Archive for November, 2011

CHURUMURI POLL: Bangalore, best city to live in?

30 November 2011

One man’s paayasa is another’s poison. While Bangaloreans, especially the lucky “locals” living in the holy triangle of Malleshwaram, Basavanagudi and Indiranagar, crib and complain at what has become to their once-beautiful City, a new survey has, pinch yourself, rated the city of baked beans as the “best Indian city to live in“.

(It’s another matter, of course, that it is also the best city to take your life in, according to another recent survey.)

Anyway, the Mercer survey that ranks Bangalore as the “best city to live in” in India tells us nothing that most newspaper-reading, television-watching Indians didn’t know. What it tells us in a roundabout sort of way is how pathetic our big cities truly are or are becoming, and how bogus the exultation about Bangalore being No. 1 is.

Because, while Bangalore is certainly ahead of Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Calcutta among the Indian cities, it is way below most global cities. On a ranking of 221 cities, Bangalore it is at 141. In other words, there are at least 140 cities better than Bangalore, which (if you believe surveys like these, which incidentally has been done by a consulting and outsourcing firm) should convey to us how low living standards are in India that is Bharat.

Sure, there is plenty going for Bangalore: nice weather, peaceful, good food, friendly people, and a certain cosmopolitanism that only Bombay among the other big Indian cities has. But surely it is a stretch to wax eloquent about Bangalore’s “qulaity of living”, when you have other worthy contenders like, ahem, Mysore? And those horrible new steel and glass buildings, the traffic jams, the pedestrian-unfriendly roads and pavements, the fake firang accents, the new materialism….

So, is Bangalore really India’s best city to live in? Surely, you must be joking, Mr Friedman!

Also read: A City whose soul has been clinically removed

India as seen from the city of baked beans

Has the IT boom quelled Bangalore’s tensions?

C.N.R. RAO: If IT taks away Bangalore’s values, burn IT

Bangalore’s idiots who speak an idiolect at home

Bangalore’s dying. All we can do is change its name

Why Bangalore hates the English media culture

Real estate sharks gobbling up our best eateries

Why this Kolaveri Di to Why not Rang De Basanti?

29 November 2011

While the Kolaveri Di viral assumes pandemic proportions, a fine Punjabi song composed by a Tamilian inspires a bunch of youngsters—163 of them, actually—from the city formerly known as Bombay to set the floor of a railway station formerly known as Victoria Terminus ablaze.

Just.

Also read: When Kolaveri Di meets Sharad Pawar ji

12 reasons why Ashwin didn’t take a second run

29 November 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Offspinnner Ravichandran Ashwin’s heroics or lack of it is was hotly discussed all across the cricket-playing parts of India over the weekend, after India drew the third Test match against the West Indies in Bombay, falling short of their target by a mere one run.

While Ashwin’s ‘cool head’, in playing a defensive prod off the penultimate ball that made sure India didn’t lose the Test, came in for appreciation, critics jumped at his unjustifyable delay in galloping to the other end, thus being unable to complete the second run for an Indian victory.

In short, opinions are divided as they usually are and as indeed they were when Ravi Shastri handed back the strike to Maninder Singh in the famous tied Test against Australia 25 years ago.

Should he have? Or shouldn’t he?

Nevertheless, we must understand that too many things were happening too quickly for an youngster playing his first series: a dream debut, lots of wickets, a century, man-of-the-match, man-of-the-series, and a marriage thrown in between the first two Tests.

Too much, I say!

But how was our all-knowing, all-seeing political class viewing Ashwin’s heroics or lack of it?

Arun Jaitley: Ashwin’s miscommunication with Varun Aaron resulted in this. We demand a joint parliamentary committee or a full discussion in the public accounts committee.

Ajay Maken: Had BCCI come under RTI, such confusion wouldn’t have arisen, as I would have put a memo in his pocket on how to run a second run.

Mamata Banerjee: The imminent opening of FDI in retail must have so upset the little boy that he didn’t even bother to take the second run.

B.S. Yediyurappa: If only the Maharashtra chief minister had promised a 80×50 site, he would easily have taken 3 runs, one more than what was needed.

Mayawati: Had Rahul Gandhi not camped here all month in UP, thus diverting the natin’s attention, Ashwin would have definitely taken the second run.

Rahul Gandhi: Ashwin might have been thinking about corruption in UP, hence didn’t even bother about match or even cricket.

Karunanidhi: If Jayalalitha had given at least 50% of her saris to the just-married Ashwin’s wife, he would be running even now!

Jayalalitha: Ashwin already wears dark glasses like DMK chief; that may be one reason why he didn’t run the second run.

Shashi Tharoor: If only he was tweeting, he would have run like a bird!

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Honestly speaking, I had told what –his- name, to run faster. Don’t forget, he might have forgotten whatever I told him.

Sonia Gandhi: Ashwin soon will get a better pair of shoes from Wal-Mart which will make him run faster.

Manmohan Singh: Yes.

Unlikely this is for Sachin’s elusive 100th century

28 November 2011

At the very temple where the “God” of Indian cricket—Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar—has often come to seek deliverance from an ill omen, more earthly devotees perform the Made Seve, which entails rolling on the ground in the dining hall after cleaning the leaves used by their brethren to eat, at Kukke Subramanya in Sullia taluk of Dakshina Kannada, on Monday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is Sachin‘s superstition good?

Who is this man who has S.M. Krishna‘s left ear?

CHURUMURI POLL: Are you for FDI in retail?

28 November 2011

As naturally as night follows day, the Congress-led UPA government’s overnight decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in single and multi-brand retail has led the Opposition to oppose it. And, as naturally as day follows night, a move that was meant to be a way out of the policy paralysis has resulted in a paralysis of Parliament.

In together opposing FDI in retail, both the BJP and the Left have willy-nilly managed to paint the Congress as the natural party of reforms, that party having also opened the doors of the economy in 1991. But in rushing through the decision without building a consensus, the UPA has once again displayed a natural instinct for harakiri, with several key States going to the assembly elections in the next few months.

The pros and cons of FDI in retail are too wellknown to bear repetition. That it will bring in investments, that it will create jobs, that it will offer greater choice, and that it will hurt small stores, that our markets will be flooded with cheap foreign imports, etc. The government for its part claims it has introduced safeguards, like allowing it only in cities of over 10 lakhs’ population and so on.

