Posts Tagged ‘Hindustan Times’

I lived and worked in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh from 2001 to 2005, where I saw three governments in power, one of the BJP under Rajnath Singh, then the BSP under Mayawati and the third of the SP under Mulayam Singh Yadav. My colleagues cautioned me to use a PRESS sticker on my vehicle or I could get robbed of my vehicle in broad daylight and no one would raise a finger to help me. I thought they were joking.

I realised the joke was on me, when on my first day at Hindustan Times, in Lucknow, sometime in November 2001, I was sitting at my desk reading the newspapers, when a headline caught my eye: “Amarmani Tripathi declared absconder”

Amarmani Tripathi is a politician-cum-criminal currently serving a jail term for the murder of a poetess. He knew the fine art of surviving in politics. He simply switched parties during every election! In 2001, he was a minister in the BJP Government and when he fell foul with CM Rajnath Singh, the cases against him were reopened and he was declared an absconder.

So there I was staring at the headline in front of me, and as I looked up from the newspaper, I saw a man dressed in all white approaching my cubicle, followed by a couple of armed policemen, who were obviously his security personnel. As the man swaggered past me, he smiled and I too gave a polite smile. I looked at him and then again at the picture in the newspaper. It was “absconder Amarmani Tripathi” and for someone who was allegedly running from the law, he seemed totally unfazed. He went to the Hindi Hindustan editorial department to meet the editor. When I told some of my colleagues about this, they had a hearty laugh. For them, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. For me, however, it was an eye-opener.

A few months later, I read a report that said a man could not prove in an UP court that he was alive even as he stood there in flesh and blood because his relatives had declared him dead to usurp his property. I was told by a reporter, who was also a lawyer, that he could declare me dead or prove that my car was stolen! I believed him.

A few days after that Mukhtar Ansari, a dreaded mafia don, who was serving time in jail, was supposedly brought for a medical check-up to a local hospital. I say supposedly because I remember how my reporter Manish Chandra Pandey, rushed in excitedly to tell me that Ansari was strolling through Hazratganj, Lucknow’s shopping district, exchanging pleasantries with shopkeepers and then proceeding to his flat where he held a ‘durbar’! Policemen who were supposedly guarding him were strolling along behind him, quite unconcerned by the stir the don’s walkabout was creating. The next day when the pictures appeared in all the newspapers the government defended the inaction by the cops and packed Ansari off to Tihar!

Then, on another occasion, when a very powerful business tycoon’s son was getting married, one of the reporters told me how goons from a political party walked into the showroom and drove away with new cars, as the staff stood by silently. If you value your life you keep your mouth shut. And also, how an entire housing society was asked to vacate because it overlooked the home of a business tycoon, who was celebrating the marriage of his children. They claimed it was “security” but no one reported these stories because you don’t report such stuff if you value your advertising revenue!

For a State that wallows in crime, poverty, communal violence and crooked politicians, nothing that happens there surprises me anymore. But, on Monday, even I, like a million others who must have watched the news, was totally aghast at the manner in which UP Chief Minister Mayawati was garlanded with 1000 rupee notes and was photographed posing under it for posterity. In this show of opulence, what I find surprising is not that people can go to such absurd lengths to pamper a politician, who doesn’t care a fig for the people she lords over, but the fact that not a single government at the Centre, in all these years, has had the guts to pull her up for looting the state and accumulating cash, properties and diamonds.

It’s not the first time that the lady has been given this ‘honour’, so why no one in government really bothers to ask her what she’s done with all that cash, tells us a lot about the crooks (and that’s putting it mildly) who masquerade as honest politicians to enact legislation to curb black money, and then keep stashing their’s away in banks abroad! And when such announcements come from the mouth of a respected and supposedly honest prime minister, it makes one wonder. What’s even more frustrating is the fact that year after year it’s the honest taxpayer who gets screwed (there really is no other word) and silently bears the burden while the scumbags in their dhotis or safari suits get a free run. Otherwise, can you tell me, how politicians like Mayawati and Laloo have survived for so long?

