Monday, June 14, 2010

The Organic Indian: Season 4

My favorite TV show of all time is HBO's The Wire. The show is set in Baltimore and explores urban America through the lenses of drugs, crime, poverty, politics, and media. The show is a marvel of contemporary television, a work of art that can appeal to the casual viewer, the critic, and everyone in between. The show ran for five seasons, with many including cultural pundit Bill Simmons claiming that Season 4 of The Wire was the single best season of any television program in the history of television.

It's hard for me to disagree. The first three seasons of The Wire saw the development of subtly deep and complex story lines, etching and sketching of unforgettable characters, all the while setting up for something extraordinary. Season 4 was that something. It was mind-blowing, the show went to a higher place.

And in the same way here we are, at the 4th season of this blog. The first three seasons no doubt had their share of complex story lines. In Season 1, like in Season 1 of The Wire, it was about being introduced to the game. I lived in an Ashram, coming to grips with a reality in which my toilet was a hole in the ground, rats ran into my shower, and I worked out as if I was in a jail cell. I also started to learn about rural India and agriculture, setting the stage for future adventures.

Season 2 of The Wire was about broadening the perspective. How do drugs and gangs in urban Baltimore relate to the blue-collar community of Baltimore port workers? I, too, broadened in Season 2. I went from exploring and learning to doing. I had a project and people to manage, and results to achieve. Season 3 of The Wire was about "the more things change, the more they stay the same", where we see the futility of trying to wage a "war on drugs." Lock up the ruling drug kingpin, and another one steps right in to claim the crown, unfathomably more ruthless and diabolical than his predecessor.

Season 3 of TOI wasn't so ruthless as it was diabolical. OK, that didn't make sense. But still, things changed, and also stayed the same. I found new stuff to make fun of, like Bollywood movies, eating at McDonald's, and my cousin Samir. But I continued to develop Avaaj Otalo from the summer before, and I continued to find reasons why living in India was both uncomfortable and amazingly wonderful.

The Wire's fourth season brilliantly wove in the education system and urban youth into the rich quilt of plots and subplots that had already been established. The new perspective took the show to a whole other level. In this, the fourth season of TOI, I will similarly take things to the next level. This will be the single best season of blogging in the history of blogging.

Why so confident? Because I've got a small (~3) but hardcore group of readers who continue to encourage me. The most prominent of those readers is my uncle, Babu Patel. Babumama goes on the Internet as a part of his daily routine, and he visits the same small handful of websites every day. He only reads two blogs: this one and Amitabh Bachchan's blog. So yeah, it's just me and Big B. To me it means Babumama regards this blog highly, which is why I've endorsed him as President of The Organic Indian Reader's Association (Vice President and Head of Legal Affairs is Tarandeep Kaler).

The Prez and I chatted for a bit on my vision for this season of blogging. I told him I wanted to do more frequent posts, but shorter, hearkening back to the first season. He really had no comment, just kept talking about how good Bachchan's blog is. He asked me why it was that when he googled "Amitabh Bachchan" the blog came right up, but when he googled my name this blog was nowhere to be found. I told him because millions read Bachchan's blog, and tens read mine. Then he asked, "Why don't more people read your blog?" Good question.

Which brings us to my goals for this summer. In order of importance:
  1. Take the top spot from Big B in my uncle's blog reading rotation. Your ass is mine Paa.
  2. Continue to develop Avaaj Otalo, improving its capabilities and functionality and expanding its use with new partners. We already have set up a second phone line for PRADAN/Digital Green in Madhya Pradesh, and there could be one or two other deployments launching in other parts of India.
  3. Graduate. As hard as it is to believe, I don't go to India every year just to goof off. In between I'm trying to do enough to satisfy my advisors to let me graduate. It's been a long road, but a very valuable one. And now I can see a hint of a flicker of a light at the end of the tunnel. This summer I will be trying to take some significant steps in my thesis work.
Last order of business is my customary disclaimer, in case you are a new reader. The purpose of this blog is two-fold: one, a way for me to stay in touch with family and friends back home; and two, to entertain you, the gentle reader. I am not trying to be particularly smart or insightful or a good writer, so if you want to challenge me in one or more of those dimensions, know that I have preemptively conceded defeat. Although I try to write things I can stand by, I also reserve the right to change my position any time, any place. This blog is more firehose than laser beam, I try not to edit and craft too much as I think the end result is something more authentic to my state of mind at a given moment. So while I think some posts have come out as thought-provoking and important, in general I hope this blog comes off more Colbert than Crossfire.

