Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Now showing at a theatre of the absurd near you

30 January 2013

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So, young Indians cannot tell their friends what they ‘like’ on Facebook, without being “pre-screened” by Harvard types (or hauled into a police station by Shiv Sena goons). So, bloggers cannot publish their “online private diaries” without the sword of 66(A) hanging over their heads.

So, tweeters can be blocked and Savita bhabhi‘s enviable lifestyle can be subject to some faceless babu’s sense of humour (or voyeurism). So, the Mahatma‘s life is beyond scrutiny in the land of you-know-who. So (oh!), Aamir Khan‘s film will not be screened in the land of you-know-who.

Or his TV show.

So, TV stations cannot show protests without threatened by the information and broadcasting ministry (or corporate titans). So, newspapers cannot report what their reporters see without being told that the tap of government advertisements could be turned off.

So, M.F. Husain cannot die in his own country. So, A.K. Ramanujam‘s interpretation of the Ramayana hurts somebody.

So, Ashis Nandy cannot drop his pearls on corruption without offending Dalits, tribals and OBCs. So, Salman Rushdie cannot go to a lit-fest in Jaipur (or Calcutta) without offending Islamist fundoos. So, Shah Rukh Khan cannot write what’s in his heart without offending.

So, Kamal Hassan‘s new film can be banned by a government run by a former film actor.

Sometimes, you do have to remind yourself it is a free country, don’t you?

Image: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

POLL: Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi in 2014?

21 January 2013

The contours of the next general election are becoming ever more clearer with the expected “elevation” of Rahul Gandhi as the vice-president of the Congress. Given the repeated rumours on the state of Sonia Gandhi‘s health and her reported desire to retire from politics at the age of 70, it is obvious the leadership of the 130-year-old Congress party has passed on to a fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

But Rahul Gandhi is no Rajiv Gandhi. His father was 40 when he became PM, Rahul is 42. His father was thrown into the deep end all of a sudden, Rahul has been around for several years. And more tellingly, despite his travels across the country and his exertions in several election campaigns, Rahul Gandhi has not quite been the vote-magnet that Congressmen suspected he would be, having lost Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

But all that is in the past tense now. As the new, official No.2, the silence that Rahul Gandhi adopted as part of his mystique (he has only barely attended Parliament and spoken even more rarely on the issues of the day)—and the reluctance that he conveyed through his swift disappearances after parachuting into the rough and tumble, allowing lesser mortals to face the flak for his failed experiments—is no longer a luxury he owns.

For politics is a game played with a scoreboard, and push has come to shove for the scam, scandal tainted party that is facing diminishing returns across the country despite a slew of well-meaning social welfare schemes designed to fetch votes by the bucket.

Although the BJP is in no better shape, the word on the street is that Rahul Gandhi’s elevation will serve as an impetus for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to assume a bigger, larger role in the BJP before the next general elections. With his hat-trick of wins in the State and with his advertised record as an administrator, Modi has a headstart over Rahul Gandhi, nearly 20 years his junior.

Indeed paradoxically, Modi, 62, is seen as more of a youth icon than Rahul Gandhi, who was missing in action when, say, the Delhi gangrape was scorching the party or when Google, Facebook and Twitter were being clogged up by the Oxford and Harvard educated geniuses in Manmohan Singh‘s government.

However, elections in India is not a zero-sum game.

So, given all the imponderables that swing into play—caste, allies, secularism, communalism, etc—who do you think will come up trumps if it is Modi vs Gandhi in 2014? Does Rahul, who has the Gandhi surname, have the pan-national appeal that goes beyond the urban middle-classes? Which of the two could garner more allies, so crucial in a coalition era? Which alliance will triumph—UPA or NDA?

Also read: What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

Jesus, Mozart, Alexander aur apun ka Rahul Gandhi

In one-horse race, Rahul baba is a two-trick pony

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

After Manmohan who? Chidu, Diggy or Rahul?

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part II

Only question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

Status Update: Shoot (or block) the messenger

23 August 2012

Mail Today cartoonist, R. Prasad, salutes the geniuses in the Indian government using the trouble in Assam to play around with Facebook and Twitter, including by reportedly blocking the IDs of journalists Kanchan Gupta and Shiv Aroor. The latter has put up this image on his Twitter handle.

Also read: Should Facebook be censored?

Say ‘No’ to India’s blogger control Act

Should the censor’s tighten Savita bhabhi‘s hook?

An open letter to Aamir Khan from a Kannadiga

11 May 2012

VASANT SHETTY pens a letter to Aamir Khan on the undemocratic ban on the dubbed version of his Sunday morning TV show  Satyamev Jayate programme from being shown on Kannada television channels.

***

To
Aamir Khan
5 Marina Apartments
Pali hill, Bandra West
Mumbai 400050

Dear Aamir Khan,

Congratulations on your successful TV debut with Satyamev Jayate and a huge round of applause for touching upon a topic as sensitive and heart rendering as female foeticide in the very first episode.

You even went a step further by meeting the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and requesting him for a fast track court to bring the killer doctors to justice at the earliest.

To me, you seem to be a man committed to bring social change in India and I truly appreciate your efforts.

You may have 12 different issues to highlight in the weeks to come, but today I am writing this letter to you to highlight the highly undemocratic ban on dubbing content to Kannada that is affecting millions of Kannadigas living in Karnataka and elsewhere.

Let me explain this.

