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Mar. 26 2010 — 4:14 am | 71 views | 1 recommendations | 0 comments

Obama teaches a lesson or two about editing

I have edited and have been edited.

Thanks to computers, it has been ages since I have edited something on paper.

But this photograph from the White House Flicker makes me grab a sheet of paper, and start striking words, drawing arrows and circling phrases.

President Barack Obama and Jon Favreau, head speechwriter, edit a speech on health care in the Oval Office, Sept. 9, 2009, in preparation for the president's address to a joint session of Congress.Ê(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In my part of the world, where we look up to the West as a source of all goodness, President Obama has been the best thing that has happened. In the photo you see Obama and speech writer Favreau edits a speech.

Obama, has been an inspiration to the Eastern world for the following things:

1. We (people of South Asian descent) are making a concerted effort to speak better English, thanks to Obama speeches, so that we are not objects of the white man’s  dinner table ridicule.

2. The photograph of him editing the speech will make us realize that it is not very bad to use pen and paper. Laptop-enabled South Asians complain about how difficult it is to write with pen these days.

3. You can have time and the courage to hug and look jealously at your wife even if you are the busiest person on earth.

For people like me who work with words, point number 2 is worth considering.

Hank Stuever of the Washington Post writes in his blog about the photograph.

A photo like this is thrilling, gratifying and also terribly frightening to anyone who delivers his or her own writing to an editor. (Or a group of editors.) I wonder how this picture makes other people feel. I see it and feel a swelling of pride — not in the president so much as in the hard work that goes into good writing.

But I also get a lurching feeling in my stomach. I have marked up my own drafts like this, and, when invited, I have done the same for other writers. (Though probably not to this extent.) I certainly have received manuscript pages back from George Hodgman that looked like this.

When it comes back to you in this condition, you have to take a deep breath and just deal with each mark, one by one.

At the Washington Post, we don’t edit on paper. The equivalent to this picture would be to come over to your editor’s desk and see your story up on his or her screen, filled with “red notes,” sort of like the edit-track function in Microsoft Word. Questions are in red. Cuts are in red. Suggestions for rewrites are in red. My eye is trained to immediately look for instances of red; only once, on an edit with Henry Allen several years ago, did I open the file and see more red than black. (Which turned out to be false panic — most of the red was actually a long note from Henry after the lead paragraph suggesting that I veered off in the wrong direction.)



Mar. 9 2010 — 6:51 am | 111 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Media needs ‘Avatar’ backing to write indigenous peoples’ issues

Members of the Dongria Kondh tribe dance in a trance during a ceremony on top of the Niyamgiri mountain, which they worship as their living god, to protest against plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from that mountain (REUTERS/Reinhard Krause)

Members of the Dongria Kondh tribe dance in a trance during a ceremony on top of the Niyamgiri mountain, which they worship as their living god, to protest against plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from that mountain (REUTERS/Reinhard Krause)

When Boa (85), the last speaker of one of the world’s oldest dialect died early last month, it attracted international headlines. One site had a video of her singing in the language spoken in  the  Andaman Islands of India.

Apart from such ‘quirky’ events, the plight of the 68 million tribals of India, known as adivasis (meaning original inhabitants), rarely get any news coverage. But the James Cameron movie, Avatar, gave chance to around 8,000 tribals in an impoverished part of  northern India to speak for their rights.

The real life story is being played out in the Indian state of Orissa where the Dondgria Tribe is in a fight against London listed Vendanta Reources, a mining giant. The ‘Navi’ of India wants the company to stop mining plans from a ’sacred mountain’  from where Vedanta plans to extract 78m tons of bauxite.

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Mar. 2 2010 — 12:10 pm | 846 views | 2 recommendations | 15 comments

Letter to my dead father on his second year to heaven

Late Pastor Samuel Skariah Marutayathu with his son, daughter and wife. A photograph taken at a South Indian Studio when the camera was an American Dream

Late Pastor Samuel Skariah Marutayathu with his son, daughter and wife. A photograph taken at a South Indian Studio when the camera was an American Dream

Dear Papachi,

After I had signed papers to put you back on the ventilator, the doctors did not let anyone in. That morning, lying amid machines and tubes that criss-crossed your body, you said, “Get me a mirror.”

You died that evening on the fifth floor of the hospital run by the hugging saint’s trust. It was March 2, 2008.

I know I am late, because I want to set this record straight. You were angry that moment when you asked for the mirror, and several nights over the past two years, you had woken me up just to argue with me throughout the night. Because of you, I have been late to office several times,  until a Buddhist monk friend in Bhutan told me to tell you the next time you visit, “Don’t argue.”

But even if you had asked me with that voice – the deep missionary baritone of yours that had proclaimed Jesus is coming soon – I would not have been perturbed like the many you had baptized. How could you die in peace, if you knew the rich dark beard that laughed at the simple follies of my mother, was shaven off by nurses to paste and stitch many wires that ran to money making machines.

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Mar. 2 2010 — 3:59 am | 127 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Why cheating spouses need to get an iPhone

It only takes a nosy spouse to kill the tiger you are.

But a new iPhone app launched last week, aptly named TigerText will ensure that no jealous spouse will chase you with a club.

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Mar. 2 2010 — 12:09 am | 106 views | 1 recommendations | 1 comment

Prophet-was-against-burqa article sparks riots, kills two

Cover of "Shame: A Novel"

Cover of Shame: A Novel

Protests that erupted over an article by controversial writer Taslima Nasreen killed two people in the south Indian state of Karnataka on Monday. The article, translated and published in a local language newspaper, said Prophet Muhammad did not approve of wearing the burqa.

But Nasreen told Reuters that the appearance of the article was “atrocious.”

She added: “In any of my writings I have never mentioned that Prophet Muhammad was against burkha (Muslim veil).”

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    About Me

    It all started by dropping newspapers at doorsteps on chilly mornings riding a bicycle that broke down often.

    Newspaper-years later, now I ride a two-decade old motorbike to office and spend late nights banging my head over subject-verb agreement and perfect headlines.

    The bicycle owner was a school-going teenager from a below-the-sea-level village in southern India. The motorbike owner works in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, wedged between giants, India and China.

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