Archive for the ‘students’ Category

I don’t know what it was that the young lady from a Mumbai college did to get herself expelled, but whatever it was, I think the punishment was a bit too harsh. Suspending her for being an administrator of a confessions page could have been the appropriate thing to do, if at all.

From what I’ve read in yesterday’s Hindustan Times, the student was expelled because she was the administrator of a Confessions page started by students of the college. The college authorities believed that neither the institution nor the staff should have been maligned on the page and took objection to it. They decided to teach her a lesson. Again, I am only going by newspaper reports, but I do think it was a bit harsh, and the reaction to it as overly dramatic, as the incident in Palghar some months ago when two girls were arrested for posting something on Facebook during Balasaheb Thackeray’s funeral.

Just a couple of weeks back students of a media college, where I take classes, opened a Confessions page. I love reading what these youngsters have to say about life and a lot else and I have often commented as well. There have been times, when I’ve felt the urge to put my comments down in “their language” with the A, B and C in the right place! I’ve refrained from doing so, purely because I realise that what I say as their teacher could have its repurcussions.

Anyway, I went on this Confessions page and found some really nasty comments about people’s sexual orientations and these kids were named in these updates. I was appalled. Whether it was fact or fiction and whether X was a lesbian, Y a homosexual and Z a transgender was an extremely personal issue and no one had the right to flog it on a social networking site. Worse, there were some factually incorrect statements made by some students, which maligned some members of the faculty, again anonymously.

I registered my protest on the page and from there, others picked it up. Then a post written by an anguished student Sheikh Rehmatullah, questioned the need for such a page and the kind of scurrilous content it was propagating. Another faculty member posted her response to it and suddenly the shit hit the fan.

Rehmatullah asked for my comment and I responded. I agreed with most of what he said. My reply to a faculty member (since she berated me for being diplomatic!) was that students need to let off steam, so I didn’t have a problem with the page per se, as long as there was someone filtering it, which in this case, seemed unlikely. If there was, he or she was either nodding off on the job or was finding the deluge of updates too much to handle.

These are 17/18-year-olds, and they can hardly be expected to behave like 35-year-olds, but some of the updates were downright defamatory. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many students voicing their opinion, some quite vehemently, against the page. And most blasted the rude, crude and extremely insulting anonymous updates. Then one smart kid decided to post an anonymous message from “The Director” and I remember saying “This is what I mean by self censorship” or some such thing. I believe the page was pulled off a few hours later.

Cloaked in the garb of anonymity, you cannot say anything you want and get away with it. And mind you, unlike the girl who was expelled from the college in Mumbai, these kids are media students, who should understand restraint and practice some form of self censorship.

Unfortunately, many of today’s media students (and I stress on ‘media’) believe freedom of expression means NO restrictions. I have no argument with students from any other colleges who wish to vent their spleen against college, professors, government, politician, friend or foe. But I do believe that such liberties are not applicable to media students. They need to understand that in the profession they are in, it is imperative they stop and think of the reactions their actions could provoke. on a larger canvas. If they still think ‘viva la revolution’ is the answer to all ills, they are in the wrong world.

In newspapers during editorial meetings, people raise objections to a point in a story and argue over it. Sometimes one argues that the report is half-baked forcing it to be put in cold storage. In journalism classes I have spoken of checks and double checks on a controversial story to ensure there are no loose ends, which could come back and bite one in the ass! We even consult lawyers on the newspaper’s payroll to confirm whether we can carry a report without inviting a lawsuit. We don’t publish just anything. Sometimes we may err on the side of caution, but then it is better to do that, than be forced to print an apology the next day. I’ve seen national newspapers carrying front page apologies for stories done, where they accept that they hadn’t got their facts right.

We love to talk about the American or the British media, but even they have some form of self censorship, and it is something my young friends in media schools need to learn. It’s not a ‘free’ world as everyone would have us believe. The sooner some media students understand that, the better their future…


A student replies…

Posted: January 13, 2013 in journalism, students
Tags: ,

Reproducing the entire reply from Nandan Sharalaya, to my earlier blog post

Dear Sir,

I just thought I’ll share 4 thoughts with you on your latest blog post because you were on of my favorite teachers in SIMC without any doubt!!!!

