Posts Tagged ‘AFP’

What Sonia Gandhi’s illness reveals about media

22 September 2011

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, scooped by Indian Express photographer Anil Sharma, as she leaves her daughter’s residence in New Delhi on 14 September 2011.

Nothing has exposed the hollowness of so-called “political reporting” in New Delhi, and the fragilility of editorial spines of newspapers and TV stations across the country, than the Congress president Sonia Gandhi‘s illness.

Hundreds of correspondents cover the grand old party; tens of editors claim to be on on first-name terms with its who’s who; and at least a handful of them brag and boast of unbridled “access” to 10 Janpath.

Yet none had an inkling that she was unwell.

Or, worse, the courage to report it, if they did.

Indeed, when the news was first broken by the official party spokesman in August, he chose the BBC and the French news agency AFP as the media vehicles instead of the media scrum that assembles for the daily briefing.

Sonia Gandhi has since returned home but even today the inability of the media—print, electronic or digital—to throw light on just what is wrong with the leader of India’s largest political party or to editorially question the secrecy surounding it, is palpable.

Given the hospital she is reported to have checked into, the bazaar gossip on Sonia has ranged from cervical cancer to breast cancer to pancreatic cancer but no “political editor” is willing to put his/her name to it, taking cover under her right to privacy.

About the only insight of Sonia’s present shape has come from an exclusive photograph shot by Anil Sharma of The Indian Express last week.

In a counter-intuitive sort of way, Nirupama Subramanian takes up the silence of the media in The Hindu:

“That the Congress should be secretive about Ms Gandhi’s health is not surprising. What is surprising, though, is the omertà being observed by the news media, usually described by international writers as feisty and raucous.

“On this particular issue, reverential is the more fitting description. Barring editorials in the Business Standard and Mail Today, no other media organisation has thought it fit to question the secrecy surrounding the health of the government’s de facto Number One.

“A similar deference was on display a few years ago in reporting Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s uneven health while he was the Prime Minister. For at least some months before he underwent a knee-replacement surgery in 2001, it was clear he was in a bad way, but no news organisation touched the subject. Eventually, the government disclosed that he was to undergo the procedure, and it was covered by the media in breathless detail.

“Both before and after the surgery, there was an unwritten understanding that photographers and cameramen would not depict Vajpayee’s difficulties while walking or standing. Post-surgery, a British journalist who broke ranks to question if the Prime Minister was fit enough for his job (“Asleep at The Wheel?” Time, June 10, 2002) was vindictively hounded by the government.

“Almost a decade later, much has changed about the Indian media, which now likes to compare itself with the best in the world. But it lets itself down again and again. The media silence on Ms Gandhi is all the more glaring compared with the amount of news time that was recently devoted to Omar Abdullah‘s marital troubles. The Jammu & Kashmir chief minister’s personal life has zero public importance. Yet a television channel went so far as to station an OB van outside his Delhi home, and even questioned the maid….

“Meanwhile, the media are clearly not in the mood to extend their kid-glove treatment of Ms Gandhi’s illness to some other politicians: it has been open season with BJP president Nitin Gadkari‘s health problems arising from his weight. Clearly, it’s different strokes for different folks.”

Read the full article: The omerta on Sonia‘s illness

Also read: Why foreign media broke news of Sonia illness

How come no one spotted Satyam fraud?

How come no one saw the IPL cookie crumbling?

How come no one in the media saw the worm turn?

Aakar PatelIndian journalism is regularly second-rate

Everybody loves a good car, not a good filter

10 December 2009

The announcement of the launch of Tata Nano, the small car produced by the Tatas, saw the media falling over itself heralding the arrival of the “People’s Car”.

The fact that the car was priced at Rs 100,000 was enough to result in long front-page stories; glowing feature articles on Indian engineering and enterprise; breathless test drives; and fawning editorials and interviews with the man behind the car, Ratan Tata.

So, how does the same media treat the launch of Tata Swach, the water filter/ purifier that is priced at Rs 749 and Rs 999, and in a country like India is likely to reach more people and change more lives, and launched by the same man, Ratan Tata?

In alphabetical order:

AFP (news agency): 540 words

Associated Press:  772 words

BBC: 245 words

Business Standard: 381 words

DNA: 308 words

Press Trust of India: 477 words

Economic Times: 400 words

Indian Express: 415 words

Hindu Businessline: 461 words

Hindustan Times: 162 words on the filter, 333 words of an interview

The Times of India: 202 words

Copenhagen, anybody?

Carbon intensity?

Photograph: courtesy Paul Noronha/ The Hindu Businessline

Also read: And Ratan Tata sang, PR kiya tho darna kya?

If we can get a car for Rs 1 lakh, why can’t we…?

There’s nothing lost if the Nano isn’t produced

‘What Henry Ford did then, Ratan Tata has now’

Can India survive the Nano?

Tata, turtles and corporate social responsibility

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Tatas scrap the Nano?

What did Pattabhi Jois have that PVN did not?

