A Decade in Blogging: A Journey through 20th century Russia

Sometimes time flies, and sometimes it stands still. Before I knew it, 10 years of writing the book annual digest on this blog had passed. Reading them makes me nostalgic and occasionally rekindles my interest. At times, my own words sound surprisingly unfamiliar. Taking a view of a decade gives me a perspective that is not discernible when I look back at the end of each year.

Quite a lot of my reading has been at the blurry edges of literature and politics, between paradise and labyrinths. These labyrinths traverse across many lands and times. They have taken me to to places made familiar by past reading- Russia, Hungary, various countries in South America — all places I have visited only via books. In the last decade, a few new countries surfaced on my literary map — Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Norway and Bolivia.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

But nowhere feels as familiar a home as Russia does when it comes to literature. The universal themes of Russian literature make us all feel Russian at heart. For me, this started during adolescence and continues to be of interest, though less intensely, in the decades since.

The reason isn’t too far to seek; the classical Russian novel was more than a work of literature. More often than not, it was a means for communicating ideas and philosophical reflections. There is also a remarkable continuity of themes, what with Russian writers taking up, as it were, themes from a previous novel by a different writer and forging ahead on the trail. .

If Latin American literature is an Amazonian river, Russian literature is like a constellation providing direction to lost voyagers– as we all are at some point or the other.


During the last decade, I have journeyed through 20th-century Russia through some of its novelists of this period. Some of the more significant writers that I read in the last decade are Andrey Platonov, Vasili Grossman, Evgeny Zamyatin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and, more recently, Boris Akunin. What follows is a digest of this journey through my reading lens. Continue reading “A Decade in Blogging: A Journey through 20th century Russia”


Brilliante and Premier Dardos Awards

One of the two joys of blogging has been to meet people that one would not have met in real life, or at least the probability of meeting would have been very low. The other is that one sometimes gets pleasantly surprised.

Two long time readers of this blog have been very nice to award it with two blog awards recently- Jack Stephens awarded the Brilliante Weblog Award and Renegade Eye, the Premier Dardos Award. As per the rules, I am  listing some of the blogs that I find very invigorating and are fellow travelers in the sense of their intellectual and humanistic concerns. Also, all of the them, with the exception of one, are India/ Pakistan centric blogs.

Brilliante Award:

Continue reading “Brilliante and Premier Dardos Awards”

3 Years

After a false start in 2003, this blog made its appearance three years ago on May 30, 2005. Initially intended as a collection of my already published book reviews, it has taken on a life on its own and now contains, in addition to book reviews, social and political commentary and of late, just links to stuff I read on the internet. Since last week, Bhashwati Ghosh, who has guest blogged here earlier, joins me in contributing to the blog.

The biggest satisfaction in having this blog has been getting to know so many wonderful people that otherwise I might have never met- particularly Abi, Madhukar, Rahul Banerjee, Krish, Raza, Jack, Adnan, Arvind Gupta, Mohib, Rama, Alok, Prof. Swarup and so many others listed in the blogroll. It has also helped to keep a conversation going with friends and comrades from the pre- internet age. Blog aggregators and collective endeavors- especially desicritics, desipundit, blogbharti (where I was a contributor till recently) and indianmuslims – have inspired both confidence as well as opened up new windows, and show cased this blog to new readers, who have not exactly rushed in millions but have slowly joined by subscribing to the blog feed or by email or just adding the blog url to the bookmarks in their browsers.

It may sound like a cliche, but the fact remains that one ultimately writes for readers, and it is they that keeps one going. The first, and for a long time, the only reader of this blog was myself! I cannot but help noticing how this blog has evolved and what it indicates about how ‘virtual communities’ evolve and operate. My initial blog posts carried a lot of ‘I’ so that it was more like a personal diary, this slowly gave way to writing in the third person as if one was writing for a newspaper or a magazine. Indeed, even as I was discovering other blogs with common interests, they too were discovering me- via comments, search engines and links at other blogs.

In other words, what was initially very personal realized itself only by becoming socialized, by joining and coalescing with others.

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Meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: A Blogger from the Axis of Evil

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a blog where he explains the position of his government and also muses on developments in the middle east. It is interesting to note that regimes that are otherwise demonized by mainstream US media can use blogging as a medium to reach out directly to people across the world. From whatever I have read on the blog, it looks like a very open forum, the blog is available in Persian, English and French versions.

