Year: 2020

Zapping Google Analytics User Tracking From My Website

As of 22 June 2020, I have disconnected the Google Analytics property attached to my website, nairtejas.com. This means that starting today, your presence on this site will not be tracked. I am currently trying to disconnect Jetpack/WordPress tracking too which I don’t know if is entirely possible.

This move was taken as part of my larger vision to keep away from adopting the user-hostile nature of the majority of the sites on the web. I don’t want to know what device you are browsing my website from, how much time you are spending reading my content, or which city you are located in. None of these ‘metrics’ matter to me. Which is what I also told, in another fashion, to my company before I moved to my current role focusing on content.

I haven’t published much in the last few weeks since the start of the pandemic but I hope to get back on my feet soon. I plan to spend the next few weeks doing some hygiene check of this website and then proceed to publishing.

As always, thanks for stopping by. TN.

My Nostalgic Pre-Coronavirus Experiences

self isolation india

On 16 April 2020, I completed a month of remote working. As I continue to practice spatial distancing and occupy myself with some indoor activities, I have grown nostalgic of some experiences that I used to enjoy before the Covid-19 epidemic. Experiences that I never thought I would have to live without. Or at least wasn’t prepared to live without for such a long stretch.

Here they are in no order.

  • Watching a movie in a packed theatre and sometimes getting so absorbed in it that I pay no attention to anything else (even my phone or my mom sitting next to me)
  • Going for a solo walk or just strolling through the busy streets near my house while running errands in between and observing people carry on with their own tasks
  • Going for an unrestrained bike/car ride with some music on to enjoy the feeling of moving faster (despite the threats)
  • Travelling to work in a local train (which I took up back in January) that for more than two decades was an activity that made me anxious and exhausted but still made me feel like a part of something, a collective group, a herd
  • Going to a restaurant with friends or family to have a complete meal and getting lost in the food and conversations
  • Catching up with friends and replenishing the feeling of belonging
  • Travelling to farther places to de-stress after weeks of hectic schedule at work (my Bengaluru trip earlier in 2020 is going to go down as very special in my personal history)
  • Staying at a resort and enjoying the comforts of a laid-back holiday characterised by borderline decadence.

Some or all of these may sound like thoughts of a privileged person. It’s not that I do not understand the gravity of the coronavirus situation where healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and essential service workers are putting their life on the line for the sake of the greater good. I also understand that the essentials – food, shelter, internet – that I am enjoying may look like privileges to those without some of them.

But hiding these feelings wouldn’t have been right either. They had to be recorded. TN.

Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES): 8 Observations

poster of Bangalore film fest

Earlier in 2020 before the Covid-19 outbreak paralysed all my travel plans, I was fortunate to attend the 12th edition of the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES). I managed to attend the festival for two days and watch a total of five films. It was a fairly exciting experience for someone like me who – in my first solo trip – took a bus from Mumbai to Bengaluru just to attend the fest which is perhaps Karnataka’s biggest cinema extravaganza. Yes, I’m a film enthusiast. And this was an important trip for me because I was also in need of a break after a certain kind of failure in February.

It was my first time at the festival, so I thought I would take the free time during this lockdown to jot down some of my thoughts about BIFFES. Essentially, these might answer some of your questions if you plan to attend it in the following years. The biggest one being: is Bengaluru film festival worth going to? The short answer is yes.

My Experience at the Bengaluru Film Festival

The first day, after alighting at the Navrang Theatre junction, I walked to my hotel and checked in. I took a shower, and without grabbing breakfast, went straight to Orion Mall where PVR was hosting the film festival across 11 of its screens.

I observed the following things when I entered the film fest scene:

