Welcome to the South Asian Blogosphere
I’ve always thought that my mother is pretty techsavvy. Every morning, as I grudgingly drag myself out of bed, my multi-processing mom is already situated on her office chair, dialing into a global conference call, while frantically typing instant messages to coworkers. As I pick up calls on my archaic cell phone—barely held together by a rubber band—my mom checks her email and text messages on a slick PDA given to her by Nokia, the trend-setting mobile phone company for which she works.
So one day, as I watched my mom peruse an array of popular South Asian-focused websites such as Rediff.com and Samachar.com, I casually asked her which South Asian blogs she reads on a daily basis. I expected her to rattle off, at the very least, some of the most well established blogs like Sepia Mutiny and SAJAForum.
But with a perplexed look on her face, she responded, “Wait, what exactly is a blog?”
Baffled, I glanced back at her with that, “are you from the stone age?” look plastered across my face. With millions of blogs floating around the internet these days, it seemed unfathomable that my mom hadn’t even stumbled upon one. I decided to write off her reaction as a sheer anomaly.
But later that day, I was bewildered again. My parents had invited ten of their close friends over for dinner, and I found myself surrounded by a versatile mix of successful industry professionals. They were predominately serial entrepreneurs, but among the group were a few project managers, a former corporate executive, a software engineer, and a medical lab director.
Determined to seize the opportunity to show my un-blog-savvy mom just how out of the loop she actually was, I decided to ask my “what blogs do you read” question to this gathering of internet-whizzes (who, naturally, must have evolved into blog-junkies as well).
But once again, my question was met with blank stares and raised eyebrows. After a few silent moments and hesitant mummers, two individuals piped up with responses. One said she frequented a travel blog written by a friend’s son, while the second revealed that she did, in fact, reads many different blogs daily. I was intrigued. Why had she chosen to embrace the blogosphere when everyone around her hadn’t?
“Blogs are one of the only information sources for social entrepreneurship, which is my current field of work,” said Neerja Raman, a Senior Research Fellow at Stanford University and Co-Founder of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
In one sentence, Raman laid out the framework for understanding why blogs haven’t permeated my parents’ generation as much as mine. Blogs predominately reflect the information being discovered and studied today, right here and right now. Professionals working in relatively new fields such as social entrepreneurship can’t use traditional print references, simply because most of the latest industry research and findings haven’t yet been published in books. Blogs written by reputable scholars and professionals have therefore gained enough respect to be attributed as credible information sources.
Yet to assume that blogs are only pertinent to professionals like Raman would be to completely underestimate the versatility and reach of the blogosphere. And to assume that blogs haven’t caught on only among first generation immigrants would be another misconception. Even my former college roommate, a die-hard internet user, didn’t know what a blog was when I asked her early last year.
The concept of “blog style writing” had its historical precedent in paper journals, diaries, and chronicles. From the confessions of Jack the Ripper to the diaries of Ann Frank, individuals of varying demographic backrounds have been journaling for many years now.
During the early internet days, the introduction of Usenet, e-mail lists, and bulletin board systems fostered the growth of various genres of online writing and digital correspondence. In the wake of the information revolution, the concept of creating a backwards-chronological online web diary was introduced and later coined as a “weblog” (a term which later evolved into blog) by early blogger Jorn Barger on his Robot Wisdom website in 1997. According to Jesse James Garret, editor of Infosift, there were only 23 known blogs at the beginning of 1999. As of August 2007, Technorati (an online search engine for searching and ranking blogs) has indexed over 94 million blogs on the world wide web.
Blogs provide a means for individuals to carve out a personal space on the internet, a novelty previously impossible without knowledge of HTML coding and web design. Initially, blogs were used primarily as forums for self-expression, outlets for people to publicly air the details of their lives and thoughts. In more than one way, these early blogs resembled diaries.
But blogs have come a long way since the late ’90s, and even though personal blogs still exist in great numbers, thematic and topic-oriented blogs have become just as popular, if not more. These blogs serve to provide commentary, news, or analysis on particular subjects. Likewise, they have become expert information sources on topics such as politics, current events, pop culture, and our growing diaspora.
