Archive for the ‘blogging’ Category


In an earlier blog, I wrote about the unfairness of being labelled a presstitute – a sweeping generalisation made by people who had no idea of how a media house or a newsroom works. Of course, one can’t blame them because they go by what they see and their idea of media is the idiot box or the newspaper they receive on their doorstep, and whatever is published in it, and of course now on the social media, which as I told columnist Shefali Vaidya, bears a striking resemblance to Dennis the Menace. I hope this clears it.

There’s another good example of how little people on social media understand about the media. A few weeks back a journalist tweeted about how she was woken up by the sounds of temple bells whenever she visited Udaipur and stayed at the Taj Mahal Hotel. As usual, Twitter erupted for a lot of reasons. Someone asked her how as a journalist she could afford to stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Udaipur. I just want to get into one of the reasons, and not the rest, because they have no bearing on what I am about to say. Let me make it very clear, I do not know this journalist either personally or professionally, so I hold no brief for what she says or does.

Right through my journalism career, it is an issue that has always raised its head when it comes to journalists availing the hospitality of a client. How far can a journalist go? I am sure there are many journalists who seek favours from corporate houses. The Essar email leaks proved that there is no dearth of unscrupulous journalists in the country. But to label everyone as corrupt is pretty unfair.

What people don’t understand is that many journalists, at least the ones who live in flats and don’t own farmhouses, stay at five-star hotels not out of choice or because they can afford it but out of compulsion because the client books them in there if it invites them to cover an event. How else can a client impress journalists about the product he is launching? Trust me, most journalists, at least the honest ones, can’t afford 3-star accommodation leave alone a luxury hotel at their own expense. Can we tell a client we won’t attend if the press conference is at a five-star hotel? Frankly, as journalists, it is none of our business. Our job is to report the press conference in a completely unbiased manner. Yes, we can refuse to touch a morsel or have a drink and a lot of us have refused a drink. That would mean, finding a place to eat or catch a beer after the press conference late at night. It just isn’t worth the trouble.

Again, there are two sides to this story as well. If you have an evening presser, a lot of journalists expect booze to be served. I know of journalists who will only attend if there is liquor, and I also personally know journalists who refuse to touch a drop because they consider it unethical. I spent five years handling public relations for two software companies (when I was on a sabbatical from journalism) and during the launch of one, liquor was being served. A lot of my friends who I had called refused a drink and some others even refused the food. I was on the other side of the table now and it was an interesting view. They gave the launch more than ample coverage but still didn’t touch a drink.

As a managing editor of a couple of automotive magazines some years back, I was invited to the launch of a luxury sedan to Udaipur. A friend who then worked for a national newspaper and I were the only two from Pune covering the event, so we were driven to Mumbai airport, from where we were flown by a chartered aircraft to Udaipur along with other journalists. At Udaipur, the “lucky” ones got to the drive the car to the hotel, while the others were bundled into an AC coach and driven to the Leela Kempinski, which reeked luxury from every corner. The room I stayed in was the epitome of luxury. It even had bathroom slippers that made my feet sink in and carpets that made me wonder why I needed a bed. If I could have taken the bathroom home I would have! I asked the attractive marketing head how much the room cost for a night and she casually mentioned the amount.

I sat for a moment stunned at hearing the price – could I ever afford to stay at such a place on my crappy salary? And could I have refused to stay there? Could I have asked my company to put me up at more modest accommodations? Why would they, when they weren’t organising the event? The next time I travelled to Udaipur on one of the drives with the family, I stayed at the MTDC hotel where the room cost Rs 3,000/- with Rs 1000 for an extra bed. Just saying.

In my first job as a journalist, I was the Assistant Editor when I covered the Cricket World Cup in 1996. My newspaper told me they could not afford the plane fare so I would have to travel non-AC II sleeper and stay in single star hotels. Crazy as I was about cricket I agreed without a thought for the logistical problems I was about to encounter. Other journalists who were covering the tournament flew in and out, stayed in three- to five-star hotels because their media houses could afford it. At Gwalior, the first stop, I had a booking at a government guest house which was stolen from under my nose by a journalist from another media house. I was left standing outside without a room to spend the night. I was given accommodation by a lodge that resembled a hovel, in a space where they stored water, and there were rats and cockroaches scurrying around. I spent the night wide awake. It was a situation no human should ever find himself in even in the worst circumstances. But it was either that or the footpath. I remember rushing to Bangalore by sleeper bus the afternoon before the quarter-final against Pakistan, and asking my cousin if I could crash with him for the night because it was too late to look for hotel accommodation. I also remember picking up my press pass from a well-known journalist who was staying at a five-star hotel. He was later to be embroiled in the unsavoury match-fixing controversy.

