Sunday, August 31, 2014

A dinner date with social media

A little something I wrote recently, for a little something. 

When Instagram was founded in 2010 and eventually made its way to Indian shores, little did its founders realise that it would be sparking the beginning of a food blogging revolution, or an extension of what already existed. It is similar to the photography wave that came before this where everyone who owned a DSLR was also a photographer, and even had their own Facebook fan page, Twitter handle and what not. 
The Indian food bloggers did exist before this wave; however we were about to see the emergence of many more as the influencers who got used to joys of instant sharing of their gorgeous food images their followers, and later joined the blogger force. Some are worth their salt, (no pun intended) and some are just regular folk armed with technology.

So how do you distinguish between whom to take seriously on social media? Who is a heavy weight, and who is a random neighbour with an opinion? Instagram has made it easy for everyone to find a visual way to express their thoughts, and because of their growing popularity they also seem to have taken on themselves the onus to review everything that they experience. Taking a picture before allowing anyone at the table to take a bite, the #FoodPorn revolution has completely changed the dining experience as well. And hell hath no fury worse than an influencer deprived of WiFi!

So as a business, or even someone who is looking for an unbiased opinion on what is out there in the food realm, who can you actually turn to? The first ones you can look for – and if we are looking at social media as a democracy, then these people could be termed as the Gandhi family*– are the journalists, people with years of experience under their belt. While their pictures may or may not make you salivate, those are some honest opinions coming your way. These people also never usually name and shame; if they don’t like something they more often than not just do not write about it or post it at all.

The next bunch of people to look for are chefs, they cook a storm on a daily basis so they know to appreciate what is truly good out there. It is not their job to talk about other restaurants or cafes, so if it does make it to their updates it is probably to die for.

Then we have the social media babies – the influencers, born of their popularity on Twitter and now Instagram. These people might or might not be able to claim the right to call themselves food writers. There are those who know their food, there is absolutely no doubt about that. There are also those who have time and access to decent food shots, and since they are popular online every brand wants to be a part of their posts.

A simple, but not foolproof, way to distinguish between these two is to see who walks the talk. Most good food bloggers also cook and though this rule still cannot be applied to everyone, it is fairly a good yardstick to measure by.

So if you’re looking to find someone to associate with, or want to learn to ride the social media wave, it would be best learned from someone who knows what they are talking about.

*This doesn’t have any bearing on the writer’s political opinion. It was just thrown in for good measure to talk about aristocracy, if we were in England I would have spoken about the royal family.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013: A year in retrospect

Seeing as I have not updated this blog in a while, I thought it would be good to shed light into what has happened over the year. You are thinking, if anyone is reading this at all, why on earth would you want to sit through an entire year of my life. Well, I make two promises, I shall keep it short even though brevity isn't my strong point, and it was an interesting year. I will more elaborate bits on the more interesting parts of my year later on. Sound good? Okay then, let's get rid of my writers block, or at least my excuse for not having written a stitch in the last year.

So let's start with where I left of last, the IIJNM/ Bangalore days. Yes, that's where all the angst-y posts originated, journalism school. It redefined my perception of education, taught me to balance freedom and responsibility. Probably the most important lesson that IIJNM taught me would be to question everything. Blind acceptance always leads to folly, grave or otherwise. A lesson that I am still in the process of fully implementing though. Though joining the college was a last minute decision for me, it turned out to be one of the best in my life. I met people there I will always treasure, you folk know who you are, and stepped out more world wise and better for it. Sharpening of the writing skills didn't hurt either.

Towards the end of the blissful ten months that were IIJNM, I had some tough choices to make. Did I want to be a journalist that took part in the shaping of history, fought hard to get her stories and bylines, or was I one that documented the process? Did I want to write about lifestyle and culture or development and politics. After frantically writing to many publications, without really thinking about what I wanted to do, not considering that stopping and examining at that would be good, I jumped head first into to a lifestyle weekly of one of Bangalore's well known dailies. I don't know how exactly to describe that period in my life, but here a sort of analogy that may help. So if you were a pot, you're all shaped, pretty and ready to meet the world, there is one tiny step that it is left, right. You need to get baked first. So let's just say, said publication was the kiln and I got baked. Infer from that what you may, if you know more than I say here, then you know it, that is all I am going to say. I learned many life lessons though, in the words of some hipster kid, 'nuff said!