This last point cannot be overstated. As we evolve into an increasingly globalized desi community, one in which the internet and cyber technology serve as core means of connectivity, desi blogs are the information sources that break culturally-relevant stories. When the Bombay Blasts occurred in July 2006, desi blogs like Sepia Mutiny ferociously posted the latest breaking news, updating their blog more than ten times in one day alone. Outraged by the blasts, the desi community responded quickly and loudly. Blogs such as UltraBrown and DesiPundit posted links to their latest updates and Sepia Mutiny readers left more than 400 comments throughout the day. Some readers offered condolences, others shared advice for how to track down loved ones in Bombay, but most expressed their frustrations with global terrorism.
With an increasing number of desis making waves in various professions and forms of activism, our blogs are more far-reaching and numerous than ever before. As soon as a new South Asian face is spotted on television or heard while taking a political stance or acknowledged for excelling in the professional sports arena, desi blogs are the first to point them out (usually just minutes after a sighting).
This past summer, when leukemia victims Vinay Chakravarthy and Sameer Bhatia voiced their desperate plea for South Asians to become registered bone marrow donors, blogs served as an instrumental force in the mobilization of our community. Desi blogs have provided a new form of communal infrastructure, one in which the click of a mouse allows South Asians of varying backgrounds to applaud (or admonish) the work, achievements, and actions of active South Asian community members around the world today.
For all those blog novices who are looking to venture into this realm of the internet, I’ve put together a list of the most engaging and credible desi blogs to guide your foray into the South Asian blogosphere.
The Key Players
During the 2004 presidential election, six South Asian bloggers shared their frustrations with political apathy and the lack of centralized information within the desi community. These young, political charged individuals wanted to create a forum that would give visibility to desi new stories that weren’t being covered in the mainstream media. On July 20, 2004, the trio joined forces, and Sepia Mutiny was born. Two years later, Sepia Mutiny has taken the throne as King of all South Asians blogs, attracting a loyal readership which includes the young, old, immigrants, second-gens, and just about any desi-enthusiast out there. The blog is fresh, liberal—unafraid to bring up risqué and controversial topics (like a Columbia University study examining the sexual activity of immigrant vs. second-generation Indian-Americans). At the same time, Sepia Mutiny doesn’t shy away from celebrating Indian culture (after all, Sepia Mutiny is an indirect pun on Sepoy Mutiny, otherwise known as the First War of Indian Independence in 1857). The “Mutineers” post on desi-topics related to films, books, articles, and legislation that affect South Asians primarily residing in the United States. And of course, in typical desi style, Sepia Mutiny doesn’t just leave its active readers hanging at their computers. The bloggers organize “meet-ups” in various metropolitan cities, where readers have the opportunity to meet-and-greet and discuss ideas in person with one another.
It’s almost unfathomable that only two people maintain the South Asian Journalist Association (SAJA) blog, considering that the blog is that surprising given that journalist and media mastermind Sree Srinivasan is one of the two bloggers. The other blogger, WNYC Reporter Arun Venugopal, diligently posts a wealth of engaging information, from links to articles written by SAJA members to amusing YouTube videos, and everything in between. Arun’s writing is witty and youthful, yet effortlessly captures the professionalism of the well-respected SAJA name. By keeping a watch on who’s moving up in the ranks and on the latest stories stirring, SAJAForum has evolved into the daily “go-to” resource for South Asians media folks. But the blog isn’t limited to all things journalism-related. SAJAForum posts on anything and everything South-Asian related. Talented guest writers post mid-length, thought-provoking essays on subjects such as India’s Independence Day, 9/11, and the perception of hijabs in the workforce.
UberDesi keeps their posts short and sweet, usually presenting readers with just a tidbit of content and commentary—an effective approach given that most internet readers these days have short attention spans. Perhaps the greatest appeal of UberDesi is in its sharp and straightforward design and writing. The blog doesn’t over-saturate the reader with information, which is a nice change from most blogs which provide lengthy commentary. UberDesi posts amusing finds, like their “Desi Ad of The Week” or a quirky new stories (like one on a 90-year-old man who recently fathered his 21st child), but at the same time, the blog is quick to report South Asian new stories and bring attention to cultural and religious issues and news on discrimination.
