A Dunbar’s number for brands?

Seth Godin had a very good take on the Dunbar Number recently in the context of connections made on Twitter and Facebook. (Wikipedia: Dunbar’s Number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150) Godin was of the opinion that “You might be able to stretch to 200 or 400, but no, you can’t effectively engage at a tribal level with a thousand people.”

A few months back, I’d written a post wondering whether smaller organisations were better placed to use social media effectively. This was based on a post by Chris Brogan. Smaller organisations with a flatter structure, and a culture more open to ideas. In that post, I’d questioned whether ideas becoming products/services and then further on brands, meant that the large audiences developed by brands would dictate the kind of communication used, and if mass media one way messaging became easier then. Also, I’d wondered whether larger organisations could handle the empowerment required to work in a social media environment.

When I read the post by Godin, I wondered if there was a Dunbar number for brands, dictated by the number of people  the brand can connect with- internally as well as externally? There are two things I read recently which added to the thought. One was the idea of the Intention Economy (via Surekha) which “grows around buyers” and is “about markets, not marketing”, and which is builts beyond transactions alone – conversations, reputation, authority, respect all of which are earned by the sellers and buyers. This is a provisional idea, the other is a report from 360i (via Mashable) which states that “that a majority of social media search listings that appear for brand-related queries are created by individuals not affiliated with the brand”, an increasing trend.

Meanwhile, another interesting thought occured to me when I read Jeremiah’s  post on #OperationBlueWater – where he proposes sharing one’s personal goal plan with online and offline social networks to help people achieve it. I wondered if organisations could ever approach this scenario- not so much as an objective, but the openness and the willingness to share and collaborate along the journey.

With or without Dunbar’s number, brands would have to involve either consumers or employees (ideally both) to thrive in a ‘social’ world. If its employees, it means hiring people who are passionate about the stuff they’re working with. Yes, the communication has always been that way, maybe the virtual and social forces will make it happen in reality. As for consumers, in most mass advertising, we have been seeing for sometime now, what Godin describes as “politician’s glassy-eyed gaze or the celebrity’s empty stare”

until next time, social goal setting :)

Progress report

One of the most memorable parts of the Andaman trip was the conversation I had with D, on the day we went aimlessly walking on the promenade. The conversation also seemed to understand the mood and was in its own way, aimless. As i wrote in one of the posts, I am fascinated by night lights, especially by the sea shore. It reminds me of Cochin, and sends waves of nostalgia at me.

The entire trip had also made me wonder about human ‘progress’ and the motivation behind it. In a few minutes, the conversation that began there navigated itself to individual motivations. The comparisons with the Leh trip that I’d made  a couple of hours before at Corbyn were still fresh in my mind. I had set expectations for this trip even before i started out – expectations not based on any previous trip to Andaman, but on previous vacations. I thought loudly on what these expectations were – the beauty of the place? the feelings the place and people evoked in us? a getaway from the daily grind? A new setting and a scope for ‘discovery’? Comfortable stay, good food? Probably any or all of these. Anyway the expectations were set.

And then D brought up one unacknowledged aspect – our projection of how wonderful the trip was, best characterised by the photos we share on FB and other private albums. (earlier, family gatherings and conversations) Isn’t that an expectation in itself – a proof of good times? Sometimes for ourselves, sometimes for others. I thought that was a good place to start understanding our motivation.

From childhood, when we had richer cousins/friends flaunting their better toys, or showing us snaps of places they’d been to, or talking about the wonderful food they’ve eaten, a kind of motivation existed – to match better that at some point in the future. A driving force that dictated the choices made in life, which justified the ‘sacrifices’ made. Study hard to get better grades, to get a better job, to make more money and to finally get all the things that the cousins/friends had, even if it was a couple of decades late,  all the stuff that can be a justification for what is (in a sense) euphemistically called the rat race. And then to look back at the proof of achievement and let out an audible sigh of accomplishment.

The problem arises perhaps not from being a rat even at the end of the race, but probably the realisation that a personal motivation got subverted into a generic rat race, which then became a motivation in itself. The rest of the life story would depend on the stance towards the original motivation. In many cases, the race stops, the baggage is dropped and a path of ‘self discovery’ is started.

