Archive for October, 2010

Should I feel sorry for a couple of our former defence chiefs? They led one of the largest armies in the world, and yet were clueless about things happening under their very noses. No one told them anything, they claim, when it came to putting money into a housing project. The poor dears!

Do you believe that? I don’t. Of course, it’s another matter that I take most anything I’m told with large doses of salt. I mean, these are the ex-chiefs of the army and navy – intelligent, highly trained, decorated and very senior defence officers – not some unsuspecting villagers from an obscure place who are told to sign off their properties on a blank paper. That is why I find difficult to swallow when they say they were not aware. As bad as the Maharashtra Chief Minister saying that he didn’t know his relatives were buying flats in Adarsh Housing Society, especially when he sanctioned it!

Just think, they invested lakhs of rupees (they couldn’t have got it at market price or it would have been in crores) in the multi-storeyed building in Mumbai’s posh Colaba area and no one told them that the land was originally purchased for war widows and ex-servicemen; which was also originally supposed to be six floors but suddenly shot up by another 25! Heck, even ordinary folks like you and me, go through the documents with a fine toothcomb to ensure we’re not being taken for a ride by the developers at the signing and registration stage. And these defence chiefs didn’t ask and didn’t check? Do these guys come from Pluto?

That’s a bit like Sharad Pawar saying he had no clue what Lalit Modi was up to with regard to the IPL. Now that the pious humbugs (and I am referring to the gentlemen from the armed forces) have been caught with their pants down, they are desperately trying to wash their hands off the sordid affair by offering to return the property. I can expect scumbag politicians to cheat their own mothers, because we don’t expect any better. But when it’s done by very senior and highly decorated defence chiefs, it makes my bile rise. I’m sure, you feel the same way.

Years ago, in 1984, when Indira Gandhi asked the Indian Army to invade the Golden Temple to end the siege by Bhindranwale, I was on a train returning to Pune. When the Sikh gentleman next to me read the story, his eyes brimmed with tears, and I thought he would say a few uncomplimentary things about the PM. But what he said surprised me: “Yeh sardaron ne hamari naak katwa di. Ab hum kaise sar utha kar jiyenge” I am sure a lot of armed forces personnel who were and are still up there in Kargil fighting the enemy must be feeling the same way, after reading about the scam.

Will the revered St. Anthony (supposedly the ONLY honest minister in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet, apart from the PM himself), nail his former defence chiefs and ensure that they don’t get a single paisa refunded for the flats? After all, if an ordinary citizen, even unknowingly, invests his hard earned money in an illegal construction, he loses not only the home but also his money. Why should the army officers be treated any different? They’ve already lost that right.

A few weeks ago I read a report in the Pune edition of the Times of India about a contrite burglar who came back to the house he had burgled, and pleaded with the owner to turn him over to the cops, because he couldn’t stand the guilt anymore of having committed a crime.

Some six months ago, the burglar had cleaned out a citizen’s bungalow and fled the city. He settled somewhere, spent the loot and then wracked with guilt decided to return to the scene of his crime to confess. The house owner, initially, refused to believe the burglar’s story, but when the crook disclosed what all he had stolen, the man called the cops. There’s a strange but nauseating parallel between the burglar and the highly decorated officers.
Are Tarun Tejpal and Aniruddha Bahal having a quiet chuckle and raising a toast to the whistleblower?


Yesterday while watching a Hindi news channel, I came across a clip of a voter being interviewed. This guy was a non-resident Indian, who hadn’t missed a Bihar election since he migrated to the US some 40 years ago. During every election he flew down to Bihar and cast his vote. When asked why he did it, he said “I love my state, love my town Darbhanga, and consider it my duty to vote.”

Bihar is going to elect a new chief minister and both Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav are expecting to win. For someone who spent his first nine years in that chaotic place, I won’t be surprised if even that happens! I generally have a very low opinion of Bihar and very few good things to say about it, whenever I’m asked, because I think, and so do a lot of others, that it’s beyond repair.

I don’t know how good a chief minister Nitish Kumar is, but Biharis tell me that Bihar has changed for the better ever since he took over and he is doing his damndest to restore some sanity there. But the problem is that politicians before him have so totally ravaged its resources that there is very little left to salvage. It’s a bit like pumping life-saving drugs into someone in the final stages of cancer. If Dr. Nitish Kumar can cure Bihar of this terminal illness it would be a miracle. So, unlike the conscientious Bihari from the US, I am, unfortunately, unable to generate that kind of enthusiasm for the place.