As you know, there is an unconstitutional and undemocratic ban imposed on dubbing content to Kannada by a few trade organisations in the name of protecting culture. Due to this ban, the dubbed version of the first episode of your programme was not telecast on Suvarna TV.

Earlier, thousands of people like me wrote to you on Twitter and Facebook requesting you to get this ban on dubbing your Satyamev Jayate to Kannada removed. As a result of that, you wrote a letter to Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) requesting them to let your programme in Kannada on Suvarna TV but we have not heard about the response of KFCC to your letter.

Suvarna TV uploaded the Kannada webcast of the first episode of your programme on Youtube three days ago.

The video received 30,000 views in just three days busting all myths around lack of demand for dubbed content in Kannada and even sealing the mouth of all those naysayers in Kannada film / TV industry who ridiculed demand for dubbed content in Kannada as fringe.

But yesterday, even this video on Youtube was taken off by Suvarna TV.

From the circumstances, Kannadigas feel that this might have been done because of the pressure put by the same anti-dubbing associations, who were scared after seeing the popularity of the video. With that, even Internet is under seige in Karnataka, where a few private people decide what people should watch and in which language.

A lot of people who believe in democracy, the Constitution, and the freedom to choose are again writing to you to know how on earth a content creating social awareness be banned even on Internet just because it was dubbed from Hindi to Kannada?

Aamir, if you truly believe in transforming a society, bringing a social change, it’s time for you to talk and act.

Please raise your voice supporting the legitimate demand of Kannadigas demanding knowledge and entertainment in their mother tongue.

Please stand  up and say that in this free country, every individual has freedom to watch any cinema, any TV program in any language of their choice and no vested interest should dictate terms to voiceless citizens in the name of guarding culture.

For four decades Kannadigas have been deprived of knowledge and entertainment in their language of choice due to this illegal ban on dubbing and now will Satyamev Jayate change that?

After all, truth alone should prevail.

Thank you
A Kannadiga

Also read: Talibanisation of Kannada cinema, television

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Facebook be censored?

6 December 2011

As if all the problems facing this glorious land—hunger, disease, death, malnutrition, farmer suicides, etc—have all been miraculously solved; as if all the scams facing this wondrous government—2G, CWG, Delhi international airport, etc–have all been cracked, Harvard University’s proud son, Kapil Sibal, has stepped in to crack the whip.

The telecommunications and information technology minister, he of the “zero-loss” formulation, now wants “social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online”, according to the New York Times.

According to the Indian Express, Sibal’s ire is motivated by the “derogatory, defamatory and inflammatory content about religious figures and Indian leaders such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the Web.” (Not surprisingly, somebody’s created the hashtag #IdiotKapilSibal to express his ire.)

The attack on social media comes in the wake of the attempts to muzzle mainstream media following the anti-corruption campaign. Read together, it reveals a growing political distate for privacy and free speech, reminiscent of the censorship era during the Emergency, without a formal proclamation on the part of the Congress-led UPA.

There is no denying, certainly, that there is plenty of stuff on the internet that is vile, abusive, even verbally violent. But that’s the nature of the beast, its anonymity lends it an edge, and there is no denying that there is plenty of stuff offline too that is vile, abusive, even physically violent. But to seek to prescreen everything goes against the laws of the land, indeed it veers dangerously close to China’s (or more recently Thailand’s).

Questions: Should social media be screened? Is it possible to prescreen everything that appears online? Doesn’t the government have anything better to do? Or is this just another diversionary tactic of a government that is trying to cover its tracks?

Also read: Say ‘No’ to India’s blogger control act

How will media react if Emergency is reimposed?

Censorship in the name of  “national interest”

Bonus reading: The greatest poet since ‘Bhakti’ movement?

External reading: Medianama, Kafila, Khamba, IBN Live, Tumblr, First Post, Faking News, South Reports

How Facebook resolved a Kannada movie scandal

11 April 2011

The Kannada cinema industry is, well, an industry. Dubuious producers put money in an obscene number of films, only a few of which even recover their money. Nepotism is the middle name when it is not conformism. Every few years, it breaks into a predictable fit about “remakes”. And so on.

Last month, the actor Ramya got into a kerfuffle with a producer, who accused her of skipping the music launch of a new movie as she had gone furniture-shopping for her new home. It turned out the producer owed her money, that her complaints to the film chamber had gone in vain, that he was whipping up publicity for his film, that Gandhinagar’s MCPs were targetting her. Etcetera.

Eventually, the matter was resolved. But thank Mark Zuckerburg for it, writes Saritha Rai in The Indian Express:

“Kannada filmdom’s reigning diva, Ramya, aka Divya Spandana, has demonstrated that social networking can no longer be dismissed with a flick of the wrist…. By using Facebook and Twitter, Ramya took on the stodgy, male-dominated Kannada film industry and triumphed.

“Ramya’s outpouring of woe, 140 characters at a time, travelled at the speed of light. As her tweets gathered momentum, the feud escaped the tweetosphere and became the talk of Sandalwood’s gossip networks and newspaper columns.

“Livid at her tweets, the Karnataka Film Chamber, a hoary, clubby group — where wives of producers and actors represent the meagre female presence — said they were banning the actor for a year. No producer would work with her, they declared.

