Archive for December, 2011

I don’t know if I am qualified to write on the subject, but in the past four or five months I’ve suddenly rediscovered my love for books. For someone who never managed to start one, leave alone finish it in the past ten years, except for books on journalism from where I got information from my power point presentation to show in my classes, and an occasional book on Osama bin Laden or by Kushwant Singh, I’ve just finished reading six books in the past four months! Yup, it must be some sort of record!

I’ve read three books on Jim Corbett’s adventures in the jungle and his love-hate relationship with the big cats. They belonged to my son and since they were lying around the house gathering dust, I thought of carrying them to the loo, one by one, and reading them there! Fascinating tales of Corbett’s travails in the jungles of Uttar Pradesh and now Uttarakhand, I wonder how many law suits he would have been hit with from wildlife protection groups and self serving environmentalists, had he lived today! I read ‘The Maneaters of Kumaon’ as a school kid and thought I had had my fill of Corbett’s tales, until I came upon other books on him recently.

Okay so these were man-eaters he shot down, to protect the villagers who were terrorised by them, but still, it tells us a lot about the lives and times in British India. It also gave me an insight into the mind of a man who simply loved the big cat but had no hesitation in shooting down one, if the situation required it. There was little remorse or doubt when he aimed his rifle at a man-eater. How many people today, who claim to love animals, would be able to do what Corbett did?

I then actually went and bought the ‘Maruti Story’ by R.C. Bhargava. I was working for an automobile magazine until recently and thought it only right to read up about India’s largest automobile manufacturer. Again, it was an absolutely engrossing book on the way the Maruti was born. Sanjay Gandhi’s passion for cars, a mother’s love for her errant, spoilt son and the sycophants who hovered around the then prime minister and her son, ready to do anything they asked. Strangely enough, Maruti never became a success story during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s lifetime, but after her, when her other and far more sensible son Rajiv was prime minister.

Having been associated with Maruti almost since its inception, Bhargava gives a pretty detailed account of the way bureaucrats, ministers and MPs, tried to scuttle the project even when they knew who was backing it. For a journalist, it is a shocking and revealing story of the kind of venal, petty and vicious politics that has made and destroyed the dreams of a million small industrialists and businessmen, who believed they could be a part of the India success story from the 1980s. All credit to the Japanese and a group of Indians who believed in Maruti and realised that it could be a harbinger of change. Only the Japanese with their zen-like fortitude could have succeeded, in the face of the crap being doled by self serving bureaucrats and corrupt politicians with a single agenda, that of stopping Maruti at all costs. Industry captains, who today talk of leaving India because they are fed up of the read-tapism and corruption, should take a lesson from the officials of the Suzuki Motor Company.

Maruti Suzuki may have its critics but let’s face it the automobile industry will always be divided in two eras, BM and AM – Before Maruti and After Maruti. Environmentalists may not like what it has done – brought in more cars and more pollution and more spending, but tell that to the thousands of people who got employment because of Maruti and subsequently in other auto firms, who came, saw and grabbed the opportunity. There were also those small businessmen and entrepreneurs who started out in small tin sheds and went on to become multi-millionaires only because they chose to be a part of the Maruti story. It’s a pretty fascinating account of MSL.

The other book was Vinod Mehta’s ‘Lucknow Boy’ which I thought just rambled on and on till it got to the ‘juicy’ part about his life as an editor, starting from Debonair and ending at Outlook. I liked the book because Mehta, one will admit, can tell a wonderful story in very simple language, just like another journalist who was caught on the Radia tapes!

And finally, I read ‘Jim Morrison’, a gritty, no holds barred account of the singer- poet, his drug and alcohol addiction, his turbulent relationship with his mother and Pamela Courson his girl friend (or ‘concubine’ as the French police refer to her since she was the next of kin, on Morrison’s death certificate), his numerous one-night stands and mistresses; and how through all that he still managed to get up on stage and perform. When I started the book I thought Morrison was completely psychotic.

By the time I completed the book, I was convinced he was a little unhinged, but a brilliant musician, poet and singer. It’s tragic when you realise that he probably tried to make sense of his life through the haze of alcohol and drug addiction, but in the end failed and ended up dead in his bathtub, choking on his own blood and vomit. In the end, one might well ask whether Morrison would have made a better performer had he remained sober and drug-free. We’ll never know, will we?


