You became my penpal thanks to two kids & what I learnt from them

Welcome! Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities, insights and inspirations. Subscribe or read the archives here.


Dear Penpal,

I have to tell you this story!

The name of my newsletter, ‘Dear Penpal’, came thanks to two inland letters that I wrote to two kids in two hospitals – one in India, one in Canada. I was lucky enough to write to them as I had just released a new book for kids and was asked to send them signed copies. I signed the books with a customary ‘Dear…’ and my squiggle signature.

I felt it lacked warmth, but most of all hope.

There was so much more I wanted to tell these two children. I wanted to tell them more about me, about life, about how being hopeful and happy is important to all of us. So, I fished through my office drawers, dived into a bag of things I have collected, to try and see what I could find.

And lo and behold, two inland letter cards popped out of my myriad magical collection. They were leftovers of a past workshop in a school where I had asked kids to write a letter to a ghost. (A fun workshop, dear penpal, is the best thing you can do to promote your book. For you remember it long after with a smile, even if two people bought your books.)

The two empty inland letters made me feel nostalgic. I remembered my teenage self in the 90s, when I would spend hours creating beautiful letters, personal, positive and sometimes pensive; long, handwritten letters that I would then post to my buddies. I had many and it kept me busy all through the summer.

Oh, the joy of writing letters to someone!

To tell them of all your secret fears, your little indiscretions, your aspirations and hopes. To daydream through the medium!

I wrote to these two pre-teen friends of mine, telling them about what penpals are.

I asked them – no begged them – to write back to me.

As soon as I posted the two books with the letters inside them, I wanted, selfishly desired, more of this pleasure. To find new penpals (that’s you, dear reader!), write about myself, about how hard my writing was, but how I kept at it, day in and day out.

And share the joy of completing something, or getting something published, of smelling a freshly minted book. Or to share small nothings. Little things that make life – well – worth living and truly wonderful.

Yes, I could probably do this on social media. But, you know it, don’t you?

It’s just not the same.

If you and me, would have met online on Instagram or Twitter, we would be in a hurry, two sort-of-friends waving a polite hello to each other, in the middle of the market as we’ve so many chores to complete, so many things to scroll through.

I’ll finish off my letter with a few links and one great news: Those two kids who I mentioned above? Both are going to write back to me.

Write back. On paper. Handwritten letters.

Every day, I’ve been going down to my letterbox and peeping into it, my heart filled with wonder, joy and excitement.

Sunday Sundry

  • History of inland letters in India: Read this charming essay about the history of inland letters in India by Ashok Kumar Bayanwala. A Gujarati gentleman who has researched on this and added his postal address at the end of the page, not his email.
  • Subscribe to Daak, a wonderful newsletter which sends you postcards in your inbox with bits and pieces of India’s history and culture. 
  • Find a penpal? Of course I Googled ‘Find a penpal’ and landed on Geek Girl Penpals which sorts pals by age (seems a bit ageist but I love the name of the site) and Global Pen Friends which sounds like a place I would like to begin finding a penpal to write to. Always wanted to write to someone in Chile. Hmm.
  • Space Operas rock! I’ve been reading more and more of space operas recently. Somehow between reading dystopia, completely missed it as a genre, except Star Wars. It’s so, well, filmy and I love it. For now, recommending the classic Culture series by Iain M. Banks.
  • If you can, please read this heart-wrenching, beautifully written account of getting covid-19 in a remote village in the Himalayas.

My Writing Joys

  • Triathlon on Mars, anyone? I’ve just signed a contract with a publisher for a new short SF story for kids! It’s about a triathlon on Mars. Oh yes. Loved writing the story. You’ll see it sometime next year.
  • A year in a new lockdown job. A year ago, in May 2020, I started a wonderful programme at Nature Conservation Foundation. Communicating about the joys of birds and nature to the public. It’s a perfect job for me – someone who loves birdwatching, people and thrives in finding new partners. It pays well, I have lovely colleagues and most of all, freedom to be creative. To do anything. Here’s to wonderful jobs one can find, serendipitously, due to the pandemic.
  • A laugh-out-tale about a robotic bride: An Indian family heads to a boutique in Delhi to look for a perfect robotic bride for their boy. Read my just released, hilarious science fiction story, for free on The Antonym magazine website.
How to make a penpal today and read a story on robotic brides

Dear Penpal, does sharing give you joy?

When you tell someone about your worries, does it become better for you? If you guide someone or give selfless advice about creating, does it make it feel better?

