Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Spirit Carries On

The journey continues. The quest for true knowledge though, eludes me. Was this the way it was went to be? As they say, you have to know what the system is and how it runs, to effectively get out of it and possibly fight it. The second semester at TISS has been brewed with familiarities unlike the first. The same old faces, the same 'old' alcohol, songs and the discussion that follows, hurt egos and everything that you associate with life. Sports brought fresh new life into the college only to be killed by flak by the so called anti-engineering movement.
Do I know what education is now? Do I feel 'educated'? How different is it from engineering?
I do not know to what extent I can answer that. Nor am I entitled to voice an opinion against this 'idea' of education that linger in my mind. Sitting here on this revolving chair, looking outside at Mumbai's erstwhile dump yard - Chembur, one can't help wonder or in fact question whether knowledge is simply passed on through textbooks, assignments and JSTOR. Did text books and classroom knowledge help convert the waste-yard that was Chembur to the extended city that is Chembur? Having lived for more than two years, the carp knew every pebble in the tank? But did she know the world? 
The pigeon which had been constantly trying to make a nest all this while, seem to have given up. Isn't it interesting how the birds have adapted so much to human life. Where did the pigeons make their nests before humans started making these big buildings? Out in the open they must have been an easy prey. 
I remember sitting, dressed up to please the interview panel from XLRI, in a luxury hotel in Bangalore. The watchman was trying shoo away the pigeons from their resting place on the eastern balcony. Sun light simmering through, as silhouettes discussed frantically about inflation and GDPs. 
During the interview they had asked me what i planned to do with my MBA. I had given the answer as I had rehearsed but they were not convinced. So they had asked me again.
"What do you want to do in life?" I still remember how everyone at that juncture had shifted their focus from whatever they were doing. This was the make or break question. I had anticipated this question prior to the interview but somehow I chose not to give away the answer I had thought of. Instead I sat still for two minutes. Not photography, not travel, not meet new people. My mind kept blocking my options as I searched for the right answer. Such situations can be incredibly tiring. Even minutes drain more energy out of you than a work-out in a health club. And finally I broke the silence that probably was the laughing stock in their post interview discussion. 

"I want to change the educational system in India."
I knew I had dug my own grave with that answer. I knew I had stayed in Bangalore for a week wasting parents' hard earned money for absolutely nothing. But the confidence with which I defended wave after wave of questions is something I still can't come to terms with. The fact that I believe a college or a school is not giving you 'education' yet pursuing one...
Sometimes I wonder what I have gotten myself into. The promised land across the black sea has not turned out to be green. In fact I can't decide which among the banks were more greener. I am now in the world of academics. Where knowledge is a brutal war. There exists a bread and one thousand hungry minds. They will cut it, share it, reuse it, reproduce it, patent it, copyright it, plagiarise it... And then claim to have saved man kind with their 'knowledge'. All a day's work. 
Two weeks they give, to go out and see the world, get the data and produce 'knowledge' called dissertation. Their brilliant scheme to make the world a better place. 
I am troubled. Some years ago I realised that I was a product, one among millions, on a conveyor belt that would dictate my destiny. I had struggled, pushed, shook, broke, to gather enough momentum that would help get out of the conveyor belt. And I had succeeded. But now I realise, that I had only fallen into another belt. Is there no escape from this world? These people, these faces that I see around me. Do they know what is happening? Why are they smiling at me? Have they tried getting out of the system themselves? Is there a way out? Have they given up? Are they who control the system?
I will escape. I wont give up... 

1 There is a belief in the college that sports is what engineering students do in four years of college. So much for future social scientists.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death

As a part of "Audience studies" course, 1st semester, Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social sciences.

