Crucial Curation

Those who have followed this blog for a while, know of my love-hate relationship with social media. I have been on and off social networks — as if I was punishing the networks — when I got upset with the nature of conversation and interaction that people on the network were having.

The network is inert.

Lately, without wanting to do so, I have been away from the networks. [To be clear, I do not consider WordPress as one of them]. It’s almost impossible to be on a network without taking sides. And if you do not take a side, variants of history’s accusations are hurled at you from all sides. Taking sides is worse; the enslavement is unbearable.

While this phenomenon is obvious and in-your-face on digital social networks, it is not limited to them. Shoot first and ask questions later is becoming the norm. Everyone wants to be the quickest draw in the West. And the East. And the North and the South. Amit referred to it as a left-right mud-slinging contest in a recent Twitter thread. It’s not. It’s fact-slinging. Apparently different types of facts. Alternative facts. Your facts. My facts. True facts. Baseless facts. Useless facts. (Yes, I have read people use these pairs).

We are fast losing the ability to discern between opinions, suggestions, ideas, rhetoric, humour even. All these, and more are being abstracted as statements, open for the rest of us to vilify, mock, abuse, and in general – demean. We do not have the time to pause and refer to context. And even if we had the time, where is the context? In less than three minutes we send eight tweets on seven different themes. How does a reader get the context? When does the reader get context?

There is also the question of the platform. Take Twitter, because I have mentioned it a couple of times now. Most of us readily blame the platform for this phenomenon.

The platform is inert.

It has no means or the capacity or the intelligence to expose us any more than what we publish to the platform. The one thing that it has enabled — is give voice to everyone. In these times when voice is free, there’s a dash to be heard. Me, me, me! But no one listens, because everyone is busy talking. And one thing is clear: mostly, people are angry. And it seems like old anger, one which was voiceless so far. And it has become ugly and rotten.

Unlike the different types of facts, that we believe in, we don’t believe that there are multiple truths. We do not have the patience for any truth to reveal itself. Fleeting gratification appeals to our ever shortening attention spans.

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Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

All is not lost however, as apocalyptic this post may sound: as long as you curate.

There are many people who are spreading joy (not by mis-attributed feel-good hackneyed cheesy-quotes on mushy-stock-images) but, by just being themselves, sharing life experiences. These are statements in the true sense. They carry with them, no attributes of opinions, suggestions, and such. There is no compulsion to engage. In this case, the consumption is the engagement.

That’s where curation becomes crucial.

This is not to say that we become unaware as citizens and humans. What’s wrong must be righted.

In the real-world. Not on Twitter.

The Man in the Plane

Location: 33K feet above sea level; somewhere over Rajasthan.

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Saw an oldish man taking notes in the flight today (Today is relative; this happened a year ago, 4 Feb, 2016, to be precise).

Two books for reference. And another small notebook, with thoughts perhaps. He had some interesting method of referencing, as he flipped back and forth between the pages of the notebook, he seemed to find exactly what he was looking for.

What is the origin of our questions? Is it how we see ourselves or is it how we see others? How do we know ourselves? As ourselves or as a reference to others? Are these the questions of identity? Of experience? 

There is some romance in the academic rigour, as I’ve experienced it, off late.

3445: Elphinstone College
Everything that we learned in school and college needs to come back.

Fast!

Return of the Rhythm

Writing here feels a bit weird, now. Using a keyboard, i.e.

A couple of hours ago, I completed a handwritten assignment: over 11,000 words, in seventy-five pages. The wrist and the fingers feel different; rejuvenated, or something like that. Like the return of an old memory; only that the sense of the memory is physical.

When I got to know about this assignment, I was a bit surprised. In this age and time? Handwritten assignments? That too, these long? I mean who does that anymore! A friend even called it regressive. And she would be right. But I decided to go through it. If nothing; as an experience.

When I finished the first three pages, I was not sure I’d be able to complete. The wrist and the fingers were ready to fall off. And I posted a picture of the pages that I had written, on Facebook, and wondered socially aloud, if I could complete it. Like an angel that she is, my English teacher from school, saw that post and asked me to keep at it. All through, whenever I talked about this — with friends and family — all I saw were congratulatory thoughts and lots of “thumbs ups.”

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The first seven – eight pages were painful, to say the least. And they were excruciatingly slow. Somewhere around that time, I found my rhythm. The muscle memory, which I thought I had lost, forever, kicked in. Ink started flowing on paper. The speed of my thought and the speed of my writing, found harmony. It was sweet music and dance. Fond memories of learning, discovering new things, surfaced slowly and put me in a happy place.

I am glad I didn’t give up.

Thank you, you know who you are.

PS: This post is a measly three-hundred and thirteen words. Perhaps this assignment was more than just a submission for my course-work.

209 pages

This book that I am reading. A mass market paperback. It’s called “What is History?” by Edward Hallett Carr. I started reading it on 10th October, this year; am on page 112, now. That seems like an achievement to me. So, as is my nature, I posted this update on Goodreads, and it showed up on my Facebook feed. (Not magically; I’ve given Goodreads permission to publish on Facebook on my behalf.)

Of all the people who saw that post, it was picked up by my English teacher from school, and she commented, “Atul, keep up the speed.”

Disclaimer: She is my favourite teacher of all times and I am her favourite student of all times. (Irrespective of the thousands of kids she taught after I completed high school. A few of these thousand kids may have been good, but I am her favourite, I am sure. Let’s not dwell on the fact that I didn’t make it to Editor of the school magazine, in my last year. Those were purely technical issues.)