Perhaps blogging is some kind of a modern equivalent of the mythical ‘flying carpet’, a popular element in folk tales from the middle east!

One’s perspective regarding government and governance determines the way one should cooperate with the people.   If one recognizes government as a privilege and prey of the governors, then the period of governance can be counted as an opportunity to fulfill the expectations of certain individuals and groups or the ostentation and hedonism of the governors.

But if in our view, “government” would be a responsibility before God for establishing justice and a duty to ensure the rights of common people, serving the servants of God and helping the oppressed- then the most important issue will be the people’s concerns.  If this is the case, governors would not view themselves as better than other people and they wouldn’t put themselves in any other position except serving the people.  (link)

Here is an excerpt from an older post-  Message to the American people:

Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.

What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.

I am confident that you, the American people, will play an instrumental role in the establishment of justice and spirituality throughout the world. The promises of the Almighty and His prophets will certainly be realized; Justice and Truth will prevail and all nations will live a true life in a climate replete with love, compassion and fraternity.

The US governing establishment, the authorities and the powerful should not choose irreversible paths. As all prophets have taught us, injustice and transgression will eventually bring about decline and demise. Today, the path of return to faith and spirituality is open and unimpeded.

We should all heed the Divine Word of the Holy Qur’an:

“ But those who repent, have faith and do good may receive Salvation. Your Lord, alone, creates and chooses as He will, and others have no part in His choice; Glorified is God and Exalted above any partners they ascribe to Him. ” (28:67-68)

I pray to the Almighty to bless the Iranian and American nations and indeed all nations of the world with dignity and success.

Link via MSNBC

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PC Joshi on Gandhi

There is pathetically little on the web about  PC Joshi, the General Secretary of the CPI in the thirties and forties. While searching for his letters to the Mahatma, I found this quote which is worth remembering on the latter’s birthday on 2nd October.

…the secret of Gandhi’s greatness lay not in the absence of human failings and foibles, but in his inner restlessness, ceaseless striving and intense involvement in the problems of mankind. He was not a slave to ideas and concepts, [which] were for him also aids in grappling with human problems, and were to be reconsidered if they did not work”

– P.C. Joshi,  in  Gandhi and Nehru (quoted here)

Photo Credit: Comrade Sunil Janah, the ace photographer of the CPI during Joshi’s days

Listen to this article Listen to this post

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This Blog Talks

You can now listen to the posts in this blog, thanks to this neat technology from Talkr. Each post has a “Listen to this post” link at the end to listen to the post rather than reading it. There are some quirks, though, when non- English words or alphabets (like the Spanish ñ) are used.

You can also subscribe to this blog as a podcast via google reader, bloglines or any other feed reader of your choice. Click on the Subscribe to the audio link to do so. This is in addition to the regular feed. The regular feed also has a “Listen to this post” link as does the email, if you subscribe to this blog via email.

Incidentally, the subscribe by email feature, introduced on this blog a couple of months back, has proved to be unexpectedly popular.

Update: For some reason, the talkr feed is unavailable since I wrote this post and I’d rather not advise subscribing to their feed. The “Listen to this post” is working, though.

Listen to this article Listen to this post

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Switching to Google Reader

Yesterday, I switched over completely from bloglines to google reader, after having done a ‘parallel run’ for over a month. It was tough shifting away from bloglines, it being my trusted feed reader for over a year, but google reader turns out to be more convenient, and once again convenience won over loyalty. Briefly, google reader advantages that I see are:

– better video playing capabilities, bloglines did not always display the video and one had to open the post and then run click on the ‘play’ button

– the ‘star’ marking system centralizes the unread posts and one doesn’t have to scan through numerous feeds to locate a marked post

– the shared items feature is easy to use (shared items have been added below the ‘search’ button on the right column on this blog)

– the text is easier on the eye

– last but not the least, migrating enabled me to re- look into the feeds that I had accumulated and trimmed the list to half of its original size over the last couple of weeks

The export to OPML from bloglines feature works as well as the import to google reader, and my bloglines account stands defunct as of today.

der aaye, durust aaye !

The ‘edit tag’ feature is something that I haven’t used as yet and if it works well, I would be happy to say goodbye to del.icio.us too !

Update: Post comparing  google reader and other feed readers

Spam as Time Capsules?