I'll end with a story, and like last year it is about my mom. The day before my flight my mom and I were driving to Target and we were talking about vivid memories in one's life. There are certain memories that for one reason or another stick with you, and you can recall them and remember every detail even if the time was decades ago. My mom was telling me how two very vivid memories for her are the births of me and my brother. She remembers exactly the look on our faces when we came out: I came out guns blazing, eyes wide looking around frantically here and there and everywhere, as if saying, "what is going on here?" Mom said that made her think that my personality was driven and purposeful, a "I am here for a reason" kind of personality. My brother came out perfectly peaceful and calm, there was a little crying when the umbilical was cut but after that just peaceful and restful. My mom says she remembers sitting in the hospital room with Jay and seeing my dad and me through the window. She remembers me holding Dad's hand, then him holding me up to see Jay, and she remembers me poking at the window to Jay, saying "Baby, baby". She'll always remember those memories, they'll stick with her forever.

For me, a disproportionately high number of vivid memories are from my times in India. Maybe it's because this place still feels foreign which takes me out of my comfort zone, and as a result I have a heightened awareness to things going on. But I think it's more than that. I have genuinely amazing life experiences here. I tend to come here with an exploratory mindset, and a sense that I have no control over what's going on. I'm just along for the ride, and when you live life with that mentality it seems like you unconsciously create space for things to flow in organically memorable ways. I have three seasons of proof that these are some of the most wonderful times of my life, and I expect Season 4 to be no different.


  1. Hey Neil. I loved your blog and I don't generally even read blogs. So, it seems I will have to check out the Wire. And I'll also be keeping up with your dispatches from India. By the way, you are a good writer. I'm in South America myself right not and I know what you mean about the values of being outside your normal geographic comfort zone. Paul.

  2. What's up buddyy.... I will start off as reader #4... not sure how long I'll last though.

  3. Hi Neil-
    Babumama started reading your blog again. Like I told you I have really ejoyed reading your experiences back in India. This time you started out session four in a unique way. Good luck to you.Enjoy your stay.

  4. Read out parts of this blog post to Viral this morning and you had us both in a laughing fit. We're on board to do our part for the cause (roll over Big B :))
    Looking forward to all the inspiration and insight that will unfold -- and much gratitude for sharing your journey in your own unique way!

    all good things,

  5. Neilie!! I have four or five vivid memories from the last three years, and they all involve moments of sheer inspiration caused by your blog. I await the plots and many subplots of season 4. Even with expectations this high, I know you will not disappoint.

    Just out of curiosity, were you trying to set up some contrast between you and Jay? You came out all curious and with a mission, while Jay was crying and sleeping? is there something we should read into this about Jay? Remember, Jay possesses some of the strongest eyes this world has ever seen. He might seem peaceful, but he's really x-raying you up and down.

    Keep it up.


  6. A great start to season 4! As far as I'm concerned, Big B is just Avaaj, and your Otalo makes all the difference in the world :-)

    Also as a fellow fan of The Wire, I think your journey more closely parallels the seasons of Battlestar Galactica. I'd tell you to check it out, but I too find real life in India much more interesting!

  7. Neil!! :) Count me in as the 5th reader now and as Pavi said, we will surely do our bit to roll over BIG B :)

    Btw great re-entry (as usual..) and Btw.. Welcome Back :)

    It's a good life! :)

  8. hilarious. Does B post pictures of his daugher-in-law on his blog? That's not really fair.

    Keep keep on.