‘MAKE’ IN INDIA…..

This is the phase of democracy which I love the most. Pre-election time when affidavits reveal how much or how little, some of the most worthless people are worth.

I am one big sucker for numbers. These numbers. Who-has -what -and –how- much -more -of -what, has always been a point of fascination for me.

The icing on the cake is what I have listed here. Cherries which baffle me no end. (Or maybe I am sheer jealous).

STARS AND CARS:

Stars (read Bollywood) who gift their friends expensive cars. It is not about cars. I am not a car freak. So often have I read such stories in newspapers or doing the rounds, which it has made me wonder.

I am not talking about the story of a poker-faced star gifting two jeeps to the Mumbai police. Or the much trended story of the Poor Little son of a Rich Big man and how the son got away after Big Rich man ‘gifted’ a fancy car as compensation.

I am also not talking of instances where actors ‘ gift Jaguar car to wife’. (One TV actor recently did that). Or Sanju gifting a Rolls Royce to Manyataa. (I hope I have got the right number of AAAs in Manyataaaa).

But stories like SRK gifting his friend Farah Khan (or when she was a friend) a Black Merc. Gifted. Not sold. And this was the third car that he had gifted her. Similarly, Vidhu Vinod always dreamt of working with Big B and when that dream came true, he gifted the senior B with a Rolls Royce worth 3.5 crore. Fascinating isn’t it.

Apparently, Sanju baba gifted a fellow Director a wrist watch (obviously an expensive one) worth several lakhs (the cost was the numeric followed by eight zeros) because he shot a particular scene with sanju in a certain way which made Sanju happy. Sanju baba happy so gift worth lakhs.

The movie didn’t make as much money as the price of the watch, is a different matter altogether. Sanju was happy gifting. The Director was ‘gifted’.

One actor gifted four of his team members a seven-series Beamer, one to each of them, out of ‘love’. (Beamer is a BMW and not the style of bowling in cricket which some cricket pace bowlers excel in).

Post-script. The gifts are not ‘instead’ of the money but over-and-above what the person is due. I cannot even imagine what the Chartered accountants of these stars would get as gifts.

MAKE IN INDIA:

My other favourite past-time is reading about people who stash away the moolah. I read with great envy about the deputy collector whose salary was a little over 20,000 rupees but what the IT guys recovered was documented wealth over Rs. 200 crore.

The IAS couple in Madhya Pradesh too, had ‘MADE’ over 100 crore. (Here I quote a friendly IRS officer who told me that once caught, if the bureaucrat has declared X amount, that means he has  ‘MADE’ ten times that amount, because he knows he has to live the rest of his life under suspension, but maintaining the same lifestyle.

But this is about people who ‘invest’. What amazes me are the CASH people.

WHERE THE %@!$# DO THEY STASH IT?

Sukhram, the once-upon-a-time telecom minister had stuffed the cash in mattresses. So filmy. The only other place he could have was in the bathroom in a ‘hidden safe’.

I vividly remember the anti-corruption raid in Bandra, Mumbai, where cops were caught with tons of cash and they had no choice but to fling bags and bags of currency out of the third floor bathroom window.

It rained money and how. Stories like these are endless. My charcha over chai is always about such people. I have met a few, very few, who have unabashedly admitted that they make money. I have never managed to garner courage to ask them, paisa rakhtey kahan ho. Where the hell do you stash it.

WORTHLESS-VARDI:

But what excites me is election time. When reams of newsprint talks about the houses, cars, yachts and bullocks owned by the mantris and their santris.

It is interesting to read how much some of these worthless are worth.

A cop, once dismissed from service for having money more than his income (and now reinstated) has declared assets worth 39 crore. T H I R T Y N I N E $$%%x C R  O R E no less. And one of the assets declared is a 1200 sq feet house in Andheri east which he has declared to be worth 69 lakh.  Isn’t there someone who scrutinizes the claimed value? An 800 square feet house in the same area as the cop’s, was almost sold for 2 crore a few months ago. This cop claims his flat is worth ONLY 69 lakh.  Will you sell it to me for 70 lakh, Mr. Cooper? His wife has given loans worth 11 crore.

Pray how does the money multiply so fast, when there is no known source of official income? At least the cop had a salary from his vardi. What about the other unworthies who graduated from cycles to now drive around in fancy imported 4WD (four wheel drives).

It is time these questions were asked.

SANTRI-MANTRI

And last but not the clichéd least is the declaration by some ministers and politicians who have spent decades politicking but, shockingly, their affidavits show their financial worth not more than a few thousand or barely kissing the six figure mark.

One way to look at it is that there is hope. So untouched by corruption some of these ’poor’ politicians are.

One of course does wonder that if in four decades of political service they have not planned on how financially run their own life, how they can plan for an entire constituency.

Ends

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Mumbai-An orchestra without a Conductor

Why does Mumbai smell so much?  Is a question I have often been asked, by friends or family, whenever and whoever makes his maiden visit to this city. Smell? What smell? I remark. Maybe you have got used to it, they grumble. Maybe I have, I mutter back.