Oh shit!

Posted: December 21, 2011 in Dogs
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It’s something that always makes my bile rise. And especially when it happens as I breathe in the cool, fresh morning air. Every morning when I go for a walk I have to tread very carefully and gingerly. And that isn’t because I have a troublesome knee. I have to watch out for the poop that is strewn along the road by dogs which are also on their morning ablutions, accompanied by their owners.

Some environment-loving citizens, who like me, like to breathe in the fresh morning air and go for walks to stay fit, seem to overlook that when it comes to their dogs crapping all over the place. In fact they encourage their pets to defecate on the footpaths, which the PMC’s sweepers diligently clean every morning, so we can walk there instead of on the road.

But these dog owners believe the entire road is their dog’s baap ka raasta and it can crap anywhere it damn well pleases. So me and others like me, have to weave around dog poop all over the footpath and on the roadside and instead of enjoying Black Dog on the headphone, I have to watch out for the real one which is in a position that is between sitting and standing on the footpath, about to empty its bowels, right next to me. Believe me, a Saint Bernard or a Great Dane are beautiful (if not a little too huge) animals to watch, but not when they are in the middle of their crap time!

If any canine lover reading this thinks it’s ‘so sweet’ to watch a dog crapping on the road, I’d like to see their reaction when they step into the shit and have to scrape it off their Reeboks! Thankfully, I have so far escaped the ordeal. Better still, why don’t they allow the dogs to dirty their own homes first before letting them muck up the outside? How would they like me to dump my garbage on their lawn?

While I completely understand that canines need a place to let go, and can’t possibly squat over the toilet at home, I do wish dog lovers would ensure that their pets don’t empty their bowels on the footpath or on the roadside and worse, like it’s none of their damn business.

Years ago, the BMC first asked a well known political columnist to clean up after her dog messed up Marine Drive one morning. When she refused they fined her and when she refused to pay the fine, they hauled her to court, where she lost the case. I don’t think the PMC needs to go that far as yet, but I think it’s time people understood that their dogs are as much responsible for polluting the environment, as they are.

If that doesn’t work, it’s for the Pune civic or cantonment authorities to step in and tell dog owners to stop adding to the (dog) crap that’s already lying around, thanks to the number of stray dogs running around loose. I do wish the people who take up the cause of strays would give a thought to this aspect too!

We can even change the Constitution to suit our interests! While the Constitution hasn’t been changed in this case, one is trying to understand the rationale behind altering the rules to include sportspersons as Bharat Ratna awardees, just so we can give it to Sachin Tendulkar.

I am a great fan of Tendulkar. He’s one in a hundred million, but to change the rules just so he can be given the Bharat Ratna is not just bizarre, but sets an unhealthy precedent.

Why Sachin, why not others before him who have excelled in their sport? Why not Kapil Dev — arguably India’s greatest allrounder, India’s first World Cup winning captain, superb bowler, powerful batsman and amazing fielder. What he achieved inspired a millions kids, Tendulkar among them, to take to the game in all seriousness.

Or a little farther back, there was Sunil Gavaskar. Diehard cricket fans still believe he was one of the greatest opening batsmen that walked the earth. He took on the might of the West Indies and Australia, and shouldered the responsibility of the Indian team for 16 years. There was a time, when one said if Gavaskar fell, India crumbled. He was the first cricketer to climb the mountain of 10,000 Test runs. Why not him?

Or let’s go even further back in time. How about Dhyan Chand, India’s hockey wizard? It was said people flocked to the grounds around the world just to see Dhyan Chand dribble his way around the opposition.
If he was missing from the line-up, so were the crowds.

Or why not Prakash Padukone? Milkha Singh, Wilson Jones, Geet Sethi, Michael Ferreira, Lala Amarnath, or P.T. Usha? All of them were masters of their universe. The point is — where do we draw the line? As it is, the selections for Bharat Ratna have been mired in controversy.

In 2008, the BJP recommended the name of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BSP of Kanshi Ram, the Leftists of Jyoti Basu and TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu suggested N.T. Rama Rao. In the end there was no award. Now that sportspersons are to be included, will lobbying not start here as well? Tomorrow the likes of Ram Vilas Pawan and Mayawati will want a quota in it!