  1. You don’t have to book seats. Unlike the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) – where you have to reserve your seats online on BookMyShow for each show – here your festival registration is sufficient. You follow the schedule for the day and directly enter or join the queue outside the hall where your chosen film is going to be screened. As simple as that. And because there is no seat reservation required, there is only one queue per auditorium
  2. Eleven screens in a single venue is like a dream come true in a film festival organisation.[1]Out of these, at the BIFFES, 2-3 are reserved for jury screenings. Much like how it is for the Cannes[2]The Cannes film festival takes place entirely at a single large venue – the Palace of Festivals and Conferences – which has a total area of 3,80,000 square feet containing, among other rooms and offices, 18 film screening auditoriums the largest of which (Auditorium Louis Lumière) can seat 2,300 people. (https://en.palaisdesfestivals.com/meeting-space-and-lay-out) it is one of BIFFES’ biggest advantage over MAMI MFF where venues are scattered across places that are 10-30 kilometres apart from each other. Here, I didn’t have to spend time travelling between venues, something that a lot of people complain about other film festivals in India like the IFFI in Goa (and something that I frequently observed at the EUFF in 2019). In the 12th edition, BIFFES also had three more venues: the legendary Navrang Theatre at Rajajinagar, Dr. Rajkumar Bhavana at Chamarajpet, and Suchitra Film Society (the farthest from South Bengaluru)
  3. The queues are bearable. Because I had planned my trip for the weekend, I was expecting huge crowds at the venue. Also since Orion Mall was the largest of the four venues, I was also expecting serpentine queues outside each screen. To my surprise, I found the queues much more bearable than how things are at other Indian film festivals. Even for popular films like Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven, I was able to get inside the hall despite joining the queue just 10 minutes before the show. (Of course, again, this is relative to Mumbai standards)
Long lines at Bangalore film fest
Delegates lining up on Day 1 of BIFFES 2020 / via FB
  1. Cafeteria food is affordable. PVR in Mumbai usually robs you and turns you half richer by the end of a film festival, but not in Bengaluru. And if the regular low prizes of food and confectioneries are not enough, the fest ran a 50% flat off on everything for festival delegates in its 12th edition. This was especially useful because Orion Mall – being the only major mall in South Bengaluru – was crowded on both the days I attended the festival. The food court? Even more so
  2. Each film is introduced in both Kannada and English before the screening. I liked this small feature which formally gave out a bit more information about the film being screened; its language and country of origin, director, and running time
  3. The crowd is more responsible. They maintained cinema theatre etiquette, and more importantly, didn’t remind me of my own imaginary theatre
Tejas Nair at Bangalore film festival
That’s me at the fest
  1. Post-screening Q&As are rare. This was disappointing to learn because one of the pros of attending a film festival is that you can meet and/or listen to a film’s cast and crew to get more insights about their creations. Out of the five films I caught, Q&A was suggested only for one film (Geetha J’s Run Kalyani) but a majority people walked out soon after the credits began to roll. So, it didn’t happen
  2. VIP culture is absent or restricted. This is another great feature of the Bengaluru film festival where all delegates are treated equally unless you are part of a film’s crew (which is fair). I was able to sit on any row that I wanted and no usher was present to tell me otherwise.

If you’re curious, I watched and reviewed the following five films:

  • Psychobitch (dir. Martin Lund)
  • Biriyaani (dir. Sajin Baabu)
  • It Must Be Heaven (dir. Elia Suleiman)
  • Run Kalyani (dir. Geetha J)
  • Market (dir. Pradip Kurbah)

Here are some pictures that would further help summarise the film fest.

Overall, I had a fun time at the 12th edition of the Bengaluru film festival. So much that I have plans to go back in 2021 provided travel restrictions ease by then. But before that, the question that comes to my mind is: will film festivals exist in this new normal? Screen has some guesses. TN.

Featured image courtesy: BIFFES via FB

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Out of these, at the BIFFES, 2-3 are reserved for jury screenings.
2. The Cannes film festival takes place entirely at a single large venue – the Palace of Festivals and Conferences – which has a total area of 3,80,000 square feet containing, among other rooms and offices, 18 film screening auditoriums the largest of which (Auditorium Louis Lumière) can seat 2,300 people. (https://en.palaisdesfestivals.com/meeting-space-and-lay-out)

My MA Convocation Was a Fiasco

In February 2020, I took a day off from work to drive to Pune with my entire family to collect my Master of Arts degree certificate from IGNOU at its 33rd annual convocation ceremony. Call it a stupid mistake on my part or a sheer lack of luck, I was denied my certificate. Morose and disappointed, we cancelled all our subsequent sight-seeing and luncheon plans and decided to drive back to Mumbai. On our way, our car broke down and we spent nearly 4 hours waiting at an unfamiliar place before it was ready to roll on the road again. It was an hour shy of midnight when we reached home.

I don’t think I have had a day as disastrous as that Monday in a long time. Making me look back at it now and assess its potential to be perhaps the worst day of my adult life.

Preparing for the 33rd IGNOU Convocation

After taking the decision to pursue Master of Arts in English Literature (MEG) via the distance learning program of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in 2017, I was successfully able to complete it – while working full-time – in two years, the minimum course time. It wasn’t easy but I didn’t come out with flying colours either to boast about it. If not a good score, I was just happy that I had completed it without having to take advantage of the ATKT rule, reassuring me that studying while working was still a manageable enterprise for me who is a lazy bum.