 

Do you know Mumbai is changing? I once asked a friend, a fresh Non-resident-Indian convert now based in New Zealand, over the phone. Will it ever?  He shot back. That was a couple of years ago.

A fortnight back, I was at the International airport terminal’s arrival lounge to receive the same friend.  As I watched him emerge, all that I could see him do was gawk in amazement. Wide eyed. Disbelieving. Whats wrong here,he gasped, in amazement. It has changed.

 

But there is nothing surprising in that look of his which I saw. I have in recent times seen many with those  dumbstruck looks.

 

I am a Marathi speaking Mumbaikar, yes. A hardcore one at that. But, I am also this city’s staunchest critic, if I could call myself one.  And in the role that I am, officially, heading a public trust which aims at transforming the lives of the citizens of Mumbai, I think my dual role helps me best.

(For the uninitiated, I recently completed 100 days as the CEO of Bombay First, or Mumbai First which can also be trached on http://www.mumbaifirst.org

Bombay First has a mandate and vision to transform Mumbai in to a better place to live, work and invest in. It aims to serve the city with the best that private business can offer. It will achieve this by addressing the problems of today and the opportunities of tomorrow, through partnerships with government, business and civil society. Catalyst. Joining Dots. A model of Private-Public-Partnership.)

 

Not many in Mumbai travel to the International Airport, the T2, as is popularly known, every day or even once a year for that matter. Thus, to expect them to shower heaps of praise on the “marvelous”drive to the airport and back, would be unfair. They would not even know it exists, but for the countless hoardings and newspaper ads and write-ups which spoke of the airport terminus when it was inaugurated. Who trusts the written word anyways, can be the argument.

 

And for staunch advocates of a transforming (which is a far cry from a transformed) Mumbai, the criticism is unabated. But yes, Mumbai is changing.

 

In the first half of this year, 2014, alone, Mumbai’s transformation  programme has offered the citizens the T2 (the International airport terminal and a fancy driveway to support it),  an elevated Eastern Express Freeway, the Metro rail, the elevated Mono rail and a lounging connector road between the Eastern suburbs and western suburbs called the SCLR (Santacruz Chembur Link road).

 

Then there is also the elevated road in the western suburbs which replaces the Milan subway and the freshly inaugurated Kherwadi flyover along the Western Express Highway which was a reason for many a traffic snarl for the better part of this summer.

 

For the lakhs of people of this city, all these are non existent. Optimists talk about the hundreds and thousands who take the metro train from Versova in Andheri (a western suburb) to Ghatkopar (in the eastern suburbs) every day.  But there are lakhs and lakhs who still wait in queues or plead to the auto rickshaw wallahs to take them to routes where the trains do not even dream of reaching.

 

Even within the city.  For them, Mumbai hasn’t changed. But worsened. The story is no different for those taking the Monorail. What’s that?  It’s that little toy train up in the sky which we may see in some parts of the city in the next generation.

 

The two works of art which have seen some appreciation and significant use, has been the Eastern Freeway, which connects the distant eastern suburbs to south Mumbai’s CST  cutting down travel time to almost one third and an almost similar, first-of-its-kind connect between the Western and Central suburbs from Kalina in Santacruz to Chembur, called the SCLR. The story of Mumbai is almost like that of the office of the  MTSU or Mumbai Transformation Support Unit, a body headed by bureaucrat, so typical in attire and yet, competent to the T. B C Khatua sits on the third floor of a rickety building adjacent to the beautiful and historic Horniman circle.

 

His job on behalf of the MTSU is to coordinate, advise, and monitor projects undertaken by the city’s multiple governing bodies.Multiple no doubt, as I would like to explain later. MTSU’s one-point agenda: to facilitate the transformation of Mumbai into a world-class city. It is ironical that the man keeping an eye on the city’s transformation sits in a building that could do with a lick of metamorphosis itself.  But, that is the story of Mumbai. There is so much happening. But the city is moving faster than the growth. The development, if one would call it that, has been more reactive, that proactive. The Metro project, for example, is a multi phased project.

 

The 11.4-km line was built over six years. The entire project should have been completed by now. What we have, is only the First phase, which has taken close to a decade.

 

One can imagine the state of the city, the population and its plight, when the project gets completed a hundred years later. Maybe not that many, but you get my point.

 

The Metro is not the only delayed project. One of the other projects which I have spoken of, the SCLR earned the epithet “world’s most delayed road project” from the World Bank. The monorail was greeted with sceptical jeers as the project in its current state hardly connects populated areas.

 

Mumbai’s list of woes is unending and like the delays in every project, is only growing.

 

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region [MMR, which includes Mumbai and its satellite towns like Navi Mumbai and Thane] is about 4,350 sq km. Of this, Mumbai and its suburbs account for 482 sq km, just 11%. But the population is largely focused around Mumbai and its suburbs.  We now have have a situation where nearly 12.5 million people out of the 22 million [in MMR] live in just 11% of the city’s land mass. A situation now gradually changing with people moving beyond Mumbai city limits and its suburbs to its satellite towns in search of more affordable dwelling. The 2011 census showed, the population of the island city of Mumbai came down from 33.26 lakh in 2001 to 31.45 lakh in 2011 (down 5.4%).

