absolutely.


Stunningly good writer. He literally brushes the street with alcohol. So he got kicked out of his job and he conceived of this idea of starting a broadsheet with almost zero funds, starting a broadsheet, which was Ponsoldt cinema in English. And for the people of that time, it was it is very rare for for the stars of that time to be written about in English because the Bollywood press never bothered with them. So the film says and all that they never appeared.


So suddenly we found ourselves on friendly terms with pretty much all the big actors and actresses of that then people like Mahmoody and Montalbán negative and all of those from Malayalam, people like Kamal and Rajni and Prabal from the. And they were all very supportive of the look. All we had was an electric typewriter. So we typed the story into the decorator and then we cut sheets of paper in galley seats, printed it out that way. And because you don't have adjustable Fuentes's, you only have a single font.


So you have to work within a grid with room for expansion. So when you took it to the plate makers, they would expand it to the actual size. And we kind of figured it out on the go, so you learned a lot about production in about about copying pictures and about sizing and fitting things in columns and all that. So we spend all day on the sets. We had lunch there. We drank with the stars, then came back and wrote whatever we wanted.


Among other things, funnily enough, I learned a lesson in that very early lesson in ethics because all this. Character actor and director for coaching because he is from coaching in Maryland. The guy was making his first feature film and I went to the set and said, honey, I want to do a story on the movie. What's it about? So you're going to be called one of the systems that give this boy all the pictures, you know, all of that.


And in about two minutes, he told me what the story was. I said, look, this was supposed to be a center script. Let's talk a little bit. He said, do this only look, this is what the story is. You don't ask me questions. I said, oh, am I going to fill up the space? You said you write what you want. So I must have been particularly dramatic. What I ended up doing was an interview question for Expounds on international cinema uncrossable Eisenstat at nanobot so and it was printed and distributed ourselves.


So we took it to various bookstands and some of the radio stations and all that and placed it there. Just Ciccone And suddenly I walk into the office of Aziz Shaker's house, one room in that house and there's a message for me. Colquitt gently so called a set and get him on the phone. They said What I can come and see me. So I got it. As soon as he sees me, grabs me, takes me aside. What Karasawa what was he.


So I said ok what happened is these people are coming and asking me questions and sometimes journalists came and asked me, can you talk more about this. So I don't know what, what have you got. And I said you told me to make an interview so I made an interview in. And then she told me, don't do this, make up quotes. But, yeah, I mean, of learning on the job, it was one of those things.


And after a bit, it just folded because the way to bring it out, we didn't have money for the paper, for the printing and stuff that we will go to people like JB Prakash, G.V., who has money problems, older brother who used to run debutants and say, look, we don't have enough money for the next edition and the guy will just give you a couple of ads and give you the money later. Even if he didn't have a movie in the works, it would be just a different kind of ad.


Probles, brother, again, was very helpful that pretty much all the all the producers, sometimes the actors would step in and talk to the producer and say, give this boy and whatever. So beyond the point, it just became untenable. So there was about a period of three and a half, four years when I had nothing to do. The one thing I did was attend an interview with Indian Express for a trainee journalist and the first thing they asked me.


So what have you studied as a college dropout? And they said, oh, we're looking for graduates in literature. And that is the end of that interview. So, yeah, 1989 somehow lucked out and goes. A friend of my father's was in Bombay who called me once and said, look, there's a free press. Not too many people read it, but they do want people and they like to come away. I said, so what?


What are they paying me? Seven fifty bucks says and how they're supposed to live in Bombay on June fifty. You said you can say with me that sort of problem and you said you wanted to see a chance. If you make it, you make it. So I had nothing to lose. I just went, yeah, that's that's pretty much. That's such a delightful story and again, lots to sort of think about in there, and I'll come back to your career later, but I kind of want to go back to your earlier days.


Like one story that really struck me, which you spoke about, was how your father would recognize from the book marks how far you had gone down a book. And when you finished a book, there would be sort of a new book. And I remember when I was a kid and we were in Chandigarh where my dad was in the US, and he'd go to Delhi every once in a while. And he had and this is in the 80s, right.


Pre liberalisation and all of that. And he had hit upon these this dude somewhere there because he was a big patron of bookshops and all that, got lots of books. So he had a guy who would sell him all old editions of Marvel Comics. So what he would do is he'd buy big bunches of Marvel Comics every time event where he wouldn't show them to me right up. He'd give them in dribs and drabs. So he'd give me a bunch.


And when I had finished it and whenever suitably bored and made enough of a noise, he'd give me another bunch and all of that. And the pretense was that he doesn't have any more. But I always knew that, of course, you know, they are there somewhere or the other.


So, you know, tell me a little bit about your father. Tell me a little bit about your mother. What was that sort of like? Because, you know, another thing that kind of happens to us as we go through life is that our parents, we form an image of them. And, you know, we maybe edited it slightly as we go along and we grow older and, you know, experience more life. But essentially they are always kind of that whatever the image we have grown of them is.


And it's sometimes hard to even be able to think of them as flesh and blood human beings, as flawed indeed in many ways or as, you know, to to assert that they are like fixed points in space, maybe complex points, maybe, you know, there's good and that's bad, but that's what they are like. I recently came across a picture of my parents when we'd gone to when we'd made a trip to America in the early 80s, I think in 84 or something like that.


And so, uh, and there are my parents and and I kind of looked at that picture for a moment and I did a calculation and I said, oh, my God, at the time this picture is taken, my father was younger than I am now. And yet, you know that. So how was that relationship like, what were your parents like? What was your father like? I mean, I imagine there is a certain kind of love and caring which the bookmark story illustrates, where there is also deep disappointment, you know, and, you know, not all of it sort of undeserved, given the kind of things that you would up to to tell me a bit about.


No, you're right. It it was deserved, actually. Today is, what, March 17, March 16, 1997, is when my dad passed and I was busy covering the kids in the West Indies, the famous 81, but not all of them. All of that. Dad. That was a quintessential product of getler old world values, value, truth, justice and honesty, and he was at one point, I think either the head or number two in and out of this shake up.


He was religious. He was I think the fundamental the core of my dad's being was that he went at a time when he was doing brilliantly academically. His world fell apart and he was suddenly in the position of having to actually go and start making a living. So our family. So my grandmother had one sister and what do you call it? A thought of the ancestral property, that there were two adjoining my grandmother's sister's children.


One of them became the principal of the Calicut Medical College. One was chief secretary to the government of Kerala. One who still is alive is one of India's foremost orthopaedic surgeons. He used to teach at American universities and medical colleges and stuff. Brilliant guy. They were all like that. They were fabulously they were all brilliant and they accomplished a lot. And I think it stayed with my dad that he could have been that he and his brothers, David Albright, all smart, all.


Extremely erudite, but by an accident of trade. Well, they were pretty young, they had to go and start making a living. And my mom. Again, highly traditional. So there is a concept among the number three is called Kuruvilla Marriages that women attached to a temple. So the temple in the city, my mom's place and my mom's maiden name was Ramona Koval. Among the family was part of the temple of the temple, was part of the family ritual where you want to look at it.


And she had to get those same old world values in her book is she was a kind of savant, I suppose you call it, of things like arithmetic and stuff like she was absolutely brilliant and she wasn't tels. One of the things that we used to laugh about was the fact that she had a telephone book memorized pretty much asking me. No, I didn't. She just just reeled off numbers, anything to do with numbers. She was amazing. But again, family reasons stopped studies when she was pretty young, came to madrassahs and ultimately ended up joining Tels, which is that she and dad.


But they complemented each other in a lot of ways because my mom's governing nature was a kind of placidity of calm. And she was unfazed by pretty much anything. She had a very even temper. My dad was he was adrenaline. I think he had these highs and lows of fighting kind of temper. And at the same time, the next minute it was all cooled down. And earlier we were talking about, you know, the kindness of strangers.


Dad went out of his way to help people who eat. And even so, it was only after dad passed and people started coming home to control the people we didn't even realize existed. And they were telling stories about how that could something happened in that Van Der Sloot demon or something in the family and many ways in which exactly like this on Google passed away recently. Those two brothers were very alike. Um, I think that that is why the marriage was so very strong.


And that is also probably why Mom pretty much collapsed once that. But it is only in the early 2000s that she started getting dementia. But her zest for life pretty much ended in '97 when Dad Dad passed away. I think for all that, I was hurt by the fact that my parents couldn't see my point of view and couldn't have a rational conversation with me about what are you doing these things and what is it that you want to do? I think they were equally seen from a distance.


They would have equally been baffled and hurt by the fact that these opportunities they didn't get and they sacrificed a lot to give it to me and I was just throwing it away. So that, I think, is what made the relationship go. So I hadn't seen or talked to my father for about from 1989 to 97 when he passed that we were completely estranged. Don't even have Bedposts funeral that mom and I again started talking to each other and all that stuff.