So when IGNOU emailed me about the convocation ceremony – five months after the results were out – I was elated. At first, I thought I was supposed to go to the main campus in New Delhi. I even discussed this with my course coordinator (Pema Sandup) and was excited that an interstate trip had appeared out of nowhere. But then the regional circular mentioned that the convocation for students from Mumbai and Pune would happen in the latter city. Nevertheless, I immediately registered for the ceremony by paying INR 600.

The venue was an auditorium near Colonel Point in Pune and I had already figured out the time it would take for us to reach there. The IGNOU circular also specified a dress code: students were supposed to wear Bharatiya Paridhan (Indian dress) and that is when I had second thoughts about attending the function. It confused me a little at the start but then I found out it’s not really a mandate. A white shirt would do. But, just in case, I borrowed a kurta from a friend. I was ready.

The 33rd convocation ceremony of IGNOU was scheduled on a Monday afternoon in February 2020. After a recent intense incident that had ended in a heartbreak, I was very excited for this event. Despite work pressure, I managed to take the day off. My sister and her husband also took the day off and my niece had to skip school. We all were really looking forward to the trip – sort of a day out in Pune. My mom loves such road trips. And my previous convocation – when I graduated as an Engineer from the University of Mumbai – was a damp squib.

None of us had any idea that the day was going to be a complete failure.

The Day of the Event

I think we started out before 9 AM that Monday morning. Our only stop was at the Khalapur Food Plaza for some tea and breakfast. Before 11 AM we were at the venue.

We parked the car at the lot and I stepped out to register myself. Apparently, we had to re-register on the spot and that is where I screwed up. Since the venue was designated for students from both the regional centres (Mumbai and Pune), there were multiple queues leading up to the registration desk. I joined one of the queues for Mumbai students.

Upon reaching the desk, I dished out my IGNOU ID card and wrote down my name and enrolment number. I was asked to pay a refundable deposit of INR 200 for the convocation scarf which I did. In an attempt to not hold the line up for long, I quickly asked the staff if this registration was enough. He said yes, and without questioning it, I took the scarf and left the desk. I had nearly two hours before the ceremony began and instead of verifying if I had actually registered my name on the call list, I sat at my designated seat reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.

The Event, The Blunder

My family also shortly joined me in the auditorium even though we were sitting separately. Half an hour passed by before the delegation entered with an entourage and occupied their chairs on the dais. Happy and excited, I waited for the opening speeches to get over to finally receive my MA degree certificate.

ignou rc mumbai convocation
The delegation at the 33rd IGNOU convocation in Pune / @ignourcmumbai on FB

Here I would like to highlight the speech made by the guest of honour for the convocation, Bhupendra Kainthola, an IIS officer and current Director of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He spoke softly and with a touch of liveliness that was missing in the speeches made by those before him. He talked about his own experiences (as an IGNOU student) and then congratulated us for our feat with extraordinary panache. It was a remarkable, uplifting speech that is yet not available in the public domain.[1]The IGNOU Pune Regional Centre hadn’t responded to my query about the video. If someone asks me if there was one thing that went well that day then I would refer to this speech. IGNOU’s Pune division of inviting Kainthola may not have been the right choice[2]Bhupendra Kainthola is more of a film person than related to education. He was also accused of alleged harassment and for creating a ‘hostile work environment’ by an FTII student in 2018. (Student Alleges FTII Director Ridiculed, Intimidated Her for Speaking Up Against Sexual Harassment – The Wire – Varsha Torgalkar, 24 October 2018) but I did objectively enjoy his words.

Soon after Kainthola’s speech, the certificate distribution began. Doctorate students were conferred first. Students from different streams were called onto the dais and were handed over their certificates as I continued to applaud with the audience. It was when the delegation started distributing Bachelor’s degrees to students that I realized something was wrong. But I still waited, hoping to be called. Perhaps my name was last on this list?

No, my name was not on the list. I confirmed this when I walked to an IGNOU Pune official nearby and asked him why my name was not called. “Your name is not on the list. You didn’t register,” he said and my worst nightmare came true. By this time, my niece and nephew were getting restless. The distribution had moved to Pune students. It looked like I would be really ending up without a certificate.

I kept my book on my seat and walked up to where my family was sitting. Even they had the same questions as I had. More than embarrassment, it was disappointment that I was feeling. Waking up early, driving all the way to Pune, only to be taken down by a a clerical issue. My confidence was draining and I suddenly found myself in a state of inactivity. Even when my sister and mom forced me to go up to the dais and ask what’s what, I didn’t flinch. I just sat there analysing my mistake.

