Archive for May, 2009

Returning to insanity!

Posted: May 29, 2009 in Travelogues
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It’s been a crazy ten odd days – driving from Pune to Bijapur to Hampi to Dandeli to Dapoli and back to Pune. And in that madness was bliss! It was an experience driving through the jungles and the ghats in Karnataka, once inhabited by the infamous Veerappan and lots of wild animals. The first is now dead and second is on its way to becoming extinct.

The story is that the bandit, is himself responsible for the paucity of the endangered species for whom the forests were home. A real pity because watching a tiger, leopard or an elephant in their natural surroundings would have been much more exciting than seeing them in cages. But we did spot a few other wild animals. The resort staff also caught a long and rather dangerous looking reptile, some distance away from our tent. The staff released in the wild. Not a very pleasant thought, if like me you shudder everytime you see something that slithers.

Spending three days in jungle resorts situated in the Dandeli forests was fun — if you like roughing it out. You have the company of mosquitoes, an assorted variety of insects, an occasional snake, jungle squirrel, peacock and lots of monkeys. The view was fantastic, the food was edible and the staff was friendly and always eager to please. The night we reached it poured. There was lightning, thunder and a strong gale threatened to rip the roof off our hut.

The rains followed us everywhere, except to Dapoli, where we needed it the most. Had it rained there, we might have been tempted to stay on for a few more days and sight a few more dolphins.

I’m preparing the travelogue. Hopefully, over the weekend we should have them ready, along with the pictures.


Thank God for sensible voters

Posted: May 16, 2009 in Politics

i’m sitting in a hotel room in Bijapur. a thunder storm rages outside and the cable TV channels have just blacked out. I was watching the election coverage and thanking my stars that no 2nd, 3rd or 4th front was anywhere in the picture. what a relief! whatever the Congress may do or not do, at least I won’t have to see statues of elephants coming up all over the country in the next five years. Jai ho!

Mistakes are common in every newspaper and however hard one tries to stop them, they will still creep in. These are the hazards of a newspaper job and unlike companies where you can apply Six Sigma to reduce errors, the editorial department of a newspaper cannot work with such checks.
In the last decade or so, a lot of media houses hired savvy marketing and HR whiz kids at senior positions in the company hierarchy. These guys came straight from selling soap or pharmaceuticals and were weaned on Japanese working methodologies and the wonders of Six Sigma, but had little or NO experience in running a newspaper. They believed that those methods would transform the newspaper and make it profitable. In that they were right. In Circulation or Response, where figures measure success, something like Six Sigma might have worked, but not in Editorial.
Here is some of the cockeyed logic that I’ve heard when I worked for a national newspaper:
* If one marketing executive can put in x amount of work in 8 hours why can’t a journalist do the same?
* If a copy editor takes say 90 minutes to edit and make a page, then he/she should make five pages per shift.
* Since computers have made it easier to work there should be fewer people to do more work. So why have so many copy editors.
Frankly, most journalists had no answer to this kind of bizarre logic and after a while most of us just stopped bothering. So when they started removing people under the excuse that the editorial department was overstaffed, it was the junior most (and brightest) kids that went first, leaving newspapers with people whose competency levels were not that hot. What they hadn’t bargained for was that the language and computer skills of most of the ones left behind, or for that matter most journalists, was either average or below average, with a few exceptions.
So, what one got was badly edited copies with dull and often incorrect headlines. Seniors, whose job it was to rewrite copies and check pages, rather than spend time making them, were suddenly doing all three and more, because deadlines were regularly going haywire. It put a huge amount of pressure on them and some of them cracked. And when Circulation began complaining about unsold copies and readers sent angry emails about the shoddy product, it was the editorial that became the culprit!
Any wonder that the editing in most newspapers is so horrendous?

Errors, errors…I

Posted: May 14, 2009 in Pune
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Yesterday, tabloid Pune Mirror poked fun at a school which had put up a signboard that contained some big goof-ups like the word ‘congratulations’ being spelt as Congrations’ and other such slips. That’s pretty awful, considering the fact that the school is an ‘English Medium School’.
What PM should have done before publishing the picture is taken into account their own crappy editing. After reading a couple of badly edited reports in that issue, I shot off a missive to the editor. I wasn’t expecting a response, but was pleasantly surprised to receive an apology from the gentleman. That’s saying a lot, especially nowadays when a lot of newspapers and their editors tend to take their readers for granted.
Among the newspapers I get every morning – and that includes the Times of India, DNA, Sakal Times, HT and the Indian Express – the editing in Pune Mirror is by far the worst I have read in a long time. It’s unfortunate, because sometimes they do decent stories but the effect is nullified by the shoddy editing.
I spent over 20 years in journalism and also ran the news desk at two newspapers. So I understand perfectly well the pulls and pressures of bringing out a newspaper. I also understand how difficult it can be to edit and rewrite copies of reporters whose command over the language is abysmal. A lot of reporters think in the vernacular and write that way too. That is fine if you have a strong desk, but when your desk is weak then you have a Pune Mirror-like situation.
During my early days at the Maharashtra Herald, we let some pretty horrendous mistakes slip through, and I’m not proud of it. But we promptly apologized to the reader and did our best to set things right. At the MH we even used to joke that if we started apologizing for every mistake we made, we would have to start an extra page to print the apologies!
Unfortunately, today not too many newspaper managements are bothered about the mistakes that occur and believe that as long as they make money everything else is secondary. More later….