I too was born in a small town of Bihar called Bhagalpur, and till my father’s death in 1995, we owned ancestral property in Darbhanga. When I flew down to Patna from Mumbai in 1994, to visit my critically ill father in Darbhanga, I don’t think I was prepared for what I was about to experience. From the time I got off at Varanasi airport to the time I finally left Patna, it was one unpleasant experience after another.

I was hit by an overbearing stench as I exited Patna Junction well after midnight looking for a hotel. The reason for this was that the conservancy workers were demanding a pay hike and thought the best way to bring that to the notice of the government was to pile up garbage over a foot high on the road leading to the town from Patna Junction. Then there was a power cut in the town and only the big hotels could afford to keep the power running. I was stuck in one that couldn’t.

The next day I set off for Darbhanga and on the way my brother’s friend gave me an account of the horror stories about the badlands of Bihar. About how kidnapping had become a way of life; how the ministers and other high profile politicians were themselves in on the cut from the kidnappers; how businessmen were now keeping hired guns and electronic surveillance in their homes for protection; how women were abducted when they were travelling with their husbands, whisked away at gunpoint and raped.

(I did have one pleasant experience in Patna sometime in the early 1990s when I was returning from a friend’s place. As I was looking for a rickshaw to take me back to my sister’s place in Pataliputra Colony, I was stopped at a police post. I had downed a few and the cop could obviously smell the whisky on my breath. When the questioning began to get a little interrogative, I said I was a journalist. Immediately the questioning stopped, and the cop asked me to get into a parked Maruti Gypsy and set off. I had no clue where he was headed till he asked me the house number. I realised I was on a familiar road and he soon stopped the Gypsy at my sister’s place! I wondered what would have happened if I had not disclosed I was a scribe.)

So as as we reached Kansi Simri, it seemed like any semblance of civilisation had been left far behind. Filth and squalor greeted us as we made our way to the village. My father’s palatial house was, itself, crumbling and I think it mirrored the general decay of the place. I mean if the ‘zamindar’ of the land was living in such a dilapidated surroundings, what could you expect from his village?

One evening I decided to go walkabout in the village and was even more appalled by what I saw. After nearly fifty years if this is what our villages had been reduced to, I thought there was something drastically wrong with our system. I could see the hunger and deprivation in the eyes of the naked children playing in the dirt. They say a hungry man is an angry man. How long, I wondered, before someone decided they had had enough and picked up a gun?

You could blame the politicians for fanning the flames, but do you think anyone would turn to violence as a means to an end, unless he realised that all other avenues were closed, and the gun was his last act of desperation. I asked a couple of villagers why they never approached the collector or the local leaders for help and they shrugged their shoulders. That said it all – complete apathy by the administration and a slow and hardening realisation that it was each man for himself and the devil take hindmost. Can you blame them for turning naxal?

They say people get the government they deserve. For years, people conned by his mantra of social justice, voted Laloo to power. All he did in the decade or so when he was CM was to fill his pockets and completely bastardize the post of the chief minister. If the people of Bihar vote Laloo and his cohorts back to power, they deserve no better than to wallow in the poverty and criminal way of life that had become a hallmark during his time.

WTF are you saying??????

Posted: October 18, 2010 in the F word

Ok, so I have my wife’s permission to write this blog post. Since she’s done law and knows what she’s talking about, she believes I won’t get sued.

Having studied in a boy’s school, where everyone from the teachers to the peons used the F word quite liberally, it became a trifle difficult to avoid its usage! Now the word sits very comfortably in the midst of my vocabulary and pops up like a jack-in-the-box every now and then. The innumerable uses of the word and its different forms and implications have made the English language so much colourful. There are just so many different ways to use the F word without really using it, aren’t there?

Telling someone off is so much easier now. You can use it anywhere and with anyone on any occasion, and in so many different forms, without being hauled over the coals. Or you can just give that look which implies “Do whatever you f*****g want!” After all, can someone sue you for giving that look or implying that you actually wanted to use the F word (which incidentally, is a legitimate word in the dictionary)?, when you were only telling the person to go ahead and do whatever he or she wants?

Years ago I read a treatise on the F Word by Osho and I think it really was so lucidly put that even I couldn’t have said it better! Just think! According to Osho we could have a wonderful day and a clear throat if we said ‘F*** you’ five times as soon as you got up every morning! It could give us an extraordinary perspective into the way we experience life and its myriad moments.