But yeah, I think I think they had a they had an enviably rock solid relationship. And I think the lucky one was my sister, because while there was no articulation of this, I think they also realized at some point that children need to be given some space to think and grow and be themselves. And so everything that happened with me, the reverse happened with my sister. She was allowed to be whatever she wanted. She was allowed to study what she wanted.


She was given a degree of freedom that I never got. So for me, the withholding of freedom was a kind of punishment for whatever. And I don't drive within four walls, I need I need my space. Somebody figured that out, and this was this was the one punishment that would always hurt me when I was grounded in my sister's case, it was the exact opposite. So, yeah, I had it. Like I said, it's it's it's a composite complex kind of picture.


I think at the end of the day, it is I would think that my parents suffered mostly from having been brought up in a particular kind of environment and then having to suddenly come to terms with a completely different way of life, of making their own way, of not having you know, in traditional families. One brother has problems, the others, the extended family is there to help. But once the family fell apart financially. All of that changed, so it was everyone to himself, it became an atomic family as opposed to a joint family.


They never really came to terms with all that it meant. And that I think at the same time, having to bring up a fairly volatile kid, even at my best, I was kind of. And I had my moments, so all of that, I think at a time when they were struggling to do what the normal middle class couple is trying to do, you know, raise a kid, educate, educate, educate them, build a house.


All of that to have to cope with me must have been a bit much. So a question or two levels and one level is this, that, you know, it's poignant when, like you describe your parents there at a time where they're living through so much change, like, one, your kids are going in these different directions as the world is changing. So it might be hard for them to kind of comprehend exactly what's going on. You know, joint families become nuclear families.


It becomes everything becomes atomic. The kids go off in directions they don't understand and they're kind of bewildered by it all. So one, you know, do you feel that, um. You know, looking at that as an analog for where we are today, you keep worrying that that might happen to you like in multiple ways. Do you fear that you're turning into your parents or you're turning into your father? Is, as I say, about many men that, you know, they kind of turn into the father.


So it's a question at two levels. One is, of course, at the level of character and the level of, you know, all the similarities you might notice. But the other level also is that kind of existential sort of confusion or angst or whatever that the times are changing so fast. Like I I'm asking this because even though I am relatively young, I'm in my 40s. But I, I keep telling myself that I have to keep you know, I've seen, uh, you know, older people, I've seen my father struggle with technology and just be bewildered and therefore feel lost because he can't handle it.


And I keep telling myself that, look, when when I am that old, if I get that far, I don't want to be so helpless. I don't want to be so, um, you know, adrift and all of that. And and that is a fear. And one doesn't know what to even sort of how one is going to kind of navigate that. Is that something you've thought about or something that's there somewhere? Yeah, I think not now, I think those thoughts were actually in my mid to late 20s before it actually settled on one of the side effects of of doing the kind of things that I used to do, play sport at a fairly decent level or act in plays and play the drums on stage and stuff like you end up.


It's quite easy to make friends with girls. So there were always some relationship with the other going on. Right. And I never wanted anything permanent until 1988 when I met Tragic for the first time. And then we started sort of seeing each other exclusively. But even then, I was reluctant to commit because I didn't want kids. That was my fear that I would turn into my parents that the best will in the world if I see my. It's one thing to say kids deserve their freedom, but.


I kept thinking, what if this kid of mine. Starts doing something that I personally don't agree with. Well, I remember my own experiences and let be like sort of do what all parents do with this, we know best. This is not what you should be doing. And all of that as one of the reasons why we took about three and a half years of knowing each other before we finally got married was because I never asked. And one day it accidently in the course of a conversation that suddenly came up, she said, you know.


I've been thinking of settling down with you, but there's one thing I don't want kids, and I know that most men want kids. And I was like, oh, God, you've told me this two and a half years ago and saved me a lot of heartbreak. So we got lucky that way. But at a larger level, I'm now 63. And, you know, I can think back to a time when 63 was considered old. You looked on them as your family elder and stuff.


Right. So suddenly I realized that I am that now. And I do have that fear of one. There are three people in my immediate family who have had dementia and before they passed, including my mom, was the most. So there's always been that even if you accidentally forget a name of a book or a thing and suddenly you're like, oh my God to you, you do a lot of trying to recollect things just deliberately to see if your memory is still working.


And that is one part of it. The other part of it is that other helplessness that you're talking about, a physical helplessness. So for all that. Yeah, the smoking and stuff. But there are things that I've stopped doing. I no longer. Drink at home by myself, but I haven't done that for the last 10, 15 years now. I have a beautiful of but it's only when somebody comes and even that is very rare because I've been increasingly acting distanced from pretty much everybody.


I don't. Had you been back in the day when we were all in Bombay, we used to hang out in each other's homes, sit and talk late into the night until 1:00, 2:00 o'clock. I you know, I honestly missed out so much.


I remember Ramachandran. Yeah. Summoned all the old all the bunch of us had. Yeah. Chandrahasan and those were lovely times.


Yeah. That, that's not a memory. I don't do that anymore. I don't go for these things. I basically find spending an evening drinking alcohol that I don't really need and ending up. Talking of the same political tropes over and over again, it just it just seems so pointless to me, I don't get any fun out of it. They come back and say, what the hell was I doing? I could have read a book in the state.


But there is a certain consciousness that I don't I don't want to and I kind of want to be physically helpless. So with all of this, I still do. I go for long walks or I work or at home. I keep track of my fitness. And that fear is ever present also probably because I think it is in God's name. Even though the family was fragmented and his brothers were all in different parts of the thing, they were still they all grew up with that sense of closeness and tightness and stuff was just me and my sister.


She has her own little kids to look after her husband, who recently had a heart attack. So she has that on her mind. So I realize that I don't have the kind of automatic support system that the previous generation had, so that consciousness that there is kind of ever present losing the ability to think, to write to to to function.


Let's go back to untangling one of the strands which kind of struck me when you were talking earlier about your childhood. And this goes back right to the very start where you spoke about how you grew up in a home where stories were being told all the time. And and, of course, we have a windowpane episode releasing soon on YouTube. But you speak about this at length about the influence of storytelling on your writing. So I won't go into that here.


But what I am interested in is a couple of tangential things. One is what role does language play in even the way that we write in English, for example? You know, I have sort of grown up reading English all the time. You know, you spoke about how you would serendipitously discover serious writers because you were basically reading everything. Similarly, you know, my introduction to serious literature was when I came across Dostoyevsky's House of the Dead in my father's library, and I thought, that sounds like a fun book.


And it just completely changed who I was. I mean, that I read all of Dostoyevsky, most of the other Russian stuff from that era, all of Shakespeare. Even by the before I turned 11, though, I probably didn't get most of it. But Padilha lived for many of us on that other languages, whatever those languages are. And with me it was mostly English, really. So I didn't have the benefit of that. I wish I had immersed myself more into literature and some of the languages or culture in some of the languages, because I think that has an enriching kind of influence.


What was it like for you in terms of maybe Malayalam literature or Tamil literature or Hindi? I mean, I guess you wouldn't have read much in Hindi, though. You did mention Mentionable. You did well in school in it. So how do you feel all of that influences you?


Because the writer writing in English in the Western world has only the world of English, a writer writing in English in India as all these other worlds. I don't know.


When I went to college the first day of college, there was this absolutely brilliant English professor, George Matthew. You walked into class and said, OK, I want to get to know you guys. So one by one, just talk to me about yourselves. And also had some of the sports, like, you know, what your mother does and what's your thing? And there's one boy stood up and then he came to the party, said English.


And George Matthew looked up and said his name was Tom Subramanium sometimes. So he said, what the hell do you mean by. English said, look, I mean, I read, I write, I think, and I dream in English, so I don't know what else to say. I don't even I can't read my mother tongue so English as my mother tongue. And that made me think of what mother tongue really means. Is that the inherited language or is it the language that they're most at home?


And if the latter definition holds true, then it would be English, because I think in English at the same time, by some fluke, I've retained my knowledge of an ability to communicate. In whatever brand of Malay element will you choose from the highly literary to the absolute ST? The thing, though, is. It's opened me to new ways of writing, it has opened me to a whole lot of of of different styles and voices and even themes.


One of the things about Malayalam literature is the way they can be talked about this in the earlier before the before the outbreak, if you remember about these little stories that mean so much and. Malayalam literature in Malayalam films are full of these kind of stories, just I haven't been watching too many films of late, but a couple of days back, my wife insisted that I watch something called Good Deal on in the monologue, which basically translates into the woman I married as my angel.


It is a story of a boy in a village, in an agrarian sort of environment, just him and his mom, whose two sisters are married and gone. And he has reached the age of 35 without ever being in a relationship, ever being able to carry on a conversation with a woman other than his immediate family. And he keeps stalling whenever the subject of marriage comes up. And then finally, one day, he sees one of those typical arranged things.