 

During this period, Navi Mumbai grew by 59%. Which is why, among the list of demands that are being pushed forth by the city planners, is the new International airport closer to Navi Mumbai.

 

Orchestra without a Conductor:

 

For every right that takes place, there are ten wrongs, remarks one town planner, who has been associated with this city’s infrastructure  project since the time he has living memory.

 

As Adi Godrej, Chairman of the Godrej group told a journalist, “Mumbai is not in a decline… things are changing, but not at the pace they should be. The city has to keep up with the times.” Seventeen agencies are involved in the city’s governance. It is like an an orchestra. You have 17 players — each one of them good at what they do — but without a conductor…it simply can’t work, I remember Narinder Nayar, Chairman of Bombay First once telling me. There are multiple bodies doing the same work, be it in the Railways or the Public works and infrastructure, almost competing and sometimes fighting with each other.

 

What Does Mumbai need?

 

First and foremost, Mumbai needs a CEO like officer and an institution which can be the conductor of this unwieldy orchestra. This should be supported by a ministry in the government which looks differently at mega cities and their growth and issues. For instance, much of Mumbai’s mobility woes have been attributed to the increasing number of vehicles on the roads, which have left pedestrians with no choice but to either stay indoors or come under the wheels of these vehicles.

 

The alternate option is to have a coastal road. Mumbai being a coastal city. But, the stringent CRZ (Coastal regulatory Zone) rules, which apply to all coastal cities, apply here and prominent citizens have been advocating that these rules be eased for mega cities.

 

Mumbai also lacks open spaces. Landsharks seek out any bit of open land before the public can get to it. What town planners have found as a safe alternative is the under-utilised land of the Mumbai Port Trust.

 

There is a huge track of land, completely underutilised. Along the South-east coast of Mumbai. Free this up and make it available to Mumbaikars for recreation, has been the voice of many a campaigners, including former banker Meera Sanyal, who twice contested the elections from South Mumbai but lost on both occasions. What Mumbai also needs is a kinder eye to the problem that masses face every day. A significant number of people of this city commute by the rail system every day. Under extremely pitiable conditions. The suburban rail network desperately needs a coat of modernisation. Bombay First has also been campaigning for a body which can integrate all forms of public transport and uniformly transform it, modernise it and make it a place of pride for the citizens.

 

Almost in the manner that the metro rail has been for this city. And then make the entire travel air-conditioned.

 

Then finally, citizens will get an opportunity to breathe easy. The sigh of relief can come later.

 

THE TOUCH AND FEEL OF THE CHIEF MINISTER

 

(A fictional account of the Chief Minister’s travel to Mumbai. I mean, to the city beyond the airport.)

One year back, I had urged the Chief Minister of Maharashtra (https://shishirjoshi.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/open-letter-to-the-chief-minister/)

to some day  try travelling towards the Mumbai which exists beyond the domestic/international  airport and experience  life on the moon, with all craters intact. (Clichéd and sic, but true).

Last week, Mr. Chavan finally agreed. Here is his touch-and-feel account.

Mr. Chavan was to attend a bhoomi poojan ceremony of a mall promoted by a fellow politician who had joined hands with two others; a suspended cop and a reputed builder. This was to be held at Andheri east, closer towards the Sahar international airport. The scheduled time of the event was seven pm.

One option was to take a chopper, but since that would  have meant taking to the skies after sunset (not permitted by  DGCA laws) , that idea never took wings. The other option was to hit the road. With four pilot cars and an equal number of escort vehicles behind him, the joy ride would have taken not more than 25 minutes to reach Andheri. (Peak traffic time rules do not apply to lal batti gaadis) . It otherwise takes nothing less than 2 hours on a normal day from Church gate to Andheri by road. Mr. Chavan dropped this idea too as, in the wake of growing unrest against public servants, he wanted to prove a larger point.

How long will it take me to reach Andheri?, he asked his man Friday, 45minutes, pat came the reply from an eager beaver, “just 45 minutes sahib, our public transport  shystam is very paarfect. “By train, he hastily added.  It was 4.30 in the afternoon and there was still a full 30 minutes for Mantralaya, the state administrative headquarters to officially stop work for the day. “Sahib you leave at 4.40 pm saheb, so you will get a direct ladies special bus from Mantralaya to Churchgate station. We all leave office early anyways to catch that bus. So nothing wrong in you doing it”, he said.

 The conscientious leader did not want to be seen sneaking out of Mantralaya before time, least of all, into a ladies special. So he covered himself under a burqa, and leapt into the ladies special bus, reaching Churchgate in a jiffy.

