Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Expectations for the Future: Introducing a Young Artist

THE ACCOMPANYING painting of a bright, cute little girl with her pony tails was done by a bright, cute little girl of five called Saranya on Christmas Day.

When I saw her busy with the mouse, I thought she was again at the comics or racing games which are popular with her generation. In fact one of my major preoccupations as an elder citizen in the household during the school vacation is to sort out the occasional incidents of flare-up between the brother and sister on who to take control of the mouse and the game.

But when Saranya called me secretly and unveiled before me her new work of art, I was thrilled. I really liked the painting, and of course I felt a little important in the family circles, being the first person to be invited to witness her work of art. She has also confidentially informed me that when she grew up, she would want to be an artist.

It was really surprising. As far as I know there is none known as an artist in the entire family and I am sure she has never had any major encounter with works of art or artists in her little life. She lives in a small house on the banks of Kallai river in the ancient part of this third world city and the river and the street that leads to the river are reminders of past glory as Kallai river, once upon a time, was a great centre of timber trade in the world. Now what remain of this past splendour are the ramshackle saw mills on the river banks that resemble ancient cranes from the Dinosaur age looking for a catch in the water. The people live a hopeless life; they have lost their old means of livelihood and nothing promising is unfolding before them.

The river looks more like a ditch, with its muddied pools and encroached banks leaving little space for the water to flow into the Arabian Sea and often it appears like a river lost in its tracks, a confused and dejected river not knowing what to do and chose to remain static. It is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

And if you had happened to walk on these parts, you would surely have come across dozens of people with elephantiasis, the swollen legs that look like that of an elephant, that was the mark of these regions only a few years ago. Things have changed now, thanks to the new drugs that have come to the market which are freely distributed among the public in the coastal regions.

The buildings in these parts of the city look very old, and indeed they trace their history to an age when the Arabs used to come and settle here for conducting their businesses as trade with the Zamorin's land was once monopolized by Arab traders. Hence the traditionally Muslim parts of Kozhikode city like Kuttichira overlooking the river and the sea had many ancient joint families settled in huge and sprawling buildings which are now being pulled down as families divide and new structures come up in place of the old ones.

It is in the midst of all these symbols of tradition and modernity that Saranya grew up but her world seems to be quite different, quite optimistic and romantic. When I look at the paintings she did, often on the computer and sometimes on paper, I realize that technology has done an immense contribution to this new generation of artists who are now growing up. Even a decade ago, her artistic efforts would have surely earned her a good slapping because instead of the virtual space on which she works now, she would have definitely defaced the walls. The defaced walls have nipped many a young talent in the bud.

But technology, especially the digital world, has changed all that:The children are now enjoying a new world and the opportunities the digital world opened up for them are immense. I know there is still a digital divide, there are many kids who are still denied access to this world, but the gap is narrowing and the world is definitely becoming a better place to live.

As the new year dawns, I do really hope and pray that our children shall inherit a better world.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Global Economic Crisis and Kerala's Future: A report from CDS

THE CENTRE for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapruam, has released its report on Global Financial Crisis and Kerala: Impact & Mitigation Measures, following a request from the State Government to assess the impact and possible measures and policy changes required to overcome he crisis.

The 98-page report (available online at www.cds.edu.in) is one of the first major attempts to put in perspective the crisis and how to face it and also possibly convert it into an opportunity to refocus on our economic priorities. The following observations are on the basis of the executive summary of the report which I had seen yesterday.

What strikes me as an extremely important warning signal in this report is that the already feeble sections of our economy and society are going to be hit hard again in this crisis. These segments, according to the report, are the traditional industries like coir and cashew, the cash crops like pepper, coffee, tea, rubber and spices, fish workers and other export oriented sectors, all of whom are dependent on a highly unpredictable global market. Unlike the IT units that are also likely to be hit, those employed in these sectors do not enjoy any financial stability or social security support at all. In fact most of them were already in dire straits, most of them neck-deep in debt and often witnessing a spate of suicides. I had occasion to do some work on the sectors like cash crop growers inWynad and fish workers in the northern districts. They are in a very serious plight and what has stopped- at least temporarily- the spate of suicides seem to be the steps taken as part of the Central Government intervention in recent months. Our own State Government's Debt Relief Commission has been a mockery of sorts as it could not offer any sensible aid to the majority of people who went there.

