Monday, December 20, 2010

The Newsroom - Part 1

An afternoon can often be boring, an afternoon without a crisis is worse. Everyone stares at a computer terminal, vigorously typing and deleting what need not have been typed in the first place. The Boss is often away, in the guise of meetings, he must be snoring after a good meal. But then only one in a hundred can be the Boss, the rest of us have to act as if we are awake and busy.

Crisis in the world is time for each newsroom to feel very important. They are part of the crisis, their commentary is required and their analysis will be forced down on the rest of society. And a lazy afternoon can turn into a desperate quest for space. All that happens when there's a crisis.

But there's one crisis that has hit newsrooms, a crisis that the scribe tribe cannot comment or react to, and that's the crisis when there's no crisis in the world. What can they write about, what can they comment upon, what can they analyze and throw at the world outside. In short how do they justify their existence?

There are different types of crisis. A large crisis is when the boss is very busy and doesn't care for what you are doing. A small crisis is when the boss feels relaxed and has delegated the responsibility for it to be made to appear like a large crisis. But then a no crisis is when it means crisis is going to hit you.

You can often know a no crisis day the moment you walk into office, the man in charge ambles in with a very pleasant smile, suddenly he realizes your existence and says "Hello". What comes next is something that requires a good deal of imagination to answer. "What's happening today"? The honest answer should be “Nothing”, but honesty can often be at one's own peril and so you need say many things before you say “nothing”.

And so it starts "Well... this was supposed to be happening but it hasn't and that was supposed to be happening, but it happened yesterday and since it's not happening today we cannot report it today...And yes you remember that was also supposed to happen but it's been cancelled"

You stop there without saying that the long and short of it is that nothing's happening today or at least you cannot make anything happen today.

The boss smiles and walks away, he searches for his next victim. Can't blame him, can you? He needs to make something happen. Then something happens and something else gets reported and then we have something, which means nothing to the world but a big thing to those who were pondering over nothing.

But if nothing happens for a continuing period of time say 3 days, then it means the crisis is getting worse. That's when the Boss walks in with a grumpy face and the regular "What's happening today" is replaced with a grouchy and angry "You did nothing yesterday, are you going to do something today?" He does not wait for an answer he's asked the same question to the next, and then the next, and then the next victims. And you'd better think of the right answer before the other victims come up with theirs. When you bail the boss out on a no crisis day, it's often remembered for a long time. Hopefully long enough till he decides on your raise.

And so you say you will do it. Someone told you something a few days back and you decided that you would spin it around and make it into something. It needs to have a bit of everything. It needs to touch the rest of the society, it needs to have a semblance of truth, it should be something that cannot be completely contradicted, it should be something the boss wouldn't get angry about, it should appear to be true and most importantly it should make you look a like a damn good reporter.

And so we begin making our choices. The soft targets include terrorism, national security, politics etc. Politics can be easy, especially because the politician enjoys lesser credibility than the journalist, whatever you say will be construed as true and for the politician it simply does not matter. He's just happy his face is splashed all over the newspaper or the television channel as long as it’s not too controversial.

The particular advantage with a politician is he can say anything but we will make out what we want of it. For instance if you ask a politician

"Are you going to ally with such and such a party" and the answer is
"At the moment we will not and there are no such plans".

You could make it look like either he's ruled out an alliance or you could say he used the phrase "At the moment" so it means he's not ruled out an alliance in the future. Then if it suits you better you could say that for the record he's said what he did, but we know the truth and the truth is what I say.

The problem with politics is that it doesn't always sell; the other problem is if the particular politician knows your boss very well and can tell your boss that you’re an idiot. The boss knows it already, after all you’re working for him and he's no better, but when someone rubs it in it could become trouble. So it's better to avoid the politician till you’re sure. The world outside also has a particular disinterest in political nuances and so it's not spicy enough.

