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Background: nano-Essay Competition: "Flash Truths - Taking India's Pulse"

By Rakesh Ahuja

1 January 2021: The nano-Essay Competition has been launched today

Several people have asked me about the antecedents for this rather eccentric Essay format. Obviously, one business objective is to give traction to the DownloadingMyMind (DMM) venture just launched. But then there is also the enforced isolation and time available because of the Covid19 pandemic, which might attract idle or active minds to participate in composing just 300 words.

These are challenging times here, there and somewhere else. Still, in a positive spirit and despite daunting professional limitations in the time of Covid19, my Start-up, DownloadingMyMind (DMM), has launched this nano – Essay Competition. The Delhi-based Society for Policy Studies (SPS), headed by Uday Bhaskar and Tarun Basu, is an Associate of this unique initiative.

The Competition has been launched nationwide in India. It is also being publicised with academic and commercial assistance in Australia, the South Pacific, UK, Singapore and the USA.

You can access the Essay’s Objectives and guidelines at  http://downloadingmymind.com/dmm/essay-competition You can also click the banner add on the right side of your screen to read the guidelines and see the Panel of Judges.

My prime motivation for inaugurating this annual DMM "Taking India's Pulse" Prize, is to know how the Indian society, particularly the youth majoritarian constituency, is reacting to changing domestic and international geo-Political/Economic/Social paradigms around it.

I have witnessed first-hand revolutionary societal transformations in China, the Middle East, the then Soviet Union, Vietnam, and (in the 90s) in India. Now, in the wake of the decline of America and China's ‘(a)peaceful rise’ and the consequent challenges to the rules-based international system, we are at the cusp of a massive transformation in perceptions of national self-identities, nationalism, populism, globalisation, and of ways and means to deal with global challenges such as climate change, inequality and pandemics.

India has a role in embroidering the evolving geopolitical/economic/social fabric. Therefore, it is an opportune moment to take stock of how Indians at home or abroad perceive themselves; how they adjudge the quality of life in India, and the emotional currency they bet on the direction India is taking domestically and globally in the pursuit of its national interest. Optimism or pessimism? Confidence or insecurity? What do they feel?

The Essay's theme, Indian Life,  should be of interest to stakeholders in Indian developments, including academia, media, think-tanks, business, NGOs – and, demographically, to people ranging from school children to the mid-aged (working or otherwise) to retired citizens. And to the vast Indian diaspora.

The Competition is being widely disseminated among cultural and academic institutions and business Chambers. We have also focussed on regional India. But it is, of course, an open question whether the response will be a drop or a drizzle or a deluge!

26 January 2021

We are getting a slow and steady response to the Competition. It is obvious that for a variety of reasons including Covid19, the new year preoccupations, etc., we will need to postpone the deadline for the Essay. We are announcing that the deadline will be 28 February 2021 for the submission of Essays with the results being announced on 31 March 2021.

29 February 2021

The Competition closed yesterday. Evaluations have begun.

25 March 2021

9 Evaluators in India and abroad are assessing the Essays. The results so far suggest that the quality of the 'eligible' Essays is not high; in fact, quite disappointing. And even more so in the context of the quantum of prizemoney on offer. In fact, it has been suggested to us that the prize money is so large that people are intimidated from participating because they feel that can not win such amounts, that the most educated only will do so. But, in fact, my intention was to launch a 'street level' contest open to all persons of Indian origin without any conditions.

There is a distinct possibility now that prizes in various categories might go unawarded. That would be a pity. We will have to carry the unawarded prize amounts of money to the next Competition - same title, same theme - in January 2022. 

We have decided that given the overwhelming response, Holi/Easter break, Covid19 disruptions, and so on, the announcement of the Provisional Winners should be postponed to Monday, 12 April 2021. 

22 April 2021

Essays were sent to Evaluators. A very lengthy process followed: Evaluators' Gradings, evaluating their selections by Two Coordinators (DMM and SPS) to ensure consistency and to delete any obvious anomalies in their assessments, submissions to the Judges' Panel, discussions etc with the Judges to end with 7 provisional winners plus one Special Prize.

1 May 2021

Implementing DMM's Identity Verification/Essay authenticity/Academic Credentials Protocol. Two provisional winners have proved particularly recalcitrant. They convey a sense of entitlement and make no bones of their priority being to get hold of the prize money as soon as possible. Notably, there is no recognition of the apocalypse that India is undergoing; no empathy, just self-centredness. One actually questioned the need for us to seek any references since it was delaying the prize-awarding process.

The Tech team have tested Covid positive. Very unfortunate timing just at the last leg of the Essay journey. The exercise is now being handled on an ad hoc basis as well as it can without tech support. Still, the payment of awards to those whose entries have successfully navigated the Protocol will be done this week.