In my personal map, this is the place where I see a ‘You are here’ sign. I would’ve been happy with this, if I hadn’t realised that it has the same ending as the rat race. The path is different, and because there are no obvious indicators like the rat race, I have to evolve my own set of indicators. But the desired end is the same, simplistically put, personal growth, with previously decided benchmarks. The consolation offered is that it was reached on one’s own terms. I wonder, is it really one’s own terms if the destination is no different?

Ayn Rand said “Man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress”. Human progress, not just from a humankind perspective – the places and things he builds, but a deeply personal one too, as the ‘ego’ would indicate. I was conscious of this when I shared the Andaman photos, conscious that somewhere, someone was setting a benchmark and the beginning of a race, just like I had, and continue to do, even outside the rat race. And I wonder whether I’ve really replaced one rat race with another in my case. And I still continue to wonder about ‘progress’.

until next time, progress cards with my own signature :]

Even distribution

The per second and per character billing wars happening in the Indian mobile space now, made me consider whether its beyond a price thing – a need for consumers to slice and splice until they get exactly what they need. I see a parallel in the flow of content too, something I discussed earlier.

Which explains why I tweeted that I was still watching with great interest, the results of Murdoch’s arachnophobia, though it will take months. (despite having some fun with irobot.txt, and Walled Street Journal ;) ) Now that’s a subject on which everyone’s had an opinion, so I’ll refrain. (though I’ll share the interesting Bing Theory) The other part of his announcement, where he wants to be paid for content, will obviously depend on the quality of content he can give, and whether it can be found elsewhere for free.

Meanwhile, as a believer of the link economy, I should’ve logically said that News Corpse was the future, but I refrained. The reason was that for me, the complete mechanics of content distribution is still in an evolution stage. I wrote about brand content distribution last week, and I’m exploring similar thoughts on information in general, especially when i see studies on sharing trends like these (via Social Media Explorer), which I still think is a good indicator despite the inherent skews in sample/methodology it might have. The specific part that interested me being the low shares of Google channels and Twitter, and the larger understanding (reminder) that the web is much bigger than the social media savvy crowd. While Google News has become a great aggregator, there might be other distribution mechanisms that can be developed, keeping a paid model in mind.

Media has long served as a distribution platform for brand communication, so its obvious that any effect on media would also force brands to think differently from what they’ve done so far. It means seeking and understanding various smaller ecosystems that are bound to develop, where media itself would be different from what we see now. In essence, brands would have to slice and splice their content to reach various audiences. Again, one can’t completely rule out the possibilities for Murdoch with niche specific audiences.

Meanwhile, I had a good debate recently with Surekha on social media’s usage by brands- product/brand centric vs communication centric approaches. This great post (via Surekha) sums it up quite well. My contention was that ‘buzz’ (for lack of a better term) could be generated without a communication centric agenda, if brands/products were serious about social media and approached it from a business design perspective. Communication centric approaches would tend to see networks as broadcast platforms and the focus would be on ideas and execution, which may quite often be platform centric, with less thought on how sustainable it is in the long run,  especially if all parts of the organisation are not aligned to a different way of working that’s required. Also, in addition to the spurious ROI methods which are evolving, my issue with communication – centric approach is best described by Godin in Hammer Time (every function (PR/Advertising all bring their own hammers to nail social media) and Rex in “If Advertising is your middle name, your surveys will always suggest the solution is….

(Update: Thanks Dina, for sharing this)

It led me to wonder if brands’ usage of  FB, Twitter etc as broadcast platforms, also contributes to the way these platforms are evolving – from the concept of digital sub-prime crisis that Umair Haque has written about recently to the kind of hiring that brands do. (In this context, the Ad Contrarian’s 3 Distinctions post is also worth reading) Taking it further, is that why (simplistically put) instead of collaboration and easy interoperability, there is the scenario that Tom Reilly very interestingly describes in ‘The War for the Web‘ – war between natural monopolies  (search, social networking, classifieds etc) for adjacent areas.