“Not to be cowed, Ramya tweeted that there was no sense in banning somebody who had already renounced her career. And, she tweeted cheekily, she had received five new film offers within hours of the ban. Ramya’s micro-blog escapade threatened to blow up into a full-fledged war between Sandalwood’s actors’ lobby and its producers’ group. Sensing the embarassment, veteran actor Ambarish stepped in to mediate.

“The ban against Ramya is revoked, [producer] Ganesh has promised to repay her money and all is well, at least on the surface between Ramya, the Film Chamber and the producers.”

Read the full article: Tweeting for grrl power

‘Who told you I am a Tamilian? I am a Kannadiga’

18 August 2010

The hand of India’s most famous newspaper cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, lies still in a hospital in Bombay without a pen or pencil in its grip. Not even sure if (or when) it will regain the strength to pick up a pen or pencil to regale the millions who have woken up to the magic behind its mind for decades.

In this churumuri.com exclusive, Laxman’s grand-nephew, the journalist turned corporate manager Chetan Krishnaswamy, paints an intimate portrayal of Mysore-born, Kannada-speaking “Dudu”, with unpublished doodles and illustrations from the family album.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

After resolutely hanging on to the front page of The Times of India for close to 60 years now, it is perhaps difficult for the Common Man to remain in obscurity for too long.

Even as his creator lies in a hospital in Bombay recuperating from a series of paralytic strokes, the Common Man seems to have naively steered himself into the centre of a religious controversy.

A caricature of contemporary politics based on a biblical scene, with the Common Man occupying Jesus’s position, which appeared in ToI in July, hurt a section of the Christian community. Matters seem to have cooled off after the newspaper tendered an apology.

Many years ago R.K. Laxman had infuriated a group of Hindu fanatics when a cartoon showed  them setting fire to an automobile. The group had barged into his room and demanded to know how Lord Ram’s staunch followers could be projected as rabid arsonists.

Much to their annoyance, the quick-witted Laxman expressed his doubts on whether they had all really imbibed the Ramayana.  He went on to expound that the most ardent Ram bhakt was Lord Hanuman, who had gone about setting fire to Lanka with his blazing tail.

Rather confused, the group had trooped out awkwardly.

***

Suffice to say, Laxman has led an unconventional life. In 1960 he divorced his then dancer-wife Kamala and married his niece also named Kamala. Laxman did it on his terms and brooked no criticism.

The genius is prone to being eccentric and intimidating at times.

At a Bollywood party, a fawning crowd sought his views on actor Sanjay Dutt’s involvement  in the Bombay serial blasts of 1993. Laxman said that he did not think that the actor had played a major role in the terrorist act.

“However, the judge should pronounce the death sentence for the way he looks and the way he acts,” added Laxman brazenly.

There was a disconcerting hush that preceded this statement.

***

On most occasions when Laxman travelled into Bangalore or Mysore, I would be his privileged companion. I drove with him (and Kamala) to all his engagements and eagerly absorbed  his wry observations, sarcastic comments and comical anecdotes.

His world view was simple yet fascinating.

Laxman’s spontaneity and brilliance, was most visible when he held forth before an eager, awe-struck audience.

On one occasion, he recounted how he had mastered the art of slinking away from noisy parties that always began well past midnight. At an appropriate hour,  Laxman would sidle up to the host, mumble a vague incoherent excuse interspersed with words like “airport”, “appointment” , “meeting”  etc.

Invariably, the tipsy host would fall for the ploy and accompany him to the exit.  At home, Laxman would contentedly  slurp on his staple fare of curd rice and retire to bed.

Once in Mysore, after we finished attending a seminar, a leading business house was hosting dinner in Laxman’s honour that evening.

After a hot bath we headed to the venue, which was supposed to be at one of the offices of this flourishing  group. The minute we landed there, Laxman  noticed that people were already mid-way through their bisi bele baath and mosaranna.

The bigger crisis was that there was no whisky being served.

In a split second, Laxman grabbed the arm of his old friend, the legendary nuclear scientist Raja Ramanna (who hailed from Vontikoppal originally), coaxed him to abandon his plate and propelled him out.

All of us jumped into Raja Ramanna’s Mercedes and headed to Hotel King’s Kourt for Johnny Walker Black Label and dinner.

Of course, a magnanimous Raja Ramanna paid the bill.

Earlier that day at the seminar in Mysore’s intellectual retreat Dhvanyaloka,   Laxman was edgy while presenting his paper.

At one point, the academic doyen Dr C.D.Narasimhaiah interjected and commented: “You Tamilians have always been humorous….”

The Mysore-born Laxman bore into him from above his thick rimmed glasses and said: “Who told you I am a Tamilian, I am a Kannadiga….”

The loudest applause came from noted Kannada writer S.L.Bhyrappa, who was sitting by my side. I would like to believe that Laxman was quite genuine when he made that comment.

***

On another occasion, chief minister S.M.Krishna was felicitating the cartoonist at Bangalore’s Institution of Engineers. Soon after the event, there was a milling crowd that blocked me from getting to Laxman.

Even as the driver revved the State car with Laxman in it, there  was confusion all around, security was instructed to look for a certain Chetan Krishnaswamy.

Sensing an emergency, I rushed to the car and plugged my head in, he looked at me a trifle irritated  and enquired: “So where are we going?”

That evening, accompanied by my dear friend and former bureaucrat Pramod Kumar Rai, we sipped beer in his guest house.  The next morning the hospitable Chief Minister’s wife sent the Laxmans piping hot idlis for breakfast.

