DisFact #8: Special issue (Podcasts!)

Happy Diwali!

Happy Sunday, readers!

I am Samarth Bansal. Welcome to DisFact, my weekly newsletter. Do let me know what I can do better, what you would like to see more of, or any other comments. If you like reading this newsletter, please spread the word. If you’ve been forwarded this email, sign up here. For previous issues, check here.

This is not a usual weekend (and so an unusual newsletter, as you will see below). It’s festive season: Yayy, Diwali! It’s time to decorate the house; randomly call up friends to catch up; take a hard look at my messy room and put things in order; and of course, sweets (cheat week)!

It is also the time when Delhiites realise that we should be talking about pollution (even though the city chokes perennially, we just don’t notice). Google trends data shows how online searches regarding pollution peak during November.

All peaks in above chart correspond to November.

But you know what’s important for our politicians? Statues! On Wednesday, experts and world leaders gathered at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva to attend the first ever conference on the health impacts of air pollution.

“But India's ministers for health, environment, and petroleum, chose to participate in festivities marking the unveiling of the Sardar Patel Unity statue instead,” HuffPost India reported.

(You surely know about the statue: it would be a big failure of the government PR machinery if you don’t.)

The WHO had extended invitations to three Union Ministers — Minister for health and family welfare JP Nadda, environment minister Harsh Vardhan and petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan — to attend the first ever conference on the health impacts of air pollution in Geneva.

On Wednesday, as the toxic air over Delhi worsened, Harsh Vardhan was in the national capital to flag off "Run for Unity" to mark the unveiling of the Sardar Patel "Unity" Statue, Nadda was in Guwahati to flag off an identical event, while Pradhan was at in Bhubaneswar to flag the Odisha leg of the unity run.

India hosts 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, and the WHO estimates that air pollution led to the premature deaths of over 1,00,000 Indian children below the age of 5 in 2016.” (HuffPo India)

Priorities, you know.

Just one note on the statue: At 182 meters, the Sardar Patel statue, which cost the public exchequer approximately Rs.3,000 crore, is the tallest in the world, twice the size of the Statue of Liberty. But it won’t be the tallest for long. India will beat its own record. Here is more to come:

  1. Shivaji statue: Maharashtra government is constructing a memorial to the Maratha warrior king Shivaji that is estimated to be 210 meter tall.

  2. Lord Rama statue: In Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. An official in the UP government said that “the Ram statue will be 151-metre-tall and the pedestal below it will be 50 metre high, making the entire structure 201 metre in height.”

The Ram statue will be placed on the banks of Sarayu river. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is likely to announce the launch of the statue project as a Diwali gift for the people of Ayodhya. Priorities, I am telling you.

Anyway. Here is my Diwali gift: I obviously can’t send sweets to all of you. But I surely can do something different with the newsletter.

So in this issue, I am taking a break from sharing stories about India. Rather, I am listing my favourite podcast shows that I love listening to.

If you haven’t tried out audio yet (like most of my friends), I recommend that you give it a shot. Audio (if done well) is a powerful medium to tell and consume stories and learn about the world. I don’t remember the first podcast I listened to or the first show I got hooked on. I do remember that spending five months in New York City earlier this year got me addicted to this medium.

If you are interested in sending back a return gift (no pressure), send me some suggestions about cool things on the Internet (including Netflix shows!).

Enjoy listening. Wishing you and your family a very happy and safe Diwali!


Ideas and new information can have a different meaning if interpreted out of context. That’s one of the great things about podcasts: it retains context.

“As part of the online world that hasn’t destroyed its own context is podcasting,” futurist Jaron Lanier said in his excellent book “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”.

Podcasters are real people, known to the listener. Podcasts are episodic, so they build a sense of personality and context. The listener can’t—as yet—jump around audio content as easily as she or he can jump around content that’s presented visually, like a website or a video. So a listener’s actual experience is more like the experience podcaster imagines it will be…

There are a lot more reasons why I love the medium, but let’s skip that. Here goes my list along with few episode suggestions. All shows listed below are available on popular podcast apps. I use the RadioPublic app on Android.