Be generous and keep chiselling!


P.S. If you like this newsletter and want to support it, you can:

1) Buy one of my books

2) Connect with me on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn so we can grow our creative selves together.

3) Forward this newsletter to a friend with an invitation to subscribe right here: bit.ly/dearpenpal

You don’t need to be productive always to be creative


How you can deal with guilt when not being productive, how watching Korean dramas helps and a cool, free futuristic game you can play online.

Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities, insights and inspirations. Subscribe or read the archives here.


Dear Penpal,

How has your fortnight been? I’ve already become better.

When I wrote to you in April, I told you about the tough time I’ve been going through. Writing it brought me messages, emails and phone calls from a lot of you.

Most of these messages were like those unexpected gifts life gives you. I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t spoken to or thought of for years. A colleague who I had worked with a decade ago asked after me. I did a video call with an old friend, surprised that I hadn’t heard about the crazy upheaval her life had last year.

It was lovely to reconnect, to laugh and perhaps, grieve together.

Cathartic.

Thanks to the pandemic, I’m regularly calling people I love, people I took for granted that they will remain in my life. My family, school mates, college mates, mates from different cities and professions that I’ve been lucky to travel through in life.

With Death creeping in to take from us, life has suddenly become valuable. I am thankful for the life I’ve led, for the conversations and the meals I’ve had with everyone, including you.


Countering nagging productivity prompts

All of April, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t think. My brain couldn’t process anything productive.

It was frustrating and I kept feeling guilty about it.

The other day, while scrolling one of the socials, I came across a well-meaning social post about Einstein who wrote part of his theories of relativity and motion under lockdown during Great Plague of London (the post was probably based on this article last year by The Washington Post).

The post suggested that you’re under lockdown, why not write your next novel? Why Netflix your time away? In other words, remember the guilt I mentioned?

I’ve put myself through pressure like this before.

Maybe you have too. Being the product of a data-based modern world that rewards productivity and efficiency, we all constantly feel guilty when we don’t produce things.

When I’m relaxing, or lazing or even daydreaming or reading – activities that I know help the brain create, think and get better ideas – there’s a nag in my brain that keeps countering these down times with productivity prompts. An author I know online wrote ten books a year! I should NOT take a break for I’ve produced only one. Another author has sold that many books. This one keeps doing events.

My society, peers and myself, perhaps even you, look at creativity as a productive machine that should produce more and more.

Put out new products in the market so we can get a good economic value for them (aka make them a bestseller). Isn’t that what success is for most of us?

Be over productive in creativity doesn’t always work

The truth is comparing productivity in creativity or forcing your brain through creative churns DOES NOT WORK.

We’re going through a tough time. Even if you are lucky to have health and money to sustain you, and a family that’s healthy too, you’re going through a seriously stressful time. Every day, you’re being exposed to media – relentlessly – on Whatsapp messages, on Twitter and Facebook and even in the news.

We’re scrolling through one tragedy after another, endlessly, without respite.

It’s okay to feel anxious and want to zone out.

It’s okay for you to give your brain some rest.

It’s okay to be selfish about this and NOT create things.

These letters to you are helping me, dear reader, find my creativity again. Find the creative activity that gives your brain rest, that sparks your creativity further. Don’t get bogged down by productivity expectations.

I bet Einstein never bothered to be productive at all times. And we don’t know about all the hard times he went through, all the daily failure and ridicule he faced in his scientific journey.

The story only has the rosy apple that fell from the tree.

Sundry Sunday

  • Play a futuristic, free game online: Play Survive the Century, a brand new, indie, free online game written by some fantastic science fiction writers out there including my friend Rajat Chaudhuri.
  • Surreal but dark read on Prague: I somehow tumbled into the surreal The Ultimate Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera which made me miss Prague. Save it for it’s beautiful, but don’t read it if you can’t do dark fiction right now.
  • Beautiful North-South Korea romance to watch: Talking of dark, I’ve become hooked to good, average and bad Korean shows on Netflix. (Thank you, Gunjan!) The old-fashioned, real love stories of hope are helping me navigate the dark times. Of course, beautiful boys always help. Highly recommend Crash Landing on You.