And here is the other side. When the dates and schedules of that World Cup were announced, a soft drink major had a press conference in Mumbai where everyone from the sports media contingent was present. We were in a queue waiting to be handed out our complimentary press kits, which included a duffel bag, with a towel, shaving kit, pen, pad etc. A very well-known sports journalist was a few places in front of me, and he signed for his kit, picked it up and left. A few minutes later, I saw him again in the back of the queue. I assumed he was picking up the kit for someone else. As he reached the head of the counter, I heard the girl from the agency say, “But sir, you have already taken your kit.” He insisted he hadn’t and she persisted that he had, till she turned in exasperation to her manager and shrugged it off with a disgusted look on his face, and motioned to her to give him the bag. I was aghast by what I saw and heard.

So, you see, like every good journalist knows, there are two sides to every story. There are crooks and there are dishonest people in every profession. Journalism is no different.

All those ranting about Arnab Goswami today should watch the video where he spoke of his early life as a cub reporter with NDTV. He narrated an incident where he had to apologise to a union minister for asking what the minister believed was an incorrect question. He said he apologised not because he was wrong (he wasn’t), but he needed the money and the job. If he had not apologised he might have had neither. That’s life. So all those who think journalists should not accept hospitality from clients, please get a life. It is not always about being greedy, very often it is about being pragmatic. It is a job like any other for a lot of us.

Oh, I went to Goa recently for a four-day break where I stayed at Vivanta by Taj in Panjim. Are you wondering how as a retired journalist I could afford such expensive accommodation? Let me tell you how. My wife generously paid for it because she thought I deserved a break after slogging for the family all these years! It would have cost me a month’s salary.

Advertisements

Published in Firstpost Date: Sep 09, 2017 01:40 pm | Updated Date: Sep 09, 2017 02:06 pm

I keep six honest serving men. (They taught me all I know)
Their names are What and Why and When and Where and Who and How
– Rudyard Kipling

Ever since May 2014, stories have been manufactured, recreated, and redeveloped all to suit a narrative, in total disregard of any journalistic ethic. Be it church vandalism, lynchings, cow vigilantism, baby deaths, train mishaps and now the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh. Everything plays out not as a news story that should be reported with the facts but as an orchestrated attempt to somehow link the ruling party at the Centre and specifically the prime minister and those close to him, to the story.

Twenty years ago, with editors controlling the print and TV media, this might have succeeded. Today, with social media being a potent and completely uncontrolled force, these attempts are exposed and draw instant ridicule.

Take the latest example. Gauri Lankesh, editor of Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly was shot dead late in the evening on Tuesday, 5 September, outside her home in Bengaluru by unidentified assailants. We still don’t have a clue on the identity or the motive of the assailants. At least, most journalists who believe in the phrase “objective journalism” don’t, although conspiracy theories abound.

However, the alacrity (give or take 30 minutes) with which certain sections of the mainstream media reacted to Lankesh’s murder makes me want to ask them what happened to the 5Ws and H, which they learnt in their journalism course. Every young media student is taught about “WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW” when he or she enters a media school. Yet, none of these journalists gave any of the W’s a thought when they announced her death on social media.

The sensible ones stayed with the objective line that she had been murdered by unknown assailants, and mentioned her ideological differences with the BJP, stopping short of linking both to the murder. The others, however, smelt an “opportunity” and put the blame on “fascist forces” and the BJP. How did they come to such a conclusion? Did they have proof, evidence, eyewitness accounts? Or did they just follow the old dictum of “strike while the iron is hot” in the hope that some dirt would stick or some link would emerge? There could have been a host of suspects who might have wanted the firebrand journalist eliminated – jealous rivals, family, politicians, ideologues, – just anyone with an axe to grind. Didn’t that occur to these journalists? It almost seemed like they had decided the narrative this killing would follow the minute they heard about it. So fascist terror it would be and to hell with the facts – of which there were none.

