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Interview with Annie Zaidi

Poetry, essays, fiction of varying lengths and scripts is her forte. Over the recent years, she has written more on non-fiction. If you are a regular at book stores, then you would have surely noticed ‘The Bad Boys Guide To The Good Indian Girl‘ and ‘Known Turf Bantering With Bandits And Other True Tales‘ apart from other titles. Today, at your Adda, we have the versatile author of par excellence and one of the early Indian Bloggers, Annie Zaidi. :) We had a very interesting conversation on various issues that we are sure you’ll enjoy reading. Let’s roll it then.

Annie Zaidi

Q: When and why did you start blogging?

A: I began blogging around 2004 or 2005. I felt like I had a lot to say, because I was travelling to rural areas on work and my magazine writing did not allow me to reflect on my own personal discoveries.

Q: What topics do you generally blog about?

A: There’s no hard and fast rule. I blog whatever I write, which is often vaguely political. But it could also be reviews, or just reflections on what I see around me. Sometimes, it is poetry. I avoid writing about my personal life, though, unless I am doing so in the context of my own social or political commentary.

Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?

A: I no longer blog on a daily basis, and I rarely write something exclusively for the blog. So if I get stuck, I just wait until I get unstuck.

Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?

A: No.

Q: You started blogging immediately after India’s 57th Independence Day. Any particular reason that evoked your very first post on India’s Independence? After 64 years of Independence of India, which group of people have still not gained their freedom, according to you? Also, what are the positive factors that have evolved in these 64 years?

A:  I didn’t actually. I began properly in early 2005. But I had written that first post for Independence Day in 2004, and tried to create a web page for myself. But when I discovered Blogger, I realised that I preferred the blog template and anyway wanted it rather than a website of my own. I wanted, however, to retain the Independence Day post, so I placed it on my blog with a 2004 date. No particular reason. Just that it fit in with the sort of thing I wanted to do with the blog – write about my environment and my country but with a personal touch.

I cannot say what has changed for the better over 64 years. I don’t know enough about what India used to be. But urban/semi-urban, middle-class families certainly have changed even from the time when I was a kid. There’s more consumerism, a lot more television and very little patience.

As for freedom…freedom is not a trophy. You don’t win it once and for all, nor take home little souvenirs that you can display on a high shelf to feel good about yourself. Freedom is a process, an ecology, a constant negotiation of the terms of your life. It can and will be taken away by others if you let them. And you also don’t lose freedom in one go. You lose it by degrees. You can surrender it, or it can be beaten out of you. And when you look at it that way, you realise how fragile freedom is for all of us – all groups.

That said, the worst hit groups are probably Adivasis, especially those who live in forests and depend on the forests for their livelihoods. 1947 was not very significant to them because most forest-dwelling tribes were never quite subjugated. Great damage has been done over the last 64 years through old British laws and the alien attitude to forests and land – as sources of revenue, rather than a resource that must be tapped cautiously, respectfully.

Weavers have had an awful time too. But I don’t know enough about the cloth trade and its history or politics to be able to figure out why.

Q: You have written many articles on women issues like rape, dowry deaths, portrayal of tender love and rape in movies, etc. Your book about the Good Indian Girl also revolves around women. Do you plan to write a serious novel/book on the issues of women someday? Share with us some enjoyable instances of writing this book with Smriti.

A: Okay, firstly – rape, dowry, love are not women’s issues. They’re human issues. And if I ever write a serious novel, I hope to write about humanity, not about ‘issues of women’.

The last book was about the young women, yes, the challenges of fitting into the Good Indian Girl. My co-author Smriti is an old friend, so just talking about the stories was great fun. The whole book is full of that fun, so just read it!

Q: As a journalist, you have worked with many publications. Currently you freelance for magazines and also write your weekly column for DNA. When and why did this shift, from a journalist to a freelance writer, happen? What kind of writing do you enjoy more?