He sees a woman who he actually wants to marry. He does. And then he doesn't know what to do with them in the sense of he doesn't know how sex works. And all he has is the political flows and, you know, the kind of hangers on and stuff and somewhere the sticks in his head. So he makes all kinds of excuses. On his honeymoon night, he pretends to be having high fever and he just stays in bed for two days while his girl is like running around and getting him food and thinking, I can't get up and shivering and all of that.


He's just he's just making excuses not to be with us. And then somewhere, he overheard a conversation about how women like men who are strong to start. And he misinterprets that. He gets drunk. He goes so many rapes his wife. And it is fairly brutal to the point where she ends up in hospital and that becomes a huge. Problem and. The entire movie is about how these two people, how he breaks out of his shell or how he is gradually taken out of his shell and what real life was on the boat and how she gets to understand where he was coming from when this happened.


It's not a justification of marital rape or even rape, but it is a process of understanding and a kind of mutual accommodation that happens at some point. But it is all based on that one little trivial incident. So that's what Malayalam literature literature was. What I read and honestly, I haven't read the contemporary authors. My knowledge of Tamil literature would be the Tamil epics and a couple of established writers like Sujata, for instance, who has a huge body of work.


They do it very well. Malayalam Persay doesn't have an established a big culture. We have myths and legends and then more contemporary forms of storytelling, but we don't have a big as a form Tamil does. If you think of the syllabi, the terms and the money days, and they're a big saga as told and to that the daily lives of people, the culture, the traditions, all of that is interwoven into that. So I think these things inform the way I think and write in English without necessarily informing my voice or my style.


They just sort of expand my sense of the possibilities of people. Great.


Let's let's take another quick commercial break. And on the other side of the break, we'll continue chatting about this and and this.


Long before I was a broadcaster, I was a writer. In fact, chances are that many of you first heard of me because of my blog, India Uncaught, which was active between 2003 and 2009 and became somewhat popular at the time. I love the freedom the form gave me and I feel I was shaped by it in many ways. I exercise my writing muscle every day and was forced to think about many different things because I had wrote about many different things.


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Thank you. We are back with the scene in the scene where normally those questions and guests respond occasionally at rambling things like I just did until now. But I'm at this time, I want to reverse the thing and ask you a question. It's funny, I've known you for the better part of 20 years. We've been friends with collaborated. We worked together off and on. It occurs to me that your trajectory in your profession was exactly the opposite of mine.


I did a lot of random things and then kind of stumbled and tripped and fell into journalism almost by accident. Or maybe because there was no other option but you straight out of college, you decided to get into journalism, right. And you pick it. And then you started doing other things. You became a fiction writer. You started playing poker for a living. You were a blogger for a bit. Then you went it deep into the sort of writing that, among other things, what you do best.


Yet you're a pioneer for India into podcasting, all of that. It occurs to me that it's a rather funny arc which which on the face of it, defies logic. So I was curious about how you got where you are and how you how you. Yeah, yeah.


Um, so the 200 episodes of the scene in the on scene was all me answering questions from others covering many aspects, including the arc. But you know, I was just thinking when you were speaking about I said at some point I hope, you know, uh, preme want to think otherwise if I ask him to send me a photograph of himself as a young man because I really wonder what you look like. And one of the things that has kind of happened to me while I've been speaking to old friends on the show like you right now, or Depok Shenoy a little bit earlier or so, you have a little who was also on E Street.


You realize that these people are people who feel close to you. Right. There is a lot of affection.


There is a lot of warmth. You've known them for a long time and yet you don't really know them at all. That's that's sometimes a feeling I get that there's so much you don't know. And your question reveals some of that. Because I didn't come straight into journalism. I spent a few years in music television. I, I worked for a few months in advertising in Delhi. I graduated in 94. I finished my B.A. literature. And then for a few months I worked in Delhi, in India, where I worked in a group called the Pepsi Group, FDA Strategic Walter Thompson.


It was in the number one ad agency in the country. Hatred advertising came to Bombay, worked to channel. We were good, gunwalking was just out and that was a good thing. So I landed on a Friday, called up their office. I said, you know, um, I'd like to kind of work with you. And on Monday I had the job booked in January for a couple of two and a half years, worked in MTV for two and a half years, try to dot com startup.


That failed partly because the Nasdaq crash happened in 2000, just as things were taking off drifted into journalism. Like my entrepreneurship efforts left me in a bit of debt and I needed a job. And so I joined some people at Wisden. We later went on to buy crack and fall and all of that. And some of it was kind enough to cut a deal with the organization where they gave me a sort of a loan which covered, you know, the amount of my debt and they'd cut it out of my salary every month.


Eternally grateful for that. And just a great editor like you spoke of how you only worked with the Nikil. You know, for me, some it is up there as an editor also because and we spoke about this in the windowpane session also how he nurtured so many talented young writers like Rahul Bhattacharya and, uh, Siddharta, where they're not an Chandrahasan throughout all of these people. Um, so enormous talent. But, you know, we must not make the journalistic mistake of ascribing a post facto narrative on something that basically randomly happened, which is kind of what happened with me, that everything was random.


So the counterfactuals are, of course, interesting. And I just drifted from one thing to the other. And a lot of that is and it's interesting, I teach the school schoolyard clear writing that I talk about the link between writing and clear thinking. But a lot of the journey happened because I wasn't a clear thinker before, so I didn't really know exactly what I was aiming for, what I wanted to do. There were all these sort of confusions.


And so I stumbled from thing to thing, which I enjoyed doing. I've spoken a little bit about this journey in that sort of in the episode that I did. But I think one of the things and I turn this back into a question for you, but one of the sort of realizations I had at some point, like I think what happens is that there are two sort of transitions that I have seen. One is that moment where you realize you're not exactly young anymore, where you know, you're in your 40s and you still behave like someone who's twenty five and you think, you know, all of your future is ahead of you.


And then you suddenly think, what the fuck. Twenty years just past, you know, while I was procrastinating or not doing stuff. And then one has to reorient oneself. And in a sense that reorientation can also be painful because there is a point where you realize that. Let's get real here, you know, most of my dreams are not going to happen, but there's another reorientation that happens that makes us OK, which is an understanding that you would dream the wrong dreams anyway, that happiness doesn't come from achieving A or B or C, it comes one to take joy in what you're doing on an everyday basis to kind of find those little joys, the things that you enjoy doing.


Like I get a lot of joy from these conversations, right. So even if and that's something in and of itself and I guess that process of sort of reorienting in these multiple ways, of course, for me is sort of ongoing. But how has it been for you? For me, I think there are two things that I can think of. One is. I look at myself today and I think I'm not going to say it's my abiding fault or that it's a problem or weakness or whatever, it is a complete lack of ambition.


And I tried to figure that out and I realized that in those eight years when between my dropping out of college and between finding my feet, it was so hellish. And it nearly drove me to taking my own life a couple of times. And the one thought that I had in my head all the time was somehow I wanted the opportunity to prove that I have what it takes, because when everybody around you is running you down and saying that you never amount to anything.


And inside, do you know that if you had that opportunity, you could do this, it becomes a it becomes a terrible place to live in. And so I came to Bombay and I don't know, my my first day at Free Press, Mr. Kaanapali called me into his room for an interview. And obviously I had no dignity or anything to show. And so he said, fine, I'll take you on as a trainee.


And after a month, I'll give you a look at some English, which in a funny kind of way, kind of amused me. But what I remember about that is after that, I was somebody he called somebody into the room and said, show him a table that you can work.


And I went and sat down and suddenly I got up, ran to the loo and I threw up. And I think it was the realisation that all this time I had been living in this world inside my head where all I needed was a chance to prove my point well, to prove that I had what it takes. And finally here was that chance. And I think I was struck by the dread that I would feel. And then the one justification I had for all the mistakes I had made till then would also vanish.


And I just bark. And as it turned out, some four days later, I was looking at the pages as they were being made and Mr. Cannibalised editorial, there was there was an error of both fact and syntax, which I corrected, and he wasn't there. So I just took a call. I corrected it. I didn't know what was right and wrong at that time. Right. So next morning I went to him and said there was this problem yesterday and I've corrected it any sort of took a look at me and said, OK, you can go home now and come back in the evening.


So I was like, what is that about? He said, You come in the evening, I'll let you know. So I go back at about six o'clock and he was waiting for me. He said, I want you on the night shift. And start making pages and. I don't think you need any test or something, and I think. What happened in that moment was I realized I had what it took. And that was it. So if you spend eight years locked inside of yourself and only one to accomplish that one thing, which is just get that done, is just just prove to yourself more than to talk to your family or to whoever that you can do this.


And then you take that box that I was suddenly left with normal boxes to take and I still don't have any boxes to take. I think now the only thing is similarly, there's a dream which led to the starting of Peepli even before that, when I was in Yahoo! And to the extent that is possible, I bargained for budgets to do. We had this thing called regional's, where people went out and reported at length on various stories that were not really chasing the headline so much as narrative.


