Politicians, Pakistan, and TV channels

Politics

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?

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The hanging of Saddam Hussain

Politics, Zeitgeist

Today morning on YouTube — 18 of the 20 most viewed videos were about of the hanging of Saddam Hussain.

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My stance on this is still a work-in-progress.

However I do have a couple of thoughts.

It is a poor-poor defence when Americans say, “It was their (incumbent Iraqis’) decision to hang him. We had nothing to do with it.” Yeah sure buddy, we believe you as much now as when you told the world that Iraq was sitting on a tranche-load of Weapons of Mass Destructions! And if going against the grain of incredulity, I were to believe you on WMDs — idiots you killed the only man who could have told you where they were hidden!!

This is the third such political execution I have seen.

The first was that of former Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed by a shooting squad after a hasty trial in 1989. That was the Christmas on 1989. BBC says:

Two days after the death of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, video pictures of their summary trial and execution were shown on television in Romania and around the world.

The images of their dead bodies, riddled with bullets, were broadcast and much of the unrest which continued after their deaths subsided.

The second was that of former Afghanistan President Dr. Najibullah who was publicly hanged by the Taliban in 1996 and whose body was left hanging in the open for a few days. The newspaper pictures of those hanging bodies are graphically imprinted on my mind. Especially since in India we were used to seeing him as guest of the State. In fact the rest of his family had taken shelter in India after the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan in 1996.

Somehow this time around I feel a sense of apathy seeing the visuals. Perhaps the earlier pictures where a fugitive Saddam was shown being pulled out of his hideout, had somehow prepared me for the things to come.

This gruesome link on BBC throws some light on this issue:

Releasing the normally gruesome pictures of dead leaders is a powerful gesture. It has often been used in the past to mark the end of an era.

Hmm…

Lalu sets up railway chair @ IIM Ahmedabad

Education, Humour, IIM, Politics

Continuing with the newly-fangled romance between Lalu Yadav and IIM Ahmedabad, the Railway Minister announced the setting up of a ‘railways chair’ at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad for studying the “infrastructure of the Indian Railways” and its economy. (read press report)

Swadeshe Joke:
After the IIM Ahmedabad Director, Bakul Dholakia gets Lalu Yadav to set up a ‘railway chair’ at IIM-A, the Director of IIM Lucknow, Devi Singh feels the way to go one up would be to get Lalu to set up a railway sleeper at IIM-L and that too air conditioned! But being the media & entertainment loving Institute that IIM Indore is, the IIM-I Director, SP Parashar feels the best would be to get a complete railway bogie and make a case-study out of Mani Ratnam shooting ‘Chhaiyya chhaiyya…’ on the rooftop of a railway bogie!

:-D

Made in Pakistan

Politics

Some months ago, while shopping in Dubai I picked up a bath-robe, which I felt was coming real cheap. Back home in India, I discovered that it was Made in Pakistan! Normally that would, at worst, have affected my perceived value of the product — like what happens when you discover that the electronic gadget you bought says ‘Assembled in Bangladesh’ or ‘Made in Taiwan’ when you expect it to say ‘Made in Japan’.

However, this time it affected me at another level. Was I contributing to the economy of a country which at various points of time has been hostile to India?

Considering, that at the height of the Danish cartoons controversy, one of the saner and potent means of protest was the boycott of Danish products worldwide — I was contemplating if I could register my protest against all the bad things Pakistan has done to India, if I explicitly rejected this bath-robe and abstained from using it.

Per se, I am not dogmatically opposed to Pakistan. I had been a great fan of Imran Khan and continue to be a great fan of Wasim Akram. (Hope you noticed the difference between ‘had been’ and ‘continue to be’ — that’s the subject of a post someday) I remember openly cheering, much to the amazement of my mother, for the Pakistani team in the 1992 cricket World Cup final. I was also touched by gestures of Pakistani hospitality towards visiting Indian spectators for the 2001 cricket series.

Their merit notwithstanding, I liked movies like Randhir Kapoor’s ‘Henna’, Yash Chopra’s ‘Veer Zara’, Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s ‘Pinjar’ for touching upon the (subsequently over-used) ‘people to people’ contact emotion!

But giving away some of my hard-earned money towards Pakistan’s export earnings… umm… somehow I wasn’t so sure. Back then, my dad settled it for me: “Forget the Pakistan bit. If you don’t use this bath-robe, you aren’t helping India’s economy either!”

Soon after this, my cousin, who had come down from Srinagar, gifted me a T-shirt — which I later discovered, was made in Pakistan as well! Oh no! Not again! And this time around it my cousin’s gesture which I couldn’t belittle! So I started using that as well. And the burden of that thought weighing on me everytime I wore it.

But time is the best healer…

In what speaks volumes about the quality of these ‘Made in Pakistan’ products — neither of them lasted beyond a few months!

Phew!

What would you do in a similar situation? 

The Miracles of India

Media & Entertainment, Politics, Zeitgeist

Yessir! It’s happening once again!

If Ganesh idols were drinking milk then, it is sea water turning sweet in Mumbai now! (In between we had the ‘monkey man’ in India’s capital city!)

The ‘milk drinking’ is due to the phenomenon of ‘surface tension’ where the milk sticks in a very thin layer — practically invisible to the naked eye — to the edge of the spoon and travels from there to the lips of the idols, to the chin and all the way to the floor. If need be, please pick up a high-school physics book, and you would understand it very easily!

The sweetness of the sea water is being explained as post-monsoon dilution of salinity.

Even though I believe the scientific explanations completely, for me that is just one aspect of this issue.

The other aspect is — WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

So what if the idols were drinking milk, huh?
So what if the sea water is less salty than usual, huh?
What does this do for you? Makes your life less miserable, huh?

Yet we have people (urban, educated and economically better-off) in this day and age falling for, and willing to swallow this crap (literally too**), in double-quick haste and not waiting/wanting to seek a logical/rational explanation for that.

And that’s the miracle for me, sadly!

Even as I close this post, I see news on India TV that the idols drinking milk scam is back, and I can very clearly see this time around it’s not about injecting the opium into the masses in an innovative way, but in a competitive way.

 

** Mahim creek, the site for this sweet water ‘miracle’, is otherwise better known as the point where passengers on Mumbai’s western train line generally get up from their sleep due to an overpowering foul sewage smell, while passing by!