A: I’ve never thought very hard about jobs. But there was no real ‘shift’. I freelanced before I took up steady jobs, and then freelanced again. I took a break from full-time journalism around 3 years ago, because I wanted to write in longer formats, new genres. But freelancers are also journalists. There’s very little difference in the writing itself.

Q: In one of your articles, you talk about the dropping standards of Indian journalism, with more and more paid news coming in. Who do you think is responsible; media agencies, journalists, politicians or people? You also said, “Most journalists are outraged at what’s happening, but are helpless.” Please shed some more light on this.

A: Everyone is responsible to some degree. But I feel that media owners and editors deserve a larger chunk of the blame. They should know that their pact with their audience/ readers is of truth. And paid news is not truth. It is not even half the truth. It is a deliberate lie, a bribe.

Reporters or sub-editors cannot do much to counter paid news, since they do not take decisions about what is printed or aired. At best, they can offer to quit their jobs in protest. But in a media climate when so many organisations are guilty, where would they go?

 Q: A lot of buzz has been created by Anna and his supporters regarding corruption. Where do you feel this movement is headed? In a country where herd mentality exists, do you think that a large scale movement by Anna is justified? Can you suggest any solutions to curb corruption? Share your views.

A: I don’t know where Anna’s movement is headed. I don’t know if it was a movement, really. It seemed more like an outpouring of grief, anger and frustration. But a movement requires sustained involvement. It isn’t enough to express solidarity, wear a cap, and walk away.

I don’t know about ‘herd mentality’ though. Most human beings in most nations have a tendency to follow, rather than lead. I think the problem is that there isn’t a large-scale anti-corruption movement yet. Anna Hazare might mean well but he needs to think harder about what he is pushing, who will be affected, and what the dangers are.

Suggestions for curbing corruption:

  • Police reforms.
  • Judicial reforms.
  • Make the interface between citizens and bureaucrats simpler, more transparent.
  • Use the Internet wisely. Make all state and central officials accountable if they do not respond to official emails within a stipulated time frame. All websites paid for by the people must be updated every day, or at least every week.
  • Strengthen RTI. Fight attempts to dilute it or keep certain people or government departments or private organisations outside its purview.
  • Every district, every constituency, every municipality and every village and hamlet should have an account of its monies – what it gives to the state, what it receives, and how it is spent. This ‘hisaab’ should be up on the walls of every panchayat, every year. It should also be uploaded onto websites.
  • Shorten leases on land, shorten mining licenses. Review usage every year.
  • Allow and encourage communities to decide how money should be spent in their area.

Q: Have there been instances, where you stopped yourself from writing something, that you felt would spark rage amongst readers? As a journalist and writer, what kind of freedom do you seek in a country like India?

A: No. I usually trust readers to respond intelligently. But I am aware that it takes very little to offend people these days.

I only seek my basic rights as a citizen, which is that I should not be harassed or physically attacked or my property damaged. And the guarantee that if this happens, the police will protect me and punish my attackers rather than vice versa. This applies to everyone, not just writers or journalists.

Q: Known Turf, your book, is like a reflection of your blog. In Known Turf, you have written about issues like child hunger, debt, bondage, untouchability, etc., that you came across as a journalist. What is that one story which moved you the most and why?

A: The story of the weavers in Benaras.

Q: Gujarat, A Journey… is your travel book that you wrote in 2008. Is traveling one of your interests? What was the reason to particularly choose this state?

A: That’s a coffee table book. I did travel through Gujarat to write the text, but this one was commissioned. I did not choose that state.

Q: What are you currently writing? When do we expect your next book on stands and what will it be about?

A: I’m working on a collection of short stories. Love stories, all of them. I am not sure when it will be out.

Q: Salman Rushdie unfortunately was not present in the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2012. How was this situation handled by the people present there, and what thoughts did they present?

