Monthly Archives: August 2009

Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary

This is an anthology of 26 works, edited by Shinie Antony, who also contributes a few as author, interviewer and chronicler. The title, IMHO, is a bit misleading since the works themselves, while touching upon various aspects of life in the state or offering perspectives on its history, culture or working as travelogues, do not attempt to bring out the contrary nature, in whatever form that’s meant. Different individuals’ point of view, does that make a collection ‘contrary’? I’m not so sure. To be fair, a couple of works do attempt to show the contrary nature of the state and its residents, but that’s in isolation, and anyway are not enough in number to justify the title.
Having said that, there are quite a few which I immensely liked. Will mention those (in the order in which they appear in the book)
Odd Morning by Susan Visvanathan. I’ve always been a fan of her work after I read ‘Something Barely Remembered’. There’s something that’s wistful and haunting about the way she writes, and this piece follows that style.
William Dalrymple’s “The Strange Sisters of Mannarkad” is quite enlightening, and has a fascinating theme of religion and legend.
Anita Nair’s “Orhan Pamuk, Nair and I” is a wonderful short story that explores the psyche of Kerala’s writers and critics.
“The Argumentative Malayali” by D.Vijayamohan perhaps best justifies the book’s title, as it captures Kerala’s unique stance on global and national issues. As a malayali, I’d say that his observation and insights are spot on. Anti-communist? Probably, but I can’t blame him. For me, its one of the best works in the book.
S S Lal’s “A medicine that cannot be prescribed” is the kind of short story I love. The perfect mix of food for thought and a mild twist in the tale, that makes a perfect ending.
“Sitrep Seventies” by Hormis Tharakan is perhaps the strongest contender for the best work in the book. While I was mildly puzzled by the way the piece started, the way it swept across centuries and the lifestream nature of the work grew on me, and its amazing insights on law and human nature just raised it to a whole new level.
Shreekumar Varma’s “Fort Lines” is a story anyone who has lived in the state, or visited on a ‘wrong day’ can absolutely identify with. I wish the kind of cosmic justice that appeared in the work happened in real life too!!
“No Sex Please, We have cable” by Suresh Menon ended up as my favourite work. The humour is amazing, and I could easily identify the way a place changes or remains the same depending on what you’re looking for.
Nimz Dean, all of 13 years old is the youngest contributor at “The Gift”, and the 2 page work definitely shows promise. :)
Shashi Tharoor uses all of his skills to make a passionate case for Kerala and investments in the state in “Building Brand Kerala”. A well written piece but having lived there most of my life, and having worked there for some and having seen enough hartals in the recent past , I am not convinced.
“Happy” by Omana (as told to Shinie Antony) is amazing food for thought material, and is a fine ending to the book.

So that’s about 11 out of 26, which are really good works, and a few others could work for you depending on your interests. :)

Just about fair

A few days back, on Twitter, Vijay Sankaran shared an article, that led to a brief but heated debate. By the time I joined in, fun time was over and people had moved on, but i still manage to butt heads with Surekha for a while. Since the 140 character format was a constraint, we left the argument in a safe place and I said that I’d share a post soon with my consolidated view on the matter.

The matter was of course “SRK: Now playing at an airport near you”. No, don’t yawn yet. After evading ‘gyarah mulkon ki police’, this is exciting stuff – the discovery of a continent where the words “Rahul/Raj, naam to suna hoga” don’t mean a damn, and an ordeal which lasted (depending on who you speak to) 2 hours/ just over an hour. That makes me wonder whether SRK started off with ” Sattar minute hain tumhare paas, shayad tumhare zindagi ke khaas sattar minute”. In any case, by the time it ended he must’ve been saying “Babuji ne kaha gaon chhod do, sab ne kaha paro ko chhod do, paro ne kaha sharaab chhod do, please aap mujhe chhod do”. Ok, ok, sorry. I am not really an SRK fan, but I have to admit, I admire the journey from Fauji back in 1988 – a hard fought climb to the very top. An amazing trip. And when the ego was forced to land at Newark, even if it was for a brief period, it must’ve been painful.

Fingers have been pointed (including mine, initially) about how it was a good promotion for the upcoming movie ‘My Name is Khan‘. But from online sources, the release date for MNIK is 2010. This would be way too premature, and despite his faults, I can’t remember SRK doing publicity stunts like this. (correct me if i have forgotten something) He himself brushed off the incident later and said that they were doing their job, and when compared to an ex-president, (Kalam getting frisked) he was a nobody. I’m inclined to say that maybe he wasn’t guilty of making it a great deal, but the media and us consumers of media were. (Yes, even this post is a case in point, eh? :) )

But all this was just an introduction. The article i mentioned earlier (and which you didn’t bother to click) is by Govindraj Ethiraj and is titled ‘The Idea of Injustice”. It centers upon whether the detention of SRK was unfair, unjust, both or neither. The writer gives various examples of injustice that we experience/see around us in our daily lives – from the politician’s convoy that disrupts our commute to the people sleeping on the roadside outside Hard Rock Cafe. He goes on to say that “Young India actually lives on with the most amazing amalgam of principals and values. Where justice and injustice have little or no co-relation to our real lives or that of others. Where denial of a right to education, livelihood or food has no bearing on our notion of justice.” The title of the article relates to Prof. Amartya’s Sen’s “The Idea of Justice”, and the article also cites some of his views.

