Archive for January, 2015

In this day and age, a lot of journalists are finding it difficult to hide their political leanings. However, newspaper editors, if not reporters, are supposed to be level-headed, calm and very balanced in their views on a public space, because after all, what they say is read by so many and can influence so many others. And today, Facebook or twitter is public space, for all practical purposes.

Unfortunately, there is also a new breed of zealots whose idea of freedom of expression is to lament the death of free speech in India, while continuously abusing the politician they hate. Take what happened today at the R Day parade. The vice president Hamid Ansari was abused by goons on the social networking sites for disrespecting the national flag. He didn’t salute the flag, while Modi and the president did. In effect, according to protocol only people in uniform are supposed to salute the flag, the rest are supposed to stand at attention. How many of us salute the flag when the national anthem plays even in a movie theatre? But then, there’s really nothing much one can expect from such people. In their favour, one can say that at least they don’t hide their hatred for someone or some communities. But it’s not as if such nutcases abound in only one community.

The other day while I was on Facebook a former colleague who claims to be secular tried very subtly to justify the massacre of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, with an extremely convoluted explanation. I read and let it pass. A little while later, in another attempt to justify the Paris massacre he asked what Indians would have done had celebrated cartoonist R.K. Laxman sketched India’s most popular leader and then described in some crude and graphic detail how (he didn’t name the leader, but it was obvious who he was referring to).

That’s when something inside me snapped. I really didn’t see any need to drag in India’s most respected cartoonist, especially when the man was near death. My question to him was ‘How different are you from the Hindu fanatic that you keep railing about?’ After which I added that he was as much a fundamentalist as the right-wing loonies he keeps blasting on his ‘personal space’ because the language he used to criticize people he hated was no different from theirs.

And this guy likes to call himself secular! So, in his secular world, it is okay to use foul language against anyone who he hates, whether it is the Indian prime minister, the government, the party, anything else with a saffron hue or anyone who even as much as says a good word against those he dislikes. My remarks obviously stung because he blocked me! I know he hates Modi with a passion for reasons that go back to 2002 and Gujarat. And I have no issues with that because this guy, like a lot of people in the country, hate not just Modi, but Amit Shah and everyone in the BJP and the RSS for the same reasons and more.

Even on earlier occasions, I have usually ignored his rants because there are others I know, who rant about the colour green and who believe all Muslims should be sent across the border or have unspeakable things done to them. A few days before this incident, he said something very crude on Facebook about finance minister Arun Jaitley and I was appalled. I prefer to read all such comments from both sides and ignore them. Heck, even I dislike some politicians, but you won’t find me calling them names on a public space. I’ve been a journalist long enough to know that.

This brings me to the question of free speech and freedom of expression that journalists keep shouting about that from the rooftops. Would this guy dare to criticise the government of the country where he was working? The people who criticise Sonia, Manmohan, Rahul and Modi and their respective governments also need to remember that it is because we have these rights and principles enshrined in our Constitution that we can say a lot and get away with it. One can get away with swearing at the vice president, prime minister or his ministers or for that matter anyone is because we have free speech.

The trolls and some politicians can say any crap they want because no one takes them seriously. That is why one expects journalists to be different. That is what distinguishes them from the genuine critics and the riff raff. I guess some journalists haven’t learnt the difference – or because their vision is so clouded they can’t see through it. So, how different are they from the riff raff?


On second thoughts, I should have retitled this ‘what’s the boss got to do with it?’

I read a quote recently by former president APJ Abdul Kalam that said, ‘Love your job, but don’t love your company, because you may not know when your company stops loving you.” I don’t completely agree with that, because sometimes a good company or a considerate boss can make you go that extra yard.

It was very flattering when an ex-boss told me he’d take me back because I had stuck to my ethics, when I had worked there. He told me I was one of the very few who knew what some of his managers were up to, and instead of joining them, preferred to walk out. Some years later he called me home and said he owed me an apology. I ca,’t possibly get a boss to apologise when they make a mistake, but when one says so, himself….! I haven’t met too many owners, editors or CEOs who have had the humility to accept they had erred and to apologise for it. He’s the only one.

That was valuable experience to my learning curve, and from the time I was 16, having seen and worked in a lot of places, I guess, I’ve seen a few managers – good and bad. But, honesty is not something that all of them appreciate,  even if they make a show of welcoming “frank and honest opinions”. My mother always used to say that people who tell you, “be frank with me about everything including me” are the first ones who’ll come after you with a hatchet if you ‘be frank and honest’ about them! I’ve had bosses telling me to point their errors whenever they make them. You can guess the rest. Stupid me!

There was another guy I worked for in Delhi for a year or so. He shut the company because his weekly medical bills crippled him to such an extent that it sometimes exceeding our weekly printing budget. He could have asked me to go. Instead, he told me to freelance and do what I loved to do – write – and said he would pay my salary till I got another job. I am eternally grateful to that man for his graciousness and generosity, because had he asked me to go that day, five of us would have been on the street, homeless.