A: I cannot speak for all those who were present. But a lot of my writer friends were upset. A petition was sent around. And there was some cynicism too. We live in times where people go to great lengths for ‘publicity’. So people often assume that anything that results in publicity must be a stunt.

Q: What is your contribution to Pratilipi? Are the articles on Pratilipi different from what you write on your blog/ weekly column?

A: I’ve written some poetry, some fiction, and non-fiction for Pratilipi. The non-fiction is in the same space as my blog.

Q: Annie Zaidi’s lesser known side is of recipes she never actually tried. Is cooking your hobby? What do you do when you are away from your work and blog?

A: I don’t cook. That’s why I never tried those recipes. I read when I am not working. Or watch films and plays. Or chat with friends.

Q: What does Mumbai mean to you? Share some things that only this city could have given you. Which are your favorite places in Mumbai?

A: Mumbai means home, for now. This city gave me confidence. It forced me to become more independent that I had ever imagined. It also gave me a huge anonymity, which I needed to be able to grow as a writer.

I like Juhu beach and the older ‘villagey’ parts of Bandra.

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

A: That depends on what you want to do with your blog. Don’t interact if you don’t want to.

I respond to most comments, especially if they are questions, or critiques.

Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?

A: I get to write whatever I want, and put it out in the world, without interference from a third party.

Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.

A: The Indian blogosphere is HUGE. I cannot make any generalized statements about quality.

I haven’t added many new blogs to my list, but here are 5 blogs I like and would recommend:

  • Jabberwock – For deeply insightful writing about cinema and books and other important things.
  • Blank Noise – Because it is both a campaign and a participatory art project.
  • Sans Serif – For gossip about the Indian media, as well as critique.
  • Mad Momma – For lucid, consistently good writing and a boldly maternal worldview.
  • Trivial Matters – A lovely photo blog that always shows me how to see things in new ways.

Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?

A: Start it.

Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?

A: No, I don’t.

Q: According to you, what is the future of Blogging?

A:  Can’t say.

Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.

Color: White, yellow.

Movie: Can’t possibly pick one.

TV Show: Don’t watch TV.

Book: Can’t pick one.

Time of Day: 7 pm.

Thank you Annie for this wonderful interview. We wish you all the best for the upcoming book on love stories. Looking forward to it. :)

Friends, connect with Annie: Blog, BlogAdda, Twitter.

4 Responses to “Interview with Annie Zaidi”

  1. Lubna says:

    Nice interview. I do like most of her suggestions on curbing corruption, these are practical and can be implemented.

  2. Katie Nathan says:

    I have one question to ask – Where do you draw the line between paid news and reviews? As you know reviews and recommendations are more or less the view of the concerned reviewer. Is it not easy to camouflage paid news as reviews and get away with it? Your views please.

  3. Annie Zaidi says:

    Katie: No, no comparison at all. Paid news is paid for. A review is a critique. It could be positive or negative. A near comparison would be the edit pages of a newspaper. Those are opinions too. And it is in the interests of the reader as well as the paper/mag to allow different shades of opinion. Which is why readers too are allowed space on the edit page. Similarly, that is why many magazines pick reviewers who are not on the staff. Books are (ideally) sent to someone who is likely to read the book insightfully, and does not know the writer too well.
    This is not always true of film critics, of course. Esp in India, where critics seem to have clear favourites and many have filming ambitions themselves. In a business where networking is all, many end up biting their tongues. But even so, there is a difference between a kind reviewer and one who accepts money for a review. However, matters are complicated in a new media climate where the paper/channel itself becomes a partner or accepts money from filmmakers, and therefore does not allow a reviewer to write a negative review. THAT goes beyond camouflage. I consider that corruption.

  4. Katie Nathan says:

    Exactly, well said. Any influence on the reviewer by the paper/channel is stage managed and is far from realty and as you rightly said, should be construed as corruption. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Enjoyed reading your straight talk.

    Best
    Katie

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