Surekha felt that the comparison was harsh and unfair and fans are entitled to their expression, and countering every protest with questions on outrage against poverty, corruption etc won’t get us anywhere. While I agreed that fans could express themselves anyway they wanted, I felt the comparison was valid and the sense of injustice that some felt when SRK was detained was connected to the injustice that the child living in poverty faced. (What he makes out of it later/destiny etc is a different debate) To me, it is not a comparison, but a connection nevertheless. Saying that it is not connected reflects our contextual sense of justice that I kept mentioning. We are affected when the things we hold dear (from family to property to film stars) are affected, the rest is someone else’s problem. We relate to our immediate context, and would like justice in that bubble. We are totally unaffected by the rest of the world’s misery. Yes, we do like the candle marches, and protest groups on Facebook, they are easy ways to placate our conscience. But ‘our’ experience of injustice is more pertinent than anyone else’s, and we turn a blind eye to things that will not affect our bubble.

Forget the rest of the world, when we have an argument with someone close, how many times do we try to be genuinely conscious of the other person’s point of view/perspective? Aren’t we always right in the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves? Aren’t our actions always warranted, just, fair? Can’t we always justify? Heh, to ask the same us to reflect a bit on the world’s inequities when we aren’t even conscious of our own motivations and sense of right and wrong would be asking for too much, huh? Right, wrong, justice, injustice, fairness, unfairness are all subjective, basis our perspectives. Think about it, shouldn’t unfairness and injustice be absolutes, and not relative to any individual’s perceptions and perspectives? But we’ve built an entire society and its accompanying systems and laws based precisely on this. From communities to joint families to nuclear families to the individual, our concern ‘circle’ has been becoming smaller all the while. And everything from world wars to strife in personal relationships is because of our narrowing concern. But this is not a commentary on society, for after all, if change has to happen, it has to be at the individual level.

Bura Jo Dekhan Main Chala, Bura Naa Milya Koye
Jo Munn Khoja Apnaa, To Mujhse Bura Naa Koye

~ Kabir

Objectivity. To see things unhindered and uninfluenced by the baggage we carry around. To go beyond our conditioning – self imposed and otherwise and look at ourselves first, and then the world around us as absolutes. Why? Selfishly- because it can un-complicate us, selflessly- because it makes us more humane. When we can do that, perhaps we’ll understand  the connection and what justice and fairness is all about.

until next time, ego messages

PS. The thought continues….

Bloody cool. They’ve earned it. Cheers.

Ok, that was a fairly long and (to some of you) meaningless title, but that was the only way I could think of, to connect the three brands whose activities on Twitter make up this post. Since I rarely come across  praiseworthy efforts from Indian brands on Twitter, I thought it would be worthwhile to keep track of those who are making some decent attempts.

We’ll start with Channel V, whose Rs. 5 crore makeover to a ‘Bloody Cool’ channel has been a talking point, thanks to a multimedia blitz including write ups in print, flash mobs and online activity, which could leave the viewer ‘exhausted’. I first came across them on Twitter when they RT ed a tweet of mine a couple of weeks back, and have since then seen several people on my list change their display pictures to the Channel V logo. There were two activities that they were doing on Twitter. One was basis the site ISawTheChange (loved Simpoo’s ‘Saw the chanze’ touch), where users were asked to spot the changes in an image on the site, and there were prizes to be won daily. Users had to respond on Twitter which meant that my stream also had people regularly tweeting ‘I saw the change at….’. This site also has a link to Channel V’s Facebook activities. They actually have more fans on FB!! The other activity was basis the OnYours site, and this was led to the sprouting of huge numbers of Channel V logos on my stream, as users changed their display pictures. The interesting part of this was that the user’s original display picture and the Channel V logo would be switched randomly during the period of the promotion (till Aug 22nd) Users also had the option to withdraw at any time. If they remained signed in for 5 days or more, they had a chance to win a tee. In addition to both these activities, on Aug 21st (the day before the change) Channel V also had a 12 hour (11 Pm onwards) – 48 question challenge and a chance to win more prizes. Judging by the timeline, there wasn’t a lack of participation.

Of course, not everyone liked their in-your-face approach to ‘hijacking’ twitter (maybe a twibbon like approach would’ve been preferred), but the point was, the participation was crowd driven and if someone had to be blamed for the logo blitz, it could only be the people one followed. Channel V also used their stream to announce the details of their flash mobs and even answer the question ‘why a relaunch‘. Most importantly, they took everything in good humour, including my BC MC tweet. :) They have built a fair amount of good equity on Twitter, it will be interesting to see how they take it forward. I was wondering if they’ll do a Twitter version of ‘Exhausted’, with tasks specifically created for the way Twitter operates (including pictures and videos using apps). Might be a good experiment. In fact, when i got the DM for the 12 hour quiz I mentioned earlier, I was wondering if it would be a promo for #exhausted. On the music side, they could latch on to several existing tags like #musicmonday, or even create their own #nowplaying. They could also use this to announce music launches and give video previews etc. With Twitter now getting serious about geolocation, there are bound to be some good apps coming along. They could use that to inform specific audiences about concerts/gigs happening in their city. There are, as always possibilities.

