Under The Influence | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine

The perks of cyber popularity can undoubtably be intoxicating, but they are exponentially rewarding when you leverage the web to engage in constructive social criticism and open up dialogues. Verves follow list includes these eight prolific posters who are leaving a legacy that goes beyond the likes…




Regular readers of newspapers would have come across his cartoons every day, but the rest of us can now follow his characters on his website and social media handles too, where they have been given a new lease of life. Manjul describes himself as an ‘independent editorial cartoonist’, and he has been interpreting politics and current affairs through single-frame cartoons for almost three decades. His drawings, while humorous, are particularly refreshing today as they provide a straightforward perspective in the midst of the sensational news coverage we are bombarded with.

“I started doodling pretty early on in life, winning an inter-school art competition in the sixth standard in the early ’80s. Most of us were either into outdoor games or comic books as TV was available for only a few hours a week. I was an avid reader of comics. Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the anti-Sikh riots, Rajiv Gandhi’s ascent to power…all these incidents initiated me into the intense world of political happenings. Then around 1988, a cop once asked me for a bribe,
which made me feel absolutely powerless in front of the system. It was then that I decided to find a means to vent my feelings. I happened to meet Rajni Gupta, the director of the media house Jagran Group, who gave me my first break at 16, and that’s when I started drawing cartoons professionally.”

“A comic is seen as a source of amusement, but if one adds a sharp political point to it, it becomes a very potent weapon to spread a message. Drawing cartoons about current affairs is challenging because a cartoonist has to constantly come up with fresh ideas, while history keeps repeating itself in India. The place, name, and time may change but the basic nature of most events remains the same.”

“When I started out, there was no social media and mainstream media had much more credibility. Readers used to enjoy cartoons for what they were. In the recent past, people have become alarmingly sensitive and divisive. Social media and its political funding have changed the way readers look at cartoons. In this polarised atmosphere, the threat of backlash is always there. But this is what the new establishment wants. It wants us to be afraid of them, but I am too old to change now. In my eyes, cartoonists are not afraid of anyone.”

“Any kind of genuine criticism is always welcome, but I don’t pay heed to everybody on social media. Most trolls are just there to abuse people and to compel them to leave the platform. There’s also the option of muting or blocking trolls. I use it all the time.”

“I have heard stories about the censorship of cartoons imposed by the government during the Emergency. I have also fought with editors who tried to censor my cartoons. Twice in my life, I’ve been asked to draw certain types of cartoons I didn’t agree with, and both times I decided to quit my job. I’ve realised that nowadays almost all editors are afraid, and are unwilling to publish cartoons about certain political characters. It is definitely a harrowing time for cartoonists. I am able to survive because I am a freelancer and have many clients, but I assume my friends working for a single publication are not so lucky, and they may have to exercise self-censorship.”

“The government should ensure a safe atmosphere for artistes to perform, and there should be no censorship on art forms. It is probably too much to ask for in a country where people don’t even have basic amenities. I find the web very helpful as it gives everybody a voice. Rather than regulating and censoring the web — which is a near impossible task — governments should focus on taking full advantage of the medium to help people become more informed. Again, this may be too much to ask, as no government wants an enlightened voter.”



Sex Positive Activist

The young law graduate turned YouTuber hopes to open up conversations around sexuality through her digital platform, Liberating Sexuality. Unlike most influencers, Indraja Saroha — her personal Instagram handle is @womnsplainer — is unafraid to share her views, vulnerabilities and personal struggles on social media, and to delve into still-taboo subjects such as body positivity, sex education, menstruation, mental health issues and stigmas around the queer community.

“Alternative media in the country has been successful in destigmatising the conversations around sexuality within a certain demographic. Information is a lot more accessible and people are willing to take up sensitive subjects. However, there’s a long way to go, a lot of boundaries to still push. For instance, it is important to have conversations organically, and the change needs to come about at an institutional and family level, to make a real difference. I have had multiple adult women tell me that they don’t know what an orgasm feels like, or that they’ve never masturbated or seen themselves naked. The shame and alienation with our own bodies is so deeply ingrained despite the accessibility of information. The stigma around open and healthy conversations about sexuality leads to the perpetuation of false myths and guilt.”

