Archive for February, 2010

When Toyota and Honda recalled their cars, the news was splashed across all the TV channels and the front pages of newspapers. A few days ago Maruti recalled one lakh A Stars for a faulty fuel gasket and most of the India media downplayed it. Some didn’t carry it at all.

I wonder what the reason for that is – a misplaced sense of patriotism (heck they’re a Japanese company), or simply a case of succumbing to money power? I guess now you know how powerful the media really is – especially when it comes to deciding between advertising and editorial! Now that’s got me all worked up! Not because I care anymore about how the media carries itself. If I did, I would have still been there! But there’s another reason.

I’ve been complaining to Maruti for the past two and a half years about a smell of fuel that emanates from the AC duct into the car interiors in my Swift LXI (Petrol), and they’ve been fobbing me off with stuff like “something is wrong with your nose” and other such absurd excuses. So ok, I have Eosinophilia, but that does not mean I can’t smell fuel in the enclosed space of my car when I get the tank filled.

Let me step back a little. I bought the Swift in August 27, 2007. A few days after I bought the car I drove into the petrol pump to top my tank. As I drove away I got the distinct smell of fuel wafting in through my AC duct. I called up the service station and told them about it.

I was asked to come there with a near empty tank to get the problem checked. I reached the service station and went along with the engineer to a petrol pump. As we drove out after topping the tank I could smell petrol in my car, but the engineer couldn’t! This was repeated on numerous occasions in the next couple of years and each time they couldn’t smell it, but everyone else who sat in the car could.

Sometime last year, I was dropping a colleague home from work and stopped to refuel the car. We kept our windows rolled up and instructed the attendant to top the tank. As I drove out of the petrol pump, my colleague commented on the smell. It had become so strong in a few seconds that he almost choked on it. He called the service station on my behalf and gave them a piece of his mind! They called me in again, checked the car, traced the pipeline for any leakage and said they had found no problems with car.

It’s been almost three years now and the problem persists and I keep complaining. Every time the car returns from a servicing, I get a Customer Satisfaction form from Maruti. I’ve been complaining to the service station verbally and to Maruti Udyog in writing, but they just can’t (or don’t want to) figure the problem out. When I mentioned this to a journalist friend, his laconic reply was “It’s a waste of time sending that form, because if you complain about the product, they won’t even respond!”

For a Japanese company that prides itself on it six sigma principles, their attitude is pretty shocking. Let me state, that except for the fuel smell, Swift is a great car. Amazing comfort level, pick-up, speed… Everything is perfect, but for the problem I’ve mentioned. And since the company doesn’t care, I am sure about at least one thing. My next car, if and when I get one, will definitely not be a Maruti.


I know this issue is going to upset a few of my Kashmiri friends, but this is something I’ve felt strongly about.

Point # 1: Why, every few years, do we undertake this entire charade about talks with Pakistan when we have no intention of handing over Kashmir or even talking about it? It seems a good way to waste public money and tell the world that we are doing something, when in reality we have no intention of doing anything at all. More important is the fact that the Pakistanis have no intention of talking peace with us and only wish to discuss Kashmir, because the existence of their political set up and the Army depends on it. Let go off Kashmir and they have no issue. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg story.

Point # 2: Do you care about Kashmir or what happens to it? Frankly, I don’t. Kashmir is today a gangrenous wound that continues to fester and because of which the country is bleeding massively. We have poured in crores of rupees into the State for the past 60 years. Our soldiers along with civilians die there every day. So, there are mistakes by the security forces too. What would you expect if you had to live with the fear that each day could be your last? You would get a jumpy too if you didn’t really know whether something that’s sticking out from under the shawl of the homegrown terrorist is a stick or an AK 56.

And what do the people from the State, who hate India, do? They set off bomb blasts and hold rallies in which they wave Pakistani flags and condemn the “Indian occupation of their State.” See what’s been happening there for the past few days…strikes, shutdown, terror strikes. Do we need all this? In my book they are a bunch of ingrates who should be left to fend for themselves. It’s time India too adopted the “you’re either with us or against us” policy against the Kashmiri who wants freedom from India. I have no sympathy for the Kashmiri who turns a gun against the soldier of the Indian Army or a civilian.

It’s a bit like my feelings for Bihar. I was born there, but I have very little sympathy for the people of that State – at least for those who still live there. They can blame the corrupt bureaucracy and even more corrupt political system, but why didn’t they do anything about it? And this is not something that’s been happening in the last decade or two. It has been this way since Independence. I should know… my father was a part of the political system there once upon a time. And he had the same opinion.

