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If you are Chetan Bhagat, ignore all of this and jump right to the end.

I’ve defended Chetan Bhagat during almost every outrage cycle. Examples here and here. I’ve even been called a fanboy. My friends will attest to that. I think he’s picked on unfairly for his views and people project their perception of his dumbness on every sentence he says—not unlike a certain young Gandhi. Perhaps there is even a tinge of envy in some critiques.

But I do think there are some things he just doesn’t get. When he talks about ideas, he’s too simplistic. (Anyone here likes memes?) And when he talks about “writing”, lord save us all.

The internet was alive with the sound of outrage when I woke up today. He’d written something over at Huffington Post outlining why he wasn’t popular in the West. We’ll set aside the irony of writing in the Huffington Post to complain about Westerners ignoring him. Let’s instead dive right into his column. It’s bad, it’s what makes him a bad writer and it’s so much fun editing what he writes! (His words in bold.)

English is the new caste system, complete with levels of proficiency translating to various levels to elitism.->English *proficiency* is the new caste system, complete with levels of proficiency translating to various levels to elitism.

To use “complete with”, there have to be a few more ways the metaphor works other than “levels of proficiency translating to various levels to elitism”. There aren’t here. So it’s not “complete with”; that’s all there is to it. Let’s instead try: English proficiency is the new caste system, with levels of proficiency translating to various levels to elitism.

Now the latter part of the sentence is really just explaining the metaphor, but we’ll let that slide in the interest of explanation.

However, because I write in simple English, my books have managed to be a bridge between Indians who speak English well and Indians who speak little English.

How are his books a bridge? A bridge connects two things. How are they connecting those two categories of readers? From what anyone can tell, it’s a bridge that starts from Indians who come from vernacular backgrounds and stays there. The only person that bridge is connecting his readers to is Chetan Bhagat. (And there’s nothing wrong with writing for people who don’t speak English in an ornate manner or with a few errors! Language is a tool for communication and if you’re communicating your thoughts across in words from that language, you’re speaking that language as far as I am concerned.)

Further, the phrase “Indians who speak English well” isn’t in contrast to “Indians who speak little English“. Who’s to say those speaking little English also speak bad English? They might speak perfect English; they could just be introverts.

Let’s instead try: However, because I write in simplified English, my books have managed to connect to Indians for whom English is not a primary language of thought.

I am fortunate to have a wide reach of readers, including Indians irrespective of age, gender, class or location.

Reach” is geographical, so “range” works better. And “including Indians irrespective of” just sounds odd.

Let’s try this: I am fortunate to have a wide range of readers, who identify with my books regardless of age, gender, class or location.

All sects can read and enjoy my books.

I’m fairly certain he means religions here. So let’s make the previous sentence: age, gender, class, religion or location.

My simple stories are set in contemporary India and reflect society as it is today. 

If you’re not face-palming already, I suggest you do so RIGHT NOW! What’s wrong with that sentence, you ask?

Contemporary India = reflect society as it is today, you silly verbose writer! That’s the whole point of inventing the word “contemporary”, so you don’t have to spell out what it means!

And that may be one reason why the West is not so interested in me.

Not so interested” is odd phrasing. It’s like being a little pregnant. Since his whole piece is whining about lack of Western interest (Why is that still a thing? Why are we still craving for Western attention?), let’s go with: And that might be one reason why the West is not interested in my books.

I also changed “may” to “might” because it’s more pure, and “me” to “my books” because “me” sounds like the whining of a teenage girl who’s just being dumped for the first time in her life.

 I write the actual reality of India

Unless Chetan Bhagat is literally scripting reality, let’s try: I write about the reality of India.

And “Actual reality” is the same as reality. If it’s not actual reality, it’s not reality.

My characters are looking for jobs while falling in love. 

Nothing wrong with that sentence, but maybe that’s why they’re still looking for jobs?

Who wants to read about such Indians — those who work in multinational banks and shop in malls?

Ambiguous sentence. Are the Indians those who work in multinational banks and shop in malls, or is he posing the question to those Indians?

Let’s instead try: Who wants to read about such Indians who work in multinational banks and shop in malls?

Also, the answer: EVERY-FUCKING-ONE, if it’s written well and in engrossing prose!

The India that has sold abroad is typically India with lotus ponds and simple villagers. 

Classic strawman!

