Archive for January, 2011

Dilip Kumar, who?

Posted: January 28, 2011 in Filmstars
Tags: ,

Reading about former Indian cricketers Karsan Ghavri and Anshuman Gaekwad not knowing that the old man chatting with them was during a World Cup cricket match in England, was Sir Len Hutton, was as bad as Tony Grieg and Hylton Ackerman allowing another old man to pick up their luggage and load it in the car at Adelaide airport, and then as an afterthought asking him his name. Their shock and humiliation at finding out that the old man was none other than Sir Don Bradman, has been well documented.

Closer to home, I remember my mother telling me about a grand-uncle who was the curator at the Botanical Gardens in Ooty, who once did not recognise India’s then most popular film actor. He even let the film star use his living room to rest during the shooting, completely oblivious of the fact that he was playing host to a star!

Since the Botanical Gardens was a really beautiful and well maintained park in Ooty, numerous film units from across India would come there to shoot. My grand-uncle didn’t really care too much about Hindi films since he didn’t really understand the language and then the upkeep of the Gardens was his life’s mission – everything else was secondary. Sometime in the 1960s when a Hindi film unit was shooting in the Gardens, the director requested permission from my grand-uncle for the star of the film to use the living room to rest while the unit took a break between shots.

My grand-uncle didn’t think much of it and allowed the very well-known film star to relax in his living room. What happened then was that my two aunts, still teenagers then, who had been told by their father that they had a guest, and should not disturb him, returned home from school (or maybe college) and entered through the kitchen door. When they peeped into the living room they got a shock. They must have thought they were dreaming because seated in front of them leafing through a magazine was none other than DILIP KUMAR!

By a strange coincidence, his son-in-law Balagopal had a similar experience while flying down from Mumbai to (then) Bangalore. This story is no exaggeration because I got it from the horse’s mouth! This gentleman dabbled in microchips much before the IT boom happened and, again, like his father-in-law had no interest in films or filmstars. So flying from Mumbai to Bangalore he found himself seated next to a smart man and they got chatting. The gentleman asked Balagopal what he did and chatted on about his business and a lot else.

Then the conversation went something like this:
Balagopal: So what do you do?
Co-traveller: I am in films
Balagopal: I see. What do you do in films?
Co-traveller: I am Sunil Dutt
Balagopal: That’s nice, but WHAT do you in films


No better day than this for a few thoughts on the state of the nation and where we are headed. Sixty-one years after India became a Republic it’s on the brink of disarray. There is no government worth its name. Politicians, hoodlums and so-called Maoists are generally running crooked parallel governments everywhere in the country. We have a prime minister who seems to suffer from a form of paralysis and who no one listens to anyway. Are we on our way to becoming, what some industry captains have referred to as a banana republic?

The finance minister says it would be ‘difficult’ to reveal the names of corrupt Indians who have Swiss bank accounts. Why, are they friends of his, or is he protecting someone? We also hear the Prime Minister saying that it’s next to impossible to check the influx of black money. Is that because politicians and ministers in his cabinet are the biggest culprits? A journalist friend tells me about a well-known and extremely corrupt cabinet minister who has done the next best thing – he’s bought a bank somewhere abroad, so he can stash away his loot!

Here’s an interesting nugget I picked up off a site about Indian black money in Swiss banks.

India—- $1456 billion
Russia—$ 470 billion
UK——$390 billion
Ukraine–$100 billion
China—-$ 96 billion

Mind-boggling? According to this website, the amount is enough to put Rs 50,000 in the hand of every Indian and still have enough left to pay off all foreign debt and account for the annual budget!

So the gap is widening and the anger and frustration building between the have and have not. When you drive past any of the crowded intersections in the city have you noticed a huge group of people milling around or standing in a queue? This is India’s daily wage worker waiting for his employer of the day. He gets paid a paltry 20 or 30 rupees (or is that too much?) for putting in twelve hours of work in a day, so he can feed his wife and kids.

Why does he have a wife and kids when he can’t even afford to feed himself? Because he got married in the village at a young age and then suddenly the village is too poor to support even his meagre needs. So he migrates to the city with the hope that it will rescue him from the poverty he faces. Only here, he is still leading a hand-to-mouth existence because the 30-odd bucks he makes won’t even buy him a kg of onions. And while the nameless daily wager struggles to make ends meet, there are people making money through illegal means like there’s no tomorrow.

Is this what our leaders have conditioned us to do these past 61 years? I once asked a few youngsters from a small town in UP this question: Why do you want to become an IAS officer? The answers: ‘I want to make money‘ and ‘I’ll get a huge amount of dowry‘. Do you wonder who they are emulating and can you blame them?

I am supposed to get a substantial refund on my Tax Returns for the past two years from the income tax department. My tax consultant advises me to pay the 10 per cent in cash to the I-T officer, if I want my refund. And don’t bother complaining. According to the rule, if any Income-tax officer is found to have delayed submission of refund cheques it can be deducted from his annual increment. But does it bother too many of them? Incidentally, the status of tax returns can now be checked online and once online, the I-T dept must submit the cheque to the bank. So I go online to check the status which says, “Your assessing officer has not sent the refund cheque to the banker.” Why hasn’t my cheque been sent to my banker when it is ready and they have my account number? Take a good guess.

