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Twitter toes the line

The redesign of the microblogging site reflects the changing user profile of social networks—but the look is very similar to that of its competitors
In February, for the first time in Twitter’s history, chief executive officer Dick Costolo acknowledged that Twitter needed to reach a larger and more varied audience. “By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background, we can increase high-quality interactions and make it more likely that new or casual users will find the service as indispensable as our existing core users do,” Costolo announced at a meeting with investors.
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The aim, he explained, was to create more visually engaging content. This was reflected in the announcement on changes in a user’s profile page on Twitter’s official blog (Blog.twitter.com) a week ago. The new profile allows for a huge, rectangular cover photo, a profile picture, with the capability to pin a tweet to the top, checking the favourite tweets of a user, or showing the most retweeted tweet in a bigger, easier-to-read font. The visual design changes also give the user the power to upload multiple pictures in a single tweet, making it all the more obvious that Twitter believes going visual is the way to survive the social networking game. The design of the Twitter profile page, however, now looks eerily similar to the Facebook and Google+ profiles.

Going mainstream

According to a November report by Business Insider Intelligence, a research service from business news website Business Insider, Facebook is the dominant social networking platform with 1.23 billion users worldwide, with YouTube following closely at one billion users. Twitter has a mere 241 million users worldwide, not even close to the two “mass” social networks.

Read the complete article on livemint.com

 

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Looking to pay through your mobile?

Try these apps Turn your smartphone into a wallet. Here are some apps you can try

Pay for petrol, buy lunch, shop for groceries—without taking out your wallet. All you need to do is tap or click on your smartphone. In a country where many users are going online through mobile, digital wallets could well be the next big thing.

Also called electronic wallets or e-wallets, this technology allows you to make financial transactions with a smartphone. This could include paying for stuff when you’re at a shop with just a tap of your phone, transferring money to a friend, or paying for movie tickets, cabs, home bills, travel, without taking out your credit or debit card, or cash.

Start-ups and companies are hopping on to the bandwagon with options ranging from Near-Field Communication (NFC), Bluetooth and even money transfer to a phone number without details of the other person’s bank account.

Internationally too, companies like Apple, Google and Amazon have gotten into the space with their own e-wallets, exploring this nascent technology. In India, however, regulations and policies make the process of implementation a little different. To protect consumers, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) mandates that each online transaction in the country go through two-factor authentication. Step 1 is the CVV number and step 2, a one-time-password (OTP). This process, which is not required in other countries, has proved to be a slight hiccup for companies like Uber, a US-based ride-sharing service, in accepting cash-free payments from customers. In August, the RBI rapped Uber when it started routing its payments through international gateways to automatically bill its Indian consumers and avoid the cumbersome two-step authentication.

Uber was not alone. Other e-merchants had been doing it too. The RBI issued a circular later that month, making it mandatory for all companies to settle payments within the country with two-factor authentication by October. “If someone has violated the rules, they should be pulled up,” says Saurabh Tripathi, partner and director at Boston Consulting Group, a strategy and general management consulting firm. He believes, however, that the current mobile payment regulations can be eased a bit. “For example, RBI could change it to a single-factor authentication for small payments of, say, up to Rs.1,000,” he says. This will give a push to the new technology and make mobile payments more common.

Some Indian start-ups are trying to figure out ways to work with the guidelines. “The extra step of second authentication adds friction, making the dropout rate higher,” says Nitin Gupta, chief executive officer (CEO) of PayU India, an online payment processor company. To deal with it, Gupta acquired Eashmart, a mobile-based payment app, in October to add a single nifty feature to his app: “When you start a transaction, we request the bank to send you a One-Time Password, which our app automatically reads and shows you. All you do is say yes.”

Looking to pay through your mobile? Then try out some of these apps in the market right now.

