Sunday, September 04, 2005

Jabberwock turns one: a personal history

(Statutory warning: long, more self-indulgent-than-usual post. Take two aspirin, one before you start and one midway - at which point you’ll probably have to stop reading anyway.)

Blog birthday posts are all the rage this season, so here go my two coins for the collection bowl. A year ago (though it feels much longer) I stopped procrastinating and finally got this blog underway - with some encouragement from *beat of drums* Abhilasha (who doesn't blog herself but loves reading comments), Rajat (who used to blog but stopped) and Rumman (who's been part of the blogging circuit for years, but whose recently converted Missus is now more enthusiastic about it). Speaking practically, it helped that around this time we had finally got a decent Internet connection on our office server (this was important, since I had a painful on-again-off-again dial-up connection at home).

The main reason for starting the blog was that I felt stagnated. Work wasn't very interesting at the time, I had a workmanlike approach to most of my official assignments and was drifting away from writing about the things I was really enthusiastic about. The occasional book review/author profile for the paper was still happening but I hadn't officially written on films for a very long time. Most worryingly, I was starting to get lazy about a habit I had maintained for the previous 4-5 years: that of scribbling notes in a little pad (yes! On paper! With pen!) about each film seen/each book read/an interesting outing with friends or family.

As Salman Rushdie said in a tribute to Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum, "Writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things - childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves - that go on slipping, like sand, through our fingers." Well, writing itself was slipping away from me, and I figured that shifting it to a dynamic medium like the Internet might keep me more interested.

So Jabberwock began, as a forum for the writing I didn’t want to lose touch with, plus as a possible storehouse for some of the published work I was reasonably happy about (very limited in those days). I started with a couple of self-conscious introductory posts, then slowly got around to short posts about films and books, mixed with the occasional rant. Though I had no delusions that the Internet was anything other than a public space, I figured the blog would be read only by the six or seven friends I had tipped off about it, and maybe the occasional arbitrary surfer. I had no clue it could lead to anything bigger.

World, wide, web
My first tangible sense of how this medium can shrink the world came when, on only my second or third day of blogging, an amateur filmmaker based in LA commented on one of my movie posts, saying it made him want to watch (or re-watch) the film. It was a short comment, and of course in hindsight I know that it was no big deal, but it felt good at the time. But the first major high, and one that served to illustrate the power of blogging to me, came a few days later: a comments exchange with Hurree babu of the venerated literary blog Kitabkhana led to the discovery that Hurree was none other than Nilanjana S Roy, whose literary column I had been a big fan of for a very long time. Now Nilanjana is a good friend today and so it feels a little awkward fawning like this (and I know she'll hate it too), but I need to give some background here. I had joined Business Standard a year and a half before I started blogging, and this was a paper she was closely associated with (as a former employee who still wrote regularly for them). Apart from the BS connection, we had similar interests (our beats intersected at Bookreviewville), lived in the same city, and were both members of a profession where (famously, tediously) everyone knows everyone else - but we had somehow never touched base in all that time. And yet, just a couple of weeks after I started blogging, Hurree Babu and Jabberwock knew each other and were communicating regularly. A few months later I was to experience something similar with Amit Varma, whose cricket writings I had admired in Wisden/Cricinfo long before I even knew what blogging was. These friendships and many others like them were forged in the blogosphere, and I'm very grateful for them.

Tipping point
Jabberwock acquired a measure of fame/notoriety, at least in journalistic circles, as the result of a post that (and no one believes me when I say this now) was Not Intended to Change the World. It was in November last year and it was on plagiarism. (Long-time readers will know what I'm talking about. To the others, if you're interested enough go look in the archives, because I'm not going to discuss it explicitly here.) Kitabkhana and DesiMediaBitch, two sites with heavy readership, linked to the post, and my traffic started growing. Offline, I went to journalistic get-togethers and found myself being introduced as "this Enterprising Young Man who blew the whistle on..." and such-like. Senior journalists would sniff self-righteously and tell me, "You did the right thing. This is such a disgrace to the profession. Tsk tsk."

This was all so funny. I wrote that post because a) lazy Sunday, nothing much to do, b) I had just started feeling the onset of Blogger Unrest, which meant that not more than two days should pass before a new post is put up, and c) I thought it would be fun. There was nothing more serious intended - I was far too cynical, not just about the lady in question and the paper she represented (which, to be honest, is a soft target anyway) but about the standards of journalism in general (including some of the stuff I've done myself in the past), to want to Make a Difference in any way. But well, I shouldn’t complain now.