After having lived in Bangalore for two years I can't leave out mention of my love for the place. So many lovely, quaint eateries, great places to shop and lovely people. I have had so many random days and nights in the "Uru" that are unforgettable. One day I'll go back, go to all the places I used to know, fun bars, shady theatres and quirky cafes, and be nostalgic. But then I will remember being stranded in a place alone with men watching rather than helping, auto drivers that showed the whole city, even when I didn't want to see it, and some other crazy moments. Yes, it was a love-hate relationship, but lots more love than there was hate. So I'll see you when I see you Bangalore, let's cross our fingers and hope that it's soon. Oh, if any of you are heading to Bangalore, walk down Mosque Road in Frazer Town for the most hearty food you've ever eaten.

Back to the timeline. Post the stint at aforementioned publication, I decided to leave and move back home, I thought I'd be there for a month tops, before I move on to something new and better. The question was though, what would that something new be? I wasn't sure of what I wanted, I wasn't sure of anything. When in doubt, experiment was the wise older sisters advice. For once I shall say, she was spot on. After a month or so of faffing, I decided to try a few things that I thought I might like to do in effort to find my true passion, my "calling". Jaded as I was at the time I didn't believe that people had something that they were good at and loved to do as well. That was till I stepped in the bakery at the Marriott.

Some background, so there is a program in the state that allows people to help starred hotels out in during the festive months, you get a little certificate for it later. I thought, since I wasn't doing much else anyway, I thought why not? What have I got to lose? The day I stepped into those chef whites, till five months later when I wore them for the last day, I was in love. Those months were the most strenuous, yet blissful months of my life. I learned to work with efficiency, to go without sleep, that no matter what your body tells you, it is capable of doing so much more. Sadly since I was only a trainee at the time I was living on love and the smell of cookie batter, which was great but could not go on for too long. So I had to walk away, though I did walk away with a few trade secrets and a dream. I needed to do something that would earn me some money to help one day, hopefully in the near future help realise my dream.

So I dusted off the resume and put the supposed writing skills to some use and began the hunt for a job. I'm more than a little apprehensive as I spent five months randomly working in a bakery. I didn't think my prospective employers would view this in favourable light. For the most part, I was right, until I met the dynamic duo that started up a web development firm that would enlighten me in the months to follow. Did I think I would fit the online marketing bill? In all honesty, no! But I soon discovered, there was no bill to fit. The random misfit that I was made me a pretty decent match for the job at hand. I had an interesting mix of clients, a lifestyle publication (this genre seems to haunt me), being the voice of a financial adviser and a school, to name a few. Working with a start-up is brilliant, the flexibility that you get in companies like these are unbelievable. The amount I learned from the founders of the company was immeasurable. I even learned to decipher finance, something I was averse to up until that point. Old skills honed, new skills attained and many friends made, working at the Start Up (that's what we will call it in this post) was great, but new things beckoned and I walked toward the unknown.

Now I have crossed over to what all journalists call, the dark side. Yes, that's right, Public relations. Technically speaking, it's more of a marketing communication profile, I almost heard your eyes roll,  but really it is. It's only been a bit so I shall save that for a later date since according to my timeline, all of you are now up to speed.

So here's to a year that has been one for the books, or in this case blog, indeed. Hopefully more, shorter posts soon. If you're thinking where is the brevity I talked about earlier, well when you're trying to cram a years worth of life into a post, this is brief. :) Definitions are always subjective, kid.