Yesterday, an honest assistant collector was set ablaze in Manmad because he tried to take on the oil mafia. Will the culprits be punished? Who controls the oil mafia? Your guess is as good as mine. This is the India we live in after 61 years. Happy Republic Day, is it?

Always The Editor

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Media
Tags: ,

When I began my career in journalism with the Maharashtra Herald in 1985, the one person I ‘feared’ was my editor S.D. Wagh. I think it was his demeanour that scared the crap out of me or probably the fact that he was THE EDITOR. Since he did not know me, we hardly spoke and that was what was scary. When I introduced myself to him in his cabin, he just nodded. No other introductions! So to me he was an unknown quotient and to be kept at a safe distance. We joked that when the lion (wagh) came out of his den, just keep away.

But as I grew in my job and got promoted my interactions with Mr Wagh also grew. By the time I was a senior sub editor, I had to work on page 1 and that was where I observed him closely. Like all editors, if he decided that a story had to appear, IT DID. No amount of cajoling or pleading helped. His word was final. Mr Wagh also believed bylines were to be earned, unlike today when they are flung around like confetti at weddings.

All through his tenure at the MH he was always THE EDITOR and that line was never crossed, either by him or by us. While he was friendly with the editorial staff he was never the kind to get personal. He even occasionally asked one of us to accompany him for a cup of tea, but the distance was always there.

As some of us – Babu, Joe, Roger, Sudheer and I – prospered under Mr Wagh to take on senior roles, we came to understand how the lion’s brain ticked. Every evening we would decide the ledes for the day and wait for him to show up after his evening walk. We would wait as he went through the stories. At the end of the exercise we would be smiling, because our choices invariably tallied! Once he understood that we had developed a semblance of news sense, he often left us to decide the stories, but God forbid if we missed one.

On one occasion, when a very senior reporter submitted his copy, Mr Wagh asked me for a red pen. Then flipping through the six-odd pages he ran the red pen through them. Soon the pages were a mass of red as he slashed the story from six pages to roughly two. I was watching the reporter turning from distressed to extremely annoyed, to hopping mad! He too first pleaded and then demanded that he be allowed to retain the entire copy. But Mr. Wagh just looked up at him and said very quietly, “That’s all there is in the story.”

“And I won’t use it like this,” the reporter snapped. Mr Wagh, just shrugged and flipped the copy over his shoulder. The story didn’t end there. The next day the reporter re-typed a two-page report and filed it!

He was also not the kind who paid compliments at the drop of a hat. On one occasion he called me to his cabin and asked me to do an editorial on Jennifer Capriati. The young US tennis star had cracked from the pressure of becoming the youngest US Open tennis champion and was found in a hotel room stoned out of her mind. She was the most celebrated case of a burnout in those days. After the editorial appeared he called me in to this cabin and said, “Wonderful piece, it seems it’s written from the heart.” I remember this incident because this was one of the few occasions he complimented my writing!

He was also rarely cowed down by threats and warnings. For years he had been receiving threats and once had almost been assaulted by angry Sikhs during a peace march in Pune, for an editorial in the MH supporting the army action on the Golden Temple. He told us that the Police Commissioner had advised him against walking past some ‘sensitive’ localities after the editorial appeared, but he refused to heed the warning.

The day Gen Arunkumar Vaidya was shot in Pune by terrorists was a day like none other for Puneites. And it wasn’t any different for us at MH. Within 30 minutes of the shooting, our office was swarming with cops toting automatic rifles. A news agency had received a letter which stated that Mr. Wagh was the next target. While we all joked that ‘Waghoba’ had become famous and some of us were even worried (exaggeratedly) about our lives, the man himself was planning to take his customary evening walk completely unmindful of any threats! I think that evening, if the commandos had not barred his way he would have done it too!

When he retired from the MH we all gave him an affectionate send-off and though we bumped into him occasionally, he never came to the office again. I left MH in 1998 and moved on to greener pastures and never heard from him or of him again. He may have been an ‘ordinary’ editor to many, but he was the first newspaper editor I worked under, and one I was always in awe of.

Last evening I learnt from a former colleague at the MH that Mr Wagh had suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away, at his home in Malvan in Sindhudurg. In today’s day and age when editors are appointed according to the ‘market’ their papers are sold in, S.D. Wagh was the quintessential journalist editor.

It’s been six years since I quit the print media and floundered into Information Technology, Corporate Communication and teaching – I don’t want to call it ‘academics’ because I don’t think I am qualified to call myself an ‘academic’.

But, recently, I returned to the scene of the crime (metaphorically speaking), which I had left in a state of disillusionment and boredom. And I was as excited as a schoolboy entering the school gates for the first time. I don’t think this could have come at a more opportune moment. So after six years, I guess I am back where I belong – this time as Managing Editor of two automobile magazines.

