Playing it her way

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In 1908, when the resilient Marie Marvingt was denied the right to ride in the Tour de France, she brushed the rules aside and started each stage 15 minutes after the official race began. Marvingt ended up finishing the 4,488km (2,789 mile) race, a feat only 36 off the 110 men could manage.

It’s almost as if Mithali Raj took a leaf out of Marvingt’s playbook. Except, Raj has continued to race.

Raj is neither the first nor the only female athlete to be locked in and overcome an uneven battle with sexism and stereotype. To declare so is to be callous with history. From PT Usha to Aparna Popat, Anju George, Anjali Bhagwat, Aparna Popat, Sania Mirza, the list goes on.

But what she has to her name and the others in the list don’t is a staggering longevity. Raj burst into the international scene in June 1999 against Ireland with a century on debut at the Milton Keynes ground. ​ To put this in perspective, a baby born then will be wrapping up school in a few months.

This year, she played her fourth World Cup. She has represented India in 10 Tests and 186 ODIs, scoring 663, 6190 runs at 51.00 and 51.58 respectively. Those numbers are telling.

In a nation of sporting underachievers, it was dubious at best to not embrace Raj alongside other athletes let alone cricketers. Men counterparts with lesser numbers would have descriptions with legend and great littered in it, shown up multiple times on front pages, and have effigies of themselves burnt. Not only were we a one-sport nation, we had narrowed the sport itself to be defined by one gender.

Except recently, when the Women’s World Cup was on, India tuned in and debated cricket – women’s cricket. And it was evident in the grammar that cricket wasn’t a singular sport anymore.

Women’s cricket was suddenly relevant.

Raj had an exclusive chat with this writer for Knappily. While talking about her journey, she constructs her sentences like her cover drives, with candour and clarity, qualities that accompany well-thought-out views.

“It is not like a goal that I’ve accomplished. I never started off playing cricket like one day I would be on this stage,” she says.

“But it feels nice to be appreciated for all the hard work put in all these years. And women’s cricket is also now being recognised as a sport in our country. Otherwise usually cricket is more related to men’s cricket, but these days we have people discussing women’s cricket in the same breath as men’s cricket. So that way getting women’s cricket to that level, definitely it feels very happy, and very lucky to be part of that team,” she adds.

Journeying this far takes discipline, drive, and uncommon courage, which explains why her words carry a simple directness in them. But she isn’t one to misplace her sense of proportion.

For years, Raj was celebrated with not more than a passport-sized photo in newspapers. She understands anonymity because she has lived in it. But she isn’t one to ignore her responsibility to her sisterhood. Which is why, as she is penning down her autobiography, she doesn’t want to leave anything unsaid.

“It is definitely going to be an open book. I’m not someone to restrict myself,” Raj says.

With this book, Raj wants yank the veil down to give us a peek into the making of a women’s cricketer.

 “I’ll definitely put down everything I have experienced as a women’s cricketer even the basic things and the normal things that a player experiences. Lot of people feel that politics happen only with them and they give up. But politics happens with everybody but at different levels, there is no exception to it. There will be challenges and things that have really tested and shaped me as a player and as a person. All these things I will be putting into the book.”

Her book, published by Penguin India, will hit the stores in 2018.

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Raj had little interest in cricket as a child. In her younger years, she trained to display her footwork as a Bharatnatyam dancer.

Dorai, an officer with the Indian Air Force who later joined the Andhra Bank, took Mithali to the St John’s coaching camp in Secunderabad, where her brother was coached, when she was 10.

“Women’s cricket from the beginning didn’t have that a following. People never knew about women’s cricket. Barely couple of them Shantha Rangaswamy or Diana Edulji. Then there was a huge gap,” she recalls.

“When I started playing in the 1990s, my dad wanted this for me. He is the one who pushed me into sports who pursued that I become a professional cricketer. So it was his aim that I become an Indian cricketer.”

Much of this was done to get her to rise early. Soon Jyothi Prasad, former Hyderabad pacer, who saw potential in Mithali, asked Dorai to focus on Mithali. However, Mithali had to be shifted to Sampath Kumar’s tutelage at Keyes School from St John’s because the latter was an all boys’ camp.

“For me, it was more important that coming from a middle-class family where my parents have really sacrificed a lot to make me a professional cricketer, I didn’t want all their sacrifices to go in vain. So only to see that my dad is happy with my performance, I’ve always gone out to perform,” Raj says.

Kumar was convinced that Mithali would go on to play for India and tumble records even when Dorai found it hard to believe. Soon Mithali would be named among the probables in the 1997 World Cup when she was just 14. The selectors, at the time, were unsure of blooding such a young player.

Two years later, she would score an unbeaten century on debut. Mithali hasn’t looked back since.

“I then started slowly perform for India. In all the years, it never occurred to me that my performance is not being appreciated or I’ve never had this feeling that people only follow men’s cricket because I know for a reason that matches are not televised, and we were not under the BCCI. There was no visibility for women’s cricket so how will people know? So I’ve never had that sad feeling that our achievements have gone unnoticed. Yeah, things have changed now. “

“For me the motivation has always been to make my parents happy. That is the biggets motivation. Even today I feel that my performance has to be endorsed by my dad. For me that has always been there from the beginning.”

She would soon represent Railways playing with Purnima Rau, Anjum Chopra and Anju Jain for Air India, whose records Raj has surpassed.