“Starting the channel had been on my mind since high school. Inspired by sex educators like Laci Green, I have become more fearless with time. That has been reflected in the subjects I take up and the conversations I start. Through Liberating Sexuality, I have found a space to share my experiences with depression and mental health issues, and I’ve had a lot of people who find that my experiences resonate with theirs, and they reach out to me.

“There is more than enough relatable and nonaspirational content on digital media platforms when it comes to subjects such as self-care, mental health and body positivity. Your social media experience depends on how you consciously tailor it. If your feed makes you feel like you need to aspire to some unrealistic ideal, unfollow those handles. It becomes easy to forget that digital influencers carefully curate the content that they put out to portray themselves in the best possible light. Being able to tell my stories has led to a lot of beautiful outcomes. People have reached out to me extending their love and support and shared their own experiences as well. It helps to know that you’re not alone in your struggles.”

“Being able to tell my stories has led to a lot of beautiful outcomes. People have reached out to me extending their love and support and shared their own experiences as well. It helps to know that you’re not alone in your struggles.”

“While training as a lawyer, a lot of my work at the law school involved research and writing, and that critical eye has certainly helped me when I formulate my arguments now. Legal know-how is crucial in order to protect individuals and their liberty as citizens. This is particularly true when one is operating in a society where moral policing is rampant. There are a lot of misconceptions associated with legality of certain subjects, for instance,
adult toys. The discourse about sexual wellness is limited due to the fears about these legalities.”

“The abundance of content online and its general accessibility is democratising and building awareness. The downfall is the polarity that is created by algorithms that show users content based only on their interests. Inevitably, one ends up viewing things that confirm their biases. It becomes an echo chamber, and bridging that gap is difficult unless we have some internet literacy for 2019. I cannot promote my content as it isn’t advertiserfriendly. Hence the growth is slow and organic.”
“There’s a lot one cannot say or comment on with respect to politics. It’s immediately polarising and opens you up to harassment and trolls. The internet is not a safe space anymore, particularly for women. It is difficult to express your opinion, create your own content and remain true to your ideals.”

“The response from audiences and my friends has been overwhelmingly positive. My family, however, had an issue with the nature of the subjects I was discussing so publicly. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that even though I was taking these conversations online, I had failed to affect change where it mattered the most. It was a long process but I was able to open their minds to some extent, which was a huge personal victory.”




‘SHOCKING: Has AbRam Khan Overthrown Taimur Ali Khan to Be the New Media Darling?’ ‘Two Leading Ladies Star in a Movie Together Without Hating Each Other and Nothing Makes Sense Anymore.’ These are just a couple of examples of the satirical headlines from Rayon Magazine. The brainchild of former print journalist Salva Mubarak, the website and its Instagram account parody the celebrity gossip fed to people in the name of news. Rayon gets its name from the artificially-created fibre and a play on real magazines Nylon and Polyester, and Mubarak’s ‘fake news’ take on the obsession with Bollywood lifestyle is, at times, so on-the-nose that many readers still mistake her posts to be true.

“I started Rayon because I grew tired of seeing the sort of headlines current popular entertainment and lifestyle news websites create just to get more views. It’s a vicious cycle; no one is really to be blamed. The content creators want views so that they can attract advertisers, and the only stories that get views are those that have a sensational photo or title. Most news outlets that target women have a certain condescending tone that might not be overtly harmful, but is not something people should get influenced by. This is not to vilify the media. I created Rayon to provide perspective in the face of a thousand headlines telling you to drink a spinach smoothie to get abs like Deepika Padukone.”

“I think the reason Rayon has gained internet popularity is that I maintain a very distinct voice for my posts. I’m certainly not the first one to make memes about Bollywood celebrities, but I spend a lot of time making sure that what I’m trying to say is clear and stands out. Another thing is that I keep the tone and aesthetic similar to popular entertainment and lifestyle websites. I feel this creates that double-take moment
whenever people read something on Rayon and keeps them coming back.”

