Monday, March 14, 2005

Meeting a star blogger

Another instalment in the "Bloggers meet in the real world" series. But these things can work in scary ways. After a very nice couple of hours spent chatting with Amit Varma (of India Uncut, The Middle Stage and 23 Yards) at the Park hotel’s coffee shop, I dropped him to the railway station where he had to catch the train for Kolkata (to cover the 2nd India-Pak Test), returned home, logged onto the Net, and found that he’d already put up a short post on our meeting – and this just a little over an hour after I saw him off. Now of course I know he’s a travelling journalist, has a laptop etc etc but it was still unsettling. (Somewhere inside me still lives that wide-eyed boy from 1996 who gasped in astonishment when told that an e-mail sent on Hotmail or Yahoo would be delivered almost instantly.)

Amit was in Delhi for just a few hours, between trains from Chandigarh and to Kolkata. He’s covering the Ind-Pak series for The Guardian and simultaneously putting up informal posts about the series on India Uncut. He’s a prolific (and widely felicitated) blogger, but I had first seen his byline accompanying some excellent cricket writing in Wisden Asia magazine (and the Cricinfo website). I also had memories of a couple of pieces he’d written for that wonderful magazine Gentleman, whose demise many of us, starved for good reading in Indian newspapers and magazines, still lament. (In fact, one of the first things I mentioned to Amit was the extremely high writing standards set by a group of his friends/colleagues in Mumbai – Chandrahas Choudhury, Dileep Premachandran, Rahul Bhattacharya, Leslie Mathew, all of whom have worked for Wisden, though I also recall the superb pieces Mathew wrote on music for Gentleman. Amit mentioned that Sambit Bal, former editor Gentleman and current editor Wisden Asia "is a magnet for good writers and knows how to encourage them". I’m thinking of heading Mumbai-wards now.)

Anyway, sitting in the reinvented Park coffeeshop (which used to be the simple Portico, but is now the self-consciously classy, and very blue, Mist), we discussed an array of things, including one of the hottest current topics: bloggers vs MSM (Mainstream Media). Amit doesn’t believe it’s a battle that bloggers should imagine they can win anytime soon if ever, and he reiterated his theory that blogging will eventually be complementary to mainstream media rather than an alternative to it.

There was inevitably plenty of cricket talk. How the Pakistani pacers seem to have found a way to bowl to Sehwag, something that might well decide the current series. The changes captaincy have wrought on Inzamam’s personality, turning him from a bumbler and an object of derision into a mature, avuncular figure. Is the Ganguly era heading for a close? And has anti-Tendulkarism become as widespread (and as lazy and kneejerk) as anti-Americanism? And oh yes, cricketing clichés. The inglorious certainty of a glorious uncertainty in every match report you read. But Amit conceded sadly that it may be impossible to avoid getting into clichéd descriptions if you write about cricket over a long period. It’s so jading, he said, and I couldn’t help relating that, with some trepidation, to the business of doing book reviews. And about how reading too much has its own pitfalls - it makes one cynical and over-smart.

Have quite a few friends in Mumbai now and am seriously thinking of a visit soon.

P.S. to Amit: Dude, you were off the mark about Bob Dylan. Listen to Malcolm Gladwell. Blink. Don’t trust your grown-up feelings, trust instinct; you were right on target when you were a college kid. Go with your back pages. There, I’ve said it.

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