In all the batting for the neighbourhood trader, not too much attention is being to the person whom FDI in retail is really being intended for: you, the consumer.

Do you want multinational corporations to sell you salt and milk? Or do you not care? If the mom-and-pop store in your neighbourhood could stave off the threat posed by Big Bazaar, Reliance and More outlets, is he really so dumb as to let the MNCs to run over him now? And is the mom-and-pop store really the embodiment of all things good?

Is it healthy for our democracy if policies are implemented on the basis of the parties in power? Are the established big Indian players protecting their investments using politicians? Or has the government raised the FDI bar so high so as to roll it back to reasonable limits when faced with opposition?

External reading: Who wants to shop in a big store anyway?

What do they know of dogs who don’t know this?

26 November 2011

Dog lovers, each one of them, have their own favourite something or the other with their pet. But can anything come close to a fullbodied hug from a dog larger than you while on two feet? At a show organised by the Bangalore canine club at the palace grounds in Bangalore on Saturday, a trainer gets a demonstration.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: In end, all we have that is ours is memories

Forget Congress, what about the state of BJP?

26 November 2011

Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

“Could it be that we have been so obsessed with the freeze in the UPA as to totally overlook the convulsions in the BJP?

“Over the past three weeks, the BJP has excelled itself in its own leaderless-ness, and rudderless-ness. Also, in its own ideological confusion. It’s been topped now by its totally knee-jerk opposition to FDI in retail. Having been a party of reform under Vajpayee, the BJP should have been at the forefront of pressing for not just retail FDI but other positive economic reform. On the contrary, it is using retail FDI to stall Parliament, as if another excuse was needed.

“Its comeback kid, Uma Bharti, is threatening to burn Walmart stores. It is still making noises against a national GST out of utter cussedness. Its threat to boycott P. Chidambaram in Parliament only underlines its lack of creative ideas in a political market that has exactly what a challenge the party needs: a power vacuum, an opportunity and a pent-up demand for solutions. But rather than come up with any ideas, vision documents, alternatives or solutions, it is borrowing everybody else’s nutty ideas.

“It has bought Baba Ramdev’s fantasy of bringing back “lakhs of crores” of black money. It has snatched the Left’s anti-Americanism, unthinking attacks on nuclear liability laws and instinctive opposition to all reform. That, when many of its own chief ministers are supporters of reform and are carrying out much of their own anyway.”

Cartoon: courtesy Prasad Radhakrishnan/ Mail Today

Read the full article: Self-opposition party

What happens when Kolaveri Di meets Sharad ji

25 November 2011

It’s been a strange, surreal week, bookended by a third-rate Tamil song with nursery school lyrics going viral because the non-singer, non-actor who features in it is married to, well, Rajnikanth‘s daughter—and an agriculture minister who has been playing cricket with the country’s farmers and consumers for so long that no one would have minded him being slapped by a more educated, better placed sardar than an autodriver called Harvinder Singh.

Mercifully, someone has found a way out of the astounding piety and political correctness that has greeted Dhanush‘s “Kolaveri Di” and Sharad Pawar‘s ignominy to make sense of the two landmark events of the 47th week of the year of the lord 2011.

Link via Hari Shenoy

How different is Rahul Gandhi from MNS and KRV?

23 November 2011

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: There is more than one way of looking at Rahul Gandhi‘s remark that the poor of Uttar Pradesh were being forced to migrate to other States to eke out a living. “How long will you keep begging in Maharashtra? How long will you keep working as labourers in Punjab?” was the Congress general secretary’s reported statement in his great-grandfather’s pocketborough, Phoolpur.

The most charitable way is to see Rahul Gandhi’s remark as the usual political rhetoric that precedes elections in the country.

Rahul Gandhi is heavily (and some say somewhat foolishly) invested in the assembly elections due in India’s largest State in a few months’ time. Showing up the “misgovernance” and lack of economic development in that State can be viewed as standard operating procedure for any politician.

However, it is equally tempting to see Gandhi’s statement as yet another reflection of his rather constricted two-nation theory of India: an India of the empowered urban-rich and an India of the forgotten rural-poor; an ameeron ki Hindustan and a garibon ki Hindustan; an India of growth and opportunties and an India of Dalits and tribals….

…in the creation of which he innocently believes Congress has had no role to play.

Not to be cowed down by the reaction to his initial statement, at successive rallies in Uttar Pradesh yesterday the “future PM of the country” made the following remarks:

# “Some leaders go to TV studios in Delhi and criticise my statement, but it is bitter reality. They do not pull down the windows of their cars to talk to beggars but I do. When I ask these beggars where they come from, they mostly tell me that they come from UP.”

# “Taxi drivers in Maharashtra come from UP because governments in the past 20 years had failed to bring industrialisation, employment, better roads, electricity or water to the state.”

# “When one talks of development, one talks of Haryana and Punjab. When one talks of IT, Bangalore and Hyderabad have the monopoly. Automobile industry goes to Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Nothing comes here. Congress has brought development and progress in other states, but UP is lagging behind.”

These statements are, of course, designed to show that his party is better than the other parties and it will be paradise on Uttar Pradesh earth if only they, the poor, would elect his party to power once again. That premise is always on weak ground when you consider the simple fact that the Congress was in power in most States for the better part of post-Independent India.

And wasn’t “Garibi Hatao” the slogan of his grandmom, Indira Gandhi?

But that’s not the point.

The point is there is a class-angle. Rahul Gandhi excessively focuses on “beggars” in Delhi, “taxi drivers” in Maharashtra and “labourers” in Punjab as if they are all victims of “distress migration“, as if the beggars, taxi drivers and labourers would all have been earning fat packets back home if only the Congress was in charge

As if there is no dignity of labour among taxi drivers and labourers.

Rahul Gandhi’s statement also opens up the more festering issue of rural to urban cross-country migration of unskilled and not-so-skilled labour that is a national even if “bitter reality”.

How exactly is Rahul Gandhi’s rant against the poor, the unskilled and the uneducated of UP going to Delhi, Maharashtra or Punjab different from (or more welcome than) the parochialism of the Maharashtra Navnirman Samithi (MNS) or the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), whose raison d’etre is built on deriding migrants or scaring the daylights out of them?

If one goes down this road, how much longer before other crackpots stand up and oppose intra-state migration, from Bidar or Gulbarga to Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore?

In a flat world where States are getting smaller, can every States provide all the employment for all its people?