And then, on Wednesday, they discovered that the brother of the slain journalist was a big supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. Worse was to follow. Gauri’s sister blamed the right wing and the brother blamed the left wing. Suddenly, the plan to spin the narrative was falling apart. A curious fact was that not one journalist even made the symbolic gesture of demanding the resignation of either Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah or state home minister Ramalinga Reddy.

For a crime so heinous that they could organise nationwide candlelight protests and even blame the prime minister and the BJP for it, they didn’t think it important enough to ask for the resignations of the top two in the state? Objective journalism?

Then some 48 hours later, news anchors and editors woke up to the fact that objectivity did matter. They began asking politicians why they were accusing the BJP and other related organisations of the murder, conveniently forgetting that they were doing just that two days earlier. Someone told me on Twitter on Friday, that I was ignoring the “circumstantial evidence.” Where was it? Has the police found any even now?

We were always told by our seniors that there are two sides to a story, but it is unfortunate that in these past few years, there has been a deliberate attempt to build a one-sided narrative around every news story, almost like it is pre-planned. And even though an alert social media has uncovered these attempts, it hasn’t made the mainstream media any wiser. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot. I won’t even go too far back. Like the incidents of the stones being pelted at churches which turned out to be the handiwork of miscreants. If we were to believe the media, cow vigilantes on the prowl were lynching Muslims in trains and on roads, and anyone who ate or dealt with beef. There have been so many such stories which as journalists we can smell a mile away.

Now let’s come to the deaths of children in Gorakhpur. Did you know that in the past four decades,  25,000 children have lost their lives to encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh? This sordid fact was brought to light in great detail only after August, 2017 after the deaths at BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur. Some 274 children died in January and February 2017, before Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took over from Akhilesh Yadav, but did you hear about them?

Before August, even more babies had been dying at this hospital (see graphic) yet no journalist reported it. This is not a case of whataboutery. It concerns objective journalism.

For five years, everything wrong that could be covered up by the media was, because it didn’t suit the narrative. From March 19, 2017, like a rash, reports of dead babies kept popping up. Didn’t the journalists, who suddenly discovered this morbid detail, know this had been occurring with monotonous regularity earlier? You can spin these fairy tales to the gullible and unsuspecting readers but not to journalists who have been around long enough to know the difference between an ‘exclusive’ and a press release converted into a byline story.

If media houses were that interested in doing stories about infant deaths in hospitals, they should have asked their correspondents around the country to send them stories about such incidents from their centres and do a package. It would have made one helluva story. I don’t need to ask ‘did they?’ because I am pretty sure what the answer is. They can keep up the pretence for as long as they want but to anyone with two eyes, two ears and a nose, the motive of the media was suspect.

Incidents of such deaths were emerging in other states, including Karnataka but the media wasn’t interested. It became more obvious that this was a hit job on Yogi Adityanath and the man who put him there. What happened to objectivity, people? If you were to believe the mainstream media, it was only after 19 March this year that India’s largest and most populous state had become a living hell. This should be an eye-opener for those who thought Uttar Pradesh stood for Utopia Pradesh.

Now, to this obsession with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On 7 September, 2013, I wrote a blog where I had said that the manner in which everyone from media to politicians had been hounding Narendra Modi, they were making a huge mistake. It reminded me of 1977 when the Janata Party set up the various Commissions to inquire into the excesses committed by former prime minister Indira Gandhi, her son Sanjay and their cohorts during the Emergency.

The wily Indira Gandhi, ever the astute politician, played the victim so convincingly that midway through the proceedings the tables had turned. By the time the Shah Commission ended its hearings she had everyone, including the media (with a few exceptions), eating out of her hand.

In the run up to the May 2014 elections, the UPA and every other party raised the 2002 bogey. And every time they did that, Modi talked development, jobs and a better life for the poor. He played the victim card to perfection. He did not talk about the Ram Mandir, Hindutva or the riots, while the Opposition had just one theme – Modi is a murderer, fascist, Hitler etc. That backfired as the results proved. Some journalists don’t seem to have learnt from that experience. Or can’t, or don’t want to, so deep is their hatred for the man. There is a fear that he may return in 2019, and then there is no saying how long the BJP will rule this country. Who is to blame for this state of affairs?