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IWCC World Cup - Semi-Finals

In 2004, Raj became the youngest captain of the Indian cricket team. Since then, she has led the team in three World Cups, for over 100 matches, maximum by an Indian woman. Recently she sat atop the ICC ranking table.

She has led the team to three Asia Cup victories (between 2005 and 2008), led India to their best run in the World Cup (runners-up in 2005), and also led the side to their first-ever Test and series victory in England.

But despite her stretching boundaries and breaking new ground for a major part of her career, she sat on the periphery of public consciousness. In fact, she was taken aback when she won Padma Shri after being pitted against Virat Kohli in 2015.

Worse, she and her counterparts get quizzed about things that have very little to do with their game. Like on the eve of the Women’s World Cup, Raj was asked about her favourite male cricketer when she was at the opening dinner and media roundtable event.

And her refrain grabbed a lot of eyeballs.

“Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?” she said to the journalist. “I have always been asked who’s your favourite cricketer but you should ask them who their favourite female cricketer is.”

Even today, a major chunk of the narrative about a female athlete or the questions she gets asked revolve around her physique, outfit, gender stereotypes, etc. Their achievements too are always qualified with gender in front of it.

Like at the Wimbledon when a reporter told Andy Murray that Sam Querrey was “the first U.S. player to reach a major semi-final since 2009” after the American had defeated the Scott earlier that day, Murray was quick to interject and add that Querrey was the first “male player”. It is not a piffling trivia that the reporter forgot. Among his four overlooked athletes was Serena Williams, who had won 12 Grand Slams since 2009.

Whatever the reporter was – coy, lazy – she told him that she wouldn’t have any of it because it reeked of a double standard that has plagued sports coverage for years.

This is why kids wrapped in ambition and innocence and those who endorse to the archaic idea of patriarchy need to know about her expedition, for she will cuts through their idea of convention.

On the field, Raj goes about her job wearing the calmness of a skilled surgeon, revealing little of the fire that burns within her. At the World Cup, during the first match against the hosts, moments before walking out to bat, she was seen nonchalantly flicking the pages of The Essential Rumi, in total zen.

“I started reading books very early in life and I do that even before going into batting,” she says.

Moments after she was caught reading a book, she had to turn the game face on, which she did. When her turn arrived, she slammed a match-winning 71 off 73 balls helping India post a competitive 281.

“Wilbur Smith and Matthew Reilly are among my favourite authors. I like reading fantasy novels like The Demigod Diaries by Rick Riordan, The Aryavarta Chronicles, When the Road Beckons by Ravi Manoram, Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer.”

Raj and co. are a completely modernised team, and have shown the world that they belong in fast-paced version of limited overs cricket.

“Initially when I started, there was no fitness at all. We just used to run one round, do basic stretches and 90% of your training is only on skills,” she recalls.

“From there it has come to a point today where my skill training is maybe 40% but the remaining 60% is my fitness. I’m at a stage where I have to maintain my fitness levels and strengths. If I’m fitter, it will only enhance my game. Earlier, when you’re in the early twenties you’re young, and it was more of endurance, the emphasis was more on running. And now we have more strength so your muscles are toned enough to take the load.”

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On Jul 23, 2017, playing under grey clouds that constantly threatened to dribble rain, in front of a packed Lord’s with 26,500 tickets sold, the most for women’s cricket at the venue, India appeared on the cusp of something special.

It was the World Cup final and they were coasting in their chase of 229 against the hosts. India’s road to the final was a rollercoaster – it involved games of sheer dominance, a slump for two games followed by two emphatic wins at the knockout stages.

England had done it three times before – 1973, 1993 and 2009. Raj’s India had condemned the tournament hosts to a 35-run defeat in Derby a month before.

But this is not the first time Raj has led the team into the final. Back in the 2005 World Cup, riding on her unbeaten 91 in the semifinal against New Zealand, India had made to the final against Australia.

Except this time millions of people had tuned in back home, and a shroud of blue had collected at the ground to cheer the girls on. And every gesture, from Raj kicking back with a book to Harmanpreet Kaur admonishing her colleague after a mix-up, caught unprecedented attention.

Steering India towards the target were Kaur, who had scored an unbeaten 171 off 115 balls in the semifinal knocked Australia out, and Punam Raut. Earlier, Raj gave up on a run sooner than she should have and was dismissed for 17 off 31 balls.

Kaur and Raut took India side to 138 for two. It appeared that a stream of aggression has sprung to life inside these girls, and they were going to do it for their captain, who, to borrow from what Virat Kohli had to tell about Sachin Tendulkar after the 2011 World Cup final, has “carried the burden of the nation” for 18 years.

Even after Kaur’s fall, India were perched comfortably at 191 for three in 42.5. They needed 38 runs with seven wickets in hand.

What unravelled then is possibly one of the cruelest sights in sport. After doing most of the climb, India panicked at the sight of the summit. Promise quickly devolved into hope and soon into prayers. At one point, unsettled by a defeat she knew was stalking her team, Raj buried her face in her hands.

“There is no hiding place,” Boris Becker famously remarked as he watched a helpless Marin Cilic burst into tears at this year’s Wimbledon final. From an alluring, almost-there place, Raj watched her team’s getting bowled out for 219 in 48.4 overs. England held the trophy aloft for a record fourth time.