Though I wasn’t a big fan of the initial promos on Twitter for its blog, the second brand that is doing some interesting activity now is the Cadbury Bournville brand with the #earnit tags. Interesting to note that there’s also a Bournville News operating from Birmingham, and that’s also about the Cadbury brand!! Meanwhile, our version of Bournville manages to insert the tag in context on a regular basis. From Vir Sanghvi’s articles to promising Pinstorm chocolates if they showed 5 reasons why they had #earned it, the brand manages to keep the conversation alive. What it should be perhaps working on is the integration that Channel V has been able to achieve – online as well as offline. For instance, though they do connect to Facebook, their ad on YouTube and even its spoof, I couldn’t find anything about their twitter activity on the website. And the connection to the the-dark-truth.com? In fact, with all the contests that V has been running, they could have easily tagged along and gifted some dark chocolate to the winners (at least where it is operationally feasible for Mumbai, like Mumbai?) Even though operations would be tough, it would be nice to see them running some Twitter contests (say, how have you #earnedit in 140 characters or a twitpic) and doing a gratification offline. I am sure they can at least tie up with a few retail chains to accept Bournville vouchers and give away chocolates. With people winning awards and contests on a regular basis, there is indeed potential for #earningit.

The last interesting brand I’d like to mention is Kingfisher. Kingfisher came to my attention thanks to their timely and correct response to a user’s tweet. They managed to clarify an issue very well. Kingfisher also uses the stream to RT any mention of their brand by folks on Twitter (example) as well as give information about their events. Kingfisher does have a good opportunity to perhaps associate with tweetups in various cities by leveraging their association with F&B establishments. Again, given the amount of events that they partner, they could also further streamline their alerts using Twitter Local features later.

In spite of the various challenges, Twitter does allow a unique way for brands to have their lifestream online. It enhances the story telling opportunities, and ways to weave themselves more into their consumers’ context. Such cases hopefully will encourage more brands to try out the service and take their brand beyond one way communication efforts.

until next time, brandstreams and blue oceans

Update: Just got to know that a fellow member of the Digital Marketing India group on LinkedIn – Sanjay Mehta, and his company, Social Wavelength (www.socialwavelength.com) are behind Channel V’s efforts described above. In my view, a splendid effort. :)

No, there’s nothing to disclose :)

Ambrosia

No, not the food of the gods, actually far from it, its a restaurant in Koramangala, serving global cuisine. Pretty easy to find, its on the Intermediate Ring Road just after the Sony World junction (when coming from the Indiranagar side) opposite Vision Express.

Though we hadn’t reserved in advance, we managed to get a good seat when we reached there around 8pm. The place did get full by around 9 though. The ambience is pretty good, with very comfortable seating. The menu is a mix of cuisines from several countries, with flags placed beside each item to point out its place of origin. There’s quite a good selection of appetisers with options of veg, chicken and sea food (crab, squid, prawns), priced between Rs.145-275. There are also about half a dozen options of soups and salads each, again a decent mix of veg, chicken, lamb and sea food options, priced at Rs.85-125 and Rs.165-245 respectively.

Then there are flambes, which are supposed to be the specialty here, priced between Rs.255-395. Also available is pasta (veg/sea food/lamb at Rs.225-255). Other main course dishes include Chinese/Thai stir fried options, enchiladas, fajitas, North Indian gravies with roti/naan/parathas/rice options etc. We also found a couple of regular Goans – Xacuti and Cafreal. The place also serves alcohol, though there didn’t seem to be a lot of options.

We started with a Bortsch soup, ” a traditional Russian broth with lamb chunks, tomato, beetroot, carrot, beans, grean peas, cauliflower and cabbage, topped with sour cream. We were told that it was a thick soup, though ‘broth’ indicated otherwise. When we asked for a ‘by two’, we were told that that couldn’t be done, but we could be given an additional bowl. I’m trying to figure out whether its some old Russian custom – the state serves one portion, and we have to share. Anyway, the soup was quite good, so we didn’t complain that it was actually a broth, and not a thick soup.

For the main course, it turned out that both of us had selected Mexican dishes. Must be the subliminal effect of swine flu. I asked for a Chicken Enchilada, “rolled tortillas topped with homemade smoked ranchero chilly sauce with cheese, served with refried pinto beans, sour cream and Mexican rice”, and D ordered a Pechuga Pibil, “roasted chicken marinated with achiote chilli served with Mexican rice, salsa and tomato sauce”. The food was only just decent, and the quantity was not really sufficient.

Though the dessert options included a drunken banana flambe and a bitter chocolate mousse, we made different plans for dessert.