Terrorism and National Security are super soft targets. We've got so many of those e-mails floating around; we've got as many idiots with guns coming in from everywhere. And the world is forced to be afraid of it.
So how do we use terror to fight the terror of the boss and make it into the terror of news. I just realized that this piece that I am writing out of “Nothing” is getting a little extra long for someone with something in his head and hence for the “terror” research I shall write a separate piece. It will be released shortly on this blog and we will call it the Newsroom – Part 2 – “Terror for the News”.

Monday, July 5, 2010


It’s now been a year since we as a family moved north of the Vindhyas to the National Capital. On the economy class ( Sashi Tharoor famously called it Cattle Class) of a low cost airline it cost us a little over three thousand rupees per head to transcend the Vindhyas and arrive at the city, which in first impression never ends. Three thousand rupees per head is the cost of travel, it does not include the taxes, duties and penalties or in Toto the cost that one pays for having a capital dream. That cost is something like the CTC in corporate parlance, only it’s not cost to company but is cost to CONSCIENCE. CTC cannot be calculated in rupees, it comes out from time to time in the form of frustration, which in my case results in long frustrated writings on a blog that no one reads (barring of course a few jobless friend who in the name of courtesy endure it).

Some of you would know and for the rest if I may inform, I once lived in a city called Chennai. Home was five minutes from office, the idli was soft, smooth and five rupees or ten at the most, the filter coffee was excellent, much better than the exorbitant concoctions delivered by Costa and Coffee Day. Born with most of those things I did not realize how integral these were to my soul, till after I had lost them.

We all move and so I did, as a TV journalist got my mug shot more often on TV, much less work but much more on air. Also, went through a fantastic and rapid tutorial on the claim of knowing a bit of everything, learning how to speak with confidence the something that you don’t know and claiming to be whatever we all claim to be. Little bit or a lot like (depending on how frustrated you are) a parasite attaching itself to every bit of news coming in from every part of the country. Initially I thought it was the beast of television journalism that made being in the capital depressing and then I searched outside.

The swanky malls, the enormous roads that seem never ending, the endless list of people you cross through and trample upon each passing day, the inimitable promises you make and then don’t keep, the aggressive nature which creeps into you unnoticed, the killer instinct that kills the soul without evidence, these are all part of living in the National Capital (the same in Noida or any neighbour). And that’s when I recognized the headiness of being in the capital. It doesn’t matter which profession you are in the capital will get to you.

I may sound arrogant and frustrated about the city I describe, so be it, after all it’s a city which never sleeps, never wakes up, claims to live but can’t find a trace of life, has people but remains empty, and most importantly couldn’t care less about what any one else thinks and yet tries to live in an ostentatious show of wealth and power. What has amazed me in the last one year is the political class that thrives in this city. Smartly and comfortably perched in the comfort of the grandeur left behind by the British. Occupying every bit of what the Mughals and Lutens created and ruling over a vast, diverse, distinct and difficult country called India.

The capital does not forget that it’s great source of power emerges from the vast expanses that lie beyond its boundaries. We hail ourselves as a democracy, Oh yes we are, the power and authority for New Delhi to rule comes from the people – but the people’s role ends there. The MP’s we elect are governed by a coterie that lives and plagues the capital. That coterie consists of journalists, industrialists, dealmakers and sophisticated-socialites (who call their fake appearance the art of networking). It’s a careful blend of the most manipulated, manipulating and gullible. They feed into the power center that governs the country; they are the ones who use the power that is delivered by the people.

The disconnect between the source and the use of power is stark and is perhaps embodied in our system of parliamentary democracy, why else would we have then instituted a route for the erudite and governing elite to become parliamentarians without facing the people (I mean the Rajya Sabha). The idea is while the rest of India will do the dirty work and get its hands soiled for political representation and hence power the capital will bask in the glory and enjoy much of the fruit. Much like a parasite that not just rides but controls the beast that it rides on.

Now is this a fare assessment or am I being arrogant and dismissive of the capital’s abilities. Must give in here, it does have the ability to compromise, manage and gel different aspirations together. It’s important because elsewhere in the country we cannot understand and accept each other. Ghettoisation began in the name of language in the 1950’s and was cemented by the linguistic barriers we drew in the name of states. Since then if a regional power had to play a national role it had to be played out in the national capital. One region could not have any influence or acceptance on another as a political force and we depend on the capital to keep us together.

