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Humor is your best defense and your best offence: Amrita Rajan

My name is Amrita Rajan and I blog at IndieQuill(http://indiequill.wordpress.com).  I’m in my late twenties, a writer. I spend a fair amount of my time traveling and reading. Home is where my parents are, no matter where I pay rent.  I’m terrible at introducing myself because the things that seem important to other people are never the ones that are important to me. I couldn’t care less about your hobbies or where you went to college – I want to know what you think.

So I never know what to say about myself. Which is why the About page on my blog is so cryptic. To read me is to know me – they say what you write reveals more about you as a person more than anything else, and I’ve always felt that is very true (while secretly hoping it’s not).

Interview

Q: Welcome to Speakbindas. Tell us since when blogging has been a part of your life? Was there any motive or inspiration as a backbone of it?

  • A: Thank you. I’ve been blogging for about four-five years now. IndieQuill is heading for its third anniversary next year. I got my start thanks to my friend Temporal (Baithak) who was insistent I try it out. It took me a while to dip my toes in and decide whether I liked it or not and what I wanted to do with it. It’s a lot harder than it looks! Eventually, I decided this was a good way to maintain writing discipline, which was something I needed at the time.
  • IndieQuill came at the end of a period of much experimentation with different sites and I think it’s benefited by it.

Q: What is your blog all about? Which topics you cover there? Is that you alone running/maintaining the blog, or have a team?

  • A: IndieQuill reflects my curiosity about the world. If I were a superhero, I’d want my superpower to be “to know everything”. So my blogging niche is “whatever strikes my fancy”. Over the years it’s begun to get pop culture heavy – I’m fascinated by what we’re doing as a species right now, right this moment. What do we like to watch/read/listen to, what kind of art are we creating, what do we value, what motivates us? And what does it all say about us?
  • Me, my brain, my fingers and the calluses on my wrist (freaky!) are the team behind IndieQuill.

Q.: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?

  • A: Very. A sense of community is what drives the internet and blogs in particular. And I try to respond to everyone but at some point I have to draw the line and move on because once I’ve written my usual ten thousand word post (that’s only a slight exaggeration!), I’ve pretty much worked it out of my system and now interested in seeing how you react. So if you leave a comment a week after I put up a post, it’s possible you might not get a reply. On the other hand, some people come back weeks or months later and say something that might get my brain working again, which makes me take up the discussion once more.
  • One of the reasons I love my readers so much is that they always have interesting things to say – it could be a one line quip or a detailed reaction, and sometimes they disagree pretty strongly, but it’s all good. I love it.
  • But generally, it’s a matter of netiquette, I think. They’re giving their time to what could well be your senseless rambling and have actually bothered to say something, even if it’s just a smiley face. How much time does it take for you to tap out a smiley face in return? Be polite.
  • Then there are the trolls who show up. I’ve been on the internet a long time and I’ve pretty much seen all the stupid troll comments there are. There used to be a time when I’d get all worked up and give back in equal measure but at a certain point, it just got really boring. I grew up. They didn’t. I actually regret the flame wars I used to have – I don’t know why I put in so much effort into feeding other people’s mental problems. These days I just ignore, send them to spam or, if it’s particularly hilarious, point and laugh.

Q: What are the present statistics for your blog, i.e. number of daily visitors, visitors geographical status etc.?

  • A: I average about 1200 people on a normal day, most of them from India and the United States.

Q: Is blogging for you just a passion or a medium for earning too? Does it help you to earn enough cash to quit a 9 to 5 day job?

  • A: IndieQuill is not a revenue source for me, no. Maybe some day. I have a feeling that if I monetized it, I’d feel obligated to actually make a “success” out of it, so slowly it’d turn from a pleasure to a job – I much prefer my current definition of success which is that I’ve turned IQ into a small but steadily increasing community of people I genuinely like and whose opinion matters to me.

Q: Who are your favorite bloggers, whom you read frequently?

A: I spend a crazy amount of time on the net, so I’m just going to hit the highlights:

  • Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish and his fellow Atlantic bloggers Ta-Nehisi Coates and James Fallows. TNC is probably my favorite out of the three but it’s a close competition.
  • Michael K. of DListed – he is the bomb in my glitter box. (That doesn’t even make sense but that’s how I feel.)
  • Sara K. Smith is on maternity leave at present but she’s the funniest writer at Wonkette.
  • I love what they’re trying to do at The Awl and Mary HK Choi cracks me up everytime she’s on.
  • Alex Pareene and Foster Kamer at Gawker.
  • Greta Kaemmer of Memsaab Story who does some truly phenomenal work with Hindi movies and Baradwaj Rangan of Blogical Conclusion because he’s awesome. Actually, the Bollywood Bloggers in general, most of whom are good friends of mine – Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood, Ramsu of 24 Frames Per Second, Bollyviewer of Old is Gold, etc.
  • And really, everybody on my blogroll. My blogroll is a very personal reflection of my web-trawling habits. I’m a master lurker!