So I just thought I’ll put in a few points but please don’t get me wrong at all. I was reading this really negative comment on the blog and because I hate being negative and personally believe there’s a solution to absolutely everything, I thought I’ll share with you 4 points as a personalized message and not leave it as a comment. Most of it I am guessing you are already following or completely get but I really wanted to help in some way. Forgive the typos!

1. In SIMC and Pune, the system is messed up genuinely. Not blaming the college, just the whole structure. I come from a very simple but very well to do middle class family in Bangalore. My dad was the M.D of Coke in West Africa so I lived all my life in Nigeria except 12th grade which I did in Chennai but we were always very into our culture and ethos etc. And I liked that so when I came to SIMC (young, simple guy) I got a huge culture shock. The freedom and the present day lifestyle really hit me hard. But there were things I thought then that I must do and I drew a line then and there. I promised myself I would never touch alcohol, never try cigs/weed etc etc and live a very simple life, do my shit and be happy. I have stuck with that till this day. I still don’t know how alcohol tastes. The point I am trying to make is that in Symbi, everyone just gets lost in everything else apart from what’s essentially required. You will never have a focused, inspired class because half are getting rid of hangovers and the rest have other issues to think about/stress (no mums food, relationship issues, money etc). All of this exists everywhere but the truth is, I think it’s just a lot more in Symbi. As a professor, you can’t do much about this but in such a disadvantaged situation, you can’t be a normal professor. You really have to try super hard to get things going if you really want to.

2. Talking of super professor, I still vividly remember my first class of yours in the first year. I am from a science background and so when I am suddenly thrown in Pune attending random lectures, I am bloody fascinated. And you absolutely added to that experience. You were a live wire then with all the stuff you said and how you connected most of your experiences. The students were genuinely fascinated. People discussed your lectures in the canteen etc. That whole first year, I still remember many of friends rating you a 10 on 10. In the 2nd year however, everyone got a little used to you and suddenly I felt the interest quotient/ stories reduced a little, the surprise factor in you class had reduced, your enthusiasm seemed much lesser so this time around you lost all those guys having a hangover and you had the attention of only the few of us in the first few rows. Being a professor is damn hard and I think one of the most prominent ways in which you could get back to un-boring the students is just by being that live wire wow professor in my first semester!!

3. You have probably been told this so many times by now but unfortunately seem to students associate the word cynicism with you. I have no issues. In fact I like your cynicism. I even used your style many a times when speaking/debating. (You remember how I once took permission in 2nd yr to take one of your classes and we had this super intense discussion on the Islam terror and the whole phobia that the world seems to have? that class was really well received and was a super debate.) So I was saying eventually by the end of 2nd or 3rd year a lot of students in my class began to think you had nothing positive about the world/industry. I even read your previous post where you perfectly justified your point of view. In the sense, though everything you said was the absolute reality, consciously no one wanted to ever connect with it. Like bad news. You want to delay hearing or feeling it as much as possible. And I think its simple human psychology to not respond to that kind of stimulus. If I was to suggest, I think it would be great if you came in every class you took and started off your lecture emphasizing what a brilliant profession this is and how the students are superbly killer guys. Because then suddenly you have people wanting to listen and after that whatever message you want to send across suddenly seems to be taken more easily. This worked with me a lot with most of professors. For e.g I still remember how I wasn’t so much interested in the multimedia module Ramesh Menon Sir was taking and then suddenly he just started talking about how his father and him got into good terms after so many years when he won the Ramnath Goenka award. His father hated the fact that he took journalism but 20 yrs later, he was proud of him. Unknowingly, I just absorbed every other complicated shit he said about multimedia after that story/thought.

4. Last suggestion. I think because this course is really open, the professors who come here really need to ensure that they use every possible intervention mechanism to engage the student in one class/period. To put it more simply, I think the class becomes more lively when you engage a lot more senses. For e.g let say you are talking about something as simple as the profile of a reporter. I would ideally first talk about it for 15 minutes, open questions for 5 minutes, Play a video for another 15 minutes, take questions for 5 more minutes, then circulate a few leaflets/printout to read in class itself for 5 minutes on the same topic, then probably get a reporter or show pictures of your life, a radio clipping/joke/meme/poster, workshop type closed group discussions etc in an incentive based mechanism. Essentially just try and drive the same point through various mediums of expression. In this process you are not giving the student time to zone out or just get used to one thing. I suggest its important to fill too many mediums/processes to drive forward a simple point. And whenever someone did that to me, I grasped better and I concentrated harder.