KayPay

Launched in October, KayPay is a simple way to transfer money to any of your Facebook friends. To begin, you have to log into KayPay’s site with your Facebook ID, allow it to use your Facebook profile information, and then add your bank details. Once that’s done, simply select the Facebook friend you want to send money to, put in the amount and the OTP sent to your phone. Your friend gets a notification about the money in her Facebook account and can log in within 48 hours into KayPay’s site to retrieve it. If she doesn’t, the money comes back to your account. Your bank account details stay with Kotak Mahindra Bank, the creators of the app, but it is not necessary to have an account with Kotak to use this app. Charges undisclosed. Currently works with 27 banks. www.kaypay.com

MobiKwik wallet

MobiKwik is a prepaid wallet. Once you fill it up, you can use it to recharge your phone, pay your bills, transfer money and buy from e-merchants. Money can be transferred into the MobiKwik wallet through cards, cash and netbanking, and it supports payment to major e-merchants like BookMyShow, Dominos, redBus, etc. “MobiKwik now processes about 200,000 transactions a day,” says Bipin Preet Singh, founder and CEO, MobiKwik. “Forty per cent of them come from movie and bus ticket bookings, purchases on e-commerce sites and bill payments, and 60% via phone recharges.” Now it is working on adding an e-KYC process so that users can increase the maximum wallet limit from Rs.10,000 to Rs.50,000. Free on Web, Android, Windows, iOS and BlackBerry. www.mobikwik.com

HotRemit

Launched in October, HotRemit allows you to transfer money to another HotRemit account, or to a Facebook, mobile or BBM contact, without the other person’s bank account details. Other than transferring money, you can also use the app to pay e-merchants. Currently, the app makers are working on launching their Android and iOS apps and convincing merchants to adopt NFC payments, where you just tap your phone to make the payment. …

First published in livemint.com . Read the complete article here:
http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/7iZX5dKvzy3An5bQEFNolN/Looking-to-pay-through-your-mobile-Try-these-apps.html?utm_source=copy

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How the kind Appupen drew Anantya’s cover

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This was just sent by Harper Collins team. It’s the cover of Anantya Tantrist’s first adventure in book format and I feel butterflies the size of dinosaurs in somewhere in the deep dark pits of my being. So I wanted to distract myself by telling you all a story. (For that’s what stories are for, no?) This one is the story of an incredible artist and his various kindnesses.

On a lazy Sunday a year ago, I headed to Leaping Windows (now unfortunately closed) with a twinkle in my eye. Two weeks before that, I had just finished reading one of the most amazing graphic novels in recent times, Moonward. I had stolen it from Jerry, who runs The Jam Hut in Hennur. My husband’s a drummer and I accompany him with a book sometimes. Much to my delight, that sunny day, I found a signed Moonward in Jerry’s little library. In it, I discovered the wise dragonfly I had first seen in the old Mojo’s pub off Residency Road.

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Mojo’s was the pub I headed to in my first weekend in Bangalore. The only thing I remember of old Mojo’s with fondness (an otherwise seedy bar where you have to rub your eyes to see, get soggy popcorns and the loos always smelled of pee) were the frescoes done by Appupen aka George Mathen. His lovely frescoes, especially the artwork above, were the first thing that had made me feel part of the city I call my own now, Bangalore. ‘It’s the same artist,’ I exclaimed, touching the old, wise dragonfly guy.

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Moonward turned out to be a similar journey of a creature in a fantasy world called Halahala, both marvellously witty and socially sharp. I hogged it in a day, delighted, thrilled and left with an unfinished feeling. So I went online looking for its creator and a copy for myself. After I hounded him over Facebook, George agreed to meet me to sign a copy of his works.

So the Sunday mentioned above happened. As I marvelled the frescoes George had  created at the little café in Indianagar, he  walked in, a kind fellow with a sparkle in his eye and a self-deprecating smile. He signed two copies of his Moonward  and
Legends Of Halahala (one for me, one as a wedding gift for pals Thej and Anju) and then spend a whole hour with me, telling me tales of literary festivals, how he draws the spectacular graphic novels (by getting a bit high on mutton and other stuff) and how much he loves playing the drums (he was part of the popular Bangalore-based band Lounge Piranha). I heard his tales, full of wisdom and wit and laughed and giggled. A cup of coffee later, I realized it was more than an hour that we’d been chatting, that I had poured onto him ALL my hopes and fears  about publishing Anantya Tantrist‘s first book. Secretly, I so wanted him to draw her out but how does one ask such a favour from such a big artist? So I didn’t. I left instead because I had stranded a dear pregnant friend, forgotten all about her, while I was there, chatting with George. But being evil is worth it sometimes.

