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Saturday, 15 June 2013

A Case Study of Cases

[This is an abridged and edited version of the original note.]

One fine afternoon my phone rang. An unknown number.

“Hello, sir, I am Garima from IGS.” I did not have the faintest idea as to who or what Garima or IGS were. 

She continued. IGS was organizing a ‘writeshop’ to celebrate its silver jubilee. Case studies will be presented, edited, and typeset immediately afterwards. By the end of the writeshop, the papers will be ready to be sent for publication. Great idea. But what was my role in it?

“We request you to be part of the writeshop. You need to be in Patna for all the seven days and edit papers here.”

At the end of a few back and forth communications through phone and e-mail, I landed in Patna (my first visit to the city) on the fine chilly morning of Saturday, 21 January 2012. I reached the guest house where my accommodation had been arranged by IGS.

At around ten o’clock Sangeeta (Naik) called to find out if I had my breakfast and asked me to order whatever I needed from the guest house. Neeraj (Lal) and Hempriya (Kumari) visited in the evening, to make sure that everything was in order and that I was comfortable. Sangeeta called in the afternoon and at night to make sure that I had my lunch and dinner, respectively! I could never imagine that an organizer could be soooooo concerned about a guest (one among about 40 guests!).

Anyhow, this gave me an inkling of the treatment we would be getting during our stay in Patna. And my expectations were not belied. I even received special treatment (the Britannia Mariegold biscuits that I used to take occasionally, being diabetic, for example). Thank you, Mihir (Sahana), Sangeeta, Garima (Anand) and Hempriya!

Somnath (Ghosh), who also had checked in the previous night, and I were moved to another guest house the next day. When we reached Hempriya asked, “Have you met Sangeeta?”

I said, “No.”

She again asked, “Do you know Tabrez Sir?” to which also I answered in the negative. When we were waiting for the guest house officials to finish the formalities, Sangeeta, with whom I have had some telephonic and e-mail communications, and Tabrez (Nasar), with whom I have had nothing to do till now, met us.

 The venue of the writeshop was at a walking distance from the guest house which suited me well. I used to go for a walk back home, but I suspected that may not be possible here. So walking down to the venue would be some consolation.

Somnath and I reached the venue at around 11.30 a.m. All the participants met formally after lunch. There were a couple of presentations by Tabrez and Sachin (Mardikar). The presentations gave us an idea of what the whole thing was about and what we were supposed to do in the next seven days.

Though I had met Tabrez and Sangeeta that morning in the guest house, I had not known what role Tabrez was going to play. Well, I have the answer now. He is going to coordinate the whole exercise. He has organized some 20 writeshops around the world so far! He is going to be our headmaster for the next seven days! And he sounded (and looked too!) like a tough task master!  

The process that would be followed during the next week was explained. Some 41 case studies will be presented by the case authors. It will be commented upon, edited, drawings made, photographs inserted, layouts done, typeset, and made ready for print by the end of the writeshop. This is going to be a new, exciting and challenging experience. I looked forward to it.

One case was presented that day and commented upon. We four editors (Kaushiki (Rao), Neeraj, Somnath, and I) sat together, discussed the comments, and made a style sheet to be followed.

The discussions went on and on well into the night. I realized that we would be leaving only after dinner. That became our practice. We used to arrive at the venue before breakfast and leave after dinner. This meant that all of us would be together for nearly 14 hours every day for all the seven days!

Comments on the papers were systematic, critical, pointed, and sharp. Sachin and Kaushiki had prepared a very detailed format which had to be followed while writing the cases. But unfortunately, several authors had not done this. But no one complained. Everybody understood that squeezing every case into a fixed format is not easy. And then, the case authors were not writers, but practitioners. Some of them were writing a case study for the first time!

Our actual task began the next day when the writeshop began in full earnest. With a prepared list of papers to be presented, and editors assigned to each paper, it was all set to vroom! My problem was that I am not a technical editor, but a language editor. A few other editors, such as Bubu (Barna Baibhaba Panda, who joined us later), Kaushiki or Neeraj, were different, because they were involved with similar projects. I had to make up for my handicap.

The cases were related to almost all areas of rural development and people’s livelihood including, but not limited to, agriculture, dairy, fishery, resettlement, tourism, and so on.

The procedure was as follows. The author read out the paper in full (in 30 minutes) which was projected on to a screen. Each participant was given a copy of the paper. Major comments were raised in the forum and discussed (in 15 minutes). Minor ones were marked on the copy of the paper and passed on to the author/editor.

The author and concerned editor then revised the paper based on the comments. The author was to finish the discussions in about half an hour when he/she was supposed to provide every support needed for revising the paper. But it usually happened that they had to phone up somebody back home to get the required data. And since some of the works had been carried out several years ago, the records were not readily available. (Who in the world would have thought that one would need to dig out years-old data in 30 minutes flat, that too, sitting at another corner of the country!). The half-an-hour deadline was stretched on to two days or more in some cases!

Once the paper was revised it was presented again. The second draft included photographs, graphs, and drawings. Further comments were raised and the papers again revised. The papers were then supposed to have reached the final stage.

But often there is huge gap between theory and practice. This was quite evident in the whole exercise. Revising the papers took a lot more time than expected. Typesetting took even more time. After struggling with the situation for a day or two, it was decided that layout and designing could wait. It was decided that the contents would be finalised first.

The papers then moved faster through different stages. By the last day of the writeshop, all the papers were presented at least once and commented upon. Several cases were presented the second time, and commented on, too. Many papers had reached the final stage.

Overall it was a tremendous achievement. In normal course, it would have taken several months to finalize the papers. And here, about 75 per cent of the work had been done in seven days flat (day, of course, meant 14, not 8, hours!)

On the first day, after we had the first presentation, we were all sitting together and discussing the comments offered by participants. Neerad, the cartoonist, was also present. The author explained to him the drawings she needed for the paper. In 15 minutes he had the drawing ready, which really gave us a shock!

One point I would specially like to mention here is that no one, I mean NO ONE, seemed to be under tension, even though there was tremendous pressure upon almost everybody. If one wanted a help, it looked like the organizers, be it Mihir, Tabrez, Sangeeta, Garima, Hempriya, Kunal (Ranjan), or anybody else for that matter, had all the time in the world!

The Republic Day celebrations this time was different. This was the first time I was away from home on that day. Moreover, I hoisted the National Flag! Wow! I do not know if I was the senior-most (age-wise, that is), but I was one of them. Thank you Mihir and IGS, for giving me this honour!

This was my first experience of a writeshop, and for several others, as was disclosed in the final meeting on the last day. But it was an extremely pleasant, hectic, and rewarding experience. I am sure I took more than I could contribute. I met, interacted with, and became friends with several nice people. 


  1. your writing, we r enjoying. Nice.

  2. Received via e-mail:

    2013 You had a good beginning

    AI Sundararajan

  3. Nice cheta.. Its gives me a feeling that I was also present in that Workshop...!!!

  4. I enjoyed your company and the time spent in Patna during that writeshop. Great experience!

    (now in FES, Bhubaneswar)

    1. Thank you very much, Bubu, for remembering me. And for your comments. Yes, it was really a rewarding experience. I hope you are continuing with your good work.