Just like the 5 W’s and H, the English language has the F word. We wouldn’t ever have to worry about What, Where, When, Who, Why and How if we had just this one (F) word and its various implications. It would make life so much easier. Saying something like ‘What The F*** (WTF) would have had most of us scratching our heads in the early days, but today because of the F word, it has become so much easier to understand what we are trying to say!

Not everyone is familiar with it though. Like the other day, I, along with some of my colleagues had been to an event which could have best been described as ‘crap’. It was something that could have been a trendsetter for Pune, but it instead became an embarrassment. So during the event I passed a paper to one of my colleagues with the message ‘WTF???’ written on it after another gasbag was done with his atrocious rendering of “I, Me and Myself. The look on my colleague’s face was priceless. He had no clue what ‘WTF???’ meant, till a lady next to him told him.

The strange thing is that in all these years, though the word has become a part of my life, I’ve never once used it (either literally or figuratively) to denigrate any of my seniors to the face. I might call someone that in a rage when that person isn’t around, but neither have I used it and nor have I let it show on my face, when the person is in front of me. Blame that on my middle class upbringing or my respect for authority. I guess the times have changed. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I feel it’s better to have a clear conscience than a clear throat! Nowadays, conscience is something that is in short supply.

Oh, and just in case you like this blog post, please leave a message telling me what you think. And if you don’t, just think of the word ‘apathy’ and watch this video.

Time for a statutory warning?

Posted: October 12, 2010 in blogging
Tags: , ,

Facebook India users who indulge in personal and defamatory attacks and post offensive messages could face punishment up to three years under the various sections of the Information Technology Act. “

Will social networking sites, taking a leaf out of tobacco companies’ books, post such a warning on their sites, sometime in the future?

One of my former bosses once gave me some advice which I have never forgotten. He was talking of the importance of the ‘send’ button on a keyboard of the computer. He said whenever you are angry about something or someone (even if it may be your immediate superior or even your boss) and want to fire a mail to someone in authority, go ahead and write it. But don’t send it. Instead, he advised, save it in the Drafts folder and let it lie there till you cool down.

He believed that we often write things in the heat of the moment that we end up regretting it a few minutes later. In the case of an email there is no time for regret. Once you click on the ‘send’ button it’s gone and then you’re left to perspire over the consequences. So why not just wait for things to cool down. If you think you still feel strongly about the issue and want to send the mail, go ahead by all means. So write it, save it but don’t send it, was his advice.

So it does make me wonder how people are so itchy-fingered when it comes to posting offensive messages and emails, without considering the implications. When they are hauled up they fall back on the tried and tested “I’m sorry, it was done in the heat of the moment. It won’t happen again.” If someone feels strongly about something why not go up to the relevant authority and discuss it or in that case send an email requesting an appointment to discuss the issue?

Which bring me to an interesting report in today’s DNA on page 9, that talks about whether a student can be held guilty for posting profane messages against a teacher on social networking sites. No say child rights groups. Yes say lawyers, quoting the IT Act.

The DNA report states that a Chandigarh school suspended 16 students for three months after they had posted offensive messages and pictures of a teacher on Facebook. Child rights groups are, of course, up in arms against this decision. They believe children should be counselled when they do such things, because a lot of things are done without malicious intent and are just an outlet for their frustration. I’m okay with that, because I know a lot of children do things without thinking and social networking sites like Facebook have given kids the kind of freedom to express themselves in so many ways that we never had in our days.

Child rights groups believe a student has the right to air his or her grievances against a teacher, institution and the system, while lawyers quote Section 66 of the IT ACT which can send an offender to jail for three years. This particular IPC section was probably formulated to check transgressions by company employees and not minors, but the fact that it’s there should by act as a deterrent. But it doesn’t. Numerous companies have today blocked access to personal emails and social networking sites at the workplace. Companies like Infosys are monitoring comments on social networking sites, and employees who rant about their managers can face disciplinary action.

Today Facebook or Orkut has become an extension of a friend and confidante, with a really big mouth! Apart from the sometimes downright rude updates, I also read stuff like “In a relationship” or “In a confused/complicated relationship” etc. Does the world need to know? Updates on social networking sites have all kinds of stuff – from rude messages to poetry to short stories to nasty cracks against the administration. The strange thing is that most of these comments are from people aged 18-25. And some of them are quite funny.

