I blog, therefore I am :

Posted by-Kalki Team

Women bloggers in Tiruchi cover a wide range of topics in their online journals

Whether it happened today, or a hundred years ago, an event is committed to memory only if it is written down somewhere. Periodicals and newspapers are like diaries for mass consumption, flowers that bloom and die within a day. In the online era, the web log (before it got abridged as blog) has been one of the most enduring outlets of Internet-based publishing, from 1999.

In figures gathered up to June 2016 by internetworldstats.com, India had 462.1 million Internet users, second only to China (721.4 million) in Asia.

Why do people still type their thoughts in online journals in an era when the human attention span and perhaps the very neural function of absorbing information have irrevocably changed? A possible answer would be because that blogs still fulfill the need for a person to be heard without necessarily being seen.

Blogs give writers of all hues a platform to hold forth on any topic under the sun, with the added thrill of instant publication and feedback.

A quick Google search reveals that much of the internet activity in India may be centred around blogging, in corporate and personal spheres.

As just one example, the directory IndiBlogger.com lists at least five pages of blogs from Tiruchi. A more detailed search may reveal that quite a few of these havent been updated in a while. But the opposite also holds true – theres some compulsive online writing going on in the city, mostly by women.

Traditional journalism

“I started scanning and uploading image files of my published articles in my blog 7 to 8 years ago,” says Radha Balu, a veteran Tamil freelance journalist. “I had some 30 years worth of printed material that I wanted to preserve. Then I decided to start separate blogs to document my other interests – kolam designs, cookery and creative writing.”

The 60-year-old writer is regular in updating the posts on her four blogs (radhabaloo.blogspot.com), even though, she says, the reading habit is declining. “Young women these days dont seem to have the interest in reading, even though they have a better exposure to the world than our generation,” says Radha. “Reading a printed book can convey not just the story, but also the memories associated with a writers style and tactile feel of the publication.”

A frequent traveller, Radha uses her journeys abroad to write travelogues. “The internet is a great resource for travel writers. I tend to research my destinations online before I visit the places, just to ensure that I dont miss any detail,” she says.

In many ways, Radha Balus blogs have simply transferred documentation from hard copy to soft, and opened up a new avenue for home-based writers to reach out to a global audience. “Readers recall my name from my articles in Tamil magazines, but quite a few of these are also visitors to my blogs. Blogging has a way of connecting complete strangers,” she says.

Giving voice

For final year student at the Tamil Nadu National Law School, Jane Pauline, who has been blogging for four years on various platforms, her The Unconventional Indian Girl (tuigblog.wordpress.com) is a move to speak about gender bias. “We are ruled by expectations -- whether it is about getting a job or being in a relationship. I want to talk about a life that is not about being conventional,” says Jane.

“Of course in our society, and particularly in a small place like Tiruchi, women with strong opinions are seen as a threat to men. Feminism has become a dirty word, and always associated with man-hating,” she adds.

Her blog posts receive a mixed feedback she says, because they deal with topics that need a more well-read and articulate readership. “It is quite common to slander someone online just because you dont agree with their viewpoint.”

Commenting on the recent protests for the restitution of the bull-taming sport of jallikattu, which gained maximum traction from a social media network-savvy student generation, she says, “Our priorities are baffling. Water-sharing between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is a problem, and nobody has stood up yet for issues like the murder of S. Swathi, but jallikattu gets all the attention. Our activism seems to be misplaced, but young people just dont care.”

Jane says she has learned to accept critical feedback to her blogging. “Healthy debate is a way of accommodating differences of opinion in a legal way,” she says.

Dreams and ambitions :

“More women should utilise web platforms to express themselves,” says Sarah Shaheen, who is currently an MBBS student at Tagore Medical College in Chennai.

With a keen interest in writing, Tiruchi-born Sarah has been blogging since her school days, and her latest posts can be seen at www.speakingtree.in. “I tend to write about feminine issues like female foeticide, motherhood and how girls are judged by their appearance. Right now Im thinking of writing a full-length novel, with romance, politics and mystery,” says Sarah.

Though there are quite a few young women bloggers, they get a lot of brickbats, says Sarah. “Its unfair to criticise all female bloggers as feminazis, because women are generally not given an opportunity to speak up in public about their problems.”

An informed readership can change things for the better, says Sarah. “Already paper is being replaced by PDF files. People should read more, and do something useful when they are online. The internet is not just here for our entertainment,” she says.


For the love of cooking

One look at www.spicychilly.com, and you know that the cookery website has been maintained with a lot of love. Tiruchi-based homemaker Bharathy Vasudevan has ensured that every aspect of her online food journal, now in its 10th year, has got a distinctive stamp of her creativity.

“The first 10-12 years after my marriage were spent in learning how to cook for a traditional vegetarian family,” says Bharathy, who is originally from Kottayam, Kerala.

“After we shifted to our current home in Tiruchi, I had become a little freer at home, because my children were in high school and didnt need my help with homework like before. My sister suggested that I should try to do something with my cookery skills because the world has always been in need of recipes.”

Bharathy learned how to use a computer in 2006, and to keep her blog interesting, she picked up photography skills too. “Of course, my early photographs were very crude. I started out with a point-and-shoot camera, which my husband (V. Vasudevan, Managing Director, Sangam Group of Hotels) got from Malaysia. From 2011, I shifted to using a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera.”

With a collection of more than 500 recipes, Spicy Chillys earliest work was related to documenting traditional Tamil dishes that Bharathy had learned from Mr. Vasudevans maternal grandmother as a young bride.

As traffic increased, she got her own domain name and made Spicy Chilly a website.

“When you start getting 3,000 page hits in a day, you get requests for recipes from readers. So you start catering to their interests. I tried to look up recipes which were going off our menus, like vellam vadai, and so on. I just wanted them to be available on the net for others who were looking for rare recipes,” says Bharathy.

Most of her readers are young married women based in countries like the United States and Singapore, looking for quick tutorials on how to cook, says Bharathy. “This was when I realised that the dishes should be simple, rather than only traditional,” she says.

“Ten years ago, we were the first bunch of bloggers around the world. It was like a family, and we had age groups for each set of bloggers. Wed have more respect for the seniors, because their recipes are more authentic and sophisticated,” says Bharathy.

To keep herself updated, she reads up cookery books, and also tries out online courses. She studied baking methods from a Goa-based online expert for a year.

Her flair for photography has fetched her online accolades too. Bharathys picture for her post Chilli Chai won the Originality Award given by the online food photography competition Does My Blog Look Good in This (DMBLGiT) in 2012.

In 2010, her photo-feature on Pongal celebrations at the familys ancestral home in Erumaipatti, near Namakkal, was one of the 24 finalists chosen by the American online platform Foodbuzz.

“When you check out the work of newer bloggers, you realise that you have to upgrade your own website too,” says Bharathy. “The next step for me would be to introduce one-minute-videos on recipes.”

Not too keen on publishing her recipes in book form or even venturing into cooking for television, Bharathy says that Spicy Chilly is her personal work of art. “Im doing it just for the love of cooking,” she says.

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