The public still believes that the fourth estate is someone it can trust but there are those who are playing with that trust. Frankly, some of the journalists set a pathetic example for their juniors and those who look up to them – and there are many, like me, who still do. Every day, in my classes I teach students how to be good journalists, but now I am not so sure if I can. Can these journalists see that in their unhealthy obsession to end the political career of one man and those around him, they are destroying their own credibility and reputation? The way things are right now, that man is winning the argument.

 


People getting the vicious satisfaction of seeing so many “presstitutes” (their words, not mine) lose their jobs have very little understanding of how newsrooms and media houses are run. All media houses have editorial policies and every employee – no matter how high or low – has to follow that policy. It’s either that or his/her job.

All those who lost their jobs in the latest round of retrenchments were lower and middle-level employees who were simply making a living. They were workers in the printing departments, district correspondents, mofussil reporters and photographers. None of them were the decision-makers.

How many of those who were perched on the top of the industry ladder or were decision-makers were handed out pink. slips? For that matter, how many highly paid editors lost their jobs? I am pretty sure, NONE.

Like a lot of other lower and middle class people around the country who take the bus or the train to work every morning these people too slog to put food on the table, pay for their kids’ education through school and college, look after their aged parents, and wonder every day what will happen to their families if something were to happen to them. What is the fault of a photographer in a small town who rides on his scooter every day looking for the perfect photograph that will fetch him a pittance? And if the editor of the newspaper tells him he cannot supply that photograph to anyone else. he will have to scour the city for another perfect picture to supply to his next client. All this, just so that he can make a living. I know of stringers living in villages who are still paid per word. Imagine being paid Rs 300 or Rs 500 per article and have just two pieces appear every month. And for many, that is their only source of income.

I’ll give you my own example. I began working in a newspaper in 1985 and today I am embarrassed to say that if it hadn’t been an ancestral property from my maternal side, which we sold to buy a 3BHK, I wouldn’t be able to afford my own home on my salary.

Honestly, there is no such thing as a free press. As an Assistant Editor did I have the right to decide what stories we should use in the newspaper? No I didn’t. Yes, I could make a judgement call on a story that came in late at night, but even there the editorial policy was sacrosanct. I couldn’t just take a story that praised Rajiv Gandhi just because I liked him. I had to keep in mind that my newspaper didn’t believe in praising anyone.

Between 2000 and 2005, I worked for a newspaper that was going national with a vengeance. Did I have the right to decide on the kind of stories I could take? No, again. In neither of the two cities where I headed the news desk, could we carry anything that could hurt the ruling dispensation. Instructions were handed down to us on the kind of stories we could use. We couldn’t speak against the State government because it could hurt the business interests of the media house. Any stories that were against the State or the CM had to be vetted by the editorial department in Delhi.

Resident Editors at most of these mofussil editions are nothing but glorified bureau chiefs. Do they have the authority to take decisions on any stories that were inimical to the State government? Your guess is as good as mine.

There are stifling restrictions vis-à-vis reporting on stories that were inimical to the interests of the owners, various individuals or groups. Time and again, stories are killed or watered down for one reason or another. One cannot do a story about the corrupt practices of politicians…One cannot report on a fraudulent scheme run by a big business house… There were so many such instances.

I remember one story that we had in our pocket. It could have shaken the particular state government. The reporters put their heart into the story. It was a perfect story with not one fact missing, including the names of the big-time politicians involved in a huge scam. It went to HQ for approval. That was the last we saw of the story. When it finally appeared you wouldn’t have known if it was from some state of the Indian Union, or Timbuctoo. Why was the story watered down? Because the management was worried that publication of the story would have jeopardised its business interests. Would you blame the reporter for this? Of course not, but when it comes to cost-cutting that poor kid will be the first to go.

A former editor who I had worked with for a short while, lost his job because he wrote something against a chief minister. The chief minister wasn’t satisfied with the fact that the editor in question had been removed from his post, and wanted him out of the organisation, and he was hounded out. And it wasn’t as if the CM in question was clean as a whistle.