A dear friend just lost his father this morning after a prolonged battle with cancer. Nothing unusual about it, you might say. People have cancer, some survive and some don’t. This friend’s father was fighting a losing battle with cancer, we all knew that.

But what would you say, if you knew that the friend’s father died because he was given the wrong medication? The doctor who prescribed the drug didn’t make a mistake, but clerk at the hospital’s pharmacy did. He handed over the wrong drug. The gentleman’s condition deteriorated so rapidly in less than fortnight that he passed away early this morning.

The family blamed the hospital and the hospital while accepting that they blundered believed the family was equally to blame. The family should have checked all the medication before giving it to the patient, is their take.

More shocking is the fact that the hospital refused to release the body until the patient’s distraught son returned the old certificate that stated the cause of death as “overdose’. They then issued a new certificate which gave the cause of death as ‘natural causes’ brought about by cancer. Only then was the family allowed to take away the body and perform the last rites. Worse, the doctor in question, who gave the original certificate, was castigated for “telling the truth.”

“I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone….I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan…” So much for the Hippocratic Oath!

My friend is justifiably bitter, but philosophical. He feels that whatever he does now, will not bring back his father, so why waste time. He just expected better from a profession that his father served in for nearly 50 years and made a name of himself as one of the finest in his field.

Do the pictures tell their own story? You know how as kids we went to the beach and got our hands and feet dirty while building sand castles? At least we did it when we were kids. Mr Prime Minister-in-Waiting is getting his hands dirty too. Don’t miss his shoes and his spanking clean outfit.
I wish Rahul Baba would also drink the water that’s available in the villages and tell us how it feels.
My father livd in a little village called Kansi Simri of Darbhanga district, in Bihar. I went there over a decade ago to see him just before he died.
During lunch when I asked for water, I was given something in a plastic bottle that had some green muccous like substance floating inside. My step-sister said “peejeye na, kuan ka paani hai, bahut saaf hain. hum sab lok yahin paani peetey hain.” I didn’t touch it, and she looked hurt when I refused. I know she mean’t well, and not wanting to look a snob, I gulped down a glass. By that evening, I was down and out! The next day I sent the driver to buy mineral water and fetch a doctor, who looked at me and said “Aap shaher wale log gaon ka paani kahe peetey hain?
There was no electricity in the village and I spend the entire week in candle light. The only time they had power was when they connected the TV to the car battery.
It’s ok for Mr Barack Obama to talk of Joe the Plumber, because Joe will at least get unemployment benefits if he loses his job. When Rahul baba refers to Kalawati Bandurkar and espouses her cause, he should keep that in mind. A jobless villager doesn’t have too many options before him if he is rendered penniless. He will throw his family in the village well and jump in as well.
Remember Kalahandi? Right from Indira Gandhi, to Rajiv to Sonia to Rahul – all of them visited the little Oriya village. Rajiv even spoke about the woman who was found selling her 14 year-old daughter to feed herself. He promised to help. But nothing’s changed. Some years ago the same woman was still found selling her kids.
So Mr PM-in_Waiting, the next time you try these stunts, take off the Reeboks (or whatever), drink the filthy water, and dump the mosquito repellant. Maybe then you’ll understand the real India.

Isn’t it time we gave the longest running ‘soap opera’ a decent burial? I’m not talking about the ones that you see on the telly, but the one that’s been flogged to death in Parliament and the newspapers. Yes, that’s right – Bofors.

I am surprised at the BJP. What’s the point of raking up Bofors now, so many years later? They obviously have no issues and it’s a great way to deflect attention from the Narendra Modi issue! Whether it was Q or some other X, Y, Z who took the money, it hardly matters anymore, does it? I don’t think anyone, except the sanctimonious humbugs we elect to power, care anymore about how much or how many were involved in this deal. At least, I don’t. Do you? And even these humbugs bring it up only around election time or in Parliament, where anyway nothing too constructive is ever achieved except walkouts and fistcuffs.

What will the politicians do, even if they find out who took the money? Arrest the people involved? Win Chadda is dead, and the others are too powerful, with too many political contacts to go after. And anway, the BJP’s pet hate, the late Rajiv Gandhi was absolved of any wrong doing, if I remember right, when the BJP Government was in power. I also remember that there were strong rumours around that time that the Congress and the BJP had done a deal to clear Rajiv’s name.

The money that was given as bribes or commissions, (whatever you want to call it) is probably spent and circulating worldwide! And considering what some of our politicians make today, it’s small change. Like the Babri Masjid issue, the Bofors scandal should also now be given a decent burial.