Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings

Category Archives: Primary

A Paper Trail: My Work in Newspapers


Talk about newspapers these days and people’s eyes seem to glaze over. Papers belong to the era of one’s grandfather, a bygone age when trees were felled, wood smashed into paper pulp and printed to carry day-old news. They are quaint, and their total extinction forestalled only through the bewildering, continued existence of the likes of the New York Times, the WSJ, The Guardian, Le Monde and all those venerable broadsheets which still shape national policies the world over.

In my incarnation as a journalist, I mostly describe myself as a newspaperman (new media man/person doesn’t sound right). But why would I attribute myself as being part of an archaic order that is being gradually hacked to oblivion by television and the internet? Back in 2007, when I was graduating from college in Texas, the national consensus of journalism was that it was dead as we knew it — in the form of newspapers and magazines anyway. Pundits proclaimed the rise of the citizen journalist, the neighborhood scribe who stalked the streets, taking to online forums to report on what he or she saw, replacing traditional reporting, and triggering the demise of the old order. These scribes, the pundits said, would give rise to Social Journalism — a transparent and community driven form of news gathering whose results would be bared online. And here I was with my newly minted BA in English Lit and Mass Comm facing a potential hostile population of one billion “citizen” journalists – the odds and economics of which sounded untenable and outright insane.

But what the pundits, with their prognostications failed to understand was that journalism is a trained profession, much like how lawyers are trained, albeit without the longevity of law school. Imagine if suddenly one day, the populace declared lawyers were obsolete, and proclaimed the rise of the citizen-lawyer? Well, we’ve all heard the one about the man who acted as his own counsel…

Print journalism is inherently a white collar profession, with an intricate, mental tool-set, but which over the last 25 years has been arguably eroded through the interference of media barons, incompetent publishers, corporate advertising, and quisling, piss-poor editorialists and pressure to “sex up” the news. At its core, print journalism seeks only to illuminate, explain and inform, at the cost of near anonymity. Nobody every really became famous merely working in papers, except for maybe Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese and others whose names escape me… I rest my case. But mostly the work is intended to help create a more informed public and an electorate. The same can be achieved in new media, but newspapers are simply more tangible and vetted. When Edward Snowden decided to leak the NSA files to the world, there is a reason why he chose newspapers to leak to and not outlets like CNN, Fox, ABC, BuzzFeed or Vice. Newspapers carry an inherent legitimacy.

How then can I quantify a hypocritical part of my nature which sees to it that my primary source of quick news at home continues to comes from a free online portal? (The BBC World app or radio, with another 40% gleaned from Flipboard and the New York Times app). We convince ourselves that free news is good even if it happens to be inferior because all we need are the basic facts.

A case in the point is the BBC which partly uses a “robot,” an advanced algorithm to edit and format some of its stories. Which seems to explain many of the articles have regurgitated facts. They seem to have been written by a 10-year-old. Although the system has improved, there was a time when stories fail to ask and answer the most basic of questions. And if we can’t get our news for free, we fall back on self-proclaimed news outlets with grandiose titles and strange urls, and social media, that great echo chamber with its air of pseudo-authenticity and drivel. The end result is an entire generation of people who cannot tell the difference between reporting and propaganda, op-ed and news pieces, fact and hyperbole, press and prostitution.

Personal experience has also shown that there is nothing quite gets users of Flipboard into a frenzy of commentary and “likes” than a story highlighting female nudity. Not Trump, not Syria, or stories of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. There is something seriously wrong when a story about ten new ways to make a tofu burger gets 30 “likes” while a story on the CIA wikileaks gets just five. Pure digital news seems to perpetually condition and reflect the public’s aversion to serious news.

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Return of the Chindits, Part 1


Operation “Thursday,” the second Chindit operation of World War II was an integral component of an Allied plan to liberate northern Burma from the Japanese. The campaign centered around the recapture of Myitkyina city. Among the attackers were four colorful forces – Stilwell’s Chinese, Merrill’s Marauders, Cochran’s Air Commandos and Wingate’s celebrated Chindits. Their war was meant to be short. Instead, they would be pitted to the point of destruction against an enemy renowned for his toughness and unwillingness to surrender.

Divider-9BY AKHIL KADIDALDivider-9

It was the night of March 5th, 1944, and first of the gliders touched down in the Burmese clearing.

Little more than a large dirt track in the jungle, the clearing had been chosen by the eccentric British Major-General Charles Orde Wingate as one of three landing zones for his division of “Special Forces” known as the Chindits. Codenamed Broadway, the site was originally intended to take gliders carrying Brigadier Joe Lentaigne’s 111th Brigade, but unforeseen problems with the another landing area had forced Wingate to divert Brigadier Michael Calvert’s 77th Brigade there.

As they labored over that bald strip of earth, tugged by noisy C-47 Dakotas, the sounds of snapping rope tore through the air as tow lines were discarded and the gliders began their descent in the brilliant moonlight. Quickly, the craft gathered speed, utterly silent save for the howling wind and the whimpers and oaths of their terrified human cargo. Each glider was an archetype of multinationalism. The pilots were Americans, the troops a mixture of Burmese, Nepali Gurkhas and Britons from the Midlands and the northwest.

One by one, the gliders swept down towards the dark earth, alighting — and sometimes striking the ground with an earsplitting crash that sent bits of undercarriage, wood and metal flying into the trees. As the gliders came to a stop, men spilled out – automatic weapons and rifles at ready. One of them was Lieutenant George Albert Cairns of the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The jungle loomed all around them, the noises of the night abruptly silent.

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Return of the Chindits, Part 2

Return of the Chindits, Part 3

A Novel Idea


Concepts and characters for an as-of-yet, unnamed trilogy of novels.