He was shocked to see so many trains. Never known to take instant firm decisions, he dithered, once again. He lunged to a public assistance booth. It was unattended. He was running late so he scampered to the Railway police chowki. Two uniformed cops were busy entertaining someone at the other end of the line. After a three-minute wait, one of them asked the burqa clad leader if “she”had lost a child or a mobile.  If not, don’t waste my time, was the look he gave her.

Ändheri key liye train kahan sey?”  enquired the burqa PRC (Prithvi Raj Chavan ). 
“Mere chehre pe 197 likha hai kya?” (Does my face have a telephone enquiry tattooed on it??) bellowed the cop and  told PRC to take any train, since  “they all go via Andheri”.

PRC ran towards a train inching out of the platform, managing to cling into the gate rod and footboard in the nick of time. It was the general (read MALE) compartment of a Virar fast.

Even before Prithvi bhau could catch his breath, there seemed men in all shapes and sizes offering theirs. At every station, the number of hands, fingers, palms, groins, thighs, paan-stained faces and knees played doctor-doctor with Prithvi bhau. Periodically, a wave of people surged in, or were pushed out, a fresh pairs of hands made it a point to explore the unexplored. With renewed vigor.

Prithvi bhau had once seen an award-winning  newspaper  photograph of a man sandwiched  between two BEST buses. Fear painted on his face. Those images came flashing in front of Prithvi bhau’s eyes, as a stock man inched deeper and closer into him, softly humming, Jaata kahan hai deewaaney…sab kuch yahan hai sanam..(where are you trying to escape my love, all that you want is here…)

It was the longest Churchgate to Andheri ride that Prithvi bhau had ever undertaken.

As the train neared Andheri, he sensed a light at the end of the over-bridge. His relief was short-lived. First, Virar loyals refused to allow an Andheri Indian to disembark. When Prithvi bhau finally did, his farewell it was not without the accompaniment of a few pinches, blows, touches-feelies, slaps and choicest of gender abuses marked his harried and hurried farewell.

In great pain, Prithvi bhau managed to take the foot over-bridge, clutching on to what remained of his burqa.

In the surging crowds, Prithvi bhau was surprised how many people, especially men, suffered from what he thought was a “temporary elbow problem.”  “From a distance they seemed fine, as soon as they came closer, their elbows would jut out”, he told a friend later. “Ï wonder why?” he questioned. He also never understood why most women who negotiate these bridges hold their purses and bags in front of them, cross-armed.

About to take the steps down, his eyes popped at the sight of an elevated  runway. Paused long enough to notice very few people walking onto it. Most others choosing to wade through the sea of human miracle. “That is a sky walk”, shouted out a vendor, responding to the quizzical look. Before he could say thank you, he had been knocked by another wave of people coming from the next train.

 It took Prithvi bhau twenty minutes to come out of the railway station. Another fifteen to wait for a bus stop before giving up and choose to stand in line for an auto rickshaw.  He had left Mantralaya at 4.45 pm.It was nearing 7 pm.

After three auto rickshaws had turned him down and a fourth ran over his leg,  bhau finally managed to get a shared rickshaw, sandwiched between two men.

He had no energy to fight back. He just let the guys help themselves. Too tired even to take heed to what Aasaram bapu preached on Monday. (For the uninitiated and unaware, Aasaram bapu in a public discourse blamed the victim of the Delhi gang rape for what happened to her. He said and I quote from television news clips, the Delhi gang rape victim would have saved her life if she had pleaded and made the alleged rapists her brothers”.)

Prithvi bhau was beyond  new relationships.

He somehow managed to reach the venue. Clothes intact but dignity in tatters.

It was 7.45 pm. It had taken three hours for him to reach Andheri East’s Sahar locality.  “Tumcha chehra  itka utarlela kasa? Amhi roz ashech ghari pohochto  saheb”. (Why are you looking so pale sir? This is how we travel and reach home every day”, one of the women at the venue told him.

The event got over in ten minutes. One of the middle-class Mumbaikars was planning to take a train back to Churchgate. “Nako rey baba”, pleaded Prithvi bhau, when they asked if he would like to join them. He chose a taxi drive back.

Prithvi bhau was drained. He somehow managed to send a text message to Madam ji in Delhi, to tell her how he braved Mumbai’s commute and hoping she is now proud of her as he has finally identified with the “Marathi manoos”.

One is not sure if it was Madam ji or chottey sarkar. But, orders were given for every Congresi  leader to follow suit.

One local leader  said she wanted to emulate Chavan saheb. No, not by travelling in the Delhi metro. 

Last heard, she was seen at one of the deserted bus stops in an old Delhi by lane. .. You don’t want to hear what happened next….Do you….?

ends

 

 

WHEN THE PUSS-BOIL BURST…..

 

Four years ago, exactly a week after the attack on Mumbai, hundreds of thousands of people swarmed to the Gateway of India. They were expressing ‘solidarity’. To whom I do not fairly remember any longer. Because there were almost as many posters, banners and demands as there were people.

Some condemned politicians, some the police, some of them were hate Pakistan messages while a few hated their own country too.

