Archive for August, 2009


According to the Government of India’s Sports Ministry, Formula One racing is not purely a sport, it is entertainment and the proposed F1 race “does not satisfy conditions which focus on human endeavour for excelling in competition with others.”

Such hogwash. Tell that to Felipe Massa, Roland Ratzenberger, Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna or the countless others who have suffered either crippling injuries or have died on the track. Maybe, the FI organisers could ask the official concerned to get into an F1 car and take it for a spin. He’ll get a good feel of the human endeavour involved, when his car spins out of control and crashes into one of the berms! Hopefully, he’ll emerge from the experience, a much wiser man!

When you have a sports minister who doesn’t believe athletes are doing anything wrong while serving tea and biscuits to officials, the level of ignorance of his officials comes as no surprise. Of course, like all government officials they obviously believe that they should be served and doors opened for them. Is it any wonder that every sports body, but for cricket to some extent, is still caught in a time warp, with politicians and bureaucrats, with little or no knowledge of sports at the helm?

What’s wrong if motor sport is entertainment as well? Isn’t that what sports is all about? If this is the ministry’s thinking, why doesn’t the minister call for a ban on IPL? After all, IPL is pure entertainment; it has not got much to do with human endeavour, nationalism, or even pride. Everyone is in it for the money, and the more they rake in the better. We all know what transpired in the IPL in South Africa. It was less a cricket tournament and more a film party.

There is, of course, another possibility. You have to be blind, deaf…oops, sorry for being politically incorrect…physically and mentally challenged, not to know that the Formula One body is among the richest in the world. Have you tried squeezing lime into a glass? The more the lime, better the drink tastes! Is this really what it’s all about?

The sports ministry official’s comments remind me of the music company executive who once said of a now-legendary band: “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” He was referring to The Beatles!

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Over a decade ago, probably closer to 15 years, we were all at the Fergusson College grounds watching a Rock Show. The mostly college-going crowd hooted and cheered at intervals as the bands belted out their usual cover versions.

I remember, Deep Purple’s Highway Star and Smoke on the water were the favourites then and only if you got the opening notes of Smoke right were you considered classy enough to get up on stage and do your thing. Otherwise you were hooted and hissed out.

So as all the assembled bands went through their stuff, mostly mediocre, a lot of the crowd was planning to move away, quite disappointed.

At the fag end of the show, four old guys came on stage and the kids began their catcalls. “Hey, uncle, this is a rock show not a New Year eve party” and other such derisive comments were heard. Most of the crowd began to disperse, not too keen to listen to the oldies.

They must have gone to the end of the ground when these four guys began to play. Suddenly those leaving stopped and turned around. This music was different. I remember these kids next to me going “f@#! Who are these guys? Awesome!”

Most of the kids who were on their way out were by now running to call their friends back. This wasn’t like anything they’d heard in a long, long time. Pune used to have the occasional rock shows; some defunct Brit bands also played here but this was a different sound after what they had been hearing that evening.

Suddenly the ground was packed to capacity and everyone was rocking! It was the first time these kids had heard Ehsaan Noorani (now of Shankar Ehsaan, Loy), Roger Dragonette, Derek Julien and Ranjit Barot!

To end on a personal note… when I got married, Roger, Sudheer Gaikwad and Darren Pillai (two very talented musicians who along with Roger had a band called Airwaves in the 1980s) told me they wanted to play at the reception. The four of us worked together at the Maharashtra Herald for over a decade, and I was touched and honoured that these awesomely talented trio, wanted to do so.

Today, Sudheer, whose voice held us spellbound at our office parties and shows, is the Deputy Editor of Overdrive magazine, but still plays his music. Darren, a phenomenal drummer, died very young in tragic circumstances, and Roger just revived the music of Waterfront and played at the ABC Farms on Friday.

If you guys are reading this…you still ROCK!!

A lesson in magnanimity

Posted: August 17, 2009 in blogging
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Last week I connected with a former colleague from my days at the Maharashtra Herald.She was working at the copy desk when I was the Assistant Editor. Some time in the mid-1990s she quit and we lost touch. Then in 1998 I left Pune and when I returned almost eight years later, in mid-2005, I chanced upon an article written by her in a well known magazine, and the credits said she was Features Editor.