But, coming back to Kashmir, they live off India, they feed off India, and then they vilify India. So why not put the money to better use elsewhere? And screw all the sentimental crap about it being a heaven on earth. Right now, Kashmir is anything but heaven and will remain that way till kingdom come, unless one of the two things happen – we let go off Kashmir or Pakistan ceases to exist. I know which solution a lot of Indians would prefer, but I don’t see that happening.

And once we can administer some strong medicine to the gangrenous wound called Kashmir let’s turn our attention to the irritant called PoK. Call me a warmonger, but after the latest threat by the terror groups telling sportspersons not to travel to India for any of the events planned, I think it’s time to give it back with interest. I am no hawk, or someone in khakhi shorts waving a saffron flag, but I do think the time for talk and social niceties is over.

I believe we’ve turned the other cheek long enough, tolerated the violence, the bomb blasts, the Ajmal Kasabs and Lakhvis of this world long enough too. Let’s give them a taste of their own medicine. So what will happen? Collateral damage, more bomb blasts, more deaths on this side? So be it. If they can set off blasts in India and send in terror groups into Kashmir, why can’t we hit them, where it hurts the most? Can this government look beyond vote-bank politics for a change. And can they also stop this charade about talks? I don’t think anyone’s interested anymore…

Birds on a Wire…

Posted: February 19, 2010 in journalist, SIMC, SIMC WIRE
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At SIMC Lavale, Saturday, February 20, is a big day for some students. They are all set to launch their own news website aptly named the SIMC WIRE. That means a news website, which they have designed and edited, and where the content – news, pictures and videos – are all largely their own. So good, bad or indifferent, this is their baby and they have to nurture it and leave it in the safe hands of those who follow in their footsteps. If all the glitches are removed they are looking at a Saturday release.

To start a news website is no easy task, as they have all realized. They have been struggling for the past two months to remove the glitches and rework the design where necessary, to finally come up with a product they can proudly call their own. A lot of them are frustrated and tired by the delay and the bottlenecks. The seniors are upset for a lot of reasons – one of them being a very stubborn faculty who will not take shortcuts and will not allow them to do so either! If given half a chance, a lot of them would probably throw him off the cliffs at Lavale.

But a misconception that students still harbour is the idea of being ‘inspired’ by other newspapers and websites when it comes to rewriting stories. We were always told that external sources of news should be used only to verify facts and for reading up, and not, for what a lot of us refer to as, “lift irrigation”. Lifting stories off the Net is the easiest way out. And we always tend to look for the easiest way out.

Another interesting issue that came up during the work on the website was on writing a desk copy with a roving dateline. For example, can one sit in Pune and write a copy datelined Delhi or Mumbai, with quotes et al? When I was with a newspaper, some years ago, I raised this issue when a well-known editor wrote a copy datelined Georgetown, Guyana, even though the person had not moved from the desk in Delhi! I was always taught that it was unethical to write such a copy. If any of my more experienced journalist friends are reading this, they can help me out with a solution, because I am in a minority, against a majority of students who believe there is nothing in wrong with this practice – unless it has now become accepted practice.

A dummy of the SIMC Wire

If students rehash and pass of stuff as their own, they are no different from the bureaus or desks of some newspapers, which quite often pick up Press Information Bureau and US Information Services press releases and recycle them as ‘exclusive’ byline stories. I should know, because I worked in two newspapers which made such a practice into an art form.

But what is the ultimate aim of such a news site – to promote the news agency or the news? It’s neither. Those are available dime a dozen on every two-bit news site or newspaper. And it is a concept that many students working on the website are still unclear about it. The idea behind the launching of the SIMC WIRE is to showcase analyses, pictures and videos by the students. That way it promotes students as thought leaders & helps in the branding of the institute, apart from the enormous practical training they get. There is a lot of latent talent at both SIMC institutes in Pune waiting to be unleashed and the SIMC WIRE could be the perfect outlet.

The making of a journalist is no easy task and the making of a good journalist, even more difficult. It all depends on what these kids want to be. The future, as the old proverb goes, is in their hands!

Terror within our walls…

Posted: February 15, 2010 in Terrorism
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So it finally reached our doorstep. All these years, even during the dark days around Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the Mumbai riots, Pune was peaceful. Every time there was a bomb blast anywhere in the country, we drew solace and prided ourselves on the fact that Pune did not react. But once the reports started pouring in about Pune being infested by ‘sleeper cells’, deep down a lot of us knew that it was just a matter of time, before terror hit us in the face.