'Personal posts'
People sometimes ask me why I don't make personal posts. Well, the easy answer to that is I didn't start this blog for that purpose; I'm not good at emotional exegesis and don't indulge in it too much even in the private ("hardcopy") diary I've written every night for the last 16 years, except in times of extreme stress. Having said that, I did in fact write a couple of personal posts early on in my blog-life - examples here and here - which I'm a little embarrassed about now (though not enough to want to delete them).

But the question is also a superficial one. In a long post about a certain aspect of a book or film that appeals to me strongly, or when writing something in defence of Sachin Tendulkar, I think I probably say more about myself than in a conventional personal post where I was explicitly discussing my life: because in the latter case there would be a defence mechanism firmly in place, monitoring everything I wrote. I think the same applies to many other bloggers who aren’t private-journal sorts at all; you often need to read between the lines instead of making all-too-easy distinctions between Personal and Impersonal blogging.

On comments and feedback
It’s almost become politically incorrect to admit that you write more for yourself than for others. So let me get this out of the way first: yes, I do greatly value the comments. If I didn’t, I would have disabled them a long time ago (especially since blog comments tend to eat up a large chunk of one’s time, and time has been at a premium for me in the last several months). I never cease to be pleasantly surprised that something I write here can be of interest to someone else, and there’s never been any question of being completely indifferent to the reader.

But the bottomline is, I did start this thing mainly for myself, and in essence I don’t want that to change. Given a choice between writing a long post about an obscure film that means a lot to me (but that few others will have seen or will want to read about) and a facile post on a topic I know everyone will relate to and want to weigh in on, I’ll pick the first one every time. (Of course, the whole point about blogging is that one doesn’t have to make that choice. And I’ve done a bit of both over the past year. But you get the idea.)

Also, I’m a little cynical about comments as indicators of anything. When I write a quick four-line post about a typo I saw in the newspaper that morning, it’s almost certain to get more comments than a carefully thought out and put together post about a film or a book. And it’s always easy to predict which posts will get the most comments - the personal ones and, weirdly enough, the technical ones with rants about Tata Indicom or Airtel or Firefox. So they need to be taken with liberal sprinklings of salt.

The future? No clue really. The blogosphere is getting so cluttered, so information-heavy now that I feel quite lost. So much linking and cross-linking, lots of new bloggers with very interesting things to say - but equally, far too much mediocrity, too many people freely expressing opinions without being informed enough on the topics in question (yes yes Yazad, Amit, I want to be a libertarian, but at times I think I’m just a nasty little fascist deep inside). The best thing to do I suppose is continue posting whatever I want to, as and when I feel like it, without worrying much about readership, site counts etc. Much easier said than done, as any blogger will know, but my increased workload should help me concentrate on some of the other things that need my attention. (Looking at my Blogger dashboard, I see to my surprise that this is my 355th post, which means pretty much one a day on average - and as despairing readers will know, many of those have been v-e-r-y l-o-o-n-n-g! I think that average should dip in the future.)

Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who’s read and commented and written in. It’s been a very eventful year and if the next one is even half as exciting, that’ll be exciting enough for me.


  1. I felt relieved after reading this post that a veteran of 355 posts feels lost sometimes.
    I wonder why you have said that your posts were Not Intended to Change the World.
    The world will not change, but continue to progress forward as cynically as ever.
    And don't be worried about l-o-n-g p-o-s-t-s. There are people who read them too.
    As I said I felt relieved that you feel a little lost. There must be hope for me. I have started blogging only since a fortnight.

  2. Wow....that's a veritable collection of shout-outs.
    Holla! Keep on truckin'

  3. Very good show here. Wish you many more exciting blog years.

  4. Here's selfishly (wishing) you many happy returns. Love your reviews (the movies more than the books!) and the occasional rant.

  5. Dang, I paranthetized the wrong word, but I'm sure you get the idea...

    Here's (selfishly) wishing you many happy returns. Love your reviews (the movies more than the books!) and the occasional rant.

  6. Thanks guys. I'm expecting some hate-comments for this post (denunciation of long, self-obsessed ramble etc) so good to see your wishes. And Anand, happy belated blog-bday to you as well! I'd tried commenting on your birthday post last month but Blogger had some problems at the time and I forgot about it subsequently.