“There’s a growing sense of disconnect between the audience and the content they’re seeing online. Sites like The Onion or Reductress allow people to take things lightly and, perhaps, that’s why Rayon has succeeded. There’s also a saturation of online content — especially entertainment-related — and you feel more connected with someone who is calling it out and allowing you to laugh at your obsession with it.”

“I have to edit heavily before I put something out there. It’s both a boon and a curse. I try to think of my reader as someone who has no idea what the site is about and of how they would react to a post. Would they understand the intent behind it, or would they take it wildly out of context? But, I mostly think that as long as you’re punching up with your humour instead of punching down, you should be okay.”

“No matter how much I try to avoid letting my content get
affected by views and likes, it is definitely a major thought in
the back of my mind. I still look at insights and engagements
numbers — the positive comments can be addictive, and one
negative one can set you on the path of self-doubt.”

“I find it highly amusing when celebrity fan pages repost content from Rayon thinking it’s authentic. It’s also great when the subject of your post reacts to it. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with this. Vicky Kaushal saw a post about him, and, thinking it was real, tweeted a pretty scathing response to it. When I informed him that it was a parody page, he (probably) got embarrassed and deleted it. Later, I read an interview where he mentioned how foolish he felt after reposting it. Then there was also a post with Sanjay Kapoor dressed in Mastani drag. He thought it was hilarious, and his whole family jumped in to laugh at it. So that was unexpectedly cool.”

“There’s still a large percentage of the online audience that doesn’t really understand what Rayon is about. So, the main challenge is that the discourse is always centred around people saying ‘this is fake’, and the rest, who tell them that they’re stupid. Plus, people are very possessive about certain celebrities, so posting anything about them is a losing battle. Even if I come up with something outrageous and funny, I have to think twice before posting it because I don’t have skin thick enough to deal with hateful essays in my DMs.”

“Instagram’s new feature that hides likes on posts could be revolutionary. It would give creators a chance to be more creative and experiment with new formats. No matter how much I try to avoid letting my content get affected by views and likes, it is definitely a major thought at the back of my mind. I still look at insights and engagements numbers — the positive comments can be addictive, and one negative one can set you on the path of self-doubt. I sometimes stick to a formula that I know will get me the likes, but it might
not be what I actually want to post. So, if implemented, I’m hoping this feature will give people the chance to be more authentic with their content. I think it would also open up new avenues for promotional content and influencer marketing.”

“I think people are coming to understand the availability of the different forms of media that they can enjoy. There’s a new demand for accountability from content creators too, which (hopefully) leads to content that not only is conscious of the environment and time it’s positioned in but also is less-formulaic. I think people are becoming desensitised to a lot of things like violence and hate crimes from around the world. That’s alarming, and it can largely be attributed to the fact that we have easy access to all the content we want to consume. But this has also given way to a new brand of content style that rewards quantity over quality.”




Keeping the ethics and legalities of medical care in mind — and the parameters involved in dispensing health care online — the psychiatrist, cognitive therapist and medical entrepreneur launched her healthcare venture and website, MINDFRAMES, in 2004. This was followed some years later by InnerHour, the digital self-help platform conceptualised jointly by Batra and
Dr Amit Malik to fill the gaps in mental health support, and bring information, accessibility and acceptance. Firmly believing that the quality of care available now has been enhanced by technology, she continues to explore innovative ways of making people comfortable with therapy.

“My aim in using technology in mental healthcare was to improve access. It’s about time people avail the best care while sitting in the comfort of their homes, offices, on vacation, or literally anywhere. Wellness needs to become a part of our everyday existence. With that in mind, what better tool than technology to disseminate information and alleviate stigmas about mental health, offer simple lifestyle solutions and provide a platform to share information via support groups. There are also the more common sense advantages in its use — especially audio and video conferencing — like comfort, flexibility, accessibility, ease of use, confidentiality and the ability to deliver high quality of mental health care to anyone who might reach out.”

