the lede

Fact Check

A workshop on editing Wikipedia entries about India starts with street food

By KRISHN KAUSHIK | 1 April 2012

BALADEVAN RANGARAJAN moved his brown beanbag to the centre of the room, closer to the round wooden table on which lay a Macbook. He wasn’t well acquainted with the laptop’s keyboard, so he used a wireless one instead. A wall-mounted flat screen TV transmitted the Macbook’s display to a gathering of 14 seated around the unadorned room.

The first step, he instructed the attendees, was to create a Wikipedia account. It was this year’s first summertime meeting for Wikipedia Meetup Delhi (WMD7, to be exact), and most in attendance were newcomers. Launched in 2010, the meetups have helped train aspiring Wikipedians in Delhi the art of editing Wikipedia entries about India.

While registering for an account, Rangarajan tried typing ‘baladevan’ for his username twice—but a prompt informed him that it was already being used by someone else. He tried ‘baladevan.rangarajan’ next, and this time the system accepted.

Asked by the website to introduce himself to other Wikipedia users in the form of a short description, Rangarajan, with side-parted hair and thick eyebrows that slope inwards, typed that he was a public policy researcher who “loves kids and freedom”. Sweet and grand.

With the formality over, Rangarajan opened his first Wikipedia page as an editor: one about Pav Bhaji. The opening sentence read: “‘Pav Bhaji’ (Marathi) is a fast food dish that originated in Marathi cuisine, and is native to Maharashtra and is popular in most metropolitan areas in India, particularly in Gujarat.”

Suspicious, he noted that Pav Bhaji is not just famous in the metropolitan areas of Gujarat, but in cities in central and western India more generally.

He confirmed his claim by citing Retail Franchising, a Tata McGraw Hill publication he found on Google Books that talks about the food’s popularity in central India. After all, for facts to hold, they require reliable sources.

And so he rephrased the sentence: “Pav Bhaji (Marathi) is a fast food dish that originated in Marathi cuisine. It is native to Maharashtra and is popular in most metropolitan areas in India, especially in those of central and western Indian states such as Gujarat.”

Much better; everybody else agreed. Rangarajan had just established a fact internationally. And, now, nobody would doubt it.

The Wikipedia Foundation’s office, where Rangarajan had established Pav Bhaji’s regional specificity, is situated in a non-descript building in Hauz Khas. On a door three floors above the street, a wooden nameplate—each letter framed in a small wooden square—reads WIKIPEDIA. Inside are two rooms each with white walls and five workstations: airy and minimalist like the website. The foundation currently has five people on staff, two of which were at the meetup: Subhashish and Nupur.

“We belong to diverse backgrounds,” Subhashish had said before the meetup began when there were only four people in the room. Of the 15 Wikipedians present by the end of the session, at least 11 had been trained as engineers, including Subhashish.

Noopur said that women were underrepresented in the community globally—there were just three present at WMD7.

“Thank god! We would have articles about shades of lipsticks otherwise,” blurted Abhishek, a lanky man with a goatee. Wikipedia was too serious to be “pink” for him. An engineering student from Ghaziabad, he described himself as a “write[r]” of poetry and philosophy, on his Wiki profile. “I have learnt everything from Wikipedia. More than from anyone else,” he added.

As the group focused on the TV screen, which displayed the procedure to establish Pav Bhaji’s popularity in particular parts of India, a plump man with nascent whiskers—Roboture in his Wikipedian avatar—was surfing for more items to edit. An engineer from Jamia Millia Islamia, he surveyed the pages for ‘Poha’, ‘Dahi Bhalla’ and ‘Flattened Rice’, among others, but changed nothing.

It had been one and a half hours since the meeting began, and the group was still mulling over Pav Bhaji. “The lazy bums or those unwilling to invest more time in enhancing or creating Wiki pages can start with translating already existing entries into one of the many Indian-language Wikipedia sites”, Noopur admonished, with a smile.

“Can we reference magazine articles for any edits we make?” someone asked. Two senior Wikipedians advised the group against doing so. “Not well researched,” said Rangrajan.

Krishn Kaushik is a staff writer at The Caravan.

READER'S COMMENTS

2 thoughts on “Fact Check”

The article started off well, but ended quite abruptly. While reading it, one almost felt like the conversation had been cut off mid stream! What gives?

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