Quick: tell me 5 instances of recent India-based art that were about lotus ponds and simple villagers?

Anyone?

*crickets*

The last thing we tried to sell abroad about simple villagers was Lagaan which didn’t win an Oscar because—you guessed it—the West wasn’t interested in our simple villagers.

Those who ride elephants and climb up coconut trees and that is all they want to do in life. 

Doesn’t ring a bell either. WHERE IS HE GETTING ALL THIS STUFF FROM?

 If there is a villager in my book, chances are he will be visiting a cyber café, checking his phone or trying to get ahead in life.

Not “or trying to get ahead in life“, try “and trying to get ahead in life”. Unless those three actions are mutually exclusive.

Don’t know if the West is ready for or interested in that India.

Yes they are, you fucking whiner! JUST WRITE IT WELL!

I write to bring about change in my country, towards the direction of economic progress

You’re either bringing about change in your country “towards economic progress” or “in the direction of economic progress”. What the fuck is “towards the direction of economic progress“?

Also, timeout! What’s with repeating the phrase “my country”? You’re not a ten-year old kid writing an essay. It’s “our country” once you’re old enough to write a decent sentence.

Oh wait ..

I wrap my easy-read stories

I wrap my easy-to-read stories

that is how I feel I can contribute towards my nation.

I don’t know what’s wrong with his direction sense but he needs to see someone about it. Let’s instead try: That is how I feel I can contribute to the nation.

He allowed his daughter to marry her boyfriend, ending a two-year long bitter, acrimonious opposition.

What’s acrimonious a synonym for? I’ll give you one guess.

It’s “bitter”.

The girl’s father even set up a stall in the wedding function, offering all guests a copy of the book 2 States

Formatting: The girl’s father even set up a stall at the wedding function, offering all guests a copy of the book 2 States.

Props though for calling it a wedding and not a marriage. See this is why I like him .. a little.

Perhaps this also partly explains limited awareness about my work in the West. I have never really aspired to that goal.

Wait .. what?

Then why the fuck did I read this badly written few-hundred word column on why the West is ignoring this awesome and revolutionary writer who shares a name with that other revolutionary, Bhagat, as if it were some conspiracy hatched at the 25th reunion of the 1980 batch of pretentious St. Stephen’s alumni?!?!

Seriously, what the fuck?

***

I’ll spell it out in less than a hundred words: The reason Westerners don’t love Chetan Bhagat’s writing is the same as why the Indian elite don’t. They’d rather read someone else they like better in the same time because no one has hours to waste on a book just so someone doesn’t accuse them of conspiring against this writer who is probably the fucking richest writer in India!

An underdog can whine about being a victim, not the most famous writer in India! So cut the crap, okay?

***

Until today I didn’t realize he had gone so deep into victimhood.  I went over to his Twitter feed where looks like he loves to wallow in it.

Here’s his latest tweet, a retweet from @AdviceToWriters:

Like any passive-aggressive adolescent, the subtext here seems to be that the West ignores him therefore he is lonely (with just hundreds of millions of readers), and therefore he is exceptional?

And here’s a tweet he wrote, again today:

OK, what’s wrong with that metaphor? I’ll give you one guess.

HOW THE FUCK DO YOU FLY WITHOUT OPENING YOUR WINGS, YOU DIMWIT?!

I didn’t have the time or drive to scroll further down. What I saw was enough to convince me he’s the Deepak Chopra of writers.

***

Here’s what I’d like to say to Chetan Bhagat if he ever gets this:

Dude, honestly, I think you tell stories that people like and find interesting. That makes you a good *storyteller*. Don’t get caught up in this debate of whether you’re a good writer. There’s no reason for you to give a fuck about whether you’re a good writer. That is not what made you famous. And if that’s what you’re after, you can’t win it—atleast not the way you write right now. You’ll end up being mocked for bringing a butter knife to a lightsaber fight, you’ll feel victimized as a result, write about being victimized by identifying all the wrong reasons, and get mocked for it (and the writing) all over again. It’ll never end. Here’s what I’d recommend as a fellow human being:

Just stick with the storytelling part of things that you’re good at. It’ll save you loads of time and perhaps result in more content for your loyal readers. That content obviously adds value to their lives—and it is worth pursuing with all your efforts.

Let that be your legacy.

P.S. Please hire a good editor who proofreads everything you write—tweet, column or book. It’ll be worth the investment.