Several are deliberate homages. The rest are constructs.


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Experiments and Art


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Watercolors, July 2016


Watercolors, July 2016



Watercolors, July 2016


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Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015

Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015



Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015

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Ballpoint pen over photo matte paper, 2011




The following two pieces (written for publication) recount recent travels in the desert country of northwest India — a mystifying and exotic a landscape as is possible on this planet. Divider-7Jodhpur MastheadThe following piece was published on 3 May 2015. A pdf of the published page can be downloaded here.

Jodhpur Map


When Pratap Singh, the younger son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, took his team of seasoned Indian and British Polo players to visit Queen Victoria during her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, most English onlookers were enthralled by the skill of the players. But even more were intrigued by the unique attire worn by these strange, tanned men from half a world away.

At Ranelagh, one young Englishwoman turned to her fiancé, a cavalry officer, to ask about the curious long pants the “foreigners” sported — tapering creations with duck-like flaps along the thighs. They may have looked funny, yet the public found the pants so practical for horse-riding that Savile Row quickly popularized a British version known appropriately as “jodhpurs.”

That may have been 118 years ago, during the city’s prime, when it forged its reputation on the strength of its attire and polo laurels, but there remains something special about this dusty provincial town, hewn out of the southern sands of the Thar Desert, irrigated and made green and given enough character to proclaim its uniqueness from the rest of that great arid state known as Rajasthan.

No, it has nothing to do with the sound of a Soviet-era MiG-27 fighter-bomber roaring up into the blinding, white sky (Indian Fighter Command is based here), or the blue-coloured homes scattered throughout the city or even the vibrant beauty of the local architecture. It is something more elemental, which, in this city of 1.2 million, is impossible to gauge from mere maps thousands of kilometres away.

It is a veritable small town by Indian standards — and like any small town anywhere is reasonably friendly. I should reasonably, because not all small towns are equally friendly. A cynic could say that this is a friendliness contingent on the fatness of one’s wallet. After all, Jodhpur survives on the kindness of strangers. And certainly, many are out to make a buck. Touts and tour-guides wait everywhere. Even quaintly dressed Rajput women with their brightly patterned dupattas and embroidered blouses hasten in their step whenever firangs appear, their hands out, eager not to miss out. It is difficult to think of another place with such displays of exquisitely beautiful sadness.

Jodhpur Fort 7

In the old market area, under the shadow of Merangarh Fort, the poverty is sometimes so glaring that I am reminded that this is still India, where the most gut-wrenching of indigence shares space with the most fabulous displays of wealth. But life is more colored than black and white. Looking beneath the sometimes shallow displays of greeting, one sees the spark and glimmer of true Rajasthani warmth, a quick cordiality and a shy, endearing pleasure, be it from a fat merchant in the old bazaar or a pretty Rajput girl waiting to use the ATM. Read more of this post

The Western Ghats


Sidetracked from my other projects by a commission to illustrate, design and edit a book on nature in India for an NGO, I spent a significant amount of time learning about issues that I normally wouldn’t have paid much attention to. The book, a 12″ x 12″ hardcover, coffee-table book, was finally completed in August 2014 and has had a limited print run.

This was an interesting project, primarily because it made me aware of the precarious situation of wilderness in India – a nation bursting at the seams with people. For anyone who thinks conservation is unimportant, I recommend a trip to the sub-continent. Certainly, I would be the last person to espouse a Malthusian philosophy, but the idea that an overabundance of people leads to moral haziness, social inequality, diminished value for human life, myriad societal problems such as rampant sexual abuse (and intriguingly, heightened value for family), can be witnessed first-hand in India – and other densely populated parts of Asia. But these observations are beyond the scope of this post.

Nevertheless, such a visit can leave one with an heightened appreciation for conservation and ecology. Was it Walt Whitman or Henry David Thoreau who wrote that people need to be “surrounded by green?” Absolutely right.

Many thanks to my co-editor Ian Lockwood for being such a splendid and affable person to collaborate with, and for his magic behind the lens.

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Below appears an important component of the book. This core map took a significant chunk of my time — about 120 hours of work, and used a combination of information from National Geographic, Google Earth and ultra-detailed US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency maps for reference. It covers the central area of the Western Ghats, the 1,000-mile strip of rain-forested mountains which wind down India’s western coast — a biodiversity hotspot (with species found nowhere else on Earth), under siege from a unrestrained, growing population in need of increased living space and raw materials.

Western Ghats Map (Sectional) Divider-7

Java Apple This watercolor of a cluster of Java apples (for the book) took about two hours of work, and was much a learning experience as anything else, considering that I hadn’t worked in the medium since I was eight. This was my second watercolor image for the book. The first image — of a ginger plant, is well, too embarrassing to post online.

Frame-V-Clove Frame-V-Turmeric Frame-V-Basil  Frame-V-Field Mint Frame-H-Wild-Mango Frame-V-Cinnamon Frame-H-Indian Gooseberry Frame-H-Wild Egg Plant Frame-H-Bottle Gourd   Frame-H-Wild Banana Divider-7

Asked for and struck by the conundrum of trying to describe the culture of the people of the Western Ghats within the larger confines of ecology and nature, I thought a three-page foldout graphical representation was perhaps the best way. The graphic was ultimately scrapped because the idea of talking about the local culture of the western Ghats (which has several negative connotations to it), proved a distraction from the central theme of the book. All photographs © Richard Kalina, London.

Foldout(Richard)-A-v1 Foldout(Richard)-B-v1 A note on the process — The upper graphic took about 10 hours of work. The ribbons and area contours were done using Adobe Illustrator. But the rest of the image was completed using Photoshop. All photos and text were laid out in the Indesign document.