It seemed the entire nation was on a boil. But, nothing happened after that.

A few months ago, Anna Hazare decided to give up food, championing an anti corruption crusade. (Bhrasht aachar is basically corrupt behaviour and not financial corruption, which he was fighting against.)

Again, gas burners came on full throttle. This time it was pan (urban) India. Unlike the December 3, 2008 Gateway of India candle-light slogan-shouting which lasted an entire evening, this one was far prolonged; it took about a week of action before the ‘solidarity’ drama simmered down.

Delhi is on slow fire again. The sea of human anger is this time displaying ‘solidarity’ against the pathetic state of human life and security /sexual harassment towards women/the State/Delhi police/police brutality/ and /or the government’s inability to handle a situation well.

It is too early to predict the longevity of this agitation. But whatever the duration its and outcome, what makes me wonder is the Why This and Why NOT that.

(Mumbai 2008 saw the then Home Minister and  Chief Minister of Maharashtra resign whereas the Anna agitation saw news channel TRPs shoot up and Ralegaon Siddhi coming on the national map),

Why is it that a (quoting a Union minister)  “rarest of rare rape case” (whatever that means) on a given day sees us out in the street but for similar or worse offences in our backyard we tend to show a damn.

Why is it that we raise slogans against corruption as we are precariously perched, triple-seated, whistling and ogling at the opposite sex, and do not even have an iota of misgiving about the mess in our home constituency?

What is it that drove us to the Gateway of India one Wednesday evening in 2008?  Was it the desperate desire to bring change? Instantly?

Was the candle-lit march to the Gateway post the Terror attacks nothing but an orgasmic display of machismo on one Wednesday promptly replaced by a shrivelled up manhood a week later when a similar call for arms did not even evoke one finger?

Why is it that Anna Hazare’s fast undo death evoked within many of us a hunger to ‘do something’? So desperate were we that we paid our way systems, dug into loopholes and broken every possible traffic rule on the way to make it in time to show how keen we were to see a clean, law abiding India.

But then, if we were so desperate, where has our bravado gone when it comes to taking to the street when countless instances of eve-teasing are reported or seen by us day in and out? Or at least sustaining the agitation we had so bravely championed.

Hundreds and thousands are taking turns to face water cannons near Rashtrapati Bhavan every hour, in the last few days. Protesting against a system, callous statements, administrative bickering and wanting to ‘do something’.  The very mention of the Delhi gang rape makes the blood boil and take one to the streets.

Less than a decade ago, two teenagers , in the want of some extra buck broke into their teacher’s home and unable to find much money, brutally murdered the sixty-something lady teacher. Unable to pacify a wailing and petrified child in the room, the two boys used a telephone cord to hang the innocent two year old from the ceiling fan.  In the almost Maximum (rape) city, Mumbai.

In the last 24 hours, another two year old, in the western Indian state of Gujarat has died. Raped by a house guest. Two year old.

”Is my child’s rape and death  less brutal, that no one is out on the streets protesting here, but choose the Delhi gang rape matter to raise?” is the question from an inconsolable father of the two year old. Why is it that hundreds have turned up in Delhi, to protest a gang rape and none have displayed a public outcry to the Gujarat incident?

What makes our stomach churn? What causes the tipping point? Why is it that situation A makes us go ballistic and sometimes, a case as brutal and heinous, or worse, not even provoke us to leave the breakfast table? Why?

I remember many years ago, and every time Mumbai’s underbelly was ripped open by a terror attack, we in the media would say, Mumbai will bounce back, because it is a city that never sleeps.  People will be back in office within a day or two.

It has taken many an underbelly ripping for us to realise that Mumbai, is in fact a city which has no options.

Why is it some situations make us take to the streets? And other situations, we are back at work? Is it because we, like the dying city of Mumbai, too have no option but to close our eyes and believe that everything will soon be normal again?

 

Disclaimer: My heart goes out to the family of the girl who was brutally assaulted. And to the countless victims of pain and assault of all forms. Secretly, I do wish the alleged perpetrators were born in a country where the rule of law is public stoning without a trial.

I must also confess that I am a diehard optimist. While I often question myself on this lopsided behaviour and reaction of us Indians towards crime and human pain, I am always amazed and grateful that despite hundreds of cases which go unnoticed, there are those rare instances where people do take to the streets, expressing their heartfelt..

Having said that, the question refuses to leave.  What is it about or cerebral wiring or the chords of the heart which tell us, not this one but that one?  Why?

I quote a friend: The issues that irk people happen to them all the time but they find collective expression difficult. But, as anger subsides, so does euphoria and madness.  Does life allow ordinary people to continue such struggles?

 

 

 

Ends

JOURNALISM NEEDS A PR, DESPERATELY…

“You guys have changed the way we watch news”, I remember an elderly businessman’s rather appreciative  remark, when I had told him I work for a news network. This was a little over fifteen years ago.

What he was referring to was his experience as a viewer of the earliest versions of the English Star News (then produced by NDTV) as opposed to years and years of watching state owned Doordarshan.