A popular saying goes, “No one remembers who came in second.” But the frenzy that accompanied the girls’ homecoming told a different story. On July 26, 2017, when the girls arrived at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai at 3.45 am, they were in for a rousing reception. Young girls were dressing up as Mithali Raj by then.

Sport should be about theatre, where the artist, the puritan, the underdog, the rebel fight for relevance and a place in history while trying to tell a story. Its beauty transcends what can be captured by an unimaginative rows and columns.

Heartbreak or fairytale, enough had happened in the tournament for us to invest in this team. Not that it has wiped out sexism completely, but the significance of their performance, along with Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu’s in Rio, will resonate across the entire spectrum of women’s sport.

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Women’s cricket and men’s cricket are the same and yet they are not.

As per the direction of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to have a single body to run cricket in a country, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) took over Women’s cricket administration (WCAI) in 2006. Considering, the amount of revenue Indian cricket generates, the girls would have hoped for a slew of changes. But the apathy continued, and at times, got worse.

Against the girls’ wishes, the BCCI cancelled the Under-16 tournament the WCAI had instituted.

Between 2006 and 2014, the women did not play a single Test match. When they finally did play one, they defeated England in their home soil, and then followed it up by beating South Africa in theirs.

The 2013 Women’s World Cup was restricted to just two venues – Cuttack and Mumbai – as opposed to the 1997 World Cup which was staged all over India.

While overexertion was a concern with men’s cricket until they adopted a rotational policy recently, the women are constantly seen bargaining for more matches.

Momentum is an integral part of the sporting vocabulary. Commentators and columnists alike reach out to that word to explain consistency – why a team continues its winning run, why a batsman seemingly unending purple patch and so on.

“People don’t really understand that it is so difficult to maintain the momentum when you play matches with a huge gap in between. Like each time we have a long gap, we’re starting right from the beginning again in a series.”

Starting all over, she does, series after series, and still averages more than 50 when two series are usually spaced six months apart.

“That is why I’ve always emphasised on continuity so that it will be easier for the players to continue their performance. And let’s say before the World Cup, we had the qualifiers and we had the quadrangular, so we had a tournament squeezed in so that we as players and as a team can play together, find our strategy and combination. The more the players play, the better the standards, and better the standards of the game we see on television,” she adds.

There is popular adage that goes, “The best place to hide a dead body is second page of Google”. Something that was not found even on the second page of Google or on the official BCCI website until recently were information and details about the team. Even now finding out where the girls are touring is not easy.

 “Coming to international cricket, yes, the matches have to be televised, be it the South Africa tour or the Australia at home because that’s how people will continue to watch women’s cricket.”

“And there has to be a calendar. Because a lot of people ask me even today what’s next when are you playing. People don’t have any idea, so there has to be a calendar like how men’s cricket has.”

The BCCI has its task cut out when it comes to promoting women’s cricket in the country. For a board generating close to 70% of the sport’s global income, this shouldn’t be so hard.

“Everybody knows where men’s cricketers are touring but nobody knows about women’s cricket when we are playing next. And also the sport needs to be marketed like in case we’re playing a series, we should have more advertisements based on the coming series like how we have ads for the South Africa-India series this month, but you don’t get to see that for women’s cricket. So that’s something we need to look into,” Raj says.

Not all progress has been muted though. The last couple of years have seen steps in the right direction, but there is far to go before parity can be achieved.

In 2014, domestic ODI matches were increased from the existing four, to eight.

In 2015, 14 years after they had one in place for the men counterparts, the board announced central contracts for women. It was still a pittance – women in Grade A earn less (Rs.15 lakh) than men in Grade C (Rs.25 lakh), but it was a start. But the contracts expired in October 2016, and are yet to be renewed despite promising that it would after the South Africa tour in May. Meanwhile Cricket Australia proposed a Memorandum of Understanding for 2017-22 with a remarkable 125% increase in the retainers for Australia’s female cricketers under central contracts.

Last year, at the World Twenty20, both the men’s and women’s matches were played simultaneously. There was hardly any promotion around the women’s tournament, but for the first time ever they posed alongside the boys when the jersey was unveiled.

Winning is news, but news reports don’t prompt a 5-year old girl to pick up the bat, and take swipes like Harmanpreet Kaur. The board could stream matches on their official website or YouTube when a television broadcast is not available. A record 1.1 million tuned in from UK alone to watch the World Cup final between India and England. It might not be such a terrible idea to take the initiative.

The Australia Cricket Board broadcasts select domestic games, the Women’s National Cricket League, and the Women’s Big Bash League. New Zealand Cricket too live-streams matches played at home.

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India is the only major cricketing nation without a defined pay structure for women, and yet whenever they’ve had an opportunity to speak up, Raj and co. have used the platform to bat for more exposure, better promotions, and a change at the grassroots level instead of better material rewards or longer contracts.

Talking about bringing change at the grassroots level, Raj says, “There are two setups that I see. One is of course the Indian team and the other is at a grassroots level. Because you need to have more players playing the sport so you’ll have more talent from where you can pick the best to represent the country. Now after the World Cup BCCI is giving importance to India A tours, Under 19, Under 16. Earlier they’ve never really given importance to the second string.

“If we get the young girls in school to start playing the sport because I do understand that everybody has this liking to play the sport. It’s just that when these young girls don’t get company to play, they get into other sports like badminton, tennis. Cricket is a team sport, you need at least a few members to play, which you get to see in boys, but normally you don’t get to see girls playing the sport. So there has to be an encouragement from the school level to have inter-schools, under-16, under-19.