My Writing Joys

  • A laugh-out-tale about a robotic bride: An Indian family heads to a boutique in Delhi to look for a perfect robotic bride for their boy. Read my just released, hilarious science fiction story, for free on The Antonym magazine website.
  • A Live Session on National Technology Day: I did a Facebook Live Session on teaching science to kids with Professor Amit Agrawal from IIT-Bombay who is part of my flipbook on science They Made What? They Found What? It was an insightful panel hosted by Starmark Bookstores. See it here.
  • Hilarious Screen Time diktats: I’ve put Screen Time limits on all social and video apps on my phone. I was recently tossed out of my Instagram Live chat because time for Instagramming was up. Once at work, I was tossed out again. But I still use these limits. Still using them, as the blanking out of screens does kick me out of my scrolling daze.

Happy Flashback

I’m sitting in the dusty, but cuddly, indie bookstore Goobe Book Republic in Bangalore. This was a Sunday afternoon in early March. I signed a whole box full of my latest book to ship to people across the world. Finished it off with a three-way conversation over samosas and piping hot filter coffee with supportive spouse and Ravi, the owner of the bookstore.

Ahh, a perfect day.

A bookshop is my happy place

Is guilt a productivity motivator for you?

Do you feel guilty when not being productive? Do you compare yourself to other writers, other creative people, and constantly feel this need to be productive? To write more, to sell more, to be more? Does this push motivate you or bog you down?

I would love to hear how you do it, dear reader.

Signing off with a warm hug and positive energy towards you,

Shweta

Release: New SF short on buying a robotic bride

Thrilled to announce the release of a weird new short science-fiction story written by me. Read Bhaisaab’s Bespoke Brides Boutique, a hilarious futuristic satire about a family going to a store to buy a custom-made robotic bride.

The story was inspired by a Delhi-based shop keeper and published in USA-based webzine, The Antonym.

An excerpt: How to select a robotic bride

“This is DesiBot Version 56.7, an advanced bot,” he looked at the father meaningfully, “of the one you have, sir.” The bride gleamed in a sari covered with silk sequins and dazzling glowpins. Mr Tripatti squinted.

“Pavitronic brain with a six-quad memory, knows all the religious texts by heart, is capable of making 5,000 plus ancient recipes and has a pleasing, accepting, adjustable personality.”

“What about her build?” asked Mr Tripatti.

“Same, sir, only updated. Titanium, rust-proof body, with thinner epidermis for humanskin-like touch.”

“What skin have you used for her breasts, womb and legs? Anything that my son touches needs to be desi,” interjected Mrs Tripatti.

“It’s pure like cow’s ghee only, madam,” Bhaisaab said, showing his teeth. He’d recently paid for an expensive set of teeth which copied the award-winning grin of Bollywood star Smiley Khan.

“Of course in this limited budget, you won’t be able to get a complete layer of desi epidermis-” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “-now if your family’s budget was to go up…”

Read the complete story, for free, here.

Liked what you read? Check out my other short stories, some of which you can read online. Or head to free reads on my website for excerpts from my works.

Dealing with Covid-19 and starting a letter of hope

Welcome! Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities, insights and inspirations. Subscribe or read the archives here.


Dear Penpal,

It’s been a tough month for all of us. For me too.

I heard the news that all my family, six of them, in Delhi were covid-19 positive. I wanted to go to them, help out with food, logistics, hugs, anything really. However, covid-19 is such a creature that it builds walls around all of us, closing us down in worrisome loneliness.

The same week, my spouse also tested positive. Now I was a caregiver, saving up millions of advice and emergency contacts from the online world. I was heartbroken, suffocating, panicked, and unwell too. I vented online, vented to friends, worried and perhaps added to the chaos.

Then I called up my mother

My mother, who was going through the infectious disease, dealing with breathlessness and extreme body pain. I called her instinctively as I always call her when I’m stressed and need assurance. You know what she said?

“So what?“ she said. Her voice was weak, but her spirit, oh her spirit vibrated with power. “Now that we have it, we will see how it goes,” she said. “Whatever will happen, will happen. You worrying for it won’t change a thing.”

She was suffering physically as she said it, and I knew she was suffering, but the sheer mental strength of her approach to her body’s suffering, brought me out of my piteous wallowing.

Why do we always think of the worse given a stress situation? And cloak this thinking, this panicking and worrying as being realistic? And this is not limited to reality. It’s a habit. It’s a habit that I’ve decided to consciously break out by starting this newsletter.

My mother gave me strength in that five-minute phone call. I decided not to ponder on the worse. I consciously, with a lot of effort, to take the most positive, most hopeful route in the logical turn of events in my head.

That all of us will come out of it in a few months.

That it would be all okay.

Letters of hope, support and writing by Shweta Taneja

A newsletter of hope when everything is dark?

