Posts Tagged ‘Lucknow’

I sat down to write this piece as I watched some of the well-known faces of the mainstream media (MSM) erupt in an orgasmic frenzy because Tunde ke kabab in Lucknow closed on Thursday for a few hours as they ran out of beef. They couldn’t get the meat for their original shop in Chowk where they serve kabab of buffalo meat and had to make other arrangements. They are an 112-year old kabab joint, so they obviously hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Did someone force them to shut down? No one did. Were there any grievous injuries to the people in Lucknow because of that? No. Did someone die? Nothing of that sort happened, but some journalists from the ecosystem called Lutyen’s Delhi living roughly 488kms away began beating their chests and breaking their bangles as if someone really had expired. And with that, the Indian mainstream media dug another hole in the ground to bury itself another few feet into an early grave.

After 31 years in the media I look around me and wonder – Is this the same profession that I slogged in, putting everything – family, money and personal life – on the backburner for? Now that I am a work-from-home editor I can sit back and watch all this in a detached kind of way, as some elements of the mainstream media (MSM), among who are people who I once respected, go around behaving like a bunch of complete jerkoffs. Was this the biggest story around that sent them into a freaking frenzy, especially on the social media? I have no wish to take names but some of them tripped over their own feet to wail about the kabab joint closing as if someone had died in their family.

I have a lot of good friends in the media, they are all hardworking, almost invisible to the world outside. They do their jobs well, and I know they are damn good journalists because I have seen them at work. These are the journalists you won’t see on your TV screens. They shy away from the limelight, do their jobs, and go home to their families. We disagree on a lot of things, but I respect them and their views, and they mine. Because I know deep down, they are honest to their profession, just like so many doctors who take the Hippocratic Oath. Whenever I have called them for information on a subject I want to write about they have willingly given it to me. I respect them for that. I spoke to a couple of them when I started to write this blog, so a lot of the information here is from them. They will remain anonymous because that is how they would want it.

When I asked one of them (N) last night, what he thought of the over-the-top reaction of the media to the incident, he said. “I have stopped watching the news and reading their columns. I do my job honestly, go home and play with my daughter instead.”

Here is what another Muslim journalist from Lucknow, who I’ll call K, said to me over twitter, “Most people here including my learned journalist friends in the media do not know the difference between beef and cow meat. Beef is not necessarily cow meat, and I have never ever in my life seen a cow being slaughtered in Lucknow although we did get to hear about the occasional story of it being slaughtered in some remote Muslim dominated village purely to spark off communal tension.”

The problem, however, goes deeper. It is about do-gooder first-time chief minister doing what he promised and a bureaucracy which, in an effort to please its master, is going over the top, just like some journalists. The anti-romeo squad is another example of a good thing being messed up by over-enthusiastic volunteers.

“The new chief minister could have handled it better, but the bureaucracy went into overdrive to please him and undid things. There has been no meat available for the people in the last 48 hours, and butchers are scared they will be harassed. They have also been told by the police not to open their shops,” said N. “If the new CM really wants to save cows, he will have to.close the mechanised slaughter houses. Nothing else can save cows in the State not even this vigilantism,” he added.

The various town administrations should have created the right perception but instead, they went about indulging in populist measures to please the CM, which could backfire. They could have asked the civic bodies to determine how licenced meat shops have been functioning this long and could have passed an order that only the licenced ones operate within the prescribed limits. Instead, they have gone after all and sundry and that has created a huge shortage in the market and a lot of unhappiness among the locals.

Anyway, that is the problem of shortage at a kakab joint and meat in UP. What happened to the dumbasses in the media? Of course, this isn’t anything new. It’s been happening over the course of the past two years for very obvious reasons. It began soon after Narendra Modi forced his way into the Lutyen’s Delhi in May 2014 and hasn’t stopped. Every few months, be it an award wapasi, a protest at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, (JNU), or the uproar that erupts over the mindless incidents of some minister or MP shooting his or her mouth off, these incidents happen just around the time of an election and disappear once the results are declared depending on whether the objectives of the MSM and their masters ensconced in Lutyens Delhi have been achieved. There is, however, one common link to all these eruptions. They occur only in BJP-ruled states. Murders, assaults and riots are happening elsewhere in places such as Kerala and Bengal with monotonous regularity, but the MSM is oblivious to those. So, like all those earlier incidents of manufactured outrage, this too looks like just another award wapasi farce, only this time it was wrapped around a kabab.


(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 (, 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)

On the eve of polling day, my confusion has increased. Who do I vote for? The manner in which the politicians have been gunning for each other, it makes one wonder what they are really interested in – running the country or running down (and riding roughshod over) their opponents. And hey, none of us at home have voting cards yet, just numbers! What a democracy!
Politicians, former bureaucrats, social workers, retired cops, they’re all there promising the gullible voter the moon. Can they deliver? We’ll have to wait another five years to find out.
If one looks at my city (Pune) things couldn’t have been messier. I remember reading the PR material of a very prominent builder which spoke of Pune as the perfect city. The manifesto said Pune would never have water or power shortages because it was surrounded by four rivers and two dams. Oh damn!
I wonder where those rivers have disappeared and I also wonder how much of the water from the dams is reaching us. More importantly, do the rivers and dams have the capacity to feed the city? Six to eight hours of power cuts everyday, water that comes two hours in the morning and evenings respectively. But, I guess we are luckier than a lot of other housing colonies, even the up-market ones where I see water being supplied by tankers, which cost a bomb.
Logically, the sitting MP should get a second chance, because it is next to impossible to get things done in five years. But the fact of the matter is Pune has seen traffic problems multiply, infrastructure struggling to cope, and housing that’s unaffordable (unless you have loads of cash stashed away somewhere).
But instead of doing something about it, everyone’s busy trading charges as things spiral out of control. Somehow, the reputation Mr Kalmadi has gained, is of someone more interested in making money, getting in front of the cameras shooting his mouth off or posing with celebrities, then being seen as someone who the people voted to look after their city’s interest. That may be untrue, but that is the image he has. Since I didn’t vote for him the last time and do not know Mr Kalmadi personally, I will reserve my comment.
But let me tell you what happened in Lucknow when we lived there some years ago. During the last election in 2004, Lucknow’s candidate was then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On voting day, my landlord asked me if I was interested in voting. Since I was part of the floating population, I could not vote, but as a journalist I was curious to know what he was proposing.
On probing further he produced a sheaf of slips with names of voters of different age groups. He then gave me one and asked me to go to a party’s polling booth. It was quite funny, actually. The guy at that booth, studied my face for a while, ran his finger down the list and stopped at one. Then he pulled out the slip with the corresponding number and asked me to cast my vote. My wife got one too and she was kicked as hell because the slip mentioned her age as 29! She wanted to keep it as a souvenir!
She walked to the booth and strolled right in just to see what would happen. I refused to go in. I was absolutely appalled by the brazenness of the entire exercise. And mind you, this was then the Prime Minister’s constituency. I called up the editor of the newspaper I worked for, and told her about the incident. Needless to say that the story never appeared in the newspaper, for ‘various’ reasons! I guess, it wouldn’t have looked nice for something like this to emerge from the PM’s constituency.
But back to the present, So for the first time in so many years, I am confused – not because there is an embarrassment of riches, but because I don’t see a single deserving candidate for whose sake I should get that indelible ink put on my finger.

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.