I’m hoping that like with all things web 2.0, the community will turn both the fights in a direction that is beneficial to itself, and we won’t be left replacing one system with another that develops with the same principles.

until next time, choosing sides :)

Fantasia

And while I did not have any imaginary friends, at least not any I can remember, the other day, when I was discussing Calvin and my penchant for quoting from the series, with a friend, who is an even better fan, since she can quote exact lines, while I sometimes tend to paraphrase, I suddenly seemed to be overwhelmed by a few memories from my childhood. Its like they were always there – the memories, and were just waiting for a context – in this case, Calvin’s super identities, to take me back to a fantasy world, utterly devoid of logic, but probably more fun than anything that followed.

Now we’re back to the beginning
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet

You might remember the Rambo fixation that I’d written about sometime back, the ‘superheroes’ who’re about to be revealed existed around the same time. The Rambo gear wasted away in batches, and so spawned a couple of mutant characters, which were war heroes too, but equipped with a different set of weapons. There was this Leo Mattel gun, that produced a roaring noise, until certain experiments with new, freely available ammunition (sand) silenced it forever. The second generation weaponry consisted of water guns which turned out to be very trigger happy by themselves.It didn’t help that they were usually loaded and since they used the loops of trousers as holsters, they tended to throw aspersions on the hero’s character – that he was still wetting his pants at that age!!

I know some of you would remember the animated Spiderman series that was sponsored by Rasna. At one point, Rasna gave away free spiderman masks and my tale is eerily similar to Calvin gulping down chocolate frosted sugar bombs to get the beanie. Only in my case, it was kept safely until I finished that Rasna box. Since my love for superheroes wasn’t shared by the rest of the family, i couldn’t coax them into buying me the entire costume, which I remember seeing on a mannequin in Parthas, cochin. :) So I made by own er, costume. There had to be a spider logo on the chest, but since I couldn’t get myself or anyone else to kill a spider, I used a small rubber octopus from an earlier era, tied to the chest with a string. Since I found my costume woefully inadequate, I made myself wrist and ankle guards with bajaj bulb covers, and completed the ensemble with my mom’s stitching thread, bunches of which disappeared regularly and reappeared on window sills, like those ‘mannat’ threads in temple trees. A super hero never cries, even if he gets thrashed. Since the real world identity was that of a photographer, this one was the only superhero to be snapped. No, its not going to be shared :p

But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget

He Man was the next to be created, I wonder if any of you remember the tiny comics that used to come in batches of four. Anyway, this costume was made with the liberal use of notebook paper and tape, with Dad’s permanent markers used to make the bold cross at the centre of the chest guard and a carved coconut branch for the sword. The neighbourhood cat was usually scared out its peaceful afternoon snooze by a branch wielding kid, poking at it with the branch/sword and willing it to become Battle Cat. It was soon discovered that attacks against He Man were considerably lesser if old newspapers were used instead of new notebook pages. The Masters in He Man’s universe tended to be evil and soon, even the newspaper supply stopped.

‘Film Man’ had to be the only original one in the series. One fine day, the drawer containing old film reels was discovered. It was also discovered that they tended to loop back when thrown onto say a window rod. They also made excellent wrist gear and even a goggle, though it did mean the superhero had to have a permanently upraised chin in order to be able to view his surroundings. Unlike films in general, this one didn’t have a happy ending, since many of those reels were important!!

I’m sure may of you would have stories like these. Those were times of innocence, when super heroes seemed real, and life was an adventure waiting to happen. In spite of the thrashings that the super hero got, he was also comfortable in the knowledge that his parents were real super heroes who could solve every one of his problems, however large they seemed to him. And then he grew up…. reality happened, and suddenly, all he seemed to have were memories…

Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
‘Til they’re before your eyes
You’ll come back
When they call you
No need to say goodbye

until next time, origins and sequels :)

The song is one of my favourites. The Call,  by Regina Spektor from the soundtrack of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”

