In the Indian blogosphere, Arnab Ray better known as the Greatbong, has attained an almost mythical stature. The blog has been painstakingly maintained with content of the utmost high quality for close to 5.5 years now and I am yet to come across anyone who reads Indian blogs and hasn't heard of the Greatbong. A lot more people are perhaps aware of his work but not his identity due to the many posts of his which do the rounds of uncredited 'forward emails'. I have been an ardent fan of his for many years now, and am glad that I can count him as a friend now. And if you thought his blogs were long but amazing, you should talk to him on the phone, he does better on both counts!
Anyway, Arnab is in India to launch (and promote) his about to be released first book 'May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss'. If you are in Delhi or Kolkata you may want to attend the book readings on the 5th and 19th of March respectively.
Initially, before I knew him personally, I was very intrigued by this phenomenal blogger from Kolkata, settled in the US who knew more about anything Indian (Cricket, Bollywood, Religion, Sexuality or Mithunda) than most of us Indians living in India do. A lot of people I know, who read his blog, also had a similar curiosity about him. After getting to know him, he seemed equally interesting a character, so I decided to do this email interview with Arnab. Posting it in an as-is fashion, completely uncut!
Suhel: Greatbong has become a big brand by now in the world of Indian blogging. Can you share the early days with us? How did it strike you? How were the initial months? Years?
Arnab: I started blogging once I went to a city after getting my PhD, a place where I was cut off from my old social circle. I had a lot of time and no one to talk to. The blog solved the problem of "time-pass" and jabbering all in one fell swoop. Early days my blog had the look and feel of West Bengal industry. Little activity, no buzz and no hope
In spite of living so far away from India and for so long how do you keep yourself uptdated with all the goings on in the country and have such insights on most topics?
The net of course. I find myself reading more news about India when I am in the US than when I am in India. I may live far away but my heart beats only for India. Correction. Beats only for India TV.
How long does it take you to write a post? What's the process like from the concept till the posting? Also, how much time do you spend on average on the blog per week?
Varies. I usually get an idea, think about it while driving back from work, and organize the post while stuck in traffic. Then its all about coming home, and typing it out. Of course I sometimes do get stuck even there and then I again think some more. I havent calculated how much time I spent on the blog per week mainly because it is difficult to define what "time spent on a post" is. Is it the just act of writing or does it also include thinking ? What about time spent in reading the news article or watching the cricket game(s)/movies that inspired the post?
How similar/different will May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss (MIHYAP)
I guess you will have to find that out.
What according to you is the most compelling reason to buy MIHYAP?
Stimulate the economy. Stimulate my economy. Plus its a little different than most books you have seen. I know all producers say this before their film's release. But still this is the best I can come up with. At least I havent used the word "hatke". Wait I think I just did.
What would be your advice to all the bloggers (and non bloggers) who also aspire to become writers?
Write the book you would like to read but havent. And make detailed chapter outlines once you start writing.
And now something about Arnab Ray, the person. A 500 character bio (or in 3.5 tweets!)
Born in Kolkata. Spent childhood in four places---Australia, India, US and Canada. Computer science researcher by day. Wannabe writer by night. And day also. Interested in most things under the sun. Has strong opinions, expresses them strongly and does not apologize for them.
On rumours about your shifting base to India?
Totally baseless. India and I are just good friends.
On a serious note, I think I said, during the online interaction I had as part of my pre-launch publicity, that I am not averse to returning if a suitable opportunity in the media presented itself. Since that has not happened at the time of writing, no plans of re-locating either.
On rumours about your being the Fake IPL Player?
Totally baseless. FIP and I are not even friends. I hardly saw his shadow and that too once. Now on the basis of that, these press-wallahs start writing all anaap-shanaap.
What about the legendary collection of incisive and apt photos with the posts? Sources?:)
I wish I had kept the sources. That was bad of me. What happened was that over the years I had developed this habit of saving "interesting" pictures whenever I came across them online. When I was designing the kitschy, loud blog headers for RTDM, I needed to look no further than my library of stored images.
Any interesting incident(s) which happened due to/because of the blog so far?
Getting a book deal I guess!
Favourite blog post till date.
All of them. But if I need to select one, I would say the letter from Andaman Jail holds the most meaning for me.
140 characters on Prabhuji (Mithunda for the uninitiated).
God. Repeat above till no_of_char==140, Then Re-tweet.
Where to from here?
Hopefully more books. But very different in tone and structure.
One last plug for MIHYAP:)
Buy it I say.