“Over the past decade or two, we have seen a gradual paradigm shift in the attitude towards mental health. But surprisingly, those suffering from mental illness continue to feel that they will be judged. So, I believe that although the public stigmatisation of mental illness has decreased, self-stigma has persisted. But, in general, people do believe that seeking professional help is of advantage; they’re more open to taking
medication as well as undergoing structured therapy. And realise the importance of preventive healthcare as opposed to coming forward for therapy only when anxiety or depression, for instance, strike.”

“Celebrity speak definitely has a much needed positive impact. Speaking openly like Deepika (Padukone) did is brave, commendable and meaningful. It has created ripples that I am hoping will impact the entire ocean of existence gradually and make people realise that we’re all equally extraordinary or ordinary enough to feel the way we feel, and that we should, and can, do something to make it better.”

“Establishment of rapport is a challenge in mental health, and finding a way to do that online while using the offline experience of therapy was an interesting and welcome trial. Empathy, respect for the client and genuineness help to establish a rapport both online and offline. My in-person sessions involve detailed history taking, understanding of symptoms, gauging deep thought processes, analysing negative thoughts and using cognitive and emotive techniques. All of this is the foundation of therapy, and applying all it was, in fact, a lot easier online. Confidential knowledge management platforms helped information gathering and have enriched the therapy process.”

“Wellness needs to become a part of our everyday existence. With that in mind, what better tool than technology to disseminate information and alleviate stigmas about mental health, offer simple lifestyle solutions and provide a platform to share information via support groups.”

“The new generation in general has an information overload, and they may not have the wisdom to make appropriate use of it. Hence over-identification with symptoms can make young users over-diagnose their problems, which itself can become a cause of anxiety. I think it’s very important that the platforms for mental-health are rooted in a strong foundation of expertise, experience and qualified mental wellness professionals. But overall, I think democratisation and awareness are significant, positive undertakings. If the quality of information is maintained, I see these to be effective tools in enhancing mental health.”

“InnerHour’s self-help app lets the user pick the psychological area they feel they need to work on. There are courses on depression, stress, anxiety, sleep, anger, and one simply focused on happiness. After a quick initial assessment, the user is offered a personalised plan that requires 5 minutes a day for learning new psychological strategies based on cognitive behaviourial therapy (CBT), mindfulness and positive psychology. Just about
5 minutes on the app every day allows the user to engage in emotional and behavioural awareness. Other supporting tools in the app enhance engagement with the plans — these include symptom and goal trackers, personalised psycho-educational content, a chatbot (Allie) to provide guided activities at times
of distress, and access to actual human therapists to support the client when needed.”

“At one time, the only way in which a doctor would see or treat patients was through a consultation. Now with technology, blogging, social media and public forums, the whole world has access to our expertise. For instance, on Quora the other day, I had an anonymous exchange with someone on the management of refractory depression that is unresponsive to treatment. It was not medical advice (as that is unethical), but our exchange did give her a better understanding of her illness, and she was going to speak to her treating doctor about it. So our interaction was successful in initiating an action in the right direction. ”

“Gratification comes from making a difference in the lives of people, and money could never substitute that. I say this because blogs, content on public forums like Quora, expert views in print and digital media, designing of scripts as well as audio and video recordings for relaxation voiceovers, online wellness modules, and cognitive homework strategies are not financially remunerating. But, if this information is available free of cost, it can encourage people to take further steps and seek more in-depth professional help. So, as Victor Frankl put it, ‘the purpose of life is to find purpose in life’. I can only feel thankful that I have found my purpose.



Product Designer

A philanthropic project aimed at objectively documenting the work, case studies and first principles of those in the creative world, Audiogyan is a podcast inspired by the age-old tradition of Maukhik Parampara — where knowledge is passed down from guru to shishya in an oral format. In a tête-à-tête with some significant names in the performing arts and design, Nimkar — who’s currently Head of Design at BookMyShow — is striving to build an archive of thoughts and ideas that he believes will benefit future generations.