The first thing I did when I heard about the blast at German Bakery was to call one of my students who frequented these spots on a weekend. I was relieved when she answered, “I’m on a bus back to the institute. I didn’t go there today.”

During the interviews and GDPAs for new admissions at SIMC the other day, I met one such youngster, who was looking to switch from his job at a leading firm to take up journalism. When I read that one of the victims of the blast had been employed with the same firm, I hunted down the visiting card the boy had given to me during the course of the interview. It wasn’t the same one.

Over thirty years ago, the Joshi-Abhyankar murders shook Pune like never before. No one really knew who was behind the murders and why they were happening, so the mystery led to many rumours and panic prevailed. Till the killers were caught, Pune was a ghost town after 7 pm. Theatres were running empty and so were the streets.

In the present case, at least we are aware, or at least we think we do. Let’s not get carried away by the rubbish that opportunistic politicians tell us about Intelligence failure etc. Our honourable Lok Sabha MP even called the incident an “event that was being coordinated by our State Minister for Home!” or some such nonsense. He’s the proverbial loose cannon, our man in Delhi, isn’t he? So it was an unintended faux pas, but, at least, it made me smile!

And PC was right. We can’t do anything about someone putting a bag filled with explosives in a crowded eatery and walking way. But, we can start protecting ourselves and others around us by not being too smart and opening the bags that someone left behind. And for heaven’s sake, let’s listen to what the police are trying to tell us, instead of thinking we know more than them. Even though there is nothing much we can do, except be more vigilant. Let’s at least do that.

What happened on Saturday was also a result of a little carelessness on our part, and this “don’t-tell-me- what-to-do” attitude that’s rampant today, be it at home or on the streets. It’s the little things like security checks at the multiplexes and malls, and even on the roads that get us all hot and bothered under the collar. I’ve seen how people get worked up and start honking, sometimes even shouting at security personnel checking vehicles, at the multiplexes. It’s time we showed a little patience.

On Sunday evening we were at one of the malls near our residence doing our monthly shopping. Outside, in the street there was the usual hustle and bustle, but inside, even at that hour, there was a sparse crowd. For a Sunday evening that was quite unusual, because the place is usually overflowing with customers. Is this the shape of things to come?

Great expectations

Posted: February 9, 2010 in journalism

I’ve been ‘teaching’ journalism to students since 2007 and what I’ve found since then, is that there are a lot of kids out there who are bloody talented, but seem bogged down by a lot of inconsequential stuff and too many expectations. And I really don’t know whether I am the right person to be giving them any kind of advice.

That, considering the fact that I’ve been a failure at a lot of things I’ve done in my life – personal and professional. But I’ve seen some kids who are so much smarter, so much more articulate and far, far, more intelligent than I am or will ever be (although it’s a bit late in the day to think of that), that I wonder why they are struggling to figure out why they are where they are.

I’ll agree that competition was nowhere near as fierce as it is now, and I’ll also agree that getting a job was a lot easier then. But isn’t there enough pressure on kids today already, without parents adding to it with their “just do what I tell you” line? Now I see these kids, most of whom are 80% + academically, collapsing under the expectations of their family, friends and faculty. I hear them groaning that the pressure is killing them, but their parents just don’t want to stop pushing them. Every transgression is carved in stone for them to see over and over, again.

According to everyone who has a right over their lives, the first big mistake the kids made is, of course, doing a shitty journalism course, when they could have been studying to become doctors, engineers or bankers. I agree that journalism is probably as bad if not worse than a teaching job, in terms of salary, if you don’t get a job in the metros. But what the hell, people who get into journalism shouldn’t be looking at fat pay packets, in the first place. It took me 13 years to get what people are drawing today as starting salaries in a newspaper, even in a B-town like Pune.

Of course, there is also that bunch, which suddenly discovers a couple of semesters later that they aren’t cut out for this. They got into it because of the glamour and realised six months down the line, that there’s a lot more to it than just looking pretty or writing a few reports. Ayaz Memon, who was at SIMC the other day couldn’t have put it better when he said “if you don’t have the passion for journalism, don’t do it.” I’ve been saying this from the day I took my first lecture, but I guess Memon is Memon!

Jokes aside, let’s face it, journalism isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. For that matter neither is software, medicine or banking. But does anyone care if the kid they’re pushing into becoming a banker doesn’t know how many zeros there are in a crore, as long as those crores will keep accumulating in his bank account?