I don't know, we won on a whole heap of awards for those stories that goes with Nishat Goutam, Jane and then out the went out and did something called River Diaries, which was what caught Paul's attention in the first place. And then we started Peepli with this dream that there are still both a market and a need for deep immersive. Journalism, journalism that looks not at what the headlines are, but what so we said, look, if you're looking at the long term, India has about two or three problems.


One is the problem of water resources basically an environmental problem? Water is that central to it. But there is a lot of dominoes that then start to fall once you want to start interfering with the water supply.


The second is. A combination of health care and education, which is one of the things that, to my mind, is holding back this country's productivity in a good way. One, we keep talking about the demographic dividend and there's no way to capitalize on that dividend if the kids are not being given an education that is of some use to them and that they are not productive if they end up, you know, working in malls and stuff like just to earn a subsistence living.


What do they call it? Disguised unemployment. If that is the case, they are losing out on that. And the third is what we call devlopment, which isn't really we are putting up these structures here and there, but we're not connecting the dots at all, which is what everybody was doing. If you remember, he was talking about one factory that produces condensers, which is required by another factory at one hundred and eighty kilometers away. And to carry this convento across that distance of 180 kilometers takes almost a year because our roads are not equipped to deal with that kind of massive.


Transport. So these are not headlines, but these are issues that will ramify and funnily enough, for instance, the the went to Sunderbans on one of her early explorations and she came back and she talked to me and then wrote about this moment when she was in this little book and in the Sunderbans Bible, five o'clock, you have this enormous mist that shrouds everything, fog that shrouds everything you can you can barely see if you hold your hand out in front of you, you can't see your hand.


And suddenly your chin nearly toppled off the boat. And it turned out that right in front of the boat man had seen it in the nick of time. There was a huge tanker coming towards him. No lights, no sound, no nothing. And she was talking about what this means, the possibility the sailor was predicted. Sunderbans is a protected environment. It is a unicycle project and all of that. And here you have these massive tankers carrying things like flash of crude oil and various other extremely harmful products.


And she said some day there's going to be a crash. And soon enough, three months later, the was and three hundred and fifty thousand litres of oil spilled into that thing and completely ruined that environment. For subsequent to that, there have been at least four or five other tanker mishaps that I know of, like ash, fertilizer, all kinds of things have been dumped into that extremely sensitive ecosystem. So I believe that it is necessary to tell these stories.


I believe that it is necessary. And increasingly you're looking at a media world where there is no space for this kind of storytelling that has neither the ability nor the ability not of the individual reporter, but of the the management, let's say. To think of the necessity of all this and to and to find the ways and means to make it happen, there isn't the space tourism, the time and the inclination and. Because of this combination of factors, the most important stories of the day remain untold or largely untold independent journalists who are on their own dime going out and telling these stories, people like the European car to build, you know that, and people like that who are taking the trouble to read my Ben-Dror report for environment related stories.


A lot of these people are doing it, but they're doing it despite the system. And I think the only thing that remains is to create that system, which is what we try to do with people, but convincing people that it is worth investing in. I feel that and I don't know how to turn that around. So, yeah, that is to your question, it's kind of in one sense, I have no ambitions in the other. I have this one, or at least in one sense, I have no personal ambitions and not I have to do this particular kind of journalism.


I have to write this book or I have to do X, Y or Z. None of that seems to matter, and it hasn't mattered since that day. I told you about my first week, but at a larger level, I suppose this is the one thing that that haunts me that I wasn't able to make it.


Look, you weren't able to make what work does this project of this Peepli or any variant of that, but essentially the idea of consistent beat reporting on the seminal issues, the issues that will really make a difference to this country in the coming years, that. So, you know, let's talk about your time in journalism, in journalism itself. But before we get there, I'm sort of interested in I mean, I think if one was to rephrase the question as not as what ambitions maybe and how you recalibrated them, but what are you driven by?


And what you seem to be describing at that early phase is that you're driven by the desire to prove that you're not a waste, that you know, that you can excel. And that comes to you on that day when you put on the night shift and you don't have to do the English language test as such. And that's a personal drive fulfilled and not knowing what it seems to you. And something that resonates with me is that there is a drive that is almost double one.


It comes out of a passion for what you do, which is journalism and the writing, and to it comes out of caring about these issues which have become important to you. And obviously the two of them come together like again, for the benefit of my listeners. Be clear, blue dot org was a project that Oprah put together after he had left Yahoo! Where he was a managing editor for a long time. And it was all about this deep, immersive, long form journalism.


And you mentioned, you know, all about your story there. And there's also a famous every story about how I forget which those two cities are subterranean cities, whether it's Chennai in Bangalore or Ginnane, Hyderabad or whatever, I forget. But basically at that time when if did the story a few years ago, if you wanted to send goods from one city to the other, it was cheaper to do it via Paris indirectly because of all the shit that happens at state borders and so on.


And by the way, another site, you know, I finally ventured out to meet someone recently and I went with Roberta to meet him for coffee at a nearby restaurant. And they had this bizarre thing that they had this large outdoor section where they were not allowing anyone to sit, but everybody could sit indoors, which was full of these shouty kids and air conditioning and all of that. So I think people really need to think about this shit. You know, it should absolutely have been the other way around.


But my question is this, that, you know, obviously we see here a kind of a deepening of one's mental makeup in the sense that initially the driver is personal validation. And I want to do this and I want to prove myself. And then later the driver becomes something else. And part of the reason the driver becomes something else is that you are forming a frame through which you look at the world and that gets sharper and sharper as it kind of goes along.


In a sense, a picture of the world gets more and more High-Definition as you gather more and more dots to connect. So tell me a little bit about that process of world view forming, because despite growing up in a generation after you, till I was almost an adult, I did not know much about, you know, political theory. I didn't know what Left-to-right was. I had my little of liberal inclinations in college because it seemed compassionate. It seemed a good way to go and know extremely unformed and later in adulthood that I started reading much more and kind of figuring stuff out for myself.


So what was that process like for you of forming that frame through which you look at the world, you know, whether it is looking at politics, whether it is a sea, looking even at journalism or society or the world around you? What was that like?


I mean, politics and society predate my involvement with journalism largely because as was and what vestiges remain, it remains a huge political family. I did mention my dad's involvement.


Datasets are one of his younger brothers was a Marxist, and there was a time when he was in hiding because he was supposed to be involved in a murder case, political or whatever. And the dad moved from the Odyssey's to hardcore left hardcore as in his thinking went left. Mom was a diehard congressperson till the day she lost cognition. I mean, I keep saying this in my mom's religious worldview, there are four guardedness, Sarasvati, Lakshmi Parvathy and Indira Gandhi.


So then obviously when the family gets together, there tends to be quite fun because everybody's shouting at each other about their various political differences are being aired and growing up and the kind of family I did, it was difficult to escape, not that I wanted to, but cultural and societal change for that period was so intrinsic to our lives that it became again staple fare of conversation. So those things kind of came to me by default. And my first few years in journalism were largely political journalism or feature writing.


There was a brief foray into Bollywood because midday and therefore. It was needed, but but these were the kind of things that I would get to do. It happened by accident and. After about five years of that, I think I mentioned this in the windowpane session as well. One, I was no longer taking a delight in it that I once did. I was losing even the tandem for the sport. Forget about the journalistic urge to to view the next match and write about it.


Even that that joy that I used to have as a fan was was getting bleached out of me. A lot of external reasons. You know them as well as I do. The match fixing and the growing sense that you are seeing a Kabuki play rather than a cricket match, that that what is going on behind the mask was different from what we were perceiving in front of it. And then I went back after that. There was that period in New York where, you know, working on India abroad, it left a lot of time to myself to sort of reassess them and like you said, reset.


And I realized that for me, until that point in time, I had done very little in terms of environmental journalism or issue based journalism. It was mostly unless you count politics as an issue. It occurred to me that that was what I wanted to do, which is why when I came back, I did a bit of that and then left readers came to realize that I now had the leave, or at least some of the levers in my hand.


As long as the album was being run out of India, I could work with the managing director on budgeting and stuff like that. So I started giving increasing prominence for that kind of thing, going out for that kind of stories as well. I think that is how it evolves, that these are your personal preoccupations. Look, I lived on land. I my grandfather being what he was by the time I was four and I had a little spade and a shovel and an axe of my own scale down to size.


And he would take me out into the fields pretty much every day. And he would insist that I learn all the basics, how to dig a trench, how to chop down a tree, all of that, or chop it up into firewood. You know, all the basics work with your hands and stuff. And that was part of my formative years. Right. So it never quite left me that sense of importance of land and how people and land interact with one another.