Tin Fish

Sudeep Chakravarti

Set in the 1970s in a boarding school in Rajasthan, ‘Tin Fish’ is the story of four friends and their ‘wonder years’. ‘Tin Fish’, named after the canned fish that was a regular in the narrator’s tuck box, and which brought with the comfort and familiarity of home and family.
Narrated by Brandy, short for Barun Ray, this is the story of his days at Mayo, spent with his best friends – Fish, Porridge and PT Shoe, each of whom bring to Mayo, their own baggage, even before they can understand the word.
The book seems (at least) partially autobiographical as the author is able to easily get into the mind of a child and then his transition into teenage – the whirlwind of emotions, the discoveries, the first crush, the pain of loss and most importantly the understanding that nothing lasts forever.
Each character is well etched, with its own own idiosyncrasies, and relationship with other characters. From the obsession with ‘gora chicks’ and Zeenie Baby to Mick Jagger and the plans to form the ‘Get Lost on the Ganga and All That’ band, the book is about coming to terms – not just with a world outside the confines of the fishbowl that is the ‘Mayo world’ – the outside world with Emergency, a urine drinking prime minister etc but also their own world – one which shows them that joy, sadness, love, hatred, despair, anger, pity etc all go hand in hand. Witty, wistful and poignant, its a book about the loss of innocence.
And then there’s the slang, that would go something like “its a cool breeze book, read it ya”. :)

Andamanned – Part 4 – Prison Diary

Part 1, 2, 3

We wanted to try out a specific restaurant for dinner, but apparently the driver stayed far away and I could sense he wasn’t too happy about having to wait. Anyway, we had more than an hour to kill before dinner, and the driver was at his wit’s end as we knocked down his suggestions one by one. No, we didn’t want to see the light and sound show at the Cellular jail. We actually ended up at Mahatma Gandhi park, for children, and laughed at ourselves and the Patton Tank we found, over a good walk. We then asked the driver to drop us at Marine Park, and go home. He asked us about our dinner plans at that particular restaurant, and we said we’d dropped that.

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The Marine park has a wonderful promenade, and allows long walks on pathways that extend into the water. It reminded me of Marine Drive in Cochin. I am fascinated by night lights, especially by the sea shore. Not the dazzling kind, but the ones that make themselves a background, as though each light tells a story. And it was here that Port Blair would offer me the second glimpse of itself (after Corbyn) that I would take away with me. I saw old couples taking their evening walk, younger couples putting the cozy nooks offered to good use, tourists taking pedaled boat rides in the water complex, young executives catching up in small groups, after a long day at work. Like locals everywhere, I wondered if they could ever look at their town the way I looked at it – in a tourist kind of way, though I have read that the economy is supported a lot by tourism. But Port Blair, except for the airport, and the ferry, didn’t seem to go overboard on it. Its a little town, like any other Indian town, made special because of its history, and its unique place away from the mainland. Not a choice it made.

We dined at ‘The New Lighthouse’. This one also offered a spectacular view. The fish this time was awesome, though the rest of the dinner was unremarkable. On the way back, I clicked some things that continue to puzzle me

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An uneventful, yet peaceful last night on Andaman.

The next morning, we finally went to Mandalay, the place I’d wanted to dine at. It was only 2 km from our hotel, but it was difficult to get transportation back from there, and that meant the driver had to wait, something which put him off the previous night, but which he was okay with in the morning. Hearty breakfast, including a mushroom omelet made by someone who knows how to do it, and the splendid view the web had promised me. Slightly expensive, but worth a visit. By a sub conscious association, I kept humming the very catchy ‘The Road to Mandalay’.

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We quickly proceeded to the Cellular Jail. It opens at 9 and there weren’t many visitors when we reached – 10.00. We took the services of a guide, who did a good job of taking us around the place and explaining things we might have missed otherwise. The art gallery was a good starter, but I was thrilled with the Netaji photo gallery. I went into a click frenzy, and it continued until we left the place. The effects of the cellular jail, in addition to the history lessons, are the automatic sighs and the lumps in the throat as you see the cells, the gallows, the central tower. One can only imagine – from the pictures and other exhibits, the travails of the prisoners. All for the freedom we take for granted now. But still, my heartfelt gratitude. You didn’t have to, and yet you chose to. Thank you.

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UftSlljuLu8

The guide told us that at the counter, we hadn’t been given a ticket in spite of asking, which meant that the official could pocket the money. We picked up the luggage from the hotel and quickly left for the airport, only to be told that the flight was delayed by half an hour. The airport was chaotic, with people representing quite a few communities. Bengalis, Punjabis, Tamilians, Gujaratis, Mallus like us. I wondered if it was always like this. Perhaps the limited means of transportation to the islands meant that everyone would have to use the airport, and on days like this, it would be a mini Cellular Jail, for an hour or so, which left everyone free to swear loudly in respective languages at the flight’s delay, to make separate queues in which one was first, to shove each other off queues that were finally formed, to litter the airport and make it a gigantic trash bin. To revel in hard earned freedom.