That, to my mind, is going to be our experience once again. We are going to get a lot of platitudes from our ruling politicians and precious little by way of action. In fact when I was reading State Planning Board vice chairman DrPrabhat Patnaik's tall claim in the Economic Review 2008 report that it was the State Government's Debt Relief Commission which had put a brake on farm suicides, I thought it was laughable because precisely at that point of time, things were quite different in the field with suicides spreading to new areas likeKuttanad rice bowl in the summer harvest season this year.

So this entrenched middle class segment that effectively control our political establishment, combined with the political leadership and intellectual bandwagon which actually cater to the middle class interest is going to be the real stumbling block in front of any reforms theCDS report calls for. The report calls for very serious policy shifts that will rekindle our economic activity, like a massive promotion of private investment, a private-public partnership, cut in subsidies in power, water supply and other sector to the middle class consumers, easing of legal hurdles in commercialization of agriculture, reducing controls on leasing landed properties, etc, which are all recommendations that go against the present rulers' economic wisdom.

A stark reality stands out in the report: The middle class would gain in this misery of the poor people, because when the prices fall their salaries are going to remain stable and real incomes rise. And when fresh money is pumped into the economy to recharge production, surely they will do everything to corner much of it and will stop any meaningful restructuring like rational power tariff or cut in subsidies or reforms in land legislation or introduction of the system of lease holding of lands to enable the landless to engage in cultivation.

Hence, it is necessary for the poor people to critically examine what is good for them, and not allow this middle class-controlled leadership to decide for them. I do feel that unless they make a determined effort to break this stranglehold of the government-employed, trade unionised middle class people who are holding sway in our public affairs, the really needy are not going to gain anything, and their misery would continue, they would keep committing suicide while the leaders would keep mouthing platitudes on how to bring in socialism...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When Even a Son's Dead Body Becomes Anathema to Our Mothers...

FOUR MALAYALI Muslim youths were shot dead by security forces recently on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir. It is a mystery how these youths from Kerala, who hail from the remotest part of India, reached Kashmir to serve themselves as jehadi fighters, as the police and security forces claimed. Investigations are still on, and some of the leaks that come out seem to suggest that they were recruited by a group of shady spiritual groups who took them to Hyderabad and from there to Kashmir.

This raises a question: are there shady groups who try to entice Muslim youths to such adventurism, and get them into trouble? Is there a conscious effort to paint the entire community as anti-national as the Sangh Parivar in its frenetic campaign in the past few days tried to establish? This is an issue the Kerala society will have to address in the coming days, especially the more serious sections of the minority community and those sympathetic to their present plight.

But there were much more serious issues involved in this sordid drama. One was the way the parents of the slain youths refused to even accept their dead bodies. As the parents said they do not want to bring their bodies home, the security forces had to bury them somewhere in the border, unsung and without even a tear or prayer from their dear and near.

But why did the parents say in unison they do not want to see the bodies of their children? I feel we need to ask this question and face the terrible reality of the sense of alienation, fear and isolation our Muslim brothers are now undergoing in our midst.

Here is a note on this I sent to a discussion group on this topic:

The situation of ultra-nationalism and jingoism ruling roost even in our legal circles is so acute and has vitiated the atmosphere in our courts, from local courts to the highest. Now that even the lawyers in Mumbai Bar Association refuse to take up the brief for the Pakistani national caught in the Mumbai terror incident, I suppose this question of denying basic legal service on the basis of one’s community or nationality could be brought back into public focus and some redress sought.

It is worrisome the way our society is unwilling to look at the basic things from a legal and human perspective. The case of the four Malayali boys shot dead in Kashmir border is a dark pointer. Their bodies had never been brought back home because one of the mothers said she did not want it; and others followed suit. Why? Was it patriotism or was it simple, unalloyed fear at work?

And why fear to take one's son's dead body and bury him, even if he is the worst criminal possibly? Since when did we start finding fault even with a dead body?