The world has come one full circle.

“You guys have changed the way we watch news”, is what a lot of people have begun saying to me, once again. However, this time, the appreciation of the previous decade has been replaced by a look otherwise reserved for skunks.

Why have we become the favorite punching bags?  How fair is the criticism? Are we, media or journalists, being singled out?

Truth be told, Journalism has invaded our lives second only to cell phones. And while one can debate on the boons and banes of a cell phone in our life, increasingly, people are finding nothing but faults in the journalism that they see or read.

While there can be many a reason for Journalism reaching such lows, there surely has been one defining image and line which has made us the butt of many a jokes, or ridicule. And that is of a young always-in-doubt-but-never-wrong journalist, clutching at a ‘boom’ mike and seeking an answer for the priceless “aapko kaisa lag raha hai” question.

This one line has been the unifying link between the umpteen reportages on rapes, molestations, thefts, murders, victories, losses, triumphs and earthquakes that we have seen on news television through interviews of people, common or uncommon.

But the problem is larger. Increasingly, media practices and media men have become a subject of greater scrutiny.  And for a profession which had been regarded so highly, gossip about A, B or She journalist’s fall is consumed with great sadistic pleasure.

And to top it, there hasn’t been one big story in recent times where the credibility of some or the other mighty hasn’t been questioned.

Be it Aroon Porie and his jet lagged  editorial, portions of which were picked up from Slate.com or the Radia gate tapes where mightiest of television seemed breaking bread with bed-switchers, or down south, where the Hindu’s honcho N Ram conveniently edited colleague Chitra Subramaniam’s name from the Bofors’ expose’ credit lines, we seem to have been there done that, all this summed very scathingly by BV, Venkat rao in http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-the-fall-of-xerox-zakaria-is-unthinkable-in-indian-media-430088.html)    

The list seems unending. Every state seems to have a case too many of such violations. If Guwahati saw journalists accused of provoking molesters for a video story, Mumbai saw the arrest of a female journalist on charges of conspiring to eliminate a former colleague. The latest is from Karnataka where journalists have been arrested as part of an ISI plot. The book threatens to get only thicker.

There was a time when we had politicians, parliamentarians, businessmen, gangsters, extortionists, showmen and lobbyists and social workers. Categories of businesses,vocations and professions.

And then you had journalists, the ‘clean’ guys.

Today, that line appears tampered with.

It is either people from the ‘other’ categories doubling up as Journalists (and media owners) or worse, journalists wearing multiple hats.

But this is not about where we have gone wrong. Or why.Or the ‘sensational’ and ‘breaking news’  which have become eyesores. It is about the numerous stories, the game changers, which miss our attention.

For every 26/11 reportage where we have been accused of crossing the ethical line, there has been a December 3, when lakhs converged at the Gateway of India to express  anger against the political spineless, resulting in ministers losing their jobs.

 For every free housing scheme that journalists have grabbed from Chief Ministers through the so called “press quota”, there has been the unearthing of the Adarsh scam, the CWG or the 2G scam. And for every Radia gate which saw journalists cross an ethical line, there has been a Coalgate expose. Relentless.Unending. Case studies of exemplary journalism is abound in non urban non English media too.

What I have pointed out are less than a handful of the hundreds of fabulous stories and efforts which journalists are working on, day in and out.  For every Rakhi Sawant that gets some air time on a news network, there are countless unsung heroes who are encouraged to become citizen journalists too thanks to inspiring journalism. For every Saanp-bicchoo story which makes it to some crime show of a news channel, there is also the story of a brave heart hospital attendant who saved lives in operation theatres when trained medical help is not within reach.

For every case of public humiliation or molestation that gets played up for alleged TRP gains, there are stories of faces-in-the-crowd standing up against a road-rage bully.

The 48 hour rescue operation of little Prince, from a borewell in north India is now an oft repeated case study of the levels to which news networks have stooped for TRPs. But, was it only TV channels which gained or did the village also get transformed thanks to the media and political attention? Yes the latter did take place.

But, nobody seems to be talking about it. Or is it that people are no longer watching?

Yes Journalism is indeed in need of serious review. Internally. And Externally too.

External autopsies have been done time and again. In these challenging times, under the guise of upholding free speech and democracy,  every Narendra, Raj or Abu has tried surgical procedures to silence the media. For masses, it is vicarious pleasure over a cuppa chai. There is no doubt that for a vibrant democracy to thrive, it can’t be a more welcome change.

Having said that, what journalism now needs is a desperate makeover. If to woo a Marathi manoos, an Uddhav can praise an estranged Raj’s political stunt, Journalism can do with some PR.

 

Networks need to play up some game changer stories that talk of good journalism. Newspapers and social media could follow suit. Prime time can also have some promotions of non ‘sensational’ but ‘ real ‘stories.  People, viewers, on the other hand need to get out of their drawing room gossip mode and start writing in to networks on what they need more, rather than stick their eyeballs with drool.