I decided to channel my frustration, my sadness into writing these letters to you.

Use the medium I love – of writing – to tell you about what I’m going through. Use these letters, as a process of collective, creative healing, for you and me both.

This is about encouraging you to make the best of your life and ambitions, as a creative person, a writer or a reader or a prodigy whose time hasn’t come. We are all together, struggling, and I want to struggle and hope and cope with you.

These letters are about optimism and delight in living our lives. About not allowing our fears to become definitions of who we are. I’ll use all my emotions and skills to fill these letters with stories that make you and me feel good.

I’ll talk about the art of writing, things that inspire me, of living life to the fullest and capturing these moments through my art. And I hope to encourage you to do the same.
I’ll be there for you all, my dear readers, through your ups and downs. We will together become our best, most joyous creative selves.

For we all need that little optimism when we’re low. And we all need – more and more – those friends who can listen without scrolling us into a void.

I’ve committed to you, fortnightly on alternate Sundays, and I’m hoping to keep that up. If you don’t get a letter from me (for I’m known to break promises), you’re most welcome to write to me and demand one. I would try to not miss one, though!

Writes science and speculative fiction

Some of my latest releases in books, articles and stories

All of 2020, my publishing plans, as with all writers, went haywire. Even though our world continues to be up and down and all the rollercoaster in between, I’m happy to say that I have had five cool things in latest releases out with different publishers in the last few months.

What I love about the collection of my recent releases is that there is NOTHING in common between any of them (except for the plant in the pink pot). They’re writings about all kinds of things, released in all kinds of geographies and meant for all kinds of people. I love #diversity in writing and even though it’s hard (it’s so much better to put you in a nice, pretty box, if you’re a romance writer or a science writer or a science fiction writer or write for adults or kids or young people or animals!) and confusing to algorithms online, I’m gleed and proud and thrilled!

Latest releases from the desk of Shweta Taneja

Drumroll, my latest releases:

  • 1. and 4. They Made What / They Found What: A flipbook for kids on Indian science and scientists. Out with @hachette_india
  • 2: Non-fiction article on exciting debut voices of India in Locus magazine.
  • 3: A #solarpunk short story about dolphins taking over the world with a new technology. Out now in #MultispeciesCities by World Weaver Press. (Buy here)
  • 5: Les Chants que L’Humanité abandonna aux (French version of the dolpins taking over the world with a new technology) published in Galaxies No 66
  • 6: Spunky Salma takes over the 1920s cantonment, Bangalore in this short historical fiction for kids which is part of Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru by Intach Bangalore


What kind of a writer are you?

A linear, single genre one, easily defined and categorized by bots or a vague, flipflop one who scribbles everything and anything? Tell me in comments below.

Release: New Solarpunk short story on evil dolphins

What happens when dolphins take over the world? Create a technology that humans have no understanding of? I’m thrilled to announce the release of my new solarpunk tale, The Songs That Humanity Lost Reluctantly To Dolphins.

It’s part of an upcoming anthology on imagining an optimistic future by World Weaver Press, an independent publisher based in the USA. The anthology is called Multispecies Cities and is a collection of richly imagined tales by storytellers from the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Head to the Multispecies Cities page on the publisher website to find your favourite retailer.

Each story is on how future cities will look like, taking the positive route rather than the dystopian one that we SF writers so prefer.

Hope and science fiction?

That’s solarpunk for you. It’s positive, it’s optimistic and it’s quite hard to write in current times. When Rajat and Sarena the editors of Multispecies Cities approached me to write a story for this anthology, I sat with nothing for weeks. For I had not thought positively about the future in my SF writings. How could you, in the midst of a pandemic and a cagey nationalism wave?

Then one day, I sat on my desk, reimagining not only future cities, but science fiction as a genre that imagines these cities, I remembered how I keep wondering why science fiction imaginations of our future are so metallic and materialistic. They’re about wars and spaceships and human desires. There’s not much about other organisms (unless they’re evil aliens), though it’s a sub-genre that is now being explored.

Solarpunk the future!

I decided to reimagine future technology itself, make it organic in nature, make it something that was not created by humans or even understood by them but by another species on the planet – not an alien. A technology that will completely disrupt our metallic, materialistic way of life and replace it with something organic, like fungus or a song of empathy.

