Saturday, 29 June 2013

Hemant Anant Jain- Blogging for a change

Quite often people question the very notion of "cyber-activism" and its effectiveness. May out here might have been told that its a virtual world where people go just to make themselves believe that they are making a difference. 

Well lets hear it from a guy who did make a difference through this medium.
Another one reposted from Youthleader. This was my first interview for Youthleader.

How common is it for Prime Ministers to be asked if they have had their eyes removed? But extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. In a recent postcard campaign featuring a bloodied skull, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) and its supporters put that question to Manmohan Singh. Why else, they added, would he be “blind” to the sufferings of victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy? 
The man behind the postcards is Hemant Anant Jain. A 36 year old copywriter- Hemant, along with Indra Sinha (author of Animals People, nominated for Booker), designed the postcards to raise money for the Sambhavna Trust and the ICJB. The campaign became so successful that it was featured in the Outlook mag, all this through the medium of the internet, via his blog “The Great Indian Clearance Sale” (GICS).

Hemant’s Environmental blog, “The Great Indian Clearance Sale” is an ideology-free art project. It's an adventure in information, serving up the current state of the Indian environment with a side of cynicism and sass, complete with graphics and easy to understand articles.

Siddhant Sadangi interviews Hemant and takes you on a visual tour of The Great Indian Clearance Sale. 
SS: Can you tell the readers something about   yourself?
HJ: I am a writer and illustrator and like to tell stories. Usually about simple things in life, the ones you can’t buy in malls.

SS: How did the GICS idea germinate?
HJ: The refrain of the common man through ages, and getting louder, has been: ‘India is for Sale’.  And going by the fact that we are in the top 5 corrupt countries in the world, it is true. So, the idea isn’t new. It was already there in everyone’s hearts. I just brought it to life in my own little way.

SS: Could you provide a brief outline of your purpose, mission and vision?
HJ: GICS is an ideology-free art project. We are trying to use art and information graphics to highlight interesting articles and issues which are important to the environment. We aim to create more awareness about these issues in the Indian middle class.

SS: What is your primary approach to promoting this concept?
HJ: Art and design. I use that to simplify complicated information. I think people respond more readily to information which is easier to understand.

SS: What inspires you (and motivates you to inspire others) to venture out there with this concept?
HJ: To me, there is nothing called armchair activism. It’s all a move towards achieving that critical mass. If enough people start feeling strongly about something, it will bring in a change- slowly, but surely. The process is frustrating and painful. But here’s what will happen if more and more people start talking about an issue, and start discussing it. Armchairs or not!
Information will spread
Questions will be asked
More the questions, lesser the lies
Lesser the lies, more the solutions
More the solutions, better things get
I think we are at the stage when people are starting to ask more questions. And lies have less of a breathing space than they ever had. If this isn’t a positive sign, what is?
So can social media and the people overturn the Monsantos and Vedantas of the world? If you really want to know the answer- NO.
I have little hope that we can bring about a revolution in our thinking. I think the rot has set in too deep to be curable.
But I wake up and tweet and put links out to the entire world, along with thousands like me. Why? Because I don’t want the history books to be written without the words–‘we did not want this dystopian future’. Because I want the luxury of a ‘we tried our best’ sigh. And that luxury is not available at any shopping mall in this or any other country.

SS: Can you tell me some challenges you have faced in your project?
HJ: Not really. I never planned it and still don’t. I think challenges come with plans. I am doing it for the fun of it.

SS: Is there anybody else in the GICS team? Can you tell us something about them?
HJ: Anyone who is interested is a part of the team. Everyone who takes part in the debates on the page is making it come alive is an integral part of GICS.

SS: Have you undertaken any ground activities?
HJ: No. This is an art project and we are doing what we can using art.

SS: Anybody whom you would give credit for supporting (inspiring) you in this mission?
HJ: The millions of activists around the world who brave everything and are fighting for the planet. Amazing people! They are the ones we should all be supporting. GICS is just a humble dedication to all the real work these people are doing.

SS: Any other interests/hobbies?
HJ: Reading, a lot.