And now came the most exciting part of the dinner – billing. After about 10 minutes of subtle signalling, and then 5 minutes of tactics just short of SOS flares, finally we managed to convey that we’d like to pay and get out. Then, after waiting for another 10 minutes and more gesticulating, someone came to our table and asked us whether we had ordered our main course. When we again conveyed that we had survived the food, and just wanted to pay and leave, we were told that the bill would come ‘just now’. By now, we’d begun to wonder whether the bills needed to be sent to Russia and Mexico to be verified before being given to us. After another 5 minutes, we were told that the printer was not working and that was the reason for the delay. Though we weren’t too thrilled at that, we felt quite proud that a printer had been dedicated for our billing – since at least a couple of other tables got their bills, paid and left while this entire exercise was happening!! Finally, we got the bill…. with a couple of foreign objects, in adddition to the ones we had ordered. When we pointed that out, the guy actually tried to remind us of the buffalo wings and coke we had consumed!!! In turn, I reminded him that I wasn’t Aamir in Ghajini. He realised his mistake and we got a revised bill, this time without the soup. ‘From Russia with love’, I thought, but it was their way of apologising. I insisted on paying, and was told that printing a new bill would take more time!! And I thought the joke/urban legend ended with ‘The russians used a pencil”!! We finally just added the soup price to the bill, paid and escaped.

All of the above cost us just less than Rs.700, and a Saturday night.

Maybe it was just a one-off case, but all I’ll say is that while the immortals may have all the time in the world and beyond for ambrosia, we have a finite lifetime, so we plan to stay away from this place.

Ambrosia, No:52 B, 100 ft Road, 4th Block, Koramangala. Ph:40940101/2, 9740391194

The changing face of search

The last week saw some frenetic activity in the online space – a few events that are not just going to cause a shift in the way we search and share online, but could possibly impact the direction in which the web develops henceforth. These are very very interesting developments, and not just from a technology standpoint. Apparently, if we go by this, our brain is hard-wiring us to  love Google, Twitter and texting. That will change the way we evolve as a species. But meanwhile…

Facebook began the week by acquiring Friendfeed (FB, FF – BFF), something I’d hoped that Twitter would do. For those not familiar with the service, its a neat aggregator of most of your activities online (blogs, twitter, facebook, delicious, flickr, YouTube…) and allows others to comment, share, like, search. Yes, most of those features that Facebook has been adding have been lifted from Friendfeed. For several reasons, the service, though extremely useful, has remained geeky.

The integration is bound to be tricky. While Friendfeed is used mostly as an aggregator (though some publish content exclusively there), Facebook thrives on ‘original’ content. Also, there are features on FF that don’t have a parallel on FB, and perhaps users too. I have different user names on both places, and there are very few who are friends of mine on both networks, and for a reason. I wouldn’t want to import my network on FF to FB. Also, I don’t import all of my content on FB. In many ways FF was my ‘private’ aggregator,  a place where I could aggregate without making it too public. Adapting that on FB would require a lot of settings work. FF’s stream and its approach to updates is also different from FB. So it is quite possible that integration will not happen. But the Friendfeed ‘brain bank’ – people who had earlier made GMail, co-founded Google Maps, is unquestionably an asset, and one part of me won’t mind the fact that the acquisition will perhaps ensure that the innovations will reach a wider audience, and perhaps speed up the learning curve of casual social media users. The other part hopes that they will leave this version of FF intact too, even if it is as FB Labs.

Facebook’s ‘Lite’ also caused a stir, as several users saw an announcement that they were the chosen ones to test it out, though it turned out to be an accident, but that meant that all of us got to see a preview. It turns out to be a lighter, faster-loading version of Facebook, designed to give new users (especially from countries with lesser broadband access) a simple experience to begin with.

Facebook also launched real time search around the same time, and the ability to search shared (friends and public shared) news feeds (of the past 30 days) – status updates, photos, links, updates, Fan pages, with the option of filters, is quite a huge step. In many ways, FB is ‘forcing’ people to be more public to derive the maximum advantage out of the service. As Steve Rubel correctly points out, it has major implications on our consumption of content, making us ‘source agnostic’, which we are already, to a certain extent. Also, as he mentions, the impact of Facebook Connect in this equation means that the net is cast wider. The important factor in this, and the reason why i feel Google needs to take a long hard look at this is because there is a people filter here, in addition to the algorithm – news feeds of friends, people who have chosen to share their FB content publicly, means that it works as a kind of endorsement, a personally tested good source. That might potentially be better than Google’s spiders. I am not even bringing Twitter Search into the equation because if FB uses FF correctly and gets a majority of Twitter users to get their tweets into FB (store all but dipslay selectively), then the uniqueness of Twitter Search is gone. Besides FB has a much larger user base anyway.

Yes, Google is watching, flexing its muscles, and developing a few new ones too. On the day that Facebook dropped its big news, Google also unveiled the next generation of its own search – Caffeine. According to them, “It’s the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions.” More than an upgrade, it seems like completely new architecture, and will change the way Google indexes pages, and these changes also include real-time. Meanwhile, its also playing with new forms of product ads.