***

On a visit to a not-so-distant relative’s house in Bangalore, he irritatedly whispered into my ears: “Who is who here? The servants and the relatives all look the same.”

Thankfully nobody heard that.

Dudu , as Laxman is called in the family, was born on 24 October 1924, the youngest of six sons. His strict headmaster father Rasipuram Venkataraman Krishnaswamy Iyer was  imperious and remote, preoccupied with his work to bother much about his youngest son.

The mother Gnanambal, who was the Mysore Maharani’s favourite partner in tennis, bridge and chess, was the cheerful collaborator.

Not many know that in his working years Laxman unfailingly sent his mother a portion of his salary by post. When he came to Mysore on vacation, he would spend most of  his time sprawled on his mother’s cot.

The other great influence was his famous sibling R.K.Narayan, who, to young Laxman’s relief, underplayed the importance of academics, connected him to important artists in Mysore and allowed him to illustrate his short stories for The Hindu set in mythical Malgudi.

Interestingly, both the brothers had contrasting personalities.

While Narayan was a teetotaler, unassuming, patient and more gentle; Laxman was mercurial and quite a free-spirited rabble rouser. Narayan mentored his nephews and grand nephews; was always concerned about the extended family’s well being and future.

Laxman was affectionate but seemed more distant.

However, both brothers were non-ritualistic in their spiritual beliefs.  Laxman, though was a little more vocal in criticising established religion and sometimes refused to walk into crowded temples.

His favorite deity has always  been the playful elephant god Ganesha, which he drew with great dexterity and vigor. For his artist eye, the rotund form seemed to manifest itself everywhere: in a tree trunk, a weather beaten boulder, a drifting cloud, etc.

Laxman’s  other enduring  subject has been the common crow, whose quirks have held him spell-bound  since childhood. Curiously, Narayan’s obsession was the owl: he had accumulated a collection of statuettes  over a period of time.

As kids, my cousins and I would be intrigued by this strange collection every time we were able to sneak into Narayan’s  airy room in Mysore.

Is there an explanation for one family spawning two such outstanding creative figures?

N.Ram, the present chief editor of The Hindu, had attempted to respond to that question:

“It happens very rarely but it has happened elsewhere. They express individual genius, which has always defied explanation, but they are also products of a particular family and social milieu that has been congenial to creativity: liberal and modern in outlook, yet imbued with strong values and laidback integrity and respectful of independence and originality.

“The link between childhood and adult creativity is now well recognised in the social science, especially psychological, literature: that is, the importance to the creative mind of a childhood in which exploration and curiosity are encouraged, not restricted or stifled.

“Laxman, a decade-and-a-half younger than Narayan, is very different in make-up, temperament and experience. But he is a product of the same kind of upbringing and social milieu that have fostered creativity, although they cannot of course ‘explain’ it.

“Further, Laxman (who, in his autobiography, tells us that ‘I do not remember wanting to do anything else except draw’) has clearly benefited, from the beginning, from having Narayan around him: to mind him as a child, to encourage his independence and creativity, to have him illustrate his Malgudi stories and novels, to take pride, without ever making a fuss, in his gift and accomplishments. I have observed the two brothers together: so close, yet so different, and so independent from each other—creative contrasts from one distinctive, difficult to replicate, pool.”

***

Although Laxman never wore a wrist watch in his entire life, he had a fondness for tweaking watches and other mechanical contraptions. He was the quintessential man about the house repairing gadgets that had broken down and fixing other knick knacks.

A born engineer!

As kids he would regale us with magic tricks. Coins would disappear and appear, sometimes dropping out of our noses and ears. He always had a bundle of tricks up his sleeve, and was the most awaited guest in our houses.

In the later years, brother R.K.Srinivasan’s home  kept a brown hardbound book for Laxman to doodle everytime he came on a vacation. The book, a family heirloom, has a range of Laxman’s caricatures.

They are whacky, whimsical, political, absurd – perhaps  reflecting Laxman’s relaxed mood. A whole bunch of them are ball-point scribbles, but with the distinctive stamp of the artist.

***

In November last year, Laxman visited Bangalore and Mysore and patiently posed for pictures with the entire family. It was painful to see him wheel chair bound and cheerless. A paralytic stroke had rendered his left side completely useless.

I had lunch with the Laxmans in their hotel room in Mysore and took them for a quick drive around Laxman’s old haunts in the city. He rode with me in silence, periodically making uncharitable comments about the city.

He cursed the lack of street lights, the  bad roads and shoddy planning of what was once his most beloved city. This time,  I was careful not to make unnecessary small talk or embellish his views with my own banalities.

As darkness set in, he wanted to be dropped back to his hotel. Unlike in the past, it seemed evident that the genius  had not enjoyed the drive.  As his helpers heaved him out of the car and placed him on  his wheel chair, he thanked me quickly and cursed the flight of stairs that appeared before him.

***

Recently, actor Akshay Kumar visited him at the Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai to talk to him about his latest film that was based on the Common Man.

Wonder whether Laxman will ever regale an audience about this encounter with the same fervor and zest.

