I have been a blogger since 2009. I started during the penultimate year of my undergraduate studies as a way to interrogate my own ideas and interpretations of the nonfiction books I started to read around that time, especially those on the history and philosophy of science. Shortly after, I graduated from college and got a diploma in print journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. At the same time, I began to blog less about my opinions of academic works and more about stuff that was in the news, including pop culture. This was also when I began to write more regularly about science for popular consumption.
After ACJ, I worked at The Hindu for two years, at Scroll and then Brainwave magazine for half a year, and then joined The Wire in 2015. This was the period – 2012-2015 in which I blogged almost exclusively on scientific topics, especially cosmology and particle physics, and became extremely familiar with developments in these subjects. But things changed in 2015 onwards – not because of The Wire, although it was certainly a contributing factor – but because of the country’s new government and its brand of aggressive identity politics.
From my PoV, it seemed like there were battles to be fought every day to defend this or that idea, and the more foot soldiers there were the better. It became easy to write, discuss and outrage about the daily realpolitik, so much so that my blog became an almost sacred place to me: a place from which I could effectively keep all trolls out, where I could lay out my thoughts with as many words as I wanted to, with as much nuance as I wanted to. Since 2014, when the BJP government came into power, it has been clearer than it has ever been before (in my lifetime) the extent to which politics affects various realms of human endeavour.
At the same time, this call to defend our democratic principles started becoming a call to mount a certain kind of defence over others: by engaging in public debates about the actions of politicians, calling repeated attention to the assault on vaunted public institutions like the Supreme Court and the Election Commission (to give you an idea), and – as a journalist – to beat back the pall of jingoism by mounting counterattacks against as many claims and actions as often as we could. It was like being told that if I’m not loud, I’m not fighting.
If this sounds like something I brought on myself and not something that I had imposed on me, you’re probably missing the temptation of relevance: the political frontlines promised audience engagement every time you entered the fray, and such engagement has been my highest priority as a public blogger. As a result, my own interests were thoroughly overtaken on all counts by the common interests of the political group with which I identified, the progressivist liberals.
This then affected my blog, which went from being a place of self-interrogation about ideas in/of matters that deeply interested me (scientific knowledge) to being – broadly speaking – a complaints box about things that I have been aware of but not fascinated by. I could no longer reach for the natural beautiful through my writing as I was able to before; instead, the writing habit had became congruent with the deliberate experience of helplessness (viz. the helplessness due to the apparent meaninglessness of individual action at a time when so many things appear to be going from bad to worse). So when I realised that this was happening, only last week, I also realised I had to act quickly and effectively to stop this corruption, to shed this fetishisation of relevance, which has been rendered risky as a result of the deterioration of the quality of public dialogue, and to restore my flagging ability to work with ideas for their implicit significance as it interests me.
I have no delusions about how difficult this is going to be but I’m going to make it happen. I have to.