As I look back, I have much to remember – the lazing around on Vinnie’s beach, the snorkeling trip, the beautiful uninhabited Wilson Island, the aimless walking around in Port Blair, Corbyn’s Cove, and all those thoughts about progress and where the collective will of its humankind would take these islands.

until next time, endaman :)

PS: The last vacation, when I described Leh, several people mailed me for an itinerary. I am writing a short recommended one below, in case you’re interested.

Day 0: Reach Chennai from wherever you are (or Calcutta, though check when the flights are)

Day 1: Catch the 10:15 KF flight to Port Blair. You’ll land at about 12.30. KF feeds you, but if you feel hungry, you have time for a quick snack before the ferry at 2.00. The tickets are difficult to get the same day (until they have the promised online system) so you should organise it before. In spite of the small goof up, I’d highly recommend Vinnie’s for stay at Havelock and their Meet and Greet service.

Day 2: Snorkel at Elephant’s beach, Dive (rates at Vinnie‘s site) and off to Radhanagar in the afternoon. Go right till the end to the small lagoon for a good sunset view. Visit Red Snapper, its quite close by. Roads could be dark, get a torch.

Day 3: Wilson Island definitely. Off to Port Blair in the afternoon, preferably by the 12.30 ferry. That’ll give you enough time to catch the Cellular Jail the same evening. (entry allowed till 4 pm) City King Palace is quite a decent place. Fish Dinner at Lighthouse/ Mandalay.

Day 4: Ross Island, and leave by the 12.50 flight.

Resources: Vinnie’s (including Diving rates),  Wiki including Citi King Palace, Havelock Wiki

PPS:  D has named her Orkut album “Between the devil and the deep blue sea’.

Twitter lists, Social Search and brand content distribution

So its been quite a while since Twitter lists launched, and the ego seems to have stopped trending now. The open API means that we can hopefully see a some interesting apps/services (eg.directories like Listorious or alert systems like Listiti) soon. In fact, Twitter has already made an interesting widget, which you can see in action on the left side, at the bottom. Its a list of people who create/share content/have an interest in the Indian web space.

Meanwhile, though Twitter lists will add a new dimension to search – people, content etc, like I mentioned in the last post, and create perceptions about people (basis lists they appear in), there are already directions which make me feel ambivalent (country lists, and I agree largely with this take). Even as they try to balance utility with threats like spam, I wonder what features Twitter will add to lists – feeds of lists, search (and advanced) within list tweets or add this option in existing search, one click DM to all members of a list (at least by the creator for starters),  or at least a way to send a tweet to only a list (so that I can be more pertinent to specific kinds of users – eg. there are those who hate my godawful puns, but like the links I share :D )

(Let me know if these exist in some form – even on apps, and add on the features you can think of)

Another line of thought occurred to me while on Twitter lists – brand communication. It started off by me wondering whether we’d now see brands occupying Twitter backgrounds of relevant lists (considering the web interface is still the most used source of tweeting) say, Star World on a a Heroes/Lost fans list, Kingfisher on a beer fans list. (all of you brands pay Twitter and the list creators, please) Taking that further, would we have brands create lists? Hopefully, not just something as vanilla as their fans, but say, a relevant common interest topic. :)

This led to a larger picture of how brand communication’s distribution would evolve. This also fit into last week’s post – aggregation of content and serendipity. How would brand communication fit into the varied methods of content consumption, aggregation and discovery?

Even as new distribution and consumption patterns develop rapidly, the identity of the traditional distribution means i.e. mass content creator-aggregators (newspapers, TV. and even web entities) as just a platform for vanilla advertising (and that includes ‘innovations’ like force-fitted editorial) has been changing for a while now. For example, Yahoo, even as it takes steps in creating and curating content, is also making deals “to help marketers creatively incorporate their brands into original online programming. The programs will appear exclusively throughout Yahoo!’s network of leading media properties including News, Sports, Finance and Entertainment.” ESPN Sports Center worked with Toshiba to create advertising that illustrates specifically how ESPN fans could use Toshiba TV sets and laptops. But all that’s still only creating more context. Seemingly seamless content and advertising, tricky territory, that.