Raj endorses the idea of girls and boys playing together during the initial stages where muscle isn’t the primary ingredient, and gender can be somewhat irrelevant.

“Boys and girls need to play at the school level. After a stage, obviously, yes, when the boys get to say under-16 level, they get stronger and stronger. So you cannot compete with them then or at the Ranji trophy level. They will be far ahead of us. But I have played a lot of my school games up until when I was 11-12 with the boys. I’ve played with [Ambati] Rayudu, [Tirumalasetti] Suman at the inter-school level.”

The BCCI can take a leaf out of Cricket Australia which has over the years treated the women on par with the men. The third season of Women’s Big Bash League (BBL) is already underway Down Under. But Raj thinks it might be too early for private league.

“If you come up with an IPL kind of a thing, you need to have a good pool of players. Right now the domestic standards is really not up to a level where you get the foreign players. You’ll find a very stark difference in both the standards. It might be a disadvantage when you’re starting a league.

The focus, she believes, should be in building a wider pool of players.

“If you have a wider range of players playing at the domestic level and the leagues then it will be better. Right now, I feel we still have a year or two before an IPL kind of league can start. Now, we only have a pool of 20 girls who are at a good standard. We cannot have an IPL league with that. We need a minimum of 50-60 players.”

Once that is done, she bats for a window so it doesn’t clash with the other leagues or the international schedule.

“Also it shouldn’t club with the international series. Dec-Jan is the Big Bash, July-Aug is the Kia League, so if you have to have foreign players playing Premier League here then it has to be at a time when there’s no international series so we have a good attendance from foreign and domestic players. If you’re going for a league, it should help the sport. It shouldn’t be like when people see it, they think it is not good enough. So when you start something, you rather start it small but start it well.”

We’ve woken up from decades of slumber to acknowledge that the women have overcome stifling conditions to get where they have. Patriarchy and gender biases have made the ceiling they are up against difficult one to shatter. Understanding this has finally led to many of us supporting the idea of women in sports.

If women’s cricket is on the cusp of a great leap, Raj deserves a fair share of credit for carrying it on her shoulders for well over a decade while wrestling an apathetic system. In forging her own path, she is clearing the way for those who come after her.

The sheer awareness that a path exists, leaves the mind clearer for the posterity. Not every girl will make it but many have started to dream.

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An edited version of this interview/ piece first appeared on Knappily, the Knowledge App.

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MBAtious People – Gautham Gowri Sethuraman, Co-Founder and CMO at Knappily

This interview was published on MBAtious on Nov 17, 2017.

Gautham Gowri Sethuraman is the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Knappily, an award-winning news analysis app. Gautham did his MBA from IIFT, Delhi and has four years of experience in Media & Journalism, Digital Marketing and Business Development. Gautham has also written for Deccan Chronicle, Sportskeeda, The Sports Mirror and several Business Magazines.

You can download Knappily on the Play Store and App Store.

Dear Gautham, Can you please share a bit about your back ground?

I’m a Mechanical Engineer who took to writing in his final year. I did an internship with media and journalism with Sportskeeda and The Sports Mirror. After working with a core company in a vendor management role for a year, I became a full-time sports writer with Trivone Digital Services. During this time, besides writing, I picked up important up important skills like Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation. I slowly started involving myself into marketing, which continued with my subsequent stint at Wadhwani Foundation. At WF, I was into business development, digital marketing, content management, and quality audit. Each of my jobs allowed me to wear multiple hats which have played an important role in shaping my professional career.

Given the level of penetration of smart devices and internet into our daily lives, information overloading is a concern for most of us. How Knappily differentiate itself from other news content providers while solving this issue?

It is to address this information overload that we created Knappily in the first place. The idea for the app came from my colleague and CEO Yashaswi Kumar who felt that analyzing topics in the 5W1H framework (stands for What, Why, When, Where, Who & How) will uncover everything one needs to know about a topic. Our target audience is the knowledge-hungry and time-starved people of today, which can be an average college goer or a CEO – anyone who wants to know the world better. The idea is that even if you miss breaking news most of which is mere speculation, if you’re a Knappily user, we will have you covered. Thanks to our users and the people who believed in us, we have grown organically close to 2 lakh downloads on Play Store and App Store and still have the highest-rating in our category (4.8 on Play Store).

Along with Quantity, Quality is also a pressing issue among the general news readers. How Knappily plans to ensure quality in this dark world of click-baits and bias?

At the moment, we cover around 7-8 stories a day. We hand-pick the topics. Each story we cover is called a knapp. And we cover everything from business to economy to politics to society to sports to technology. We do this through secondary research – going through credible sources that already exist. Since we aren’t in the breaking news category, we don’t feel the need to publish click-bait news. When we publish a story, our readers know what to expect out of it – a thorough analysis of a topic. It is this unspoken contract that keeps us going.
And as far as bias goes, we use the 5W1H framework to eliminate bias. The framework allows us to analyse and present views from multiple standpoints –what a policy is about, why one should be skeptical/supportive of it, when it will be rolled out, who it will impact, etc. We usually leave it to the readers to make up their mind.

With huge estimates on digital media, how you see the future of information and data handling across domains?