Q: From the secret bucket of your blogging experiences, what tips you would like to share with the fellow bloggers?

A: Gosh, I don’t know if I have a secret bucket. Most of it’s what I learned in writing school, the rest, what I picked up writing and commenting around the internet:

  1. Be passionate about (or at least interested in) your subject matter – fakery is easy to spot a mile away.
  2. Don’t be intimidated into shutting up by some guy who’s yelling at you. It’s your blog, your space, and if you don’t like what he’s got to say, remember you can hit the delete button.
  3. Link whoring will take you thus far in the traffic stakes but at the end of the day you want blogging to be a pleasurable experience for you and more than a one-time stop during a cresting Google trend for your reader. Keep your audience in mind, but remember you want them to keep coming back. And the way to do it is to say something meaningful. If you can find a way to say something meaningful about a trending topic, then that’s the cherry on top.
  4. Humor is your best defense and your best offence.
  5. Do not walk around offering link exchanges. That’s just tacky. If someone likes your work, they’ll link by themselves. If they don’t then it’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean they hate you.
  6. Yes, it’s a blog but that doesn’t mean nobody cares about spelling or grammar any more – I know it’s shocking, but people actually like it when they can understand what the hell you’re saying.
  7. Don’t try and write like that writer you admire. They’re already writing. If people want to read them, then why should they come to you for the knockoff version? You have a voice of your own, use it.
  8. Think.
  9. Don’t be an asshole. If you are going to be one, make sure the issue is one you really care about because the world is a lot smaller than you think and someday you’re going to run into someone in real life who didn’t like what you said that one time and you want to be able to defend yourself. Or at least say, “Yeah, my bad. But at the time, it was that important to me.”

Q: Do you believe that blogging completes you? If yes, tell us how?

  • A: No. I’m a pretty finished product. Blogging isn’t my religious vocation or destiny or something. I’d miss it if I didn’t do it, as I would anything I found pleasurable, but I’m sure I’d survive.

Q: What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

  • A: I’m extremely phlegmatic. I don’t find things as amazingly fantastic as others do and consequently I don’t find them as earth-shattering as they could be for other people. Wow, that sounds sad. But that’s also the way it is. Bad things happen, good things also happen – life moves on and everything works out about equal.

Q: Say, you are sponsored to travel to 3 world destinations, where you need not to worry about costs for food, hotel or anything. Which destinations would you pick up, and why? Would you like to take someone along with you? If yes, whom?

  • A: Paris – because it’s beautiful and fascinating and there’s always something to do. Plus my dad spent a significant part of his life in that city and it’s fun to walk around thinking, “Hmmm, I wonder if he saw this or was a part of that?” People generally find it comforting to think their parents hatched out of a hermetically sealed egg around the time they themselves were born, but I find it mildly entertaining to imagine my parents as these scandalous secret 60s flower children who settled down to South Indian respectability in their later years.
  • The Ocean – I’ve always wanted to get on a yacht and just sail around the world. Not in a “beat that record”, “race to the finish line” sort of way, but in a leisurely “the world is a big place and I want to see as much of it as I can” sort of way. To spend days crossing the vastness of the Atlantic, putting in at tiny islands scattered in the Pacific, calling on the ports of Africa, following routes that our ancestors did thousands of years ago… it’s romantic in the complete sense of the word.
  • South America – I don’t know what it is about that continent but it fascinates me. The food, the people, the geography, the flora and fauna – everything about it sounds so exotic. Ideally, I’d go on a road trip.
  • As for company, I’d take along my laptop and an internet connection.

Q: Are you into watching movies? If yes, which fills your list of favorite ones?