A bit of PR on image building and reputation management could do wonders to a sagging morale. Don’t get me wrong. We aren’t talking of hiring a PR agency here.  But well, in the world of paid and private treaty journalism, a bit of philanthropy from Journalism’s first cousin, PR, at least in spirit can work wonders.

Applications are invited. In confidence.

Beep beep, pings the inbox. Applications have already begun pouring.

Uh oh. …Anybody other than Nira Radia please…?

 

For those away from ground realities, Journalism and PR have always shared a love hate relationship. Journalists are accused of being egoistic, badly behaved (on the phone)  and always ones to take a short cut. PR people on the other hand are seen to be clueless in their job, too busy ‘selling’ a story rather than defining it on merit and flaky.

Can the twain, then, meet?

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Ah, MEN….!!

What is it about men?

Why is it that despite a trim, clean-shaven leg-waxed metro-sexual look, they sometimes behave so MEN like.

They may spend hundreds and thousands on everything from perfumes to salons but, men, it seems, will be men.

I guess it’s all about crass. I mean class. Or is it?

Take for instance the various political hoardings which stare down at you from every street and corner.

The Janamdin ki shubhkaamnayein-type posters or the ones which welcome the appointment of the Bunty, Chintu, babbloo, Fakru and Tikku as the under-secretary of the deputy  shakha  in your galli.

Pitambar urf Pittya (Pitambar alias Pittya)  reads one and Chaitanya urf Chintu reads another  The names could be of the Chottya and Pintoos of the world, but, faces are of men in their forties and fifties.

It’s  not just the  chintoos of the world, even the Arifs,  Siddiquis, Patels, Pawars and Patils are up there on posters.

Palms clasped to appeasing, gold chains dangling from under their double chins, four buttons of their white or maroon shirt exposing a waxed chest, the pan stained  teeth staring down at you. Eyes gleaming of course.

Only the drool is missing. Looks which would embarrass Prem Chopra at his raping best.

Hasn’t someone told these wanted and wannabes that they look funny up there?  Very rarely would you find a woman politician posing so embarrassingly swarthy. Despite the Pajeros and the Lexuss’ that they park their backsides in, worth lakhs, haven’t they found one friend worth the salt to tell them they look silly with those looks. That it would look more appealing if they stuck a simple passport type picture up there instead of posing this way.

Apart from these politicians, I find equally amusing are those who gym.

Especially the regulars who “pump” in the gym. They walk as if they have something stuck in an unmentionable spot. As easy it is to identify a cop in plainclothes, it is to spot someone who gyms regularly.

Inflated chests, bulging biceps and backsides jutting out, the narcissist eyes furtively in search of mirrors of glass panes, so that they can check themselves. Given a chance they will even take themselves out on a date.

Then there are the men, who booze.

 Especially those who think that even after their fourth drink, they not only can carry their drinks, but also dance well. The ones who otherwise never dance are the pick of the lot.

 Have you ever noticed them? I have had the privilege of watching men at work (office parties) drink and dance. Trip, fall, throw up and dance again. And dance with the most ugly, vulgar and lewd actions, gestures and positions. Choosing as partners other men who are as drunk or more, are tripping and throwing up. A teetotaler, I end up consuming many a fresh lime sodas-sweet-and-salty-without-ice, so engrossed I am watching them for hours. These guys can give Shakti bhai a run for money in B grade movies.

Lastly, the men with their toys.

 Not only the blackberry boys. But all the grownup boys with their cellphones.

They hang on to it as if it’s their manhood. They keep it charged. They fiddle with it (for many, the great Indian male pastime, crotch scratching, seems to have been  replaced by feeling the cell phone buttons, even when the phone is not being used for a call or sms)  Even if they are not on a call, they stare at it as if the next KBC call from Bachchan senior will ring on their hand phone.

Anytime you drive, look at the guy in the car next to yours, or a man at the bus stop or someone sitting in an office canteen. Or someone sitting along a wall doing nothing.  One hand may be in his pocket, the Indian pastime,  and hence freer, but the other is always on his other prized toy.

I guess men will be men. Their obsessions will continue. I once wrote about men and their obsession to shave off their mucchis (mooch nahin to kuch nahin) . In a desperate bid to look younger.

With IPL round the corner, it’s again time to see the Souravs, Shanes, Harshas and Ravi Shastris to display their woven hair, covering their growing bald patch, a desperate attempt to conceal their ageing process.

I must confess, till not so long back, I was constantly holding on to my cell phone as if the world existed here. Now, I have de-addicted myself. To a large extent.

And yes, I did enroll myself into a gym. Paid a whopping amount but lasted there for all of two hours. Day one was the last day there.Lazyness had got the better of me.

Thanks to that laziness, today I still walk around like a normal human. Or so I believe.

Maybe mine is a case of sour grapes, because I don’t have a stuffed backside to show off.:)

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THE (DEAFENING) SOUND OF SILENCE

 

Is Silence really Golden?  Whoever may have said it first, and, wonder why?  For anyone to actually ‘SAY’ that, in itself, is breaching silence. (err…by that I mean, when you speak, you make some noise, however meaningful your sermon may sound, it would be breaching silence anyways)

 

Silence holds different connotations to different  people.