“Despite dealing with visual mediums like art and design, I chose podcasts because I am not a great writer; making videos is expensive, time consuming and a lot of professionals are required. On the other hand, audio is simple and I had some prior experience due to my theatre background. It all began by documenting the insights, knowledge, ideologies, learnings and first principles of the experienced designers in my immediate circle. Podcasts were not a decision but a discovery. When I started this, I was only aware of few podcasts outside India, like Design Matters, 99% Invisible and Freakonomics. In India, I used to listen to SynTalk sometimes. Podcasts are a simple yet powerful medium to share information or entertain. It’s easy to record, edit and go live. I strongly believe that Indians need to develop a strong culture of documenting things which will benefit future generations. I chose to document design.”

“It all started one afternoon around June 2016. My friend Kamal Nayan and I were discussing how we can create a repository of all the learnings we had gathered from our seniors. Some sort of an AMA, blog post…anything. It was just on a whim that we thought of having conversations with fellow and senior designers, and recording them. That’s how the idea for a podcast was born.”

“Curating guests for Audiogyan — let me be clear, it’s subjective. I decide based on my personal judgement after doing some research about the person’s work. I mainly interview two types of people — designers and artists. As design is a newer profession in India, I choose interviewees based on the quality of their work and the impact their design solution has made on society. I also try and feature design professors from Industrial Design Centre (IDC), National Institute of Design (NID), Shrishti and other institutions. When it comes to artistes, it could be anyone — a writer, thinker, film-maker, musician, make-up artist, dancer, poet, story teller; anybody, who has at least over 25 years of experience. Of course, there are exceptions.”

“Almost every conversation is filled with wonderfully unknown and unexpected insights for me to grow as a designer and become a better human being. Although I don’t listen to my episodes again once they have aired live, there are a few episodes which I keep referring back to due to the nature of the conversations in them, for instance, my interviews with Ayaz Basrai, B.V. Doshi, Sunit Singh, Ramu Ramanathan, Santosh Kshirsagar.”

“When I was getting the word out about the podcast, social media was the only way I communicated. It feels good to open an Instagram account with 0 followers and, by the end of few months, have 500-plus followers that came about organically. It seems like a very small number, but I am proud that I was able to find some followers for such niche ‘gyan’. I would like to give a lot of credit to Audioboom, DesignUp and PDF (Pune Design Festival) for helping me spread the word. I also got a lot of visibility when Audiogyan was selected as one of the top 10 podcasts in India on Apple iTunes.”

“It feels good to open an Instagram account
with 0 followers and, by the end of few months, have 500 plus followers that came about
organically…. I am proud that I was able to find
some followers for such niche ‘gyan’.”

“India needs a lot of good designers and a system to
document case studies and design solutions which have impacted society at large — like the EVM (Electronic Voting Machine). I wish that I am able do this for a good amount of time and also inspire others enough so they continue this documentation after me. To know more about importance of design education in India, I would recommend listening to two episodes, Anirudha Joshi (IDC Professor) and Ashwini Deshpande (co-founder of Elephant Design).”

“I am happy about the fact that, irrespective of the technology curve, designers in India are trying to spot Indian problems and thinking about localised solutions. After all, a designer’s job is to solve problems. Having said that, the recent trend is personalisation; making any information, service or offering super personalised through observing behavioural patterns and running them through intelligent algorithms to serve contextually.”

“I am more keen to document first principles and ideologies rather than the person themselves. When I interviewed Rajat Kapoor, we never spoke about his journey or achievements, but rather, questions like ‘What is the importance of independent cinema? Why do we want art in life?’ Etc. There is no dearth of these ‘trip down memory lane’ type interviews — online and offline. And they revolve around someone’s early days, their inspirations, what they’re doing now, future plans and so on. I consciously stay away from it — this is one of the reasons why my questions tend to be objective and non-personal.”

“Audiogyan is more like a philanthropic project. It helps me connect with like-minded people without monetisation being the ultimate goal. Some things can be non-commercial, purely for the joy of sharing, for a greater good. Maybe simply for good karma. So far, I have my bread and butter plus my passion sorted with BookMyShow. The podcast is something to give back to my designer community.”




