Unmasking Reality: Chronicles of Everyday Struggles and Social Imagination

Uday Dandavate
4 min readFeb 3, 2024

I had the opportunity to attend the release of the book “The Fault With Reality” by Mumbai-based journalist Anil Kumar Singh. The book is a compilation of columns written by Anil between 2020 and 2022 in The Free Press Journal.

The room at the Mumbai Press Club was packed with fellow journalists and citizen activists engaged in amplifying the sufferings and concerns of everyday people in Mumbai. In the chair was former journalist Kumar Ketkar, now a member of the Upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha). Although it was announced that various activists and journalists would speak about the book, the event turned into a Q&A session. The audience kept asking questions to Mr. Ketkar about the possible outcome of the next elections and how the opposition can fight the current repressive government. I am prompted to write this review because the book release event did not do justice to the wide range of issues covered. Anil’s book is far from mere commentary on the current political situation; it reveals real issues faced by citizens and how a vigilant journalist can help keep citizens alert and engaged in fighting inefficiencies, flaws, and irregularities in the functioning of a democracy.

The title of the book, “The Fault With Reality,” is the same as the title of his column. He explained the origin of this title, drawing upon the memory of old days when TV transmission was choppy, and Doordarshan would make an announcement — ”please do not adjust your antennas, the transmission is faulty.” He asks readers not to blame their own understanding of the chaos in their environment because the fault is with their reality.

The title made me think deeper about the very concept of reality in the context of the issues raised in the book. An anthropologist once said, “Reality is an amalgamation of multiple illusions,” meaning that each of us holds a perception of reality. No one person can define or assert reality from their perspective. Reality, therefore, can be defined as a collective mental model or as “social imagination” in social psychology, always evolving and never static.

“In his 1959 book ‘The Sociological Imagination,’ American sociologist C. Wright Mills develops the idea of sociological imagination as the means by which the relation between self and society can be understood.” Anil Singh’s book creates an appreciation for his conscientious approach to gathering stories about real issues that matter to everyday people. While politicians broadcast their own version of realities and manipulate minds, journalists like Anil play the role of broadening the public view of reality with all its complexities, paradoxes, and ugliness. Making a democracy work is not an easy job, and Thomas Jefferson once said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.” In today’s environment, social imagination is sought to be manipulated through social media, but old-school journalists have a critical role to play in saving the representation of reality in social imagination from being hijacked.

Anil says in his book, “India isn’t a safe place for comedians either.” In today’s India, when mainstream media has either been muzzled or bought out, comedians are the only ones left doing the job of getting ordinary people to reflect and critique the myths and false narratives. I am glad that there are still journalists who continue to focus on real issues of real people.

In my book, “Finding Your Beebo,” written for children, I wrote, “What you see with your eyes is real, what you see in your imagination is possible.” As I was reading the first four chapters, PM Modi and his Methods, The New India, Hatriotism, and Men in the Muddle made me despair about the fault with reality, feel cynical, and kept me from adjusting my antenna. However, as I reached chapter 5: Reimagining Mumbai, a feeling of hope and optimism crept in me. In the first article in this chapter, “The City of Gold Must Sparkle,” Anil says, “Mumbai is a vivacious young woman with bad dress sense and messy makeup.” He provides hope, stating there is a dire need to reimagine the city, to harness its amazing energy, to tap its immense wealth. In his articles, Anil champions not just the cause of commuters, walkers, senior citizens, but also of the birds, trees, and westlands. He alerts city planners, politicians, police officers, etc., to focus on solving real problems, warning them that “bad architecture and design are robbing Indian cities of all character and charm” and that “Architecture is more than just the built environment; it is a representation of how we see ourselves as well as how we see the world.”

Anil expresses his anguish in the chapter Richie Rich and the Philanthropy Itch, “As we head into Diwali, let us spread happiness by lighting up the lives of less fortunate. But first, let’s examine our attitude to caring and sharing.” This comment deeply resonated with me because, after taking a sabbatical to witness the state of the world after Covid, I have concluded that the world needs a participatory approach to co-creating a future based on caring and sharing.

The fault does not lie in reality. It lies in our hesitation and fear to participate in co-creating a new reality.

Thank you Anil for your compassionate approach to writing about real issues of real people.

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Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.