For example, everyone knows that Mayawati’s assets jumped by Rs 500 crore in five years. We heard reports during the last election that the CBI was going to question her on how this miracle had happened. But it never went beyond the ‘heard’ stage. She was also an accused in the Taj Corridor scam, where she allegedly sold off large tracts of land behind the monument to private parties for the construction of commercial complexes! Heard anything about that from the CBI lately? All these cases are in the news only during an election or when MPs are required to vote during a no-confidence vote. Then these cases are used to force them to fall in line with the government’s line of thinking.

During my stint in Lucknow, I also watched a CD which showed a powerful politician of an equally well-known party, bluntly tell ticket hopefuls that they needed to deposit a specified amount of cash “towards a personal fund” if they wanted tickets for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections! The politician is seen explaining that since these hopefuls would anyway, recover this “loss” once they were elected, there was no reason why they should not pay this amount! The CD did the rounds of all the newspaper offices, but nothing came out of it because no newspaper owner wanted to incur the wrath of this vengeful politician. They were more interested in securing government contracts and keeping their factories running smoothly.


The dumbest headline I’ve read in years was the one that appeared in a national newspaper the other day. The story on the awardee of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan said “He liked idlis as a kid”. Maybe I am stupid, but how many Tam Brahms have you heard of, who did not like idlis? If he didn’t, it would have made a great headline!

What no publication has bothered to ask Ramakrishnan or write about is why he left India for the US and never thought of returning. Don’t think for one minute that I am talking patriotism here. It’s a question I would ask him, just to see his response, instead of fawning over him and trying to kiss his ass, like everyone else is doing.

And look at the way the Bongs and the Tams fighting over how many Nobel Prize winners came from their respective regions! The score is level at 3-3. Have you heard of anything more parochial? People, the guy is not an Indian, but a US citizen and has been one for years. More importantly, he is from Gujarat, where, interestingly, he funds the education of Muslim girls displaced in the riots, thankfully not out of some misplaced sense of guilt, but because he is upset with the events. Have any of you heard Narendra Modi calling Ramakrishnan a son of the soil?

Personally, I don’t really blame Ramakrishnan for leaving India and never returning. Look at what’s happening in the IITs and IIMs, where poorly paid professors are fighting for a better deal. A lot of those ‘bhoole bhatkes’ who come back to India from the west are the ones who have accepted the bitter truth that whichever country they go to, they’ll always be second class citizens, and the only people around whom they can throw their weight (and money) is at their Indian brethren because we love to ingratiate ourselves to anyone who is ‘phoren.’

I remember how frustrated my elder brother would be, while working in Dubai for over a decade and a half. He knew a lot more about advertising than anyone else in that place, but when it came to promotions the idiot Arab would bring in some half-wit Brit, who knew as much about advertising as a dumb journalist knows about information technology. It was only when the ownership of the agency changed hands that big brother got his due. And guess who the new owners were – Pakistanis!

Of course, my brother migrated to Canada over a decade ago from Dubai and does occasionally state that he never wants to return to India, except for a holiday! And lately not even for that!! But does he feel like a first class citizen in Canada? That’s a question only he can answer.

But coming back to the brain drain, during my days with Hindustan Times in Lucknow, at a party in October 2004, I met a retired IIT professor who mentioned to me that IIT Kanpur was going through a crisis of confidence. He said that a lot of professors, fed up with the government’s attitude towards them, were heading west.

His story was that very interesting and innovative inventions were catching dust in the laboratories because neither the government nor the nodal agencies were interested in finding buyers. He described some of these to me and, believe me, they would have been a boon to people.

But the thick-skinned government officials couldn’t have cared less. And this was during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who wanted IIT’s scientists to do more research which would benefit the nation. The poor scientists were left wondering what use was their research when their inventions would be left to rot in the labs.

The happy ending to the story was that GP Varma, the reporter who did most of the legwork for the story, and I, were delighted to hear that our story was raised in Parliament and the government admitted that there were lapses at IIT Kanpur that would be corrected.

So while I have no problem with Ramakrishnan buzzing off to the US in search of greener pastures, I do have an issue with people basking in the reflected glory of an achievement that is not theirs – not by a few billion molecules


Posted: August 14, 2009 in H1N1 virus
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Please click on the title or click here to read the Hindustan Times headline in the Mumbai edition today.