In a gist, that’s what The Songs That Humanity Lost Reluctantly To Dolphins is about. It explores what happens to us when an alternate lifestyle, that puts empathy first, erupts in future cities. When the children take to it, adapt to it, but us, adults, just cannot adapt. First we rage, then we bomb but our hearts break as fungus becomes one with our children and all the other species of the planet become one. When the next generation does not remain ours, what happens? We determinedly try to connect to the empathy songs that the dolphins have created.

This story itself is a sad song of change that is forced upon us. I suffered with helpless parents, with governments that could do nothing as their economies crashed. But this dramatic change transforms into a beautiful, new, positive future.

Continue reading “Release: New Solarpunk short story on evil dolphins”

Global internet is dead, thanks to for-profit algorithms

In the 1980s, when the global internet emerged, it was a network of decentralised computers in different universities across countries. By the 1990s, with Tim Berner Lee’s World Wide Web, any node across this network, could access any information. As storage capacity and data access speeds increased, this was quickly taken over mostly US-based companies, offering free products to users.

When social networks first began more than 20 years ago, there was a sense of freedom. Everyone with global internet access and who could communicate in global Internet languages, anywhere in the world, could get online and share their stories on Facebook and Twitter, interact and voice their lived experiences. The Arab Spring protests in the 2010s was celebrated as the high point of this new online, seamless freedom.

(First published as a column in Mint Lounge, a business daily in India.)

Global Internet companies quickly advocated this idea of a global, frameless, free online space which had no visa requirement or restrictions, a truly democratic space to operate in. The idea that a company created to maximise profit for its shareholders can make a democratic system for interaction is in itself perhaps ludicrous. However, the soma of this dream was drunk by not only users but also by Silicon Valley investors and founders, who insisted they could change the world without ever leaving their little white echo chambers.

(Read part one of this column here.)

Continue reading “Global internet is dead, thanks to for-profit algorithms”

My book on science releases on National Science day

It’s National Science Day today. That’s 28th February peeps. A little more than ninety years ago, Sir CV Raman discovered what is called The Raman Effect. To refresh your memory on what exactly Raman Effect means, you can either read its Wikipedia page, or pick up my book on Indian scientists, They Made What? They Found What?

For the book I’ve been working hard and crazy towards, all of 2020, releases today! Oops, it just released.

Celebrate National Science Day with a book on science

They Made What? They Found What? are stories of contemporary Indian scientists, their struggles, their work lives and why they push the boundaries of science and of themselves to discover or invent something (Batty Cat who plays a pivotal role in the book, suspects the brainwave happens thanks to rats).

It comes loaded with activities, quizzes, experiments and a galaxy of knowledge. It’s written for kids and most adults.

Why National Science Day is important

Though Dr Raman won the Nobel Prize almost a century ago, only eight Indian scientists have won the award for science. We need inspiration on science, we need to bring out our scientists from laboratories and make them heroes that kids can aspire to.

There’s another thing I realised while talking about the book. Science is all about asking questions, constantly, being curious about the way the world around you works. Questioning the world has become especially important today, in the times of climate emergency. We need the new generation to find unique solutions, inventions and discover new things about our fast fading biodiversity.

Through these stories of science, I wanted to bring India’s science and scientists out of the limbo they have been in into our lives, into the lives of kids.

It’s the first book where I’ve combined all my skills as a journalist with the best skills I garnered as a creative writer. This book was written during the lockdown and onwards, and kept me sane (making my editor insane) through all of 2020. But most, most importantly, it’s a flipbook! There are two covers and they open on either side. I ALWAYS wanted to write a book like that.

I’m hoping this book on Indian scientists, who live and work here, in this country, is the first step towards this.


A science book for kids with stories of Indian scientists
Click to buy on Amazon.

They Made What?


A space scientist who sent a rocket to Mars

A physicist who insisted that plants could feel emotions

An engineer who solved a water problem with an ice stupa

Meet India’s brightest scientists and read all about their incredible, groundbreaking inventions in this first-of-its-kind book. Explore the most fascinating fields of science, from nanotechnology and astrophysics to tropical ecology and molecular physics, and find the answers to all the scientific questions you’ve ever thought about. Do all scientists wear lab coats? Where do they get their genius ideas from? And how do they transform these ideas into life-changing inventions?

Bursting with activities, quizzes, easy experiments, cool tips and a galaxy of knowledge, this informative, exciting and entertaining book is sure to awaken the intrepid innovator in you!

Click here to buy on Amazon


They Found What?