Google is also getting a bot more serious about ‘social’, and that is perhaps the reason behind iGoogle getting a facelift with 18 new widgets on the homepage. I’m not too much of a user of this service, but according to RWW, Google is slowly unleashing the services built on OpenSocial, and trying to make iGoogle the hub of a user’s Google activities, and sigh, there’s quite a lot of them. There are Facebook like update feeds (of friends), a share-able To Do gadget, a Scrabble gadget (hmm, that’s appealing) among other things. But the integration is not complete as shown by the YouTube widget and the absence of a Reader widget. But as I always say, the potential, if they actually manage to integrate all of this, and then add Wave features on top of it, is scary. But perhaps (since the social graph – i.e. who sees your comments and shares, is different) iGoogle is not meant to be connected with others.

The last announcement from Google was on the subject of Reader. In addition to the recent social developments, now reader items can be shared easily to other networks including Twitter, Facebook, Digg, MySpace, Blogger etc. Also, some tweaks in the ‘Mark all as read’ feature make it a lot more useful now. You can read the details here. But hey, Google, how about bringing Reader closer to real time?

Meanwhile, in the midst of these killer shark wars, the ‘whale’ boys have their own bogeymen. In addition to the wave of DSoS attacks, and the fact that Facebook grew twice as fast in July, the Gartner Hype Cycle white paper for 2009, has stated that microblogging has tipped over the peak and are about to enter the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’. But I am not sure I agree with that. Microblogging, as Seth Godin once stated (about Twitter) is a protocol (nailed it brilliantly!!), what gets transmitted across it is a variable. Its news and links now, and who knows, a smart user/set of users might figure out something else tomorrow that would cause yet another disruption. Perhaps Gartner meant it only in the current context of usage. Twitter has just announced phase one of Project Retweet, which is aimed at changing the way the format of RT works and looks. While it does pose some inconvenience – we are used to the current RT @ format and will perhaps take some time to get used to seeing just the original tweet with a small ‘RT by’ (reminds me of Friendfeed’s ‘Like’), I am hoping that the open API means the developers will deliver to us some useful stuff (Retweets by/to me, of my tweets timelines, the lessening of clutter, as Mashable points out) But honestly, these seem to be small efforts when compared to those of Google and FB.

Interesting indeed. Rather than conspicuous face offs, Facebook and Google are warily circling each other, and launching and tweaking services that  test out each others’ stranglehold on areas. An elaborate game of chess, that doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon. Stalemate? Though it could be argued that there is space for both, I am inclined to think that the margin of advantages between the leader and the second best will be very high. The battle is for understanding consumer intent and making a revenue stream out of it. Google did that without much competition with search, until specific competition (Bing), real time and social media made threatening noises. Facebook’s appeal was on both those fronts, and now Google is making advances there. But Google is rich and now even has a browser with which it can define the starting point and direction of a user’s web experience, while Facebook revenues are still iffy. Facebook users have shared so much of content inside the ‘walled garden’ that it’ll be difficult to get out even if they desire. Not that Google is an angel on that count.  (You must see this hilarious Onion video – Google’s opt out village) And now with Friendfeed, FB can lay its hands on Google content too – YouTube, Blogger etc can all be pulled into Facebook. But if they rub users the wrong way while trying to accelerate revenues, one can never say.

What would I like to see? Microsoft buying out Facebook. Perhaps then, we’ll have a fight that’s really too difficult to call.

until next time, which service is your BFF? :)

Bonus Read: John Borthwick’s ‘The rise of social distribution networks‘.

Visage.. envisage

In the first book of the Ramayana series, Ashok Banker uses a line, a statement made by Rishi Adhranga to Lakshmana, as the brothers are about to enter Bhayanak van, where Tataka resides – “Over time, truth becomes fact, fact is rewritten as history, history fades to legend, and eventually, legend remains as myth.” In the myth :) , these words are  spoken in the Treta Yuga (the Age of Reason), which follows Satya Yuga (the Age of Truth). The character also states that by the time its the Kali Yuga (the Age of Darkness, which is last and after the Dvapara Yuga), devas and asuras would be just race-memories and dismissed as fantasy by the rational and the scientific.

In science fiction, there are many stories of the ravages of time. One, where, man comes across computers and other technological specimens, but does not know how to use them, since the lack of energy had made humans de-evolve. Another, where man discovers that the canals on Mars were made by a race of humans, ten thousands of years back, in an older ‘cycle’ of evolution and de-evolution. Interesting? :)

So the other day, I was thinking about facts, truth, history and stories. It further led me to thinking about these blogs of mine, the lifestreams on Facebook and Twitter and on the blog. The digital snapshots of our lives, the way we are storing our life almost by the second, for many reasons. Our experiences, our thoughts, our desires, our emotions, our fears, our happiness and sorrow, and so many more things. To share, to look back….. to create an image of ourselves for whoever sees it?

In Cochin, at home, there are these old albums with black & white and sepia photographs. The ones with which we, as children, had fun trying to identify Mom and Dad in their childhood photographs. There are other characters in them – grandparents, uncles, aunts and other relatives, friends of theirs. While many of them are easily identified by the earlier generation, some remain unknown, or rather, ones who aren’t remembered. Either ways, other than direct interactions, these photos are perhaps the only remains of people who lived a few decades back. Ever wonder who they really were, as persons, what were their thoughts, what did they think of their life, and others’, did they question their existence, or were they busy running a life, as we are? Did they think that someone, somewhere in the future would look at their photographs and peer into their lives beyond the confines of the frame? Would they have smiled a bit more if they knew, or would they try to look more serious? Maybe they wouldn’t have cared enough to strike a special look or pose?

