A Tale of Two Events: Writing, Cyberlaw And All That Jazz

By Sunil Kumar


Time is quick. It zips by; giving you just a short window to reminisce and introspect. So; this blog post is going to be about two events that happened last week.

Blah-blah on cyberlaw, cybersecurity at the ITC Maratha; and a writing event featuring Karkaria and Girish Karnad. As the latter one was at a distant location; and something I attended on Saturday after the cyberlaw thingie; let me recount this quickly.

Salient points from the 5 and a half hour talk blitz. Purpose; “elevate” or educate on some pointers. The art of writing narrative non-fiction discussed. The importance of collating, research etc coupled with meticulous histories and minutia was put across in an ornate, flowery fashion by Karnad; and to a lesser extent by Karkaria who tended to gravitate towards her own book; which I had read at the time. A week later; I’ve also waded my way through Karnad’s “Farthest Field”; so I can get a more insightful idea about the context.

Memories fade quickly and similar moods are quite hard to maintain. So; one of my first questions to Karkaria was about the “authenticity” of memories in non-fiction writing. She mentioned that it was the duty of the writer to face up failures; gaps in truth etc. Different types of non-fiction with various voices and perspectives like academic, auteurial were also mentioned. Perceptions are what make the narrative; but the authors stressed on going by the facts; clear prejudices to have a more balanced outlook; never mind the fact that everybody has biases; and I sensed some in the both of them.

Amitav Ghosh’s “Hungry Tide” was discussed; which led me to flash back to his book “Calcutta Chromosome” which I’ve read a long time back; found interesting; a fact which I mentioned to Ghosh himself one time in a lit fest at Delhi’s Maidens Hotel.

Karkaria said that a writer should clarify on the Who, What, Where, When, Why before starting any endeavour; clearing questions and answers in your own mind. For example; she mentioned her own work with the Statesman in Kolkata many moons ago on its metro; the first one in India. Another example given was of the film “Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines”; a period British comic film.

She also mentioned that in crafting some fine non-fiction works etc; layers of fact, layers of research were visible in the padding or the structural foundation to make it more interesting. She gave the example of her own book and Sheela Reddy’s work on Jinnah; where she gained a lot of insights from a book highlighted(annotations) by Ruttie; the wife which probably helped the writer understand and extrapolate on her mental state.

LGBT(Libraries, Google, Bibliographies/wikis; tete-a-tetes were mentioned by her as friends in  literary foray. To make the session even more colorful; she mentioned deploying all of your senses; sight, sound, smell, taste in a book. Essentially; it’s the writer and the reader taking a journey in a temporary world of make-believe.

Honesty to oneself; and carefully estimating the intelligence of the reader were also mentioned as important. Like every business; honesty, discipline; the ability to introspect; edit(kill your darlings etc), check, check, check and finally after all the work; get cracking was mentioned. There is a balance between scene and exposition(the show don’t tell; or the detail about mental landscapes in writing subtly hinted at) was also discussed. All of this is a personal call and works out realistically in terms of interspersing in the broader narrative and finally; if like Higashino’s mysteries(my personal take) is gripping for the reader; he will follow through.

Dry tomes need to be humanized; and the important thing in non-fiction is to collect, collate and balance. They mentioned ideas to be discussed but that fizzed out.

Deadlines; personal conformance and the real money-spinner, marketing. What is buried and hidden was believed to be a goldmine; also honesty and sensationalism should be balanced by controversial issues being unchallangeable. Absence is the presence; said a lady writing on education; a mystical statement that is vague and can itself be interpreted in multiple waves.

When I asked a rather long question on sources for interior lives; and a historical note on the Second World War being the brown man’s burden; white man’s battle plus the tendency for distortion even of recent facts(international leaders like Trump and even our local leaders from all parts of the political spectrum(Congress, Communists, others etc) who wilfully use some historical facts to suit their own agendas; and create a very twisted narrative. I mentioned A.N Wilson’s Victoria, Montefiore’s Romanovs as well as Dalrymple etc as examples; as I’ve read these books from beginning to end.