To an extent, I’m fine with this too. There are times when one needs to unwind. We also need to keep pace with technology and as parents and teachers we also need to understand where our children are headed! So far so good! But school children are those under the age of 18. What does one do when those above the voting age indulge in such indiscreet behaviour?

Internships are a part and parcel of every student’s life. Unlike an internship with a multinational, doing a stint with a media house – print or broadcast – is an experience like nothing you can imagine. There have been rather extreme reactions from journalism students who have come back from an internship with a media house, and quite a few of them have been negative.

Even when it comes to jobs, some first-timers have a torrid time at a new workplace, with the environment seemingly hostile and indifferent to their predicament as newbies. So here are some guidelines for interns sent to me by some journalists:

 Accept this it’s the media house that has agreed to take you in as an intern. They are doing you a favour, and not the other way round. So you had better appear grateful for the chance. Attitude problems will not get you anywhere.

 Read as many issues as possible of the newspaper where you will intern paying attention to how different stories are written, and the style. If you are being put into the city team read the city pages extra carefully and see how intros are written, how stories are constructed.

 Get to office before everyone else does, especially before the bosses and seniors. It always helps to be around when the bosses are relatively free and more amenable to meeting you and listening to you. DON’T go to them just when all hell breaks loose in the newsroom, or in the evening when the newsroom goes crazy meeting copy deadlines.

 Don’t keep goofing off for too many coffee breaks. You might not be around just when the boss thinks of giving something to “that intern” to do. Stay as late as you can and try to keep yourself busy. If in an English newspaper, read the language papers, they give you ideas for stories and stories done there can be repeated in your paper if no other English paper has caught onto to it.

 You are going to be sent to a lot of events which probably will never be used. These assignments, IF you are lucky enough to get any, are to primarily keep you out of the hair of people who actually have to do the work, like the staff reporters. Don’t get disheartened.

 Much of the stuff you file might end up being trashed. If any of it is used, don’t go around haranguing for a byline. Be grateful it got used at all. If your work is any good you might even be given a few exclusive stories to do.

 If what you write gets used, it might be rewritten. Check what appears with what you wrote and try and learn what you did wrong on your own. In most places people don’t have the time or inclination to tell you what you are doing wrong or how you can improve. But if you find anyone inclined to help, grab the chance but without being such a drag that the person starts avoiding you.

 If during your internship you sit around twiddling your thumbs expecting people to give you work or ask you to work, you just might spend your entire internship doing just that, twiddling your thumbs.

 You are expected to be proactive without being too pushy. So when the boss is relatively free ask for work. Suggest story ideas. The boss might shoot down most of your ideas or there might even be some who will be nasty enough to ridicule some of them. Don’t get put off. Keep doing it. It is embarrassing even for bosses to keep on being negative, and so under pressure, the boss will have to say yes to a few of your ideas. And if your ideas work, you get your story into the paper.

 Ask reporters to take you with them when they go to interesting spots. Reporters usually hate taking anyone along. It cramps their style. But be a bit persistent. It’s a great learning experience to watch reporters at work. They usually give in if you keep asking and also insist you’ll be as unobtrusive as possible. You will learn what to do and sometimes, also what not to do when going after a story.

 Newspapers are all about teamwork. If you are overtly bitchy and mean to fellow interns, no one is going to love you for it. A team player is a huge asset for any department. So be bright, pleasant and always willing to help even if you don’t feel like any of it.

 Spell check your copies before handing them in, no matter how good your writing skills might be. It’s unacceptable to not do so. Read your own copies several times before handing them in. Copies with sloppy and careless mistakes are UNACCEPTABLE.

 Senior journalists might let you address them by their first name but that is not an invitation to take liberties. Journalism might be less hierarchical but the hierarchy exists, make no mistake and you better recognize it. Be respectful and polite. Don’t be flippant and shorten names or start using slang and the F-Word with seniors, even if they do. Upstarts are disliked.

 Do not accept gifts and to make matters worse come to office and brag about it. You might think these things don’t matter anymore in journalism, but you can be sure it will be noticed and will work against you – somewhere, sometime.

 And finally, newspaper jobs mean no fixed hours. If you don’t like that, you are in the wrong job. So if you crib about long hours or irregular hours or about having to change or drop your plans every evening, get out of journalism NOW.