So all of that was already marinating inside of me. And then I met outI, who was hardcore into these issues. I mean, she's a brilliant scholar, but I think three postgraduate degrees to her name had a great job and with all that wanted to do this. So her passion kind of just when I was beginning to sense the first box of that has to be more to it than quotidian political reporting. Coming along just sort of took it up another few notches, then Paul happened and then it became a sort of continuous process even today.


I mean, I. Right, Lord, in my journal, which I don't know what I'll make of it at some point, but most of that writing is about these kind of issues. Not what is happening in West Bengal or so, and you know, one thing since I've known you, I've constantly been haranguing you about why you don't write books like, for example, cricket. You know, the whole fascinating post, John sort of Ganguli period is so incredible.


And most of what really went down and happened is not even in the public domain. And I used to keep nagging you at least write a book about it. But there are so many books that you could really have written on just a variety of subjects, not just cricket. And you haven't done that. You said something you thought about, like in my case, and I will hopefully write many books, but in my case, the fact that I haven't written a pen by now is really a lack of discipline.


And it's got to do with those kind of personal feelings and not necessarily desire. But in in your case, did you look at writing books as something that you would do? You start something that waxed and waned with time at different periods. How was that like? Like one reason I think that, uh, you know, I was thinking the other day about, you know, why should one privilege writing a book as necessarily the pinnacle of a certain kind of artistic or intellectual achievement, like it seems like a standard and goal.


You know, why not a podcast? Why not whatever? You know, it's we kind of tend to think in these old structures of how we consume the world back in the day 30 years ago. But today, everything has changed. But was that ever a part of your makeup that I should write books or was it something you really didn't care about? And you were like, and what is this about telling me again and again?


What I mean, you kind of answered your own question on my behalf when you talked about white privilege writing books as as the pinnacle of intellectual achievement to the specific thing about cricket, I think we both know why I haven't written that for the simple reason that, like you said, it's not in the public domain because it is not in the interests of either the players were central to that era or to the administration for a lot of things to to become public.


Almost all of what I know is from the players and the administrators themselves. And I also know with the dead so dainty that if I ever were to write about these things, the very same people who took me aside, asked for my time, sat me down and told me things will be the first to deny it. At the end of it, I'm going to end up with a book that is universally denied. And to what purpose? I mean, if the the principal players in this history do not want the story to come out, I don't see the point of my doing it.


I don't think I have never felt that I have to write a book. You and other friends in London are Roy, for instance, got to admire people. I keep talking to me about it. I played around a bit with that transcreation of being seen, but that was more of a writing experiment that I wanted to try out. But for me, a book has to evolve from the story. It has to be the other way around. And I'm not talking fiction.


Fiction doesn't interest me. I mean, I love reading fiction, but not necessarily writing it. I don't even think in that direction. Non-fiction, the. Yes, and for me, it is. And if you remember, we talked about that coastline exploration that we were doing and which got truncated thanks to corporate and all the other issues, but at some point that is a book that I want to finish because you see the coastline and you see beaches on which you played football or where you picnic with your family.


When dad and mom came down for the summer holidays and stuff and they have vanished. They've literally banished to the beach, does not exist anymore. The water comes to the shoreline, to the road, for instance. So that is that is one part of the story. But then when you think of how we dramatize the beach encroaching is fishermen disappearing, homes getting destroyed, every single monsoon along that stretch from from Trivandrum all the way up to hundreds of homes are just being swept into the sea every single monsoon for the last five, six years.


That is that many displaced families, that many displaced livelihoods to keep the sea from encroaching. You're going and mining storm from the Western and got traumatically from from Clapperton sometimes. But battery in places like that. And every year now for the last three years, you had landslides in those places which are killing people. There is multiple ramifications across this and all these, let's say economic or livelihood ramifications, then translate into cultural ramifications as well. So there is a huge story with the coastline as it's fine.


And to do the entire Indian coastline of 7400 kilometers is an ambition that and I have. But just to look into it strikes me that what is happening environmentally in that place and how it is ramifying into the social, the political and cultural lives of the people. This is a book what working on and that's that's not an ambition that I've given up on at this point. But again, that depends on the basics first, which is go that seawaters and then see if the story is worth writing and if you are capable enough of putting it all together.


And I guess Dataquest funding, if someone listening to this wants to fund this, what what do they have to do where they have to go? Well, talk to me. OK, that's I mean, always accessible.


So, yeah, part of the thing I see I can't talk to OVC on the regular lines of how many page views will you get and how many you use will you get. I can only talk in terms of is this a necessary thing to do? Is this something important that is not getting done right now? And what will it take to do it? And I'm not looking at huge sums of money. I don't think that is required at all.


Of the we did that entire course in 20 days, one month and then another 15 days, another month. But the old days, our budget was less than like we stay in these small lodges, we walk a lot. We take public transport. You know, it's not it's not like you're saying, OK, I need to be put up in these five star hotels and I need tons of equipment and stuff, but there needs to be somebody willing to do it because it is a good thing to do, not necessarily because the the Ottoway can be calculated or makes it a sheet.


And I haven't found that person. So very wise words.


Hopefully you will through this episode. I have great hopes for that. So let's let's kind of talk a little bit about journalism. And we've done this before. I think in twenty seventeen we did this, if I remember correctly, we did an episode called The State of the Media where we spoke about where things are. And those days, my episodes were much shorter, too. I think this was a one hour episode, but I don't quite remember.


But, you know, I still can't quite get a handle on what the media will look like ten years later. Like, one thing that is clear to me is this couple of big changes. Oh, one is that there was a time where there was a consensus and the truth because you got all your news from a bunch of singular sources and that was pretty much it. And it was both good and bad. It was good because there was a limit to how much fake news could get through.


And you had what you had. And, you know, two plus two was always equal to for today. You know, that's coming at you from disparate sources. Everybody constructs it, own alternative realities and in a sense is good because it means content creators like me can just create content. I am not dependent on a platform for publishing me. I don't have to conform. I can do my podcast as I want. Nobody is going to ask me to continue.


I can do my newsletters as I want, which is kind of great. But the other thing that's changed is that especially in the last ten years with social media on our smartphones, that the way people discover, consume and filter information has changed. It is no longer the case that you will go to a destination, that you'll pick up the times of India in the morning or you'll go to even in India and got in the. And, uh, you know, as back in the blogging days, some people said they used to do and people don't go to destinations anymore.


The news comes to them. They'll click on links on social media or somebody will send them something on WhatsApp. So everything about the consumption has changed. Everything about, you know, the demand and it is all different. Add the supply. And they haven't figured it out. They haven't figured out that, you know, or if they have figured out, they haven't figured out what to do about it. The advertising model may be broken, that, you know, a lot of what was taken for granted, like the bundling of many things together in this big thing called the newspaper or the publication may not even be relevant anymore.


And I don't know how those pieces are going to fall into place at some point. The supply will fit into the demand and I don't know when it will happen. And even now, the landscape of how we consume information is changing so fast that like, you know, just this week there was an episode out of a show that I produce this a show called Brave New World, hosted by Whitsuntide, which I produced for the ODAC Institute and was and spoke to Jonathan Haidt.


And Jonathan Haidt made an interesting point where he spoke about I think the phrase he used was wisdom, deprivation, where he said that yesterday, people have access to a lot more information, but most of us tend to consume something that has been produced in the last two or three days. You're always kind of in the moment especially and this is more this is a bigger concern, not when you take all these like us, but when you take new generations who are still being formed.


And the question is, what are they being formed by? And they are being formed by, you know, ephemeral, shallow content, which is just coming out. And I don't want to generalize and say everybody is like that. Kids generally today are obviously much smarter than I. They have a partly because of, you know, access self pedagogy is much easier and so on and so forth. But that's also and I think the phrase genius for it was wisdom, deprivation, and because things are just changing so rapidly that it is and because the demand side is continuously changing, well, the supply side is still stuck in some paradigm of 12, 13 years ago.


You know, and I can't put a finger on what the media landscape will look like 10 years from now and so on. And obviously, you have been in media at the highest levels for all this time. What are your thoughts on this? Look, I mean, the smaller point about the democratization of media is, I think, a wonderful thing. It's you talked about your podcast, but you could also have equally with the same amount of relevance, talked about the writing group that you formed, which is now producing content at a rapidly increasing pace and quality, not just the quantity of stuff that your cohort is starting out, but also the quality of stuff and and the way they are systematically broad basing their interests so that they're covering more and more ground, which is a good thing.


But as far as conventional media is concerned, I think it is fallen too deep into a trap of its own making. And instead of trying to claim both the reaching potential, I think the genesis of the problem was the early days of the Internet when your monetization model depended on audience, on page views on on the number of, let's say, the amount of attention of a reader that you could catch and retain. So if your content was good enough to make a person spend X minutes on that site and to revisit that site multiple times a day, you had a good chance of making it with the advertiser.