These are some managers who you remember for all the right reasons. And then there are those you don’t want to remember at all! I read some time back that two well-known journalists of a national newspaper had resigned. Nothing new, it happens all the time. Two more left a fortnight before that for their own reasons. What I read with interest in the first case was that one of them cited ‘verbal abuse’ as a reason for his resignation. Some months back a news anchor tried to commit suicide alleging harassment from her bosses and top management. I feel sorry for the lady in question, and I can’t even imagine the kind of pressure she might have been under, but what she did was a bit extreme because one should never give any boss that satisfaction.

Two of my ex-bosses in respective organisations once told me that my juniors had complained that I used the F word once too often.  In the first case, the boss laughed and said, “Go easy on them.” She mistakenly thought I was using it against them. I came out and announced that I apologised to everyone for my language, but it wasn’t personal.  I must not have looked one bit contrite after my apology, because there was laughter from the people around.

In the second instance, I asked my juniors if I had ever abused them using the F word. They were surprised because none of them had complained. They said they had no problems with it, because they knew I wasn’t making it personal. It then became a bit of a joke and some of the reporters would say “Sir, please say the word once. The way you say it, it sounds like a compliment not a swear word. Dil ko sukoon milta hain!” (it gives relief to the heart!)

I’ve been accused of a lot else, like berating (NEVER ABUSING) reporters and subs for submitting bad copy, and I am sure they see the wisdom in that now! There were a few tears and then we would go out for a coffee and sort things out. Of course, there are always exceptions. As seniors, one pushes the juniors often to see how far they can be pushed. The brilliant ones survive, the rest make up the average bunch. It is a case of the kitchen and the heat. That’s life. Oh and I’ve made mistakes too, plenty of them, which I’ve paid for in cash and kind, because as an HoD, at the end of the day is responsible for everything that goes wrong.

I remember my senior Joseph Pinto telling some of us once that if anyone made really silly mistakes, “he would “hang the bastard out of the window by his legs!” Last year, I was at a condolence meeting for a former colleague and a senior journalist, and during some of the eulogies a couple of senior journalists mentioned how their seniors would berate them for messing up their copies. That is how they improved in journalism and reached the positions they are in today. I was flattered when they mentioned my name along with the others, because after all these years, it felt nice to be remembered by some of your juniors for the right reasons.

An ex-student tweeted to me some time back that verbal abuse is very common in media houses. She is right, it not common just in media houses but everywhere. In some places it is in-your-face and in others it is more subtle but just as vicious. And that is because managements do not care to act against errant managers, until his/her actions or he/she jeopardises their interests. I have nothing against an occasional ticking off. It doesn’t kill anyone. All seniors lose their cool at some time or the other. With the kind of pressure they are under from the top, it is understandable.

A former student told me how her boss screamed at her over the phone for something that wasn’t even her fault: Bhenc**d, why the f*** did you do this?” He was profusely apologetic to her the minute she walked into the office because he had discovered that it was not her fault after all! Never mind the fact that he got her gender mixed up! However, when I hear of bosses who say they are proud of verbally using their juniors, because that is the way they get work done, I pity them. It shows their inability and incompetence to lead a team.

I have watched the trauma-hit faces of the youngsters around me when bosses without even the slightest provocation have started screaming at them. Juniors then start to treat the job as a sufferance they have to endure because it pays the bills and not something they love to do. And more and more, I have begun to believe that if you do not treat people with respect they will not give you any respect.

Someone has rightly said that if you want to find an unhappy employee look to his boss. This link should make interesting reading. Why such experienced people, who are in positions of power for their talent and abilities (I presume), should behave in such a bizarre fashion is something I can never fathom.  A boss who thinks he has the right to verbally abuse his or her staff, is fit to be admitted to a psychiatric ward instead of the high chair he or she occupies in the corporate world.

I know of a colleague who quit her job, because the boss who was twice her age, went after her so hard that she fled. This was not a case of verbal abuse but one of extreme harassment. This kid just knew more about the job they were working on, and it was making the boss look inept. She told me the whole story one evening on chat and It horrified me that such a senior person could be so insecure about a job and so vindictive. And they were friends. Then there were these two kids who worked for national publications, who were got after by their immediate superiors. Once others noticed that they were taking it quietly, they too joined in, till one of them got frustrated and quit.

So what brings out the sadistic streak in some bosses?  Is it some frustration from the time they were trainees and were bullied by their bosses or are they just doing this to hide their inadequacies as managers, or are they mentally unfit to take the responsibility given to them?  I know ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’ but verbally abusing colleagues and juniors is proof that they are undeserving of the crown – whatever they or the management might think. Even I once had a junior politely telling me, “Why don’t you f**k off?” because I was standing behind her correcting her as she edited her copy.

I was taken aback for a second and then we started laughing. But then she was something special and she has proved it over the years by becoming one of the finest journalists this profession has produced. And we’ve remained good friends these past 25 years. We always want to emulate our seniors and believe that one day we would like to walk in their shoes. Would I ever want to walk in the shoes of someone who believes that swearing at his or her staff  is the way to get work done? This blog is my answer.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is about to fly into Pune for a bankers’ meet a few days from now and the roads all along the route are being spruced up. A fresh coat of paint here, a fresh roll of tar there and the hedges are being trimmed.