A few months happened and Harper Collins after a long haul said yes to publishing Anantya’s series. I was superbly happy. When my editor asked me who should do the cover, I knew, I knew I had to ask George then. So I did and crossed my fingers, because HC couldn’t pay that much to an artist like him!

But George, though he might say a vigourous no to being labeled with the the term, is super-kind. So he agreed to draw Anantya’s face, to recreate her as a goddess, as Kali. The result was completely different from what I had imagined and the brief I had doled out (and I am so thankful for that!). When I was writing Anantya Tantrist‘s book, I imagined her face and body and expressions in many, many ways. But it was never, ever like this. I was surprised, gutted, shocked when I saw Anantya drawn like this. And that’s the magic of George’s pen. His paintbrush slashed perceptions and prejudices and went to the very core, cutting Anantya to the bone. She would like that.

My heart is still beating, because I love it so much and can’t wait for reactions to Cult of Chaos, Anantya’s upcoming book in December. I am lucky to have found such kind people in the city I belong to now. Thanks, George, for your kindness to a stranger.

Connect with Appupen online on Facebook. George’s older art can be found on his personal Facebook page, here, here and even here. I highly recommend his latest graphic novel, Aspyrus  (Amazon // Flipkart) which is a fascinating exploration of silent comic.  

Photoblog: Chandni chowk and Jamia Masjid

What can be more fun than walking in the bylanes of an old market, peeping into antiques? Here’s a few pictures from my Instagram feed.

Detective workshop heads to Legacy School

Last year, during a detective workshop at the Hippocampus library in Bangalore, I met Vimala and her team, the super gals who run the Hippocampus School Library Services, which is all about setting up beautiful, readable, exciting libraries in schools. I’ve always loved the musty smell of books, much like coffee, heady and imaginative and colourful. So when Vimala asked me to do a couple of workshops at different schools in Bangalore as part of their National Library Week, how could I refuse?

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At Hippocampus last year

So this Friday, I am headed to meet kids at Legacy School. Will update this post again when I’m back to tell you how it went!

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Guest post: A tryst with author RK Narayan

I have always had a soft corner for stories real, or make believe. So after much pondering over and ideating, I announce the launch of Creative Chat series for my website, where I will share experiences of authors meeting other authors, artists, storytellers and creative people. I am SO excited to present author Aditi De’s experience of meeting the stalwart of Indian English writing, RK Narayan in the late 80s to begin my series with (thanks for allowing me to use this, Aditi!).

Aditi De is an author- editor- photographer- traveller- blogger based in Bangalore. Her 11 solo books for adults and children include gems like Multiple City: Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore (2008) and A Twist in the Tale: More Indian Folktales (Puffin India, 2005), Articulations: Voices from Contemporary Indian Visual Art (Rupa, 2004), The Secret of the Rainbow Phoenix (Scholastic, 2013). Find her online on her blog or order her books on Flipkart. Here’s her interview with Mr Narayan.

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Taken somewhere in the 1980s

It was in September 1988 that I had my only face-to-face encounter with Narayan. He was staying at his granddaughter’s residence in Chennai’s Thyagaraja Nagar area, where a room had been made comfortable enough for him to write in whenever he felt the urge.

On a memorable occasion, he was persuaded to take time off to autograph copies of his latest book, A Writer’s Nightmare, at the Landmark bookstore in Nungambakkam. Through a long evening, he peered through his thick lenses, answering even the most obvious questions with good humour, occasionally sharing an impish smile as he tackled the long and winding queue of people seeking autographs at the store.

Continue reading

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A ghostly detective at Bangalore Literature Festival

I love doing my detective workshop with tweens. When I created the mystery (which is loosely based on The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong), I had no idea it would be such a blast for not only the kids but also for me, to do it again and again, to see the stories that the kids built up with the clues I gave them. To see them put their thinking hats, huddle, frown in concentration and generally have a great time owning a story and solving a crime.IMG_20140927_175235

IMG_20140927_102256So when the kind organisers at the Bangalore Literature Festival asked me to do one, how could I say no? That’s how on a sunny Saturday I stood in front of about forty curious kids. The workshop ran a bit late, which gave me enough time to drop by at the cosy Author Lounge at the festival which had a selection, much to my delight of lovely teas, including Dilmah Earl Gray of which two cups were had. Alongside, a conversation with star-author couple Zac O’Yeah and Anjum Hasan, both of whom are spectacular writers and have helped me many times with gyaan and kindness.