Why nobody is asking who is behind this kind of engineered fear, a fear which is celebrated by none other than our Chief Minister himself, and why one can't ask questions? Why our lawyers, writers and intellectuals do not tell the people that we do have some rights and even a criminal has a right to a decent burial with his family and friends around, praying for peace for him at least in the other world?

I received some responses to my post:

Here is what a human rights lawyer, Bobby Kunhu, wrote from Bangalore:

I am with you on this- exactly what worries me: years of struggle to get the Government of India to see POTA/MISA/TADA as counter-productive and suddenly we are facing all of them together; the metaphor being the mother being scared of receiving her son’s body.

Poet and writer K Satchidanandan also spoke up as follows:

NPC, I am in complete agreement with you. I felt really bad about that mother who disowned her son, probably under visible or invisible pressure. The mother-son relationship has many dimensions other than political. Contrast her with the mother of the Naxalite in Hazar Chaurasi Ma by Mahaswetadevi or why, Gorky's Mother who helps the radicals: Remember the Naxalite and the Russian Revolutionary are also "traitors" in the jingoist's lexicon. Would Bhagat Singh's mother have disowned her son? Of course now the jingoist would say he was killing and dying for the motherland, but he was against the State too.

Now see how the media and society seem to lionize those who refuse to carry out their normal professional duties in the name of patriotism. Here is a report from a Mumbai newspaper:

A mere refusal to handle the case of captured terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman, alias Qasab, has given lawyer Dinesh Mota, 46, a hero's status in the city. From train passengers to strangers on the street, everyone is congratulating him.

On Monday, as Mota boarded his regular first class compartment on the 8.15 am local to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus from Bhandup, he was greeted with cheers from his co-passengers. "They gave me a standing ovation, amidst loud cries of 'hip hip hooray' and 'bravo'. Many people gave me the thumbs-up sign. Even the women commuters from the adjoining compartment began cheering and clapping when they learnt what the noise was about. I was completely blown away by such a reception."

Here is another report from Indian Express on how Surat’s real estate brokers are saving the Indian nation from jehadi threat:

Claiming Terror strikes like in Mumbai cannot take place without local support or contacts, Surat real estate agents and brokers have decided not to rent or sell houses to Muslims.

This decision was taken at a meeting last Sunday which was attended by some 300 real estate agents, many of whom responded to SMS invites. They initiated moves to form an association, hoping to complete the process before the month ends.

Well, our nation need not worry because the real-estate brokers (the comprador bourgeoisie of our times) are here to safeguard our freedom!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

David fells Goliath: A Biblical Tale for Comrades Karat and Yechuri from Kerala

Sitaram Yechuri says CPM will inquire into the electoral defeat of party candidates at the hands of rebels in Kerala: news

SITARAM YECHURI has said that the CPM central leadership will make an inquiry into the massive and humiliating defeat his party had suffered in the municipal elections in Shoranur where party rebels led by M R Murali trounced the CPM official candidates in eight out of the nine seats where elections took place.

All these nine seats were vacated by the rebels as they were thrown out of the party by Kerala unit of the CPM led by Pinarayi Vijayan. Throwing out those who raise questions and criticise the official line is the major activity we have seen in Kerala CPM during the past few years, especially since Pinarayi Vijayan took over as secretary of the State unit. If a rough calculation is made, I'm sure thousands of cadres must have been thrown out in various parts of Kerala in these few years. Of course more people are leaving the party on their own, and Kerala happens to be the State unit with highest desertion rates from its ranks as the documents approved at the recent party congress reveal.

Rebellion in the party is not a new thing: Comrades are raising a banner of revolt against the party State leadership in whom they seem to have lost confidence. But they do not have the strength to throw these self-serving leaders out because the party machinery is under the complete control of this group of leaders. In a party like CPM, if you are in control of the bureaucratic setup no one can challenge you. Then the only chance for change is for the edifice to self-destruct or for those who do not fit in to be thrown out.

So the throwing out business has been going on in full swing for years and now, I am afraid, the other business, of self-destruction is taking over. In Shoranur, the rebels have, for the first time, brought home the terrible fact that they can bring this party to its knees if they chose to. And Shoranur is not a small place, an insignificant place in the Communist history. It was here EMS Namboodiripad and others launched Prabhatham, the first left-wing weekly in 1935 and it was in this region that the party grew up as a strong mass-based political party in the forties and fifties. EMS used to contest from Pattambi Assembly constituency, nearby. It was an impregnable fortress for the Communists for long.