Everyone has received spam from certain persons, who are generally based out of one of the African nations and have ‘accidentally’ laid hands on millions of pounds and need a ‘trustworthy’ person like yourself to help them take the funds out of the country, with a part of the booty shared with the lucky you.This spam that I received last week is similar, except that the country in question is Iraq. I wonder if it just happens that I noticed it for the first time, or is it that this country is as regular as the Nigerias that occur in most such spam.

I wonder too, if the mention of the country from the middle east carries any significance and is indicative in anyway of the ground reality, or am I reading too much into it?

This is the text of the email:

I hope my email meets you well. I am in need of your assistance. My name is Sgt Jarvis M. Reeves, Jr.I am in the Engineering military unit here in Ba’qubah in Iraq,we have about Fifty Million US dollars that we want to move out of the country. My partners and I need a good partner someone we can trust.

But we are moving it through diplomatic means, to send it to your house directly or a bank of your choice using diplomatic courier service. Can we trust you once the funds get to you?

Please let me know how much percentage you are willing to accept for your assistance. If you are interested I will furnish you with more details. But the whole process is simple and we must keep a low profile at all times.

Kindly contact me via my private Email: <email>@yahoo.com

(I have replaced the email id with <email>)

I’d have taken less note of this were it not for this report according to which the The British Library has initiated a project to archive emails as artifacts – since emails have replaced many other forms of communication that recorded the imprints of time.

“E-mail has in many respects replaced traditional forms of communications such as letters or memoranda,” said John Tuck, head of British Collections at the British Library in a statement. This project “will allow us to archive a vast snapshot of our present-day e-mail communications and will be of great value for future researchers.”

The project, E-mail Britain, will store messages in an “e-mail time capsule” and categorize them by theme: Blunders, Life Changing E-mails, Complaints, Spam, Love and Romance, Humor, Everyday E-mails, News, World Around You, and Tales from Abroad.

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Experiments with Ubuntu

The older I grow, the better I was.

This message at the back of a car seemed to be echoing my sentiments after a week of struggle to get Gentoo, a Linux flavor, up in place of the Windows XP operating system I use.

Try as I might, I found it difficult to cope up with compiling the Linux kernel from source. Not that I was new to this. About 6 years back, I had compiled Red Hat on an AIX system. Intervening years I had graduated from programming to working on documents, email and spreadsheets. It seemed like a long time ago.

The realization was slow to come, but devastatingly clear:I am no longer a nerd. Or at least, I was better once.

A google search revealed that Ubuntu was one of the better variants recommended by a number of techies, and they were right. It took me probably an hour or so to install Ubuntu last month, when the Edgy version was available. To say that it was a breeze would be an understatement.I took to it like fish is to water- and found it to be even better than the Windows XP I had been using. For one, I was no longer using Bill’s software (whose memories for me include the infamous ‘General Protection Fault’ of Win 3.1, among others). Not that it has worried me much, but I was also no longer at risk using pirated software. What is amazing about Ubuntu is that for an end user, it is very intuitive.

Almost all the software that I need is there: OpenOffice substitutes well for MS Office, Firefox takes care of the internet part, there are media and sound players galore, and a huge number of stable applications.It comes along with a pre- installed bit torrent software, something that was new for me.

With a broadband connection, it is supremely easy to install or uninstall any software.

Ubuntu boots much faster than XP, and incidentally, fewer re- boots are required !

Not that it is without glitches. My Lexmark Laserjet E238 prints garbage with the original driver from the Lexmark site. Instead, the printer works wonderfully with the HP Laserjet driver! Reality beat imagination here.

Similarly, RealPlayer refused to work with npr.org and musicindia.com, though it worked with bbc.co.uk, dishant.com and a few other sites that I listen to. The Ubuntu forums helped. RealPlayer magically remedied itself during the Feisty Fawn upgrade for npr.org, musicindia.com still does not work.

The Movie Player has a strange habit of showing a blank screen, unless I move the window, even if slightly.

AdobeReader installed flawlessly, though some tips helped. Ubunto comes with a utility to convert pdf documents to text (pdftotext).

Google Talk client is not available, though there is an online version with limited functionality. Haven’t got around to using it as yet, but should work without glitches. Google Earth, and I am sure, quite a few other software would not be available on Ubuntu for at least quite sometime.

A site also recommended using Microsoft fonts, but each time I installed it, my system would begin to crawl, and I had to re- install the OS to come back to a stable speed.

Another funny thing- the external hard drive on which I installed the Edgy (and later the Feisty Fawn version), would not boot on a different system other than the one one on which it was initially connected.

