Politicians, Pakistan, and TV channels

I’d written this piece in 2008, but somehow never came around to posting it, and it remained as a draft for 6 years, till I stumbled upon it yesterday. Still quite relevant!

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The Mumbai terror attacks of November 26-28, left a few more villains in their aftermath: politiciansPakistan, and TV channels.

Sadly, the way I see it, these are nothing but temporary targets for people to vent out their (predominantly verbal) anger. In each of these cases, the public is being either extremely hypocritical or extremely naive — both of which we’ve come to expect from our brethren in the world’s most populous democracy!

Extremely naive? Because we believe that SMS forwards and ‘NO-to-terrorism’ groups on social networking sites and 15 people with 15 seconds of vox pop time on TV channels have the trappings of a revolution-in-the-making! Candle light vigils, black arm bands, two-minutes of silence etc. are significant gestures in stable and evolved societies where even subtle symbolism translates into a loud enough message. Sorry to say, but we are nowhere close to being that society. Take this simple analogy. Honking while driving — considered a breach of driving etiquette in such societies — is taken as a matter of right and machismo in our metropolitan cities — leave alone the smaller ones. Wear black arm bands against these cacaophonists and see how much of a difference does it make. None — to them at least!

Extremely hypocritical? Because till yesterday, and from tomorrow again, we would go back to bagging personal favours from politicians (and the political system) and clamouring for the TV channels to dish out in a different context, what we found so objectionable in the current context!

So over the remainder of this article, let me play devil’s advocate to the three villains mentioned above.

Politicians
If the number of new entrants into a profession is any indicator of its popularity — the record number of people appearing for CAT every year being an example — then politics is by far the single-most attractive career avenue in India! Ironically, this when politicians are also perhaps the most vilified among public personalities in India. The earliest people to be lampooned in the press were politicians. In cinema, politicians have been the generic villains for quite some time now — having replaced zamindars, dacoits, or smugglers of the three-four decades prior. Things have come to a stage where even politicans themselves start their speeches by cracking self-deprecating jokes to cut ice with their audience!

However, to say that we ‘now’ hate them because of what they did (or allegedly did not do) in the Mumbai terror attacks is perhaps not entirely well placed. No other group of people, except those trained for it, could have responded to the unprecedented terror attacks any better.

So if it takes a terrorist attack for you to start hating your politician —  then sorry buddy, we are not on the same page. It’s like saying, we started hating Adolf Hitler because Boris Becker defeated Vijay Amritraj in tennis! We’ve definitely missed the wood for the trees.

We had already lost our right to assail the politician when we covered that extra bit of open area in our respective houses, and wailed when an exasperated Delhi High Court ordered the government to demolish such illegal constructions, and rejoiced when the government passed a law to legalize all such blatantly illegal constructions. When we paid that kickback to secure a lucrative contract or got a government policy changed to suit our business, we lost that right further. Not to mention the fact that when we evaded paying taxes on our incomes from such businesses, we’d given in completely.

No wonder, after we so easily came around to accepting corruption and criminality as tolerable traits in our politicians, we called them to our campuses to give us lessons in management. We also called the media to our campuses to cover the event. And then we lamented that electives on Ethics were not finding too many takers! Some fodder for thought.

Pakistan
If you ever feared that a strong Pakistan would give sleepless nights to India — please be warned, an unstable Pakistan is perhaps India’s worst nightmare. Somewhere we have to acknowledge the fact that Pakistan has been, and continues to be, a crucial buffer between India — a great nation, that has embraced and managed umpteen civilizations and contradictions over thousands of years — and those areas of Asia that have known just one medieval world-view and are still living by it. Two of the most powerful nations in the world, USA and the erstwhile USSR, used Pakistan and Afghanistan as surrogate fronts to shadow-fight each other. Ironical that — the super powers never ever went to war themselves, but left behind an eco-system where medieval games are now being fought with space-age toys. It is not an exaggeration when people say that the north-west of Pakistan makes the ‘wild West’ of American history look like a fairytale set in Disneyland!

Of course, Pakistan psychologically carries a huge India hang-up, which would always find an outlet somehow, somewhere. However, what compounds the matter for us is the fact that there are now too many groups controlling various facets of Pakistani society, and we can never be sure of how any or every one of these groups manifests its India hang-up.  A lot of smart people seem to be clamouring for bombing Pakistan. What would we achieve by doing so? Apart from satisfying a craving for nationalistic adrenaline rush — nothing! We would only end up spawning hundreds of fragments of these Pakistani groups — each with its own India hang-up. Something that the US is now realizing in Iraq. The days of clinical, conventional warfare are over. The repercussions far outlive and outweigh the immediate gains.

So what do we do? First, stop blaming it on Pakistan — the nation. Lay the blame on specific individuals or groups about whom we have definite information. Then go after them. Eliminate them. That should be our statement — not, “Pakistan is responsible for this”, kind of statement.

TV Channels
I had raised this question at a media panel discussion a little after the terror attacks on Akshardham Temple in 2002, where the TV channels were relaying the movements of the NSG commandos from their Manesar base, on the Jaipur-Delhi NH-8 all the way to Delhi airport through traffic jams! This we had then attributed to the low IQ of the reporter-anchor combine.

The same thing happened in Mumbai again. The footage of NSG commandoes being air-dropped onto the terrace of the Nariman House, was rivetting, and would no doubt hold those covering it live in thrall. Not many realized immediately that there was something abnormal in the reporters counting the number of NSG commandoes being air dropped. This was a surprise bonus for the terrorists — who, it now emerges, had been planning for the attack over a year, but wouldn’t have included on-the-spot stupidity of over-zealous news reporters as part of their annual terror plans!