More than twenty-five years later, she keeps tabs on what read and write. On my previous post, she said, “Well tried.” That was a message, if I ever got one. That’s who and how she is; she always pushes you forward.

You are never as good (or bad) as what you just accomplished, you are as good as what you can achieve.

Perhaps, that was her mantra for all of us. Perhaps that’s why I am not as lost as I think I would have been, otherwise.

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Back to the book.

This book is about Historiography. Unlike most facile stuff that I once used to read, it’s not an easy read. Here’s a sample:

This is the real indictment of those who seek to erect a super-historical standard or criterion in the light of which judgement is passed on historical events or situations—whether that standard derives from some divine authority postulated by the theologians, or from a static Reason or Nature postulated by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. It is not that shortcomings occur in the application of the standard, or defects in the standard itself. It is that the attempt to erect such a standard is unhistorical and contradicts the very essence of history. [E. H. Carr, What is History?]

As is obvious, such a paragraph takes time (for me, at least). The idea in itself is quite simple and straightforward. The manner in which it is presented seeks that the reader be involved with heart, soul, and mind.

So, yes, I’ll complete this book. Soon enough, for it’s the kind that needs to be savoured.

And that’s the speed. Thank you Ma’am!

Writers & Carpenters

Writing is difficult. Writing well, is another matter altogether.

Carpentry is difficult too. Carpentering well, is another matter. Just like writing well.

Writers get distracted; just like carpenters. Writers and carpenters have their own means of getting distracted. Writers get distracted by style, grammar, method, medium, and such. Carpenters think of paint, cuts, design, trends, and such. (Needless to say, I am making things up for carpenters. I am not a carpenter. Though I would have liked to be one. Come to think of it, I am, perhaps, making things up for writers too!)

When distracted and diffused*, writers write nonsense or trite passages and carpenters make bad furniture or misaligned shelves. And this distraction is perhaps important. For writers and carpenters. It offers an opportunity to move away from the known, experiment, make mistakes, fail (often miserably), learn, and therefore, create something new.

6172: Buddha

After all the wandering through the land of distractions, however, the writer and the carpenter return. To the place where they started. Everything is the same, but nothing is. The intercourse of familiarity and strangeness is at once comforting and disquieting. This conflict is beauty’s birthplace.

The carpenter creates a writing desk for the expression through words, as the writer would, and the writer measures and assembles his words as the carpenter would. The open window is witness: to what the carpenter would like the writer to see and to how the writer sees what the carpenter intended.

It may not happen at first, but it is a stage for success.

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* Kathy’s Song, Paul Simon

Play

This tweet made my day!

The play in question was “The Square Root of a Sonnet.” I have been in Achyutha’s town for a while, and while we promised to catch up, we hadn’t. Going to the play seemed like a good excuse to meet Achyutha. It’s not that I was not interested in the play; I was. It was directed by Prakash Belawadi — an actor I have come to admire after I have seen a few of his performances in Hindi movies. Airlift, especially.

I dread going to the theatre. As an audience.

20160916_015919I have always maintained that my place in a theatre was on the stage. I haven’t been to a theatre in a very long time. (Except for one, half a dozen years ago, where I was, technically dragged to it). As much as enjoy to no end, watching a play, the sense that I am always sitting in the wrong side of a theatre bothers me when I enter the theatre and depresses me when I leave it. I am at peace, when I am in it.

I am learning to drown the dread.

It was my first play in Bengaluru. At Ranga Shankara, a compact theatre, which is probably modelled on Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. Needless to say, it has a sweet and swanky coffee shop. (Yup, those are mandatory in places like these.)

It was a wonderful evening, an evening that I haven’t had for a long time.

It did not end there. That’s what made the evening special.

It was the star-struck me, for the rest of the evening that made it special. And I am not talking only of Prakash Belawadi.

~

PS: If you read this in good time, The Square Root of Sonnet is staging tomorrow (Fri, 16 Sep) again, at Ranga Shankara, in Bengaluru. If you cannot make it to this show, lookout for when it shows somewhere near you. DO. NOT. MISS. IT.

 

Happy Teachers’ Day

In my work, I often see the angst that has now become the mainstay of any conversation or discussion about education. The world as we know it, is changing rapidly and almost everything is under the social microscope. Every thing is being dissected by those who know something of a thing, as well as those who do not know about a thing. Alike.

In this rapidly changing world, all professions and vocations are being evaluated and questioned. Teaching is no exception. Except in one way. For almost all professions, it is the profession which is being looked at, not so much the professionals. When it comes to teaching, it is the teachers where the focus falls. It has become personal. For reasons I have not yet understood. I do understand, however, that it’s the wrong approach that we are taking.

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For all of us who have had the good fortune to have had good teachers, we know that these folks did good by us in spite of the hurdles they faced. The problems of the system existed then, as they do, now. Only the context has changed. And even today, teachers are working in spite of the problems. I know this because I see the love and respect for teachers by the young ones around me.

The situation is not as bad as we are made to believe it is. It only looks worse because those telling us how bad it is, are only looking at the situation and doing very little (other than telling us how bad it is). And I’d like to salute those teachers today, who are doing something for our teachers. They are the reason we will have even better teachers tomorrow.

To all my teachers — in school and college, at home and my workplace, young and small. Those who intended to teach me and those who didn’t; who got called teachers and those that didn’t.

Happy Teachers’ Day!