What is Takshashila blogging about?

As you might be aware, we run a large number of blogs on the Takshashila platform. I wouldn’t blame you if you might be confused about which blog talks about what. In order to ease your decision-making, we will look at “wordclouds” of each of our bloggers here. As you might be aware, a wordcloud is basically a pictorial representation of the frequency of various words. The more frequently a word appears, the bigger its representation in the wordcloud.

So without much ado, let us go ahead and look at the wordclouds of each of the Takshashila bloggers:

1. Nitin Pai



2. Pavan Srinath

catalyst3. V Anantha Nageswaran



4. Rohit Pradhan



5. Rohan Joshi



6. Krupakar Manukonda



7. Priya Ravichandransumpolites

8. Sarah Farooqui



9. Bibhu Routray



10. The Broad Mind (our community blog)



11. Logos (the Takshashila Student Blog)



12. Karthik Shashidhar





Bloggers writing books

There have been times in the past when I would have read a book and then concluded that “it’s a blog post expanded into a book”. One book that I clearly remember that followed this model was Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”. An idea that can be easily explained in 3000 words instead taking 30000, so that it can then qualify to be a “book”, the economics of whose publications are much different from that of a “long form article”. I remember thinking this even more about this book called “Why Popcorn Costs So Much At The Movies“. It was all about price discrimination, a concept that could have been explained well in a blog length article (500-1000 words). Even a long-form article would have been too much for it.

The topic of this post, however, is not about books that should have been blogposts. It is about bloggers writing books. For dinner on Saturday I met two friends who also happen to be renowned twitter trolls. Somewhere between the soups and the pizzas the conversation moved to books being written by bloggers (and there are many of those). And the three of us came to the unanimous decision that bloggers are lousy at writing books (I haven’t read any of the books they were talking about, but could attest to it since I’ve been trying to write a couple of books for a couple of years now and getting nowhere).

The fundamental point is that the art of holding someone’s attention over 1000 words (the normal length of a blog post) is very different from holding someone’s attention over 50000 words (the length of a typical book). So if you’ve been a blogger for a few years now, through sheer practice you would be great at using 1000 words to put across your ideas. However, when you want to write something longer, you either get discontinuous (with lots of mini-chapters of 1000 words each) or you end up saying the same thing over and over again.

So yes, as you might have figured out from my Project Thirty/Thirty One filings, I’m writing a book. And no, it’s not about Studs and Fighters (thanks to your valuable feedback I’ve given up on that concept). I’ve been  trying to write lots of small chapters. Somehow, I’m not able to go beyond 1000 words per chapter (2000 is the intention). There is a bigger problem. I begin to take myself too seriously when I think I’m writing a book. I stop writing in the informal conversational style I normally use on my blog. And it becomes excruciating, both to write and to read (I’ve tried reading some of my own “serious” pieces and given up).

Maybe all this tells me something. That having been writing this blog (and its predecessor on LiveJournal) for 9 years now, and having got many an accolade for it, I should simply stick to writing blog posts. Maybe it’s time to accept that when it comes to writing books mEre sE nahIn hOga

Tam Brahms and Nirvana

A Tam Brahm friend who got married recently used to claim back in college that Tam Brahms are the highest possible form of life, and that it is the last birth before one achieves Nirvana. Contrary to that, I argue here that Tam Brahms are are condemned to an eternal cycle of death and rebirth. It’s because they are #kogul.

I’ve talked about #kogulness several times before on this blog, including the first ever post (speaking of which, at the wedding last week they actually served “Gopi Fry”) . The sad thing is that back then Twitter wasn’t invented, and consequently the term “#kogul” wasn’t invented, so I wasn’t able to expound as much as I wanted to on this topic. Every blog post on the topic then had to spend half its length describing the phenomenon of kogulness. Thanks to twitter and hashtagging, that is no longer required.

Coming back to the point, Fritz Staal in his classic book Discovering the Vedas talks about mantras being similar to songs of birds, in the sense that pronunciation and intonation need to be exact. In order to argue this, Staal points out that for ages together, the learning of the Vedas simply involved learning them by rote, both the words and the intonation, and there was little emphasis on the actual meaning of the words. In fact, analyzing some of the Rig-Vedic texts now, it is understood that they have been composed in some form of proto-Sanskrit, and the meaning of several of the words used have been lost for ever. Now, if the “value” in the vedic mantras was about the meanings, and the words, these words wouldn’t have been allowed to be lost. Instead, this emphasis on learning by rote and intonation only seeks to affirm Staal’s hypothesis (btw the last time I spoke about Staal’s hypothesis on this blog, some right wing bloggers really blew up in the comments section).

Again returning from the digression, the point is that the whole point about Vedic mantras is about pronunciation and intonation. There is little in the words or in the meanings that will get you divine retribution, but if you can repeat the mantras the way they were composed it will put you on the path to nirvana (again, the assumption of this post is a belief in the Sanaatana Dharma). If you were to dismiss Staal as a “foreign imperialist” (which he was not, RIP), several Hindu Vedic scholars also talk about the importance of pronunciation, and the Gayatri mantra is known to improve one’s pronunciation and reduce stammer (I realized this why the other day when I was singing it rather loudly. The number of Mahapraana consonants in that mantra helps make your tongue more flexible. Ok don’t get dirty thoughts now. And that was around the same time I got material for this post).