  • A: Ha ha ha!! Yes. I’m into watching movies. I watch them the way I read books – anything goes. It’s a cliché but I love the oldies. Everybody just looked better and spoke better and did more interesting things than people today. It’s getting progressively harder to do revolutionary stuff these days unless it’s technological. Half the movies they made back in the 40s, 50s and 60s wouldn’t even get greenlit today.
  • However, I also think there a lot of directors today who’re doing some fascinating work. Steven Soderbergh, Tom Tykwer, Vishal Bhardwaj and a few others. Pedro Almodavar’s been amazing for longer than I’ve been alive, I think. Imtiaz Ali has made me fall for romcoms again.
  • Asking me to choose favorites is like asking me to choose my favorite eye – I don’t think it can be done! But I’ll watch anything directed by Bimal Roy, Frank Capra, Mani Ratnam, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Elia Kazan, Manmohan Desai, Alfred Hitchcock, Vincente Minelli and the above mentioned directors plus a few more. There are a number of people whose work I love on a selective basis but the above mentioned are people whose movies I’ll watch anytime, anywhere. I’d take their movies with me to a deserted island.
  • As you can see, I tend to focus on directors. There are a number of actors I adore but at the end of the day, a movie is only as good as the director. I really, truly believe that. There are a lot of excellent actors in bad movies but a director, good or bad, can’t be separated from his movie. That’s why I find it infinitely more sad when a director goes into a creative decline. Because you’re witnessing the deterioration of a great mind, which is a tragedy greater than a few extra wrinkles on a famous face.
  • That said, Cary Grant, Kate Hepburn, Marcello Mastroianni, Waheeda Rehman, Paul Newman and Shashi Kapoor – I’ll watch them in anything.

Q: How has blogging helped you other than money?

  • A: It’s brought me in touch with some truly amazing people. There is a tendency in our culture, globally speaking, to focus on the negatives. Turn on your TV, pick up your newspaper and you’d think the world is only full of crooks, rapists and murderers. It can really destroy the way you look at people, especially when you’re a news junkie like me. But the blogging community, at least in my experience, tends to bring out the best in people – I’ve met with more encouragement, praise and warmth on my blog than anywhere else save my parents’ home. I’m probably jinxing it now!
  • It sounds horribly sentimental to say this, but my regulars are the best part of my blogging experience. They are smart, funny and always interesting. They don’t always agree with me but they’re not assholes about it. They’re the kind of people I’d like to hang out with in real life.
  • It’s also cleared my thinking. When you’re writing for an audience every day, one that can write back and has access to the wonder that is Google search, you need to move past kneejerk-ism. This is a useful tip for life in general. You might still be wrong or whatever, but at least you didn’t do the lazy thing. You put in the effort and used your brain.

Q: What would be the one thing you’d change about yourself?

  • A: My unlimited ability to procrastinate.

Q: What is your deepest fear?

  • A: As a writer? That I’d wake up one day and have no words. Or worse still, have ideas and opinions in my head but be unable to put them into words. It’s a struggle that all writers face, I think – the fear that this is it, you’ll never write another word again, the writer fairy will come in the night and take back her gift.
  • In general? That I wake up one day and some fundamentalist has taken over the world and suddenly I don’t have the right to use my words anymore because I have lady parts. To be without a voice.

Q: If you could meet one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

  • A: I don’t like meeting people. Nothing personal really. The difference between people you admire from a distance and meeting up with them in real life is that the person in your head is often nothing like the person in your head. If I like some unknown person enough to want to meet them, then I’m probably better off with my illusions.
  • But if I absolutely have to, then I’d choose to meet me in a previous reincarnation. That sounds incredibly narcissistic, I know, but for one thing it’d prove whether or not there is such a thing as other lives and for another, I want to know how much of my current person is a result of the era in which I live and my upbringing. It would be a fascinating comparison.

Q: Which is your favorite television show? Favorite songs?

  • A: Oh wow. I’m a TV addict in addition to all my other vices. An American / British TV addict. Indian TV is interesting in a WTF way but I love the scripted dramas on American and British TV. Just off the top of my head, the ones I’m really into right now include Mad Men, Dexter, The Mentalist, Castle, True Blood, Breaking Bad, Leverage, Burn Notice, The Midsomer Murders… you know this could go on forever. My heart breaks when my favorites go off air – Life was robbed; I can’t believe the nonsense they pulled with Southland and I’m so glad it’s coming back on another network; Life on Mars (both the British version and the American one) is over but it was great while it lasted.
  • British shows are a little frustrating to follow because they make like six episodes a year and then nobody knows whether it’s coming back or when or if it’s going to come back with a complete reboot. So it’s a little hard on a fan. Miniseries are much easier. I have a review of The Red Riding trilogy that needs to be polished.
  • Favorite songs are just as difficult. I listen to what everybody on the subcontinent listens to obviously – golden oldies, film songs, qawwals and ghazals from across the border. I really like Indian folk. Like I’m obsessed with it. I listen to a lot of hip hop and R&B but I’ve learned to carefully screen the artists I listen to after I got hooked on 50 Cent for a quick minute back there (don’t you dare judge me – we all had a Fiddy period) and I ended up depressed and angry for a month because I was listening to him on my daily commute and the lyrics were messing with my head. Oh, and I like string quartets. Weird, I know, but I do.