With the advent of the web, there are now more means than ever to store ‘life’. Sound, pictures, videos, enough material to make sure that a life is much more documented than the two dimensional photographs. Though my lifestreaming purpose is limited to my life, when I read posts about what happens to a person’s blog/Facebook account etc after his/her death, I can’t help but wonder about the future of digital lifestreams.

With relationships getting redefined on a  regular basis, will there be anyone later who cares enough to go through another person’s life. After all, with the explosion of user generated content, an individual’s lifestream is just a statistic. (yes, even otherwise, it might just be that, but these are perhaps our efforts to move from being an irrelevant statistic  to a relevant individual). Yes, perhaps truth won’t become facts and so on, though the objectivity of truth itself can be questioned. But meanwhile, I am reminded of the science fiction tales. Maybe no one will be able to access all this content. Or it could be a deviant of this scenario. I have quite a lot of music cassettes. While I can still easily find devices to play it, a few years later, that might not be the case – either that, or the tapes would be in no state to be played. There are many tracks in these which I can’t find online. In the near future, they will be lost to the past. So in essence, technology might advance so much that those data items which have not been updated might be inaccessible anyway.

A life. A lifetime of experiences, which defined not just what happened to a single person, but also to those around. Multiple lives. A web of existence. Humanity. Statistics and non-stories. All of which would be rendered inaccessible or meaningless in the future, but without which the future would not exist. An endless stream, which may have the larger picture of its origins, but has only hazy notions of the details. Makes me wonder. About the construct of our lives.

until next time, streaming out loud…

Saffron

No, this is not one of those Hinduism-politics posts, Saffron happens to be the name of a Mughlai restaurant in Koramangala. Amazingly, there is next to no information available about it online. Thankfully it was located in an old haunt of ours – Jakkasandra (Koramangala 1st Block), so we found it rather easily, based on a landmark given in the TOI article, where we read about it.  To get there, when coming from the MG Road direction, continue on Hosur Road after Forum and take the left towards St John’s hospital (that’s the only way you can go. heh). Continue on the road, cross the next junction (with the Intermediate Ring Road) and go towards the Outer Ring Road, until you reach the junction with the road coming from 1st Block (signal – you’ll see Pinjara restaurant on the left), keep going straight until the next junction (you’ll have an HDFC bank on the right and Nous Software on the left), take a left here, and you’ll find Saffron on your right. Parking should not be a major deal, especially if you have a two wheeler, there’s a nice security guy who will help you out.

Saffron is on the first floor, and on the landing is the first theme indicator – a Mughal turban. The interior is simple, but with comfortable seating. Though the restaurant was fairly well occupied, I don’t think you’d need reservations, since there are enough seating options available. We got ourselves a nice corner seat. The menu explains the origin of saffron, from Kashmir, and its name in different places – kasubha in Philippines, kong in Kashmir, kesar in North India, and how the name is derived from the arabic ‘Zafaran’, meaning yellow. Apparently, the restaurant’s name was chosen for the splendour it exuberates. Oh, okay, we’ll get to the food.

The menu starts with soup options – cream, clear in veg and chicken (Rs. 40-65). There are starters, both in veg – french fries and various versions of paneer tikkas (Rs. 30-95) and non veg – fish tikkas, kali mirch , amritsari (Rs. 130-140); chicken tikkas – tangri, seekh, reshmi, hariyali, malai, pudina, tawa, kalimirch (Rs.95- 240); mutton – bara, peshawari, malai chaap, boti kabab (Rs. 150-165). The main course  has over twenty options in vegetarian – dal, rajma, paneer, mushroom, chana (Rs.70-100), a couple of options in fish (Rs.145), around a dozen options in chicken, including mughlai, handi, achari, some of which are available in three different quantity options – portion, half and full (Rs. 110-140 for portions, Rs.190-230 for half and Rs. 350 -385 for full), and about ten options in mutton – keema egg, brain dahi, kashmeri, qorma (Rs.120-135). To go along with that, you can either have rotis (about 20 options available) or biriyani. There are also raitas and salads. There is also the concept of ‘Shahenshah meals’, basically combo meals, with over a dozen different choices. There are a few basic veg options (Rs. 70-85), a couple of non veg roll options (Rs. 90-95), the larger veg options are priced at rs. 125-130 and the mughlai chicken and mutton are priced at Rs. 150 and 160 respectively. Interestingly, there are also quick snack options in the menu – sandwiches, cutlets, samosas, pakoras etc and a couple of pages devoted to Chinese options (soups, starters, main course with decent options in soups, startes and main course).