More to the point, are only urban, skilled well-off workers eligible to flit from State to State or within a State, and work and settle down whereever they like because the Constitution of India allows them to do so? Should the rural, uneducated poor be condemned to the “bitter reality” come what may, for eternity?

On the flip side, can anybody make the case that Bangalore’s (or Hyderababad’s) IT-ITES-BPO boom is entirely fuelled and powered by local people? Or that there are no beggars, taxi drivers or labourers from “other” States in Congress-ruled or formerly Congress-ruled States?

Most malls in most cities—and Rahul Gandhi, who owns a couple of shops in one of Delhi’s glitzier malls, should know—are populated by youngsters from the Northeast. Are they just exploring India, or are they earning their livelihood elsewhere because they have no jobs or opportunities back home?

And who is responsible for that?

Are all those sex-workers from Karnataka who work in Goa and Bombay doing it for happiness? Are the Andhra construction workers building roads and bridges in different parts of the country doing so because there is no development in their home-State? And what about those carpenters and stone workers from Rajasthan?

To be fair, Rahul Gandhi knows the bitter reality more than most politicians because at least he has smelt the villages, but he also needs a reality check on his worldview.

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi

What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

Because, well, the s**t has hit the ceiling fan

21 November 2011

The BJP’s disgraceful tandav with democracy in Karnataka is coming full circle in Bellary. It was from the mineral-rich district that the party’s ascent towards power and the State’s descent towards anarchy began in 1999, when Sushma Swaraj rode on the shoulders of the Reddy brothers to take on Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha elections.

A week is a long time in politics; a decade is an eon.

Now Sushma Swaraj has washed her hands off the Reddy brothers. One of the Reddy brothers is in jail. B.S. Yediyurappa, who owed his chief ministerial position to the brothers’ “purchasing power”, has just about managed to come out of it here. The rape of the mines has come to a pause after the Lok Ayukta report.

And the Reddy brothers have declared revolt.

Their Man Friday, B. Sriramulu, who quit the legislative assembly after new chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda would not accommodate him in the cabinet, has quit the BJP, necessitating a poll. And he is now standing as an independent candidate, ranged against the very party he and his benefactors propped up with their dirty money.

As if to show that the ore has hit the roof, the Election Commission has allotted Sriramulu a ceiling fan as his election symbol. Which is held up like an exhaust fan behind him by an aide as he addresses a street-corner meeting, on Monday. Meanwhile, as Yediyurappa prepares to campaign against him (and the Reddy brothers), the tandav continues.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

It’s official, RG greater than IG greater than JN

19 November 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For the final anniversary of the year of India’s “Family No. 1″—the birth anniversary of the nation’s first woman prime minister Indira Gandhi—there are 70 advertisements amounting to 32 published pages in 12 English newspapers that have been surveyed through the year by sans serif.

With this anniversary, the total number of government ads to mark the three birth and three death anniversaries of the three former prime ministers from the family—Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi—in the year of the lord 2011 goes up to 393.

In effect, the government has bought space amounting to 190¼ pages in the 12 newspapers.

# The Times of India is the biggest beneficiary of the ad blitz to mark the six anniversaries among the general-interest newspapers with 65 published ads followed by Indian Express 62, Hindustan Times 57, The Hindu 42, The Pioneer 41, Mail Today 36, The Statesman 25 and The Telegraph 18 ads.

# The Economic Times and Business Standard top the list of the busines dailies with 14 ads each, followed by the Financial Express with 11 ads. Mint (from the Hindustan Times stable) has received just one ad for the six anniversaries.

# As a group, the Times group has received 79 ads in all, the Express group 73 ads, and the Hindustan Times 58 ads.

While it is natural that ToI and HT should garner so many ads given their large circulations in the national capital, the second place for the Express group is revealing considering it sells less than five per cent of market-leaders ToI and HT in the Delhi market, which both sell in excess of 5 lakh copies.

The tabloid Mail Today, which has the third highest circulation among the Delhi newspapers, too gets fewer ads than the Indian Express.

***

The affection of various Union ministries, departments and State governments for the three departed leaders of the family is revealing.

While Rajiv Gandhi tops the charts with 177 advertisements amounting to 89 pages for his birth and death anniversaries, Indira Gandhi comes second with 134 ads amounting to 64 pages, followed by Pandit Nehru at a lowly 82 ads amounting to 37¼ pages.

***

The breakup of the Indira Gandhi ads today are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 10 Indira ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 4¾ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 14 ads amounting to 5¾ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 5½ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 20-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 3 broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 18-page issue; 6 ads amounting to 2¾ broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 26-page issue; 0 ads amounting to 0 broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 16-page main issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 18-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ pages

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ pages

Mint (Berliner): 12-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, culture, water resources, statistics and programme implementation, north eastern region, micro small and medium enterprises, social justice and empowerment.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, there are ads of the national commission for women.

***

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

A dead ‘Tiger’, black bucks & cricket hypocrisy

18 November 2011

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Cricket in the bush. In a clearing of the famed Phinda Game Reserve in the vast grass lands of the Kwa Zulu Natal region of South Africa.

With rhinoceroses and cheetahs gawking from around long on; lions and elephants gazing in wonderment from around deep extra cover; with leopards and buffaloes glancing at the wicket from wide mid on.

A 12-over match between Indian and South African veterans grandiosely titled ‘World Cricket Legends in the Wild’.

Yet another version of the game.

Yet another concoction—-one more dimension to it, all for the personal aggrandisement and amusement of a privileged set of men who once padded up or held the cricket ball for India. And in this case, South Africa too.

Out of work and over-the-hill cricketers whose names figure in the veterans category, like Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Roger Binny and Ajay Jadeja are eminently entitled to their fun. Especially when they still find themselves in circulation one way or the other. And especially when someone else is paying for it.

Be it cricket on ice around the cold peaks of Jungfrau or playing a game in the bush where the ball goes for six if you perhaps hit it over the herd of zebra in the distance!

And then, there was Sharmila Tagore (in picture, above), who flipped the coin at the start of the game and applauded from one of the safari vans that formed the perimeter of the boundary.

How wonderful.

How nice to be part of the picnic and get some stress off the mind. To stretch out under the sycamore figs and the weeping boerbean trees, sipping a sherry on a perfect bushveld day under the glow of the South African sky.