Karnad gave an equally ornate and long retort that started with telling me that these are histories dealing with a long-time span; and that his book dealt with a certain short time-frame. Now that I’ve read his work from cover to cover; I get what he was talking about. Specificity in terms of a few years and the presence of the author were mentioned by him. He referred to a forensic examination of emotions etc and the different qualities of truth; that require both imagination and invention. Still; everything has to be plausible, credible, citable attempting to be true to the characters that inhabit the non-fiction/novel etc.

Examples given were “Tin Drum” by Gunter Grass and HHhH(Himmler’s Brain is called Heydrich); a novel by Laurent Binet. I wanted to ask him in the end about whether microhistories were a subset of “non-fictional” narrative; which he deftly handled by telling me that I could answer it better myself. The second one was on my wondering if the traditions of the Indian army of the time including Cariappa etc had been discussed. He suggested buying the book which was there at the time and reading it. Now that I’ve got it off Amazon; I realized that Karnad’s answers were genuine.

Other topics as a result of discussion included style, conjecture, treatment of characters, inner lives, morality and the importance of reading while writing; a point which I’ve realized myself. Some guy went on with an inane query about one-page reading and Karnad came back with more value-add by going through bigger tomes. He also commented on reviewers and even writers and their mimicry of styles which they consciously or otherwise admire.

Karkaria mentioned a book by Gideon Hay which I’ve found out after a little digging is about the murder trial of a certain John Bryan Kerr in Australia called “Certain Admissions”. Also; Karnad spoke about “The Hare with Amber Eyes”; a family memoir by Edmund De Waal.

Finally; points like Fact file, visualizations, texture, chapter, synopsis, preliminary outline, time spent reading and researching apart from fluidity in moulding the narrative were also talked about. The auteurial perspective; pessimism vs optimism, sad twists vs happy endings were discussed.

A poignant quote by Auden(turns out it was Paul Valery); a poem is never completed; it is always abandoned. Nuance derived from digging deep; archives etc; first mover advantage, multiple perspectives(anekantavada in Indian philosophical terms or Karkaria mentioning the Jap movie “Rashomon”)-some more points.

Asking questions, dwelling on mysteries was a sidenote. Collation, writing, archives like National Maritime History Museum, Navy Nagar or Brit ones(I’ve been there- Kew etc) summed it up. Karkaria talked about giving ballast to the story; collating material and finally writing it all down; as sometimes the final form is 3 times the actual one that goes to print. Finally; the idea of telescoping; conflating or compressing events, ideas and individuals was the last idea I remember of note.

Long talk on the 17th now regurgitated; here’s something about three short presentations the night before- 16th at the ITC Grand Maratha. Puneet Bhasin; the lawyer gave the most engaging talk of all. With cheap wisecracks on Aadhar and compensation being constant questions asked by some “idiotic” CISOs; CIOs etc; Bhasin’s answers were quite logical and realistic. She mentioned that compensation under the IT law were higher than the archaic legal framework that India is saddled with; where things get resolved over Samosas and tea; and a daily circus is evident for everyone to see.

Personally; extremely disheartening to me what goes on in parliament; insult to intelligence and the taxpayer. My question to her was on timelines on individual cases and PILs(Bhasin kept using the Yank term “class action”). Due diligence on contractual litigation is something every enterprise has to do. Liabilties under Section 43 were discussed.

I asked the first presenter Mallaya on whether China’s national cybersecurity policies were in the public domain; plus discussion of vulnerabilties. Also; rogue states acting to pilfer data and then deny it was something put to Prasad from Tata Communications. His answer was the usual marketing obfuscation; but he patiently mentioned the PM talking about the point; and it being a major theme of an IT conference in Delhi. Obviously; individual and enterprise “actual” incidents are going to be a “real-time” call. Data in an Indian context; the security of AADHAR etc, cyberinsurance; a data protection law to be passed by Parliament; psychological assessment of individuals; and foreign laws like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) were talked about. Reasonable dinner; the end of the day; and the next morning trip to the event discussed in detail above conclude my notes about the two days.



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