March 06, 2005

Blogs cannot change India: Atanu Dey

A Hindi version of this interview is also available at the World's first Hindi blogzine, Atanu Dey, winner of the Best Indiblog at the Indibloggies 2004 and author of Deeshaa did his bachelors in mechanical engineering, then moved to computer science and received a master's degree. Product marketing at HP in the Silicon Valley kept him occupied briefly for six years. He traveled in India, US, and Europe for five years before realizing that he knew nothing about economics. So he studied economics at the University of California at Berkeley and received his PhD for his thesis on the Indian telecommunications sector. In his spare time Atanu listens to classical music, practices Vipassana meditation, reads physics, gives lectures on Buddhism and maintains his blog. He is also a published poet.

Atanu was interviewed for Indibloggies by Nitin Pai and Debashish Chakrabarty.

How has been the experience winning the Best Indiblog award at the Indibloggies? Do award sites such as this do any good to the blogging world?

Atanu DeyThe experience has been very positive because the ideas that I explore on my blog got wider exposure because of the contest. This exposure was a secondary effect of the contest. For instance, Brad Delong, Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley noted the award on his blog and hundreds of additional visitors started coming to my blog. Tim Worstall and Om Malik were among those who also wrote about my blog on their blogs and increased my readership.

I do believe that such contests serve a function. They reduce information imperfections. That is, more people get to know about the good blogs and this raises the bar.

Why do you think blogging provides a good platform for what you say? Do you blog with a purpose?

Blogging is a great platform for an individual's viewpoint to be made accessible to the world at large (or at least, the connected world.) Each of us has a unique take on the world, which may be of value to others who may be geographically remote but psychically close. A web log allows a kindred spirits elsewhere to connect.

I blog for the reasons above, of course. But more importantly, it forces me to write. To me, writing is a process of self-discovery. When I write, I make explicit to myself what I implicitly know but I may not be fully conscious of.

What is that one thing you think Deeshaa achieves?

Deeshaa achieves connections. There is a core aim to the blog: discovering through dialogue, experience, exploration, observation and introspection what India is and where it is going. Deeshaa connects my efforts with others who have a similar quest.

Which are your favourite blogs?

I am not one of those people who read scores of blogs. It takes me time to carefully consider what others have written. Therefore, my reading is fairly limited, although eclectic. Mostly I read blogs of those who I know, either directly or only on cyberspace.

Rajesh Jain’s Emergic is my favourite tech blog. For India's rural news and viewpoint, I read Suhit Anantula's World is Green. My group blog of choice is Wetware, which was started by Reuben Abraham. Veerchand Bothra's Mobile Pundit is a great source for mobile related content. Brad DeLong is among my favorite professors and has an incredible economics and political blog. "It is all trivial and obvious except ..." by Tim Worstall of the UK is another eclectic intelligent viewpoint that I find remarkable. Sonal Vaidya writes "A potpourri of thoughts" from New York, which is guaranteed to entertain, inform and make you wonder. Oh, I should not forget Stupid Evil Bastard. Should not be missed.

Do you use any tools like w.bloggar etc to blog? Which newsreader do you use?

I use Movable type for my blog. Don't use any newsreader.

Do you actually have a life? How does life interfere with your blogging?

I should take the 5th on that question. Answering it may incriminate me. But seeing as I don't give a damn on my blog, I may as well answer that question. OK, I admit that I no longer have a life. Before I came to Mumbai nearly a year and a half ago, I had a life.

Do you think Indian blogs can change anything anywhere, especially in India?

Blogs change India? Are you kidding! Nothing can change India, least of all a bunch of stupid blogs that are written by a bunch of people who need to get themselves a life and read by those who desperately need to get out more often.

Blogs can bring alternative viewpoints to the public discourse

Seriously though, blogs can bring alternative viewpoints to the public discourse. In fact, blogs bring the public into the public discourse. The mainstream media can be very insular and incestuous. Blogs inject much needed diversity of viewpoints.

What do you mean by an Indian blog?

Since distance does not have any meaning when it comes to cyberspace, Indian blog means a blog that has as its major focus matters concerning India, irrespective of who the person writing is.

Tell us something about yourself.

I am just an average guy living in this material world, trying to scratch out a living without stepping on too many toes, and wondering how it is all going to come out in the end. I am on my third profession. Trained as an engineer first but did not practice that trade. Then moved to computer science and left it because I find computers artificially dumb and find natural stupidity rather intriguing. So I got a PhD in economics because economics has something to say about why people behave as stupidly as they do. Now I am concerned with what can be done to counteract the natural stupidity of people. I am working on figuring out an educational system that will make people grow up smart instead of being as dumb as doorknobs.

How do you analyse the current economic scenario of India?

India is a huge complex economy. One can partition India in many different ways and even with a huge number of partitions; each partition can be large in absolute terms even though in relative terms they may be insignificant. Depending on which partition one focuses on, one will get a different story.

For instance, take IT enabled services such as BPO. A million Indians work in that segment and things can't be better for them. Yet, they only represent 0.1% of India's population. The IT-enabled segment is rapidly evolving and progressing. The whole urban sector is also gaining grounds rapidly. But that is only 20% or so of India. What about the 70% of India that is in rural India? Things are not so rosy over there. What are the urgent and important problems that face rural India and how can they be addressed is the question critical to India's future.

Overall, I am cautiously hopeful about India's future. My guarded optimism springs from the realization that bureaucracy and politics can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory very easily as they have demonstrated in the past.

A Hindi version of this interview is also available at the World's first Hindi blogzine, Nirantar.