Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sach is Life

Dying to shed: Such a thin life!
India’s thinning industry just got fatter. Ms Sach - a very good friend and a part of my extended family - shed an outrageous 16kgs thus depositing all those flabbiness in the thinning-Patna-vault; making the Indian thin-business fatty by some thousands. I am yet to see her; but if I see her through my rose-coloured spectacles the view that emerges in sight is of a Bihari bombshell with a made in Patna tag! It happened over a fortnight ago as a result of her slim sensation paving way for a slender Sach. It seems that the Indian physique has just discovered the western virtue of slimming. I am no body-historian but before you accuse of dividing the world in the two blocks; West and East, let me tell you that I haven’t come across any historical fact which suggests slimming as an eastern innovation.

India’s men, women and in-betweens have been possessed by the thin mania. That explains the emergence of a new India whose urban population is as buoyant as Sen-sex. Being fat has its own advantages; you can convert your tummy into a globe thus explaining geography to your near and dear ones. Or at times you can convert your obesity into a comfy couch for your little tots. When stuck in the crowd, it may act as a squeezing machine.

These days’ people spend hours in fully-equipped gymnasiums to flatten their ballooned trunks. It’s not only Bollywood babes who are conscious of a flat torso; even fat cats of today’s corporate world are going for a lean look. Remember Anil Ambani weighing 105kgs while Tina was half the size of her husband.

This thin trend is threatening the very existence of thin souls like me who are having a thin time thinking the future of human species. For one day it might get thinned in this thin-process!

But the thin truth is this:

Gain some, lose some, Sach is life.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Anatomy of Corruption

In India corruption has become a commonplace. Corruption is a word which every single politician swears to eradicate but few could resist the temptation once they jump into the political akkhada. Politics is a full time profession not a part-time activity. Once they become aware of how to make right moves they start doing political wrongs to make their politics more saleable. Politics is a commodity whose sale-ability depends on right kind of marketing. Politics has become like a long term investment: invest now to reap rich dividends later. This investment is made with the help of masses in the form of material deployment. India’s unlettered and in some cases lettered lot doesn’t understand that this timely and temporary windfall will bring them five years of misery. Once such an aspirant gets elected, masses feel the heat. Meeting your ‘favourite local politician’ becomes a nightmarish experience. The man who had all the time under the sun to hear your grievances shows his importance; the man who always smiled at you with folded hands refuses to recognize you.

It’s natural for any investor to expect rich dividends at the end of every quarter. Same applies to the politics also. Those who have made an investment in politics are naturally more interested in filling their pockets first. The rest, if they have some mercy, goes for the ‘development’ of their constituency.

Nobody can satiate a politician’s hunger for money. In India political eating has become a ritual rather than rarity. But smart politicians always eat in moderation because they know overindulgence might result in political stomachaches which is not good for the whole body politic.

The stupid thing about democracy is that you go into the voting booth and push the button and you have fulfilled your duty. Now for the next five years you can sit back and allow your candidate whatever he wants.

According to Transparency International’s (Transparency International evaluates corruption around the world) Global Corruption Barometer released in 2004 India’s CPI (Corruption Perception Index) is abysmally low. India’s place in the CPI scorecard which ranges from “10 (Highly Clean) to Zero (Highly Corrupt)” is just between 2 and 3.

Late former cabinet secretary, Mr Dharm Vira has set an upright example about “kickbacks” in international deals when Nehru was the Prime Minister. Once he had gone abroad, heading a delegation, to purchase some aeroplane parts, when the entire negotiations concluded, the person on the other side of the table said, “Now, Mr Secretary, how would you like to take kickbacks? In whose name shall I make out the cheque?” Dharm Vira thought for a moment and replied, “Excellency, make it in the name of Government of India.” And so the foreign counterpart made out a cheque for the discount in the name of the government of India. When he came back, cheque was presented to Panditji. The Prime Minister was furious. He said, “What? You accepted a bribe in the form of a discount! It is a disgrace.” Dharm Vira shot back, “Panditji, what did you expect me to do? Take the cheque in my name and put it in secret Swiss account?” Panditji was silent.