***

Author photograph: courtesy Facebook

View unpublished doodles/ illustrations: here and here

***

Also read: Has namma R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

Laxman & Narayan: How one family produced two geniuses

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Three, sorry two, questions on Chinese dancing

7 March 2010

Hundreds of dance shows spill out of Indian TV screens as the “dance masters” and judges—usually out-of-work heroes and heroines—wax effusive. First question: does any show come close to this? Second question: are Indian bodies differently engineered for such athleticism and acrobatics? Third question: does a dictatorship produce better dancers than a democracy?

Link: Rohini Mohan via Facebook

Also read: Can India pull off an opening ceremony like this?

All that namma hudugi has to do khuda ke liye

21 February 2010

Mysore (and Yadavagiri) girl Kalpana Pandit‘s new remix Khuda ke Liye, and a still shot during the shooting of the song in Bombay. Kalpana is also a doctor of great pedigree, and offers some health tips on her blog.

Photograph: via Facebook

Also read: Namma Nafisa owes it all to Nanjangud hallu pudi

CHURUMURI POLL: Right to bar foreign journos?

7 November 2009

The Great Wall between India and China is not made of bricks and mortar; it is made of freedom and liberty. Any debate, any discussion, anywhere, on the superpowers-to-be is sealed, signed and delivered by the roaring presence of those essential ingredients in plentiful on our soil, and the utter lack of it in our great neighbour.

China notoriously detests dissent—and democracy.

It bars foreign media from freely moving inside its boundaries; Tibet is off-limits to them as is Tiananmen Square. BBC was famously taken off Rupert Murdoch‘s Star Network at the behest of the comrades. Google and Yahoo effortlessly dance to the tunes of the Chinese dictators. Chinese citizens routinely can’t log into YouTube, Facebook and other media. And so on.

But has difference between “us” and “them” been erased by the Congress-led UPA government?

In barring foreign journalists from going to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh to report the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama‘s week-long visit to the northeastern State which China off and on claims as its own, has the Manmohan Singh government thumbed its  nose at India’s great democratic traditions?

Has India missed a trick in showing its inviolable sovereignty before a global audience? In behaving much like China would, has the Congress-led regime obliterated the difference between democracy and dictatorship? Or was the government right given the war-mongering that has recently been on display?

Also read: Media freedom is what separates India and China

Censorship in the name of ‘the national interest’?

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

27 July 2009

If S.M. Krishna‘s appointment as the Union external affairs minister in the new UPA government was a bit of a surprise, even more surprising has been Krishna’s appointment of a little-known man called Raghavendra Shastry as his “advisor” in the MEA, with the rank of additional secretary.

To say that career diplomats are a little mystified would be an understatement, but correspondents on the diplomatic beat are happily reporting that the aroma of Mysore coffee (CoffeeDay™, presumably) is already wafting from the first-floor offices of Krishna’s (and Shastry’s) at South Block.

So, who is this neatly dressed, clean-shaven “longtime personal friend” of Krishna’s who has suddenly emerged as an officer on special duty (OSD) in the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) directory, and as “advisor” in the MEA telephone directory?

***

# Raghavendra Shastry is the president of GetIt Info Services, the official publishers of the Bangalore telephone directory and yellow pages. On his Linked In profile (accessed on 27 July 2009), Shastry lists his official designations as “president”, “corporate vice-president”, and “strategy and negotiation consultant”, all in the same breath.

# On his Google profile, Shastry terms himself a “consultant at GetIt Infomediary Limited”. On the official GetIt website, he is listed as president of the BizList division of the company. Getit is a company of former Congress MP Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, whose family owned the Daily Tej newspaper and Sun, the youth tabloid, before branching into yellow pages around the country. Gupta’s younger brother, Ramesh Gupta, now runs the family business.

2006010709700401# There are those who claim Raghavendra Shastry was introduced to Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, once chairman of the Congress’ publicity committee, by Karnataka Congress leader B.K. Hari Prasad, now a general secretary of the party. Some others say Shastry owes his Congress connections to his father, whose fortune-telling skills got him close to several politicians.

home-logo-smallAs the ambitious Bangalore head of GetIt, Raghavendra Shastry is said to have come close to S.M. Krishna in the mid-to-late 1990s, according to one version. Others say Shastry got close to Krishna only a couple years after the Congress’s 1998 victory. Some give credit to Shastry for Krishna’s telephone campaign (a technique used by Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2004).

# On his Google profile (accessed on 26 July 2009), Shastry writes that he grew up in Bangalore, but friends say he hails from Mukkur, near Puttur in South Canara, which partly explains his proximity to S.M.Krishna’s son-in-law V.G. Siddhartha, the founder of Coffee Day who hails from neighbouring Chikamagalur.

# Shastry’s rise and rise all the way to South Block is attributed to Siddhartha, who accompanied Krishna on the day of the swearing-in. Some say Krishna’s “family” is using Shastry to keep another Krishna crony, R.T. Narayan, in check.

Mysorean Narayan shares Krishna’s enthusiasm for tennis and is best known for the “permanent room” he maintains at a star hotel in Bangalore. However, Shastry is said to have accompanied Krishna on his last three trips to Wimbledon. Shastry is also said to have gone with Krishna on his post-debacle visit to China in 2004.

# On his Google profile, Shastry offers this bio:  “A highly successful Senior Executive with over 15 years of experience in administration, sales, marketing, and operations.  Very proficient in sales and business development, with proven record for increasing revenues and profits.  Outstanding managerial, decision-making, and negotiating abilities, plus excellent communication and people skills.  Well experienced in change management and in building and leading high-performance teams.  Highly motivated and dynamic go-getter.  Energetic, ambitious, and demanding, yet fair and easy to get along with.”