This weekend, I upgraded to the new Ubuntu version- Feisty Fawn. The upgrade via 56kbps broadband took a few hours (I came across this piece of advice later), and it was utterly flawless.

The media players are much better- and look for codecs when they do not find one installed. This takes care of a big potential headache, especially for someone new to Ubuntu. I haven’t faced any problems with the network speed. I am still using the HP Laserjet driver, so not sure if the Lexmark driver will work or not. Fonts also seem to be better. Certainly, I am not not going to install the Microsoft fonts for quite sometime.

Feisty Fawn also has a nice wobbly window effect when moving from one window to another, and a few experimental Desktop Effects that I haven’t tried as yet.

Overall, a 9 out of 10. And though there are glitches, I am sure they will have a solution. Meanwhile, I have certainly said good bye to XP.

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George Orwell on Political Blogging

Christian Hogsbjerg points out that political blogging is the contemporary equivalent of pamphleteering and recapitulates George Orwell’s writing on the subject.

In his 1948 introduction to “British pamphleteers” – a collection of classic pamphlets ranging from John Milton to Jonathan Swift – George Orwell noted that the pamphlet was special because it was inherently subversive.

“A pamphlet is a short piece of polemical writing aimed at a large public, it is written because there is something that one wants to say now, and because one believes there is no other way of getting a hearing.

“A pamphlet may be written either ‘for’ or ‘against’ somebody or something, but in essence it is always a protest.”

Orwell continued, “If one had not a certain faith in democracy, one would not write political pamphlets, one would try to get one’s end by intriguing among influential people.”

Accordingly, “pamphleteering will flourish when there is some great struggle”.

There are signs that today the lost revolutionary art of pamphleteering may well be making a welcome return, albeit not quite in a form Orwell ever imagined.

It strikes me that the recent explosion of political “blogging” – resulting from the development of new technology which allows anyone with internet access to freely publish their thoughts online on a weblog – may well be ushering in another great “age of pamphleteering”.

The significance of the rise of blogging is often overstated, but the rapidity of its rise in popularity remains remarkable. Technorati, a blog search engine, tracked 100,000 blogs at the start of 2003, and today, two years on, it is estimated there are over 65 million.

Link via Histomatist

An Interview with John Baker

John Baker, the effervescent writer and blogger, in an interview with the BBC North Yorkshire

What do you wish you’d known when you set out to write your first novel?

That it all comes from you, it all comes from the individual. It’s not an accident that the novel came about in a period in history when the individual suddenly started to be taken seriously.

(On Blogging)

There are too many blogs that just say the same thing as the last thing you read. There are too many people writing blogs without actually having an original idea.

Link via John Baker

Is Blogging Nihilism?

Is blogging a citizens or an alternative media? Or is it a post modern condition with nihilism as its central imperative? Are blogs conversations or are they the foundations of forming virtual communities?

Media theorist and internet activist Geert Lovink formulates a theory of the weblogs and concludes that “it is this state of ongoing affairs (as a media observer) that causes nihilism, and not revolutions, to occur.”

Caught in the daily grind of blogging, there is a sense that the Network is the alternative. It is not correct to judge blogs merely on the basis of their content. Media theory has never done this and should also in this case shy away from this method. Blogging is a nihilistic venture precisely because the ownership structure of mass media is questioned and then attacked. Blogging is a bleed-to-death strategy. Implosion is not the right word. Implosion implies a tragedy and spectacle that is not present here. Blogging is the opposite of the spectacle. It is flat (and yet meaningful). Blogging is not a digital clone of the “letter to the editor”. Instead of complaining and arguing, the blogger puts him or herself in the perversely pleasurable position of media observer.

The commenting on mainstream culture, its values and products, should be read as an open withdrawal of attention. The eyeballs that once patiently looked at all reports and ads have gone on strike. According to the utopian blog philosophy, mass media are doomed. Their role will be taken over by “participatory media”. The terminal diagnosis has been made and it states: closed top-down organizations no longer work, knowledge cannot be “managed”, today’s work is collaborative and networked. However, despite continuous warning signs, the system successfully continues to (dys)function. Is top-down really on its way out? Where does the Hegelian certainty come from that the old-media paradigm will be overthrown? There is little factual evidence of this. And it is this state of ongoing affairs that causes nihilism, and not revolutions, to occur.