Pune is being made a Swachha city for the big day with the trash being pushed out of sight. The approach road to my place, which goes right past the venue, has suddenly got a cement patch with the dividers having appeared almost by magic. Funnily, the white dividers stop midway along the road almost as if the guy who was drawing it decided that it would go only as far as Mr Modi’s vision would permit!

More interestingly, traffic at intersections is being forced to stay behind the white line. For the Punekar who abhors traffic rules it must be doubly frustrating. But do not worry, the torture will only last a few days. And that is what this blog is about.

With due apologies to the much revered Lokmanya Tilak, many vehicle owners and pedestrians in Pune believe that breaking the law is their birthright! I consider myself a law abiding citizen when I am behind the wheel of a car or walking on the road. I don’t know if that also makes me stupid. There’s a huge number in the city that refuses to follow traffic rules and having lived in the city most of my life that should have become a part of my nature too by now. Thankfully, it has not.

The complete disregard for the law by the Punekar is appalling. They actually believe that they are within their rights to do so and no one, not even the police, can do a damn thing about it. I used to think that only in Delhi motorists honk to force you to cross the red light because they want to go. Today, I can honestly say that Pune has gone far ahead of the national capital in this aspect. Take any intersection, even in the cantonment, vehicle owners do not even slow down if they see a cop. They just speed through, and the cop looks on helplessly.

The pedestrian is not far behind. At the Swargate Bus stand crossing, probably the busiest in the city, there are at least four constables on duty, but not one stops  the pedestrian who brazenly strolls across even as the oncoming traffic begins to move. So while looking out for two-wheeler riders in the maze one has to dodge pedestrians as well. On the bridge that connects Tilak Road to Deccan Gymkhana, there is a wide footpath on either sie of the bridge, but people will still walk on the road. I’ve always wondered why. Can someone enlighten me? And these are not isolated examples.

And to add to the confusion, at times, is the Pune Traffic Police. In April 2012, the Supreme Court passed an order banning tinted glasses on car windows. The Pune Police then announced that they were going to “strictly implement” the ban. Of course, everything petered out after a few days of frenzied activity I later heard some convoluted explanation of percentage of tint or whatever and things eased off.

Suddenly two years later, they again announced that they were going to “strictly implement” the two-year old order. I finally decided to remove the film from my car instead of being hauled up by some enthusiastic traffic policeman who would insult me with “If senior journalists like you do this, what can we tell the common man?”. As I drove around looking for a dealer who would pull out the film I got stopped thrice. I was not fined because I told the cop that I was looking for a dealer for the very purpose. Two days after removing the film, I drove to Deccan Gymkhana and noticed the absence of any traffic policemen “strictly implementing” the law.

So my question is why does the Pune Police start something they either cannot do, or are unable to take to its logical conclusion? I understand that the decision is in pursuance of a Supreme Court ruling, so they should either take it to the logical end or stop wasting their and our time. It’s just like the crash helmet rule. Very few months it pops and the goes back on the shelf. They have launched various grand plans to improve the city’s traffic which after a week or so die a silent death.

I would be much happier if they threw up their hands and told the State government that there is nothing they can do unless they get the manpower and the infrastructure. I think the reason why ministers, MPs and MLAs never do anything is because they are never stuck in traffic, so they think everything is running just perfectly. So I hope and pray that one day the chief minister is in town and he gets stuck in a traffic jam on Jangli Maharaj Road or Tilak Road! Why the state government does not step in and help the Pune Traffic Police or for that matter police in every city, is a mystery to me. Pune has sent all its MLAs from the ruling party to the Vidhan Sabha. Can we expect something from them except homilies? Will Guardian Minister Girish Bapat do something>

Secondly, how is it that only the one class of people is caught? How about nailing the VIP and VVIP motorists driving those monster SUVs, Jaguars, Land Rovers, BMWs and Mercs? And let’s not forget the vehicles of politicians and the government officials. Have you see any policemen pulling up these motorists lately? Or are they exempt from the rule? So I see all those fancy cars zip around with pitch black film and I am left cursing my diligence!

But coming back to the prime minister’s visit, did it have to take that to force the Pune Traffic Police to make Punekars follow traffic rules? Before someone starts to think I am running down the traffic police, let me clarify, I have total respect for the people in khakhi. I know they are doing a difficult job because they are strapped for manpower and the number of vehicles is increasing at a scary rate which they have no control over.

When I read that Pune Traffic Police has collected quite a few crores as fines from erring vehicle owners for various offences, what it tells me apart from the obvious is that Pune is a city where law breakers seem to have a free run. They do not care about traffic rules and (more importantly) have no fear for the traffic policemen, who try valiantly to bring some sense into the madness – and fail.

So, in the end, it took a prime ministerial visit for the inept and slothful Pune Municipal Corporation to spring into action. Now if only this was done on a permanent basis! Maybe, Prime Minister Modi should come to Pune every other week and drive around the city for his viewing pleasure and see the mess unfolding before his very eyes!