Archive for December, 2009

It’s shameful the way everyone, including the media, is climbing all over each other to cash in on the Ruchika case. And suddenly, everyone is asking all the right questions – the ones they should have been asking ever since the story broke in the 1990s.

Why was a case of ‘abetment of suicide’ not registered against Rathore?

Why didn’t the police protect the Girhotra family, especially her brother Ashu, from the harassment?

Why didn’t CBI go after the monster despite government pressure?

Why didn’t the courts step in earlier?

Why did the various chief ministers promote the man?

Why didn’t the Centre question these promotions?

Why didn’t the State confiscate his medals?

Why was the National Commission for Women mum?

Why didn’t the Centre order a reinvestigation into the case earlier?

Why did the various MPs from Chandigarh not intervene?

Why didn’t someone castigate the school officials for rusticating Ruchika on some frivolous charge?

Why didn’t the print and broadcast media highlight the fact that a crooked cop and his team of even more crooked lawyers were subverting the legal system, for the past so many years?

Why, why why….

I have a question too. Why all this posthumous, self-righteous hand-wringing and tears, now, by all those who kept quiet these past nineteen years?

I read about the case when I was Chandigarh in 2000. Everyone knew about it, including the media, but no one thought it was worth carrying on with, because everyone knew of SPS Rathore and his ways. The story died a natural death along with Ruchika. Heck, she was just another statistic. I guess the concept of citizen journalism hadn’t really been explored then. I spoke about the poor coverage on the incident to a friend who knew the family and she said “Who cares about poor Ruchika, when newspapers and TV channels have more interesting things like the private lives of personalities.”

Even the newspaper I worked for didn’t really care about the case. It was shrugged off as an old story that had outlived its shelf life and news value. But then, to my Resident Editor even reports of illegal abortions of the female fetuses and the hundreds of illegal pre-natal diagnostic clinics that thrived right under the noses of the legal fraternity and police was a “non-story”!

For those of you who don’t know, these clinics are used to determine the sex of the unborn child and if it’s a female they force the wife to abort. These clinics are still doing roaring business everywhere in the country. The matter has even come to the notice of the Supreme Court, but the media doesn’t think it’s worth launching a campaign for because it neither gets them the TRPs nor the circulation figures. No one gives a shit about another girl being killed even before she can enter this world. Sad, but true.…

Anyway, ever since Rathore got away with a six-month sentence and a measly thousand bucks in fines reportedly due to his “old age and the prolonged trial” the media, the respective governments, and the CBI have suddenly rediscovered Ruchika and the family fight for justice! Well, better late than never…

In all this, what is heartwarming is the role of the Prakash family, whose daughter was Ruchika’s best friend and the one who saw her friend disintegrating mentally, culminating in the suicide. Today even family doesn’t help in times of trouble, and here was a friend who stood by the Girhotras. To be harassed and humiliated by the system that they could not retaliate against must have been a terrifying ordeal.

I hope they get justice. I hope they can put men like Rathore away for a long, long, time and throw away the key. I hope someone can change the legal system and ensure that life imprisonment means putting someone away in jail till he dies and not walking away after 14 years.

When I got back home from work yesterday my son told me he had cut his foot on the silencer of a motorcycle, while playing. I rushed him to the clinic, ensured he was given an anti-tetanus shot, and hugged him to make him feel better. And all that he required were two strips of Band-Aid to cover the cuts. I can’t even bear to think what the Girhotra and Prakash families must have gone through these nineteen years.


I’ll bet my last buck that everything about the disgraceful pitch and the fiasco we witnessed on Sunday, December 27, will be buried very quietly, in the concrete at the Feroz Shah Kotla.

There will be a ban on the DDCA for a period that will extend up to the next season. It will make everyone happy – the BCCI, ICC, DDCA and everyone else associated with the game – and when the next big game comes along the DDCA and the BCCI will be patting each other on the back for a job well done and be ready to con some more people. Oh, and some poor gardener and his aides will lose their jobs.

DDCA vice president Chetan Chauhan, who is also DDCA ground and pitches committee chairman, has already said they didn’t have much role to play in preparing the track, which was relaid at the start of the season. He says he only supervised and did everything on the advice of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) pitch committee. They just used his people. That’s like the security chief of a bank saying that the Bank’s directors were to blame for a robbery, because they had asked him to outsource the work to a private security agency!