It’s no secret that the readership of printed newspapers has been declining significantly, and people have been shifting to digital medium for consumption of news. Pocket-friendly apps are making it easier to remain up-to-date with what’s happening around the world. At the same time, we see both the print and digital media finding it challenging to monetize their content. I foresee news apps introducing a subscription-based model soon much like what we see with video streaming apps. Digital will, however, remain the future because it allows companies to achieve scale easily.

What would be your advice to MBA students/aspirants regarding the importance of being well informed on what’s happening around them?

I think it is very important for professionals to keep up with business and economic trends. This is especially true those who want to climb up the organizational hierarchy. We often consider generalists and specialists to be occupying different ends of the spectrum when it comes to learning approaches. But it is possible to be a specialist in one domain, and still have a good grasp of what’s happening around the world. If your area of interest is finance or marketing, you can still keep a tab of the industry trends and the business world as a whole.

Being a specialist might help as long as the only role one plays in an organization is within the premises of his/her specialization. But when you go up the ranks of the organisation or the technology you mastered is replaced, your specialization loses significance. This is one of the challenges employees face as they transition into managers. Being a generalist will also lend unique perspectives to one’s own area of interest.

One of the reasons I related to the idea of Knappily when Yashaswi described it to me is because an app like this could filter out the noise, and keep me knowledgeable about the things I should know. And it quickly became a go-to app for MBA aspirants over the last couple of years for it helps them become knowledgeable in current affairs quickly.

Can you brief about how your exposure to MBA helped in day to day activities of Knappily

Business is something I gradually got interested in as I entered into my professional career. For example, my second company was a start-up. And as I was managing the content for the website, I started thinking about who my ideal reader is, and how I’m planning to reach them. This made me understand concepts like segmentation and targeting intuitively. As I made similar observations, I was soon able to contribute to business decisions we made as a company.

I started laying the foundation with some online courses on Marketing and Strategy. And the MBA in International Business from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade gave me an even bigger global context.

At MBAtious, we promote a learning culture that goes beyond quant and verbal. Can you please share your ideas about “Being MBAtious”

Learning is an important part of evolving as a professional. Most of our heroes – Warren Buffet and Elon Musk – are avid learners. The next rounds after CAT/XAT/IIFT test an aspirant’s ability to stay in touch with the world around him/her. But this doesn’t end with getting admitted into a B school either.

We live in a world where access to Ivy League education is just a click away. And our learning can come from books, articles, classroom lectures, online courses, peer discussion, etc. It is up to us to make the most of these resources. One way we can go about learning is by picking our fields of interests and understanding which material is transitory and which will stand the test of time. News is transitory. Issues covered in magazines and what we cover in Knappily is less transitory than that. Then come essays and reports that are published by the likes of McKinsey, BCG, etc. Then come books and case studies.

Notice that as we go from left to right, the size of the material keeps increasing and so do our ability to see the bigger picture. As we master the ephemeral, we gain a better perspective about the transitory.

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Knappily’s new route towards app knowledge dissemination

The following interview was published on Deccan Herald, on June 20, 2016.

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Have you ever wanted to sieve through any information while on the bus, or catch up on some interesting trendy topic of the times, just to be in the know? Obviously, there are numerous portals online brimming with information, but how to grab the right dosage of trivia?

That’s exactly what ‘Knappily’ — short for ‘Knowledge Application Daily’ — does for you. The young startup that’s positioned itself as an app-based digital magazine platform, currently publishes 12 knapps (articles) a day, and wants to double that number to 25 knapps in a couple of months.

“For an average knowledge-seeker, there is overwhelming information on the web. They don’t know where to start, and how to go about reading about topics and current affairs. Our aim is to help them get over analysis paralysis. We start with a topic, go deeper, and present it in a way that’s easy for them to consume,” Gautham Sethuraman, Knappily co-founder and head of marketing, says.

Knappily analyses and develops content-based on the 5Ws + 1H framework. “We pick issues and topics that are relevant and trending among people, and our app will help people with zero knowledge get a well-informed understanding of topics,” Sethuraman says.

“We then anticipate the questions which may arise among knowledge seekers, and then conduct secondary research from authentic information sites and credible data providers (which are all attributed under each article as references),” he says.

The 5Ws + 1H framework is a logical way in which details of a topic are broken down and disseminated, including when reporting news. “All topics are supported by anticipated questions in order of, What, Why, Where, Who and How. We provide the entire perspective of a topic for lay people to understand,” he adds.

Categories include politics, business, sports, entertainment, technology, world, law, society, environment, and features, under which topics are written. “We have an editorial setup and content team, which go through all the writing, while we’ve outsourced the technical needs for the app,” Sethuraman says.

The company — which was founded by a young team of entrepreneurs led by Yashaswi Kumar, who is its CEO — received a seed funding of Rs 25 lakh from an undisclosed angel in December 2015, and is now valued at Rs 2.5 crore. It is planning to raise Series A funding in the coming months.

“We have over 1,500 articles featured on our app. Over the course of the next 8-10 months, we want to diversify to more categories. We are also eyeing language translations for topics in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, among others, and plan to unveil a mobile site soon,” he adds.

Knappily has already seen over 24,000 downloads on Android, and 1,500 downloads on iOS. “We are organically growing at 200 downloads a day,” he concludes.