But for a couple of instances where they could have shown some discretion, the TV channels did a reasonable job of bringing home vividly the enormity of the attack and making the rest of us sensitized to the destruction caused. Some of them rose to the ocassion better and higher than others, but that’s to be expected in any sphere of life. NDTV 24×7 for instance did not carry any ads during the coverage whist most others continued with their regular commercial commitments. So what would cause greater revulsion — a reporter fumbling while giving a narrative on visuals of terror attacks, or, funny ads for Dostana (the recent Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham movie) every 10 minutes during the three day coverage while you wonder if a friend of yours is still trapped inside?

So, where is it that we fail?
We fail every time we look for easy solutions to complex problems. We fail every time we look for easy targets to lay the blame on. Corollary: We also fail each time we make easy heroes out of our cricketers to live out our fantasies for us. No wonder we change our stances also so quickly.

We will get back to life-as-usual with our acceptance of corrupt and criminal politicians; watch our TV channels fall over each other in bringing to us the next sensational breaking news; and as for Pakistan, we’ll look forward to the next cricket match with them. After all, this is the life we’ve got comfortable with. And in continuing with it like this, we are saying to the terrorists — you  failed.

Excuse me, who failed?

The origin of Sidhuisms

In the early years that SONY Entertainment Television (SET) India (now Multi Screen Media) forayed into cricket broadcasting, among the first few series they acquired the rights for was from the Board of Cricket Control in Sri Lanka (now called Sri Lanka Cricket).

When the Indian cricket team toured Sri Lanka in July-August 2001 the matches were broadcast on MAX, the newly launched movies & cricket channel of SET India.

Apart from being a significant ‘first’ for the channel (which later broadcast many of ICC’s flagship tournaments, and the IPL), that Sri Lanka series also heralded another significant ‘first': The debut of Navjyot Singh Sidhu – as a cricket commentator! A couple of matches into the series, and Sidhu had made his mark with telling effect!

Early Sidhuisms included:

If ifs and buts were pots and pans, there would be no tinkers.

And:

The Sri Lankan score is running like an Indian taxi meter.

A few of us within the channel (most notably my colleague Pavan Chawla) realized there was more we could do and overnight we set up http://www.sidhuisms.com (sadly, no longer in use).

Sidhuisms on setindia.com

Archived screenshot of the original Sidhuisms website on setindia.com

(Archive link to the original Sidhuisms website. More archived links: Herehere, and here)

The realization that Sidhuisms would acquire a life of their own had started dawning on everyone.

Commendation letter from CEO for Sidhuisms

Commendation letter from CEO for Sidhuisms

I even received a commendation letter from the then  CEO Kunal Das Gupta.

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While the world at large was reacting with incredulity to Sidhu’s facility with words and his sense of dramatic enunciation, I recalled a hitherto unconnected comment from Ravi Shastri some years ago, where he’d shared that Sherry (the nickname Sidhu was called by) was the most entertaining cricketer in the dressing room.
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Small detour here:

Contrary to his current critics’ labeling of him as a cliche-spewing commentator – Shastri during his active cricket days, was considered one of the shrewder tacticians in the game. Exemplified by the fact that in spite of possessing moderate talents with the bat, the ball, and in the field, he went on to become the original ‘Champion of Champions’ in ODI cricket, and for long shared the record for hitting 6 sixes in an over with the great Sir Garfield Sobers.

He had also been slated to become the India captain. However, some run-ins with the cricket authorities put paid to that. For the record, Shastri did captain India in a single Test match. The Chennai Test against the West Indies in 1988, which India won thanks to an explosive debut by Narendra Hirwani who took 8 wickets in each innings with his leg-spin bowling.

So when Ravi Shastri made that revelation about Sidhu being an entertainer — that remained stuck in my mind for a long time. And now it all came back to fall in place in August 2001.

Buoyed by the success of his Sidhuisms, Sidhu went on to making a full-blown career in entertainment and politics. I hear he’s recently also launched his official website http://www.sherryontop.com.

So yeah, we’ll take some credit/blame for having started it all in 2001! :-)

Why Matt Mullenweg is the Rahul Dravid of the internet industry

A small company called Pyra Labs started ‘Blogger’ in 1999. A bigger company called Google bought them in 2003. Google went public in 2004. Google is today the biggest internet company in the world (by market cap).

In the years 2003-2006 Google (after its ‘search’ dominance) strung together a massive eco-system that included Blogger as a content publishing tool, Ad-sense as a monetization channel for content publishers, YouTube as an in-browser video platform that allowed embedding of videos in blogs (or any webpage), that together gave massive momentum to the era of ‘UGC’ (User Generated Content).

Matt Mullenweg started WordPress in 2003-2004, when he was all of 19 years! His company Automattic (triple pun on – automatic, attic, and his own name – Matt!) runs some of the best software used both by individuals as well as enterprises. Today, one-fifth of the internet runs on WordPress! Way bigger than Blogger. Way bigger than any other CMS (Content Management Service) platform.

At 29 years, Matt Mullenweg is just 4 months older to Mark Zuckerberg.

Yet, it is the founder of Facebook, who has been the runaway darling of popular media and investors alike. 

WordPress completes 10 years exactly a month from now.

About time, the world recognized the stellar contribution of Matt and his team.