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The workshop started as usual with disruption. I asked the hovering parents to go off, leave the kids alone, divided the kids by their age groups and made sure there were groups of strangers. For it’s always fun for me to see strangers become friends in an hour, all thanks to solving a mystery together.

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The mystery itself had to be rushed through because of time constraints, and when I gave the answer of the whodunit, one little girl came to me afterwards and said, ‘I was almost there, wasn’t I?’ I nodded seriously and told her, ‘Yes, unfortunately you didn’t have enough time to think it through.’ Because kids do need to mull over things, as do we, to find answers.

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‘You wrote this book?’ asked a 10-year-old. ‘Yes,’ I answered. Looked at the book, back at me, back at the book with a frown. ‘You don’t look like an author,’ he concluded finally, leaving me to wonder what does an ‘author’ look like? What is their dresscode or facecode? Any comments there, readers?

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A parent came across with this: ‘I was a bit jittery leaving her alone when you said parents are to leave, because she’s so shy, but she had a great time, thank you.’ That left me with a happy smile.

At the end of the workshop I was surrounded, happily so, with parents who were ‘guarding’ me for a signature as their kids ran to the bookshop across the festival to get The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong. Later when I went to the bookstore to take a photo of my book with the ‘biggies’, I was told all my books had been sold off. So I didn’t get a brag photo, but did come back with a wider smile! My books in the hands of kids!

Back at the Author Lounge, another Dilmah Earl Grey in hand, I was called outside to meet a shy smiling young lady. ‘You’re her favourite author right now,’ said her mum asking me if it was okay to take a photo with her. ‘And you will read the book?’ I asked her, behaving stern and adult-ish, taking advantage of her being smitten. She nodded shyly, her eyes sparkling with happiness as her toddler sister waved at me. ‘Great, send me an email after you do,’ I said, hugging her. The next day, her kind mother posted this on my Facebook page.

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I proclaim this as the highlight of my experience at the Literature festival. I remain amazed at how much love the little ones give. She reminded me of Medha, the kind 11-year-old I met in Delhi, who had written to me after reading my book in Delhi, gifted me a painting of an owl! Which I realized I never shared on my blog, so here it is.

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My realisations at this workshop

  • I admire parents who take out time from their busy schedules to expose their kids to life. There were so many experienced, talented authors who were there at the festival, interacting with kids. It must be something of a spectacular experience for the child, no? And so much better than buying them toys, or taking them around the mall. Hats off to you, parents.
  • Interacting with kids always makes me love them more. They’re so giving, so generous, so adoring with their love, with their trust, and so curious with their questions. What happens to us when we grow up? Why can’t we remain kids? (Sighs.)
  • Oh, and it’s very, very important to have a loving husband to take care of you, feed you, take a few pictures of the event and drive you back home.
    Very important. :) Thank you, A :)

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The secret of Thillai Nataraja

The legend goes that once, long ago, before time was clocked, Shiva came strolling into the Pichavaram mangrove forest. In those days, magicians who thought that gods can be controlled with rituals and mantras, lived there. Shiva decided to test the sages and took the form of a bhikshuk, a mendicant seeking alms. Inspite of his matted hair and his filthy attire, the sages’ wives couldn’t control their desire. Angered, the sages sent scores of serpents after the mendicant. Shiva wore them in his matted locks, neck and waist. The sages sent a fierce tiger, who Shiva skinned and wore as a skirt. Finally, the sages sent Muyalakan (or Apasmara the immortal the demon of arrogance and ignorance). Shiva subdued him, stepped on top of it and danced the dance of eternal bliss and knowledge, in his Nataraja form and so the sages knew him. Nataraja remained behind, in his celestial dance pose, still worshipped in the Chidambaram temple today.