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On Presstitution, and the Need for Independent Voices

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“Nobody wants to do tabloid news but some are forced to,” a friend from one of India’s top journalism schools remarked, as I was trying to understand what a student graduating a journalism school looks for in his/her work profile. “There will be absolutely no tabloid,” I reassured her.

I couldn’t help but recall this conversation as a sympathy wave engulfed social media following Harsha Bhogle’s axing.

Two weeks ago, India limited-overs skipper MS Dhoni’s response to an Australian journalist who quizzed him about his retirement plans was construed as humorous by some, and patronising by some. But there was a third category conspicuous with their choice of words. “This serves the presstitutes right,” they exhorted. (For the uninitiated, presstitutes is an amalgamation of the words ‘press’ and ‘prostitutes’.)

The principle underlying the slothful categorisation is this: “You chose to be part of a fabric that I’ve deemed condemnable, and therefore you deserve every bit of humiliation that comes your way”.

What kind of people hounds athletes with questions about their retirement plans as if they are going to provide them with life insurance? Hint: You just learnt the word.

There is for me an irony in mourning for Harsha at a time when people hold the view that the entire media is made up of sycophants.

Thousands of people dream about doing what they love for a living, and in a cricket-crazy country like India, writing and debating cricket falls smack dab in that bandwidth. One of the greatest joys of watching sports is that it lends itself to so many levels of arguments.

The primary job of a journalist is to serve as a conduit between athletes and the public without losing sight of the big picture. This would mean that he/she would not just add value to what the public sees, but raise questions about pertinent issues concerning the game.

This is what press conferences are for. They are meant to dissect the mind of the athlete – What drives them? How do they respond to challenges? What is their take on an issue? Why did they decide to take a particular course of action?

Sadly, press conferences today have been reduced to a place of inane tautologies.

Sure, not every reporter visits the press conference with the best of intentions. There are media houses that not just survive but thrive on petty titillation, making a mountain out of a molehill. A senior journalist once told me that the first question directed towards Gary Sobers during one of his visits to India was about his alleged affair with an Indian actress. This, right after he had briefed the art of spin bowling.

But not every reporter goes into the conference room to find out if Anushka Sharma texted Virat Kohli after Indian won the game; not every journalist uses the zoom lens of his camera to capture Kate Middleton’s billowing skirt exposing her legs.

This perception that every journalist is a sell-out is not just flawed but belittles the body of work done by the honest ones. It is also a lose-lose situation for the journalist as it leaves him/her without a comeback.

To paint every journalist with the same brush, to blacklist the medium that gives out the message is not just defensive but one-eyed. This stereotyping only discourages them from raising questions with the big picture in mind.

Siddharth Monga, one of the strongest critics of Dhoni, also captures the essence of Dhoni best. Sharda Ugra, who takes on the unprofessionalism of bodies that govern sports, also took on the journalistic contempt that accompanied reporting India’s performance at the Olympics.

To heap praise when a team wins, and stay silent when it loses, is a case of individual opinion wilfully compromised. Incidentally, this is exactly the kind of intellectual corruption that has plagued the commentary box over the years as the board has hankered control over the message emanating out of it. (The BCCI world-feed commentator is asked not to discuss issues such as team selection, captaincy, and administration on air.)

Now that would amount to ‘ presstitution’!

The article was first published on Sportskeeda on April 15, 2016.

 

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Meet The Writer Turned Entrepreneur From IIFT

The following interview was published on InsideIIM on Feb 9, 2016.

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Gautham Sethuraman is someone who wears many hats. An engineer turned writer turned a management student and now heading a startup for online content presentation. His business idea is vivid -“We are building an app for the knowledge-hungry time-starved people”

He and his team have come out with an app- KNAPPILY to provide knowledge and content for many topics in just a few swipes. Here is an excerpt from an interview he recently gave to the Editorial  Board, IIFT.

So you went from being an engineer to a writer?

Gautham Sethuraman: It is much easier to connect the dots looking back. I did my Mechanical Engineer from Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai. I began my professional career with Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd. as Graduate Executive Trainee in 2011.

But by then I had had my letters published in The Hindu, and Deccan Chronicle, completed internships in media and journalism with Sportskeeda, and The Sports Mirror. So when I was offered a job at Trivone Digital Services as a Sports Writer, it was both scary and exciting at the same time. I also learnt that I will be able to do a lot more than what my job description suggests. So I took it up.

I got to do everything starting from managing the payments of bloggers to social media marketing. I guess that’s one of the wonderful things about a start-up – it teaches you the importance of getting your hands dirty. I had the opportunity to meet/interview athletes like PV Sindhu, P Kashyap, Baba Aparajith, S Badrinath, etc. I was fortunate to work with a team that let me implement a lot of my ideas. It is a unique feeling to see your ideas bearing fruits.

I subsequently worked with Wadhwani Foundation as a Senior Associate, where I worked on Business Development activities, Social Media, Quality Audit, etc… again more than what my job description suggests!

How has life at IIFT been?

Gautham Sethuraman: It has been challenging. The first few months of any Business School is challenging. On top of that, IIFT offers one of the most rigorous academic curriculum. Once I warmed up to these things that the institute had to offer, I started working on start-up.

But it is also exciting to return to student life after a four-year gap. I get to interact and learn from people from so many different cultures.

What made you pursue entrepreneurship?