But then we should have evolved and the capital must have been made a manager and unifier, not the exploiter of our differences and have the sole propriety over power to rule the nation. Delhi’s politics today revolves in the drawing room, the negotiation skills, the perception managers and the claiming to be intellectuals with their great talent in capture of power without making genuine grass root effort is the first lesson in political school. And over the years this has permeated into the culture of the city and the DNA of the populace.

One of the first impressions made on me of Delhi was that if you do not aggressively fight back people would trample over you. It could be at the airport when you pick up a trolley or at a red light, the aggression hits you on the face. There are those who explain this aggression as a Punjabi trait and those who define it as the way things are done in the North. I have traveled to Punjab and other parts of North India. Yes the rules are thrown to the wind and the law is broken at will, but the arrogance of power is not the feeling I get. Feudal power play exists, but not the complete arrogance, the heart still remains palpable.

This has permeated to those who live and survive the capital and is now the culture that follows in every sphere of activity, the defining character of the populace. Mumbai because of financial strength has challenged that power, but it lacks the manipulation and heart-less aggression that Delhi has learnt, the city despite finesse and finances holds on to life and professionalism.

Capital’s around the world have a heady feeling, but do not ignore the nations expanses. Real democracy is where the capital is respected and the capital respects the rest. Where power is shared between those who provide it and those who manage it. My point of contention, after this long, bitter and frustrated attack on the capital, is that the rest of India should learn to be part of the governing process and the capital should lead the way with a change of attitude towards recognizing and respecting that the corners of India should be encouraged to think national and not be relegated to governing just their corners.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Air that leaves India

What follows is a letter written by a friend of mine to the Air India Chairman. To some it may sound a little snob, first class international frequent traveller's frustration, to others it's an incredible, funny and well written insight into why Air India is not worth paying for. Can assure you that Mr. Jadhav has read it and hopefully did not just chuckle and ignore it. Read on.

Dear Mr. Jhadav,

I am a frequent traveler of Air India vide FF no 331489. Recently I had undertaken a trip to New York and returned to Chennai last night. I travelled by first class and I had fully paid for it.

I presume you must also be using Air India and should you undertake a similar trip. Here are a few points to help your travel be more comfortable.

1. If you take AI 101 to New York (as I did on 19/03/2010) you may want to carry your own night wear as the cabin has only medium size. I needed a large one and then I had to sleep in my lounge suit which I had to wear, going into the aircraft straight from a meeting.

2. If you had to fly from Newark to Frankfurt ( as I did on 27/03/2010 by AI 144) you may again like to carry your own night wear as you don’t have large size.

3. And if you land in Frankfurt by AI 144 you may like to have a meeting of your staff in the luggage retrieving area, as otherwise, you will find no assistance and you will trek between belt 10 and belt 16 over 100 times because the outsourced staff are utterly unhelpful. Since it takes an hour it may be a good idea to finish all your work at the airport. Just a thought Mr. Chairman.

4. I hope you do not have the misfortune of taking AI120 from Frankfurt (as I did on 30/03/2010). When I brought to the notice of the Ground Engineer, part of your outsourced ground staff, the call button was not working, he said he could fix it provided I could be grounded for 4 hours. A Great Ambassador for your airline indeed. As if that was not enough, Mr. Chairman, when I checked in the first class counter at Frankfurt, and when I asked if someone could escort us to the lounge, a normal courtesy extended to first class passengers, the girl at the counter encouraged me helpfully that I should travel Lufthansa for such courtesy!

I am told call buttons failure is common and therefore I strongly suggest that you provide for manual call bells, to first class passengers to enhance their comfort!

Another thing you need to plan ahead Mr. Chairman, is that a sex change may be necessary as on this sector, you have only ladies night wear.

Also Mr. Chairman from Frankfurt to Delhi the reading light did not work and if you want to read on work you may have to request the cabin crew to vacate their seats near the exit door (exhibit 1).