You could also try asking yourself every class you conduct what incentive could you provide that would get things going?! I did 6 debates in the last year winning all of them and that gave me close to 1 lakh rupees prize money in just 2 months. I am no passionate debater, I only went coz there was money and my father refused to buy me a dog and a keyboard which I eventually bought! That was my incentive! Similarly Sana took this nice lecture in first sem for which you got her home made chocolates! Now suddenly, whoever took a lecture next time/presented in front of the class put some josh not because they wanted home made chocolates. It just left you that something was going to come! And all of this really doesn’t need to have any monetary connection. Like, an opportunity to spend the whole day with you in Sakaal office for whoever did well/ a byline somewhere/ a mention in your blog/ i mean anything under the sun!!!

I really meant to say everything in very good spirits so if I have said anything wrong it has been absolutely unintentional!

Cheers Sir! Was great meeting you at the convocation!


I did not think I would feel this way, but I do. I hope it’s just a phase, but after five years of doing the rounds of classrooms in media institutes around Pune, I am bored.

Yes, I am bored, standing in front of students while I talk about reporting and editing and about events unfolding around us, weaving facts about journalism around incidents from my career and life, often egging the students to indulge in a heated debate – just to be met with a wall. Education is difficult!

Sometimes I feel like I am talking to myself. There are those few stray voices who ask questions, but very few. I don’t know how to change things. Maybe I need to reconsider how I am doing this. If that doesn’t work, I’d welcome suggestions from the kids themselves to understand what they want – at least in my classes.

In the past five years and I’ve had some pretty invigorating classes where students who’ve got mad with me and have even used the F-word because they disagreed me. I’ve never bothered to take action for that because at the end of the class, they know that I was just provoking them. We’ve had slanging matches in class too, and then gone to the canteen for tea. I like that kind of response.

I got the feeling that I was losing it, after I recently corrected answer papers of students. As I read answer after answer, what surprised me was that most of them had not even bothered to read what I had given them. And it wasn’t rocket science. Just the basic “what is the profile of a reporter” kind of a question. Frankly, it was depressing.

When I discussed this issue with a former student of mine before I wrote the blog post, she said, “Even to sit through a classroom lecture you need a fire in your belly. Half the kids sit there because they don’t know what they want to do, and try as you might, they will remain unresponsive. To be able to do something as simple as read a paper, you need to know why you’re reading it, and what eggs you on. To scores of students in a journalism class, the newspaper is something that they pick up two days before an exam.”

There’s a general apathy in classrooms to everything that requires a little effort and which is disheartening. What kind of journalists are we churning out? When they come for admissions they give the standard answers about their “passion” for journalism without understanding what the word means. But then you think, these are bright young children, they will change for the better. After all, these were the handful who got in from the thousands who tried and failed. So, they will shine as they go along. Let’s wait and see.

There are the exceptions, but one can count them on the fingertips. Even then I revel in their success. I could name those handful of kids who are doing a great job of their careers, but I’d rather not. And not all of them have ended up in journalism. Like this young man who is teaching underprivileged children and genuinely believes that is his calling, and not journalism – at least not at present. I admire his dedication and his single-mindedness. I told him that he was one of my best students, much before he had even reached his final year.

There are a few kids who are focused about becoming photographers or getting into advertising or PR. They’ve sat through my classes and one young lady in the second year came up to me and said “I enjoy your lectures, but I am not interested in journalism. I am going to become a photographer.” I’ve seen her picture and her self portraits and she’s going to become a brilliant photographer one day. Then there was this attractive young girl in journalism class who ended up acting in a movie! I had once told her she was in the wrong place and should be either modelling or in the movies!