Q: How much money do you have in your purse/wallet right now (including change)?

  • A: I live cash free as much as possible. Cab fare is about all I generally carry in my wallet. $20 in the States, Rs. 500 in India. Fold it up and leave it in a corner of your wallet, not to be touched except in case of emergencies. Never leave home without cab fare, ladies.

Q: What is your favorite food? Any particular dislikes?

  • A: Things that are bad for me! I could eat mac and cheese every day. Also pizza. The other day I was making some mac and cheese (I make it old school, from scratch) and I realized I was going to shortly sit down to a big bowl of three kinds of dairy with a little bit of flour – it’s disgusting! And so delicious!
  • I know I’m supposed to be all, “Meri maa ke haath ka khana” and sure, I love my mom’s cooking but I can’t “eat curry for breakfast” as one of my cousins once put it. At least one meal a day has to be non-Indian and non-rich.

Q: What’s your take on the technological advancement these days? Does it make people’s life simple or complicated?

  • A: It’s a love-hate affair. On the one hand, I firmly believe the advent of the internet has seriously changed people’s, but especially women’s, lives for the better. You can sit at home and be in touch with the world. Someone, somewhere gets you. There’s this Kevin Smith quote that I love because it’s so true: “You’ll never be lonely again.”
  • On the other hand, there are a lot more people who want you to get on this or that bandwagon. People want to know why I don’t stop by Facebook more often, why am I not updating this site or that site, how come I’m not on Twitter, blah blah blah. I understand they’re not doing it to be mean or annoying but… People are constantly calling me on the phone and getting angry because I don’t pick up. Listen, send me an email and I’ll reply. It might take me a couple more days than you’re comfortable with, but I’ll reply. And if it’s truly urgent then I’ll do it double quick. But don’t bug me.
  • Technology exists to serve me, I don’t exist to serve technology.

Q: What do you think of “blogging is the next BIG thing”?

  • A: I think blogging was the “the next BIG thing” like five years ago. My dad’s in his 70s and knows they exist – he might even follow a couple. I think that means they’ve pretty much soaked into the general consciousness. It’s a firm part of our global middle class-and-upper culture now.

Q: Any special message you would like to share with your blog readers as well with everyone else?

  • A: To my chilled out readers, I’d like to say, “smoochies baba-log!”
  • And to everyone else, I’d like to say: Lighten up. Why the hell is everyone so angry these days? If you’re that miserable about where you are and what you’re doing, move on and do something else. Life’s too short.

About

Devang Vibhakar is the Founder and Editor of www.SpeakBindas.com. He has interviewed more than 350 people. His effort was recognized by Limca Book of Records, twice. He has been to Scotland as well as Germany as part of vocational & cultural exchange programs and has compiled five books so far. He's passionate about bringing forth interesting stories & interviews of entrepreneurs to avid readers of SpeakBindas. He can be reached here.

6 thoughts on “Humor is your best defense and your best offence: Amrita Rajan

  1. One of the best readable interviews at SpeakBindas, by a blogger. This is what I feel, Amrita after having read your interesting answers.

    Thank you for participating.

  2. Amrita says:

    I’m glad you feel that way 🙂 Thanks for asking me!

  3. Piker says:

    Wonderful interview. As a long time reader (although a terribly infrequent commenter) I must say I thoroughly enjoy your love of pop-culture — especially posts on American/Brit TV shows. Keep up the good work!

    1. Amrita says:

      Thanks Piker! How’ve you been?
      .-= Amrita´s last blog ..My Secret Santa =-.

      1. Piker says:

        Not too much. You know, the usual – don’t blog for a long time, then switch domains, and then write the mandatory apology post, followed by another token post. That’s the story so far. Twitter hasn’t helped matters either. 🙂
        .-= Piker´s last blog ..American festivities – Part I: Halloween =-.

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About

Devang Vibhakar
Devang Vibhakar
(Editor, www.SpeakBindas.com)
SpeakBindas is a Limca Book of Awards winning blog. It's a PR3 blog with 1000+ articles & Interviews. Devang Vibhakar - Founder - has interviewed more than 350+ people and has been to Scotland, London & Germany. He's a writer, speaker, traveler & movie-goer !! He has also written four books. He's passionate about bringing forth interesting stories & interviews of people from various sectors of life to avid readers of SpeakBindas. You can reach him here .