Ciao for now.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Garbage unloaded 1.0

Till I was eight, I never really saw garbage on the streets. There is a silent sense of pride the Arabs have in keeping their streets and city clean. While I was in Muscat, they even undertook many City Beautification Projects. So you see, it wasn’t just about cleanliness; it was about beauty as well. That part of the Middle East was like a mirage, like ones that appear in stories and movies.
When I moved to India, my first tryst with garbage and its abundance was at Malad Market, Mumbai. The entire area was filled with the stench of rotting produce. The landscape speckled with plastic bottles and bags, and all the garbage was piled away in a corner. It wasn’t in anyone’s direct view, so it was OK to let it be there without bothering with it for the next few months.
Later, as I moved around and travelled to various parts of the country, I found that this is true not only of a particular city. Every market, street corner or ally turns into a makeshift garbage dump. People in apartment buildings fling waste out of their windows.
It made me think. Is it possible? Could there be someone else to blame other than our ever-so-inefficient government?  Are Indian people to blame for this phenomenon?  Could it be something else; something other than the fact that for the past 20 odd years, our government has been concentrating on economic growth, forsaking developing better infrastructure?
I began observing people’s attitude to waste; it was not pleasant to discover that the problem is actually the people. We seem to believe that the country—its streets, its park and public areas—are our garbage dumps. Someone else will come along and clean up their mess.
It might come as a surprise that the “educated” English speaking middle class make up a sizeable number of the litterbugs. They think it is not their place to be concerned with garbage and its disposal. There is no sense of ownership and pride in the nation.
People say that they are patriotic; they will stand when the national anthem is being played and sung. The same “patriots” do not flinch or hesitate before defacing the very nation they so proudly belong too.
Telling them off doesn’t help either.
You get ridiculed and laughed at if you stop someone from throwing garbage around. “Will you pick up garbage from the whole state?” I was once asked.
What they fail to understand is that if each person took care of their own garbage, the streets would not be littered as they are now. We expect the corporation to clean up after us, so we leave a trail of garbage behind us wherever we go.
Why can’t we stop leaving the garbage trail to begin with? We keep waiting for the corporation to come up with a waste disposal plan or a recycling plant. Why can’t we work towards taking small steps ourselves? Compost your kitchen waste; stop buying or collecting plastics—these are some steps that can be followed instead of turning every street corner into a dumping ground.
Maybe then India has a chance to rise out from under this heap of trash.

A letter to my uncle Churchill*

*Author is not related to the politician though she has been accused of being so on numerous occasions, the only connection is the same last name.

Dear Mr. Churchill Alemao,
I write to offer my sympathy about the recent elections. Well actually I am not sorry you lost the elections. You had a good run with being an MP in Goa, you looted and plundered during your reign before that as well. 
You lost because the people of the state got smarter than to elect you for a few goodies once again. Blaming a parish priest or the ex CM might help you sleep better at night but everyone knows that is not why you lost the elections.
You were at some point during your political tenure had the portfolio of rural development. During that tenure is most rural areas in South and North Goa, mining corporations set up mines, most illegal and the land acquired by means fair and foul. What part of that destruction was development according to you?
You might say well it provides jobs to those who would otherwise have to travel to the city for work. Well once again, you were wrong. In the mining infested areas of Goa there are few locals that would actually want jobs in mines.
Their fields are not cultivable now, their water unfit to drink, their livelihood and health are compromised. In what way exactly do you think this better for them? Areas that sustained themselves entirely, water straight from springs, grew their own food, are now forced to be dependent on other sources for income.
As a public works and development minister you were accused of misappropriation of Rs. 300 crore, money that was actually part of the PWD funds. The case never came up in the papers again after a few days. That may lead you to think that the Goan people have forgotten about the incident. Clearly they haven’t as evident in the election results.
Your days of being the mastermind puppeteer were bound to come to an end at some point. You could only hide behind the secular banner of the congress for so long. The Goan people may have hoped while choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea, that you were the lesser evil.
I am glad the day has arrived when they have woken up, realised that voting you out was their only option.
It is a great day when an independent candidate can contest against a political thug like you and win. That surely must give you an idea of what the people feel about you now.
I do hope you never find a place in politics again.
Desiree Alemao

