About Me

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Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
Half-baked journalist, myopic observer, pseudo rebel, phony philosopher, wanna-be: adventurer, writer, singer, movie-star.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Journaling as Journalism.

Does the word journalist owe its origin to the word 'journal'?

According to that repository of collective wisdom, the Wikipedia, the word journalism is taken from the French word journal, which in turn comes from the Latin word diurnal or daily.

The Indian television news journalists - all senior and much celebrated hands with tens of years of experience - seem to be doing true justice to their profession, journaling as they are every minute of the Prime minister Narendra Modi's visit to the US of A, not that things were very different during UPA-1 when the government could do no wrong and the communists supporting the coalition were blamed for all the ills affecting the country, and the economy in particular.

I remember a conversation I had with a very senior and a celebrity journalist with a prominent news channel a few years ago. I mocked the carpet-bombing like coverage of the then much-haloed scion of India's first family, Rahul Gandhi, saying that it reminded me of my much younger days when the national broadcaster would serve us visuals of his father, Rajiv Gandhi, every evening in the garb of national news, how the national broadcaster had come to be derided as 'Rajiv Darshan', and how the news channels in general were now in danger of being mocked as 'Rahul Darshan'. Needless to say, the journalist wasn't too pleased. Today, the same news channels have sent tens of celebrity journalists each to cover the Prime Minister's carefully choreographed visit - a non-state one, mind you - to the USA at great expense - they aren't a part of the Prime minister's entourage given the way he seems to delight in keeping the media at an arm's length - even as they battle an uncertain regulatory and economic environment. Life seems to have come a full circle for them. 

Many news organizations in the developed world - yeah, the same capitalist world that we take great pleasure in deriding - claim proud traditions of holding government officials and institutions accountable to the public, even as the critics raise questions about the accountability of the press and its tendency to emphasize negativity and bad news. When I got into the profession I thought we were supposed to be a little anti-establishment by the very nature of our profession. I stand corrected.

Much has been written about how the news business is like any other and how the news channels must peddle what their viewers demand. It is a bit like the argument trotted forth by the Hindi film-makers who would rather make an obnoxious sex comedy like 'No Entry' rather than another 'Mother India' or a 'Gandhi'. The same argument could possibly be put forth in a petition to the Supreme Court, asking it not to press the Department of Telecom to bar pornographic websites cause there is a sizeable number of us who access them on a regular basis - incidents of rape of toddlers and young women by criminals, often right after they have accessed pornographic material as seen in the Nirbhaya gang rape, be damned! 

A visiting American journalist had once told me that hardly any news business makes money in the USA. The news outlets are often subsidised by the parent company's other businesses or funded out of a trust, or paid for by the subscribers. The bond between the news outlet and the audience is a sacrosanct contract that results in the loss of prestige and business, in addition to criminal and financial penalties should it ever be broken. The News of the World scandal across the Atlantic where Rupert Murdoch was hauled over coals and his deputies jailed serves as an apt example of what can happen when this contract is violated. The journalist in question was left a bit stupefied when he learnt of practices like 'Paid News' or of fly-by-night 'Chit funds' operators bankrolling news outlets to serve and help canonise friendly politicians. As I watched CNN last night I realised how much of an international scare the Ebola outbreak is turning out to be with over a million affected already. I don't seem to have seen much about this outbreak, which is now being heralded as the proverbial biblical plague (oh well, news channels will be news channels, no matter where they are!), on our Desi news channels, occupied as they are with debating the merits or otherwise of the Prime minister's visit to the USA at one end and Deepika Padukone's neckline plunging to newer depths at the other - often in quick succession! India, as the perennially under-prepared state, will pay a heavy toll in human life and economic devastation should the epidemic break out of the confines of the dark continent. 

What do you prefer - a media that stoops to hailing the emperor of the day from the ramparts of its own violation, or an independent one that may be a little noisy and overtly, perhaps even overly critical of the other three pillars of democracy?

I shudder to think what you, dear audience, will be put through over the next few days as the coverage of the Prime minister's visit to the USA gathers steam.

As for me, I thank god it's Friday as I look forward to a sumptuous Saturday afternoon feast laid out by a dear friend and colleague, and no news television over the weekend!

This labour-of-love blog post comes to you cause of a Facebook status update by my good friend and guide-of-sorts of now nearly two decades standing, Shantanu Guha Ray, about how the increasingly insular Indians haven't offered any help to the African nations at the very epicentre of the deadly Ebola epidemic yet. Please blame Shantanu dada for any torture you might have put yourself through to read this somewhat tortuous (?) post till the very end. I enjoyed writing this out as I have always fancied myself as a bit of a writer. Now how does that Beatles' song goes....'their son is working for the daily mail...it's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer...but I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer'.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

No country for the excluded!

I voted for a change today. I must say though, in all frankness, that the experience was anything but enjoyable or uplifting.  

A sustained campaign by the disability movement in India culminated in the enactment of the Disability Act in 1995, which guaranteed people with disabilities equal opportunities in all walks of life. Yet, it took instructions from the Supreme Court of India in April 2004 to ensure that an electorate which was so far invisible was able to exercise its right to universal franchise as enshrined in the constitution of India - for the first time perhaps - in the ensuing General Election - making it the first truly democratic one since independence.