Some years ago a senior editor of a well-known newspaper, during another such retrenchment drive, told me that many of the senior staff who were being laid off by a media house had, in fact, been hired on fat salaries only to ensure they would not write stories that harmed the group’s business interests. Now that keeping these people on board was proving costly they were being shown the door!

While I agree that running a newspaper is big business and not social service anymore, someone in the higher echelons of power has to take a stand. That is something a lot of newspaper establishments never do. And that is where the lower- and middle-level employees suffer. And not just the journalists.

It’s sad, really, because journalists, photographers, DTP operators, designers, and all those involved with the business of publishing a newspaper have nothing to do with the policies formulated by the management. They are just small cogs in the big wheel, but they are the first to be sacrificed when it is time for the management to cut its losses. Think of the poor machine operator in the printing press. All he does is run the machinery that prints the newspaper. Is he a “presstitute”? Can he be blamed for the editorial policies of a newspaper? For all you know, the guy is a Modi supporter.

When The Telegraph announced there would be retrenchments I called a former colleague now working in that newspaper. He was just one of the senior editors, a family man, with wife, aged parents, and a teenaged daughter, doing his job to the best of his abilities. He was understandably worried that he might lose his job. I could feel the worry in his voice and I felt sorry for him. I haven’t had the courage since that day to call him to ask if he still has a job.

After three decades in the media I can honestly say that I have seen many of those in my profession give their blood, sweat and tears for a job which at the end of the day, gave back very little in terms of monetary recompense. None of these people were presstitutes. They just followed orders handed down to them by people who decided on how a story should be done, why, and who to target. Those guys are still around and prospering.


Frankly, I am getting tired of people droning on about standing in bank queues and the time they have to waste, and all the wonderful or terrible people they meet. What the fuck were you doing when there were no ATMs? Did God come down on Earth to dole out cash to you? I think one of the biggest crimes any government committed in the last 70 years was the launching of ATMs. It made us lazy, it made us impatient, and most of all it made us forget the pain of standing in queues.

In the last three weeks I have been reading about people allegedly dropping dead in bank queues because they’ve forgotten what it was like to stand in a queue. And I use the world ‘allegedly’ deliberately. I am sure there are genuine cases too, and it’s sad, but I am sure by the time things are back to normal the number of deaths will come down to single digits, and many of those too, this sexed up media will realise, were unrelated to standing in a queue. Maybe, we should shut down ATMs every few months to let people live a more realistic life of the 1970s and 1980s where they stood in bank queues that sometimes stretched to the street outside. I know there are problems. It is a mind-boggling exercise which could not have been done any other way. There have been problems many un-anticipated. I am sure, in hindsight, even the government realises the process could have been better planned. I am sure villagers are the hardest hit, but to make it a doomsday scenario is stretching the truth a lot. And in this one has to blame sections of the media who are deliberately misreporting to create a panic. If the villagers are having problems the state and district administration should approach the centre and make arrangements to disburse funds. The problem is when bankers, government officials and politicians are themselves are corrupt, who do you trust? I know of labourers who have bank accounts opened in their name all of a sudden, with funds being deposited in them. Since when did one need to deposit Rs 50,000 in a savings bank account, when one can maintain a zero balance?

And I’ll be honest, my family too felt the sudden shortage of cash with banks running short, and wondering how we spend the old denominations. Fortunately, all three of use debit cards and wire transfers. Maybe it’s called being smart. I also connected to Paytm and have never been more relieved, because I have to carry even less cash around now.  I too had problems with my account in a co-operative bank. I waited for the problem to ease, and when it didn’t because they were giving only Rs 2,000, I wired money from there into the nationalised bank account I have and withdrew Rs 20,000. We cut down our expenses, saved enough last month to ensure we could pay the maids on December 1. So stop cribbing so much, and move on. I did.

I also know that the entire country cannot go cashless and neither is the government forcing you to. But can those who want to, do so, instead of having to read planted reports by a subjective media demonising the plan? Indians are so gullible that they believe anything and that is what the media is hoping it can achieve in its efforts to ensure this plan fails. This country is littered with stories of idiotic Indians falling for a con. Look at the way people fall for the dumbest trick around – the spam mail telling you that you have won millions of dollars. Or someone claiming to be from a bank asking for your ATM card and pin. The fact that the government has to release commercials on TV channels telling people not to fall for it should tell us what a bunch of idiots we are.