On the verge of vegetarianism

I am Goan. Being vegetarian is extremely difficult, if not impossible. There are many homes and restaurants that will proudly serve you any meat you could possibly desire, except for well maybe dog meat, Goans like dogs too much. Wild Boar, Venison, Veal, Cat, Rabbit, Frog, well you get the picture don’t you. I grew up pointing at cows and calling them beef.
That was a bit of background information to give you some context for the shocking announcement that is about to come.
I, Desiree Alemao, feel a strong urge to stop eating meat.
Yes, you read right.
What happened to bring this on you ask? Well ever since I moved to Bangalore I have seen poultry shops that dot the road to college treat livestock very badly. Dozens of hens’ feet tied to the seat of a bicycle to be transported. While they are still alive, mind you so that they can feel every bump on the road, at which point they hit each other.
Just because they were raised to be someone’s meal does not mean they were born with no feeling in their body. While they are alive they can feel, we seem to conveniently forget this fact. This too is cruelty. Cruelty to livestock is also cruelty to animals.
I am a pacifist, hence seeing things like this makes me sick. I cannot think of eating something that has been treated so badly. In all this, where is the government to enforce its regulations on livestock farmers.
Where are the NGOs that care so much? Are the hens not as important because they can’t look up at you lovingly like puppies do or rub against your ankles like a kitten? Is it because they won’t look good on your brochures and calendars?
This is my way of standing up against this treatment and saying that I will not eat meat that is not ethically treated. If the demand does not go down then there will be no change in the way the livestock farmers treat the animals.  
Hopefully if enough of people who are concerned about these issues we will have concepts like free range poultry becoming popular in India as well.
It has been a difficult journey for me, not eating meat is not very easy but I think the cause is worth it. Are you willing to take a stand as well?

(This was a while ago. I couldn't give up meat but I try and make sure the meat I eat has been treated ethically. That is quite a task as well.)

Volver: a review

I had to write a review for a course I was taking recently. I thought it might provide a little variety, so here goes.

Film: Volver
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Released: 2006
Cast:  Penélope CruzCarmen Maura and Lola Dueñas
The minute Volver opens, we know we’re in for a strange ride. A rural cemetery is the hub of activity for a bunch of cheery women scrubbing and decorating tombstones with almost festive enthusiasm. It could well have led up to a song and dance sequence. The scene though supposedly strange to our cloistered eyes is seems extremely normal in the context of the film. Like what could possibly be odd about decking graves and being extremely chirpy in a cemetery, right. 
As Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), Sole (Carmen Maura) and young Paula (Lola Dueñas) leave the cemetery we swept along into a fast pace film that largely revolves around women and the roles they are required to play sometimes.
This film mostly revolves around its strong women lead characters, women that stand together through anything.  They come together across generations, long separations and misunderstandings to hold each other up.
After Paula’s step father tries to rape her and ends up dead the plot unravels and the dirty linen begins to tumble out the cupboard. A very real ghost adds that constant element of unpredictability to the film. I was sitting on the edge for almost the entire film, and for someone who was trained to watch and review cinema dispassionately, that really means something.
Cruz’s performance in the film was undoubtedly one of her best ever. She radiates from the centre stage, bouncing between someone who has had to murder her husband and someone who finds out her mother was never dead, effortlessly.  Within the film itself she is required to put on a cheery face when the crew of a film approaches her to cater for the duration of their shooting. Every bit the gracious hostess while around the crew and in the cafe and when she is on her own her darker side and the burden she carries shows through her silent exterior.
The director also takes an occasional break from a capable verite approach to showcase cinematic artistry, which the subject of the film presents ample opportunity to do. You see that in the unexpected overhead shot of Sole when she is surrounded by mourners, or the extreme close ups of Cruz preparing the last dinner for the crew. The shots of the mint in the mojitos and of Cruz chopping peppers look so divine you want to frame them and put them up around your house.
Diversions from dark underlying plot are provided in plenty. The scenes of the crew’s party transport you into an entirely different atmosphere, the flamenco guitar and Cruz’s beautiful singing, shots of old cobbled streets in rural Spain and the character of the friendly befuddled sex worker that Cruz ropes in to help her.
The plot develops in such a way there is never a dull moment in the film. Toward the end the director ties up the film with Hitchcock-like revelations. Volver takes a very real story and portrays it in almost with extra ordinary finesse and classic storytelling. The aesthetics of the film and the director’s use of shades colour red through the film to indicate when things are about to change were stellar.
A great film to watch, I highly recommend it. If you do not usually watch subtitled films as they distract, trust me this really is worth the watch and the emotion will come through despite the language difference. Enjoy! 