Please note that as per the ICC Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process, a first time breach could invite “a suspension of the venue’s international status for a period of between 12 and 24 months together with a directive for appropriate remedial action and the need for prior ICC re-accreditation as an international venue.”

While you can be sure that the first part of the rule will be implemented, because there may be no international matches at the Kotla till the next year anyway, the second half of the ruling will be handled the way only politicians know. The BCCI and DDCA will roll out the red carpet for the ICC committee, wine & dine (and anything else) them. And then the ICC panel will be shown a brand new pitch.

The curator, who is a basically a gardener, will be sacked. This poor chap who looks after his family with the pittance the DDCA pays him will be found begging for a job. At Kanpur, for example, when a match ends in a result, the winning captain gives the groundsman ‘baksheesh’. So no tips this time around buddy, just a job loss! However, the real culprits – the officials, among who are powerful politicians – will go scot free.

What can you expect in a country where a law minister was himself involved in a corruption scandal’; where two former prime ministers and a chief minister did nothing to stop the killing of thousands for a ‘cause’; where the 84-year-old governor of a state, who’s love of the ‘good life’ is well known, is accused of a sex-romp; where assets of chief ministers rise from a few lakhs to a few thousand crore in a few years; where a state’s home minister returns to his post despite the biggest screw-up over security since 9/11; I could go on and on…

It’s easy to call a crowd unruly, but what do you expect when they shell out a few thousand rupees of their hard earned money for those few hours of excitement? As it is, only a few thousand people can get into the stadium because more than 90 per cent of the tickets are given to the cricket associations, ministers and bureaucrats, who would hate to go anywhere if they had to pay for it!

Look at what happened at the Eden Gardens a few days ago. There was not one paying spectator on the ground to watch the one-day international between Indian and Sri Lanka. All the tickets were given to the clubs for its members. I wonder what would have happened if instead of the Kotla it had been the Eden on Sunday. We might have been looking for a new cricket stadium – to replace the old one that had just been burned down by an irate crowd! And I’m not making fun of the sport-crazy Kolkatan. It’s just that when it comes to a good game they want one.

I was watching a one-day international in Delhi once and they frisked everyone at the gate. Cigarettes, lighters, matches and water bottles, were all dumped on the side. After the first half of the match when things began to get exciting and India was looking at a run chase, the spectators were chewing their finger nails, while the security personnel were smoking Dunhills and Benson & Hedges! The buggers were smoking our cigarettes!

Encounter with the Big B – I

Posted: December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized
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I watched Paa recently. I was impressed by the 64-year-old Amitabh acting the 13-year-old. There were times while watching the film when I wondered whether this was really the Big B. I also liked the film because there was no melodrama, no over the top histrionics and the humour was subtle and at times quite funny.

I know the film was a straight lift of a film starring Robin Williams, but so what? Sholay, the Bollywood blockbuster of all time was lifted almost scene-by-scene and dialogue-by-dialogue, from The Magnificent Seven, the classic western starring Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. And as I watched James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven I could see from where Amitabh Bachchan got his inspiration, to be Jai’s Sholay! The thing is that most of the films done by Amitabh in the early days helped pay not just his bills, but that of everyone else associated with it. And no film of his ever left a producer broke.

But let’s give him the credit for still being at the top for almost 40 years. It would be difficult to imagine him in roles done by Naseeruddin Shah or an Om Puri, because for most of his life he’s been stuck in a stereotype that he found difficult to get out of. Would Amitabh be able to do the role that Naseeruddin played in say a film like ‘Wednesday’? With a little bit of effort, yes! Naseeruddin looks an ‘effortless’ actor.

When people ask Amitabh his opinion about him and SRK I think they’re crazy. Amitabh is in a different league altogether. He very rightly said somewhere that people should ask SRK that question when he is 64! The guy has been around for 40 years and is still a brand to be reckoned. How many actors are there today at that age who film buffs even care to remember? Look at Vinod Khanna or Rajesh Khanna. The latter is today acting in insignificant serials on Doordarshan, which no one sees.