Gautham Sethuraman: Serendipity. I didn’t plan on becoming an entrepreneur when I entered IIFT. But when I first heard the idea, I was excited. I have been working on it for the past 5 months. It was a familiar industry where I have worn multiple hats in the past, I also get to work with a rockstaresque team, so it wasn’t too hard for me to make the decision. But yes, managing academics and start-up has been quite challenging.

Tell us about your start-up…

Gautham Sethuraman: We all at some point have been guilty of putting down the newspaper when we don’t follow a report. We often just rush to our favourite sections in the newspaper because that’s what we are comfortable reading/analysing/debating.

What if we are able to read an article on any topic, and are able to get a well-rounded understanding of everything we need to know?

This is how the idea for Knappily (short for KNowledge APPlication DaILY) was conceived. We, a team of 7 people analyse and present our content in the 5W1H framework (What, Why, When, Where, Who, and How), under which we anticipate the questions that can be asked about a topic, and present it in a format that can be easily consumed.

In 2 minutes, and just a few swipes, one can go from little or zero knowledge to getting a 360-degree view of any particular topic!

It is free and is available on the Android store, and Amazon store. It will be up on the Apple store from the second week of February, 2016.

How did your batch mates and faculty take it?

Gautham Sethuraman: For the first few months, I didn’t tell people that I was involved in a start-up. For me, it was a beta-test phase where I was trying to figure out how much time I can set aside for my start-up after a long day. But when I shared the news with them, they – both my friends and the faculty – were happy, and very supportive of it. I constantly interact, and learn from Dr Gautam Dutta.

What do you do in your free time?

Gautham Sethuraman: I’m getting trained in Carnatic classical music. I also love listening to light music. I’m a huge fan of Ilaiyaraja and AR Rahman. I read a lot. Besides nonfiction, I follow Quora and Brainpickings religiously. I write about sports, music, and self-help occasionally. I have written for several websites (Sportskeeda, Chakpak, etc.) and dailies (News Today, Business School Magazines, and Deccan Chronicle). I blog here.

What would you like to tell the MBA aspirants?

Gautham Sethuraman: For a minute now I’m going to throw political correctness out the window. 90% – I’m quoting a pessimistic number here – get into an MBA to land a high-paying job. While financial freedom is an important thing to pursue, the question you need to ask yourself is this: Do you see yourself playing that role for 10-12 hours a day for the next 3-4 years?

I see people who are not even remotely interested in a stream celebrating landing a high-paying job in it. There is a line between being open-minded and desperate. If you find yourself applying for a job you are not interested in because it is high-paying or peer pressure, you most likely on the wrong side of the line.

Always take suggestions. But be a student, not a follower. Let what you do be a product of your own conclusion.

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Why Vogue’s ‘My Choice’ film cannot be a catalyst for change

Day Two: The Championships - Wimbledon 2014

Sian Massey turns up as an assistant referee in a Premier League game in 2011. Andy Murray hires Amélie Mauresmo as coach to replace the legendary Ivan Lendl. Mary Kom overcomes visible and invisible opponents to become a six-time World Champion, and Olympic bronze medallist. Somewhere in a slum in Mumbai, a single mother juggles her career and household chores, and rears her son all by herself. With each passing day, slowly but steadily, we are challenging existing stereotypes and perceptions of “what women cannot do”, and chasing gender equality, although it sometimes appears that we are doing so in a cycle rickshaw.

A few months ago, Vogue India launched a short film ‘My Choice’ featuring Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone, directed by Homi Adajania as a social awareness initiative for women nationwide.

It is hard to overlook the people involved in this short film. Homi Adjania, who played right into the hands of patriarchy in Cocktail, Deepika Padukone, who battles for women’s rights only when the field is outside of Bollywood. They both work for an industry that is not only replete with sexism, but also thrives on women insecurities. The magazine, Vogue, itself is guilty of objectifying women for decades.

The black and white video features 98 other women in what can be mistaken for a shampoo advertisement if played on mute. A major part of the first minute focuses on an individual taking control of her life and saying, “I choose what I want” as opposed to “I have to live with this”. It talks about being a decision maker vs. a consequence receiver.

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But it is from here that the video loses the plot. (Or does it?) From here, the video veers from celebration of independence to advocating narcissism with a degree of entitlement capable of piercing the sky. It is a woman’s choice “to have sex outside of marriage”, Ms Padukone’s voiceover claims. “Remember you are my choice, I am not your privilege,” she reminds us with a baffling what-is-that-supposed-to-mean addition of “don’t be fooled when I come home at 6 p.m.”.

One thing we can give the video credit for is that it explains how morality is inherently subjective, and is perceived differently by different people. However, the video does nothing to address pertinent issues such as financial independence, equal pay for equal value-addition in an organisation, standing up against abuse, sharing of domestic responsibilities, everyday sexism or domestic violence.

Instead, it talks about choices in the personal domain, of that of a relationship, where each choice one makes could affect the other. In a country where close to 245 million Indian women lack the basic capability to read and write, female share of non-agricultural wage employment is only 17%, average wage rates are 75 % of men’s wage rates, Vogue chooses to discuss choices in the domain of relationships. It neither acknowledges the role of the other in the relationship nor does it talk about how each of these choices could have a consequence.

Exerting one’s assertiveness to fulfill one’s ambitions can be one’s prerogative, but promiscuity to suit one’s whims is not. If equal rights is what is being advocated here, why are women reduced to lesser beings, incapable of being held to the same standards of personal accountability as men?