In a nutshell, here’s what it says: It is time to stop the panic: SWINE FLU is going to be around and we’ll have to learn to live with it, say public health experts. Nearly half of the 161 people who tested positive for the H1N1 virus in Mumbai did not even need hospitalisation. Just 27 remained in hospital.

I see some good sense has finally dawned.
Now only if the prophets of doom in the broadcast media listened…

The other day I was talking cricket with a senior sports correspondent of a national agency and the topic veered around to Virender Sehwag. He joked that only God knows what makes that guy tick. He doesn’t display much footwork. He just stands there and clobbers the ball. Even the most astute cricketing brains in the country are at a loss to figure out the reason for his amazing success. The Indian think-tank had decided to let him play the way he does, because even they can’t figure him out. Wise move!

After watching the guy playing the last few seasons and especially after seeing him racing towards the 7th fastest century in ODI history, the fastest by an Indian, and his 11th, at Christchurch today, I can’t help agree. And to think I was one of those doubters! My reasoning was that it had become such a competitive game and technology was being used so often to fugure out a batsman or a bowler’s flaws, that international teams would sort out Viru pretty quickly. There are so many examples of such players whose careers have ended that way. For a while, some years ago it really seemed that way, but the reality as we learnt later was different. According to the same sports correspondent, the then coach tried his best to convince Sehwag that he should change his style and was told by the opener in true Jat style not to bother about him – he was fine the way he was! That probably explains why he was dropped from the team.

But I owe an apology to a couple of former colleagues at Hindustan Times, Lucknow for declaring that Viru wouldn’t last more than three years on the international circuit! This was after watching his lack of footwork and poor technique sometime around 2002. It hasn’t changed much since then, but Sehwag has gone from strength to strength and continued to thrash the bowling wherever he has played against all levels of opposition. Obviously, reason and all things that make sense don’t really make any sense when it comes to Sehwag’s batting. So… apologies guys! All things said – for and against – let’s just enjoy this maverick opener’s performance till it lasts! I do believe Sehwag is a rare breed.

Rude awakening

Posted: January 29, 2009 in blogging
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51 million jobs to go by 2009, screams the Hindustan Times headline today. This is like a broken record isn’t it? What’s a few million between friends? On a more ‘sombre’ note, I’ve just had a rude awakening after my first day on my own blog. I realize that since I am not an anonymous blogger I have to be prepared for emails from people who I name in my blog. I got an irate message from a particular young lady who feels that I should not have been “TELLING THE WHOLE WORLD THAT RECESSION HAS STRUCK” her…” My intention in using her as an example was simply to express my own anguish at her helplessness. She was one of my favourite students and my intention wasn’t to make fun of her loss. While I really don’t know how many people read my blog and how many know her, I guess she justified in expressing her anger at my comment. In hindsight I understand, if tomorrow, I have to tell people in my small world that I don’t have a job, how I would feel. After all, I’m a part of the recession-struck information technology sector, and anything can happen. It’s a mad, mad, mad world.
But away from all the problems that surround us, the picture should make you smile. It appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.

Distress calls

Posted: January 28, 2009 in blogging
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Today’s Hindustan Times said that 50,000 people lost their jobs in one day in the US. DNA went a step ahead and said 85,000! Wow, that’s a lot of people to have staring at pink slips in one day. But what is more interesting is a news item I read a couple of days ago, which said that a US Republican senator wanted the companies who were retrenching staff to first move against HIB visa holders and only then sack locals. I completely agree with that sentiment. Isn’t that what Jet Airways intended to do here? Strangely enough, no one from our government is protesting.

But jokes aside, things are really spiraling out of control aren’t they? A young lady messaged me the other day on chat and said “Sir, I’m doomed. I’ve just been issued a pink slip.” I could sense that she was distraught and frustrated. What use was that Mass Communication degree and her experience if after working for two years she was jobless for no fault of hers?

Another friend in the media called me a few months before and asked me if I could help him get a job in a recently launched newspaper in Delhi. I told him not to because I didn’t think the newspaper would last long. It didn’t. He called the other day to thank me!

Sadly enough this is the reality of our times, and not just in the media business but everywhere you see. When will it end?