We started off with a Cream of Chicken soup. Though it wasn’t as thick as we expected it to be, it was tasty enough. We then had a starter – fish kalimirch, which was quite tasty, but at some points left us confused, on whether it was fish or mutton. Erm, yes, strange. By the time we thought of checking it up, the proof was safely lodged in our stomach. For the main course, we wanted the brain curry, that wasn’t available. We ordered a Mughlai chicken curry (half) and asked for a boti kabab to be brought as part of the main course. To go along with this, we ordered a butter kulcha and an afghani roti. The Mughlai chicken was good, though it was a brown gravy (we’d expected the creamy white). We ordered a keema kulcha  also later. The boti kabab was quite good, inspite of the bones. Must say, that the presentation of the kababs was quite unique and good. The portions are decent sized, and enough to make you feel full, but not bloated.

There are about a dozen dessert options, mostly North Indian, but had custard and ice cream too. It had a couple of items which I havent seen earlier – gud roti and mal pura (malpua, i had thought). We asked for the latter, but it wasn’t available. So we settled for the regular gajar ka halwa, which was reasonably good.

All of the above lefts us lighter by just less than Rs. 750. Though the food was decent, the service could’ve been better. The food doesn’t take much time, but the post meal stuff – finger bowls, billing could’ve been much faster.

Saffron, #5, 1st Floor, 1st B Main, 1st Block, Jakkasandra extension, Koramangala. Ph: 41317579/41468178

Menu on Zomato

Paper Capers

Almost 2 months since we last discussed newspapers, so I thought its a good time to update. Rumour is that Murdoch plans to sue Google and Yahoo over news services. Fact is that he’s going to charge for news, something he’s been doing for a while with WSJ, and the ‘experiment’ is going to start with The Sunday Times. Others are set to follow his example.  “Quality journalism is not cheap,” said Murdoch. “The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news websites.

I, for one, am happy, because the keywords for me are ‘quality journalism’. Its perhaps a prelude to a shakedown, and the survival of only those who can adapt to a world with internet. With the width and depth of content available, the debate of ‘free vs paid’ has been going on for a while now. But perhaps the time has come to end it. Build the wall, and let’s see if people want to pay to enter. (that link is an excellent read, detailed and thought through, check it out) Opinions are bound to vary – and to be in extremes. Most people feel that it is flawed. Chris Anderson feels that at some point in the future, “maybe media will be a hobby rather than a job“,  Vivian Schiller, former senior vice president and general manager of the NYTimes.com, believes that “people will not in large numbers pay for news content online“, but there’s still space for an NYT to cut expenses and survive. Murdoch obviously believes he can get the audience to pay.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is planning to charge $2.50 per word if 5 words or more are quoted from its articles, with the help of a microformat. Not surprisingly, it has been widely criticised in several tones all over the web. Jeff Jarvis even has a post on ‘How (and why) to replace the AP‘, and illustrates the interesting concept of ‘reverse syndication’. Chris Ahearn, at Thomson Reuters, implores entities that are declaring war on the link economy to stop whining, and stands ready to help those who wish for an alternative to AP.

Interestingly, Google had recently quadrupled its newspaper archives. (Locally, Dainik Jagran is now part of Google’s News Archive Partner Programme, and has a strategic deal with Google to help the group archive its bilingual daily, Inext) The average newspaper’s stance on Google is understandably ambivalent. On one hand, it is happy to get the traffic from Google, but its not happy that its only one among the websites shown, and the amount of content that Google shows. (that might prevent a reader from visiting the site) Sometime back, Google had posted its views and how, any publication can block search engines with a slight change in code.

The reactions to this obvious ‘transition stage‘ for the newspaper industry has been taking many forms. Paywalls are boycotts are only one kind. Alternate methods of news collection like crowdsourcing+crowdfunding, public collaboration, (an interesting case, for more than this reason), nichepapers and ways in which journalists can use tools like Facebook and Twitter, are being discussed, as well as radical ideas like making the newspaper a gateway for particpative experiences, even as technological developments – touch screen ‘intelligent plastic’ roll up reader, and experiments from NYT (‘What we are reading‘) continue.

While it would be easy to say that these are trends in the West, that are not very relevant to India at this stage, I’d still say that these are trends that media in India, especially newspapers, should be closely watching and learning from. A good read from Pradyuman Maheshwari at e4m on the same subject. While the Nielsen Online Global Survey on trust, value and engagement in advertising shows that newspapers are the most trusted form of paid advertising (in india), the TCS study on Indian urban school children show that they are extremely technology savvy and totally at ease with the web and social media.

As stated in the TCS study “This societal trend has important implications for parents, educators, policy makers, as future employers as well as companies and brands that want to sell to tomorrow’s generation.” Some understand this, and have started experimenting with new forms of distribution. I just got  a mail asking me to check out Star Player!! The point is that one can never be sure whether the trends in the US will be replicated in India, though I’d say its more a ‘when’ question than an ‘if’, even though India’s version of the trends would be mutated, thanks to its own socio-cultural and economic pecularities. But it helps to be prepared. I read at Medianama, a few days back that the Hindu is taking Ergo, its 5 day a week publication aimed at young professionals in Chennai, online. Though the motive might have been cost saving, I’m sure it will be a great learning in understanding consumption patterns and figuring out revenue streams. I quite liked the site, powered by WordPress, with a very casual ‘About’ page, and covering some interesting stuff. It looks like an online news site, not the website of a newspaper.