The thing with Bachchan is that we’ve got so used to his baritone and his overpowering personality on screen that even if you see him in a completely different role, it’s difficult to take the man away from the role. That is why I liked Paa. It was different.

I remember the time when I interviewed Amitabh for the Maharashtra Herald in September 1997. He was in Pune for the shooting of ‘Major Saab’ after a five-year hiatus. I had got a tip-off from a friend who worked at the Hotel Blue Diamond that he would be staying there during the entire shooting of the film. The friend also helpfully gave me the phone and fax numbers of ABCL.

I dashed of an interview request by fax, because we didn’t have the benefit of the ubiquitous email. I got a reply to send me the newspaper’s profile, which I did within minutes. That was followed by a return fax from ABCL requesting me for a list of tentative questions. I mulled over that request, because revealing the questions would mean losing the element of surprise and the ability to pop a question that could take him by surprise. I also guessed why they were asking because there was enough fodder about his personal life, which any journalist could not resist asking.

I knew where this was going and after consulting with my colleague Sudheer Gaekwad, who was also the film and music critic for the paper, decided to exclude all personal questions. It worked because ABCL promptly replied that they would be happy to grant an interview when Amitabh reached Pune. (More)

Encounter with the Big B – II

Posted: December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized
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The funny part was I had forgotten all about the interview when I got a call from Bunty Behl, Amitabh’s PR manager asking me to be in Blue Diamond in 10 minutes, because the star had landed in Pune and would be at the hotel in 15 minutes. I just grabbed my Dictaphone, yelled at the telephone operator to tell the photographer to reach the hotel, and ran out of the office!

When I reached the Blue Diamond there was a crowd already there, but surprisingly not a single journalist, which I thought was a blessing in disguise. The photographer rushed in with his camera and family in tow. I couldn’t believe my eyes! But then it’s not every day you get to see an icon in the flesh and blood.

As he strode in to the lobby, there was a sudden hush. Everyone stopped doing what they were doing. The florist, who was busy putting together a bouquet, just froze and gaped. The porters gazed in awe and the girls at the Reception were smiling really hard trying to catch his eye. All eyes were on this denim clad, clean shaven (he didn’t have his French beard then) man, who obviously still had the charisma to stop traffic! I remember saying to myself, “heck, absence or no absence, this guy has class.”

I got the interview – all 25 minutes of it. Or was it 45? I don’t remember. It’s not every day you get to interview or shake the hand of a man called Amitabh Bachchan. So it all went in a daze. I even made a faux pas, which I am still embarrassed about till today!

When I had told my mother that ABCL had agreed to the interview she told me that

Amitabh’s parents – mother Teji and his father, poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan – had come for dinner to my father’s place in Patna sometime in the 1950’s or 60s. My father Bishweshwar Prasad Sinha was a well known barrister-politician-editor- writer and later part-time lecturer in Patna then, and knew a lot of important people. When I mentioned this to Amitabh after the interview was complete, I confused the date and mentioned one some 30 years earlier, which he firmly said was not possible. I shut up and left.

If he ever reads this blog post…Sorry Sir, I got the date wrong! But I stand by the rest of my story!

The funny thing is just before the interview was scheduled in Amitabh’s suite, I was with Behl at the Business Centre. Standing not even a foot from me in the cramped business centre was this stunning looking woman – flawless complexion and beautiful. Behl asked me if I would also like to interview her after the Bachchan interview. I shrugged it off because, whither Bachchan and whither she. I also didn’t really know too much about her career then, because she was more of a model then an actor. I also thought she was dumb.

Today when I see her as a guest on TV reality shows I really want to kick myself. She’s more stunning after motherhood, even classier now than before and is far from being the dumb woman I thought she was. So, while I interviewed Ajay Devgan and Nafeesa Ali during the shooting of the film in Pune, I never got around to interviewing Sonali Bendre.

Continuing from where I left off in the last post…and especially since it struck a raw nerve with some anonymous persons… I just love to get under people’s skin, don’t I?

We were at a dinner with friends a few days ago at the Boat Club, and one of them, told us about her daughter’s experiences as an intern at a well known Hospitality Management Institute in Switzerland. Her daughter K is training to be a chef.