The acme Mr. Chairman was on IC 801 of 1/04/2010, on arrival in Chennai. After two union ministers got into the coach along with a few other business class passengers, the ground staff said that the coach was full in a bus which is normally packed like sardines. When I insisted, I would also get in the coach with my wife and forced my way in, the bus took off with my wife perched dangerously on the footboard. I have known Government trying to reserve for women, but you must be the only airline reserving space for women on the footboard! A unique airline indeed, a union minister and a former chief secretary were witness to this.

All in all Mr. Chairman thank you for the third class treatment for first class fare.

I am taking the liberty of calculating this experience to many to encourage people to contribute ideas to you for making air travel by your airlines memorable.

Thanking you

Yours Sincerely

R. Ganapathi

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women and The Indian Political Male

The Irony was that it had to happen on a day when thousands of miles away, at the academy awards, a woman, for the first time, became best director and her film was adjudged the finest. Katheryn Bigelow re-wrote Oscar history, even as Laloo and Mulayam Yadav reminded us of the regressive nature of our political class and perhaps even Indian society. It’s a shame isn’t it, that we couldn’t have a discussion on the women’s reservation bill in parliament. First it’s appalling that it has taken this long, even more distressing is the circumstances that was created when it was brought, yet again, in front of the parliament. The Bill’s still not through as I write this piece, I hear every analyst on TV, debate on it’s need and predict that it’s fate depends on the political will of the congress party and the diktat of the congress president.

Frankly, I don't think a bill should mandate space for women in Indian democracy; it ought have come from the political class, the voter and the society, a long time ago. Each political party should have ensured that they fielded women at par with men in winning seats and as citizen's we should have campaigned and used our democratic right to ensure that it happened. The truth is we all failed and that's why we need a law to make us do so. I don't agree with the argument that women make better politicians. They are as good or bad as their male political counterparts, each Mayawati has a Laloo Yadav, and as Indian's we need to deal with them man or woman.

All that's beside the point, today we've long passed the time to even write or debate the pros and cons of such a legislation. It's been analysed, re analysed, argued, fought over enough, sabotaged and stalled enough, what else have been doing for over a decade now. This is really not the time to discuss the nitigritys, but look at the big picture and to vote for the bill, to support it not just in letter but also in spirit. Remember, the bill with whatever reservations anyone may have about women's reservation, whatever it promises and doesn't promise, is a symbolic moment of assertion that as a society we believe in empowering women. At the moment the focus should be to be feel ashamed that we haven't put the spirit into practice, regret and realise it's time to ensure that it's finally implemented not just in letter but also in true and unadulterated spirit.

The genuine worry is not the enactment of the law, but whether it's spirit drives our political and national conscience. The letter would ensure that women will represent 33 percent of the seats, but if it's not followed in spirit, we could have the Indian political male manipulate the letter to field his daughters, daughter in law, mother in law, wife, sister and rule by proxy. I even heard a veteran communist leader say "So what. We've seen Betas and Daamads Why not Bahus and Betis now". There’s a problem ma'm, in the feudalistic and patriarchic Indian society the beta and damaad occupy a much more powerful role than the bahu and the beti. The concern should be to ensure that the beti and bahu are given the space in their own right and are not made a proxy for the beta and the damaad. They cannot become fillers because the beta and the damaat can't contest. We can live with dynastic politics, but not with feudalistic and discriminatory political thought. Let's ensure that the daughter has as much right over the dynasty as the son. Remember even in parties, which are ardent supporters of the bill, some, led by strong women, there's domination by the male. He doesn't want to give up his seat and when this bill becomes a law, 33 percent of him will have to vacate space. Let his daughter take over, but let him give it to his daughter as the heir to his political legatee, not just to keep the seat within the family and make her a proxy. Like a Rabri did for Lalu.