# Shastry is variously described as a soft-spoken, unassuming sort of person who melts into the background. He is said to have a tremendous memory, and doesn’t drink, smoke or eat non-vegetarian food. One journalist-acquaintance of Shastry’s says he works “18 hours a day”, calling him “indefatigable”. Jacob Thomas, who worked with him at Getit for 10 years, says Shastry “was a taskmaster and big brother at the same time.”

20090302getit1# At the launch of the Mangalore-Udupi Bizlist in March this year, Shastry, who now has to deal with embassies and high commissions, presciently said the directory included the listing of “over 150 embassies in India” along with their phone numbers and addresses.

At the same release, the DIG (western range), Gopal Hosur urged Shastry to “create a directory of all the criminals and keep a record of their addresses, so that it will help the policemen to easily trace them.”

nyt-global-edition-masthead-logo# Shastry was holding forth in a New York Times story in May 2008 on the damage wrought by coalition politics to Karnataka. “Nothing has been done in the last four to five years and we’re worried Bangalore will lose competitiveness. Companies are expanding to other places. And it’s not Bangalore that will lose business – it’s India.” Among the others quoted in the article was Ashok Kheny of Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise.

# Shastry is said to be a bachelor of science (BSc) from Bangalore University, but on his Linked In profile claims “education” in the University of Chicago’s Booth school of business (2005), Harvard business school (1999-2003) and Columbia business school (1996).

Searches on the Booth school and Columbia school websites for “Raghavendra Shastry”, “Raghavendra” or “Shastry” do not turn up any matching results.

Exhibit A: On the HBS executive education website, Shastry offers this quote for the six-day, $13,000 (Rs 6.5 lakh) course on “Leading change and organisation renewal”: “The work and study groups helped me to solve major problems in my company. As a result, I now am able to deal with the conflicts and pressures from the past—and prepare for the future by using all the tools and innovative processes of organizational problem solving.

Exhibit B: On the website of MCS consulting, an “international investment and strategic management consulting company”, Shastry offers an almost identical certificate:  “The work and study groups really helped me to solve major problems in my company. As a result, I now am able to deal with the conflicts and pressures from the past—and discover the future using all the tools and the innovative process of organizational problem solving.

# Shastry is effusive in gratitude even otherwise. “Dear Dr Prasad, Thank you very much for the individual reports of senior managers as well as the set of ‘inspirational keepsake’ provided by you. On behalf of the company I wholeheartedly thank you for giving the inspiration which we have already started adapting (sic) in our daily work,” he wrote to Prasad Sundararajan of the Coimbatore-based Geniuschoice Institute of Creative Management.

shastry raj

# During the Raj Kumar kidnapping crisis that dogged the S.M. Krishna regime, Shastry, according to reporters on the beat, was a busy player, if not the “chief negotiator”, in the negotiations that finally secured the release of the thespian from the clutches of Veerappan, by all accounts after the payment of a ransom. Some claim that Shastry dealt with Vysya Bank in person to “arrange” for the release.

Shastry  is said to be close to R. Ram Kumar, the son of former DGP R. Ramalingam, who was in the thick of things during the Raj Kumar abduction, with Veerappan even allegedly using Ram Kumar’s mobile phone to make contact with S.M. Krishna, according to former DGP C. Dinakar.

# On his Google profile, Shastry says he has conducted case studies for leading multinationals in USA and Europe; that he has been “invited” by Public Affairs International, London; China Strategy Forum, Beijing ; and China Society for Strategy and Management Research “to discuss matters on strategy and crisis management”.

Foreign secretary-designate Nirupama Rao was India’s ambassador to China till recently. Her husband Sudhakar Rao is currently chief secretary of Karnataka.

# When “Bandra Bomber” Sachin Tendulkar visited the Kukke Subramanya temple, Shastry set up a website on the temple and its rituals.  He claimed the site received 17.5 lakh hits in seven hours due to interest generated by the cricketer’s spiritual sojourn. Shastry is said to maintain and manage websites of temples at Udupi, Dharmasthala, Katil and Kollur on a “non-commercial basis”.

# In 2000, Shastry played a hand in announcing a Bangalore police foundation on the lines of New York police foundation. He initially promised Rs 3 crore from his organisation to help modernise police control rooms, but suffered a setback when he failed to get income tax exemption for the monetary contribution.

# Those who know Shastry say he is a cat at public relations (PR), with a special fondness for journalists. On his Facebook account, he has nine friends, including two working journalists and two former journalists. On his Twitter account, he follows one journalist. In the early 1990s, he donated rain jackets to every photo-journalist in Bangalore, and later also helped produce the annual diary of the Press Club of Bangalore.

Also read: S.M. Krishna on the release of Dr Raj Kumar

How Siddhartha built the Coffee Day dream cup by cup

(HEART) BREAKING NEWS: ADVANI SWORN IN

23 July 2009

Al Gore is “the former next president of the United States”, and he says so himself, tongue firmly in giant cheek. After the 2009 general elections, Lalchand Kishinchand Advani is clearly “the former future prime minister of India“, except that no one in his party, least of all Advani, has the sense, humour or the sense of humour to say that.

On his newly launched spoof site, Noise of India, Mysorean GAUTAMA P. fills this vital hole in the democratic discourse, with a item designed to make all those who mourn this cruel twist of fate feel good, at least in cyberspace.