But to hear about “the concept of utilising sport as a means of raising conservation awareness—an idea close to the heart of the late M.A.K. Pataudi” was a bit like hearing about the leopard in the bush holding a sermon on the goodness of eating papaya for breakfast!

The very same man of style and debonair deportment, who once so shockingly shot black buck for fun in the company of an equally degenerated bunch of friends who were either drunk with power and their reach in high places or plain old alcohol that day, when they randomly pressed their triggers at one of the most beautiful and gentlest of creatures on the planet?

Or does the conservation manual, in some inside page and in some less understood paragraph, as read with the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, sanction the shooting of black buck and the subsequent absconding from the police for a few weeks?

I’m a bit confused.

How fake can fake get; how hollow and quite utterly without even a semblance of responsibility can statements get. All to see a few lines in print the next day at the crack of dawn.

The cricket match in the bush was conceptualised by a group called, ‘Beyond the Boundaries’. Jaideep Sinh Parmar of the group has gone on to say that the enterprise was well received and beyond their expectations.

Well received by whom, I wonder.

The hippopotamus and the nyala?

Also read: How we successfully Save Our Tigers on page 3

S.L. BHYRAPPA: Literature as an agent of change

17 November 2011

Eight Kannada writers have received the Jnanpith Award since its inception. To Santheshivara Lingannaiah Bhyrappa aka S.L. Bhyrappa goes the distinction of becoming the very first one to bag the equally respected Saraswati Samman instituted by the K.K. Birla foundation, for his 2002 novel Mandra.

Bhyrappa who worked as a coolie in Bombay Central railway station, as a coach driver in Bombay, as a waiter in village restaurants, as a gatekeeper in village tent cinemas, and sold sherbet in village fairs and agarbathis for a living, before becoming an academic and writer, accepted the high honour in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Below is the full text of his acceptance speech, delivered in English:

***

By S.L. BHYRAPPA

I cannot reflect on my literature without reminiscing my life.

I was born into a very poor family in a village in Karnataka. My mother bore the brunt of earning and looking after the children as my father was an utterly irresponsible person. When I was ten years old, plague visited our family attacking me, my sister who was married just fifteeen days earlier and my elder brother.

Both of them died within a span of one hour and somehow I survived. After two years my mother too died of plague. I had to continue my education in a town four miles away from my village with free food obtained in seven houses as was the tradition those days.

When I was fourteen my sister aged four died of cholera. When I was fifteen, my brother aged six died of some undiagnosed illness. I carried his dead body on my shoulder to the cremation ground and burnt it assisted by a sweeper, a government servant of the very low caste in the hierarchy.

All these experiences started to bother me with the questions: what is the meaning of death?

Why do people die?

When I was studying in Mysore for my Intermediate, I met a professor of philosophy in the University and posed my problem. He gave me a Kannada translation of the Kathopanishad with a commentary. I read it with great concentration but could not find the answer to my nagging question.

Again I approached the professor and expressed my inability to understand the teaching of Yama to Nachiketa. The professor said they were questions which required a systematic study of philosophy for my BA. I followed his advice and took to study of philosophy in all seriousness for the bachelor’s and master’s course.

I studied philosophy with total concentration for twelve years as a student and eight years as a teacher and researcher in the subject. I did my PhD in aesthetics, on a comparative study of truth and beauty, and continued my research on beauty and goodness.

By this time, I realised two things: philosophy, which included all branches of knowledge in both India and ancient Greece, is now shed of cosmology, epistemiology, psychology and even many questions of ethics giving place to modern astrophysics, theoretical phyiscs, economics, sociology, experimental psychology and jurisprudence.

So, philosophy now remains a study of values.

I also realised that though the Vedas and the Upanishads form the foundation of Indian philosophy, it is Ramayana and Mahabharata which analysed and critically concretised our national ethos. By this time I had written my first major novel Vamsha Vriksha.

This critical experience mingled with the understanding of how values and even disvalues of life are concretised in Ramayana and Mahabharata made me realise that my vocation was not formal, dry, academic philosophy but exploration of human experience through the medium of imagination, that is literature.

Further I realised that the two most important steams of Indian philosophy, Vedanta and Buddhism, and their values emanate from the same source, viz death.

Siddhartha left his family at the sight of death and arrived at the philosophy of impermanence of life. The most important Upanishad, Katha, also starts with the problem of death and arrives at the philosophy of impermanence of mundane life and therefore asks us to seek what it calls the permanent.

Anyhow, the Indian value-consciousness awakens with the awareness of death.

Since I started writing and until now the general atmosphere in the country has been making a demand on creative writers to subserve literature to the cause of change, modernity and amelioration of the downtrodden.

Having had a background of philosophy, that too axiology, i.e. study of values, I have much sympathy with these expectations. But I consider it a disservice to both the values if one is made subservient to the other.

Not that literature is against change, modernity or amelioration, but it should maintain its identity and freedom. Literature itself is a vast, possibly the widest field in which all the values of life can be explored than in any other intellectual activity; in it the demands of political parties and social activists are also accommodated but with a higher vision and more critical analysis.

The ameliorists and activists try to constrict the aim of creative writing to what they consider the most important to the present and pressure the writer to write only in the way they think best. They attack the writers who do not fall in line as bourgeoise and rightists.

They do not realise that social issues change every couple of decades and literature restricting itself to these issues becomes obsolete. Throughout I stood firm and maintained my creative and intellectual freedom.

I am glad that of my recent novels, Mandra is selected for the Saraswati Samman. I have tried to explore the relation between art and other values of life through a musician, his surroundings and persons who come in interactive contact with him. Throughout the novel music itself is the main character.

I chose music as the principal motif because it is is the purest and therefore, the most raw and powerful medium when compared to other arts like painting, sculpture and literature. It moves through all the basic and mixed rasas ranging from the depth of Mandra to the height of Taarataara.

Mandra is a state of total inwardness, i.e. meditation.

Photograph: Chairman of the Indian council of cultural relations Dr Karan Singh (right) presenting the “Saraswati Samman-2010″ to S.L. Bhyrappa, in New Delhi on Wednesday. The president of K.K. Birla foundation Shobhana Bhartia looks on (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Does Kambar deserve Jnanpith ahead of Bhyrappa?