It’s anyway, nothing but a huge ego boost for the awardee and his or her followers and the hectic lobbying that takes place before the award is announced reduces it to a farce. So let’s just put the Bharat Ratna back where it was these past few years – in cold storage.

What next? Sachin Tendulkar for President?

‘Are you happy?’

Posted: December 16, 2011 in journalism
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A former colleague, and now a good friend, called in the morning to tell me about a story which he thought I could do, or get done for the newspaper I work with.

His next comment was interesting. “Are you happy?”

If I was, he said, it didn’t show in my blog posts.

I reflected on the past six years since June 2005, when I quit the media and went into PR and Corporate Communications. It was a big mistake, I realised, a few months down the line, but by then the doors had shut in my face. That’s not to say there weren’t offers, but there was nothing that seemed interesting enough to take me back to journalism.

Public Relations and Corporate Communications, as defined by the two mom & pop outfits that I worked for, was nothing but pushing press releases and attempting to get the bosses interviewed by the business press. It’s something that can’t go too far, unless you have something to say – and they didn’t.

I think what really gave me another lease of life was teaching, or just telling people about the way newspapers worked – at least the way I saw it. Listening to kids less than half my age, expressing themselves in a way only they knew (!) was an eye-opener. It also got me reconnected to the media in a way. Now I had to brush up on my knowledge of the subject.

I couldn’t possibly stand up there in front of a class of a hundred plus kids and clear their doubts when I had so many of my own. Sometimes I failed and the students made their displeasure public, but most often, I believed, I did clear the doubts they had. Thankfully, no one ever wanted to discuss the Monroe Doctrine or Mein Kampf! Or else I would have got screwed.

So when I returned to journalism in January this year I was elated. Unfortunately it was an unpleasant experience, and I really wondered whether the field of media had passed me by. Should I go back to PR and salvage that part of my career, is a thought that also occurred to me. Then I decided, if I had to get back to what I really wanted, it had to be now or never. When I joined the newspaper, I was well prepared to take a salary cut in the process. It was better than wasting my life away in something that didn’t interest me. Thankfully my teaching assignments made up a bit of the shortfall.

So on September 19, my first day at work in this newspaper, when I walked in and sat down at my work-station, switched on the PC and logged into the wire service, I felt this huge swell of emotion. My eyes began to sting with tears. I realised I was home. I was back where I belonged. I should never have left. I just sat back and soaked in the feeling. This newspaper was a small cog in the huge wheel that made up the media group and it was competing against some of the giants in the field. But for me it was like the oxygen that makes us live and breathe.

I don’t know how many others have felt this way, when returning to something they had loved and lost! To me these last three months have been a revelation. And then the atmosphere at the workplace has also helped. Editing was always something I enjoyed doing. To go through the copies of the juniors and clean them up has given me the pleasure, I’ve haven’t had in the past six years. It’s a thrill that I am still soaking in. Like a former colleague told me yesterday, when we were on chat, “take what happened in the past as a bad dream that occurred and move on.” I have.

And there’s something else.

I feel that today’s kids, who aim straight for the top as soon as they finish their course, make a mistake. I realise that for the money they spend on their course they only want the biggest name in the business. But what is the biggest may not necessarily turn out to be the best. One or two of the ten may hit the jackpot, but what about the rest? For them it invariably ends in frustration and then a general feeling of having wasted those early years.

In a large organisation, no one has the time for you. I spent five years in Hindustan Times where no one had the time for me. Whatever I learnt I did on my own. And I had to thank my time at the small newspaper for that, which taught me the basics and a lot more about journalism. The feeling I got was that since I worked with the largest selling newspaper in the region, I was expected to know the job, without there being any ‘hand-holding’. Working in a multi-edition newspaper was a huge shock, for someone who never worked in one. That’s where the 13 years I spent, and the guidance from my seniors helped.

