Thomas Manuel - Profile Picture
Thomas Manuel


I have often introduced myself to people as a writer who works as a journalist. Writer is too vague and sets up more questions than it answers. Journalist is clearer but, as a journalist, I have never been interested in the news. The news has always seemed to embody everything I hate about the media today – short attention spans, lack of depth or nuance, sensationalism etc. But news is not journalism in the same way high-fructose corn syrup is not corn. No, I’m a journalist because it allows me to be a generalist: I’m allowed to write on labour, on higher education, on art and science; I can use data, plot graphs and build apps; I can make comics. I’m held to an ethical code and my work is verified, of course, but I do not have to produce a degree when I pitch an essay. My work is allowed to speak for itself, in a way. And of course, it pays the bills.

Which is more than I can say for any other kind of writing that I’ve done. I wrote my first play, an absurd pastiche of other absurdist pastiches, when I was 19. It ran for 9 shows which was 9 more than expected. My second play, a comedy about manliness and violence and British rule in India, lost the producer money. My third play, Hamlet and Angad, combining Shakespeare and the Ramayana, won an award. The award took care of a lot of bills but the play itself hasn’t seen an opening night on the stage. So I guess you win some and you lose some.

I initially started out as an accountant. Or rather as an apprentice to my father who started out as an apprentice to his. I chose to do this instead of going to college. And I chose not to go to college because India doesn’t have an undergraduate education worth mentioning and I was impatient to get on with my life. I do not regret this decision even though it was remarkably stupid. By the time my friends applied for their first jobs, I had already switched careers and become a writer. The first assignment I took up after that was with a small research platform to collect data, build visualizations and write essays on the sad state of Indian higher education. Which was deeply and satisfyingly ironic. I did end up getting an undergraduate degree but through correspondence, never stepping into a classroom. One day, I’ll probably go and get my masters degree, and it might well be on Indian higher education. But that is for later. Right now, there’s too much to be done. I’m interested in working with video as Youtube has become such a powerful platform. I’m interested in podcasts and the return of audio after the death of radio. I’m also in the midst of learning how to make a great cup of tea.

For the Humanities Across Borders programme, the first thing I’ll be doing is maintaining and updating this blog, making sure it keeps ticking and humming. I’m very keen on using this space to build conversations across projects, countries and platforms. This blog also opens up so many exciting possibilities to experiment and develop ways to help researchers communicate their findings more effectively to a more general audience.

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