It is interesting that all of the women portrayed in this video are attractive. When Ms Padukone mentions size 15, the image we see on screen is that of a pregnant woman. Would a size 15 be too radical a notion?

All Vogue has managed is to package feminism in a glib manner, much like how women are portrayed in the magazine’s covers, and use the word “choice” to symbolise arrogance and utter disregard, when it could have talked about attaining liberation.

The language used in the film is too elitist, which is also where the readership of Vogue lies. The words seem to be directed towards a mindset. The film plays right into the hands of niche audience in what can only be seen as a cunning product placement.

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Feminism, over the years, has been misconstrued by men mainly because of keyboard warriors who consider using the feminist tag as something fashionable, and continue to confuse it with male-bashing and misandry. The video does everything to reinforce the misconception.

Gender equality is something that can be attained if we teach our sons to treat a woman right. It is achieved by promoting education and professional development for women, and telling them that they are not any less than men. Women need to be given their rightful stake in society, and be involved in the decisions concerning them and their future.

Empowerment can only be fully achieved if it happens in all spheres – economic, political and cultural, and the process cannot be accelerated with short films made by greedy brands looking for easy access into the Indian market.

This piece was first published on Marksman, a business magazine

References:

The Vogue Empower video: http://www.vogue.in/content/watch-deepika-padukone-new-vogueempower-film-my-choice

Statistics: http://www.swayam.info/swayam_gi_leaflet_31mar.pdf

How the UN proposes to achieve empowerment: http://www.unwomen.org/en/partnerships/businesses-and-foundations/womens-empowerment-principles

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Mani Ratnam – Ilaiyaraja On-screen Magic

Rajnikanth

Ilaiyaraja-Mani Ratnam was a dream combination in the late 1980s that produced so many hit films namely Mouna Ragam, Agni Natchthiram, Nayagan and Thalapathy. Ilaiyaraja is undisputedly one of the best in the world when it comes to background scores.

Mani Rathnam, recalling his experience of working with Raja, says, “Ilayaraja would look at the scene once, and immediately start giving notes to his assistants, as a bunch of musicians, hovering around him, would collect the notes for their instrument and go to their places. When the orchestra played out the notes, they would be perfect, not just in harmony but also in timing – the background score would commence exactly where it should and end at the exact place required.”

Here are some of the scenes from Manirathnam movies that are popular for the background score:

Rajini and Srividhya inside a Temple, Thalapathy (1991):

Without any dialogues exchanged, Manirathnam, Ilayaraja, Rajnikanth and Santhosh Sivan have pulled off a brilliant scene. Rajini’s character is likened to Karna in Mahabharatha, where the mother, Srividya, abandons her first child (Rajni) on a train immediately after his birth.

In this scene, Rajini and Srividya are inside a temple, flanking either sides of a pillar, both oblivious of the umbilical cord that once bound them. As they hear the train horn, both Rajni and Srividya turn towards it with a longing etched in their faces with Jai Shankar haplessly watching this juxtapositioning. Raja waits for the longing to reach a tipping before the Chinna Thayaval flute begins and leaves a lump in our throats.

Kamal visits his daughter’s house, Nayagan (1987):

His friend’s arrest leaves Kamal Haasan miffed. He invades the ‘Police commissioner’’s (Nasser) house to warn him about this. It turns out that his daughter, Karthika, who left home unable to put up with her unruly father, is married to Nasser. Raja has waited until Kamal fully absorbs the shock of seeing his daughter wedded to the Police commissioner before starting with the Nadaswaram-bit. Listen the background score as Kamal Haasan’s face veers from excitement to bafflement to embarrassment to disappointment as Karthika asks him to leave the place before her son comes to know about his evil grandfather.

Karthik returns Revathi’s chain, Mouna Ragam (1986):

Mouna Ragam Karthik was the heartthrob of so many teenage girls in the 1980s. The movie was famous for the chemistry Karthik and Revathi shared on-screen, the screen-play, and Ilayaraja’s music. In this scene, Karthik visits Revathi’s college to return her chain which she had used to take him out in bail. The background score begins with cute piano-bit and after a pause, it captures the mood brilliantly as Karthik tells Revathi that he likes her and Revathi is left bewildered.

Kamal visits a red-light area, Nayagan (1987):

Kamal Haasan visits a red-light area in Bombay. He decides to leave the place as he finds out that the prostitute is a school-girl. Saranya, who plays the prostitute’s role, requests not to for she had to prepare for her exams the next day. Listen to the strings in the background that captures the mood of the scene after Kamal lets her study the entire night. Yet another Manirathnam-Ilayaraja scene with minimum dialogues and the latter shows why he’s the king of background score.

Rajini and Shobana break-up, Thalapathy (1991):

Shobana, who hails from a conventional background falls in love with Rajnikanth, but decides to part-ways with him and marry the District Collector in order to keep her parents happy. As she leaves an angry Rajni, who warns her to leave the place and yet wishes her good luck, soothing strings, predominantly based on Kalyani and an excerpt from Sundari kannal oru seidhi, accompanies the emotion beginning with “naan unnai neenga mattaen” as if to remind us of the white lies and the empty promises they once exchanged as lovers. Interestingly the flute-bit takes over in ‘kannal oru seidhi’ after the strings culminate in Sundari. A sad solo-violin is played in the background when they meet again after Shobana’s marriage toying with our goosebumps.

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