***

“Ad-vani, the most clicked online Ad in Indian political history, was formally sworn in as India’s online PM on an undisclosed Google server. The ceremony was witnessed by hundreds of online ads including Jet Airways, bharat matrimony and Dominos Pizza.

“Security was tight, and all the ads had to pass through a firewall before being ushered into the RAM area. The installation went off smoothly, despite some angry heckling by the RAM’s step-motherboard and Dravidian parties raking up the south-bridge issue.

“Later, addressing a gathering of RSS feeds, Ad-vani vowed to focus on core ideological issues like Bangladeshi spam and bovine intercourse on the Discovery channel. He noted that the party was currently going through its worst phase of Rahul-kala.

“Next, logging on to Facebook, he lustily superpoked Manmohan Singh and invited him to a game of pseudo-ku. He ignored Uma Bharati‘s friend request and banged his head on Sudheendra Kulkarni‘s wall. On Orkut he deleted Varun Gandhi‘s scraps and posted a video of him deleting Varun Gandhi’s scraps. Finally, sensing the restlessness of the youth, he tweeted: “from now on, no more Mandir, only Mandira.”

Visit the site: Noise of India

Photograph: courtesy The Associated Press

Also read: ‘The only person to blame for BJP loss is Advani’

Defeat of BJP is a defeat of BJP brand of journalism

Even a paper tiger roars when ship starts leaking

Should India do to Pakistan what it’s done to us?

16 February 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Arun Shourie is one of the strangest cases on the Indian intellectual landscape if not its most disappointing. A living, walking, moving advertisement of how rabid ideology can addle even the most riveting of minds, stripping it of all its nuance and pretence; its very soul and humanity.

***

Once a fiery critic of Reliance Industries as editor of the Indian Express, he was happy to deliver a eulogy at Dhirubhai Ambani‘s first death anniversary; even changing the law as minister to benefit Reliance Industries, as alleged by the son of Girilal Jain, the former Times of India editor who held shares in the company, no less.

Once a symbol of middle-class integrity and probity for various scams unearthed his watch, his stint as disinvestment minister was pockmarked with allegation after allegation (although an unattributed Wikipedia entry claims he was ranked “the most outstanding minister of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government” by 100 CEOs).

A slow, scholarly, Chaplinesque demeanour hides a cold, clinical mind that piles the rhetoric and the stereotypes on the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised while taking up high faluting positions on terrorism, governance, internal security and such like, through long, meandering essays whose opacity could put cub journalists to shame.

And, as always, selectively twisting and turning the facts to fit his preconceived conclusion, and hoping no one will notice.

To paraphrase Ramachandra Guha, Shourie has become the Arundhati Roy of the right:

“The super-patriot and the anti-patriot use much the same methods. Both think exclusively in black and white. Both choose to use a 100 words when 10 will do. Both arrogate to themselves the right to hand out moral certificates. Those who criticise Shourie are characterised as anti-national, those who dare take on Roy are made out to be agents of the State. In either case, an excess of emotion and indignation drowns out the facts.”

But what should disappoint even his most ardent fans, and there are many, is how easily and effortlessly a pacifist penman has regressed from “a concerned citizen employing his pen as an effective adversary of corruption, inequality and injustice” (as his Magsaysay Award citation read) to a hate-spewing ideological warrior with fire blazing through his nostrils.

A son of a Gandhian who now openly advocates “two eyes for an eye and a whole jaw for one tooth” with barely any qualms.

***

At a series of lectures in Ahmedabad on Saturday, Shourie bared his fangs some more:

“India is still a passive country when it comes to taking a stand against terrorism….

It should, in fact, take an extremist stance and must prove that it can also create a Kashmir-like situation in Pakistan.

There are many places like Baluchistan, where a Kashmir-like situation can be created but, “hum abhi bhi Panchsheel ke pujari hain (We still worship the tenets of Panchsheel)”….

“Pakistan has been successfully carrying out destruction in India for the last two decades and has still managed to escape problems, while India on every occasion has failed to present a unified response to terrorism and has suffered as a consequence….”

Really?

An eye for an eye? Two eyes for an eye? A jaw for a tooth?

In the name of Swami Vivekananda, should India do unto Pakistan what Pakistan has done to us? Is this a sign of vision on the part of a man who some believe should be the next prime minister, or tunnel vision?

Is such barely disguised hatred and vengeance, hiding behind vedas and upanishads, going to make the subcontinent a better place to live in? Should the people of Pakistan, the poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, pay the price for the sins of the generals?

Should a great, ancient civilisation become a cheap, third-rate, neighbourhood bully?

Has Arun Shourie lost more than his soul and humanity?

Has Arun Shourie just lost it?

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu Business Line

Also read: How Shilpa Shetty halted the Chinese incursions

Crossposted on sans serif

Will NDTV and Barkha Dutt sue Facebook too?

1 February 2009

If there is anything that l’affaire Barkha Dutt versus Cheytanya Kunte holds a mirror to—besides media hypocrisy, thin skins, forked tongues, and such like—it is: a) the quality of legal advice media behemoths receive and act upon, and b) the mainstream media’s bottomless ignorance of the wired world and how it works.

Even the spitting-image puppets that NDTV hauls out of the cupboard a few times a day to generate a laugh would have counselled Prannoy Roy & Co (for free) against embarking on the petty path of picking on a hapless blogger sitting in The Netherlands.