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(Photo credit: noisypilgrims)

The secret lies behind that curtain which whispers. No one, not even the priests in the temple know what it is. Some whisper it’s the bared truth: that god is nothing, mere akasha, or ether, which is what this temple represents too. Vacuum, sheer space, emptiness. Some claim that it’s only holy men and saints who can see the reality. That behind that gauzy flutter of the curtain, Lord Shiva himself comes to strum the dance of destruction with his consort, Parvati, invisible to the naked eyes of normal people.

For those like me, the normal ones who sway between disbelief and staunch belief, all I see is a shimmering layer of golden bilva leaves which the priests have hung behind the curtain. For how does one see ether? ‘The curtain represents maya, the illusion behind which one hides oneself,’ says the guidebook I read before. Just words which don’t really tell me what I would feel. I sway to the beats of the aarti, belief overpowering disbelief, and decide that tonight, not matter what, I will gut my fears, those burdens all of us carry, will sacrifice them in this temple complex.

The curtains sway and the emptiness whispers. The devotees sigh together, itching, craning their necks, their eyes open wide, not daring to blink, for a single glance of the dark emptiness. Some stand looking up to the dias, some, like me, stand on the stairs a few feet away, sacrificing distance for height. The drums beat to the rhythm of the aarti, the devout prostrate on the floor, the priests sing in a cacophony of sound with the drumbeats and the brass bells, their wide plates full of heady smells of jasmine and camphor. I crane my neck with all others, together now, our oh-so-important individual identities slipping away in the dark cold shadows that lie all around us.

The Nataraja form shimmers with the diyas surrounding it in the dark dampness of the sanctum sanctorum. The dance signifies creation of life and its destruction after life has become unwieldy. The circle of life, the bronze ring around the Nataraja signifies the whole cosmos. This is one of the first known temples in the country which started worshipping the Nataraja form, the dancing form of Shiva. No wonder Bharatnatyam, the dance form which is inspired by Shiva’s Nataraja, still flourishes here.

The Thillai Nataraja temple is massive, covering an area of over 40 acres. Built and then rebuilt in the 12 and 13th centuries, layer after layer, the temple is the foremost of all temples for Saivites, the Shiva worshippers. Its dark corners and rooms are full of cosy shrines of minor gods, relevant for some, ignored by others. As you walk through its grand halls, with intricately carved balustrades and canopies, an occasional masterpiece in bronze, the damp smell clings to you, as do the shadows, always there, always with you. They are not scary, but they never become completely comfortable too. They are what they are, shadows, floating full of your fears and supernatural powers. Things you don’t really understand.

In contrast, the courtyard is full of life. Every evening, its grand space flows with a sea of locals and tourists alike, sitting in conversation, gawking, praying, singing, laughing, walking, huddling. Estimates state that around a 100,000 people flock its stone paths every year. Chidambaram falls in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, ruled since centuries by Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagara, Marathas, the British before it became part of India. The Thillai Nataraja temple which is the heart of the town, named after the tillai trees that used to surround the shrine but now have receded ten kilometers away to the Pichavaram mangrove forest.

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Ten kilometers away, the Pichavaram mangrove forest sways to the tandava still, open to the sky as we float amidst it in a small wooden dinghy. The darkness in the temple has opened up to the blue, clear, cloudless sky. Rooted in a few feet of water, spread over a whopping 1100 hectare area, the mangrove trees with their clawed out white roots, shiver together, dancing the eternal dance of nature, in a huddle, constantly whispering the secrets that they hold so close to their bosoms. I, in the dinghy that drifts between their huddles, stare up at the eternal trees, jealous at the stories lost, the eternal tales the grand Avicennia and Rhizophora trees tell. They whisper it to the many varieties of birds that come to their branching, pecking on their leaves and fruits. The watersnips, cormorants, egrets, know it as do the storks that fly high and the spoonbills and pelicans. They stare back at me, from the untouchable heights of the tillai trees and tweet about the dance. I look at them as an outsider, a wanderer and wonder what they know, to be at peace so.

This is one of the stories I’ve heard about Thillai Nataraja’s secret. Another, which I find a little silly is about Shiva showing up to Parvati that men are better, by doing a dance pose which she can’t. That one’s too middle class, too sexist and too banal and a complete let down of the beautiful philosophy of Shiva, Bharatnatyam and the Goddess. If you have another version, do retell it below!

(First published in Discover India August 2014)

Fantasy writer. Author. Daydreamer