After Onchiyam, where the party has already split into two, comes Shoranur. This is a very very critical development and this trend, if goes unchecked, could finish the party in Kerala very soon.

Well, for the central leaders they may have enough and more to inquire into when they ask themselves why they faced this defeat in Shoranur.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Laughing Gas

Sonia Gandhi visits Bangaram in Lakshadweep, where husband Rajiv Gandhi once saved a stranded whale: news

Is it a thankful whale or someone with a ten-inch shoe...?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Barak Obama and the Skyscrapers of Expectations

My friend and former colleague in Indian Express K Govindan Kutty has been living in the United States for some time and he had sent me a few notes on his observations on American life especially in the days when Barak Obama was being elected to the presidency.

I think his notes are very perceptive and hence one of them is being pasted below to make it available to my readers here. (Please note that he eschews using capital letters.)

in what you presented as "american notes", we discussed last obama, lincoln and racism. they are now discovering new glories in obama, building up skyscrapers of expectations. and, i have been thinking of that, racism, colour, sense or lack of it of colour in all its conceivable manifestations. i have been doing so before i came here. i am sure it will nag my mind when i go away from here.

the thought came to me again when we had been to a photo studio in a sprawling mall
in virginia center commons the other day. this is the season everybody goes for a photo session. everybody means everybody, young and old, dead and unborn.when we were waiting for our turn to be called in by the young, buxom camerawoman, who enjoyed her work and kept animating the cramped room with her eternal giggling,
i saw an african-american family sitting by my side waiting for their turn.
the man had a weird hairdo, long yarns of matted hair flowing down his head,
much like long bunches of coconut flowers with their stem buried in a nirapara.
the woman had her hair intricately braided, some colourful net covering the pate.
the two kids also had their short hair meticulously done, reminding me the paddy seedlings tied with a band around them and thrown all around the field, ready for planting.

it stood out so starkly, their hairdo.it was, shall i confess, revolting to me aesthetic sense.consider the prospect of someone with that kind of remote and ribald hair style sitting in the oval office, chatting with heads of state of mighty and meek members of the wide comity of nations! i am sure you will not consider such a prospect because it is entirely unlikely. why do they do it? why do they wear such weird hair? mind you, it is quite expensive to put up your hair like that. it is quite time consuming.

i did not feel free to ask this question anywhere. such things, i am told, are not asked. it is a free country. anyone is free to wear his hair or whatever the way they like.i made a fool of myself one day by asking about the possible age of a rather decrepit woman in an assisted living home. that is their term for old age home. the woman was stretching herself to do with minimum help from others and it evoked my curiosity about her age. the officer of the home was aghast when i asked the question. my daughter-in-law was embarrassed. i should not have asked such questions. it is all a private affair. asking about the age range of someone who looked like in her eighties and still enjoying(?) being on her own and learning to
live with minimum assistance is an intrusion into her privacy. amen, i said.

so i never ask anyone about the african-america hairdo. i avoided looking at them for more than a second. my son has warned me that it is not safe to have eye contact with any group of african-americans going about boisterously. they could turn violent, he says. he should know better.our neighbour john, a policeman, whenever he stops by to have a word of pleasantry talks about his trepidation as he goes for patrolling in an african-american neighbourhood on dark nights. so i chose not to ask anyone about the hairdo. i am not sure if any african-american leader,
john brown or frantz fanon or frederick douglas or jessie or king, had said it would be useful to dispense with that kind of hair style that segregated them, visually, up to a point culturally.

gandhi would have done that in his time. making people clean was his way to introduce a kind of social equality. there is no need for homogenization. but there is a need for sophistication. i suppose it would be part of a modernizing exercise to declare such hairdo out of fashion. african-americans do not retain their old african tongues, swahili or whatever, as hallmarks of their identity. but they, many of them, enjoy sporting a primitive hairdo that costs so much money
and so much time, and makes them look rather aboriginal. i know it is a difficult thing to change such styles, without an ataturk. i recall stories of my father being practically disowned by his father when he had his tuft cut off and the style of the times reflected on his pate. my grandfather declared that he would not see
his son with such hair style. it took so long for us to agree that kuduma, whether tied behind or before, is not a sign of modernity.