On hindsight, the collision was bound to happen. Newspapers, which subsidised news to the reading audience by making advertising pay for it. Google, which aggregated content, and served ads in context. They had to meet somewhere, and disagree on who makes how much. The concern areas for newspapers are manifold – news consumption has changed – quantitatively and qualitatively, modes of creation and distribution have changed, and Google has developed a much better advertising model. In essence, all entities in the publishing business have changed – producers, consumers, advertisers. Isn’t it inevitable that the publisher has to find a new business model? Newspapers in India still have some time on their hands, and some good tools too. With most publishing houses having multiple products that cater to specific audiences, they can actually experiment in different directions. It does cost money to create good content, the trick obviously is to figure out ways to minimise the cost and work out how much each stakeholder – reader and advertiser, is willing to pay for it. Now would definitely be a good time to start, unless you want to sound like the (as usual) hilarious Onion story – “Why did no one inform us of the imminent death of the American Newspaper industry:)

until next time, think about the link economy

ESC

Could’ve been the subliminal effects of ‘bridge’ – no, not the card game, just the word, which had appeared in the title of two posts in the recent past, or serendipity playing its part during random channel surfing, whatever the reason, I chanced upon the movie ‘Bridge to Terabithia‘ recently. Its about two pre teens – Jess and Leslie, who, despite their different circumstances, become friends and  imagine themselves an entire fantasy kingdom, complete with trolls and monsters and evil forces – Terabithia, where they rule as king and queen.

Jess, though talented, has to deal with problems at home as well as school, and is a loner. This changes with the arrival of Leslie, who beats him in a running event, something which Jess had been training for. They also happen to be neighbours, and soon, Leslie compliments Jess on his drawing skills, when she comes across his notebook. They become friends and create Terabithia. Terabithia is a reflection of their real life, and the evil forces are usually versions of characters in real life, like the school bully, who appears as a troll.

What appealed to me was the sensitivity that flows through the movie, in its characters, in situations and the way they react to them. It doesn’t have the mesmerising special effects that usually accompany the fantasy genre, but if you have ever imagined as a child, you would immediately identify with the story. AnnaSophia Robb, as Leslie, and Josh Hutcherson, as Jess have both acted extremely well. They make you believe. Terabithia is a haven for the two children to escape from the strife of their daily existence. Actually, I felt Leslie creates it more for Jess than herself, inspired by his drawings, though she is also a loner, who finds it difficult to make friends.

[Spoiler ahead, though I’d say its relatively unimportant. If you do watch the movie, the sensitive portrayal is the attraction]

Jess’ music teacher, who has seen his drawings, invites him on a Saturday to visit the art museum. Jess doesn’t invite Leslie, and returns to find out that Leslie had drowned while trying to swing across the creek. (the way to Terabithia) After a brief period during which he blames himself for the death, Jess decides to rebuild Terabithia as a way to remember Leslie. The film ends with him inviting his sister May Belle, who had been kept away from Jess and Leslie’s fantasy world so far, to be the new queen of Terabithia.

I wondered about the ending. To me, Jess’ visit to the museum, guided by an adult, was a way of showing his breaking away from childhood fantasy, and entering the ‘real’ world. His drawings were a reflection of his life, and the introduction to art would mean that he has a new way of channelling his talent, and moving beyond the problems of his daily life. Leslie’s death accentuates this since she had taken the initiative to form Terabithia. I’d perhaps have had May Belle discovering the drawing book (again) and this time Jesse allowing her to draw and make her own worlds.

Havens. Some of us make them from childhood. Each part of our life would be characterised by an escape hatch, which was relevant only for that particular age. As I’d twittered a few days back, weekends become the life support for the drudgery of the working week. It brings with it different escape routes, things that I look forward to. I heard a colleague say recently that his kid counted the days till Saturday. I reminded him that we do that too. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Imaginary friends, fantasy worlds, pub hopping, real friends, reading, gaming, movies, vacations, virtual lifestreams…in some way are these all escape routes? On one level, these are escape routes from our reality, they take us to worlds which are more appealing, they give us a temporary release.  What do my escape routes say about me? At another level, I do wonder what we really want to escape from.

until next time, Houdini of sorts…

Gorky Park

Martin Cruz-Smith

Gorky Park is the first of the Arkady Renko series – 2 others set in the Soviet era, and three after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The book is as much a story about people and places as it is a crime thriller. The book starts with 3 bodies found in Gorky Park, in Moscow, with their faces and fingertips cut off. The investigation is led by Arkady Renko, who, after initial attempts to pass the case on to the KGB, sets out in dogged pursuit of the killer.
Renko, the son of a famous general, battles his own demons as he plods through a bureaucracy that is rife with politics and corruption. Through the characters, the author manages to bring to life the character of Russia itself, from Moscow to Leningrad to Siberia.
In a milieu where even a slight tone of dissent causes a person to be labeled as mentally disturbed, and procedures to be carried out on him to cement the case, Renko’s tenacity and his stubbornness to not let go of the case until the killer is brought to justice, ensures that he makes powerful enemies, who try everything to take him out.
And while the mystery gets solved, we also find the human yearning for freedom and the paradox of wanting to be in a place where one belongs.