Some months ago I addressed a fresh batch of media students. All of them had come there with stars in their eyes, taken in by the glamour of the profession. They all wanted to be Barkha, Rajdeep or Arnab. Then I gave them the ‘real’ picture. I heard later from some of them that I had ‘disillusioned’ them. After hearing me, they were not really sure whether this is what they really wanted to do. But there were those who were ‘inspired’ by what I had said and knew this is where they wanted be. I know of quite a few of my students who have quit the newspaper they worked for, frustrated by the work they are made to do (“This is not what I thought I would be doing after paying a packet these last few years”). Let’s face it, journalism isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But coming back to me, I’ve never been happier. A couple of my past students who met me in the city the other day said I looked much happier “and dapper” (whatever that meant)!

Joe, I hope that answers your question!

News just in is that the Prime Minister is planning a new ministry and it is going to be named the Union Ministry for Propaganda, to be headed by Dr. Kapil Sibal with Shashi Tharoor as his Minister of State. The job of this ministry will be to ensure that any online content that criticises the First Family and the Prime Minister will first be sent for screening to the ministry concerned, and heads of these portals will be put in jail for even accepting such stuff. Just kidding, just kidding….

But what is not one bit funny is the UPA government asking google, Facebook, Yahoo and others to censor content, to supposedly protect the ‘fair’ name of the Gandhi-Nehru family and others among their list of favourites, who are constantly being lampooned on the Internet. Even more appalling is Sibal’s very Goebbelsian remark that “They will have to give us this data, where these images are being uploaded and who is doing it.”

Sibal seemed a nice chap, so what got into him all of a sudden? Is he trying to upstage his good friend Digvijaya Singh, who till now had excelled in shooting his mouth off, or is he trying to ingratiate himself to the First Family or is he trying appease his and the party’s vote-bank? OR is he trying the age old ruse of diverting the attention of the public at large from ticklish issues like FDI in retail, Lokpal Bill, 2G, CWG etc? So he now wants to “define” what we can say and in the same breath says he respects the freedom of expression! Bit of an oxymoron isn’t it?

Does his ranting have anything to do with the videos floating around that question the financial dealings of certain members of the First Family? Frankly, if the people who find themselves in these videos feel they are being defamed or maligned they should ask the website to pull them off and sue, if they think that would serve the purpose. I think that is justified. But to do what Sibal is suggesting websites do, is stretching it a bit much.

Amitabh Bachchan sued a Swedish newspaper that published reports about his and his brother’s links with Bofors, and won. Whether people believed they were involved or not, the Bachchans believed they were not and sued. The paper retracted the stories, apologised and paid the Bachchans for the damage caused to their reputation. Let the people who feel they are being maligned do the same.

Sibal has also outdone himself by his latest harangue on what he claims is ‘objectionable’, ‘blasphemous’ and ‘derogatory’ comments on the Internet. Who decides what is ‘objectionable’ ‘blasphemous’ and ‘derogatory’ and how?

And can he define what is blasphemous? If he is so concerned about it, why doesn’t he also ask social networking sites to pull down all the anti-India – and more specifically anti-Hindu – rhetoric that’s floating around, most of which emanate from a few neighbouring countries. They have been around for ages, how come no one from the government thought of complaining to Facebook about them? Why has his government never attempted to block those sites? Is it because it suits them to drive a deeper wedge between the two communities, and in doing so appease the party’s vote-bank?

I thought this government had learnt its lessons from the Emergency, when the prince and his henchmen tried to subvert democracy and a free press, by having secretaries sitting in newsrooms of newspapers vetting copies or confiscating film reels. Even the great ‘democrat’ Atal Bihari Vajpayee along with his trusted lieutenant Brajesh Mishra was not averse to using strong-arm tactics to rein in the media when they wanted to. But Sibal has taken this quite a few steps higher.

In 1962 during the Chinese invasion the press roasted the prime minister for his decisions and his blind faith in his defence minister. He was advised to muzzle the Press, but he refused saying that a free press was the very essence of democracy and if he were to black out the press he would never know what the people felt about him and his government. That Prime Minister was Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, one of the founders of the Congress party that harps on his name and ideals even today.

To end on a humorous note, a Russian tourist, on his first visit to the USA in the 1960s checked into a hotel and asked his American host what the TV was doing in his room. The American told him,” We have television sets in every hotel room, which beam over 50 channels. And we watch all of them”

The surprised Russian remarked, “Back home in Moscow, we too have a television set in every hotel room. Only IT watches you.”