Every day at the institute K would ask her senior what her duties were for the day and was told to do the dishes. So for the entire week that’s all K did. One day she mustered up the courage to speak to her senior and she was told to do what she had been told to do. Her first thought was “My parents did not pay so much money to send me here, so I would end up washing dishes.”

When K spoke to her mother, who is a corporate trainer, she was bluntly told that during internships one did what one was told. When the girl told her mother that all she had been doing since she landed at the institute was clean dishes, she was given some sound advice on how to deal with the situation, without going against the rules. But she was told that she would still have to do whatever she was told to do.

This kid, obviously a chip of the old block, decided to do something about it. The next day as soon as she reached the institute and without asking or waiting to be told, she started cleaning.

Her senior demanded to know why she was doing this. The girl replied that since she had landed there all she had been doing was cleaning, so she presumed that is all she was supposed to do. So she started early, without being told. Her senior didn’t say a word. A little while later she was told to stop cleaning and asked to help the chef. Suddenly, she was being given respect.

A few days ago, I was really touched when one of the students, I was speaking to about a project on the cards, said, “Sir, we will work till midnight, but we’ll do it, because we want to.” Conversely, there was another group that initially went from “it can’t be done” to “won’t work on holidays” and finally to “won’t work after 6 pm,” before agreeing to work on the project. It was the same project and similar responsibilities, but each group approached it differently before agreeing to do it.

Someone once rightly said that one should not demand respect, one should earn it. So these kids have earned my respect. And they are the just like the countless others who complain about everything, instead of finding a way around it. Or are they from another planet?

When I hear the whining that goes on about lousy internships, boring lectures, bad teachers etc etc. I wonder what these kids will do when they start to earn a salary and run into unsavoury situations, such as those that occur every other day at their workplace.

What will they do when they run into a senior who asks them to do most of the job and then takes the credit? Will they burst into tears and run off to mummy or make it a status message on Facebook or Orkut – “Help, I just got screwed by a shitty boss.”

It’s natural to crib about the environment in your workplace and against your manager. Everyone does so and there’s nothing one can do about it. But it’s one thing to crib about it to a friend or a few close friends, but an entirely different thing to do so on a public forum – unless of course, you have the appointment letter of another company in your pocket! Even then it’s a bad idea.

Come to think about it, most of these kids are getting into various streams of the media and will enter workplaces where vindictive behaviour, narcissism and bitching, (and that’s just a few of the milder forms of harassment) are as common as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Heck, I know of one newspaper where almost the entire editorial staff went to the Press Club and got happily drunk because the Editor had been told to pack his bags and go back to where he came from – for reasons that had nothing to do with his performance as an editor.

I also know of an editor who deliberately asked a senior journalist to do a story on a subject that the management had issued instructions against doing, and which would have cost him his job. Since he had just joined and was still not too well acquainted with the dos and don’ts of the organisation, he wrote the story.

He escaped the noose only because another senior editor realised what the game was and scrapped the story. He even warned the journalist to be on his guard in the future. Strangely, when the journalist told his editor that he would not be submitting the report, there were no questions asked.

And that’s just one of the milder forms of nastiness that journalists exhibit. Of course, such behavior is not uncommon at other workplaces. Even the holy cow of the Indian industry – Info Tech – has it in plenty. This nastiness also goes under another euphemism – office politics.

When I hear some of the kids complaining about their managers and superiors, I feel like telling them that what they are going through at present (and most of it is their doing), is just a fraction of what they’ll receive when they enter the corporate world. There it’s a dog-eat-dog world, with your best friend planning your execution even as he raises a toast to your life and success, over a dinner that his wife prepared, especially for “her husband’s best friend and wife”! It gives an entirely new connotation to the expression “you’re toast”!

In such situations these kids have two choices – stay there and fight, or pack their bags and move to a new job – till it happens again… and again…and again. There is also a third way – keep quiet. I’ve learnt, that people who are vindictive and sadistic, usually get rattled when you don’t react. And the more you dig your heels in and refuse to react the more rattled they get.