A teacher, a professor and a knowledge seeker, the Nagaland-born Theyiesinuo Keditsu started her Instagram page, @mekhalamama, around two years ago in a bid to champion local textiles and empower the community to wear the mekhala — a sarong-like cloth that wraps around the lower body and tucks in at the waist — every day. With a current social media following of over 11k, Keditsu uses the platform to demonstrate her experiments with drapes and styling, and her scholarly approach towards Indian textiles has been applauded by fellow Naga people as well as those who were once unfamiliar with this garment.

“As a woman who has grown up in Nagaland, I cannot speak of an ‘introduction’ to the mekhala. My earliest memories of them merge with the memories of my grandmother who, like most women then, dressed only in mekhalas. I started wearing them on a day-to-day basis in January 2015. Prior to that, since 2003, I had regularly been wearing mekhalas to church. I grew up seeing my mother going to work and juggling so many roles, and that has shaped the woman I am today. My desire is for my children to see me working and independent while clad in mekhalas. I feel this will go a long way, not only for them but for everyone, in changing the perception of the mekhala, which has been perceived as somehow incompatible with contemporary life and pursuits.”

“I wanted to document my outfits and share my thoughts on our home-grown textiles. I also wanted a forum where I could keep a record of my Naga mekhala looks. Instagram seemed just the right space, but initially, I had no idea how it worked — I was simply posting. After the first few posts, I messaged a few like-minded female Naga friends, asking them to follow me, and that was it. A month later, an acquaintance addressed me as ‘mekhala mama’, and the name stuck. Eventually, more and more people started coming up to me to tell me they enjoyed my feed and were learning a lot from my captions. The responses have been overwhelming enough for me to create the #mekhalamovement hashtag.”

“Since the time I started wearing the mekhala daily, I realised how provocative this choice was from the way people responded to it. For many, it upset their idea of what an educated working young woman ought to look like, as they associated draping mekhalas with women who were older, from rural areas or the working class. Many perceived it as an uncomfortable garment, which is ironic considering that less than 25 years ago, most Naga women wore only mekhalas. Instagram allows me to confront many of these biases and lets me explore the many possible reasons for why we think about our traditional dresses in the way we do.”

“My purpose for having this account is to demonstrate the
relevance of our traditional textiles in a contemporary setting and
to show its sartorial value…. I want them to be convinced of the value and
uniqueness of our textiles, and the urgency of conserving this art form.”

“I’m an academic and pursue my interests with the curiosity and methodology of one. I learn about the different textiles of the Naga tribes using the research training I have received. For instance, traditional mekhalas and shawls have affiliations to different Naga tribes. Most of them will be some combination of the natural plant dyes indigenous to our hills — red, blue, black, green, yellow — and white, if not dyed. This cloth is a marker of tribe, village, gender and status. On the other hand, contemporary mekhalas cannot be immediately attributed to one tribe. They are woven from the myriad coloured fabrics now available in the market and are expressions of a weaver’s whims or the result of a specific order made for a client. Most of this knowledge is oral, which means I need to seek out the women who have played pivotal roles in preserving the knowledge of textiles in their tribes and collecting pieces, or at least photographs, if they are rare or expensive. I maintain records of my interviews with these women. It is still a work in progress, but I hope to publish the material I am gathering one day.”

“I have a favourite set that belonged to my mother since the ’80s. It is a striking set made with cotton yarn with motifs woven in synthetic gold ribbon. It was such an unconventional piece then because of the stark geometrical thunderbolt like motif that was more Ziggy Stardust than ethnic Naga. As a child, I remember watching my mother wear it for a night out with my father, awash in awe and the firm resolve to wear it when I grow up. It is precious to me both for its unique design and for this memory of my tiny, sober and poised mother’s momentary burst of flamboyance. I usually buy from a few stores in Kohima, the state capital where I live, which have been selling mekhalas for over 45 years now. They stock high-quality backstrap loom pieces. To buy the traditional pieces of other tribes, I reach out to people who know good weavers and order pieces from them directly. I think I have about 100 pieces now.”