To compare it with say, Twitter lists, the latter already have the context and the audience in one place, and these are created by the audience themselves. Isn’t that at least a step ahead. Meanwhile, there’s another way of looking at it – the Google way, using Social Search, and that includes not just Google’s own services like Reader, Profiles (and that means all your other service details you shared there and your respective networks), Mail contacts, but also Twitter. That means, when a person is searching for information, Google can now give him socially layered real time results, quite a good start to a man+spider filtered way of search. I have to wonder (again) how long the SEO way of making sure the brand website appears on top will work.

All of the above – traditional content platforms, social platforms, search are different kinds of people and content aggregators, and options for brands to create/share content (self created or UGC) in. While it might look challenging, it offers enormous possibilities of tailoring content according for the brand’s different audiences and their needs. They have varying sets of positives and negatives, several parameters will decide the medium, but as far as the message goes, interesting content is now, increasingly and thankfully mandatory. :)

Brands have always been experiences. Brand communication has sought to build/reinforce/manage perceptions. In an unconnected world, the audience had to rely on the communication, and the small set of experiences that they knew of – their own, and those of their circle of friends, relatives etc. In a connected world, the audience will experience in many more ways, and the content they create will be shared and distributed in ways they deem fit, across a much larger audience. Perhaps, now, the experience is the message, and the audience is the medium.

until next time, medium, message and mob mastery :)

Andamanned – Part 3 – Blair wich

Part 1 and Part 2

We caught the return ferry at 3 pm, and this time, we got the non a/c seats. Arrgh, and as if that wasn’t enough, there were some noisy seat related quarrels, which thankfully didn’t involve us, so it was like watching a serial you couldn’t avoid. At about 4.30 the boat docked, and I wondered if this was some fast boat. I decided to check before getting out, only to be told that this was Neil Island and Port Blair was another one and a half hours away!! After fretting inside the boiler accommodation for 2.5 hours, we discovered the freedom on the deck (the sun had set by then).

The Port Blair view was fantastic, with the roaming beam from the light house and the glittering lights from the coast. We landed at only about 7 and were taken to the Citi King Palace hotel. The surroundings scared us, but the room was good enough, and the owner, extremely helpful. He had already got us tickets for our trip the next day, and arranged a taxi for our use. We had dinner at The Lighthouse Residency, another place which we had read a lot about, and turned out to be only about a 10 mins walk away from our hotel. Slightly disappointing food, but the place did offer a spectacular view.

The next day’s main trip was supposed to be to an island called Jolly Buoy, but we discovered that it has been closed after the tsunami, and our tickets were for Red Skin island.  We had breakfast at Ananda, who also packed us a biriyani lunch. Plastic is banned there, and we were checked for plastic (they are replaced with jute bags) The boat names seemed to indicate a subtle tussle between the internet giants. I allowed myself a smile, it was let through.

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After Havelock, Red Skin’s attractions – the glass bottomed boat and snorkeling was quite a come down. D beat me hands down in terms of expectations. While I had imagined a fiber glass boat, D had dreamt about a submarine like thing which would be completely under water, the reality was this.

glass

Later, we also realized we hadn’t brought a towel, so I was forced to do a Salman in the water as my spare tee was kept as a towel. No, no packs, hell, remember we even forgot to pack a damn towel. Bloody double whammy- glass bottom and topless!!

We got back by around 2 and did a little trip to Wandoor, where D bagged her second naariyal paani, and we discovered more topless entities, and their roots.

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We went back to the hotel, and thanks to the ickiness induced by the salt water + heat combination, were forced to take a bath. We rested a bit and left for Corbyn’s cove at 4. Corbyn is about 20 mins from town, and is unfortunately an example of the extent to which we can dirty a nice beach. But strangely,  despite that, I felt very peaceful there. It could’ve been many things. The time, it was about 5 by the time we left – sunset time. It could’ve been the large (in terms of numbers, cheapos) Indian families, floating in the water almost fully dressed, and busy clicking away with their analog cameras. I’m not being condescending, mind you, it had a nostalgic effect.