Dharm Vira is dead but his legacy lives on. There are fewer honest politicians and bureaucrats but their number is dwindling day by day.

Constitutional expert Fali S. Nariman is of the opinion that to curb corruption we should “rely on ourselves, rely on NGOs, rely on courts and public-spirited individuals, rely on press and on whistle-blowers.”

In such a ‘tidal-wave situation’ what can we do?

The answer is truly European. The editor of a left-bank literary journal in France (Nouvelle Revue Francoise) was ousted by his own kinsmen who collaborated with the invading German Army in 1942. He joined the Resistance – and when asked what one French man could do against such heavy odds, he said:

You can squeeze a bee in your hand until it suffocates – it would suffocate after stinging you – that’s precious little, you will say, but if it did not sting you, bees would have become extinct a long time ago.

(This article has some inputs from Fali S. Nariman’s article)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Reflections on Death

Spectacle of Death: Scene of a Cemetery from Summit

Peace be upon you. O ye dwellers of those graves! May God forgive us and you! You are our forerunners and we are at your heels.
(Inscription on the main gate of India’s largest Muslim cemetery at Malegaon, Nasik).

Dye the crown of your head, knot thy hair in plaits; for aught you know, presently the Beloved may send for thee: thou can’t do much on the appointed day: And there will be much to do; but thou wilt only lie still and stare. (Unknown)

Age travels at a galloping pace/ Who knows where it will stop?/ We do not have the reins in our hands/ We do not have our feet in the stirrups. (Poet Asadullah Khan Ghalib)

Nobody knows when the death was born. But we all know it was born to extract our soul. Death does not believe in discrimination. Whether it was King Solomon of Israel or Mongolian Chengiz Khan who murdered millions, all willingly or unwillingly succumbed to it. Death does not announce its arrival. It comes all of a sudden with no prior warning and nobody can delay it by a second also. You simply can not turn a blind eye to death. Fewer people have a date with death.

When will death die? Who will give death to

Death will not die unless it finishes off the entire living race.

On Thursday August 19, death took away my mother’s maternal grandmother. She was 107. The end was peaceful. Around 5 O’ clock in the evening while reading the holy Qur’an she took her last breath. For a devout Muslim there is no better way of dying than under the shade of their holy book. The old faithful lady surrendered with a smile. As Iqbal said,

‘You ask me of the marks of a man of faith?
When death comes to him, he has a smile on his lips.’

May her soul rest in peace. Amen.

It’s been 10 days since we left her in 6-feet deep 2 feet wide grave. Everybody around, except my mom, seems to lead a normal life. Truly public memory is really short.

Death reminds us that however prolonged this worldly life may be, it is mortal and one day it will come to an end. It is the afterlife which is immortal and everlasting. Rationalists like Khushwant Singh may not believe in life after death but I am a believer. In his book ‘Death at my Doorstep’ he says,

“I do not accept irrational, unproven theories of lifedeath-rebirth in different forms as an unending process till our beings mingle with God and we attain nirvana. I do not accept the belief that while the body perishes, the soul survives. I do not know what the soul looks like; neither I, nor anyone has seen it. Nor do I accept the Hebrew, Christian and Islamic belief in the Day of Judgment — heaven and hell…. I accept the finality of death; we do not know what happens to us after we die...”

There is something which leaves the human body at the time of death and that is called soul – which is invisible to human eyes. It’s like air which exists but we can not see it. Denying afterlife amounts to denying the existence of God. It will be apt to quote Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), one of the greatest spiritual figures of all time:

‘Someone who seeks God through logical proof is like someone who looks for the sun with a lamp.’

Whatever, we all will definitely come to know as to what reality is. For that we have to wait for death which is hovering over our heads. The final call may come any time yet we are busy planning our day today life. Such is mine own case.

Nobody knows who is the next.

Life is a journey with an end. Then there is a life with no end.

Perhaps the last word should be left to an Urdu poet:

‘No living being knows the time of its end. Man makes provisions for a hundred years, yet knows not that he might die the next minute.’