“I have witnessed a significant change in the way that people perceive this outfit since I started my account. For one, I have lost count of the number of women who have written in to say that my outfits have convinced them to view the mekhala as a fashionable item. There are many who tell me that my account has inspired them to wear it more often — especially the younger generation who cannot yet afford to buy many but ‘commit’ to wearing mekhalas to church on Sundays. I definitely listen to people’s requests on Instagram, particularly if they have information about weavers or other ‘Made in Nagaland’ or locally-sourced products. The DM feature has been a wonderful data collection space. I have also received mekhalas as gifts from followers I have never met — including some from Mizoram (they wear puans). The most fascinating part for me is how women who are not even natives, have also taken to buying and wearing the mekhala. It has risen to such an extent that a popular local store with online presence (@fusion_dimapur) now stocks mekhalas and shawls due to the demand.”

“For me and my handle, Instagram hiding the likes and video views wouldn’t make much of a difference. My purpose for having this account is to demonstrate the relevance of our traditional textiles in a contemporary setting and to show their sartorial value. My target audience is also mainly limited to Nagas. I want them to be convinced of the value and uniqueness of our textiles, and the urgency of conserving this art form. Rather than the number of likes, I look at the responses and comments that endorse my aim. So hiding likes won’t affect the way I use my account or its impact.”



Researchers and Development Communication Specialists

A Bengaluru-based writer-researcher duo, Radhika Viswanathan and Samyuktha Varma, are bringing to the fore complex developmental issues in the country, like stunting and malnutrition, the challenges faced by informal economies, environmental hazards and the struggles of the female workforce, by using the accessible and approachable format of podcasts. While navigating censorship and funding the selfsustaining platform they are, through In the Field, utilising the lesser-known digital platform to provide some perspective about the often-overlooked realities of living in India, and what the future looks like.

“Podcasts are an exciting medium for us. While we were working at organisations where we had to write reports and articles, we were restricted to only one way of communication which wasn’t interactive. What we really wanted to do was to start a conversation. When you are listening to a podcast, it is a very personal and immersive experience; the listener isn’t distracted by images or texts. Through our episodes, we create a mood with various sounds, inflections and commentaries. Historically in India, even the most complicated texts have been passed down orally. When the audience listens to our episodes, they connect their personal experiences and relate to them uniquely.”

In The Field started two years ago, and the first episode was uploaded on October 24, 2017. The development sector in India is a small space, and everyone interacts with each other — debating, discussing and sharing thoughts and ideas. A lot of this happens even outside of the workspace. Samyuktha and I have known each other for a long time now. Coincidentally, we studied in the same university. We started working together about ten years ago, and back then we were looking at issues relating to drinking water and urban water scarcity and solutions to curb it.”

“Our views on development have evolved; we’re interested in tracing the journey, ideas about change. Ten years ago, what we thought of as a sign of progress is different from what we think now. For instance, building dams is considered to be an environmentally unsustainable concept today, although in the past, it Researchers had been very well-received. Examples such as this one have had an interesting journey. They have been informed by people and movements, policies and finances, which is what we are spotlighting through the show. We want to have a conversation about where we stand now and where we want to be in the future.”

“When you are listening to a podcast, it is a very personal
and immersive experience; the listener isn’t distracted by
images or texts. Through our episodes, we create a mood
with various sounds, inflections and commentaries.”

“When we started out, there was very little space for podcasts in India; people didn’t grasp the potential of the medium. In the past two years, we have seen the coming of age of this platform. In The Field is funded by brands and philanthropists — more people are willing to support these kinds of shows, there is also a wide range of listeners from both India and the rest of the world, and we get consistent direct feedback from our regular listeners, which is helpful in understanding what content is working.”

“We maintain transparency with our audience; we inform them about the shows which are completely independent and editorially-driven and those that are co-produced with a funder or with another organisation. We want people to understand the intention of the show, the origin of the idea and how they work together. It is becoming increasingly important for all journalistic efforts to be clear about the distinction between independent content and that with advertising revenue. But, our ultimate interest lies in talking about society at large.”