When Amit Varma, former managing editor of Cricinfo (in India) decided to become a consultant and pursue a variety of projects, India Uncut was just one of them. But the blog quickly gained popularity and took off big time. Before he knew it, Amit had gained a worldwide readership. The India Uncut blog has fewer links and more comments, which leaves room for the “Linkastic” section, a filtered contributor-based blog which serves to save readers time by bringing them some of the most interesting news on the internet, all day long (a must-have bookmark for obsessive news readers). What separates India Uncut from the pack is Amit’s ability to infuse his personal flare into the blog without being too overbearing. For example, since Amit loves quizzing and crossword puzzles, he posts a quiz and creates a crossword each day. Additionally, India Uncut’s contributing bloggers write short pieces on things like books, films, and albums; their posts are appraising and celebratory of the work being discussed. You won’t find any finger-pointing or snarly criticism on India Uncut, because Amit believes life is too short to write negative things about stuff we don’t like.
Ultrabrown is young and satirical, yet the blog also maintains grace with tasteful content. The blog posts humorous photos, videos, narratives, and goes one step further to point out the ever-present ironies in each of the aforementioned outlets of expression. Ultrabrown has a comprehensive list of references which provides something interesting for every unique reader: a hyper linked list of artist on their “IPod” for the music lover, a “check it” list of blogs they recommend for blog-junkies, a “picture” list of photo-websites for the photography-enthusiast. Another appealing aspect of Ultrabrown is their “category” list, which features topics from much-discussed South Asians like M.I.A and Sania Mirza to general topics such as politics, religion, musings, and the “really weird.” On one recent post, the blog shared photos of a recent “meet-up” among both Ultrabrown and Sepia Mutiny readers.
DesiPundit strives to be the one-stop shop for all things India. The blog is monitored by a team of globetrotting bloggers, varied in age, background, geographic location, and industries, scattered across three continents and six time zones. Unlike most blogs, DesiPundit doesn’t generate its own content. They believe there is already enough information out there; it just needs to be circulated more efficiently. The blog is all about posting links to interesting content—articles, studies, news stories, and pretty-much anything note-worthy on the web. But accompanying their links, bloggers add personal commentary, which they categorize as “snarky and erudite” comments. The blog has a true global-community feel and runs features such as an India photo album comprised of photos submitted by DesiPundit readers.
Special Interests and Blog Resources
This blog provides an interactive online platform to stimulate dialogue among the young generation of Bangladesh. Unheard Voices aims to enrich our understanding and broaden our perspective on current affairs by bringing together contributors with diverse experiences, opinions, and viewpoints.
A smart, well formulated and to-the-point blog that provides commentary on India’s foreign policy. With 2,356 posts and 10,245 comments to date, Acorn has established itself as a respected information source for South Asian politics.
In an attempt to bring together the “very best” writers, and critics, and to provide them with a forum to articulate their views about the new post-post colonial world, DesiCritics.org was born. Today, more than 500 critics make up the Desicritics team.
Filmiholic was created under the original pretext of seeing how many Hindi movies—the older ones, the newest ones, and repeats of some favorites—that this blogger could watch and review over the space of the next 90 days. The blog has since evolved into a one-stop-shop for photos, interviews, and reviews of all desi films (in India and far beyond).
Blogs Every Media Professional Should Know
For those struggling to keep pace with the blogosphere, Sree Sreenivasan breaks down the blogging world. Through an engaging series of sixteen short videos, Sreenivasan presents a thorough introduction to the key players of the online world, delving into the present and future of the web as a media outlet.
The Daily Plan-It
For those who are just trying to figure out how to use RSS feeds to read blogs, a Columbia University student outlines the process in an easy-to-follow manner.
|Rupa Dev is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She currently resides in the Bay Area.