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Just A Minute With: Arnab Ray on blogging in India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Popular Indian blogger Arnab Ray has entertained thousands of readers on his blog ‘Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind” ( for over four years.

Handout photograph of blogger Arnab Ray, Dec. 30, 2008. REUTERS/Handout

Ray, who lives in the U.S., talks to Reuters about blogging and being fascinated by Bollywood actor Mithun Chakraborty.

Q: How difficult is it to maintain your alter egos while balancing your job and family life?

A: “Since I do not blog about work or about my workplace, one source of conflict between my job and my blog is automatically taken care of.”

“With respect to managing time and family life, that’s somewhat trickier. The strategy I have adopted is that I involve my wife in blogging activities by soliciting her opinion on the posts, incorporating her suggestions for the blog’s ‘look’ and tricking her into watching B-grade Bollywood movies with me.”

Q: What triggered your fascination with Mithun Chakraborty and Bhojpuri sequences?

A: “I grew up watching Mithun Chakraborty B-grade Hindi movies on cable because our cablewallah was a Mithun-fan like so many others in Calcutta.”

“When I started to blog, I wanted to spread the joy of Mithunda movies and similar embodiments of popular culture to those who had not had the privilege of being in my cablewallah’s area of business.”

Q: What do you think of blogging as an interactive medium?

A: “For me, the most attractive things about blogs is that they provide opportunities for people like me, who are outsiders in the sense that we do not belong to the media fraternity, to have a global audience for our opinions.”

“It also enables me to connect with people who share my interests (for instance, my love of B-grade Bollywood), an opportunity that I would not get if I restricted myself to interacting with people in my immediate geographical area.”

“The Indian blog scene is very vibrant no doubt. And it’s not all about movie reviews, political discussions or deliberations on a sushi joint in Bangalore. Be it during the tsunami in 2004 or the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, Indian bloggers have provided a vital alternate ‘on the ground’ perspective of breaking news.”

Q: What is your opinion on blog books?

A: “An idea whose time has come. Publishers will increasingly be looking at the world of blogs to discover exciting new authors. It makes complete sense.”

“A blog can be looked upon as an online portfolio of someone’s writings with the traffic and comment count a metric of the content’s popularity. Needless to say, this information is of great value to a publisher when it decides to invest in a new author.”

“As to bloggers who have got book deals because of their blogs, the names of Amit Varma, and Meenakshi Reddy come immediately to mind.”

“As for me, I am currently in the process of writing a book myself for a leading Indian publisher and I expect it to be published in 2009.”

Q: So what is this book about?

A: “Since it is very much a work-in-progress with a working title, I am being deliberately vague here. The book is thematically similar to my blog in that it is a collection of random thoughts on a variety of topics, with heavy dollops of sarcasm and humour.”

“So why a book when you already have a blog? The format of a book allows me to fledge out a lot of things that are not possible in the confines of a blog post. This is because a blog post is something a person typically reads during work when the boss is in a meeting. Hence it has to be short else readers tend to not come back to finish it. Whereas a book is something people read in a more relaxed frame of mind. This makes it possible for me to develop some of the ideas I want to talk about in considerably greater depth.”

“Also with this book, I hope to expose more people to the joys of subaltern culture since more people still read books in India than they do blogs.”

Q: Can blogs replace conventional mainstream media?

A: “No, not really. Conventional mainstream media, because of the infrastructure it possesses, will continue be the primary source of news. Bloggers will exist in the ‘opinion space’ as secondary sources --primarily as commentators and interpreters of primary news.”

Q: Will an upsurge of random amateur content bring down quality if blog books became the norm?

A: “The market will take care of that. Also I do not believe that leading publishers are going to invest money in bloggers who produce amateur content.”

Q: You are known for your meticulous research and biting sarcasm in your blog. How important is it to write a satire while remaining politically neutral?

A: “The research is essential if not for anything else but for self-defence. Even a small factual inaccuracy is likely to be caught by a reader and pointed out in the comment thread.”

“Neutrality comes natural to me as I find all political parties in India equally bad. And the great thing is that all of them can be made fun of. I sincerely hope they continue to stay that way.”

Q: What would you have called your blog if we had blogging in pre-independence India?

A: “Her Majesty the Queen Victoria’s Secrets.”

Q: Does the towering expectation of your blog readers ever compromise your content?

A: “While I do give a bit more thought to my posts before pressing the ‘Publish’ button than I used to, principally in order to better structure my arguments (a weakly constructed one will be torn into bits in hours), I never let the fact that what I say may be unpopular prevent me from writing it down.”

“One of the best things about RTDM is the quality of comments I get. True, there are some trollers and abusers but by and large, the content of the comments is truly exceptional. There has been a lot that I personally have learnt of history, politics, economics and even movies from the comments I have received over the years.”

“Because of which I can say that I too have towering expectations for my blog readers.”