Monday, August 22, 2005

War and the Media: An Oriental Express

Book Review:
War & the Media Reporting Conflict 24/7
Vistaar Publication
Price: 395

War and the Media – Reporting Conflict 24/7 edited by Daya Kishan Thussu and Des Freedman, is a collection of 19 intellectually stimulating essays written by 27 distinguished writers/journalists from three continents analysing media representations of ‘war on terrorism’ in the context of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the 1991 Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. They also throw light on the complex relationship between mass media and governments, convergence of military and media networks during wartime, blurring of information with entertainment and discuss the emergence of alternate players like Al-Jazeera.

Daya Kishan Thussu argues that demand for live 24/7 can lead towards “sensationalization and trivialization” of often complex stories and this leads conflict reporting towards infotainment, projecting war as a bloodless virtual conflict, as if war is ‘toys for boys’. He talks about public-opinion formation and its manipulation and how US/UK news organisations can influence news agendas worldwide. The coverage of the ‘war on terrorism’ in Afghanistan by Star News is a case in point. He says “given that Star News is part of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire, it used live coverage of war from its sister 24/7 network Fox News, relaying, sometimes in their entirety, Pentagon briefings, as well as jingoistic studio discussions and US government press conferences.”

The Glasgow University Media Group interviewed various groups of audience as well as journalists who had reported on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The interviews showed that majority of sample audience did not understand the origins of the conflict for example viewers are rarely told that the Palestinians are victims of an illegal military occupation. They did not know that from where Palestinian refugees came from and how they became refugees. The selective use of language is important. Words such as murder, atrocity, lynching, savage cold-blooded killing were only used to describe Israeli deaths and not those of Palestinians, even though more than 10 times as many Palestinians than Israelis had been killed during two weeks at the beginning of the intifada in September 2000.

Yvonne Ridley who was arrested by Taliban during the war in Afghanistan recalls her visit to Afghanistan as a witness to news management in the fog of war. She writes that TV journalists became “quite inventive” in the sense that Some TV reporters paid Northern Alliance soldiers $5 a round to start firing off as the cameras rolled in order to broadcast ‘live coverage’ of war, in one case killing one little girl. Talking about her capture by Taliban she writes that “they tried to more or less kill me with kindness rather than anything else.” After her release she was disappointed to see that “headlines were written in advance” even by her own newspaper mentioning “abuse, rape and torture” because “this is what the media people wanted to hear.”

War and the Media is a critical analysis of media’s role as critical observer, publicist, and more recently, as battleground, the surface upon which war is imagined and executed. The editors ask whether media proliferation really fuels the watchdog role of the media in times of conflict. Does competition make you seek out more, does truth become a commodity in the era of rolling news? Or does war reportage primarily have public-relations value? This book is highly recommended for practicing journalists, students of journalism and anyone wanting to know what lies behind the ‘news’ that they see daily on their television screens.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

It’s in my DNA

DNA: Designing News And Analysis?
It all started with an idea. The idea turned into a strategy. The strategy gave an admaker the opportunity and freedom to fiddle with words. And thus a sentence was born to redefine the history of Bombay’s print media: ‘Speak up; it’s in your DNA.’

The potency of that sentence made Times of India pregnant which resulted into a premature delivery of a baby called Mumbai Mirror. The sleek baby delivered to ‘cut the crap’ in fact intensified the rubbish which resulted in rise of the raddi business.

For the first time the traditional Times felt threatened by a new rival. But did that threat in fact materialise?

It’s too early to say but as things suggest ‘Old lady of Boribunder’ appears to be calm and poised like a bird with unruffled feathers. Old lady considers herself too sacred to be drawn into any kind of competition and comparison. Her ‘cut for you’ baby is doing the job.

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) – ‘the newspaper created by us’ has brought little smile and more tears in terms of content, reporting, presentation, layout, style sheet. Page classification like ‘Americas and Europe’ is the exact copy of The Asian Age. A supplement like After hrs. is more like renaming of the Bombay Times.

We Bombayites didn’t spend our ‘seven minutes’ to witness this renaming ceremony. DNA was supposed to ‘create’ rather than ‘rename’.

Considering it’s a new establishment, errors are bound to happen. But when errors become routine rather than rarity then it’s really bad news for a newspaper since ‘to err is human and to forgive is divine’ does not hold good in journalism.

Let me briefly deconstruct DNA’s DNA.