The bomb-Shell™ (pun intended) had boomerang written all over it, and in more ways than one.

If Dutt and NDTV wanted to protect their fair name, etc, from the slander, what are they proposing to do about Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who repeated the libellous charge of the channel and the correspondent “endangering lives” in Kargil by asking a military officer to trigger the Bofors gun for their cameras, at a media conference?

Has the channel issued the Admiral a notice, like it did to Kunte? Has he clarified/ retracted his comments/ apologised? Why is his response not public?

Secondly, how far is NDTV, which has a “convergence” outfit, from achieving convergence?

Was NDTV unaware that NDTV.com had run excerpts from the blog item that their lawyers were suing Cheytanya Kunte for? And do the “tech” chaps who run NDTV.com have no idea that everything, including everything they remove, is cached by Big Brother at Mountain View?

Scaring a blogger to apologise was the easy part.

What do NDTV, Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt propose to do with the Facebook group that has over 4,660 members demanding that she be taken off air? Will they sue Mark Zuckerberg next?

Good luck, NDTV (third-quarter losses: Rs 120.8 crore).

Prem Panicker, the editorial director of India Abroad, the New York weekly newspaper owned and run by rediff.com, asks the best questions about Dutt’s (and NDTV’s) fundamental inability to differentiate between fact and opinion:

***

By PREM PANICKER in Bombay

“But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.”

That is Barkha Dutt, writing against the backdrop of pervasive criticism of her conduct, and those of her electronic media confreres, during and in the immediate aftermath of 26/11.

Admirable sentiments, admirably expressed.

One of the many critical voices Dutt and her media parent NDTV listened to was this blog post [From Google cache; scroll down to the post titled ‘Shoddy Journalism’]. And as a result of that careful listening to a critical voice, this happened.

Kunte’s withdrawal and apology, likely the outcome of a threat of legal action by Dutt and NDTV [Parenthetical aside: Can I be sued for saying this? If yes, I the undersigned do hereby, et cetera...], has created an even greater storm than the television media’s hysteria-tinged coverage of 26/11 did.

Here’s a round up of posts: Patrix; a DesiPundit round up; The Comic Project; Venkatesh Sridhar… [There are likely many others, but you get the picture].

The immediate temptation is to wear my blogger’s hat, and blast away at NDTV and Dutt for muscling Kunte—the classic reaction in a David v Goliath face-off.

It is not that simple, though—I also have a journalist’s hat, and with it on my head, some points occur.

My name is my brand—and as with any brand, its equity is built carefully, over time, through much hard work and careful attention to quality. Legitimate criticism of that brand is welcomed [and even if I didn’t like it, there is SFA I can do about it, provided the operational word is ‘legitimate’].  In this case, though, I am not so sure: While respecting Kunte’s right to his opinion, I would suggest that ‘opinion’ needs to be differentiated from ‘fact’.

It is my considered opinion that Barkha Dutt is as a television personality a borderline hysteric; most comical when she is attempting to be most serious; and far too prone to put herself at the center of every story [Among the many moments when, even in the midst of the mayhem, I found myself laughing out loud was the one where Dutt, during the climactic phase of the Taj operation, got into a major flap about a flapping window curtain and alternately spoke to the viewer and to the cameraman on the lines of There, see, look at it, the curtain is flapping… no no, focus on the curtain, zoom in… no, now pan to me… there, see, the curtain is still flapping...].

That is fair comment [and if Barkha doesn’t like it she can do the other thing]. I do not, however, have the right to state as fact that Dutt endangered lives, whether in Kargil or in Mumbai—because the causal chain of Dutt’s admittedly over-the-top reporting and loss of life has not been established.

I’m totally with Kunte when he opines that Dutt and her ilk are insufferable bordering on incompetent [Barkha, note, that is an opinion]; I’m not however able to defend his right to state as fact something that is not demonstrably true [Brief aside: No, it is not a defense to say that I was merely quoting someone else, and to ask why that someone else—in this case, a wiki entry—has not been sued.].

All of that said, the NDTV-Barkha Dutt action leading to Kunte’s retraction leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. In her earlier, lengthy defense, Dutt says two things that IMH opinion are contradictory:

But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.

And:

I believe that criticism is what helps us evolve and reinvent ourselves. But when malice and rumour are regarded as feedback, there can be no constructive dialogue. Viewing preferences are highly subjective and always deeply personal choices, and the most fitting rejection of someone who doesn’t appeal to your aesthetics of intelligence, is simply to flick the channel and watch someone else.

How does Barkha Dutt reconcile her stated respect for criticism and her intention to learn from it with the suggestion that those who don’t like what she does and the way she does it can say it with the remote? What the latter statement reveals is the hypocrisy inherent in the former—no more, no less.

A Barkha Dutt who grandly titles her show ‘We the People‘ [That title, factually rendered, should read ‘We the minuscule minority with access to cable TV who haven’t yet dissed you with our remotes], and who sheltering under that inclusive flag assumes the right to criticize the conduct of every politician, businessman, movie star and public figure in this country, needed to have shown more grace in accepting criticism directed her way.

So, we will now add this lack of grace, this intolerance for criticism, this tendency to the notion that you are immune to the searching examination you subject others to, to the already long list of reasons to reach for that remote.

Photograph: courtesy The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: The media is not the message


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