my thoughts on segregating hairdo and slithering colour sense in america took me back home, took me back both in space and time. lines from an earliest verse i had learnt came back to me, rather raucously. i have no idea how it was taught. perhaps its meaning was lost on those who taught it and those who were supposed to recite it. it had built in its heart a strong sense of colour prejudice,a base view of contempt, which should not have informed any kid song. don't you remember that song?

varanda thondayode nhaan
varunnu kochumallike.
vallathum tharumo daaham
valarunnorenikku nee?
karivande varollente
aritkil then tharilla nhaan.
nalla poompaattakalkke nhaan
nalkoo madhuramen madhu.

look at it, you are a little black bee, and i have no love or honey for you.
my nectar is reserved for beautiful butterflies.

what shows through this kid song, recited by millions of kids with gusto,
is the seething contempt of the little jasmine for the colour of the thirsty lover,
more than even his pathos. what morale does it have? what do kids learn from that?

it bespeaks a mindset. and it was written by g. i would have never associated with him such prejudice but that is what shows through his popular kid song. i hold g in high esteem even though i am boggled by his monstrosities like ANATHANUKSHANAVIKASWARASUNDARAPRAPANCHADIKANDAM.
mind you, it is malayalalm. i am ready to live with it but that little poem about the insolent flower and the jilted black bee is pernicious.

that is our contribution to colour sense. do we still have it in our primary syllabus?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Laughing Gas

Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan disowns K Sureshkumar, the IAS officer, who took up cudgels for him against the party: news

A suicide bomber for hire...!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Look, It’s an Orphan Soul Hanging like a Dead Crow on the Tree…!

EVERY TIME I visit a super market or a mall to buy something, I come away with a sense of guilt because invariably I am holding a plastic carry bag like a dead rabbit.

I say dead rabbit because a rabbit is one of the cutest little animals I have ever seen in my life. I still remember the little white rabbit we used to have at home as a pet, and when I came to know people would eat it as a delicious dish I was aghast. But I think my revulsion was quite out of place because people must eat to keep themselves alive and there is a saying in our language that the sin you incur in killing is washed away in eating. So there is a natural and symbiotic relationship between the hunter and the hunted; the prey and the predator. It is the natural order.

But why describe this ubiquitous plastic carry bag as a dead rabbit? Because like a dead rabbit's rotting carcass, these plastic carry bags keep proliferating, clogging our sewage systems and endangering the ecology of our planet. Go the remotest parts of Pacific Ocean’s islands or the most inaccessible parts of Amazon’s evergreen forests, and you are sure to come across abandoned water bottles or plastic food carriages.

Even the dead are not free from this plastic menace. Some time ago I went to the ancient temple in Thirunelli, on a steep hill in Nilgiri Biosphere, off Mananthavady in Wynad, where people conduct the final rites for the dead and gone. The Hindu belief is that once you carry out these rites, the soul comes to its final resting place, or kaivalyam; it would not wander in purgatory. So when someone is dead, his or her bones are collected from the ashes and then kept in an earthen pot to be carried off to Thirunelli(or any other sacred place) for immersion in sacred waters in the steam there. This river is called Papanasini, or the destroyer of all sins, a beautiful imagery of a person’s soul being washed clean of all her worldly sins for her final journey to the Almighty’s presence.

So I was there in Thirunelli to do the final rites for a close relative who had died. We had taken the ashes in an earthen-ware to be broken for immersion in the waters.

As I reached the ghat for the rites I was aghast that times have changed and even ancient customs have changed. Many had brought the ashes in plastic containers which were of course very convenient and they had the added advantage that they would not break, and the ashes and bones accidentally spilled out. But what was heart-breaking was that people instead of breaking earthen pots, were shedding out the bones and ashes into the water and then to ensure that all the remains did get immersed, simply throwing the plastic containers into the stream.

