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Six Word Love Stories

Smith Magazine is running a series of love memoirs, in just six words. Reminds me of the class assignment turned in by a student who was asked to write a short story that had royalty, intrigue, and passion. This is what he came up with – ‘The Queen is pregnant. Who did it?’

From blogs to microblogging, from poems to haikus, we’re seeing brevity impact every form. 5 second ads are now routine, There are 3-word product promises (Just Do It), 2 minute noodles and 20 over cricket matches – where a five-day game in its traditional leisurely format has now turned into a scrappy fiesty contest that enables it to compete with games like basketball and football. And create enough scandal to gladden every media moghul’s heart.

What happened to long love letters penned with care? Today’s Romeos cannot craft an SMS with panache, let alone string a sentence that sends the girl into raptures. On painful episodes of Dare 2 Date, participants mouth cliches and look awkward in seconds. In restaurants, young couples sit opposite each other and talk incessantly on their mobiles – to someone else!  The only ad for Airtel where the guy said something romantic, he was borrowing from the book of romantic quotes in a library. Being original takes far too much effort and may not bring about the intended returns.

Billions of messages are being sent out every month, but they have little by way of memorability. Word abbreviations have gone into highly specialised territory where they look more like industrial marketing serial numbers. Take a look at this extensive chart and you’ll know what I mean. There’s a world of difference between a haiku and the love memoirs linked to above. Haikus are distilled expressions, rich with nuance and meaning. The memoirs are vacuous, simplistic. Six-word love stories expect readers to fill up the blanks when there is nothing but empty silences. Abundance is a recipe for drowning in dullness.

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Haldiram’s – Savoury to unsavoury

Their savories are ubiquitous in Indian shops around the country. Just as popular on the party circuit as it is with those looking for a quick cheap bite on the run. When families curl up to watch TV or welcome guests, one of the products served to them is most likely from the gigantic kitchens of Haldiram. A favourite is ‘Aloo Bhujia‘ – long, thin, crackling and spicy potato slivers that vanish with a crunch and a smile in the mouth. Haldiram’s first cracked the taste code across India, a country that with as many cuisines as it has languages. More, in fact. Travel just a few hundred kilometres within India and the variety is remarkable. But like the original South Indian ‘masala dosa’ became a favourite spanning all languages and states, Haldiram has managed to make inroads everywhere Even in places where the snacks are far from familiar. From a little shop in Bikaner, it spanned the length and breadth of the country to pockets as far away as Surinam and Peru.

It could have become the next Frito Lay. The range of products, the customer loyalty that was built and the market for Indian snacks was proving to be a worldwide success story. By 2005, Haldiram’s was already available in 50 countries. They licked distribution problems, innovated on packaging, gave the products a uniquely Indian identity with bright colours and a design format that stood out on the shelves. With a profusion of Indian motifs and a range of truly distinctive tastes, they seemed unstoppable. With minimal advertising and deft distribution, they dominated wherever they went. Frito Lay in India was not able to compete with the homegrown street savvy marketer. It looked as if India would have a brand that stood tall with the Nestle’s and Kraft’s.

But the momentum was curtailed with unsavoury news. In 2005, there was a dispute with a small shop owner who did not agree to sell his land blocking the entrance to a proposed Haldiram’s mall. Matters reached a head with an attempt being made on the small shop owner’s life. The court convicted the owner of Haldiram’s and sentenced him to life imprisonment. While Haldiram’s national market seems unaffected, the shine on the brand has dimmed. And restoring it is going to be quite a challenge.

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Does your profession define your world view?

I am intrigued by a question I don’t have an answer for. If you are a law enforcement official and see lawbreakers day in and out, are you more suspicious of people as a rule? And are you likely to be on guard even in social situations? On the other hand, if you are a doctor and see the sickness of varying intensities, do you think the whole world is a ‘sick’ place? Making diagnoses even when you aren’t on the job? If you are a banker and you deal with figures, day in and out – fudged or otherwise, do you think that money is the only thing that makes the world go round? Get the drift? Do professions define world views? Or at least colour them. If you are a shopkeeper, you get to meet buyers, day in and out. It’s all transactions. There may be a relationship that evolves over time, but it is limited. So, does that give you only one kind of input on the world and does it define how you think about people?