Kambar and Karnad, Bhyrappa and Puttappa & Co

PRAKASH BELAWADI: Everybody loves his Jnanpith winner

***

S.L. Bhyrappa on Avarana

S.L. Bhyrappa versus U.R. Anantha Murthy

S.L. Bhyrappa on the N.R. Narayana Murthy issue

POLL: Are 90% of Indians “mentally backward”?

15 November 2011

Notwithstanding the brouhaha over his comments on the idiots and ignoramuses of the media, about which plenty has been said, the former Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju has been singing the same song in interaction after public interaction.

Namely, that besides the media, there is something wrong with “We, the People of India”. In other words, there is something wanting in not just those who deliver the message but also those who receive it.

He mentioned it first in his TV interview with Karan Thapar on October 30:

“You know, 90% of the people in the country are mentally very backward, steeped in casteism, communalism, superstition and so on.”

He repeated it in his published comments on the role of media on November 5:

“It is true that the intellectual level of the vast majority of Indians is very low, they are steeped in casteism, communalism, and superstitions.”

He said it in his talk ‘What is India?’ at Jawaharlal Nehru University on November 14:

“Unfortunately, the intellectual level of a majority of our countrymen is very low.”

And he has again put his first comment on record in his clarification on November 15:

“I stated that in my opinion the majority of media people are of a poor intellectual level.”

Mentally very backward. Intellectual level is very low. Poor intellectual level.

Is Justice Markandey Katju correct in his surmise? Despite all our civilisational claims of our wisdom, is the “intellectual level” of a majority of Indians low? What is the barometer? Does our “mental backwardness” get reflected only in our casteism, communalism and superstition? Is it as high as 90 per cent?

Or is the learned judge, a Brahmin from Kashmir, talking down to the rest of his countrymen and women in a derisive sort of way, which “We, the People” would not be wrong to take offence at?

Also read: CHURUMURI test for journalists (and their critics)

‘Justice Markandey Katju‘s remarks are not wide of the mark’

‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

TV news channel editors too blast PCI chief

Has Justice Katju been appointed by Josef Stalin?

Nehru’s CTC (cost to country): 58 ads, 26 pages

14 November 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: There are 58 government advertisements amounting to 26¼ pages in 12 English newspapers today to mark the birth anniversary of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In contrast, there were 108 ads amounting to 48 pages to mark his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi‘s birthday in August.

All told, so far this year, between three death anniversaries (Nehru’s, Rajiv’s, Indira Gandhi‘s) and two birth anniversaries (Rajiv’s and Indira’s), various ministries of the Union government and Congress-ruled State governments have spent taxpayers’ money in buying 323 advertisements amounting to 158¼ published pages in the 12 surveyed newspapers.

The breakup of the Jawaharlal Nehru ads are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 11 Nehru ads amounting to 4½ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 30-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 24-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 2¼ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 2¾ broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2¼ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1 broadsheet page

***

The Economic Times: 30-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 16-page issue; 2 ads amounting to 1 page

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ page

Mint (Berliner): 24-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, human resource development, micro small and medium enterprises, youth affairs and sports.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan and Delhi. Besides, there are ads of Nehru Yuva Kendra and the national book trust.0

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Rajiv Gandhi death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Jawaharlal Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv Gandhi birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Indira Gandhi: 64 ads, 32 pages; Vallabhbhai Patel: 9 ads, 3 pages

How to prevent your car(t) from being stolen

13 November 2011

A rag picker grabs his 40 winks on a warm afternoon near K.R. Market, in Bangalore on Sunday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News 

Also read: A pit stop for a bucket seat without pushback

‘Why Narendra Modi will never be India’s PM’

13 November 2011

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of the Bombay newspaper DNA, in his weekly column:

“This week’s court conviction of 31 people for crimes including murder during the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat makes it clear that state Chief Minister Narendra Modi will never be prime minister of India. It would be foolish to try and channel even an iota of the prevailing anti-Congress sentiment around the country that shows no sign of abating in the foreseeable future towards this egotistical man.

“Each act by Modi demonstrates that he has no misgivings about the death of a thousand Indians during those riots; indeed he is contemptuous about making shows of generosity towards Muslims, as evidenced during his fast (an attempt to appropriate Anna Hazare’s effective anti-Congress tool) when he refused to wear a cap offered by a Muslim. Actually, what could be greater evidence than the fact that he hasn’t made the simple, no-cost political move of apologising for the post-Godhra riots?

“If Modi thinks that the lack of proof of a chain of culpability on technical grounds is going to be enough, he has another think coming. And no matter how compromised the credibility of police officer Sanjiv Bhatt may be, Modi’s government’s attempts to discredit him mirror the clumsy attempts by the Congress party to discredit Anna Hazare’s team.

“As much as Modi’s aggression and ruthlessness may appeal to that section of the Indian middle class which thinks it is high time India kicked into a higher gear, it does not appeal to most other Indians; and no one can become prime minister unless they appeal to a majority of Indians (we don’t have direct elections to the post, but even in pre- or post-poll tie-ups, regional leaders are going to think twice about hitching their fortunes to this man).

“India Inc can’t stop gushing about how Modi is the man of the future, and how he will be the one to take India to the next stage of rapid economic growth, but these are contestable claims. I wonder whether or not Gujarat, which has traditionally seen high economic activity in India, would have grown without Modi at the helm. I also wonder how many Gujarati industrialists are willing to concede that their rise and success is due to Modi….

“An apt analogy might be that Narendra Modi is the Rick Perry of Indian politics. Except that Rick Perry did not preside over the murder of nearly a thousand Texans.”

Read the full column: Why Narendra Modi will never be PM

Also read: Why Nitish Kumar, not Narendra Modi, could be NDA face

CHURUMURI POLL: Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi in 2014?

Why our silly middle-class loves Narendra Modi

Gujarat was vibrant long before Narendra Modi 

Why US is right to deny Narendra Modi a visa

CHURUMURI test for journalists (and their critics)

11 November 2011

To the delight of those who think that the media is doing a lousy job (and that presumably is 90% of the internet population), the press council chairman, Justice Markandey Katju, has hit journalists—especially journalists who show off their college credentials—where it hurts most.

In saying that he did not think that we have “any knowledge of economic theory or political science or literature or philosophy“, the former Supreme Court judge has stopped just short of calling journalists idiots and ignoramuses. To no one’s surprise, the punctured egos have responded in kind (hereherehere).