“Amusing ourselves to death” by Neil Postman was first published in 1985, more than 25 years ago, when television in India was still a commodity that only the elite could afford. Hence his work, though increasingly speaking to an American audience with his references about TV shows like ‘The Newshour’, can still be perceived as fresh and relevant in our country. Moreover, like his son Andrew Postman wrote in his introduction for the twentieth anniversary edition of the book, the beauty of the book lies in how we can relate the fetishization of TV in the past few decades with the new age amusement for platforms like the internet.  The core of the book, as highlighted by the author himself, is derived from Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” which introduced the idea of how ‘people will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.’
The book revolves around the idea that ‘presentation’ is more important than the actual content shown on TV (or other media). This has resulted in a huge decline in the standards of media products and commoditized politics, economy, religion etc. into a package like the ‘news hour’.  As per Postman, TV gives more emphasis on the need for entertainment as a result of which the quality of information suffers adversely. In the modern day one can easily find examples to substantiate this point. The use of dramatic background music during the news coverage, abrupt entry of commercials, bright large fonts for ‘flash news’, the sudden shift from a very important news to entertaining content (Postman described it as ‘Now…this’), all shows a greater need of entertaining the audience. This is not limited to the electronic media though.  ‘The Times of India’ had ordered its correspondents to cover the coming elections ‘bearing the entertainment and personality angles in mind (Sainath, 2008).’
Postman also argues how the tele-visual communication has moulded the way even politics work. Today’s politics has more to do with how the candidate appears/comes across in a television or other media, than his/her ideas and solutions. This is very true in today’s context where the visual media carried every action to different parts of the country. A candidate is often judged on how flamboyant he/she is in their presentation than their actual content. Politicians termed ‘proactive’, ‘vibrant’ or ‘innovative’ by how they deliver a speech and not by what they deliver in it.
From TV, the internet has taken over the baton. It is now the object of desire that makes man voluntarily sacrifice his rights. Browsing the internet or watching the television, according to Postman, curbs the need for the audience to have an ‘intellectual involvement’ unlike reading a book. The passive involvement of people, coupled with the lack of true rational argument in the programs, has resulted in a form of control. Like Frank Lloyd Wright famously put it, “TV is chewing gum for the eyes.”  One can see an increasing demand for internet in the present generation that is extremely staggering. With smart phones and tablets, our lives today depend on it. Social media networks have taken up chunks of our day that at times we exist more in the cyber world than we do in the real world, constructing identities that would get recognition and be ‘liked’.  The social media can be connected with Huxley’s idea of control where he believed ‘no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history (Postman, 1985).’ We ourselves are constantly watching other users and in return are under constant surveillance by many. There is no central power that controls us. We are nothing but slaves of our own creations.  As Herman and Chomsky highlighted in their book ‘Manufacturing Consent’, the media today is also is a part of propaganda by the elite to control the audience. Television, radio, newspapers are all more keen on promoting commercial, social and political agendas. One can see how, for example the state of Tamil Nadu, the two main political parties try to influence the people. Silvio Berlusconi, former Prime Minister of Italy and a media tycoon, is again an example of how powerful a medium television is, especially in developing nations.


The cartoon can be seen as an example of what is trying to say in his book. The frame gives an impression to ‘passive audience’ that is completely contradictory with the reality. Neil Postman’s book is a work that is cogent and well put forward. It highlights the dangers of Television to the society and how it is bringing about subjugation of our rights. But what can also be seen is a fascination of the writer with an age that has passed – that of written society and intellectualism. What must be noted is how human beings have moved on from an oral tradition to written work. Now a new age has come which might not be as catastrophic as the author has imagined. Mankind is constantly evolving, albeit in ways that might not sound conventional to a certain era. He associates the age of Enlightenment with the written for intellectualism. But it can be seen that the printing press existed much prior to the renaissance. We are slowly embracing a new culture that depends lesser on written work. There is still hope that once we get familiarized we will start acting.
A study by UCLA, which used a three-year, individual-level panel dataset to study the impact of cable television on women’s status in rural India, found that ‘the introduction of cable television is associated with significant decreases in the reported acceptability of domestic violence towards women and son preference, as well as increases in women’s autonomy and decreases in fertility.’(Jensen and Oster, 2006) Perhaps the biggest criticism of Postman’s work is the dismissive attitude he showed to television and the future media. He is skeptical and leaves no space for hope. A hope that one day television viewing can be for the good.


1.       Media ownership trends in India by Paranjor Guha Thakurta Retrieved from:
2.       Quotes by Llyod Wright Retrieved from :
3.       Shrinking spaces, New Places by P. Sainath Retrieved from:
4.       Postman,N(1985) Amusing ourselves to death, Penguin Books, New York.
5.       Printing Press History Retrieved from

Sunday, December 15, 2013

TISS Against 377

After the outrageous ruling by the supreme court, which criminalised "unnatural sex" (article 377) overturning Delhi high court's ruling in 2009, TISS has been consistently fighting for the rights. The re criminalising of "unnaturalness" (as they claim) is a gross violation of basic human rights, not just for the LGBTQ but for every human in the country.
Some photos of our first gathering near the dining hall in TISS campus

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