Here’s something to start (or end) your day with:

*

Where have I been?

Travelling, mountaineering, paragliding, backpacking, hiking; rescuing people, being rescued, but still safe, in one piece and living through some great experiences. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

****

Let’s see if I can restart this blog around some theme that suits me right now. News You Can’t Use was apt when I was invested in current affairs and cared enough to comment. Now, I can’t give less of a fuck. But there are countless other interesting topics in the world.

Let’s talk about those.

I have often mentioned Into The Wild here as one of the books (and movies) that influenced me the most. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, stop right here. There are spoilers ahead.

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Into The Wild was written by Jon Krakauer, first as a long-form piece for Outside magazine, and later expanded into the book. A fair bit of Chris McCandless’ journey after he left home is unknown. Jon did his best to trace Chris’ path using people’s accounts of brief interactions with Chris—people who’d written to him after reading the Outside piece. But one mystery was never adequately solved: What caused Chris’ death. It was some sort of food poisoning from a plant, Jon surmised, and wrote as much in the Outside piece. He corrected it to a different plant in the book but that too was never proven.

In a piece published yesterday at the New Yorker, Jon with the help of one Ronald Hamilton’s research paper solves the mystery as well as it could be  based on the meagre evidence.

Speaking of Outside, I somehow missed this news about a massacre perpetrated by the Taliban at the base camp of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan on June 22nd. Outside reports about it here. Chilling.

“I’m worried that climbers are the new easy target,” he says. “We’re unarmed, we have lots of money, and we’re high-profile.”

Until now, terrorism has never been a major problem in mountaineering. This might drastically reduce mountaineering in northern Pakistan. This is bad for a couple of reasons. K2, considered one of the toughest climbs, is located there and attracts the best climbers in the world. On the other hand, the region is also home to Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II—peaks that are attempted by many climbers as a precursor to Everest.

***

Nanga Parbat is in what Indians call PoK, and the rest of the world calls Pakistan. If there is still any doubt, well, you need a Pakistani visa to climb K2 and Nanga Parbat. So that settles that.

Outside magazine has a piece I finally got around to reading, and would recommend: The Disposable Man: A Western History of Sherpas on Everest.

While the title mentions Everest, it is about all mountaineering in Nepal. Every mountaineer will agree—and the article mentions this as well—that hardly anyone would be summitting peaks such as Everest if it weren’t for Sherpas’ assistance. No successful or unsuccessful climber has failed to mention the pivotal role Sherpas play on the mountain. Consider this: Most clients of guided tours have one oxygen bottle waiting for them above the Balcony on their way down from the summit. In almost every case, a Sherpa belonging to the group left it there. It seems like the high-altitude version of spoon-feeding but recognize that without such practices, we’d be seeing far more casualties, fewer tourists and fewer opportunities for Sherpas to earn a good living. (The big caveat being that the opportunity is life threatening.)

Mountaineers travelling to high altitudes too are entering something that is potentially life threatening. But they do it as a choice. Contrast that to the hapless situation of Sherpas who climb to earn a living. Sherpas have no cushion to fall back on: it’s either all or nothing. More specifically, their families have nothing to fall back on.

I don’t know what a good solution is. The article depressed me in equal measure as well as inspired me to go to the mountains. That itself conveys that a solution where we cut down on mountaineering is not going to work. But it gives a clue what ought to be done: There are always going to be people who yearn for the mountains. Most of them need Sherpas and the Sherpas need them. Perhaps the disparity in worst-case scenarios for climbers and Sherpas ought to be reduced. I realize that part of the disparity is the society Sherpas inhabit and the one that climbers and guides inhabit—in terms of the effects of disabilities in leading a respectable life.

The other disparity is money. I think of local companies such as RMI and how respected the company and its guides are, and how well the guides are paid. Sherpas need something similar. An American guide taking clients to Everest likely earns as much as all the Sherpas on the expedition put together. (The company the guide works for probably earns from each Everest expedition a few times that.)

The premium here is in part for marketing and how well known their brand is. Safety protocols can be emulated, and indeed, most high-tier guiding companies have similar protocols. Perhaps some day, we will have educated Sherpas who can run their own guiding services, market it well across the globe and control their destinies.

Until then—and I’m sorry to put it bluntly—they are relying on mountaineers’ guilt.

