the no-nonsense space

Thursday, December 22, 2005

have scorn, will pour

Here's something I wrote for the year-end issue as part of a package on blogs. "Let's stir up things," KP would say each time when we discussed this piece. And he's rather happy with the prospect of bloggers screwing my happiness.

Imagine this (maybe you really don’t have to, by the time you read this): Cyclone Maya hits Chennai. Telephone lines are down, and there’s no electricity. Not even in Poes Garden. But Superblogger Subramaniam sitting in his marooned apartment block near Elliot’s beach writes somehow posts a blog (yes, a blog) recounting the dreadful night he and his 30 neighbours spent with flood waters rising up ten metres. And for good measure he has also uploaded pictures of his plight thanks to Google’s Picassa and his mobile phone camera. Hourlyblogger Hari, a resident of an equally marooned Mylapore neighbourhood of the city, too somehow manages to read the piece and decides to ferry food and other essentials to his fellow-blogger and his friends on one of the many rubber dinghies that the Chennai Corporation has promptly pushed into service. A week later when flood waters recede, and another kollywood matinee “idol” makes a grand entry into politics, Superblogger and Hourlyblogger along with 50 other avid bloggers in city decide have a bloggers meet at the tony Amethyst coffee shop. And over some overpriced Ceylone tea (Rs 70 a cuppa, if you must know) they agree that blogs and bloggers were indeed heroes during the disaster.
The blog, a hero? Oh you must be kidding. Maybe elsewhere in the world blogs and bloggers have really made a difference during such natural disasters. But in India over the past one year where we have had a spate of natural calamities and bomb-blasts, across the country, there is very little evidence to suggest that this whole new medium, and its proponents have had any impact. Although a handful of bloggers have tried manfully.

The Collablogs or collaborative blogs during the Mumbai floods and the Kashmir earthquake were little more that an aggregation of related stories that appeared in newspapers and magazines. Generalisations such as thses don’t go down very well with the bloggers, but most posts were on the lines of Mid-Day said this, TOI didn’t report that, Outlook preferred to put Rani Mukherji on its cover rather than the floods, and so on. For Mumbaikars who were stranded without water and electricity for a almost a week it wouldn’t have mattered too much which paper said what. Helpline numbers of electricity and healthcare providers were reproduced on the Collablog from other newspapers. Astronomical web-page hits and search result numbers apart, what citizen reportage are we talking about? Thankfully some of the saner bloggers do agree that it is impossible to empirically prove that blogs save lives or make a difference. But then if you aspire to be a celebrity blogger, its is imperative for you to be seen/quoted/talked about at such forums. For the urban twentysomethings with intellectual pretentions and the hope of being spotted by the commissioning editor of a publishing house, it’s the new P3, or rather the virtual world’s very own India International Centre.