The 2004 election saw a government topple and heads roll. What doesn't seem to have changed is the sheer apathy of the powers-that-be towards the specially-abled electorate. Despite news reports, attributed to the election commission, that special arrangements are in place for the senior citizens and the physically challenged to be able to vote, there were none it seems - certainly not where Jaipuria School, Vasundhara, Ghaziabad, is concerned. I walk with the help of crutches and find even short walking distances challenging and yet, despite telling the security men at the entrance that I would find it very difficult to negotiate the distance to the polling booth, I wasn't allowed to take my car to the entry porch, quite unlike the last time around, and had to walk about 50 metres to the hall that led to the polling booths and then further negotiate a flight of steps. To put it all in perspective, walking 50 metres for me is akin to your running a mile under 15 minutes - no mean feat am told - and having to negotiate a flight of steps thereafter is like being asked to do a set of jump squats after that mile long run! My travails didn't quite end there. I had to walk another 75 metres to the polling booth. A sentry on duty took a look at a, by now, profusely sweating yours truly and allowed me to jump to the head of the queue. There were other voters who were far worse off than me - I saw at least 2 people, including a woman, trying to negotiate the entire maze with the help of walkers. There were no ramps, no passages with enough width that could be negotiated by wheelchair users, and certainly no sensitized personnel to assist – people were refused wheelchairs despite asking for them. My parents, pushing 80 now, too had a bad time standing in the queue - my father's name didn't even figure in the voting list for some mysterious reason.

All this just goes to show that one shouldn't really rely on news reports and public-relation press releases - hell of a difference between the news reports and the situation on the ground to my chagrin. Good intentions gone bad due to poor execution or sheer apathy? I simply thanked heavens as I heaved a sigh of relief as I slumped down into my car having cast my vote and run what can, perhaps, best be described as a steeple chase. I didn’t quite wait to see how the voters walking with the help of walkers fared as I had to report to office.

20 years since the enactment of the disability act and 5 general elections later, the lack of sensitivity on the part of the Election Commission towards the impediments that the physically challenged face at the polling booths is nothing short of sheer disappointment, if not outright criminal - is it not the duty of the Election Commission to ensure that people with disabilities are able to exercise a right guaranteed by the constitution of India? When the election commission can ensure that the officials on election duty and the armed forces personnel can cast their vote, why is it that millions of people with disabilities either dare not venture out of their homes or return home without having cast their vote? Why is it that facilities for millions of physically challenged voters are still missing at the polling stations across the country or are only provided at the booths where celebrities come out in droves and present photo-opportunities? Why are the security and the election commission personnel not sensitized towards the needs of the physically challenged and why is it that no action is taken against them when they are found wanting in the discharge of their duties towards people with disabilities? Aren’t people with disabilities citizens of India? Don’t they have the right to vote? Why have all the human-rights activists gone to ground on this issue?

In an interview in 2004, I had asked Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi if people with disabilities had any place in 'Shining India'. If memory serves me right, he didn’t quite know how to respond and made the usual diplomatic noises. I guess ‘Incredible India’ in 2014, just as was the case with 'Shining India' in 2004, hardly has any place for the physically challenged in its scheme of things. Shame!

I voted for a change today – now to see if a more inclusive dawn is at hand.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A tale of AAP, hum, and a trust motion.

Sheila Dixit showed us how graceless she could be when she didn't attend AAP's swearing-in. Harshvardhan cut a real sorry figure at the trust motion. Arvinder Singh Lovely, as bad a ham as any & breathing fire at Aap till yesterday, managed to show some grace at the trust motion and made the best of a bad situation. Arvind Kejriwal showed us what it is to speak with passion, conviction, and above all with endearing humility.

The real worry for the Bjp now is Aap winning seats in the Loksabha. They intend, as media reports will have it, contesting 300 seats. Should they win even a fraction of these seats they can surely play kingmakers or spoilsports - depending upon your perspective.

Food for thought for the Bjp and Ironman-2's (or is that Ironman-3?) fanboys and girls, eh? More the Bjp (and other parties) criticise Aap the stronger the public support grows for Aap. Bjp is now worried if Aap could cut into their voteshare. Aap already may have lured away some of its NRI supporters - that's where their foreign funding has come from for the recent assembly elections.

As for the indian national congress, nothing seems to be working out for them. It has become a classic case of the left hand not knowing, or at least professing not to know, that the right hand has been in the till. Take the Adarsh controversy for example, first, they had the gall to reject the report prepared by its own investigators. Then, upbraided by Rahul Gandhi, they accepted the report in parts and allowed only a few bureaucrats and dispensable party-men to take a fall. They seem to be in a catch-22 situation - damned if they act, damned if they don't. Ek taraf kuan, doosri taraf khaai.

At the time of writing this, Yeddyruppa, that disgruntled BJP veteran with above-reproach standards of probity has come back to the party's fold at Narendra Modi's behest - says something about Modi's concern for the aam aadmi's struggle with corruption in daily life, eh?

Now the Bjp can cry 'corruption hatao' till the gaai-maatas (cows) come home but yeh jo public hai yeh sab jaanti hai - we know they are just talking of UPA's corruption and not their own. Bjp will leave no stone unturned to lure UPA's constituents to the NDA's fold and as we know friends, Indians and countrymen, the UPA constituents - or some of them at the very least - are  a lovely, honest, honourable lot.

As an aside, I can't understand why Aap is allowing veterans from other parties to join them - they can only bring taint perhaps. Then again, what would I know? Am only another aam-aadmi.