As for my teaching experience, the media student who endured my classes these past four years will be the best judge. I know there will always be those who thought I was an ordinary teacher and others who believed differently. And I have no issues with either point of view. I am a journalist and never claimed to be an academic. I took up teaching because I thought budding journos needed to know what the media was really like. So whatever I spoke in the classroom was what I had experienced in my career so far.

But coming to the nuances of journalism, editing, reporting and feature writing are still only about the basics. I taught the basics because that is the way I learnt it from my seniors. I learnt it the hard way – on the job. After the basics, it really depended on the practical knowledge the individual got – whether in-house, during internships or college projects – along the way. Then it’s up to the academics with their PGs and PhDs to show students the way.

There’s one thing, however, I’m sure of. I never, ever, glamourised the profession. I gave the kids the real picture – of the grime, cutthroat politics, tough working conditions, long working hours, low salaries, and most importantly, the low expectations. I remember one of the first lectures I gave at a media institute in the city, where I spoke about how difficult it had been as a journalist to make ends meet. The kids listening to me had stars in the eyes, and they all wanted to be M.J. Akbar, Vir Sanghvi, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai or Arnab Goswami. It was fun to watch their faces as I went about systematically ripping apart the facade of glamour they had come to associate the media with. At the end of the class, one kid stood up and said “Sir, you have completely demolished the image I had of journalists and journalism. I am not really sure now, if I want to get into it, at all.”

I am quite touched, when these same kids come up to me a year or so later and tell me that they are still pursuing journalism only because of what I had told them in my lectures. The thing is, I’d rather they see reality. I’d rather they develop the passion that makes a journalist and accept the warts and ulcers that come with it. I’d rather they understand that journalism is a job like none other.

So that’s that. For the next few months I’ll be dividing my time between managing the magazines and my teaching assignments. The company has graciously agreed to allow me to complete the semester. If all goes well (the eternal cynic!) with the magazines, my visits to media institutes will be restricted to the weekends or a few evenings, if at all.

To the institutions that allowed me to interact with their students, and to the students who thought I had made a difference to their lives and to their understanding of journalism…a big thank you, it was fun!

When someone sends us a link on Facebook asking us to support some cause, quite often we do it so mechanically. Do we really, understand what that cause means to the person who launched it? How easily we sympathise with someone with the words “I know how you feel.” When in effect, nine times out of ten, we don’t, but say it because well, it’s the most natural thing to do.

Yesterday I just returned after spending a wonderful evening with an old friend – probably among the oldest I’ve had in all these years. We’d gone there with a reason but not till we were about leave did we bring it up. She’s more a part of the family, than a friend. We were among a group of closely knit families who grew up together and covered for each other in a crisis. It’s funny, when we were growing up we hardly spoke to each other because we went to different schools and then there was always that awkwardness about being seen talking to a girl in a housing colony.

Strangely, whenever we (she, her two younger sisters and I) were in each other’s homes we would be chatting away, but the minute we stepped out or travelled in the bus together we looked the other way! V also had three aunts, all of whom talked ten to the dozen – simultaneously. It was usually a full house and it was one big happy family, as we assembled at her home in the evenings.

Funnily, her mother was my favourite! I don’t think that the age difference ever mattered, because she would tease me mercilessly about my ‘girlfriends’. Little did hr mother know that I didn’t have any because at that age I was this fat, gawky, bespectacled kid, who no girl would ever look at! But it was all in fun and one never took it seriously. I’d never met anyone who was so full of beans and someone who I really got along with – even better than I got along with any of her kids!

So yesterday, as we spent some time at this friend’s place with her husband, brother-in-law, teenaged son and daughter, and her aunt, we reminisced about life, problems in the respective housing societies we lived in and a lot else. Her brother-in-law, obviously the life of any party, was narrating his experiences in his housing society in Hyderabad and we were all laughing – she, the loudest. The conversation drifted to the ridiculous rents that were being paid by software engineers because of the even more ridiculous salaries they got.

As we all joked about the absurdity of the situations we see in life every day, I watched her enjoying herself, and wondered how she was coping. The doctors examined her and they suspect breast cancer, and there is a possibility she could undergo a mastectomy and subsequent radiation and chemotherapy, if required. Her family teased her about joining her in the hospital, to keep her company. If she was scared, and I am sure she was, it didn’t show. As someone who has known her for 42 years, I pray that she recovers soon and returns to her wonderful husband, her two lovely children. Her courage in the face of such a crisis is awe-inspiring.

I had a minor surgery some years back and as I lay on the operating table waiting to go under, I was terrified. Seeing her laughing and joking last evening, I only know how I felt.

2010 in review

Posted: January 2, 2011 in blogging

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,200 times in 2010. That’s about 17 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 69 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 169 posts. There were 39 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 25mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was September 22nd with 96 views. The most popular post that day was CWG fiasco: Who’s the real culprit?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for harshvardhan nawathe, simc wire, cwg fiasco, harshavardhan nawathe, and simcwire.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


CWG fiasco: Who’s the real culprit? September 2010


About Me January 2010


Birds on a Wire… February 2010


Driving Round the Country Side. First stop: Bijapur June 2009


Work Profile May 2010