“Our forthcoming show, City of Women, is scheduled to release in January 2020. It has been funded by the Google Podcasts creator programme and inspired by urban women. It explores how they interact in cities and public spaces, and the way their lives are constructed around them. As a society, we don’t think of women as the inhabitants of the city in the same way as we do men. While carrying out daily activities — from waking up, to going to work, to returning home — women have to navigate issues like personal safety and societal conventions. Traditionally, women aren’t seen as loiterers or explorers. The main reason why women are allowed to go out of their home is for work.”



Food Instagrammer

Food-related Instagram accounts are full of images designed to leave your mouth watering, but often it is extremely difficult to set the photos from these pages apart from one another other. Enter @soupykaur_, an anonymous account driven by someone who is focused on creating content that lets them engage with other food lovers. The handle, an internet inside joke, lends it a sense of play; it is an obvious take-off on the famous — or infamous depending on where you stand — Insta-poet’s name, and the minimalist page is a collection of ‘poems, recipes and humble reviews of all things food’, with posts that alternate between top-shots of styled food dishes and poems or recipes accompanied by simple line drawings.

“The inception of the page @soupykaur_ happened around the time I had quit my full-time job last year
and tried to find ways to keep myself creatively charged. I wanted to share my culinary encounters in a format that wasn’t a cookie cutter Instagram food page, and I know that the content had to be odd yet engaging and fun. One day, while I was scrolling through Rupi Kaur’s feed, I came up with the name ‘Soupy Kaur’. However, beneath the playful satire, Soupy has its own identity that revolves around food, humour and creativity. It’s a project that definitely has to be taken lightly.”

“The real journey with cooking began when I left home at 15 and had to find a way to not miss it too much. I was always intrigued by my mother’s food, and I’d often help her in the kitchen when I was young. You’d think cooking would be an intimidating process, but eventually you realise that it’s rather meditative; and just like that my relationship with food became an escape from the day’s stress. Over time, I’ve also come to realise that food isn’t just a source of energy. It’s a rather powerful medium that can take you down memory lane, spark conversations and unite people.”

“Social media can change your outlook on life, and it comes down to filtering who you follow. On the one hand, it’s troublesome to see influencers and pages on social media sending out the wrong messages about excessive consumption and unattainable lifestyles — this side of social media is harmful, to say the least. On the other, we have creators, designers, artists and great thinkers who are doing what they love and inspiring followers in incredibly positive ways. The digital world is very powerful, and messages have the ability to reach millions of people in a matter of seconds. So, with a great follower count comes great responsibility!”

“The first post was a take on Rupi’s style of poetry, which often speaks of suffering. Here, I introduced a different kind of suffering — being unable to cook. It portrayed Soupy as an individual who was neither a chef nor a writer, but rather, a curious individual looking to learn and engage in conversation about food through the ’gram. Aglio e olio pasta is a dish that I had been trying to master at the time, and it was very popular with my friends.”

“I don’t think hiding likes or video views on Instagram would make a real difference. However, I’m not too sure how the algorithm would be modified, as the current feed tends to be populated by the posts you like or engage with. As long as the content is relatable or likeable, it might motivate people to comment more, thereby adding a personal touch to the user engagement.”

I was looking to share stories about my culinary experiences
during my travels, and an online platform seemed to be the most ideal way to do so. All I needed was a laptop with Adobe Illustrator. So far, I haven’t had to deal with anything particularly challenging because this is a fun project that I engage with whenever I wish to escape from my full-time job. What could be more exciting than being able to joke, sketch and talk about food at barely any cost?”

“The fact that I’m neither a chef nor a writer yet am both through @soupykaur_, goes to show that in today’s day and age we can be whatever we wish. Hopefully, that can inspire people not to be so intimidated by the process and more excited about the outcome. Through this project, I am able to engage in a two-way conversation with people who have respect for the one thing that unites us all — food.”