Which brings me to this whole engineered controversy about demonetisation being a waste of time, money and energy, because black money will not go away. It is bizarre. No, black money won’t go away. If it did, we would all be living in Utopia. Let’s face it, a thief will remain a thief. He will find new ways to break the law. Years ago, when we moved to Gurgaon, I went to buy a lock. I told the shopkeeper I wanted a big lock for the front door and he smiled and said “Taala sharifon ke liye hota hain, choron ke liye nahin” (Locks are meant for the honest (to tell them you’re not home), not for thieves). I mean, the police put up traffic lights, road dividers and lanes, in the hope that we will follow traffic rules. But some people think they are above the law. We can only make laws tougher. And it’s not like all the people who had black money got away. We are reading about sacks full of money being discovered and the arrest of bank officials who have been helping the unscrupulous change their currency.

As for the opposition politicians who are protesting the loudest, it’s obvious they’ve been hit the hardest. Now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stolen their ideas, reinvented them to suit his party, and put paid to their plans, they are hell-bent on getting rid of him. That is why people like Rahul Gandhi, Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Arvind Kejriwal, and now Mamata Banerjee, are indulging in hysterics. In which country did you hear of a state being taken over by the army, when there is a civilian government at the centre in power? You have to be a complete imbecile to come up with such an absurd fantasy. Rahul Gandhi accuses Modi of TRP politics, conveniently forgetting that he too was doing just that with his khat sabhas and the farce of standing in a bank queue to withdraw Rs 4,000. Doesn’t he know there is a bank and an ATM in Parliament House? Oh, but how would he, he is hardly there.

If this is the way Rahul, Kejriwal, Mamata and the rest intend to push forward their candidacy to replace Modi in 2019, then Modi can be sure of another two terms as prime minister. Also, we don’t need comedy shows on TV channels anymore, these political stand-up comics will do just fine as replacements.

As a tax payer I am happy even if 2 per cent of the crooks in this country are nailed. I would consider it worth every minute I spend in a bank queue.


From the day he became prime minister over two years ago, Narendra Modi has been saying, whether in India or anywhere else in the world, “We want peace with Pakistan”. He gave the Pakistanis a really long rope. I think this week the rope just reached its end. And I, for one, am thrilled to bits.

I am delighted to see that finally some Indian prime minister, instead of worrying about whether his actions will jeopardise his prime ministership or his Lok Sabha seat, has had the courage to bring the issue of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir out in the open. I am also glad he has told Pakistan, “Enough about talks on Kashmir, from now on we only discuss Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Ladakh.”

All these years, thanks to the stupidity and pusillanimity of our politicians, we have been letting those murderous Pakistanis gloat in this belief that they can dictate terms on Kashmir. Some of our politicians have given the Pakistanis the impression that we are scared of their supposed nuclear capabilities and fear a war, which, of course, the Pakistanis gleefully continue to dangle over our heads like the proverbial sword of Damocles. And other politicians and their peacenik friends, who are feted when they go across the border, have made things worse by their confused and dovish rhetoric. Well, I am glad Mr Modi called the Pakistani bluff. He finally told them and their friends on this side of the border that they had no role in Kashmir, so the ride was over and it was time to get off.

I know a retired colonel of the Indian army, who in 1971, as a young lieutenant, rode triumphantly on the first truck into Dhaka to liberate East Pakistan. He once told me “Don’t ever expect the army or any army man to talk peace with those butchers. Those mother f*****s killed so many of my boys in cold blood in the wars. Every time we have fought them, it has been with one arm tied behind our backs. They only know one way and that is to knife you in the back”

So when I read what Maj Gen (retd). G.D. Bakshi http://http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/gd-bakshis-iit-madras-speech-was-filled-with-hatred-alleges-student-2970742/spoke at IIT Madras I can understand where he is coming from.