It’s a day, so someone is outraged at something Chetan Bhagat wrote.

This time around Chetan Bhagat wrote a Letter From an Indian Muslim Youth. HOW COULD HE SPEAK ON BEHALF OF ALL MUSLIMS?!?! (He didn’t.) AND DO THAT IN BAD ENGLISH?! That was the gist of the critiques.

Hey if critiques can reduce arguments, critiques of critiques sure as hell can.

Look, Chetan Bhagat should not be immune to critique but everyone deserves a smart critique. So I’m jumping in—with what else, but a meme that in my opinion is the main feature of Chetan’s thoughts: They are simplistic.

That in itself doesn’t mean he is wrong, but it does mean he is very meme-worthy.

Presenting: Simply Simplistic Chetan.

These two are verbatim from his article:

Nothing is impossible.

Except reading this without cracking up even once. Go ahead, try it.

Some folks have made this wonderful video using an audio recording of David Foster Wallace’s now famous commencement speech This Is Water:

 

Feel free to check out the entire speech.

***

Not long ago, I recall being frustrated at seemingly trivial things: traffic, delays, long lines, slow moving lines (or worse, being in a slow moving line next to a faster moving line.) I can’t quite put my finger on when I started changing but now it is rare for me to get frustrated. It comes down to how we think—or as Wallace puts it—how we choose to think.

Take an everyday example of being late to a meeting. We cut others in traffic, drive impatiently, hop into an elevator a few hundred milliseconds earlier, get annoyed when the folks getting out of the elevator don’t seem to share our urgency—all to save perhaps a few seconds or a minute.  I don’t know about you but I have never once attended a meeting where my arriving a minute late would have had any impact whatsoever. Once that realization hits, you cannot be the same person.

As Wallace says, the constant bombardment of banalities in our everyday life is hard to escape. We can however do better. A few tricks work well for me in making a otherwise unhappy or neutral moment into one of fascination.

1. This one’s corny but take a moment to appreciate love. It’s all around you. Old couples, young couples, teenage couples, a dog and and her owner, a mother and daughter, a father and a son, a woman walking her new born.

I still find it immensely fascinating and awesome whenever a living being has love for another. I can’t think of anything that tops it in our experience of being alive.

(Sure, many seemingly loving relationships aren’t perfect and have problems of some sort. But you don’t have to think about that when appreciating love around you.)

2. Wallace touches upon this in his speech: Make up a story for every stranger you come across. Their actions will seem rational and your problems trivial. Take a waiter/waitress who messes up your order. If you know anything about the minimum wages for tipped employees, it should be easy to imagine a median life of a waiter or waitress who has to smile through their problems every day. There’s no fucking way you will ever again be annoyed when your order is late or a bit incorrect.

The old lady at the checkout counter of a grocery store, the lady driving a bit cautiously in her SUV, the young black girl working at a fast food chain: With just a tiny hint from their appearance or body language, you can make up the story of their life. And it doesn’t have to be Dickensian level of pathetic: a person living a normal life with a wife, two kids, a steady job and home in the suburb scares me enough to empathize for him.

***

No matter how good you are at the above, you will invariably come across assholes. I take the path that causes me the least unhappiness. My happiness is far too precious for a stranger to ruin it. In a weird way, you make him less of an asshole if he can’t make you unhappy. Make sense?

Lift the index finger of your right hand in front of you. Note the point where the tip of your finger meets space. By the time you read this, you are already about a thousand kilometers away from that point. And no human being—past, present or future—will ever be at that point in space again. You were the only human being to ever touch that point in space.

Here’s why:

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Follow up video here.

Every year National Geographic conducts a poll for the People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. The winners in 2012:

Everest guide Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa and extreme kayaker Sano Babu Sunuwar were named the People’s Choice Adventurers of the Year for 2012 for their climb to Everest’s summit, record-setting paragliding descent and long-distance kayak from Nepal to the Bay of Bengal in India, the National Geographic Society said today.

Do watch the video. More pictures here.

There were three activities here that required a superhuman effort: Mountaineering up to 29,000 ft., tandem paragliding at that altitude in thin air, and kayaking class V rapids. They had to be beyond excellent at each one of those to complete the journey. And they were. Insane stuff.

***

I have been told a few times by friends and acquaintances that I inspire them to seek out adventure. To be quite frank, they would do well to take inspiration from those who make me feel very small.

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