I remember, a couple of years ago in a class with PG students I was stopped from taking a lecture. The students demanded a discussion on an issue that they were worked up about. The same thing happened in a UG lecture in 2011. I think it was on Anna Hazare. A young lady had a heated argument with me and thought Hazare was the worst thing to happen to India. There was a verbal free-for-all that day, but I enjoyed it, and so did the class. But that was two years ago. Since then, such exchanges have been limited.

In 2005 I took a break from journalism and returned five years later totally focused about the fact that I was good at only one thing – journalism! Some months ago, a good friend offered me a job in his company on a pretty impressive salary. I refused. I live and breathe newspapers, and when I turned down the offer, there was no doubt in my mind, why I did so.

After five years, maybe, it is time I take a break from teaching, if nothing works to make it more interesting. Any ideas, anyone?

Before Partition, when my mother was in Lahore, she taught at the Hans Raj Mahila Maha Vidyalaya, where there was a student called Uma Sood, who was very popular because of her looks. When Partition was announced, my mother managed to get out of Lahore and came to work in Meerut, from where she would frequently dash off to Delhi to meet cousins and friends.

Years later when she was strolling around Connaught Place in Delhi, she saw a huge crowd outside one of the shops and asked the reason. She heard that “famous film actor Kamini Kaushal” was in the shop and everyone was waiting to catch a glimpse of her and maybe get an autograph. My mother too stood in the line waiting to see Ms Kaushal. When the film star came out of the shop, she was rushing towards her car, when she caught sight of my mother.

She rushed up to her, hugged her and asked, “Ms. Menon what are you doing here?”

Always the one for a quick repartee, my mother wisecracked, “Waiting to see Kamini Kaushal, who was Uma Sood when I was teaching her in Lahore.” They both had a good laugh and chatted for a few minutes before Ms Kaushal left and my mother continued her walkabout around CP.

I was reminded of this incident when I saw the calendar designed by the SIMC 2012 UG students, sitting at my desk. After seeing their handiwork, I know this for sure, that this is a really talented bunch of kids – not just these two, but the entire bunch. I am sure they’ll make a success of their lives. I have seen them perform on stage and they are quite simply amazing. And the ones who are taking it easy should kick themselves hard and clamber aboard, lest they get left!

Sometimes, I wonder why I take a personal interest in their future. But then I know it’s probably because, along with the SIMC 2011 PG batch, to which I taught a few subjects, this SIMC 2012 UG batch is one I took the entire journalism course with. Sometimes people and situations grow on you and you love it. Just like some people you meet who want to make you throw up, and the bitching and bullshit you encounter every day and desperately try to avoid.

The wonderful thing about kids (whether they are your own or someone else’s) is that they can make you forget everything – pain, troubles, pressures – and can overwhelm you with their affection, refreshing candour and enthusiasm. Whenever I meet students at the various campuses the warmth and affection from students overwhelms me. Like the use of the word f**k. As kids when we used the word, we ensured there were there were no elders within earshot. Today, even when I’m around, it rolls off the tongues of my students so easily, that it doesn’t seem like an expletive anymore. It makes me wonder what the fuss was all about earlier!

Once students from one of the institutes took me to the disco and I think they were surprised to see this greybeard shake a leg for a good part of three hours! On one occasion, another one of them screamed when she saw me approaching, ran up and hugged me! When I mentioned the incident to a 23-year-old student, she said, if someone her age had done that, there would have been a book written on it! Thank the Lord, for uncomplicated 18 year-olds!

So, here are a few pages of the desk calendar conceptualised and designed by the talented Shaan and Jay Dantara, with help from Mehernaz Jila and Nandan Sharalaya. The students who posed for the desk calendar are Urvi Bhanushali, Vibhuti Happa, Sanyukta Iyer, Trisha Satra, Akanksha Arya, Apoorva Sridhar, Nikita Gupta, Tejaswini Naik, Shaan, Pragya Singh and Ananditaa Iyer Singh.

The calendar sits on my desk at Lavale, autographed by Shaan and Jay. I just wish the others who graced each month had signed each page too!

Getting emotional….

