Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind turns four on the 20th of August. And to commemorate this occasion, I, as a proud father, join voices with Prabhuji Mithunda, as he sings, in his very own voice , the following song.
“Aaj mere Munne ki saal giraah hain”
Four years in the turbo-accelerated Indian blogworld is like forty in the real considering the sheer amount of change, both in terms of the number of blogs and overall readership, one has witnessed over these years.
If on August 20, 2004 someone would have told me that in August 2008, people like Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Ram Gopal Verma and Karan Johar would be blogging I would have laughed him off by saying: “Yeah right ! I can just see the future. Amitabh Bachchan, who we know for his strong silence and aloofness, would be using his blog, perhaps twice a day, to take swipes at every Tom Dick and Harry who criticizes him. Aamir Khan would spend his keemti time informing us of the name of his dog (which happens to be Shahrukh) . Ram Gopal Verma would be justifying his questionable creative decisions through his blog. Hah ! Dude no way is that happening in four or four hundred years. What stuff are you smoking?”
And yet at a very basic level, the concept of blogs has still remained ambiguous and ill-defined for a majority of Web-users in India.
Many confuse the much more general concept of online speech with blogging,(which explains why the original brain-barfs and brain-droppings that adorn their message boards are frequently referred to as “blogs” by the sagacious readers of Rediff).
For many others, blogs are simply personal journals, mostly salacious or libelous in content, which exist to allow people to take anonymous snipes at others or express their naughty fantasies.
Blame “We The People” episode on NDTV earlier this year for strengthening these misapprehensions about blogs. In a 45 minute program that I felt squeezed in every journalistic no-no possible (sensationalism, poor research, blatant bias and lack of objectivity), the presenter, motivated no doubt by her antagonism towards blogs which she said had spread malicious rumors about her, presented “English language” blogs as exclusively frivolous “web graffiti” that are created to spread gossip, discuss people’s personal lives and to make confessions of a prurient kind. To drive home her thesis, she assembled a number of “personal” bloggers, picked out at random some juicy lines from their journals, made the point that bloggers seek to get attention/fame through juvenile sensationalism and then asked the nation whether blogs needed to be regulated.
Of course the reason such programs fill me with dread is that I know that some of my uncle-aunties back home know I “blog” , though I doubt they fully understand what that means. In my mind’s eyes I see a few of my relatives, say my uncle and his family in Naihati, in front of the TV, watching “We the People” all eager to learn about what they know to be my hobby. Then they see blogging being referred to as “textual intercourse” by one guest on the show and being generally defined as a medium for discussing sex (conventional and alternative) and for obtaining “cheap thrills”. As the show ends, they sit in shock till the silence is broken by a voice that says : ” Who would have thought that that cute innocent kid, who used to ask for an extra pantooya (gulabjamun) or two, would have grown up to become this? Do his parents know?”
If some seeks to trivialize the medium, there is also another group of people who overestimate the power and reach of Indian blogs. Whenever I hear of people discussing the potential of blogs to be an alternative to the Indian mainstream media or even more grandly be a catalyst for social change, all I want to do is shake my head, Alok Nath style, and say “Maaf kar do beta, hum baade mamooli aadmi hain.”
Blogs are highly unlikely, anytime in the near or distant future, to have the resources and the infrastructure to do real-time reporting of news events on a national scale and on a daily basis. As long as they cannot do that, they can never totally replace main stream media.
An isolated scoop or an expose. Perhaps.
But, because of their very nature, they shall never be able to possess the authority of mainstream news outlets.
All that they can be good for is to provide an alternative source for analysis and opinion, free from editorial or commercial control, and that too for a privileged few Indians who have net-access. Even in the US, with its greater net reach and a vibrant and politically significant blogosphere, the Daily Koses and Huffington Posts, do not pose any challenge to the New York Times or the Fox Newses in terms of impact and authority.
So in conclusion, what does the crystal ball tell us ?
Will blogging (both writing as well as reading) become a popular Web activity of choice for Indians in the same way that checking emails, downloading media, chatting on Yahoo, scrapping on Orkut and surfing for adult material currently is.
Or will the blogosphere stagnate and then, like handbags for men, vanish from public memory?
And finally, will the Greatbong still be here, four years hence, dumping his dementia onto the Net like he has been doing since August 20, 2004?
Or will life, with its own plan, take the tranquil citizen far far away from the world of blogs?
Only Prabhuji can tell.
[Picture acknowledgement: http://www.passportmagazine.ru/%5D