There is Silence by order.

When Shatru saab thundered KHAMOOUUSSHHH,  it was the baritone which defined  the  Boss.

When (mafia) Don Corleone  swore his men to secrecy, the oath was one of silence.Omert’a. An Italian mafia’s interpretation to  A Code of silence.. Silence promising not to squeal even if caught by either the cops or rival gang members.

Then, there is silence by choice. ‘I like my space so I want to be quiet and be silent’; The Anna Hazare silence. Or,  I move into a conditioned and customized space to practice silence. Vipassana silence.

I am pissed off with you so I am not talking to you. Sulking Silence.

But this is not about the silences which are compelled by situations, circumstances or people. Voluntary or otherwise. 

This blog is on a different not, altogether.

 Is Silence really Golden today? Especially in a world where communication has become such a key? Where Speech has become even more critical. And misunderstandings  are like second nature to most situations. When Silence , however inadvertent, can lead to conflicts, bitterness or even assumptions which even time may not promise to heal.

Thus, this blog on the ‘other’ silence. That,  not by choice, or design, but, by default.

What if one is preoccupied? Or busy. Or unable to communicate (not deliberately but thanks to a situation which has cropped up all too suddenly). Don’t you have a right to that silence? And how accountable are you to the others, when faced with situations beyond your control at times? Is the word ‘accountable’ appropriate at this juncture?

 

In the silence by sulk, there is someone to blame. Action, Inaction, or very often, Ego.

But, what when the silence is provoked by nothing.? Who is to blame? The person who is silent for reasons beyond his control? Or the(other)  person who is suddenly subject to communicating with a wall when he/she keeps waiting for you to react?

Should one pounce on the other for deliberately withdrawing into silence? Assume that you are being ‘avoided’? And being unfair?  And slip into a persecution complex and launch snide attacks against the other? Or should the person who has slipped into a forced silent scenario still try to make the time and make amends? Is expecting even a moment of time from the ‘silent’ one to convey that he/she is busy, a fair expectation, or is it unfair to expect even that? Considering that the situation could be unforeseen. And that it could happen to anyone. Even you.

In a world where communication plays such an important role, is there any room for silence left at all?

Meaningless silence? 

Or should every quantum of silence come loaded with a meaning. I quote from an interesting book which I am currently reading…and I write this in context to what I am talking about.

Often, when we are confronted with silence from the other end, especially when silence is not the norm, we (and I quote) “over react, blow things out of proportion, hold on too tightly and  focus on the negative aspects of life”.

“We get irritated, annoyed and easily bothered, our (over) reactions not only frustrate us, but actually come in the way of what we are really wanting. We lose sight of the bigger picture (and here please do refer to one of my earlier blogs by the same name, The larger picture). Somewhere, somehow, if we do not realize this in time, there is a possibility we may lose the person for life. Or, the crack is far too deep to fill. Unless, there is the willingness to let go and look at the person in the same light, as we once did before the ‘assumptions’ took over.” (quote ends.)

I have seen many-a-friend(ships)  move in different directions when a silence is misconstrued. I have seen many-a -friendships get back from the brink, especially if the situation is handled well.  

I am not here to judge who was wrong when the gap widened. But I, for one know, that a stitch in time, always saves nine.

And assumption, is just a step away from destruction.

That brings us back to the point that I began with. If it is likely to cause so many misgivings, misconstrued feelings and conflicts, is silence really golden?  Or, more frightening though it may sound, is it the end of the road for Silence?

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p.s. I remember a senior cop once explaining the concept of ‘silence’ and said people accused of a crime have a right to silence.

What about the common man. Does he, or doesn’t he have a right to silence? Ironically, the moment he invokes that right, he becomes an accusedJJ

From Wikipedia:

Omertà(Italian pronunciation: [ɔmɛrˈta]) is a popular attitude and code of honour and a common definition is the “code of silence“. It is common in areas of southern Italy, such as Sicily, Apulia, Calabria, and Campania, where criminal organizations defined as Mafia such as the Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta, Sacra Corona Unita, and Camorra are strong. It also exists to a lesser extent in certain Italian-American neighbourhoods where the Italian-American Mafia has influence and other Italian ethnic enclaves in countries where there is the presence of Italian organized crime (i.e. Germany, Canada, Australia).

Omertà implies “the categorical prohibition of cooperation with state authorities or reliance on its services, even when one has been victim of a crime.Even if somebody is convicted of a crime he has not committed, he is supposed to serve the sentence without giving the police any information about the real criminal, even if that criminal has nothing to do with the Mafia himself. Within Mafia culture, breaking omertà is punishable by death.

The code was adopted by Sicilians long before the emergence of Cosa Nostra (some observers date it to the 16th century as a way of opposing Spanish rule).It is also deeply rooted in rural Crete, Greece.

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