I was delighted to hear from her when she contacted me last week. To be honest, I never expected her to send me a message after so long. After she left Maharashtra Herald, she worked at a few other publications before she went abroad. There she worked as an Assistant Editor and then as an editor of a lifestyle magazine before taking a sabbatical to bring up her baby.

When I knew her over a decade ago, she was this unsure, nervous, girl who did her job quietly and efficiently, nothing flashy, just stuck to the basics. She was not part of the politics that is customary in any workplace and never complained to me about anything or anyone. She was learning, so was bound to make mistakes and like all greenhorns she made quite a few. Funny isn’t it, that when we make a mistake its “human” but when someone else does so, its incompetence?

Her seniors often complained to me about her work and thought she wasn’t good enough to be part of the copy desk. So one day I called her into my cabin, not knowing how to break the news that she had to go, because her seniors had again complained about her.

You’ll understand when I say that I “felt like shit”, because that’s the way I felt that day. I watched her crying as I told her. She pleaded with me to give her another chance and I could just as easily have accepted her pleas. But I didn’t. It’s something I’ve regretted since. When she left my cabin, dissolved in tears, I remember thinking to myself that this was the worst job in the world. I didn’t want to ever face this situation again.

Last week when I got a mail from her, anyone would have thought, I would be the last person she would want to contact. I was touched when she asked me if I remembered her. I told her, how I had felt then and it was something I had never forgotten or forgiven myself for. She told me to forget about it, because she held no grudge and that she was happy for me. She said what had happened to her was for the best, because if she had remained there, she would have never reached where she was today!

I have had no regrets about most things I’ve done in my career, but this was one of those incidents that always played on my conscience…until last week – when I was given a lesson in humility and magnanimity.

Vindication!!

Posted: August 14, 2009 in H1N1 virus
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Please click on the title or click here to read the Hindustan Times headline in the Mumbai edition today.

In a nutshell, here’s what it says: It is time to stop the panic: SWINE FLU is going to be around and we’ll have to learn to live with it, say public health experts. Nearly half of the 161 people who tested positive for the H1N1 virus in Mumbai did not even need hospitalisation. Just 27 remained in hospital.

I see some good sense has finally dawned.
Now only if the prophets of doom in the broadcast media listened…

Flu again…

Posted: August 13, 2009 in Pune
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A couple of my friends called me up after reading my post to say that things were bad in Pune and maybe I was understating the threat. I never said it wasn’t bad, I only said that the media shouldn’t be treating this like the plague of 1666. Thirteen dead at last count, but it’s still not as virulent as the media was making it out to be.

When even the medical fraternity is telling us that things are not as bad they are being made out to be and trying to calm the panic-stricken populace, the electronic media was putting the fear of flu into them and making it into some kind of Rambo Circus. I am sure that nowhere in the do the world broadcast media behave as irresponsibly as they do in India.

I agree we have to be careful, because it’s a virus about which not too much is known. Secondly, since the symptoms are very similar to influenza, it’s difficult to diagnose quickly enough. Heck, I am a diabetic, so I should worry the most, because I come in that high-risk group. If I feel unwell or display any of the symptoms, I’ll be the first one to go to the hospital.

I am glad that schools, colleges and malls have shut. I think the authorities have done the right thing. But why are malls and multiplexes closed only for three days? Will the flu go away after three days? I agree with the health minister who said self- restraint is the best policy. It is we who have to be careful.

But however, careful I am, what can I do about the people around me who have a casual attitude to everything. When their family members are suffering from flu or have related symptoms shouldn’t they be going for a check-up immediately? But what do I hear …. “Nothing serious, just dysentery…or just a cold….” If they don’t care about their health and that of their near and dear ones, they should at least think about others – strangers, colleagues and friends. But it’s this chalta hai attitude that really gets to me.

I guess that’s a sickness which is worse than swine flu. Can we have medication for that, please?

….and swine flew

Posted: August 12, 2009 in Pune, virus
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The media, both print and broadcast, has, as usual, gone overboard in the coverage of H1N1. That’s not surprising at all, since by now we are used to the Rajdeep Sardesais and the Arnab Goswamis frothing from the mouth, even if some kid called Prince falls into a hole. I am sorry, I don’t watch NDTV, so can’t comment on the high priestess of television news and her global view of the virus.