That’s Transgression No 2. Calculating the damages and payback time for the money spent doing journalism for two or three years. So naturally, from the day the kid enters the institution he is already standing with his back to the wall, looking at the figures adding up on that imaginary computer screen. A lot of them have told me the tension they are in because they aren’t too sure when they can repay their parents. And that adds to the tension.

And then there’s transgression No 3 – the percentages. Just because you got 80% in school, you have to maintain the average. Heck, even computer programmed, four-wheeled machines don’t maintain the average they are supposed to, so why blame humans?

I know this student who did Economics in college because of insistence from her parents and had no clue why she was even sitting through the lectures. Much against their wishes she’s now doing journalism, but just can’t get rid of the fear and doubts her parents have instilled in her about choosing something she knows she can excel in. She’ll probably make a better journalist than anything else her parents wanted to push her into, but who are we to tell her, when the shadow of their expectations, like Banquo’s ghost, looms large over her.

My son is a very good example of this. The kid was first in school up to the fourth standard – always bringing in the 90 %. But in the last few years he’s been struggling to stay just above 70%. I watch him struggling and thank my stars that I was never so smart. But I also fervently pray that he doesn’t end up like me! I see how his mother is always on his case and sometimes I too. But most of the time, I feel sorry for the kid.

I know what his mother is thinking. “He’s got a mom who was pretty good in studies, an aunt who stood first in her final year in college, a cousin who is looking to continue her 90 % averages that she has maintained right from school all the way to the IIT entrance. And this kid is turning out like his father.” It’s a fate worse than death for the young man!

Local train politics….

Posted: February 8, 2010 in Politics
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So I guess it took another Delhiwallah to go local train-hopping in Mumbai to put the entire issue of Maharashtrian pride, IPL and all the damn nonsense that’s been erupting all over like sores, in perspective. When Gandhi Jr, travelled from Dadar to Andheri or wherever, it sparked off yet another war of words. Publicity stunt it was, but a good one nevertheless. I think it really put the brakes on a lot of people looking to make capital on the visit.

But I really do think this whole debate has reached nonsensical proportions. Starting with Lalit Modi, followed by Shilpa Shetty, Shah Rukh Khan shooting his mouth off and then the Thackerays going for each other’s and everyone else’s jugular and now Rahul Gandhi, I think this whole farce is now, becoming…well, even more farcical.

So why did SRK say that he would love to have the Pakistanis in the team? Considering that he is the owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders, he could have exercised that right when the auctions took place earlier. At that time, he and his IPL friends collectively buried their heads in the sand. Unfortunately, when one buries one’s head in the sand, one leaves one’s rear open to attack. And that is precisely what happened. They got their butts taken by all and sundry.

Damage done, they then went about trying to brazen their way out and only ended up looking even more stupid. The issue would have ended up in some corner of the sports pages, had King Khan not shot his mouth off. And soon the issue went from being ‘I Pee El’ to ‘let’s pee all over each other’.

Suddenly, from cricket it became one for Marathi pride and North Indians and anyone not Maharashtrian. And now everyone’s throwing mud at each other and hoping it sticks. Really, doesn’t the public have anything else to do, except read and listen to these sanctimonious, arrogant humbugs?

Speaking of which, Gandhi Jr. ranted against the power brokers in the party. Over 25 years ago his father made a similar remark at a party event in Mumbai. He too was referring to the coterie that surrounded his mother and him and I thought, “He’s sunk, they won’t let him survive in politics.”

I rarely mourn for our politicians, because I think most of them are just scumbags who deserve nothing better than a one-to-one with Him at the earliest. But when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated I felt genuinely sorry. I really did believe that he was a good man in the wrong place. He was caught between the fixers and crooks and really didn’t know how to handle them.

After he lost his first election and by the time the second one came around, I thought he had become smarter and could tackle these fixers. Unfortunately, he didn’t survive to see another election. Was he involved in the Bofors deal? I don’t know and I guess no one ever will. The truth died with him.

20 years later, Rajiv’s son is trying to change the system. Let’s hope the system doesn’t change him.

But why blame politicians, look at what’s happening in the Army. That’s one institution one always thought was like Caesar’s wife – beyond reproach. Some years ago, I remember telling my former landlord, an ex-Colonel, that at least the Army was incorruptible and he burst out laughing. “They make money even on spectacle frames ordered in bulk,” was his riposte. And that was a decade ago.