Posted: March 28, 2010 in students

Sometimes things that people do can make you very emotional. No, I’m not referring to the mastery of Sachin Tendulkar as he raced to his first one-day double hundred or the below-par performance of SRK’s Knight Riders! On Wednesday last (March 24) I went to the under-grad campus of SIMC for some work and one of my students, Monica Banerjee, asked me if I had seen the graffiti that the students had prepared.

She took me along to the 6th Floor of the institute where she showed me some graffiti. Every second poster had some very nice things said about me. And I’m not being sarcastic. The comments were flattering and extremely complimentary. That doesn’t happen in a lot of other situations one finds oneself in every other day, where people only wait to pick faults at anything and everything you do.

When I mentioned this to a student of the PG batch, the reply I got was “18-year-olds are a lot more affectionate than robotic, scheming, politicking 23 year olds!”

Now that’s not entirely true. A lot of the 23-year-olds also ask me when I am going to take their lectures again and I tell them I have no clue. But there are those 23-year-olds who believe that indulging in politics with their faculty and emerging unscathed is a victory, little realising that they are painting themselves into a corner.

The other side to this, is another incident that really made me wonder why we even care to help people. Some months ago I got a call from a guy (M) who was desperately seeking help for his daughter who is a budding sportsperson. He pleaded and cajoled me to think about helping his little girl and after a lot of doubts and misgivings I agreed to help her. I called a friend who is among the who’s who in his area of expertise and he agreed to take up her case.

So last night when I got a call from M and he threatened me for not doing enough for his little girl, I was shocked! His take was that since the person who I had spoken to had not yet done something for his daughter, he was going to make sure that I suffered! Yup, that’s right, he said he would ensure that I would be bumped off soon because, according to his convoluted mind I had ruined his daughter’s career. I am at a loss to understand how I, was in any way, responsible for his daughter’s career, when I had not even met her till date or wanted to meet him. It was obvious he was drunk and I am assuming by morning the booze came down and so did his bravado.

I feel sorry for the girl because I know she is genuinely talented. Her father wont accept it, but the people who I have spoken to and who have seen this kid perform, have said she is superbly talented. But for her old man’s behaviour with the people who mattered in the sport, she would have made a name for herself in her chosen discipline. So anyway, last night after having listened to all the threats and warnings of dire consequences, I really wondered whether it was worth helping anyone. You don’t expect anything in return, but you surely don’t expect to be threatened. Whoever coined that phrase “a friend in need…is no friend of mine” sure knew what he was talking about.

Mistakes are common in every newspaper and however hard one tries to stop them, they will still creep in. These are the hazards of a newspaper job and unlike companies where you can apply Six Sigma to reduce errors, the editorial department of a newspaper cannot work with such checks.
In the last decade or so, a lot of media houses hired savvy marketing and HR whiz kids at senior positions in the company hierarchy. These guys came straight from selling soap or pharmaceuticals and were weaned on Japanese working methodologies and the wonders of Six Sigma, but had little or NO experience in running a newspaper. They believed that those methods would transform the newspaper and make it profitable. In that they were right. In Circulation or Response, where figures measure success, something like Six Sigma might have worked, but not in Editorial.
Here is some of the cockeyed logic that I’ve heard when I worked for a national newspaper:
* If one marketing executive can put in x amount of work in 8 hours why can’t a journalist do the same?
* If a copy editor takes say 90 minutes to edit and make a page, then he/she should make five pages per shift.
* Since computers have made it easier to work there should be fewer people to do more work. So why have so many copy editors.
Frankly, most journalists had no answer to this kind of bizarre logic and after a while most of us just stopped bothering. So when they started removing people under the excuse that the editorial department was overstaffed, it was the junior most (and brightest) kids that went first, leaving newspapers with people whose competency levels were not that hot. What they hadn’t bargained for was that the language and computer skills of most of the ones left behind, or for that matter most journalists, was either average or below average, with a few exceptions.
So, what one got was badly edited copies with dull and often incorrect headlines. Seniors, whose job it was to rewrite copies and check pages, rather than spend time making them, were suddenly doing all three and more, because deadlines were regularly going haywire. It put a huge amount of pressure on them and some of them cracked. And when Circulation began complaining about unsold copies and readers sent angry emails about the shoddy product, it was the editorial that became the culprit!
Any wonder that the editing in most newspapers is so horrendous?