But what about news consumers—newspaper and magazine readers, television watchers, internet surfers—who too think that Indian journalists are idiots and ignoramuses? How educated and schooled are they? What have they read and what is their knowledge of economic theory, political science, literature and philosophy?

At the invitation of churumuriMastermind India runner-up Prof M.V. Rajeev Gowdaa Ph.D. from Wharton who heads the Centre for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and is a Reserve Bank of India director—has compiled a 12-question quiz, quotes really, from politics, poetry, philosophy, business, spirituality that should reveal whether the learned justice is on target.

Or not.

You can take this quiz in confidence, of course, but you are also free to mail the answers to churumuri [dot] churumuri [at] gmail [dot] com to receive the answer key. Googling for the answers, Prof Gowda assures us, is akin to “paid news”. So don’t.

Your time starts now.

***

QUOTE ME IF YOU CAN

Who is credited with each of the following quotations?

1.Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.

2. A king can protect his kingdom only when he himself is protected from persons near him, particularly his wives and children.

3. The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.

4. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

5. An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.

6. Neither in this world nor elsewhere is there any happiness in store for him who always doubts.

7. Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex, the ugly ones included.

8. Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.

9. Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

10Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

OR

Why should the village become the locus of the political structure?  The village is a ‘cesspool, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and communalism.’ Why would we want to entrust political rule and development to it?

11. You are free, you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of …. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the state. You will find that in course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.

12. Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil.

OR

He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.

***

Terms & Conditions: This quiz is open only to Indian journalists or journalists of Indian origin, and their critics. churumuri reserves the right to cancel, modify, extend or discontinue the quiz or any part thereof, without giving any reasons or prior notice if Google or Wikipedia has been used. Please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery of churumuri answer key. All disputes shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the court of public opinion only. If you have read all this and reached this far, congratulations, Justice Katju would like to hear from you.

The way to the top is never very easy or smooth

8 November 2011

It doesn’t look half as messy when it is ready to ride. But there’s more below the escalator than meets the eye, as workers on the Namma Metro project slog away on R.V. Road, in Bangalore on Tuesday.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News 

Also view: The complete Namma Metro photo portfolio

How TV channels will cover Aishwarya’s baby

8 November 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The priorities of the Indian media are in extreme sharp focus courtesy Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who told the world just what he thought of us: idiots and ignoramuses diverting the attention of the people by peddling filth and froth, and deliberately dividing the country on religious lines.

Justice Katju’s “irresponsible” talk has been shot down by the chairman of the National Broadcasting Standards Authority, Justice J.S. Verma, who believes that it is time to shut down the press council as it has been ineffective in carrying out its mandate of protecting press freedom and maintaining/improving standards.

All that is for public consumption. But, behind the scenes…

It is clear that TV channels, news professionals and their “handlers” have been rattled by Justice Katju’s demand for an expansion of the press council’s powers to include electronic media. Which is why Justice Katju’s appointment soon after remitting office as a judge of the Supreme Court of India is being openly questioned.

It is also clear someone’s watching—and waiting to strike. So, the Broadcast Editors’ Association has put out an “advisory” to TV news channels on how to cover—wait for it—Amitabh Bachchan‘s expected grandchild; the first child of his son Abhishek Bachchan and former Ms Universe, Aishwarya Rai.

According to the Indian Express, the 10 directives read like “a good-manners’ guide to TV journalism”:

# No pre-coverage of the event

# Story of birth of baby to run only after, and on the basis of, official announcement

# Story not to run on breaking news band

# No camera of OB (outdoor broadcasting) vans at hospital or any location related to the story

# Go for photo-op or press conference if invited

# Not carry any MMS or photo of the child

# No astrology show to be done on this issue

# No 11.11.11 astrology show to be done

# Duration of story to be around a minue/90 seconds

# Unauthorised entry into hospital not permitted

Obviously, these guidelines strike at the very root of Indian news television, as we have known it. So, will “your channel” follow these directives? Do you, the viewer, care if these guidelines are observed in the breach, or violated wholesale? And if it does, do you, the viewer, have the energy to write to the NBSA and lodge a complaint?

There is a media history to the Bachchans. Big B has had a mostly messy affair with the media. When he was in hospital, an Aaj Tak reporter (now with NDTV) barged into his room in nurse’s clothes. The Aishwarya-Abhishek wedding was covered in its minutest details. It was even alleged that Aishwarya had been married off to a tree to ward off a bad omen, etc.

Will the latest AB baby have a flawless entry?

And, speaking unsolicited for the baby, does it deserve such a meek, uncelebrated entry, given that the only thing that has sustained Abhishek’s and Aishwarya’s rather sad professional career has been the oxygen of manufactured publicity to the pop of the flashbulbs (when they are pushing some silly product)?

And will the new Bachchan carry the blame for the rest of his/ her life of having driven out India TV out of business?  (Just kidding.)

***

File photograph: Amitabh Bachchan followed by wife Jaya Bachchan, daughter Shweta Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan arrive to offer special pujas at the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi in 2006, on the eve of their wedding. (AP Photo/Rajesh Chaurasia)

***

Also read: When Prabhu Chawla called up Amar Singh

Amitabh Bachchan versus Mumbai Mirror 

When Amitabh‘s cold becomes hot news

Jug Suraiya takes on the mighty Bachchan

Sting camera that Amitabh Bachchan didn’t see

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

7 November 2011

“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief  of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post,  The Independent and The Pioneer.

With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and got paid Rs 500 for his services).

Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.

***

By VINOD MEHTA

Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].

The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.

Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.

A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.

While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.

‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.

It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.

Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’

And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.

***

On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.

That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of IndiaDileep Padgaonkar.

While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.

Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers, [Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.

Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.

Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.

I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.

When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.

(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)

Illustration: courtesy Sorit GuptoOutlook

Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla

Buy the book onlineIndia Plaza offer prize Rs 299

***

Disclosures apply

***
Also readS. Nihal Singh on Arun Shourie: Right-wing pamphleteer

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper

How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

Lessons for a Kannadiga in swachcha Cantonese

6 November 2011

The question of English continues to puzzle India and Indians even after six decades of independence from the English. Every academic year, every government in Karnataka (and elsewhere) ties itself up in knots on just when or whether English should be introduced into the syllabuses of students.

Buddhijeevis like the novelist U.R. Anantha Murthy argue that a child must speak and learn exclusively in her mother tongue until she enters high school lest she become totally disconnected from her social and spiritual roots. Dalit activists suggest that the promotion of Kannada is an upper-class ploy to keep them away from the fruits of modern learning.