I was suddenly reminded that just like the beaches at Havelock, my days on Andaman were numbered. I also realized that I was unconsciously comparing this trip to Leh, and this beach to the ones at Havelock, and even comparing the pictures I’d been taking so far. I was also looking at Ross Island across the water, and ruing that I chose Jolly Buoy over Ross Island, even though we had a decent time there. The families I mentioned earlier were enjoying the moment completely, they probably weren’t even going to Havelock, and would know about the pictures they’d taken only after they were developed. I had read about Japanese bunkers at Corbyn’s cove, but even if they were, they’d been turned into waste bins!!

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On our way back to town, I could see sides of the road being dug up, and I wondered how long it would be before the Jap bunkers on the roadside would be removed! For the second time in the trip, I wondered about progress.

To be Continued…..

Shashi Tharoor, a real account… of the Bangalore Tweetup

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And that would explain why, when I saw the invite for a tweet up, it was an easy exception to make to my otherwise steadfast stance against tweet ups and reserve a place to meet the Minister of Status. :D

That’s in spite of generally having some harmless fun at his expense on a regular basis – from his non-accommodating stance on the 5 star stay to the now famous gaai-rights issue (actually wrote a couple of solidarity tweets on the latter to make up for the others)

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He even featured in the Andaman travelogue. The good part – popularity in Andaman, and erm, the bad part. So that roughly explains my attitude towards the politician and twitterer.

The seeming flippancy in that attitude  perhaps belies the enormous amount of admiration and respect I have for the author. The Great Indian Novel is probably my all time favourite work, simply because its satire and humour work on multiple levels. The more layers you can unravel through lateral thought and associations made, the more gems you can find. As my About page would indicate, I love wordplay, jest like that. TGIN, in my book, is THE benchmark, not just for wordplay and humour, but for the sheer imagination and brilliance that connected two seemingly disconnected streams almost seamlessly.

These days, I see around me, in the real world, politicians who can talk drivel for hours, boring the audience to premature death. I also see, in virtual world, authors and celebrities struggling with the expectations raised by their audience on real-time platforms – the result often being repeats of old jokes, terrible wordplay,  banality, and a general discomfort stemming from the heightened interaction.

The tweet up. There was a palpable energy in the place, and the place almost exploded when the organisers announced that the much anticipated message had come from upstairs, and they were ready to start… serving coffee and biscuits. We came back after getting our coffee, and waited inside the audi for Mr.Tharoor, disappointed at not being allowed to bring our coffee in, but then in he came, in black and white, and made our woe seem insignificant, with his coughing. Hmm, I couldn’t be sure, but the front row possibly had coffees. (#9). And so I sat, flanked by two other Mallus – Nikhil, and Balu (who’d made it a point to arrive after Shashi Tharoor, just so we understood who was more busy ;) ) wondering how a favourite, whose work I worshiped, would fare.

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As you can see, he was favouring the right, and the centre, until a lady seated behind me forced him to answer a question from our side. I wondered aloud if he always ignored the left thus, but though my neighbours heard it, sadly he didn’t. I’d have loved a repartee. I noted that we had similar workplace issues, as Twitter was banned in the MEA too. Meanwhile, our friend Nikhil, (who claims he was) one of the voters who elected Mr.Tharoor to the parliament, had a political googly question for him. But he managed to answer it satisfactorily too.

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He talked about occasions when he was asked to explain Twitter to his colleagues, and the advice to him to stop tweeting if he valued his political career. But as he said, he doesn’t like being told he can’t do something. He explained his twitter habits – following, answering questions on Twitter, and the balance he has to maintain while sharing with the world a minister’s life. He was asked about his writing plans, to which he answered that the current job keeps him too busy to write, and not just to write, but to create that space in the mind, which can be populated with people and instances that have nothing in common with his daily life. So for now, The Great Indian Novelist is reduced to the limitations of a git (great indian twitterer) ;) – 140 char.

And thus, thankfully, he didn’t disappoint, and i sat, listening in rapt admiration, as the man displayed his ease with the language, bringing a smile and making us LOL, with witty answers to even the most banal of questions. Yes, there were quite a few of those too. But thankfully there were the opposite kind too, which got him to talk about the working of his ministry, and future plans. I could throw in erudite, polished, confident and similar adjectives as descriptions for him, but a master craftsman is usually beyond adjectives. (as anyone who saw that jaw-dropping 175 would vouch for)

Though he had arrived a bit earlier than announced at the venue (the twitvite said 3, when the actual time was 3.30, but the reason for that is easy to guess, so I wouldn’t complain), we still had only an hour, and it passed very quickly.  But it was undoubtedly, fun!! So, finally everyone posed for photos,

DSC02285(guy in grey-blue striped t-shirt, asked the best questions)

and somewhere in between I accomplished the other thing I’d come for. :) :)

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until next time, end of gushy Tharoor post ;)

(HUGE) UPDATE

ST RTs !!