Ezra Klein Show (Vox Media)

It is a long form interview podcast and can extend from anything between 60 to 90 minutes. The show takes you inside the heads of leading thinkers, writers, newsmakers, and power players in politics, policy and media. I have learnt a lot about how to learn about the world listening to this podcast. The conversation never disappoints me.

Episode suggestion: Anand Giridharadas on the elite charade of changing the world

Caliphate (New York Times)

The Caliphate is an audio series following Rukmini Callimachi, who covers terrorism for the New York Times, as she reports on the Islamic State and the fall of Mosul. This ten-part audio documentary series made me realise the power of audio storytelling. If you are interested in understanding ISIS, I strongly recommend this. It’s brilliant.

No episode recommendation for this: It is a story that you need to listen serially from first episode till last.

The Daily (New York Times)

I am one of the >1 million people who listen to The Daily (almost) daily. Hosted by the excellent Michael Barbaro (there is something magical about his voice, I don’t know what), the podcast is another version of the New York Times front page.

This is how the news should sound. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, hosted by Michael Barbaro and powered by New York Times journalism.

It is pretty much centered around American politics and helps me understand the crazy world of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Few episodes are international (the disappearance Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi), few about technology (how Facebook plans to police the truth).

The Daily takes a step back, provides deep context, explains the news and helps the listener figure out what’s really going on.

Episode suggestion: How Trump really got rich

Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher (Recode)

If you are interested in technology and you don’t know Kara Swisher, you are missing out. She is just awesome.

One of tech's most prominent journalists, Kara Swisher is known for her insightful reporting and straight-shooting style. Listen in as she hosts hard-hitting interviews about the week in tech with influential business leaders and outspoken personalities from media, politics and more.

Episode suggestion: Check out the latest one, an interview with billionaire entreprenuer Elon Musk. 2018 has been a crazy year for Musk and Tesla. In this candid tell-all interview, Musk speaks out his mind. Great conversation. But the episode that’s an absolute must-listen to is the one with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. That interview was nightmarish for Facebook’s PR team.

Today, Explained (Vox Media)

This, like NYT’s The Daily, is Vox.com's daily explainer podcast — bringing you the biggest news every day with guests, context, radio drama, and more. Even though centered around American Politics, I find it more broad based than The Daily.

Episode suggestion: The Stanford Prison Correction (“In 1971, a professor locked a bunch of young men in a basement to understand evil. The results were explosive. This summer, it all came crashing down. Vox’s Brian Resnick explains what’s going on with the Stanford Prison Experiment.”)

Planet Money (NPR)

This podcast illustrates how one can simplify complicated economic issues and make important things interesting.

Imagine you could call up a friend and say, “Meet me at the bar and tell me what's going on with the economy.” Now imagine that's actually a fun evening. That's what we're going for at Planet Money.

You will definitely find something interesting if you start digging into Planet Money archives.

Episode suggestion: The Fake Review Hunter

Revisionist History (Panoply)

Malcolm Gladwell, the host of this podcast, is one of the master storytellers of our time.

Revisionist History is Malcolm Gladwell's journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood. Every episode re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and asks whether we got it right the first time. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.

You can listen to this even ten years from now and you will find it fresh and amazing. (FYI: this is the only podcast I had binge-listened to.)

Episode suggestion: The Big Man Can’t Shoot (“The basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain had only one flaw: he couldn’t shoot free throws. In 1962, Chamberlain switched to making his foul shots underhanded—and fixed his only weakness.”)

I have a long list of podcast show recommendations. So let me stop here. More, sometime later. Thank you, and have a great Sunday.

Talk to me

Comments? Feedback? Suggestions? Write to me at samarthbansal42@gmail.com or hit reply to this email. And if you find this helpful, please spread the word. Thank you!