A biologist who smashed cancer cells

A physicist who revealed the secrets of light

An ecologist who stumbled on a rare species of frog

Meet India’s brightest scientists and read all about their incredible, groundbreaking discoveries in this first-of-its-kind book. Explore the most fascinating fields of science, from neuroscience and biochemistry to evolutionary biology and thermodynamics, and unearth the answers to all the scientific questions you’ve ever thought about. Do scientists ever fail at maths? What tools and technologies do they use to uncover something new? Do they really have robotic assistants?

Bursting with activities, quizzes, easy experiments, cool tips and a galaxy of knowledge, this informative, exciting and entertaining book is sure to awaken the intrepid innovator in you! Through these stories of science, I wanted to bring science and scientists out of the limbo they have been in, bring them out of the hero worship cult, into our lives, into the lives of kids. Delve into their hardworking, creative lives and find inspiration for myself and hopefully for the little readers this book finds.

Click here to buy on Amazon

Gift this book to your friends and family. If you would like copies for reviews, please write to me. Order the book from an indie bookstore near your home to encourage them. If you are in Bangalore, I will even meet you to sign a copy for the child you buy this for.

Cover Reveal: New book on science and Indian scientists for kids

From fiction, I’ve time-travelled to writing a science book for kids! I’m thrilled to announce my upcoming flipbook with Hachette India.

Since it’s a book on science and Indian scientists written by a, umm, science-fiction author, expect more than a few laughs, a lot of activities and quizzes, and a rollercoaster ride through the stories of modern India’s contemporary scientists working in physics, biology and chemistry.

More about the book on science

They Made What? They Found What is a fun flipbook that retells stories of contemporary Indian scientists, their struggles, their work lives and why they push the boundaries of science and of themselves to discover or invent something (I suspect the brainwave happens when you wear a shiny white lab-coat).

The book comes loaded with activities, quizzes, experiments and a galaxy of knowledge. It’s written for kids and most adults. And you get two books in one. Of yes, you heard that right. Ek ke saath ek muftmuftmuft.

The marvellous covers, let me show them to you again, are created by Sharanya Kunnath, who is also responsible for the artwork of two madcapped characters that converse with these scientists in the book.

So, taadaa, here are the covers! Aren’t they wonderful?

How to order this science book

TMW? TFW? launches on 28th February, India’s National Science Day which marks the discovery of the Raman effect by Indian physicist CV Raman on 28 February 1928. Cool, right? I’ll tell you more behind-the-scene story in another blog on the launch day.

Meanwhile, you can preorder a copy on Amazon if you’d like by clicking on the photo below, or better still, wait for me to announce it and buy it at your neighbourhood indie store. I’ll try to list down all the stores that have it!

Click to order my science book for kids on Amazon.

Why WhatsApp policy is different for EU than for India

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy popped on my screen a lazy morning a couple of weeks ago, spreading its black-on-white legalese. Unlike most people who groan at the idea of reading clauses when all they want to do is scroll through good morning messages, I was filled with a sense of joy and determined purpose.

(First published as a opinion piece in Mint Lounge, a business daily in India.)

The new WhatsApp policy was a perfect morning coffee read. Dry legal language tuned into a friendly voice made legalese accessible, and told you how WhatsApp had to, for your own good, “receive or collect some information to operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market” their services. The way corporate lawyers use the English language to confound, hide and protect their company’s interests is a lesson in the art of writing.

The policy’s friendly voice announced that WhatsApp would share your user information (name, email, phone number, IP address, device settings) with Facebook and its group of companies and reminded you that it was all so you could interact with businesses better. I shrugged. The company had to make its money. No one could offer you an encrypted chat platform for free for long.

Different Whatsapp policies for different countries

What struck me was that WhatsApp had come up with two policies—two different legal contracts for two regions of the world. One for European Union (EU) citizens and the other for non-EU ones. The two policies clearly pointed to the direction in which internet companies have been moving for the past few years, tailoring policies to reflect the boundaries of countries they operate in.

(Read: Is internet freedom dead?)

For citizens of the EU and Ireland, WhatsApp’s privacy policy gives them more control of their data. The contract that Indians and the rest of the world sign with WhatsApp LLC is legally based in the US, with special data control privileges for citizens of US and Canada. If you’re from the ‘rest of the world’—as India is with about 150 other countries—you have no legal jurisdiction over your data as a user of the service in your country.

Political affiliations and origin of the country also reflect in policy. For example, WhatsApp’s new policy states that the app will not be available to countries with US-sanctions. I checked with my Iranian friends and a lot of US services, including Apple’s iTunes, are not available to them.

(Continued in a second upcoming post, here)