NEW DELHI — The conversation weaved through Shantiniketan, Cambridge, Macedonia, Pakistan and United States, and touched upon Benazir Bhutto, Narendra Modi, college debates, stress and wellness and of course, The Huffington Post and the age of digital media.
HuffPost founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington spoke with journalist Shekhar Gupta on NDTV's 'Walk The Talk' show, in a conversation that Gupta said the two have been planning for years whenever they met at Davos around the meetings of the World Economic Forum.
Describing herself as an idealist, Arianna says being an outsider gives her a different perspective around conventions and a very deep respect for ancient wisdom--one of the reasons why she’s drawn to India and its spirituality.
She praised Modi for bringing back focus on ancient Indian wisdom.
“I love the fact that he wants to bring back a lot of the ancient teaching,” she says. Asked to define Indian spirituality, Huffington says it’s the recognition that we are not just material beings.
Huffington came to India when she was 17 years old and studied comparative religion at Shantiniketan, West Bengal for three months.
" It’s an incredible moment to reach back to ancient wisdom around meditation."
“I have always been drawn to the spiritual aspect of India and as I feel right now, as the world is going through so many stresses of modern life, including here in India with modernization, it’s an incredible moment to reach back to ancient wisdom around meditation, yoga, and rediscover it in ways that can deepen our experience of modern life,” she says.
She also fondly speaks of her time spent at Cambridge and her debates with the late Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, a contemporary. As the first foreigner and third woman president of the Cambridge Union, she would often spar with Bhutto who was at Oxford at that time.
“I was really fond of her. Shortly before she went back to Pakistan she came for dinner at my house.”
“Life unfolds in such incredible ways,” she says describing how both their lives had changed since their student days. Bhutto was assassinated at a rally in Pakistan in December, 2007.
The rise of the Internet also meant the shifting of goalposts where traditional media was concerned. All of a sudden thousands of people were keen to express their opinion and Huffington Post provided them the perfect platform for it, Arianna says.
“Millions of people suddenly wanted to express themselves and they had the power to do it. Self expression became a new kind of entertainment.”
“The conversation was moving online and I was fascinated by that and yet many people whom I loved and admired were never going to be online,” she says.
One of the first persons she invited to blog was noted historian Arthur Schlesinger, who says had to be explained what blogging means, as most people who were unfamiliar with the online world at that time.
“I wanted people with important things to say to be able to say them very easily and I wanted no hierarchy except quality. So you could have a great historian or the prime minister of the country blogging next to a student or an unemployed worker--that was one element of HuffPost,” she said.
Huffington Post won a Pulitzer for a 10-part series on the lives of returning vets that took 9 months to produce.
How does quality control then work at a platform like HuffPost which has thousands of bloggers writing in each day?
“We tell our bloggers: You have a right to your own opinion but not to your own set of facts,” she says.