Silly Story: what do you do when you miss an important front page story? This is what DNA did when it missed Karishma Kapoor’s matrimonial mayhem. Next day it carried a story trying to give it a different angle but it got derailed. Here it goes word by word. You be the judge:

‘I respect clients’ privacy’
Mrunalini Deshmukh, Karisma Kapoor’s divorce lawyer, is a family person at heart
DNA Entertainment Cell

Lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh represents actor Karishma Kapur as she heads to wards ending her marriage to Sanjay Kapur.
Deshmukh took care of matters when actor Aamir Khan and his wife Reena divorced a few years ago, and also when Italian model Valentina Pedron wanted out of her marriage with playboy Arun Nayar.
Ask this happily-married, joint family and mom-in-law loving lawyer to spill the beans on the case in question and all she says is, "No comment."
There’s more to Mrunalini Deshmukh than meets the eye. "I’ve been a television presenter at one time," laughs the commerce graduate from St Xavier’s college. Law runs in her blood, Prof Dr T K Tope, who had assisted Dr Ambedkar in drafting the Constitution of India is her father. "He was a cobbler who wanted to get his daughter divorced. I took the case, we had an out of the court settlement. My fee was all he could afford to pay me: Rs 500. Later, he made a pair of Kolhapuri chappals. That really touched me," she recalls, talking about her first case.
"Your in-laws are the buffer when things threaten to go wrong in your marriage," muses the divorce lawyer.
So how does it feel to be known as a high-profile lawyer with high-profile clients? "It’s nothing. I’m not high-profile and I’ve always had high-profile clients, it’s just that most of them don’t attract the attention of media like Aamir and Valentina have done," she says nonchalantly. "People want me to represent them because I respect their privacy."

(DNA, August 9, 2005 Page 3)

Is this news? Where is the much cherished principle of newsworthiness? The only thing worth publishing is the ‘no comment’ of Karishma’s lawyer. It reads like a profile. Come on DNAites, you don’t write a profile on news page.

Take more inspiration from the Bombay Times.

Picture Imperfect: On August 12, DNA carried a news report (Page 7) about International hostel of Mumbai University at Churchgate. The story was fine but it was accompanied by a wrong picture of Mumbai’s University’s Post-Graduate hostel saying, "the facade of Mumbai University’s International hostel at Churchgate."

DNA’s photographer Mr. Kamlesh Pednekar may be ignorant but what was amazing is this: the entire editorial board of DNA slept over this pictorial blunder. No apologies. No corrections.
Perhaps DNA needs to hire a new pair of journalistic eyes!

Cleavage Calling: On the very same day After hrs. carried a half page story provocatively titled ‘who has the best cleavage?’ DNA took five of the country’s hottest women (Malaika Arora, Bipasha Basu, Pooja Bedi, Mahima Chaudhary and Mallika Sherawat) and got three men (Cyrus Broacha, Prahlad Kakar and Upen Patel) to comment and rate on their ‘ahem assets’ – their cleavages.

Gautam Adhikari, Editor of DNA had said to Guardian that "it will be a classic liberal newspaper." When I read the above story I realised what he meant by ‘classic liberal newspaper.’

Perhaps he doesn’t know the difference between liberalism and cheapness.

I am no DNA hater. There are some good things which I like about it especially Speak up page and DNA Money.

If Zee’s Subhash Chandra and Dainik Bhaskar’s Ramesh Agarwal have invested 100 million pounds, then they should get certain things right.

Understand the difference between ‘create’ and ‘copy’ and ask Philip Kotler if you guys don’t understand what product differentiation is all about.

It’s not my DNA yet.

I wrote this because I believe ‘speaking up’ is in my DNA.

It’s Gautam Adhikari’s turn to ‘speak up.’

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Pen and Paper

I want you guys to become paid journalists rather than a charity journalist. Initially it’s good to become a charity journalist. You get a byline – the feeling of your name printed there in black and white is exhilarating but if this continues for a long time then many good journalists break instead of breaking records. Writing is fun. But you would love to shun this fun if you are not getting dhan for penning this fun. Only Bill Gates can enjoy writing for fun.

Is writing an inborn art? Or can it be acquired?