Two things have happened subsequently. One is that more and more media houses have come up. Every media house operates on section chief model of what are page views, what are unique users, what is, I repeat, visits and stuff in order to accomplish these goals without thinking of why you want to accomplish these goals. What the media houses are doing is churning out more and more irrelevant content. For instance, one of the better run websites that we have in India today, the other day I saw this link on Twitter.


This video went viral, blah, blah, something. And I just clicked on it to see what the hell they were talking about. And it was one of those random moments. And I realized that what they had done was this was a video that had gone viral on Twitter. Somebody had posted it. All they'd done was embed that Twitter in the state and that's it gave it a headline and pushed it out. Why would you do that? It's already viral on Twitter.


You're hoping to ride that wave reality for a few extra page views. And the joke is you haven't thought of what those extra page views mean in terms of revenue. Somebody did put in even that little bit of effort to find that. And admittedly, they haven't done the basic math of saying the more page views I produce and the more page views everybody around me produces, the less each page views values. So at a time when you used to sell what you call the CPM cost per million page views, when the CPMs were counted in dollars today, they're not worth pennies.


So your basic unit of production, which is your page view, is increasingly irrelevant in the marketplace. And yet you're chasing that metric in general? It is in that metric you're actually doing more and more of that. You're desperate to meet these so-called monthly targets and stuff right now. Having done all that, you are not clearly making money. Therefore, your annual cycles are OK. We have a lot of red ink. Therefore, lay off a few more people.


Your quality comes down. The remaining people are put to the job of churning out more content. The relevance of that content to the average consumer is therefore getting depleted. And it's a vicious cycle and they're not. At no point are you hitting the pause button you talked about as an individual, the times that we reset ourselves, that that moment when we think, OK, what have I been doing and why am I doing this? And is this what I'm supposed to be doing?


The media, by and large, has not done that, nor have they explored potential. It is not for lack of alternate revenue. Options so much as the media is in the trap of thinking that this is the only way. In fact, I remember making a presentation when I was in Yahoo! About how Yahoo! Could be monetized and everybody in the room said, okay, brilliant ideas, blah, blah, blah, and nothing happened. And then a friend of mine and another website, when I left Yahoo!


He came down to Bangalore and said, I wanted to talk to you about monetization. Do you have any thoughts? And I gave them to three of these ideas and he said, will you come and help us do it? And I said, look, I'll give you the idea to do it. It doesn't matter, because at that time I was more preoccupied with Peepli. It didn't happen years past and I've had the same conversation in these exact same ideas at least four times, to my recollection.


And at no point has anyone shown they've all shown great enthusiasm for the thought, but it does take an effort to say, OK, I'm going to stop doing what I'm doing today in order to do this tomorrow and that they're not willing to do so. You're ending up in a trap where your single biggest concern is the government. It is the government advertising that is the government advertising the government, the personalities presence at your events, these are your primary monetization models.


If that is the case, you don't get back to because mean you automatically sink to being a propaganda outlet for who is in power at that particular time. And that's a trap from which you can claim hold off until you stop the dependence. Now, as long as you are that in that particular club, the problem is you've become less relevant to the audience because propaganda does not it's not subtle, it's sledgehammer stuff. And people see it. I mean, we talked about this, I think, in the writing class episode as well, that people are very, very good to sports figures and the same way they're very good at spotting when there is an agenda behind what is being written.


So you've now gotten into the self-perpetuating cycle. And part of the problem is that the people who are sitting in positions of authority in media houses do not spend the time to explore their own ecosystem. They do not spend enough time to see what is working elsewhere and why it is working. What model is adaptable to this country? What is the model that is probably not used somewhere else but will work in this country because we have scale? None of those questions even come up in these management discussions.


What does come up as? How do we get 25 percent growth quarter on quarter? In fact, on Yahoo! I actually asked that question when I was asked how I was going to ensure 25 percent growth as the last quarter. These are the numbers we've done. How much of it to do said. The guy didn't have an answer. I did. I told him you were 35 percent. So what why? What are we going to do with this 25 percent growth when you can't even tell what I'm producing?


So, yeah, the future of media is, frankly, in the media's own hands, if they don't see the trap that they've fallen into and if they continue to dig deeper. Pretty soon you become irrelevant to the and you make the point increasingly, nobody goes to a website. I mean, learn behavior for you, for me in the morning. You need it to catch up with news that, well, you had one or two preferred news sources, whether at the Times of India or Hindustan Times or Hindu, whatever it is.


But he went to that website at the time that you stopped actually reading the physical paper, you went to the website and you went through it. You wanted to know about cricket before you went to ESPN Cricket for and similarly, you had certain specific interests. So you had a set of about maybe 10, 12 bookmarks, which was the first thing that we did every morning, cycled through those bookmarks and catch up with the world and whatever happened while we were asleep.


Today there is no you are all that you typing. And that tells you that there is no website that has become of even remote relevance to us. It doesn't matter.


I'm operating under the assumption that if it is important enough, somebody on social media will be talking about it and I will find it.


And that is not because of the rise of social media, people are putting the cart before the horse and that particular argument, it is not the rise of social media that is making the newspapers irrelevant so much as the newspapers make themselves irrelevant. And therefore, people are turning to alternate sources of news or information, for instance, why do your podcasts work? Your guests talk brilliantly about a huge variety of subjects. I mean, the last two guests you had, Bezalel Wahhab before that you had Zaib, before that you had the Shenoy, all three are entirely different.


The areas of expertise are different. The subject matter is different. Why is all just not part of mainstream media? If it is relevant, your podcast wouldn't work if your podcast was working. It does say that these are themes and topics and ideas that. A certain section of the audience is actually interested in they are willing to invest, what, three hours of listening to all this, I know media houses that would kill for three hours of your attention and advertisers all day to get that kind of time spent on a Web site.


So, I mean, for newspapers to say, you know, social media is killing us and Facebook is doing this to us and all that. Sorry, you did it yourself. Marvellous. There's lots to unpack and I'll unpack some of it, but since you mentioned sort of the curating community, I'll quickly take a brief digression to tell listeners about that. So basically, I started the school theoretically writing in April last year. And I've you know, I'm on my 11th cohort right now.


And around the ninth cohort were the former students got together and they formed a separate online writing community, which I am a part of, but not the grand poobah, as it were. I'm just another member and so are you, in fact. And it's voluntary. It's free, and it's only for people who've already done the course. So they kind of share the same frame of reference and all that and they give each other prompts exercises. We have this YouTube channel on which, you know, we've spoken to them recently.


Before that, we spoke to Roy and I got Purtill about writing. We have a newsletter at Windowpane, not substract dot com. We have, uh, reading groups, book clubs, fund fiction and nonfiction. And now they're talking about forming a fan club as well. So a lot of enthusiasm. A few hundred people, lots of action to now kind of getting back to why has this podcast taken off? And that's something I've thought about because it caught me by surprise when I started.


I thought, attention spans are shallow. You've got to grab them in the first 15 minutes of 15 seconds. Don't do anything longer than 20 minutes. That was all bullshit. And it was all received wisdom that came from YouTube and may not even necessarily be true for YouTube anymore because there are interesting new things happening there. But, uh, we can talk about that some other time. But one reason for this is that if you look at the media you have in the past, describe the Indian media as being an inch deep and a mile wide.


And that's exactly what it is. And it is like that for a different kinds of incentives. One obviously is that if you look at news television, why is it so shallow? Why is it so shouting and screaming and in a race to the bottom? Because there are price caps on, for example, subscribers, which means that most of your revenue has to come from advertising, you know, and that proportion of advertising revenue to the subscriber revenue is, um, incredibly skewed far more than any other country.


And therefore, there's a race to the lowest common denominator. When you invest a lot in big media, you want your money back, you're reaching for the lowest common denominator. So you keep it shallow. You can't afford to go too deep. And here's an interesting nuance here. What this means is not only that you cannot cater to a niche. What it also means is that you never even discover a niche. A niche doesn't know that it exists because people aren't throwing things at the wall.


And the wonderful thing about the Internet and technology is that it empowers individuals to throw everything at the world. I can do a four hour broadcast. I can do a newsletter about whatever I can do. My blogging, in your case, smoke signals in my case in New York and Nicias form communities form, which is a wonderful thing about it. But the other very fascinating and deep point that you have made previously, which I just want to, you know, take our listeners through, is you've pointed out that when you enter this death spiral, like we've spoken about how demand is one thing, supply is another thing, what people want is not what the media is giving.


Now, that typically happens. The media starts losing money. What do they do when they start losing money? They won't sack the salespeople or whatever. They'll sack editorial. And this is a very telling phrase that I heard from you where if you have less journalists, you will have more generalists because you can't hire that many specialists. And therefore the work is spread around more among generalists who have to produce more work, who have less time to work on stories.