I finally gathered some courage and walked to the dais. I relayed my concern to a group of officials working behind the stage. They reconfirmed what the organizer had told me. But they also added one thing: there was no way I was going to get the certificate that day. Why? Because the original bundle of certificates was already packed and ready to be sent to the respective regional centres.

Dejected, I walked back to my family and passed the information. I think more than the issue of not receiving the certificate, my family was irritated that I couldn’t be photographed in the graduation attire. And that is what eventually caused me the biggest embarrassment.

We talked to the chancellors for assistance but none of them came to our aid. They made us understand that it was not right to open the bundle now after it was packed and taped. But then my sister suggested that I take a photograph with them using someone else’s certificate. Why? Just for the heck of it. As a crown on top of all the embarrassment, that is exactly what happened.

IGNOU MA convocation
That’s me photographed with someone else’s degree certificate

When all of this was over, I walked back to my original seat to collect my book. To no one’s surprise, it was no longer there. Like adding salt to the fire, the missing book added to my fury. A day that was characterised by absent-mindedness on my part. It robbed us of everything that we had wished for that day. And if all of this wasn’t enough, our car’s alternator cable snapped right when we were in the middle of a busy street. An Exide guy helped us and connected us to a mechanic nearby and it wasn’t before 7 PM that we left the city. Sorrowful, tired, and desperate to get home.

Conclusion

This happened at the height of me losing my self-confidence. I was just doing the bare minimum at everything – at work, in personal development, and in my social life. Such a minor mistake caused by an absent mind had a surprisingly large impact on my belief in myself, causing borderline impostor syndrome. I usually am not much affected by successes and failures but this episode really troubled me. I even saw it as a precursor to me losing my mind, being unable to carry out a basic task like registering my name on a sheet of paper. It caused a small crack in me, which is why I had to write this piece to let off some steam.

It’s been nearly two months since the fiasco, but the embarrassment that it caused me still is fresh on my mind. More so during this lockdown period where I have a lot of ideas but unable to execute any of them.

After the incidents, I took the following day off to steady myself but it didn’t help much. I went back to work on Wednesday and things went back to normal as I got busy with work. I stopped thinking about it for some time until the degree certificate reached me by post. It was a bittersweet feeling. TN.

Featured image courtesy: @chuttersnap via Unsplash

footnotes   [ + ]

1. The IGNOU Pune Regional Centre hadn’t responded to my query about the video.
2. Bhupendra Kainthola is more of a film person than related to education. He was also accused of alleged harassment and for creating a ‘hostile work environment’ by an FTII student in 2018. (Student Alleges FTII Director Ridiculed, Intimidated Her for Speaking Up Against Sexual Harassment – The Wire – Varsha Torgalkar, 24 October 2018)

10 Things to Do While Observing Janta Curfew

self isolation india

The PM of India has asked its citizens to observe what his office likes to call the Janta Curfew so as to try and restrict the further spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) disease. Essentially, we are not supposed to venture out of our homes on Sunday, 22 March 2020 from 7 AM to 9 PM unless there’s an emergency. As someone sitting in his Mumbai residence, it’s hard to know what all I can do tomorrow.

So, I did some research to come up with ideas to help you through the curfew, also spelled as ‘Janata Curfew’ sometimes, which I think is an obnoxious term for the regulation. I know you may already have plans to laze all day tomorrow but hear me out.

10 things to do during the Janta Curfew. Will also double up as handy tips for the future self-isolation days when most of us will continue to work from home.

  1. Do nothing
  2. Take a 30-minute walk at 6.30 AM or 9 PM
  3. Learn how to take a better nude of yourself. (5-step guide by Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz for The Cut)
  4. Watch the 1998 cult Hindi action film Gunda (for free on YouTube)
  5. Browse IKEA’s catalogue of beautiful products but don’t buy anything right now (wait till the pandemic dulls) (example)
  6. Watch a Met opera (for free)
  7. Tour a popular world heritage site for free (via Google Arts & Culture)
  8. Telephone an old friend
  9. Watch a live home animal safari organised by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden at around 12 AM IST (here on Facebook or via their YouTube channel after the live session is completed) (a glimpse)
  10. Read how to detect a fake news story or fake information in general (by Christina Nagler for Harvard Summer School)

Whatever you do, you should avoid following what others – mostly blind patriotic twits – in whatever they plan to do at around 5 PM tomorrow (22 March). Instead, explore better ways to congratulate and support your local healthcare professionals by donating either to Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai or by chipping into the global coronavirus relief fund.

You know what you have to do. TN.

Featured image courtesy: JD Designs via Unsplash