If we trace the history of recent batch of Indian writers, be it The Goddess of Big Things (Arundhati Roy of The God of Small Things) or ‘obsessive compulsive writer’ of Spouse (Shobhaa De, Goddess of pulp fiction), for the sake of name (Jhumpa Lahiri of Namesake), not so angry hungry Ghosh (Amitav Ghosh of Hungry Tide) and many more (I am not going to give you A to Z list, no spoon-feeding please), we come to know that all these great writers were not born with a pen in hand.

So where lies the magic?

Come on, its not there in Harry Potter’s magic wand.


I am not going to write a book about how to write a book. This has become staple of hundreds and thousands of books. Then what the hell are you trying to say?

Hey chill man, don’t invoke this western abuse. You too have become victim of western lingual invasion!

Since you are a journalist, you must be acquainted with 2ps of journalism: Pen and Paper.

Just pick them up and start putting your own ideas into words. Don’t be bothered about your target audience; just write for the sake of self-pleasure.

Or if you are a modern journalist of this millennium, then you must be having a television look-alike box which is centre of paperless world, just sit in front of it and instead of being on porn, practice self-infliction of your fingertips.

The magic has just begun.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Unbroken Human Spirit

Torrential Tuesday: Down and Under

Little did we know about human helplessness than in times of natural calamities when hundreds die just because the rain gods forget to switch off their generosity button. Unchecked generosity may be dangerous, but it evokes a sense of generosity among mankind. Strange? But true.

Such was the terrific Tuesday, the rainiest day in Mumbai’s history. That day around 2.30pm I was cosying up on a couch, sipping over a cup of chocolate coffee at The Times of India building oblivious of the fact that history is being made outside this journalistic precinct. I was waiting for Sudeshna Sen, Resident Editor of The Economic Times, for an interview. My ignorance turned into knowledge in between the interview when she got a call and somebody informed her about the raging rains in the suburbs. She feared the obvious: the disruption of public transport system. Her fears came true later.

Editors should always be taken seriously.

As I walked from CST to Lamington road under an umbrella accompanied by so many strangers I realized two things: we human beings are so prone to Nature. We may go to Mars but there are certain things in life over which we have no control. Secondly, the sight of so many thousand men and women heading towards their habitat made me ponder: there is no place like home on earth. Rarely comes a moment but it does come when there is a uniformity of response among mankind. Natural disasters like this may claim precious human lives, wash out hundreds of buffalos, cause landslides and fire, people may snuff out inside their cars and rumour mills may cause stampede but it cannot take away something which is so human, the unbreakable human spirit.

In the aftermath of this deadly deluge, so many stories of courage, endurance and survival emerged out of fallen debris that it’s hard to believe. Are these tales of survival a result of indomitable human spirit or should we simply call them miracles?

If we endure and persevere in any kind of calamity or affliction, miracles do happen.

Why do natural disasters happen?

Science may provide ‘how’ but it cannot answer ‘why’.

Disasters happen to remind us that there are many bigger disasters prevalent around us yet we are so indifferent. They happen to wake up our collective sleeping conscience. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. It comes all of a sudden with no prior announcement but while leaving, it leaves a message which is quite worded: ‘why do we need a disaster to provoke generosity?’ – wrote M. J. Akbar in the aftermath of the tsunami. There are so many ‘disasters’ like poverty, hunger, AIDS etc. But do they make headlines? Or do news channels flash them? At least one byte? No. perhaps these ‘disasters’ may not be as glamorous as a deluge of nine feet water.

Talk of the Shanghaisation of Mumbai or turning Mumbai into another Manhattan, it does not excite me at all especially when we don’t have sustainable infrastructure. We need to improve basic civic amenities: having a better drainage system, an effective and uninterrupted public transport system – the announcement of the metro rail project is a step in the right direction.

Many Mumbaikers from all over India may have passed this water kingdom phase with a smile but don’t forget that there are at least 250 families who have lost their dear ones. We all collectively share their grief.

Whatever happens, Mumbai is a city which always thrives back to normalcy – that’s the spirit of Mumbai. As Maya Angelou said in another context, “You may write me down in history … you may trod me in the very dirt. But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”