For heaven’s sake, this is not the plague (better known as the Black Death) of 1666 that killed 100,000 people in the UK. If you were to listen to the TV channels and read the newspapers, it would seem like people were dropping around us like flies. Ok, so let’s take precautions and be careful, but do we need to get hysterical about it? The world has not stopped moving. The rest of the world too is suffering from the same flu, but have you heard any of them going haywire the way we are?

The people of Pune too are still going to work; we are still exercising in the jogging parks; and we are still going shopping and meeting friends at parties. So we wear masks, because it’s a psychological feeling of being protected! I mean, at least we feel that if the guy next to us sneezes we don’t have to take to our heels like we are being chased by a poltergeist! I agree that children, diabetics and heart patients etc are most susceptible, so the schools and colleges are closed. We need to take a few precautions. But I don’t think we have to behave like we’ve being invaded by some unseen force that is going to maim us all.

The problem with Indians is that we love melodrama in reel and real life. And the TV channels know that too. That’s why you had some dumb anchor speaking to a couple of children who had recovered from the flu, like they had just been through a plane crash from 30,000 feet and come out unscathed! Now THAT would have been news. The woman should have taken a lesson from the kids, who seemed completely oblivious and quite unaffected by the hysteria being drummed up by the media.

Yesterday, the coach of the Malaysian badminton team sneezed in Bangalore and even before the tests proved anything our medical experts at CNN-IBN, Times and the others had already confirmed that the poor man probably had swine flu. So far nothing has been heard about the coach and his flu from official sources.

Another thing, if the city’s health authorities give even a damn about the health of its people they should stop the selling of face masks on traffic intersections. I might not get swine flu but I’ll definitely end up suffering from dust allergy if I was to wear one of those. In the long term, I don’t know which is more dangerous for my health. These masks are being sold by beggars for ten bucks and shockingly, I see people actually buying them. So much for being health conscious!

In all this hysteria, I think the health minister’s reaction has been measured. He has rightly refused to sell the drug Tamiflu over the counter, because he believes very soon it will be selling on the black market at ten times the price. Some Indians will resort to anything to make a quick buck, even let someone to die.

But I think there is another reason which the minister didn’t mention (or did he?) – Indians, by and large, are a nation of pill poppers and hypochondriacs. Indians love medication of any sort, whether it’s a Coldarin for a flu (for which doctors worldwide have yet to devise a cure!) or Viagra for things that I cannot mention here!


Curiosity, as the old saying goes, killed a cat. While not wishing anything as extreme on any student of media studies today, I will say that a lot of them, who are looking to enter the world of media, are not curious enough about anything. So what stops students from finding out more?

When we started in journalism, and found a topic interesting enough we would pick up old newspaper files or magazines and read up on those, because that is all we had as our sources of information – good, bad, indifferent, true or false. We were hungry, always curious for more. The intention was to disseminate the information we had, take what we thought was useful and the discard the rest.

In the early days students interested in journalism did have the Pune University’s Department of Journalism at the Ranade Institute, but even they will admit that it didn’t really have anything as extensive and intensive as the Mass Communication courses run by journalism schools.

Today there is also the Internet, which is a fount of information and I sometimes wonder where we (as in journalists of my time) would have reached if we had the benefits of modern technology.

Again, it’s not the lack of knowledge that disturbs me inasmuch as their lack of interest. They are happy listening to me telling them about my experiences as a journalist or an incident, but once the lecture ends they would much rather be on googletalk, Facebook, Orkut or hi5. How many would be on the Internet, researching on the subject they’ve just heard about? There’s a difference between “having heard” about something and “knowing” about it. Many students don’t fall in either category. They are all very smart. So I don’t know why the complacency.

Is it because nowadays everything is handed down to them – notes, presentations, books? And the fact that they are so bogged down by the curriculum that by the time the day ended they were too tired to do anything but unwind by not reading anything except the menu at a pub!

Fortunately, there’s also the flip side. I’ve met quite a few students at the various journalism schools in the city, who have impressed me with their in-depth knowledge of a subject and their eagerness to know more. During a lecture, I even invited one of them to address the class on a topic, where my knowledge on the subject was limited. And she did a superb job.

I met another bunch who had me completely engrossed with their knowledge and the enthusiasm for debate. I also follow the blogs of a couple of my students and their command over the language is remarkable. These are the students who fill me with hope. May their tribe increase!