I think it induces a kind of blindness similar to race blindness – the inability to see people of other races and distinguish between them. Are academics absent-minded because their profession demands exploration of abstract concepts? Do painters portray a kind of reality that is evident only to them? Musicians are lost in the world of studios, orchestra ensembles and harmonies that give them a perspective on life that is far removed from say, a politician’s. Profiteers see people as opportunities to make more money. Are these hard-wired into us? I don’t have the faintest idea – but the interactions I have had indicates that views are shaped by experiences and by interactions – not necessarily by what we read.

What is all this leading to? I am throwing this open. Chip in and narrate what you think is right. I am seeking influencers as much as the influenced. Whether we believe the world is a kind, forgiving and helpful place is determined, I believe, by what we see and do every day. Which brings me to priests. They see people who are pious and who would do no wrong and who beg for forgiveness. What impression do they have – that people are more sinned against than sinning? I think there will be some unusual perspectives.

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Real Time Hype

Everything is real time today – news, search resultssurveys, updates, tweets… All is here and now. We’re finally living where we always wanted to be – in the immediate present. We know what the world is up to, we’re keeping tabs on our work schedules as they happen, we know what our friends like and dislike with smileys, buttons, and icons. We’re available 24 x 7 on our mobile phones, tethered to wi-fi networks, checking mail even on flights and holidays and tweeting, messaging, communicating…. As the Oscars unveil, they are photographed, captured on video, uploaded to Facebook, tweeted across the globe, blogged real time and commenteddebated and talked about. In two days, we generate more data than was generated from the time of known civilisation. We’ve all become data daytraders, looking for blips and dashes of emotion and euphoria. We’re tireless chroniclers moving on to the next experience, the next morsel, even before we know and understand what we have just consumed.

Real time is overrated. Instant is the new scourge, allowing for little or no analysis, regurgitating and spreading all that is coming from the screens we are eternally connected to. By the time news is printed and delivered the next day, it is deemed ‘old’. We’re lowering the value of real experiences and exchanging it for something staged and archived in proprietary vaults that are rarely checked and referenced. In a real house, junk collects over decades. Here it multiplies by the minute and is stored unseen on hard drives in the cloud or buried in files on the PC. We share pictures ‘real time’ from our mobile phones and they are forgotten in a few moments. Fads come and go faster than we comprehend.

Maybe it will lead to some fundamental changes in the way we interact. It’s like trying to analyse events when they are happening. At some future point in time, historians will have their hands full. making sense of the thoughts, dreams, and desires of millions of people talking about everything from breakfast and diet angst to freedom from tyranny and savagery. But for the moment, real time sounds like a confused mass of incoherent voices waiting for time to translate it into something of real, tangible value.

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Twitter Cacophony

I follow 74 people on Twitter and that’s already too much to watch out for. I know there are Twitter lists on hundreds of topics and how they give you instant information. Well, if real wisdom and information were coming at you 24 hours a day, you wouldn’t be able to make any sense of it at all. Twitter’s firehose already has over 50 million tweets a day. Are you cleaner just because you stand under a torrent of water?  Or smarter because you stand in an information stream? A lot of it is going to wash over without any real effect. Guy Kawasaki tweets over a hundred times and basically, he and his retinue of ghost writers direct you to Alltop, the site he’s promoting 24 hours on the trot. Whether Guy is sleeping or not, his tweets steadily pile up.

Even smart people are not going to have something momentous to say time after time. The majority of tweets are rambling personal information, diet preferences, moods, and whines. Like conversations, few have the articulation and the depth to make perceptive observations, so listening to the majority is tuning into cacophony. The history of the common people in real time is here. And it’s boring, repetitive and largely irrelevant. Trawling through them is scrolling through tedium. It makes mediocre look good. And just recording your life does not make it epic. Even as media gushes about how Twitter is changing power structures through real-time information in Iran and Egypt, the fact is that Twitter feeds need curation – someone has to go through those tons of tweets and extract what’s valuable. On the other hand, if all of them are saying the same thing, isn’t the news on TV easier to follow?

Twitter used to be an ego trip. It’s now grown to be a pointer to links. And as many as 21% of Twitter users have not posted even once. If you have a million followers in real life, you’re a guru or a leader. On Twitter, you’re Ashton Kutcher. The whole point of a stream is that water keeps flowing and analysing every drop is an exercise in futility. It’s like looking at an atom and trying to figure out the universe. Sure, the atom is a part of that indivisible whole but there are quadrillions of them, right? I don’t think we’ve come very far from the ‘blind men and the elephant‘ analogy. We pretend to understand the big picture while we look at fragments and draw our conclusions