Peace is a two-way process. You can’t talk peace to someone who has an AK-47 in his hands. You have to be either mentally deficient or living with your head shoved really far up sone place where the light doesn’t reach to know that Pakistan does not ever want peace with India. They want India’s total destruction. So can we ask those sympathisers of the Pakistani establishment in this country to extricate their heads from that warm, fuzzy place so that they can see daylight?


I have been reading with great interest the rants and the self-righteous indignation and anger at what has been transpiring in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the Patiala Courts lately. And these people, some of whom are my ex-students, former colleagues, and some well-known journalists with an axe to grind with the present dispensation in Delhi, comparing the events to the Emergency, and calling India a fascist state, dictatorship etc. etc. Do they even know what happened during the Emergency?

What finally got me riled up enough to pen this blog were the comments I read in a newspaper from Noam Chomsky and Orhan Pamuk comparing the events and the mood to (again) the Emergency. That they’re comparing the present time to those dark days when one crazy old woman, her equally psychotic son along with their sycophants ran their own evil empire, where no laws existed except those that they decided, and no courts and no judges had the courage to speak their minds, unlike today, is indeed laughable. It is ironic that the same people who had no qualms about imposing the Emergency and supporting it and justifying it through its entire tenure, are today talking about free speech and freedom of expression and blaming the present government for the lack of it! And worse a blinkered media is printing every word with great relish. Ladies and gentlemen, had there been an Emergency, you would have been behind bars. And the communists who talk about dictatorship seem to forget that most of the dictators around the world have been Communists.

Some over-zealous morons in khakhi or others in black robes taking law into their hands, or a paranoid and amateurish government that responds to the darts the opposition throws at it with a bazooka, or at other times behaves like a herd of deer caught in the headlights of a car, does not make this country a fascist state nor this the Emergency. Do most young Indians even know what a fascist state is? No one disappeared, there was no midnight knock on your door because of what you wrote or what you did. That you can rant about it on social networking sites without having the likes of Kapil Sibal throw Section 66A at you, should make you realise where you are. Have you already forgotten Aseem Trivedi?

It is also ironic that the same people who are every night broadcasting to the nation everything without a line being censored about students protesting and raising anti-India slogans etc. are the same people who are calling it a dictatorial regime. The fact that the press is still free to report the incidents at the JNU and the Patiala Court as they have been unfolding should tell you a lot. That they were even able to report live how some of them were manhandled in the courts should tell you how much these people know about what transpired during those dark days in the mid-1970s when news was blanked out, and people who protested just disappeared. Had these incidents happened during the Emergency you would not even have heard or read about it. The kids involved in raising anti-India slogans or anti-government slogans would have vanished without a trace and not even their remains would have been discovered.

I do wish the 20- and 30-year-olds sitting in their air conditioned offices in front of their Macs ranting about fascism and dictatorship would get a reality check and stop hyperventilating about things they know very little about. And most importantly, stop believing a bunch of assholes pretending to be politicians. Go to Kerala and ask the family of student leader P. Rajan of the erstwhile Regional Engineering College, Kozhikode. He was tortured in local police custody in Kerala during the Emergency in 1976. His remains are yet to be recovered. Talk to journalists such as Coomi Kapoor whose husband Virender was arrested and tortured during that time for publishing stuff against Indira Gandhi. In 1975, my father buckled under threats from the police because of his close association with Jayaprakash Narayan and was forced to praise Indira Gandhi. It helped him stay out of jail. The cops and JP told him he was old and may not be able to take the rigours of a jail cell. So I should know what I am talking about.

Oh and just by the way, had this been the Emergency you would not have been around if you had called the prime minister of the country a ‘feku’ and posted morphed pictures of him day in and day out, or for that matter abused or insulted him the way we see today on the social networking sites. You would never have been seen or heard of again and your bones would have been discovered 20 years from now buried in some field a few thousand miles from where you lived.

What pains me is that these comments come from journalists. I always thought journalists were supposed to be anti-establishment and not communists, centrists, leftists or rightists. At least, we were always told to be that way. Or have the lines been blurred now? Or is it just a case of sour grapes? It is no secret that numerous Journalists in the mainstream media have been smarting ever since Narendra Modi came to power and decided to shun them? Now that they have got the opportunity to get even they are going after him and his government with a vengeance? What saddens me is some journalists who I respect immensely talking about dictatorship and the Emergency without thinking even once about the repercussions.

