He’s Big in India

Computer Scientist Arnab Ray’s Double Life as a Popular Blogger

For a popular author, Arnab Ray can eat at a College Park restaurant with few interruptions. With more than 18,000 Twitter followers, it’s not that Ray isn’t well known—it’s that he lives 8,000 miles from his fan base. A senior research scientist at Maryland’s Fraunhofer Center for Experimental Software Engineering, he offers wry takes on Indian culture and politics on his blog, “Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind,” and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Now he’s finishing a third book, following 2010’s “May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss,” an expanded collection of his blog ruminations, and the 2012 psychological thriller “The Mine.” ­

Q: You have your software engineering side and your blogging side. How did that come about?

A: Growing up in India in the ’90s, there weren’t a lot of career options. Everybody who was somebody was either an engineer or a doctor. But I have always written on the side. It was only in 2004, after I graduated with a Ph.D. and started working (which meant I had my evenings free, for the first time in my life), that I started blogging. No one read it at first, but then a few posts became popular, and then it all grew organically.

Q: What’s it like having lived in the United States since 1999 and having publishing success overseas?

A: It allows me independence. I can write whatever I want to. I don’t think about what’s popular and sales. This is a hobby, and I firmly want to keep it a hobby. I can comment independently as a political commentator on Indian affairs because I am here. If I was in India, if I was working for a newspaper, all the newspapers are politically slanted one way or the other—but I am dead center. Being in the U.S. allows me to speak my mind.

Q: What’s a good entryway for someone in the United States to understand India’s culture?

A: Get an Indian friend and watch a few movies with him. Let him explain to you the different things. It’s not just getting the subtitles. You should start with “Sholay.” It’s one of the best Bollywood movies ever made. If you watch “Sholay” alone and depend only on the subtitles, you risk not getting how smart and snappy the dialogue is. Once you are done with “Sholay,” maybe “Lagaan,” which got an Oscar nomination.

Q: What do you see as the biggest shift in Indian culture between when you were growing up and now?

A: A lot of people are more tuned into the world. Wikipedia is the single biggest reason for that. There’s a little bit more of irreverence, a little bit more of brashness. You can see it in our national sporting pastime: cricket. The newer stars are more brash and aggressive than the ones who came before them. Of course, they had once been criticized as being “too soft” and for not having the killer instinct.


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