6 June 2009

Journalism, it is said in jest, is basically about letting readers who did not know that a certain somebody was alive that a certain somebody is dead. Even by that morbid yardstick, it can be said that our celebrity-obsessed, hit-and-run media does a pretty bad job of saluting the good and the great who pass into the ages.

The ashtanga yoga legend K. Pattabhi Jois passed away in Mysore on 18 May 2009 at the age of 94.

Yet all he got from the Star of Mysore was a couple of paragraphs and six from the newspaper of record, The Hindu. None of the others fared any better: The Times of India with an “edition” in Mysore and Bangalore ran an AFP screed; Deccan Herald had all of 247 words. had a slideshow.

Possibly because of his long association with the West, possibly because of the Hollywood actors and singers who were disciples, Pattabhi Jois got a fair deal from the foreign papers. The New York Times ran a full obituary as indeed did The Daily Telegraph, London, and there were six paragraphs in The Guardian.

Now, The Economist, whose obituary page is a must-read, has run a obit on Jois, which we publish here in full sans permission, to underline the point that if you do not where you come from, you will never know where to go. Then again, The Economist, despite being a mouthpiece of capitalism, did not run the obituary of P.V. Narasimha Rao.


One sure sign that yoga has entered the mainstream of Western society, or at least the urbane bits of it, is that its practitioners have splintered into separate and sometimes competitive tribes. In spas, resorts and studios from Byron Bay, Australia to Big Sur, California, and wherever else one might expect Priuses on the roads and organic kale on the tables, the question is less likely to be “Do you do yoga?” than simply “Ashtanga or Iyengar?”

If the answer is Ashtanga, that has everything to do with Pattabhi Jois—“Guruji”, as his disciples called him. The word Ashtanga, “eight limbs”, originally meant the eight stages yogis must traverse to reach enlightenment, only one of which, asana or “postures”, is the sort of thing Westerners associate with yoga. But used in Mr Jois’s way, which is how most Westerners understand it now, Ashtanga meant stretching, balancing and swinging to the relentless rhythm set by a little, smiling, potbellied man in an undershirt and Calvin Klein shorts, crying “Ekam, inhale! dve, exhale! trini, inhale! catavari, exhale!”, until every member of the class was breathing like Darth Vader and running with rivers of sweat.

This was just how Mr Jois liked it. The intense internal heat generated by his sort of yoga was meant to purify and cleanse the body. For him, yoga was “99% practice and 1% theory”, as he liked to say in his squeaky, mischievous voice. Though he was the son of a Brahmin priest, and knew the teachings, anyone asking him for deeper philosophy would get a smirk in reply, or a scrap of his famously broken English. Why, for instance, did he insist that one must enter the Lotus position right leg first? “Practice and all is coming,” Mr Jois would say, and leave it at that.

He disdained the fastidious and perfectionist alignment of postures that some of his rivals practised in chilly yoga studios. He scorned Iyengar, the careful and medicinal branch of the art which, like his, arrived in the West in the 1960s, in which middle-aged ladies spent an eternity studying how to spread their toes properly while standing, before building complex poses with straps, blocks and chairs. His Ashtangis were younger and fitter, more likely to have Om tattoos and rippling shoulder muscles, and to start their exercises with a chant of “Guruji!” to a portrait of him pinned up on the wall.

His yoga poses came in sets and sequences that never varied. Do the same sets again and again, Mr Jois believed, and the body would, over time, supply its own grace. The poses did not change when he taught his daughter’s son, whom he was grooming to carry on the tradition after losing one son to death and growing distant from another. Nor did they vary for new, pale, stiff arrivals from the West at his school in Mysore, in India; nor for the Hollywood celebrities, from Madonna to Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow, who made the pilgrimage to catch Guruji on one of his world tours.

What changed was only how many of the six sequences—in theory, one for each day of the yoga week—the student was able and allowed to do. Each set had a theme, and they got harder and harder. The first, with many forward bends, was cleansing and calming; the second, with lots of back bends, was stimulating, and so on. The later ones were otherworldly in their contortions. It was said that only a handful of people could do all six.

Mr Jois first saw these yoga postures performed in one connected sequence in the 1920s, when he was 12. He was watching a demonstration by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a charismatic guru who would teach all the principal yogis who later brought yoga to the West. Electrified, he became Krishnamacharya’s student the next day. His teacher made him start at daybreak, with sun salutations towards the east until he was sweaty and hot. Then followed postures, shoulderstands, headstands, deep breathing in the Lotus position and meditative rest. Strong, flexible and easily bored, the boy had found a discipline that challenged him.

After running away from his village with two rupees in his pocket, Mr Jois eventually managed to study at Mysore and then began to pass on what he had learnt. At first he taught in obscurity, in one small room with a grubby carpet, and only other Brahmin men. But from the late 1960s onwards, as the perfume of joss sticks drifted over Western civilisation, yoga caught on there too. A hippie fan brought him to California for a visit in 1975, and his fame spread.