Friday, March 2, 2012

To tell or not to tell…the story of Manipur

The topic I've chosen to write about is one that has not gotten its fair share of attention in mainstream media. It's an issue of immense national importance that should be debated and discussed in schools and colleges around the country. In highlighting this issue I strive to make a point that the media, though immensely powerful, doesn’t always get its priorities right.

Today there isn't really a lot of difference between much of the Indian media and the corporate world. TRP’s are more important than the truth. In the plethora of channels that spring up all the time, only the fittest will get the ad revenue required for sustenance. That comes by pandering to the advertiser rather
than to the reader. Thus, we see coverage of a Pink Chaddi campaign or who is Salman Khan's latest romantic interest more often than we see a serious issue.

A prime example is the lack of attention to the plight of the women in Manipur and other regions of the North-East who face state–sponsered atrocities in the form of the AFSPA.

It seems that most people in our country are struck by the NIMBY syndrome—Not In My Back Yard.
While rummaging through the countless stories that do not make it to prime time TV, one comes across people who possess the selflessness and passion to be perfect role models to society.

There are few in the world like Irom Sharmila. Perhaps it is becasue, a lady who has been on a hunger strike for more than a decade in a city most people only know on a map isn't as attractive as Rakhi Sawant. People like Sharmila, who are ready to die for what they believe in, live the ideals that made this nation.

Merely 28 when she decided it was her ‘unbound duty’ to take responsibility for what was happening in her state she decided to protest in a way that seemed fit to her, a non violent hunger strike.

In the midst of cynicism she had the audacity to hope. If I were to believe in reincarnation I would say without doubt, we have a M. K. Gandhi in our midst. This shows us how much the world has hardened, the present day Gandhi barely musters support for her cause.

Here is something to bring up to speed those who are unfamiliar with the arbitrary reign of AFSPA in Manipur. On November 2, 2000, ten people were killed when a paramilitary force opened fire at a bus-stop near Malom in Manipur. Most of those killed were women and students. The firing was followed by a brutal combat operation. The troops of 8th Assam Rifles were deployed in Malom to counter
the ‘insurgent’ attack in the area. Those killed at the Malom massacre were L Sana Devi (60), G Bap Sharma (50), O Sanayaima (50), K Bijoy (35) A Raghumani (34), S Robinson Singh (27), Ksh Inaocha (23), T Shantikumar (19), S Prakash Singh (18) and S Chandramani (17.)

This was one of the many incidents that have taken place in Manipur during the reign of the AFSPA

Thus began the fight of Irom Sharmila Chanu, the Iron Lady from Manipur whose fast completed 10 years last year.
Though Sharmila began her marathon fast in protest, the investigation into the Malom massacre is not complete after 10 years.

It has taken 10 years for the government to pay heed to the issue and respond by repealing the Act in greater Imphal.

This is not reason enough for us to rejoice, there are still many things to be achieved. People of the state have been oppressed for such a long time, torn between the devil and the deep blue sea, the militants and the AFSPA, and the state is yet to wake from its coma.

While the people of Manipur have been stripped of their basic rights for over sixty years, repealing the Act is not the final answer. It is just the beginning of what the Indian government can do to remedy the situation.

I believe militancy takes place due to socio-economic divides in a given state, the oppression of the common man and lack of opportunities to better their standard of living.

The first step that the government could take would be to provide better infrastructure and improve the conditions of existing hospitals, banks, schools and other basic facilities. Lift the state out of its hazy existence and make it live again.

I would like to end this essay with a stanza from a poem by Irom Sharmila that is in essence the situation in Manipur

“Let the gate of the prison be flung wide
I will not go on another path
Please remove the shackles of thorn
Let me be not accused
For being incarnated in the life of a bird.”
- Irom Sharmila

(College entrance essay that I found. This was written early 2011 hence certain facts may be different.)