So, if you have been born a Brahmin and seek to attain nirvana the vedic way, the way to proceed would be to learn the Vedas properly and sing them with accurate pronunciation and intonation. Where does that leave a Tamil Brahmin? I bet most of you would have heard of Tamilian Carnatic Singers singing “magaa gaNabathim.. “. Tams, having learnt their simplified alphabet, are incorrigible #koguls. For starters they just don’t get the concept of mahaapraaNa. All mahaapraaNa consonants are suitably suppressed in their speech and song. Do you imagine it being better when they were to sing the Vedas?

Tying all this together, the point is this. Tam Brahms are so #kogul that they can never get the pronunciation of the Vedic mantras right. Intonation they might, since several of them are excellent singers, but pronunciation they never can. For this reason, the Gods will never be pleased with their Vedic recitals, and they shall never attain Nirvana. They will instead be condemned to multiple births (likely all of them as #kogul Tam-Brahms) on this earth. And they will continue to fail to learn that it’s their #kogulness that’s holding them back from attaining salvation.

Tailpiece: Thengalai Iyengars seem to have figured out their problem. Having figured that they can never get their practitioners to sing the Vedas in a non-kogul way, they have done the next best thing. They have declared that the power of the Vedas are in the words, and in their meanings, and simply translated them into Tamil, thus preventing kogulness from being a hindrance. Of course, the assumption of power being in meanings is a huge one, so one doesn’t really know if this allows the Thengalais to attain salvation. However, they’ve at least tried.

Tailpiece 2: kogulness is not restricted to Tamil priests alone. The last few times I’ve organized my parents’ death ceremonies, I’ve noticed that the priests (most of them Gult) have been unfailingly #kogul, and being a believer in the power of the Vedic rituals being in pronunciation and intonation, I’m convinced that mantras uttered by these kogul priests have absolutely no impact on bringing upon salvation to my parents’ souls. In fact, given my sample size is rather large, I’ve given up all hopes of finding priests who will do the death ceremonies in the proper way, with proper pronunciation and intonation. For this reason, henceforth I’m not going to waste money on such priests, and will not try to observe my parents’ death ceremonies in a Vedic manner.

Joint Blogging

So the more perceptive of you would have noticed a major change in this blog overthe last couple of weeks. It has now become a multi-author blog with my wife Pinky joining me here.

The chief motivation for this is feedback I received over the last one year that my blog had become boring and one-dimensional. Considering that I’ve been going through some sort of a mental block over the last few months, and am unable to produce posts with the same quality and frequencyas i used to earlier, I decided that the best way to spice up this blog was to bring in a co-blogger.

Around the same time, I got married to Pinky, who is herself a blogger,  so it  was natural to bring her in. And in the last couple of weeks, since I added her as an author, she has responded spectacularly, producing posts (albeit of a different flavour compared to what I produce, of course) with significnatly better regularity and quality compared to me.

So I just want to make it clear that the decision to make this blog a joint one is a conscious and well-thought out one, and not one that has been made due to marital compulsions or anything. Yes, we have markedly different writing styles, so you need not even look up or down to check the author’s name at the bottom of the post or the top of the RSS feed.

This decision to make this blog a multi-author blog is irreversible (yeah, I won’t rule out future expansion, if we are to get suitable co-bloggers; but that won’t happen for a while). So those of you who are trying to debate about the quality changes in the blog because of this change (in the comments section) are just wasting your time. And if you think that the quality is dropping for whatever reason, there is the “unsubscribe” button that your RSS feed aggregator offers you.

I’m working on producing author-specific RSS feeds, so that might allow people to selectively subscribe to posts. Essentially we are looking for a way by which our posts will appear on our respective facebook pages, rather than on everything appearing in mine. If anyone knows how to do that for a wordpress.org blog, plis to be letting us know.

Length of Blog Posts

The problem with writing big blog posts is that it is difficult to acquire readers that way. It calls upon too much effort from the reader to read through the entire thing, and then decide whether to subscribe to your blog. As I have observed while looking at friends’ shared items on Google REader, the longer a post is, the greater the chance that I put NED and just mark it as read.

If you write consicely, it is that much easier to acquire new readers. It is that much easier for a new reader to quickly read a few of your posts, and decide that he likes it enough in order to subscribe. More of your posts that get shared on Google Reader are actually read, and there will be more click throughs to your full blog.

Look at some of India’s more successful bloggers – for example the two Amits – Varma and Agarwal. Amit Varma specializes in writing really concise stuff. His posts are usually quotes from some other article that he has linked to, and maybe a couple of lines of commentary (this is about his normal blog posts, not his Bastiat pieces which are longer). Amit Agarwal’s posts are longer but they contain so many pictures that they can be read very quickly.

The point is that these guys’ posts are so quick to read for a new reader that it is very easy to evaluate. If you don’t give potential customers a chance to evaluate you easily, the number of people who even evaluate you goes down and that has an impact on your overall readership.

I know that on this blog I’ve been guilty of writing extra-long posts. I try my best to finish stuff within 500 words but half the time I go beyond 900. Dear Readers, I appreciate your patience and thank you for still remaining loyal to this blog. The problem wtih me is that I never edit or proof-read my posts, and I write them in flow. So the posts represent the flow of thought through my head and that need not be concise. And hence I overshoot. However, henceforth I should make a conscious effort to keep my posts concise. And maybe you should do the same, too.