Behind the Byline | Vivek Kaul and the art of Easynomics

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Summary

  • Welcome to Mint's new series where we take a deeper look at the minds behind the byline.

Welcome to this special series where you, the readers, get to know our writers at Mint better. The inspiration for this series is rooted in the belief that you should have a deeper understanding of the minds and personalities that bring you news and insights.

We start with Vivek Kaul, an economist, author and Mint columnist.

Kaul traces his roots to Ranchi, where he grew up before pursuing his higher education at Symbiosis University in Pune. An MBA holder and PhD dropout, the beginning of Kaul’s writing career coincided with the arrival of the Internet in Indian homes. He observed how traditional business news outlets, with their complex language, often alienated lay readers, almost “talking down" to them. In contrast, Kaul sees the internet as a democratising force behind making financial news more accessible.

Vivek Kaul
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Vivek Kaul

He has developed a unique style of hypothetical conversational narratives that can demystify complex subjects. His pre-budget story titled “How to explain the budget to an engineer" is a testament to his explanatory approach towards financial news. Some of his other pieces include the likes of “Explaining inflation to your boyfriend", “How to explain the Budget to your grandma", and “How to explain the budget to a teenager".

The 2008 global financial crisis was a pivotal moment for many around the world. During this period, there was a surge in interest among the general populace to understand the shifting dynamics of the global economy, as the crisis impacted the daily lives of millions. Financial news was in demand. Kaul turned towards fulfilling this demand with his easily accessible writing, demystifying complex economic changes.

Kaul, who is the author of theaward-winning newsletterEasynomics, talks about his love for crime fiction, his writing process, his reading habits, and much more.

On his writing career

In 2005, I landed a job at a newspaper to cover personal finance, a topic I knew little about at the time. Surprisingly, after a few months, I discovered it was quite simple once you cut through the clutter. My focus then broadened after the 2008 financial crisis hit, introducing jargon like “subprime" into everyday news. 

As a reader, I was lost in technical terms, but I got a chance to write about the crisis due to a space that needed filling in the newspaper. My article in September 2008 unexpectedly garnered a massive response, to the extent that my official email inbox couldn't handle the influx. This overwhelming feedback made me aware of people's strong interest in understanding money and personal finance.

Driven by this realisation, I increased my output on these topics and, by 2010, had penned around 100 articles. Writing more about finance not only satisfied readers' curiosity but also deepened my own understanding of the subject.

On his media diet

Frankly, I have stopped reading too many newspapers. For the local news, I read TheTimes of India, which gives me a decent coverage of Mumbai, and for financial and business news I stick with Mint. I used to be an avid reader of The Economist but that's a habit I have lost touch with. I hope to pick it up again soon. 

On his reading habits

I read a lot of crime fiction. Another favourite of mine are memoirs. Memoirs, not autobiographies. The main difference between the two is that in an autobiography, the author remembers her life in a sequential manner, which is not humanly possible. They are too detailed to be authentic. Memoirs on the other hand, deal with random events, which I have more faith in. 

I also used to read a lot of books on economics and finance, but now I end up buying them but rarely complete them. My reading habits are very random. 

Though, reading for writing a book is very different. For the last book I wrote (Bad Money), I read a lot of archived articles from the Economic and Political Weekly, to get a historical context of banking in India. Even though my book was not about the history of banking, I believe any contemporary topic should not be written about without historic context. 

On choosing his books

I follow a lot of book reviews, including The Times and The Guardian from the UK, and The New York Times. Scandinavian crime fiction is a genre that I love and I discovered it through book reviews. 

On his writing process

If you are interested in writing, you write better and faster. There is no other process, in my view. I have been writing for 20 years now and practice is the only thing that has made my work better. When you write so much you get more clarity of thought and that also helps with writing quickly. But again, it comes with practice. An 800-word piece I take 45 minutes to churn out now, used to be a week-long task for me in my early days. It’s all because of practice. 

Favourite authors

Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, John Le Carre - all crime fiction authors. 

Sharad Joshi and Harishankar Parsai for Hindi satire. 

 

Read select pieces by Vivek Kaul here: 

Selfie habits have gone beyond casual pictures taken for social media 

Buying homes: Why tax policies need a tweak 

The future of cricket’s 50-overs format does not look very bright 

The hullabaloo over crypto has quietened despite the good year it had 

RBI’s action on Paytm Payments Bank raises important questions 

 

You can subscribe to Kaul’s Easynomics newsletter here.

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