So, I do wish people with very little understanding of the realities of the Emergency, dictatorship, fascism, Nazism and all the fucking isms for which all right-minded people share an inherent dislike would SHUT THE FUCK UP about comparing this to those dark days of the mid-1970s. And, Messrs Chomsky and Pamuk, that you are alive and kicking to air your views about whatever you wish from whichever country you live in and whatever time, and to have what you said published in an alleged dictatorial regime, should give you some food for thought. Had this been the Emergency and had you aired those comments in India, you would have disappeared without a trace never to be found again.

 


(Just thought I’d post this piece for posterity and for the record. This is the original piece sent to Tehelka, which was abridged for publication. It appeared on July 12, 2014. The link to that story is here.

Genes are a mysterious element in our system. It’s funny how they work behind-the-scenes.

My parents separated when I was around three or four, so whatever I heard about my father was from my mother – that he used to be a politician, journalist, lecturer. If there was more she didn’t tell me, and if she did, I was too young to remember. I only saw him as and when he occasionally dropped in at our place in Bhagalpur from Patna over the weekend, stayed the night and left in the morning. He scared me, because he had a volatile temper and used it at anyone and everyone, for any random reason. In my teens, I learnt he was a socialist and politician, who had been close to the late Jaya Prakash Narayan. Also, that his father had disowned him, when he joined the freedom struggle. Apart from that I didn’t know much else, and didn’t care. As I grew old enough to think for myself, I knew he was what I never wanted to be.

My first brush with journalism was when I was fourteen. I wrote an angry letter to a film magazine about a film I saw. They published it. I was shocked. Even more shocked when they sent me a cheque for 50 bucks. That was my brief flirtation with journalism, because I ended up working in the hotel industry in the 1980s.

In my twenties, rebellious and unemployed, a friend offered me a sub editor’s job at a local daily in Pune. I grabbed it. My father once came from Patna and asked me if I would ever become a News Editor. I said I didn’t know. I was a trainee sub editor earning 600 rupees. In the thirteen years after that, I became Assistant Editor of the daily. Then in 1994 my father passed away and neither I nor anyone from my family went for his funeral. It wasn’t possible anyway although I flew in to see him a week before he died. I don’t know who performed his last rites.

From Assistant Editor in a single-edition newspaper in Pune to a Chief Copy Editor at a seven-edition national newspaper in Chandigarh, to a Deputy News Editor at the same newspaper in Lucknow, I was now running the news desk. The day the editor called me to hand over the letter appointing me News Editor of the Lucknow edition, I broke down in her cabin.

Some years later, I settled again in Pune. I had quit journalism and gone into corporate communication. I took up teaching on a friend’s advice.  After all, twenty years was a long time to be in journalism. At my first lecture at a local college, I froze. Thankfully, that never happened again. I’ve been teaching journalism and occasionally PR for seven years now and a few hundred youngsters around the country are now my ex-students.

Then, like everyone else interested in writing, I began blogging (http://mohansblog.worpress.com), even as I returned to journalism a few years back. One day I was trolling the worldwide web and out of sheer curiosity I typed out my father’s name, and something popped out that left me stunned and turned my world upside down.

It was my father’s bio data in a book on the politicians from Bihar. It read: Educated in Darbhanga, Patna, Banaras and London; Left studies to join the non-cooperation movement, 1920; Assistant Editor and later Editor, Desh, 1921-23; Sub-Editor, Searchlight, 1924; Went to England for higher study and law, 1926-31; took part in the Civil Disobedience Movement, arrested and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, 1934-35; founder member, Bihar Socialist Party, 1934; Secretary, Bihar Socialist party, 1935-36; taught in Kashi Vidyapeeth, 1936; Editor Sangharsh, 1937-48; Secretary, UP Congress Socialist Party; Principal National High School, Lucknow, 1939-42; participated in Quit India Movement, 1942; arrested and detained, 1943-45; member, National Executive, Socialist Party, 1948; Editor Janata, 1948-69; member Praja Socialist Party, 1955-69; left politics and resumed teaching at Patna; died in 1994.

Truth be told, I really didn’t know my father at all.

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 11 Issue 28, Dated 12 July 2014)