SS: Which books would you recommend?
HJ ‘The Demon Haunted World’ by Carl Sagan and ‘Small is Beautiful’ by EF Schumacher

SS: Have much success do you think you have achieved?
I measure success in the degree of simplicity I have achieved in my life. Personally I think that has become the most unachievable thing in this world. Everything else is available in the market. But simplicity? It has to come from within and is the biggest challenge. So, have I been successful? I'm trying.
Here is something that explains my concept of simplicity:
One could watch the swallows run about the wind, collecting insects at will and flirt with the clouds over the valleys, and not feel the need of a city for days upon days.
One could lie down on a grassy knoll some two thousand metres above the sea level and watch a mountain getting covered by clouds, uncovered by clouds, covered by clouds and repeat, for hours without feeling the urgency to twitter about it.
One could lie wide awake in the early hours of the morning and hear a fox bark three times as it sniffs the bunny rabbits in the little cage, and one could wonder till the wee hours of the morning of how frightened, but thankfully safe, the rabbits were.
One could walk uphill for kilometers upon kilometers and discover that it was just under a kilometer that one covered in those two and a half hours of strenuous walk to realization about one’s fitness. And yet, and yet, feel good about everything.
But one cannot, upon one’s return to the city, justify anything that one goes about doing in every day urban life. Not the mad rush of the city, not the police sirens playing tinnitus with the ears, not the hours in front of the computer, not the meetings, not the pints of beer after work, not the night life, not the incessant checking of the bank account to see if the gnomes secretly worked their magic and produced some remarkable jump in one’s fortunes.

There is, in my mind, a rising tide of conviction that tells me there is genius hidden in simplicity.
It is the next big idea.
Wait and watch.

SS: So what will be your next step?
HJ: I will continue to do what I am doing. Tell more and more stories and maybe make books for children, also, short films.

SS: Looking forward to see your films on the big screen. What would be your message for the youngsters reading this?
HJ: Yes. I wrote something which I think is relevant for the youngsters:

I want my country back
The look on the faces when they say it,
“India is a huge market!”
“India is a growing market!”
The sense of pride oozes out from a million guts of businessmen and politicians and economists and spreads like fungus on everything.
Advertisements in newspapers which shout: If you want a jog, head for the 30th floor.
I wonder if India didn’t turn into a growing market, and just an amazing country as it used to be, what would happen?
Would we have a better public transport system instead of a zillion, and growing, cars?
Would we have more green spaces in the cities and not buildings with terrace gardens which don’t know their petunias from plastic?
Would we be taking more interest in reviving our rivers than pledging, as an advertisement proclaimed, we will have a certain brand of mineral water this year.
Would we be talking about our nation’s food security and not giving it away to companies like Monsanto?
Would we care a little more about tribals and their way of living and not rush to buy Vedanta's shares?
Would we start queuing outside the Parliament with our questions, and not outside malls for 26th January discount sale?
Would we really study Gandhi and not go crazy over Mr. Moneybags Gates who wants to control the food of the world?
Would we care a little more about which birds we spot in our everyday life and not just pretend ‘we just don’t see’.
Would lesser number of tigers end up in Chinese restaurants?
If India was a country and not a market, would we step out of the malls, look around at the crumbling infrastructure and dying rivers and ghettoed greens, and think to ourselves, “Hold on, this isn’t progress!”
Today is Republic Day. And I want my country back.
I want to be able to say, India is an amazing country.
And not try to contain it and define it by a word called ‘market’.

If you have gone through all the illustrations here, I believe your monthly dose of satire would already be complete, but before we log off, why don’t we have a look at one of Hemant’s comic strip on tribals, business, Maoists and the State.

Just ponder over the state of affairs. Which side do you think you are on- the one which will say “I did not want this to happen” or the one which will say “I tried my best to prevent this from happening”? Which one is more satisfying? You know better.
 To help Hemant in his endeavour, you can visit his blog at It is also a good place to be if you want to go through all his illustratons without straining your eyes.
The Great Indian Clearance Sale is also on Facebook -->

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