Among his followers, Mr Jois inspired a cultish devotion. But his students were not unaware of their teacher’s contradictions. What had happened, for example, to the yogic principle of ahimsa, non-violence? A good number of Mr Jois’s students seemed constantly to be limping around with injured knees or backs because they had received his “adjustments”, yanking them into Lotus, the splits or a backbend. And what about the yogic principle of brahmacharya, sexual continence? Women followers, it was said, received altogether different adjustments from the men. Most mysteriously, why had Mr Jois himself apparently stopped practising his sort of yoga decades ago? Was that another instance of the wisdom of the East?

Courtesy: The Economist, London

Also read: Yoga guru Pattabhi Jois is dead. RIP.

Jois at work: ‘Bad lady, why forgetting Bakasana?’

At the pearly gates in dhoti, vibhuti, pump shoes

All that you wanted to know about Aravind Adiga

16 October 2008

There’s nothing like a nice little surprise. And a nice little surprise this week is a Madras-born, Mangalore-bred, Tamil-loving, Kannada-speaking former journalist who has studied at Oxford, Princeton and is all of 33 years of age walking away with the Booker Prize for his debut novel, The White Tiger.

But who exactly is Aravind Adiga?

He tells the Madras edition of The Times of India today:

“I was born in Madras, in a clinic on Poonamallee High Road, not far from where my grandfather, Mohan Rau, owned a nursing home and a mansion (the latter still stands). My mother, who grew up in Madras, spoke Tamil fluently. But the language spoken inside my house was Kannada, as my ancestors had come from Udupi, in Karnataka.

“When I was six, and before I could learn Tamil at school, my father decided to relocate to Mangalore.  My mother was never happy out of Chennai; she kept our house in Mangalore noisy with MGR films and Tamil songs; and her happiest moments came when she met someone with whom she could talk Tamil. For years, she (and I) clung on to a desperate hope that my father would go back to Chennai. My mother did make it back to Chennai, but not as she and I had hoped: in January 1990, she was admitted to the Cancer Institute in Chennai, and died there.”

But the media reaction to Adiga’s Booker has been relatively tepid, compared to the over-the-top reception to Arundhati Roy‘s Booker (The God of Small Things) and Salman Rushdie‘s (Midnight’s Children).

So, what exactly is this book that this “Kann-Adiga” has written that has fetched him this huge prize?


Were you expecting to win the Booker?

I thought I would be out partying in Soho by now (Sydney Morning Herald)

In a line, describe your book.

It’s the story of a man’s quest for freedom; and of the terrible cost of that freedom (Financial Times). It revolves around the great divide between those Indians who have made it and those who have not (Agence France Presse).

What was the idea?

It’s an attempt to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass — without sentimentality or portraying them as mirthless, humourless weaklings as they are usually (New York Times). It was important for me to present someone from this colossal underclass, which is perhaps as big as 400 million, and to do so without sentimentality (The Daily Telegraph).

What was the inspiration?

What struck me when I went back to Delhi was all the poor people coming daily on the train from the villages. When they get off they are as completely lost as I was when I went to (Sydney) and New York and when I came to London. A person like me, my equivalent in India, treats the people who have got off the train quite badly and it reminded me of how I’ve been treated in the past (SMH).

Did your subjects have any reservations talking to you?

One of them spoke for sometime and became angry. He said, ‘You are listening to me and wasting my time. You will go back to Delhi and forget about me, this is why I don’t talk to people like you.’ So I remembered him and when I went back to Delhi I didn’t forget him. (The Australian)

Was it easy?

A book like this is as much an exercise in masochism as anything else. I am very much a part of the things I am attacking and it is not fun to write it necessarily (The Hindu).

How will winning the award change your life?

It won’t change much, because I live in Bombay, and life in Mumbai has a way of reminding you that writers are not particularly important. It won’t mean anything to my neighbours, they won’t know about this. Life will continue (The Telegraph, Calcutta).

Why did you dedicate the book to Delhi when you live in Bombay?

It’s a city that’s going to determine the future of India (The Hindu).

How does a novel like The White Tiger, which throws light on the “dark side of India” resonate with an India on the move?

There is a lot of triumphalist noise in India today. There is a sense of profound economic achievement and much of it is justified, but it is also important to listen to other noises. Something extraordinary is happening between the rich and the poor. Once, there was at least a common culture between rich and poor, but that has been eroded, and people have noted that (Booker media conference).

You studied literature at Columbia and then at Oxford. Why did you end up as a journalist?

It was a conscious choice to become a journalist. I went to Princeton for my PhD (but) I dropped out because I realised that if I was going to be a writer, I hadn’t seen much. I wanted to get out and see the world and not just geographically but also to be forced to talk to people I would not wish to talk to normally (The Australian).

What does it mean to be a bachelor in Bombay?

I describe myself as a ‘writer’, a category that doesn’t mean anything to the landlords of Bombay (The Guardian, London)

What’s your next novel?

India just teems with untold stories, and no one who is alive to the poetry, the anger and the intelligence of Indian society will ever run out of stories to write. I do want to write about people who haven’t been written about, and there’s a lot of them in India still. (AFP)

Photograph: Aravind Adiga in the 10th standard (courtesy Mid-Day)