What troubles me is also the mischievous arguments and points of view put forth by various sections of our polity. It exposes that amongst the supporters of the bill there are those who are already searching for devious designs to derail it's spirit. I would rather live with the staunch opponent, than the fake supporters. Shiva Sena for instance says, "We support the bill. But we want the decision on seats be left to the parties"... Mr. Sainik we all know that there are "winning" and "losing" seats that every party identifies. What guarantee do I have that you won't field women in "Losing" seats for your party, and your opponent field them in his "losing" seats and there by letting the women lose despite a bill to ensure they win. The decision on which of the seats will be reserved for women will have to rest with the election commission and only that help in generating a new woman political class. There has to be genuine competition between women to throw up the best amongst them to lead us and that's the only way we will have create a strong political class of women.

Lest we forget how the upper castes, in several cases, have found the most acceptable dalit candidate (read weakest) to contest and win and thereby perpetrate their hegemony of the society. Reservation by itself cannot guarantee equality, reservation is putting in public a commitment to steer the society towards equality, the women's reservation bill will be all but yet another law if we as the society do not resolve to understand and acknowledge it's spirit. Symbolism and laws help but not as much as collective social conscience.

As a nation we have not been law abiding, we continue to trample over the spirit of the laws as we hail their letter. The women's reservation bill would yet again be a collective test for a social conscious, will we let ourselves be judged as professionals as human beings sans the sexes. May take years, but as we debate and try to destroy the legislation, guess it's time to resolve to work towards a dream to make a harsh reality less harsh.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spare met the Tweets

Interlocutor - "Helps in a Dialogue"; Mediator - "Helps in bringing about an agreement"

O.K. Mr. Tharoor there's a difference. But so what if there's a difference, I am the journalist and I decide what you meant to convey. You only have the choice to retract, apologise, clarify or withdraw your statement, cause I have already written about what I think of what you thought you wanted to convey. It doesn't matter that you are a distinguished diplomat, writer and man with perhaps more intellect than I. You are still not the journalist, even worse, you ended up as an Indian politician, perhaps the only class that enjoys lesser credibility than me the Indian Journalist. So when I say you need to learn what to say and how to say what you say to the media, then you must listen, lest I remind you again that I am the Indian Journalist.

I went to a journalism school for two weeks, that was enough wasn't it... what's there to learn in the first place. But in those two weeks I did meet a proffesor who I would like to keep anonymous. I 'll call him Mr. X. I was having breakfast when I heard about your "Saudi Arabian trouble" and when I looked up Mr. X was sitting next to me, staring me down just the way he did a decade ago. He asked me "What would've been your lead". "Hmmm" I wondered a bit .... I wanted to sound knowledgeable and decisive and be a great foreign policy reporter. Just as I was about to respond Mr.X interrupted "What did he say". I said "Wants the Saudi’s to interlocute". "So" he said. "So it's a big story isn't it" I replied. He said "O.K." "But what would you check first". Ahh.. I got him here and I couldn't be wrong "The history Indo Pak relations and the Saudi connection" "I would get quote and expert opinion". Mr. X looked at me with a little condescension. The old man has always done that hasn't he, but I got him this time and he couldn't agree that I was right. Those moments of self adulation quickly disappeared; Mr. X asked me "What does interlocutor mean and what's the difference between mediator and interlocutor". I guess doing that gives me the real picture, but then why do that when you have an alleged "foreign policy departure" and a lead story in your hands.

We don't have too many Mr. Xs around and what we have instead are those like me. So when there's an elucidation that asking for Saudi interlocution on dealing with Pakistan on "Terror" is different from Saudi interlocution in dealing with Pakistan on "Kashmir", I will still take it as the same and claim that you’re trying to use diplomatic nuances to wriggle out of a politically disastrous statement. It doesn't matter what transpires between you and your party and I will continue to say that you have been "summoned" and "Told off".

Yes, the logical and progressive thing to do would be to ask me to be more mature when I report, but I have to remind you that I am the journalist and you cannot tweet that. What you can instead do is try to be more illiterate in how you say, what you say. Keep the diplomacy and the wits for those who would appreciate it and keep the more elaborate and simple statements for those like me. Don't expect me to know the language and the sense you derive from it. There are many amongst me who are brilliant and can match your intellect, choose them if you must. But for the rest of us just use the fundamental rule of TV journalism "KISS" "Keep it Short and Simple”.... spare us the tweets.