And the quality suffers, like there's a phrase called Gelman Amnesia, which is named after the physicist Marie Gelman, which basically means that, you know, whenever I read a story by a mainstream publication on a subject I know a lot about could be podcasting or Pokot or even Économique, sometimes I find that the story is rubbish because I know the subject with so much depth and the generalist has probably worked on it for six hours and called offered people for quotes.


But when I read the rest of the newspaper on subjects that I don't know, I am trusting it as if it is gospel, as if it is all you know, and that's what it's called. Galman amnesia. It's that you forget that this has happened, that whatever subject you know about the newspaper has bungled up completely. Why would you assume they haven't bungled absolutely everything? And this causes a vicious cycle where there's a degradation in quality and therefore the quality gets worse and worse.


And obviously then the reader who is no longer, you know, going to these mainstream media sites, in any case, will, you know, the filtering effect will come into play and they'll read less and less. So most of this garbage. Another thing that happens, which I think is, you know, outside of these contexts, is a way that in the past, because of either, you know, a lack of imagination or, you know, individuals not being empowered enough in terms of individual consumers not being empowered enough is that we think in terms of packages in newspaper, of course, it is the Times of India.


You have a bunch of pages. You have politics, news, sports, news, opinion, blah, blah, blah. You put it all together. Education is like that. Education, we think in terms of packages where we are still in the 19th century paradigm, that kids of the same age must be in the same class and they'll be taught this package of subjects, history, geography, English, whatever. And it has to be this nothing else.


And we've been stuck in that equilibrium. And it is clearly not working, especially when you look at the Indian education system, which even though we have a jobs crisis, we have another crisis in that most people who are getting educated within our system don't have the skills to be employable. So it's like this crazy dual sort of crisis that is happening. So this is spoken of many things here. The the the just the kind of you have any thoughts?


Yeah, so you made a point which is central to this, that you don't know Inish exists until somebody comes along to serve this definition of which is central to this entire thing about your original question was around your not being clear where the media is going, where it'll be 10 years down the line. This realisation is what is the North Star that the media needs? The media is servicing things in a bilateral fashion, exactly like our education system. It has gotten this template and it says, yeah, this is what the people want.


The question of is there something else that the people want that they are not aware of and that not giving and therefore we are losing readership or not gaining more readers is never asked in a newsroom and never answered. The other part of the issue is we talked about how it is not the sales people, but the journalists who get the additional layer to that is that it is the senior journalists who get sacked because they are the ones who are highest paid.


But the reason why they are seniors, they have spent some time in that profession. They've acquired a knowledge base. That knowledge base belongs to that particular media company. As long as, say, for instance, I spend X amount of time working in newsrooms, being on top of politics, building contacts and having a certain reservoir of both information and the ability to to acquire information quickly. I know where to go. I know what dots to connect, and then you get rid of me.


You have lost that entire experience that you have actually spent money and time nurturing. And increasingly you are keeping the bottom layer of journalistic kids who are just out of school who haven't had the time to build all this up. And it is not just that you're keeping them, you're not giving them that opportunity to build a knowledge base for themselves, because today you are expected to do a piece on the presidential election about which you know nothing. And tomorrow you're doing a piece on the general election about which, you know, even less and you don't have somebody there to go and ask.


You know, this seems to be somewhat out there. Can I get that information from the journalist is Googling and finding an article that somebody is working, which is fairly ill informed in the first place, taking that as gospel, like you said, and basing his or her analysis or piece on on that bit of garbled information and garbage is just perpetuating itself. And then the media is wondering, why are we losing readership? What is happening? You're losing readership because you're no longer relevant in any form or fashion to the reader.


And you also made the point about how pathetic the education system is. How many times in the last few years have we seen stories about, say, for instance, the railways posting a requirement for a thousand people to work on the tracks and birds and bees and, you know, people with those kind of qualifications are playing by the hundreds of thousands. A sample that's in fact been the case from my childhood since I remember from the 1980s onwards that you'll have, you know, a vacancy for two peons being announced and six hundred pages will be among the three hundred thousand people who applied.


Yeah, I mean, that's that's probably the most stinging indictment of both our education system and at a larger level, the fact that as a country, as an institution, we're not thinking these things through.


We keep talking about all these fancy concepts like demographic dividend and how we will be the youngest nation of workers. But what workers? And that that question doesn't seem important enough for any kind of informed debate or discussion. It doesn't seem important enough for any kind of policy framing. And increasingly, these are questions that you don't even ask because who the hell is left in these newsrooms to ask them?


Funnily enough, I mean, just today I was reading about how Barack Obama met as a professor at the university. You have very few voices today that are capable of understanding what is going on in the world and articulating it in a way that makes sense. I read everything that that operates. I don't always agree with everything that operates, but I read it because he takes the trouble to think he has information. He has that knowledge base. And what he wrote was based on that.


You might disagree with the conclusions, but there is again, to a point that you raised earlier, there is a broad set of facts that both brought up and I can agree on asking you. But look what happens to people like that. They just get handed out of all the public spaces that they currently inhabit and what is left of the people who does an indebtedness to story written by the author of a book about how the book was released in the presence of Maudy and how much praised the book.


That's that's media. And I mean, it's I don't know. It's a little sad because there's some vestiges left in me of the the idealism and the enthusiasm with which in this business. Yes, you're right. I stumbled into it by happenstance, but I loved it. And today I'm looking around and saying, what's wrong with you is you don't know how to do journalism anymore. You don't even know how to make money off of this business anymore.


At least if we were doing that one thing, then fine. I mean, you can say, look, you know, for all the fancy talk and all that, it is a business and it needs to make money. But you're not making money. I don't. You're neither pushing forward in this case, so, you know, and you don't the sadness that I feel is not so much for Pratap as say, you know, he's fine, he'll get by.


What I worry about is a future. Perhaps, you know that all the young people who might say to themselves, reddening are, what, 20 national or that's not a direction to go in. Or if intellectualism is given a bad name, it's like, no, no, we don't want to be like them ivory tower intellectuals and all of that. We you know, and you aspire to different things. And when you aspire to different things, you become a different person, you know, in a similar way, like after what happened to when I was Faruqi, who, by the way, is a brilliant, brilliant comedian.


I wrote a newsletter, posted a link to some of his videos, also just brilliant.


And after what happened to him, the worry is not about one over himself, though.


Of course, one is worried about him, but he is seems to be a brave, sensible kid. And he said he'll continue his comedy to what he is about. All the young budding comedians who might have thought along those lines are gone along those lines. Even if they're not doing standup, they might write satire, they might write literature. They might create different kinds of art, one announcing that it's not worth it, and especially if they're the wrong identity, if they're born in the wrong religion.


I'm also saying in your millilitre, it's not what they just make a good life for myself. Leave all this and all of that is unseen. All of that is, you know, what the chilling effect does in what it destroys is, you know, sort of unseen. And here I'll ask you is, you know, you have a lot of interaction with young people today. You've taught or perhaps hundreds, if not thousands of journalism students. Right.


And what's your sense of the young people today? Do they you know, is because also while we see what is happening to the country, we also see a certain kind of idealism and awareness that happened after the year when all those protests took place and all of that. We see that energy as well. So when you speak to young journalism students today, what is your sense? Because within the NEWSROOM, I do not think that they really have role models.


No, I should not be too sort of at an individual level.


I know many fine individuals who still work in journalism, but when they look at their big media houses and all that, they see people who don't really actually care about the journalistic output. Their money is coming from events and media conclaves and all of that rubbish. What's your sense of this younger generation? And, you know, should we be more hopeful of them than we could have been of, you know, people in our time? There's a good side to this.


On the bad side to this. One of the things that I used to do, I haven't done this last year. I don't know if I'll be doing it this year. But every year, the Asian College of Journalism does this thing where in the first two months of each New Year academic year, they bring in people to do a session on various aspects of journalism. So I've been doing that in the beginning. How it works is you're doing a presentation or a talk for about an hour and a half, two hours, and then the is of any and every single time I've been struck by two or three things.


One is every single year I find the number of women entering this profession far outpaces the number of young men who are entering this profession. The second is I found uniformly intelligent kids and to get into it, it is fairly expensive. So these are people who can afford it, which by definition means that they could also have other types of education, no other avenues, other streams to go. And they have come into the stream voluntarily. They they have a lot of passion.


It's a standing joke in exceeded that these sessions they are supposed to end after what was typically what happens is it starts at about ten o'clock in the morning. One o'clock is their lunch hour. So these kids say, can you hang on to lunchtime and we can talk. And so all the people who are sitting nicely and there are about 200, 250 of them each day, their daughter, all the badges come together. They kind of hang around and they just have so many questions about what is this like and what is that like and what do you think of the future of the media and the economics of it and the politics of it and all of that?


It goes until 1:00 and then there will be this group of kids invariably who will come and have lunch with us so we can talk some more. And there are times when I ask them what what what are your expectations from this profession, to be honest. There are also some kids who think that a journalism degree is a passport to the communications advertising stream. But there is a significant number of talented, bright young kids coming in every single year, which is a good part.


