Sameness, what Sameness?

Mukul Kesavan has a column in the Calcutta Telegraph. It is, I think, the first full-frontal attack on the desi blogosphere that I've seen published in an Indian newspaper.

And it's so, so wrong. Let's start at the beginning:

Every English-speaking Indian man between 25 and 60 has written about the Hindi movies he has seen, the English books he has read, the foreign places he has travelled to and the curse of communalism. You mightn’t have read them all (there are a lot of them and some don’t make it to print) but their manuscripts exist and in this age of the internet, these masters of blah have migrated to the Republic of Blog. A cultural historian from the remote future (investigating, perhaps, the death of English in India) might use up a sub-section of a chapter to explore the sameness of their concerns. Why did a bunch of grown men, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, write about the same movies, novels, journeys and riots? Why Naipaul? Why not nature? Or Napier? Or the nadeswaram? Why Bachchan? And not Burma? Or Bhojpuri? And, most weirdly, why pogroms and chauvinism? Why not programmes on television? (link)

First, my biggest complaint with Kesavan's piece is his refusal to name names. The "Republic of Blog" is for him guilty of a mind-numbing sameness, but if he doesn't tell us what blogs he's reading, it's impossible to verify what he says.

Second, why only men? Aren't there lots of Indian women bloggers? Indeed, there are too many to list, so let's just name one good one: Rashmi Bansal's Youth Curry.

Third, why not acknowledge that people are blogging in various Indian languages? In addition to its English "main page," Desipundit links to blogs in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bangla, and Marathi. (Sadly, no Punjabi...)

Then the substantive question -- amongst Indian male bloggers writing in English, is there in fact a deadening sameness? Do people really only talk about, as Kesavan suggests 1) Hindi films, 2) English novels, 3) various and sundry travels, and 4) Communalism? And do the comments on communalism all take a left-center approach (commonly derided as "pseudo-secular")?

Two of the four topics named by Kesavan, English-language novels and communalism, are a little strange coming from him; Kesavan is himself the author of an English-language novel (quite a good one, actually), as well as a book called Secular Common-Sense. (More recently, he published a book about Cricket, Men in White, which I haven't seen.)

I think a quick look at some of the links at the (now dated) Top 100 Indian blogs at suggests a great deal more diversity than Kesavan allows. He doesn't mention all the tech blogs (there are LOTS of those, and they get many more readers than even popular general interest blogs like India Uncut), cooking blogs, defense policy blogs, or, for that matter, cricket blogs.

It's true that a lot of what people post on their blogs often isn't that exciting; it's intellectual chit-chat, quick links, and regurgitated news. But I think that chit-chat is, in an indirect way, actually a really important sign of a society's well being. And when the discussions turn to politics, the to-and-fro of conversations (and yes, arguments) that take place on blogs as well as in the mainstream media can be a really important way by which democracy sustains itself. Blogging can be one measure of the health of civil society.