Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The conspiracy

I haven't been able to post because I've spent all my spare time replying to comments about my Lonely Planet article. The Hindutva guys are on Thorn Tree, as well, defending Lonely Planet. Which should give LP some pause for thought.
A conspiracy theory had to be around the corner, and one has been invented. Apparently, though I claim to be a freelancer, I have 'intimate links' to Outlook Traveller and Time Out, which are rivals to Lonely Planet. The person who wrote that obviously doesn't understand what a freelancer is. We freelancers write for anybody who pays well enough. Tomorrow I'd happily write for LP if they offered me a story and sent me to an interesting location.
The Outlook Traveller experience, in fact, was a disaster. I wish there was some way I could remove my name from the piece on the Web. My story was changed radically and a number of new sentences added, containing factual errors. For example, the City Palace is called "a complex of beautiful buildings in granite and marble". Anyone who has been to Udaipur knows there's very little granite and marble in the City Palace. But there the error stays, with my name attached.
I was so furious with Outlook after that assignment, that I swore off writing for them, before agreeing to do a piece just fifteen days ago. None of the editorial staff responsible for shredding my Rajasthan articles are there any more, so I decided to let bygones be bygones.
Still, I am some way from being an Outlook Traveller shill.
I'm much more loyal to Time Out; after all, I had a column in the mag for years, and think it's kept an incredibly high standard since its inaugural issue. But my Time Out loyalty doesn't extend to guidebooks. I bought Lonely Planet India, after all, not the Time Out guide. That was because I liked the LPs I used on foreign trips. The only Time Out guide I have consulted was the Chicago one, and I didn't find it particularly useful.

Meanwhile, I'm in Delhi again, trying to get a paper done for a seminar tomorrow. I've visited about once each month for the past six, and discovered in the process that Delhi drivers know nothing about the city. One time, I wanted to go to the India International Centre, asked the driver if he knew it, or IIC or the Habitat Centre (which the autowallas usually know). He kept shaking his head. I said finally, OK, just take me to Lodi Gardens and I'll direct you from there.
He had not heard of Lodi Gardens.
Today my driver got lost looking for Kasturba Gandhi Road and then Maharani Bagh. Luckily, I've developed a habit of picking up one of the free maps on the India Tourism counter at the airport. It's always proved really useful, and even more so now that every tourist car driver seems to have arrived in Delhi within the past six months.

UPDATE: October 28. This evening after the seminar was done for the day I was chatting with a few friends including Jitish Kallat. Jitish is staying in the same guest house as I am, in Maharani Bagh.
I said to him, "You got in pretty late last night".
He said, "It took me two and a half hours from the airport. The driver took me to a place called Rani Bagh. After about forty-five minutes of driving from the airport, I began to suspect this wasn't where I should be heading. I asked the driver if he was sure. He said he was absolutely sure, 'Rani Bagh used to be Maharani Bagh, now everyone called it Rani Bagh for short'."
Once at Rani Bagh Jitish grew doubly sure this couldn't be his destination. Rani Bagh is in north-west Delhi and Maharani Bagh in the south-east.


seana graham said...

Yes, seeing the way you've been characterized in another's article was odd. I don't know you except through this medium, but even I found that wildly distorted.

I assume, though, that you had some idea what kind of comments you'd be stirring up. Well, I hope you did.

Girish Shahane said...

Yup, I did have a feeling it might come to this. I should just ignore them, really. In fact that's what I'm going to do, at least for a few days.

seana graham said...

Sounds about right.

Heer .P. Kothari said...

Dear Girish, I maybe wrong, I have read your article titled 'the Conspiracy', and I have realized that this problem persists in every metro in the country. Even in Mumbai, when i plonk myself into a taxi after a long day at work I realize that the Taxi walla does not really know what route they have to take to get to a particular destination. On striking a conversation with one of the cabbies I realized that most of them are not from the city or the state but are from other states, and have just come to the metros in order to improve their job prospects (they imagine the metro to satify their urge of 'living the 'American Dream' Desi Style). I was surprised to learn that some of them are highly educated (at least more educated than me as they have done their post graduates) and take up to driving the taxi just so that they can fill in before they find a better job that pays them well. I realize that they should know the basics, but they only learn that with experience. The taxi unions who hire these people, only check if they are driving safely. they convinently leave the training on the customer.

Heer .P. Kothari

Ruchik said...


Was traveling; unfortunately missed your column and the brouhaha that followed; I am not in a position to judge your column's veracity or I must admit very strong rebuttal on two other blogs I read including the one you linked to; I find interpretation of history very dangerous; I am reading Arun Shourie's very very good book link here ; rebutting leftist historians like Romila Thappar, Satish Chandra, Irfaan Habib, R S Sharma, ...I am a finance professional and do not know much about history but have understood all historians have their agendas; It is extremely difficult as a commoner to believe what history is true; I would recommend that you stay away from interpretation of history; a person looks at the past considering his present biases; that holds true for all of us including you and me

Anonymous said...

I have a question i've wanted to ask anyone who writes for a living. Its an occupational hazard to get criticised and i expect most writers grow thick skins with time. But at what point do you feel like engaging with the critic? I would think that the fact people are reading what you write must be a heady one but equally irksome must be that they do not share your view and have chosen to criticise. I notice a lot of the comments ask you to ignore this or that person but that means closing your mind to another point of view or accepting that a reader has the right to disagree. S Anand

Anonymous said...