As the historian Ramachandra Guha writes in The Telegraph, Calcutta,

“Dalits say that once the Brahmins denied them access to Sanskrit; now, the descendants of those Brahmins wish to deny the Dalits access to the modern language of power and privilege, namely, English.”

While we continue to look at speaking English merely through the prism of power, privilege and livelihood, there is yet another dimension to it, as Sunaad Raghuram discovers in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

***

By SUNAAD RAGHURAM in Hong Kong

As the Jet Airways Boeing 777 began to activate its ailerons in sight of the Hong Kong International airport by the South China Sea, and heaved its gargantuan body sideways, aligning its pudgy nose with the dark grey of the runway in the distance, I peered groggily out of the window to see the lazy bobbing of fishing boats in the haze covered morning, with the October sun still haven’t woken up.

Out of the swank, squeaky clean airport which seemed to have halls large enough to house an assortment of aircrafts within their own expansiveness, I approached an elderly man and asked him the way to the taxi stand.

“No English,” he waved.

Even as I wondered if it was one of those things that I spoke to that one man in the vicinity who incidentally did not speak English, I noticed a line of red taxis, all Toyota Crowns.

Hailing one of them, I pushed my baggage into the rear of the car and sat down next to the driver and said, ‘Hi, good morning. Let’s go the Harbour Plaza Hotel, Tokwawan’.

The ease with which I threw the hotel’s name at him, I thought, would give him the impression that I was one of those travellers whose trip to Hong Kong was perhaps the 17th! The taxi driver looked at me, smiled a weak smile and didn’t do anything much else.

“Well, this is where I need to go,” I said to him, pointing to the name of the hotel and its address that I had written down on a piece of paper. Only when he stared blankly at it did I realize that even he did not speak or read or understand English.

Getting off the car, I walked up to a woman in uniform, may be an airport volunteer.

“I need to reach Tokwawan, the Harbour Plaza Hotel.”

Perhaps the familiarity of the sounds that I uttered rang a bell in her. She walked up to the taxi and said something which immediately elicited a nod, a smile and a wave of the hand from the driver who beckoned me to hop in.

Off we drove past the harbour bridge with its amazing pylons and cables of sheer steel that resembled its more famous cousin, the Golden Gate in San Francisco; the mesmerising views of the sea and the skyscrapers along its edge that seemed to rise out of nowhere amidst the clouds; the emerald coloured hills in the distance with their velvety looks; and finally the hotel.

On the third day, on a train along the Orange Line from Hong Kong Central to the Disney Resort in Sunny Bay on Lantau Island, I did small conversation with a Filipino woman who spoke impeccable English.

“Why don’t people in Hong Kong speak English all that much although the whole area was under the British for such a long time,” I ventured to ask.

She smiled and answered my question in just one word: “Defiance.” And then she said, “the thought here was; you have come to rule us, so you better learn our language.”

Yet Hong Kong is so much like legendary New York in parts. The mind boggling high rises; the million apartment blocks that have so many houses in them that the architects and the builders themselves seem to have lost count; the vibrancy, the power, the pace, the glitz, the showiness and the social electricity of Tsim Shat Tsui, the central business district; with its grand hotels, boutiques, restaurants, shops and showrooms that showcase the very best of the world’s fashion from clothes to jewellery to watches and shoes.

Louis Erand, Rado, Ebel, Breitling, Tag Heuer and Rolex. A piece of the last named brand that I chanced upon was a diamond encrusted one with a whopping $ HK 3,56,000 price tag, the equivalent of a little over Rs 21 lakh! And then, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Blvgari.

The magnificence of Victorian grandeur amidst modern day razzmatazz. Bentleys, Ferraris and Lamborghinis zoom around as if they are regulation here.

But in their showrooms somewhere in Hong Kong, I suspect, you better ask in Cantonese!

A pit stop for a bucket seat without pushback

5 November 2011

Life is not all make-believe in the latest frontier conquered by Formula One. After a hard morning’s work, a rag picker takes a breather in the very slush and grime he later has to wade his hands in, near the Krishnarajendra (KR) market in Bangalore on Saturday. –

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

‘Justice Katju’s remarks not wide of the mark’

3 November 2011

In all the primal breast-beating over the new Press Council chairman’s sweeping generalisations, few journalists have tried to sanely dissect Justice Markandey Katju‘s remarks. Indeed, as a tweet ironically noted: “Most of the articles opposing Justice Katju’s interview actually end up proving whatever he said about the media there.”

Kumar Ketkar, the editor of the Marathi daily Divya Marathi, took on the pashas of political correctness on television but was shouted down. The veteran Bombay-based opinion writer Sidharth Bhatia attempts a more nuanced parsing of Justice Katju’s observations in today’s Asian Age.

***

By SIDHARTH BHATIA

Anyone who is concerned about the Indian media scene today, whether he is connected to it as a practitioner or as a consumer, would probably agree with many of the comments made by Justice Markandey Katju, the new chairman of the Press Council.

In an interview to Karan Thapar — who chose to play just a straightforward questioner rather than a provocateur — Justice Katju was sharply critical of the media; among other things, he called it obsessed with frivolous matters (filmstars etc), invidious in its approach and anti-people.

These are harsh words and sweeping generalisations but cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Justice Katju has a very poor opinion of the Indian media. He lists three ways in which it is not serving the interests of Indian society: it diverts the attention of the Indian people from real problems (economic issues) by over-focussing on trivia, cricket, Bollywood and the like; it divides the people by highlighting, without evidence, the connection of organisations like the Indian Mujahideen moments after a bomb blast, which subtly conveys the message that all Muslims are terrorists; and instead of enlightening citizens, it propagated superstitions, astrology and the like.

Justice Katju does not mince words in the interview: “The majority (of people in the media), I’m sorry to say, are of a very poor intellectual level… I doubt whether they have any idea of economic theory or political science, philosophy, literature. I have grave doubts whether they are well read in all this, which they should be.”

This is strong language coming from anyone, and when they come from the man who will preside over the Press Council, which often hears complaints against the media, they assume an extra edge. They clearly set the tone of what his tenure will be like.

Those who have been used to the Press Council being a generally benign, even toothless body, would do well to pay attention to what he thinks.

Now much of what Justice Katju says is not new.

