Thursday, July 15, 2010

Flinging the stones of freedom....

Submitted for the contest , "Is the Indian Media Misusing its Freedom" by Blogadda.

You know that thing about living in glass houses and learning not to throw stones. ? And you suddenly realize that these days , the stone throwing goes on as before, but that glass is getting tougher....

The growth of media (print, television,Internet etc) in India has parallels with the growth of various aspects of society in India.

The first newspaper (the Bengal Gazette) happened in 1780, the first moving picture show (cinema) in 1895 and radio broadcasting began in 1927, essentially reporting stuff from a British perspective. Along with the stirrings and support for the independence movement, there was a quiet rise of some landmark local language newspapers and media across the country , guided by some great figures in the Independence movement such as Lokmanya Tilak.

For a society that gobbles up 99 million newspaper copies (in various languages) as a country, has 81 million Internet users, and nearly 1400 television broadcast stations, that is an amazing increase to have happened, and that too mostly in final 10-15 years of the last century. An abnormally skewed rate of progress.

, we have a free press and media; true, we faced times of trial during the notorious emergency days; true , that we solved that in flying colors in 1977; but we need to remember that developing too fast has a downside, and sometimes affects individual judgement , as well as the perception of the magnitude of profits.

For a country with a 60% literacy rate , countless languages and dialects to cater to, an opening up of the economy and markets field to private players, and a growing population in the ages 25-30 age bracket, the situation resembles a hungry person faced with a massively attractive food buffet.

The media and society food habits in India have some amazing parallels.

In my childhood in the 50's, food was a need , not a hobby. Meals were traditional, cooking methods had remained essentially unchanged, and willful transgressions in the imbibing of food were frowned upon. The rice-dal-chapati-sabji-raita thing was supreme. Tongue tickling elements like pickles, chutneys, fried savouries, had their place in the scheme of things, but never took the place of the main items.

In an astounding parallel, the media in those days, which was primarily Print, was, mostly (barring a few sensationalist papers always involved in personal vendetta politics) sedate, polite, quietly informative, and respected. Very often local news was given priority. There were things you printed and things you didn't. And you had copious amounts of proofs to support any sensational disclosures. News paper owners were there, and were rich, but had , by and large, what we call, scruples.

Over the last 50 years, this state of affairs has been massively disturbed, in food systems as well as media habits. Today tongue tickling and mind tickling things rule the roost. People make meals out of what is called "chatak-matak" stuff; reams of research is done of vada-paos, pao-bhaji's , chaats, tikkis and stuff, because there is a demand. And similar is the case with media; people demand to know sensational stuff, conventional news is considered boring, and the media obliges, one way or the other, with blatant disregard for privacy, assorted types of sting operations, the path being often prescribed by the various sponsors and advertisers in the media.

Old methods of healthy earthy cooking have given way to stuff slathered in exciting textures and colors. Identical things happen in the media world. Accuracy is often sacrificed at the alter of TRP's , just like healthy caloric values are sacrificed at the alter of taste and tingling tongues.

When you have a presumably stable system over a century suddenly mindlessly accelerating in , say 30 years, you get what we call today's media and today's health problems due to indiscriminate utilisation of low value but high sensation value knowledge and food.

Yes, the media today appears to be irresponsible, but so are we. They are the way they are because we allow them to be so. Abnormally simplistic news items are blown up, shouted from the OB vans, printed across 8 columns in newspapers, and you sell so many thousand copies more than your nearest competitor. You can always print a retraction in fine print on page 4, but the damage is done. Just like we are ready to pay sums equivalent of someones monthly house payment, to have a meal of questionable nutritional value at some famous society place, because it tickles our taste buds, and sense of self-importance no end, and what the heck, anyway , there are fancy doctors to recommend meds if things do not agree, and gyms with astronomical fees to slim you down.

And so we are back to the stone throwing from glass houses. We ourselves pretend to live aseptically in antiseptic glass houses. Surreptitiously enjoying every bit of throwing that's going on. We even throw stones ourselves, but like those in the construction business will tell you, and observers of societal mores will tell you, the glass walls have gotten stronger, and shameless. They don't break.

And so we think nothing of intruding into a widow's privacy, sticking microphones in hospital wards to grab dying declarations , grovelling in front of pseudocelebrities and arranging for them to become stars. As far as TV was concerned 26/11 was all about the Taj, Trident, and the Chabad house. Cama and Albless hospital , those that delivered babies that night with mouths clamped, to avoid the marauding terrorists, the several Cesarean surgery patients who quietly left the hospital the next morning, with their day-week old babies to take the trains home, were not considered newsworthy.

Inaccuracy is ignored and defeated by wishful thinking, as happened when , during the Vajpayee-Msharraf Agra meeting, Hindi Star news reported , at variance with other channels, that the agreement was on the verge of being signed/just signed, and this was soon followed by visuals of a grumpy Musharraf walking out on his way back from Agra to Pakistan.

And so, until we realize we are sliding as a society, we are as much to blame as the media. We do it under the guise of individual freedom and independence, they do it for business reasons. Every business house is known to patronize certain sections of media. Some business houses even own newspapers and television stations.

We are responsible for the media we have. And so if you ask me if the Indian media is using its freedom in an irresponsible manner. the answer would be , that it has grabbed whatever freedom we have given it.

It cannot be viewed in isolation. It reflects the undisciplined society we have evolved into.

We have got the media we deserved.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A mad Soliloquy

Submitted for the Blogadda "Moments of Madness" contest.

Half a century
and more,
of a life
deep troughs
mad peaks...

An 8 year old
only sister
by water depths,
learning swimming
dared by some
to jump
the first floor
diving place....
And I jumped,
eyes shut tight,
but on the side,
lacerating my thighs
against the pool walls,
all the way
the terrible 15 feet....
and back up again --
a mad moment
of victory
shut up
the fellows for good....
but alarmed a mother
who wondered.....

As a grad student
in the US,
for an evening meeting
of women professionals ***
wishing to award a schol....
there wasn't a place
to sit
and play my sitar
(which I played well)....
and then
in a completely mad moment,
I climbed onto the
dining table,
took my position
played the piece;
a few days later
the mad moment didnt look so mad
when I got the schol....:-)

And then
there have been
moments of madness
which have decreed me a fool,
but probably
not in the eyes
of Someone Up There....

Leaning out of
a Mumbai bus
stuck in a jam
just after
a torrential
of rain;
brilliant fresh
methi bunches
on a vendor 's cart,
in an
moment of madness
I bargained with him
through the bus window
and bought
four wonderful bunches
which were passed to me
via various passengers,
as the vendor
behind the suddenly starting bus
to collect the money I held out....
To the intense
of a daughter
intensely envied
by the other women in the bus....
the methi parathas
were extra special that night!

There have been other
Mad moments,
that have remained
in my mind

wanting to stamp
in a rain water puddle
the lady who thought
Black was Bad
and White was Fair
walked next to me
in her

Like wanting
to blow
my famous whistle,
to confuse the cops,
corrupt chaps
in tinted cars
passed by
holding up traffic
with their z-plus security...

But some folks think
writing this
has been an

And it continues .

Wading through the
forest of mad words
and madder artists,
I am at my maddest best
when I blog....

A mad life.

And you thought
that is
a mad moment ?

Are you mad ?

*** Altrusa International