And they seem to have that same idealism that's about previous generations.


They think that they can change the world. They think that journalism is a profession. That is what being part of that. I hate to use this word, but in some way it is normal for want of a better word. We heard was when we were young. Great journalism is a noble profession. They still believe it. And it is not a belief born of naivety. Right about what is happening in the media business today. But they still believe that it will not be the same tomorrow.


And then that is because one of the things that happens is I give my email to who will ask for it. So these kids invariably ask and I give them the email and some of them find jobs in mainstream media. And then there are these increasingly puzzled questions. One kid actually wrote in and said, in your time, was it easy for you to go up to the editor and ask for comment on what you had just done? Because I'm not getting any feedback at all.


And that speaks to what you were talking about, there are there are good journalists still in the newsrooms around the country, but that old habit of mentorship and you've been in both those places. Right. When you joined before you hired somebody to mentor to mentor you, but you've also mentored newcomers in your own and the other kids who subsequently joined, like said and people had that mentorship is gone. So there is a growing disenchantment once you actually get into the profession and there is no countervailing.


Positive to it. There is no one making sure that that enthusiasm remains undiminished or that that that fire that they had is not banned, which is which is the sad part. And all of this is based on, say, one journalism school. There are plenty around the country now.


And there are these young kids and who are getting into I don't know, in Delhi, for instance, there was a particular journalist from a website who was part of that workshop of the first day. She drafted a little note on the basis of what she had seen and heard. And although she was pursuing a particular story and she condensed that into two paragraphs and Paul was the one who read it, and he suddenly turned to me and not the Indian people sitting and reading other people's submissions and said I wanted to stop what they're doing and read this.


And they read it and I read our minds. It was that good. And they called us good and said, what do you do? And what she does is do things like 10 things you should know today and and, you know, little compilations for that website. And at the end of the course, she came and told us something that still stays with me, she said. I didn't realize there was another way of doing journalism until I took this workshop and now I'm not satisfied with what I'm doing anymore.


So there is that there is the ability sadly, there is a tremendous amount of ability in the country. This requires that somebody have the willingness to adapt it, to resource it and to and to actually, you know, let it happen. You also made the point about our Faruqi, and it's just like you. I love those videos. And I think recently I saw one that he had made after he came out of jail, not the one we talked about his Dale expediencies, but another comedy.


And he was doing that was actually recorded before the storywriter was recorded. But it's lovely. It's great.


Yeah, it's beautiful. But I was also thinking of people who raised their voices against the various inequities in the world, the activists. You suddenly get hit with sedition, whether it is a subtle result there, you know, not the core or any of these places. And you made the point about the number of young men, our four rookies, who are probably not taking to this because. You know, I can't deal with this hassle, and similarly, the number of people speaking out for the things that matter that deserve to be spoken about.


There is also this this this kind of effect on them as well, right, this daunting effect on this is what will happen if you speak up what is right and therefore you shut up and, you know, on your daily bread. So, yeah, it I think you use that downward spiral race to the bottom phrase in a similar context. But that's exactly what we are at right now as a country, as a polity, as a society.


It's just a race to the bottom. I was struck by something I saw on Twitter today. Somebody had taken a photograph of a newspaper. With two back to back stories, actually two side by side stories, the story was that a court has decided to revive a panel or whatever to explore the origins and the history of the Saraswathi River. And the other is that the court has decided to disband the pollution control mechanism. And both of these are happening literally side by side in a newspaper, would you just tell me a stark indication of where we're going?


One wants to elevate the abstract. The other wants to ignore the concrete, and we all know what happens when that happens. You know, a site which just strikes me when you spoke about, you know, with your tongue firmly in cheek about the noble profession of journalism. And it struck me that there is nobility and the nobility is I think the nobility comes from the individual where the individual is driven by either the desire to observe things well and write about them well, or to bring about change by writing or to speak truth to power or whatever the case might be.


The nobility comes from an individual journalist is not an inherent part of the profession. I mean, what a media holds as a business, you go to make profits. All of that is there. But journalists can individually be driven by whatever they are driven by. And then that drive will show in their work. And if good work is enabled, which it is not being listicle dubbing enabled now, but if good work is enabled, then good journalism will result, which will show in the bottom line, because it is not true that people just want listicle and they don't want cheap information.


I mean, you know, this podcast alone is sort of affirmation of that, that people crave deep content everywhere. They crave knowledge they don't want to be condescended to. They don't necessarily want to be told or these are ten interesting things about Panicker listicle, you know, and there aren't enough people giving them that depth. And I think that once we kind of get through this period of time where I mean, I hope young entrepreneurs listening to this actually figure out ways of solving this problem, that the way we consume news and information and knowledge is so different from the way it's given to us.


There are so many gaps to be bridged. And, you know, I think both of us are too old to do much else but write and create the kind of content we do. But some young person should come forward and maybe fill this gap. So, you know, I've spoken to you for, you know, just upwards of three hours.


I want to hold you anymore. And the interesting thing is we haven't even touched on cricket. So all the cricket fans will click on the Single Imit and preme talking about cricket. This is heaven. At the end of three hours, they'll be like, give us our money back and we'll be like, what money? So, you know, we can talk about cricket some other time and writing. Of course, we have spoken about the windowpane session, which will release in three days.


You've already spoken about what kind of drives you the the kind of long form journalism you want to do, the kind of issues you want to highlight. But you've also got through this period of time, through these 63 years in a country that changed incredibly radically, like what others will read about in the abstract. You have experienced in the concrete, as it were, at this present moment in time, you know what gives you hope and what gives you despair when you think about where our country is going.


What gives me hope is the time that I spend with ordinary people who, in those famous words, live lives of quiet desperation. There is a there is an unwillingness or or they just don't ever let go. They don't they don't lose that sense of it's not just that they keep struggling and they keep, you know, surviving by the thinnest of margins. It is that there is still a joy in them. There is still no. And there is that is happiness.


And they still are able to take pleasure in the smallest of things. Share a love, share a cup of tea. They're not. You look at what is happening and you even wonder how they managed to keep their spirits high, but they do and this is across the gamut, right? I mean, if Saddam had attacked with the fishermen in a place called collateral and we had a brilliant night, they were telling stories and laughing and the womenfolk joined in and the kids are sort of hovering around.


But the thing that most interested me was the next day some of these fishermen went out fishing. They came by. The net was half empty. The total catch was sold for one hundred and fifty bucks. That had to be divided into seven shares. And yet I'll be meeting. This evening was the first thing they asked when they sold me it. That gives me some kind of hope that the people haven't given up, that the people still have the habit in them to not just somehow survive.


But in their own fashion, in our own fashion, to still smile against the odds and to still survive, and what gives me despair is that with this well, this human wealth that we have, we are burdened by people who purport to governors. And I'm not talking just at the central level. I'm talking right across the country at every possible level, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the the heads of institutions, etc., who do not realize this wealth and who do not realize that tapping into it is the single biggest way to to sort of, you know, lift everyone up, that they are there.


They are busy playing politics with no defined goal in sight. I mean, you have a party that continuously supports election results and takes power. I would understand that having one's got power, they have an agenda to do something. But that has been completely missing. So on the one hand, you have people who are surviving despite the system and on the other hand, you have a system that seems completely oblivious and right. That you have both extremes of the spectrum, that you have hope and you have this very moving words.


Graeme, thank you so much for your wisdom. It's a privilege to have you on the show with more than that is a joy to be able to have such a conversation with you. And I hope we can do this maybe once every six months. Just get together on the show and just gab about stuff. So, you know, thanks a lot for coming in. All the best with your upcoming projects. Thanks a bit more than coming on the show, which I absolutely love doing.


I actually wish that we could go back to that time when we used to hang around in each other's homes. Because I mean, it's not just that it was a bunch of friends hanging around, so many things will be talked about and it was enriching and I seriously miss that. Maybe one of these days you can think of expanding the podcast into a sort of, you know, reunion thing with multiple people or whatever. I don't know what the answer is, but, yeah, that's that's actually a good idea.


But what young Yemen at this very time, get a word and I'll come and I'll hang out in your home for so long that you'll have to kick me out, see.


So you have a guest room, you take care. If you enjoyed listening to this episode to check out the show notes, which has links to much of what we discussed, my windowpane session with Preme, where he talks much more about writing, will be released later this week on YouTube. You can follow him on Twitter at Panicker. You can follow me at Armitt Walmart. Amitay, we estimate you can browse past episodes of the scene in The Unseen, Unseen, Unseen Eye.


And thank you for listening.


Did you enjoy this episode of the scene in The Unseen? If so, would you like to support the production of the show? You can go over to see an unseen dot and slash support and contribute any amount you like to keep this podcast alive and kicking. Thank you.