In my previous company, I had the misfortune of working with one such gentleman, who believed that being nasty and abusive to his juniors was actually a positive trait. He would proudly tell me how he bullied employees with threats and warnings. And the poor employees would bear it silently because, after all, everyone needs a job. Needless to say that it was a matter of time before people began to look for jobs elsewhere. The company all but folded up and the imaginative CEO’s dream went up in smoke and his bank balance down quite a few million dollars. And mind you, he was a really nice guy. He just didn’t know how to control his relatives and their friends.

I’m sure there will be people who worked under me who might also think I was lousy boss, and like them I too have had my share of crappy bosses. But I’ll tell you about them when I retire – or better still when I write a book post-retirement! After the one that I finished recently (and sent to the publisher) sees the light of the day, and the one I am writing gets past the first chapter, where it is presently stuck!

We run into so many situations in life that seem ironical, don’t they?

Take my situation for example – Over a decade ago, I loved eating sweets, especially Bengali sweets. I could polish off a dozen rosogallos, by myself; devour chocolates, cakes, pastries…heck the entire bakery; I could feast all alone on an entire family pack of ice cream; I was delighted when I met my wife-to-be and discovered that she baked the most delicious pastries. What more could I have asked for? Soon after that I was diagnosed with diabetes. A cruel twist of fate or just irony?

Many years ago, unemployed and generally wasting my life away, I was having coffee at Vaishali, a popular haunt on Fergusson College Road with babu kalyanpur, a friend who then worked at the Maharashtra Herald, the only local English daily in Pune.

I had given him a letter for use in the mailbag column of the newspaper. It must have been really bad because the sub-desk at the MH never used it. But he asked me if I would like to work in a newspaper, since “I liked to write.”

I didn’t know whether he was being serious or sarcastic, but a job is a job and I jumped at it. At least, I wouldn’t have to ask my folks for any money for my next cigarette.

Well, I got the job and grew into it and I had babu to thank for it. From a trainee, I became a sub-editor six months later, and slowly and steadily climbed the ladder. When I quit the MH thirteen years later I was an Assistant Editor. I guess I didn’t do badly for someone who’s first attempt at letter writing found its way to a trash bin. It was ironic, because I had initially looked at it only as something that would keep me suitably employed and give me some money. But from an ordinary job, journalism became a passion that still keeps me going.

The initial years really made me wonder whether I was really cut out for such a job. and I remember an incident that occurred a few years after I joined that proved the proverbial turning point. I’ve narrated this incident to the students in my class, but my friend Joe Pinto believes I should document it. So here goes, just for the record…

Sometime in the morning of October 19, 1988, there was a ‘flash’ on the teleprinter that an Indian Airlines flight to Ahmedabad had crashed near there. I was alone in the office, when I got a call from a woman who asked me if a captain O.M. Dalaya was on the flight. I checked the list and replied that he was.

“Are there any survivors?” the voice asked.

“No ma’am,” I replied, and then out of curiosity asked “Please, may I know who’s speaking?”

“I’m his mother,” was the reply.

I felt a shiver run through me, and was numb as I put the phone down. My head was reeling because for me what could be worse that telling a mother that her son had died in an air crash?

When the chief reporter Harry David came in, I told him what had occurred. Harry is a gentle soul, never given to anger or a temper. Ironically, I was thinking he would pat me on the shoulder and sympathise with me for what I had just experienced.

He asked me if I had taken her number down. I replied in the negative, and the ‘gentle’ Harry suddenly became Dirty Harry aka Clint Eastwood. And like Dirty Harry, he didn’t yell or scream. In a cold, measured tone Harry told me that I had screwed up – big time.

This was worse than a shouting. He was basically telling me in his own way that I was a bloody duffer and should be banished from the newspaper office – forever.

I still thought I was right and tried to justify it, by telling him that I could not possibly have asked a woman who had just lost her son for her phone number. That only made it worse.

He raised his voice ever so slightly and said, “When my brother Abel died (Abel was the secretary of the Indian Hockey Federation and also the Founder Editor of the then Poona Herald)), I sat next to his body and typed the copy for the news agencies. You just missed the story of your life. NEVER let it happen again.”

Harry didn’t shout, didn’t go ballistic or froth in the mouth when he imparted that very important lesson in journalism and it’s something I’ve never forgotten. It hit home that for a journalist there is no such thing as good news or bad news – IT’S JUST NEWS and it has to be reported, at any cost.