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Andamanned – Part 2 – Nagaron ke beach main

My sarcasm regarding the airport welcome, it seemed, wasn’t totally lost on the resort staff, as two people waited on/for us at Havelock. In about 20 mins, we were at Island Vinnie’s, on beach #5 (alias Vijay Nagar beach). On the way we passed Beach #3 (alias Govind Nagar, which also serves as a market place for Havelock). Havelock, I’d say is Goa without the overdose of tourism. Coincidentally, I was reading Michener’s ’Chesapeake’, and was at the part where the coming of the white man destroyed the paradise the Indians had. Later, when I would remark (sometimes) on the lack of options in Havelock (compared to Goa), I’d also wonder about ’progress’, and how its positives and negatives are such a subjective thing, as is the answer to the question ’where to draw the line’ when it comes to change and progress.

Meanwhile, though the watch claimed 5.30 pm IST, it was already dark. Obviously nature cares two hoots  about IST, not unlike the Indian nature. My body, however, seemed to understand the new time very well. I was famished, and we had an early dinner at the newly opened ‘Full Moon café’ at Vinnie’s.

full moon cafe

Though some of the menu items had still not made their debut in the kitchen, there were enough options. And it felt almost like home, because Vinnie played ‘The Prestige’ by popular vote. Dinner watching a movie. We disappeared towards the middle of the movie. No one applauded, thankfully. D wanted to get up in time for the sunrise. She was told that it was at 4.45 AM. The early bird might get the worm, but on my sleep I was firm. All vacation days are like Sundays, I get to see the sun at a time of my choosing. Hmmph. She did get some awesome snaps though.

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We’d planned a snorkeling trip at Elephant Beach, so my snoring stopped at about 6.30 (!!) and we set out at 7.30. We got there to find out that the Navy guys wanted to do some shooting there, with real guns, so snorkeling was not allowed on that day. I remembered the Army guys playing spoilsport in Leh. I wanted to argue with them that they had a vast sea and many uninhabited islands to do target practice, and that I had my own shooting plans, but the gun silenced me. Talk about Navy Blues, thankfully, our resort staff took us to a nearby place which they said was equally good. Unfortunately, though, D betrayed her fishy star sign. She gulped before we got into the water, during the time we were underwater, and after we got back into the boat, when we were given samosas. No, actually, underwater, she behaved like the South African cricket team. She choked, but thankfully only after we did a fair bit of snorkeling.

We got back in about four hours and spent an hour on the resort beach, where you could go a long distance into the water and would still be only waist deep in water. We had read about the Red Snapper restaurant and decided to go there for lunch. Its five minutes away from Vinnie’s and worth a visit. The Goan fish curry and the full Bluefin Trevally with Chinese sauce are highly recommended.

red snapper

We got back and I napped (my default mode during vacations) a bit before going to the famous beach #7 (alias Radha Nagar), about 9km from Vinnie’s. I think the hype set stellar expectations, and I found it to be less impressive than say, Palolem, in Goa.  Forget Goa, the beach at the resort was way better, I thought. But I managed to film “A Snail’s pace” there, and D managed to get the naariyal paani, which had been eluding her all this while. At just Rs.10. We had hired an auto for the entire trip,  and the journey, especially the return, on winding roads, with glimpses of the village life, gave me quite a sense of peace. At a price, of course, Rs. 500, for the to and fro journey, and a wait of an hour and a half.

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyvkAUOtzbU

When Vinnie got to know our travails, starting from the ferry fiasco, he offered to knock 50% off from the ‘Meet and Greet’ package, and give us a complimentary trip the next day to see the mangroves. We accepted the latter and enjoyed it, more thanks to David who took us to Wilson Island, an amazing little place.

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We had a largely forgettable lunch at Seashells, and finally, it was time to say goodbye to our little hut.

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To be continued….