In media circles, the falling standards of the profession have been a subject of discussion for a very long time. For example, it is almost universally admitted that younger journalists joining newspapers, magazines or television channels are much less aware of Indian history, politics and society than their counterparts a few decades ago.

This can partly be blamed on the education system, which relies more on rote learning than on genuine enquiry. A system where students can and do get 99 per cent marks can only be an assembly line where talent and intellect is measured by grades which reflect a good memory and little else.

To cater to the demand for journalists, colleges have eagerly taken to offering media courses at the bachelors level, but without the requisite faculty; a lot of the output of these courses is, to put in bluntly, rubbish. But such is the need in a sector that has grown exponentially over the last decade and more, that almost everyone lands a job soon enough, writing or thinking skills be damned.

There are scores of channels and hundreds of publications looking for staff and the general tendency is to just take what you can get and then hope that they will learn something on the job.

The bigger question is, what of the job itself?

Regrettably, Justice Katju’s remarks about the frivolous nature of the media are not wide of the mark. Though it is wrong to paint the entire media scene with one brush — the “media” can include the serious as well as the trashy channels, the quality papers as well as the rags — the perception is that TV channels are about hyperbole and the newspapers are dumbing down news.

The person holding the remote control sees either panellists shouting at each other, film songs, filmstars airing their views on everything, cricket and astrology. And this is on news, not entertainment channels. One often hears viewers ask — why do correspondents get so breathless while reporting, why do anchors shout so much? Bollywood stories make it on the front pages and the supplements are of course full of glamour.

But this is not the whole truth.

There are sober anchors as well as serious and competent reporters (and good journalism too). Many TV channels give us top quality stories on the “real issues”, many newspapers write on important matters that concern the polity. But, as any mediaperson will tell you, perception triumphs reality and Justice Katju is articulating the common perception.

As a judge and as an erudite and analytical mind, one only wishes he had taken a more balanced and nuanced view instead of blindly hitting out at the profession.

The Editors’ Guild has come out with a condemnation of Justice Katju’s remarks. Media practitioners also need to point out to Justice Katju and other critics that such broad brushstroke criticism does not do justice to the many thousands of journalists who do a good and honest job.

The average journalist is not on television, not a columnist with his or her picture in the papers, not someone who regularly hobnobs with the rich and powerful at seminars or parties. Tucked away in small papers (and big too) are journalists who do their work with great competence and sincerity. They do know about history, economic theory, literature and poetry and do understand the role of the media in a democratic and changing society. They do not hanker after sarkari titles or parliamentary seats or even television panel discussions.

Justice Katju wants stronger powers for the Press Council, which he wants to rechristen the Media Council so that television can be brought under its purview. In extreme cases, he wants to suspend licences of publications and channels. This may sound wonderful and path-breaking but is not the silver bullet that will change things overnight. Journalists are not going to become smarter, wiser or more mature.

The media is not going to shed its so-called obsession with trivia.

What is more, managements, who too have some responsibility at the state of affairs, are not likely to mend their ways. All it will do is to set up an antagonistic relationship between the media and the council; the early signs that this will happen are already visible.

Any attempt to “reform” the media and make it more professional will have to be a long drawn, process-driven affair. As chairman of the Press Council, Justice Katju can definitely contribute to that transition, but not if he is holding onto his prejudices and carrying a danda.

(This piece was originally published in the Asian Age and is reproduced here with permission)

Also read: ‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

TV news channel editors too blast PCI chief

Has Justice Katju been appointed by Josef Stalin?

CHURUMURI POLL: Press Council versus media?

3 November 2011

The “tendentious and offensiveremarks of the new chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, on the state of the media and the quality of journalists—and his articulation for greater powers, including over television news channels—has predictably, a) touched a raw nerve, b) stirred a hornet’s nest, c) set the cat among the paper tigers, d) exposed the media’s achilles’ heel, or e) all of the above.

The Editors’ Guild of India*, the Broadcast Editors’ Asociation, the Indian Journalists’ Association have all reacted sharply, while public opinion seems to be on the side of the press council chief, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. To a question on the CNN-IBN programme “Face the Nation” last night, 73% viewers said there was no need for Justice Katju to apologise (but who believes these polls any way?).

While Justice Katju tries to “place” an article in newspapers to further elucidate his views and some in the media say he said nothing that should not have been said, at least two Delhi-based English newspapers have thought the controversy fit enough for editorials.

Mint, the business daily from the Hindustan Times stable, has an edit titled “Educating Justice Katju“:

“Perhaps Justice Katju is not aware of what journalists do. The basic task of any journalist is to gather news and report it. Most of his or her working day is spent doing that. This is true of the cub reporter and of the senior editor.

“It is true that newsrooms, newspaper columns and TV channels are noisy. But that is only a reflection of the society at large: journalists don’t exist in ether. What is true of Indians is true of Indian journalists.

“Now it would be wonderful if all journalists could appreciate Caravaggio, read Catullus’s poetry, know Thucydides by the chapter and creatively use advanced macroeconomics to interpret the daily ebb and flow of events. It would not only make the press a more cultured institution, but possibly make India a better country. It is also true that few, if any, journalists are enabled to do that.

“These are expensive tastes that require extensive (and yes, expensive) education. Few journalists can afford that, even if most of them want to. The reason: there’s a huge divergence between personal and social returns from such education. This is a wider problem and it afflicts many other professions. To blame the press for being “illiterate” is misinformed, if not downright wrong.”

 

Mail Today, the compact daily from the India Today group, pulls no punches. “He doesn’t deserve to be press council chief” is its rather straightforward headline:

“Justice Katju’s attitude towards the media is one of undisguised disgust. Clearly, he seems to have been misled about his work as the PCI Chairman.

“He seems to think that he has been appointed by Josef Stalin to forcefully “ modernise” the media. Actually he has been appointed under the Press Council of India Act and his main job is to ensure that the press remains free in this country.

“A second task is that of raising the standards of the media discourse, not through chastisement— where, in any case he can merely admonish— but dialogue and persuasion. But this is something you cannot do if you hold the media in utter contempt.

“It would appear that Justice Katju, who had a streak of the self- publicist even as a judge, is pursuing a bizarre agenda which may end up embarrassing those who pushed for his appointment as the Chairman of the Press Council of India.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: ‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

TV news channel editors too blast PCI chief

Raju Narisetti: ‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

Aakar Patel: Indian journalism is regularly second-rate


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