  7. Such a long, self-obsessed ramble...who do you think you are, anyway?


    I've only been reading regularly for about six months of the year, but congratulations anyway :). I'm extremely glad I met you.

  8. Happy Birthday Jai! Lovely post, as always...

  9. Happy birthday to one of my favorite blogs !

  10. happy birthday Jai....

    I started reading your blog because I figured any blog with a name like Jabberwock can't be that bad.....and i haven't regretted that impulse decision.

    May the birthdays keep coming.

  11. Happy Jabberwock Jayanti!!

    Looking forward to more stuff from your keyboard. Esp love the posts on movies and cricket.


  12. Happy Birthday Jabberwocky. Keep those posts coming.

  13. Happy Anniversary, Jai.

    You underestimate how much people would want to read about "obscure films" (even if they haven't heard about those titles): I've learned more about movies over here in my last one year than in all the previous years put together. Your passion for movies is infectious - don't stop spreading the virus!

  14. This is one of the few rare personal posts from you and you seem to do it with great elan.

    Am not a movie buff, but read your reviews and they form a large part of the decision making process as to whether i see the movie or not.

    Of course love your book reviews.

    Keep them coming.

    more strength to your fingers in the years to come.

  15. Happy anniversary. May there be many more to come -- can't get enough of good writing.

  16. ah the whole NK reminder bings back such memories. The uproar! The outrage! You should totally do something like that again :)

  17. already on the 20th comment... and this isnt even a mundane-customer-service-rant kinda post. dunno if you dug deep enough to please the notoriously difficult to please rushdie. you sure did manage to get across this idiot though.

    thank you for your book reviews and a special thanx for your posts on graphic novels... shd say pox on you for inculcating another expensive reading habit.

    the more i trawl your archives, the more this blog becomes a personal reco site of what to look for in my next visit to a book store.


  19. Happy Blog Birthday!
    I was reading your blog for months before I started blogging, and it's because of you, and a few others, that I started myself. :) So congratulations and thanks for all the posts!

  20. Happy Birthday ! Have been enjoying reading your posts - love your enthusiasm and your attention to detail - a recent one I remember particularly is your review of Yojimbo ...

  21. Lovely blog birthday post.

  22. Dear Jabberwock,

    Thanks to Leela, who gave me the link, I've spent many a morning revelling in your wit and wisecracks - and wisdom. I owe you gratitude, so why not use your first bithday to say a huge, huge Thank You? Wasn't it the Bard who said (I know you'll correct me), "So old a head, on so young a pair of shoulders"?

    If this be rant, play on!

  23. Jai, I’m still trying to figure out who Anonymous above is. But then, I’ve passed on your url all too freely. Happy blog anniversary! Jabber on…

  24. This feels good...Am so happy... Congrats once again!! :)

  25. Jabberwork, Leela: The name is Vijay Kumar, so no anonymity there. Just that I need experience logging comments! Sorry for the confusion.

  26. i'm a bit late on this one, but a very happy birthday!!! i've been reading, and shall perhaps comment from now on...absolutely adore this blog!

    oh, and hurree is nilanjana sr? no wonder!

  27. Echoing Sonia's comment, above. Happy blog birthday!

  28. Thanks everyone! I'm quite overwhelmed by this response. If I'd seen a post like this written by someone else, I would've been tempted to anonymous-comment "Get a life, loser!" But this means a lot, and unlikely though it seems at this point I hope I can keep the blogging frequency high in the future.

  29. come here for the first time.. though I have seen you linked in several places..

    "The best thing to do I suppose is continue posting whatever I want to, as and when I feel like it, without worrying much about readership, site counts etc. Much easier said than done,".. dont worry, it will happen before you can say 'blog'.. :)..

  30. Happy birthday and thanks for all the posts.

  31. Happy Birthday to Jabberwocky. Thanks for all the wisdom, wisecracks and all that. Was on a mini-break(met the greatBong:). More later. Wish you many more blogyears. Blog On!!

  32. Hello Wock, Congrats on completion of one year. Glad to know you are a fan of Nilanjana s Roy. I love her column in BS like mad. Another from BS whom I like is Geetanjali Krishna of Pleople Like them
    ( Jabberwock, why don't you ask her / introduce her to blogging? I asked her and she said no!)
    Congrats also for your increasing readership.

  33. More, jabberwock I linked your page in mine.