I have a question i've wanted to ask anyone who writes for a living. Its an occupational hazard to get criticised and i expect most writers grow thick skins with time. But at what point do you feel like engaging with the critic? I would think that the fact people are reading what you write must be a heady one but equally irksome must be that they do not share your view and have chosen to criticise. I notice a lot of the comments ask you to ignore this or that person but that means closing your mind to another point of view or accepting that a reader has the right to disagree. S Anand

jaimit said...

yup, the comments did get a bit tedious. good guys, well read but so biased. sigh. i wonder whats the fuss all about.
but yes delhi cabs are funny. one cab driver who was not new in delhi did not know where the national museum was. thanks to my handy old 'trusty Lonley planet' i was able to get the way.
he said most tourists just simply go to appughar :)
and LP is like Amar chitra katha, a nice happy source for simple folks like me, but as you have pointed not necessarily accurate and possibly biased. for me... as long as i get the hotel right and the things to do/ see right, i am ok.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting...and mind you I have a lot of respect of what you write..but I just couldn't stop laughing at the comments in that post...It's like Rediff commentators are question btw , why don't you sue outlook?...Srikanth

NP said...

Been reading that Thorn Tree thread -- I must say the Hindutva brigade is tiresome in the extreme. It's a puzzle. They're obviously well read but incapable of dialogue.

globalbabble said...

Your complaints about cab drivers in Delhi reminded me of The White Tiger.

Girish Shahane said...

NP, they're only well read in the Hindutva literature on the Web. But I'm glad they're posting on Thorn Tree. The kind of support Lonely Planet is attracting should be a signal to the publishers.

AKM said...

Lonely Planet's articles are often extreme exercises in WTF-ery ... here was something else that went awry.

Further, here is a piece that requires no further comment from the author's web page:-

"It was a sultry subcontinental afternoon in 1990. To escape a sudden monsoonal downpour, I dashed into a museum and found myself tagging behind a bunch of tourists. Suddenly the group’s guide, a crinkle-faced old man with thick silvery hair and a wispy beard, pointed directly at me: ‘You, with the strong Jupiter vibrations, you’re on the wrong path!’ I froze in puzzled embarrassment as the other tourists spun around and speared me with inquisitive stares. The somewhat agitated guide scuttled over, beseeching me to start writing – only then would I be going the ‘right’ way…That evening, while jostling my way through a people-packed bazaar in the old city, a willowy lady selling spice-cakes beckoned me over and insisted – with the same peculiar urgency as the museum guide – that I write about ‘all this’. It was too much serendipity to ignore."

Sarina Singh (excerpt Lonely Planet India)

Girish Shahane said...

Very well written criticism. I have to say, though, that I find Madras very boring myself. For people wanting the beach, seafood and great classical architecture, I'd recommend Mahabalipuram rather than Madras.
The mystical initiation into writing is priceless.

DS said...

Was Jitish in a ricksha? Did he de bone it in frustration?:)We once went o a fancy wedding in Jaipur. After the first "lost our way trip" I made sure we got on the coach to and from functions which had the driver who knew Jaipur roads. Then sadistically watched other guests troop in wearily an hour late at every function.

Girish Shahane said...

LOL, DS. Jitihs does not appear to have a frustration bone in his body. He happily used the same driver the next day. We parked last evening near Religare gallery, and this same driver got into an argument about change after handing over a hundred rupee note to the parking attendant. He boasted as we left that he had got 120 rupees back.

Girish Shahane said...

Sorry, some of the legit comments didn't make it to my Inbox, or else were somehow obscured by the hate mail I've been receiving.
Srikanth, I didn't sue Outlook because I didn't have the resources. Also, there's no clear cut contract saying they can't change my material. I would've been satisfied if they agreed to take my name off the byline.

Global, now that you mention it, yes, those White Tiger drivers are pertinent.

S Anand, I try to engage as many readers as I can, and set what I think is a pretty high bar for comment rejection. BUt many of these commenters are no longer dealing with the Lonely Planet issue. Claiming I have too narrow a focus, they want to widen the discussion to Muslim desecration as a whole. That's not something I'm interested in doing because it'll take up too much time, and will not convince anybody who has made up his or her mind, as most of these chaps have done.

Ruchik, I don't understand why you ask me to stay away from interpreting history while at the same time praising Arun Shourie for his interpretations of history.

Heer, I guess I've been lucky with Bombay taxis; they generally know where they're going. Or maybe it's just that I generally know where I'm going.

Anonymous said...

One major aspect, you all have ignored is that there is a heavy migration of farm labor to the cities. They take up jobs which they have not been trained in and taxi driving is one of them. How will they know the directions and address , if they are given licences to drive taxis in a short period ( of course with a bribe). Farming is no longer lucrative as it is getting corporatised, which is not good for India. Processed food can be corporatized, but not farms. Even in Comonwealth Games , many labor hands were recent farm hands , who could not cope up with the sophistication of machinery and design. This is one of the major reasons for CWG fracas. India has the largest farming population (55%) in the world. India still has the most fertile arable land in the world, even after so much mismanagement. You cannot tell a ghas kaatne wala to suddenly switch to sophisticated brick, cement laying They will be slow and not being well trained run into severe problems. The reasons for all the violence , suicide, migration of farm labor into unknown territory is due to copying the West and not taking into consideration , the local farmers needs. Read Vandana Shivas blog. Since she has scientific background, she gives solid data for all the problems in the farming front.

Girish Shahane said...

When I mentioned that every driver seems to have arrived in Delhi recently, I wasn't suggesting they're migrating from Mars.
Having said that, their driving skills were generally quite good, and they could read road signs, so I doubt they'd moved from subsistence farming to driving.

as any fule know said...

In Bombay, a taxiwallah outside VT will not know where VT is, or one outside the Museum know where the Museum is. The only thing taxiwallahs in Bombay today seem to be required to know is how to drive a four wheeler, that's all.

The trick, such as it may be, is to get into a taxi where the driver looks older than 60.