Papanasini is a small stream in the hills where wild animals roam about for food and water. I saw these containers in muddied pools of water everywhere in summer and they were seen even on the branches of huge trees downstream as when monsoon comes and water levels rise, they float about wildly. The poor ancestor’s soul, trapped in a plastic container, then hangs on the branches of a tree like an orphaned bat!

But local people told me they do much more harm than that. These containers often carry bits of food and other articles and foraging animals devour them, causing death. They said even elephants had been killed that way. A fine example of a soul on a murderous spree on its march to the heavens… Good heavens!

That is why I feel guilty every time I purchase something in a plastic container. But often one has no option. But today I was thrilled as I was offered a new, beautifully designed paper-and-yarn carry bag at a super-market, which weighed only a gram or two and looks elegant. The girl in the shop apologetically told me it would cost me one rupee extra. I said I am glad to pay that because I do not want my ancestors hanging on a tree like a dead crow with their souls trapped in a plastic bag.

(A version of this article is published at www.globalcomment.com, from London, Dec. 2008.)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

VS Achuthanandan's Office Plays Games on Him, and Gets the CM in Trouble

Kerala Chief Minister Achuthanandan's reference to a 'dog' stirs a hornets' nest: news

Every dog has a day...!

IS V S ACHUTHANANDAN meeting his nemesis? In the past few decades VS has proved himself to be the greatest political survivor, and his most surprising act would always remain the way he bounced back to the electoral combat in 2006 when his entire party State leadership made every effort to throw him out.

They failed. Because they were seen by the public as a gang of power-hungry clowns who were afraid of the popularity of this Communist who was unafraid of the high and mighty, who challenged them openly and defiantly. His party State leaders never calculated his staying power, his links to the masses and finally in the showdown, they blinked. They had to beat a hasty retreat when party cadres and masses launched demonstrations and agitations all over the State protesting against the party decision to keep him out of the race.

That put pressure on the national leadership and Prakash Karat announced his return to the race. Ever since there has been a running battle, between the State leaders and VS and in fact the State administration has been a victim of this low intensity warfare.

Most often VS won these battles, and in the past two and a half years of his rule, people also generally kept their faith with him.

But do they now, do they feel he is the trusted leader any longer?

The indications are that most people are now disenchanted with Achuthanandan and even the rebels in the party who supported him are no longer putting much faith in him. Janasakthi, the weekly magazine that was launched by them, has been folded up and the small groups that sprang up in various parts of the State are no longer looking up to him for leadership. He seems to have been hoodwinked by his own success.

And anyone who fails to watch his steps falls, and in politics it is doubly so. Last week we saw his antics over the visit to the slain Malayali soldier Sandeep Unnikrisihnan where he made his unnecessary and uncalled for reference to a dog in a televised interview. Watching him on the TV, I wondered why did he make this reference. It was absolutely unnecessary.

Then Prakash Karat termed it unfortunate in a statement. VS in the Assembly said Karat had misunderstood, but finally had to succumb and offer his unconditional apologies under pressure from party national leadership. It was fiasco beyond doubt.

Now comes the behind-the-back attack from his own hand-picked secretaries who say they are not responsible for the goings on in his office. It is a coterie or kitchen cabinet that decides things there. And everyone knows who this coterie is consisted of: People who were thrown out of the party, people who are opposed to the party and some media-persons who were working to split the party...

Now what will the Chief Minister do? Get rid of them or go down the gutter with them? It is a million dollar question, as they say.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Western Media and the ‘Collateral Damage’ in Mumbai

IN HIS sharp critique of the Indian television media in the three days of Mumbai terror, writer Mukul Kesavan brings into sharp focus the contempt with which the middle class, English-speaking, yuppie class of youngsters who make up the mainstream Indian television stations treated the poor people of India. He speaks about the way the thousands of people who suffered at the Chattrapathi Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, received practically no attention from the TV reporters who focused all their attention on Hotel Taj, the ‘iconic symbol’ of India.

Mukul Kesavan has a point. For millions of Indians, who have been to Mumbai and lived there for a living, it would be this railway station that would emerge as the real icon of the city. But I was surprised that even sensitive persons like writer Aravind Adiga who won the Booker Prize this year for his novel, The White Tiger, which speaks about the divide between the rural and urban India, makes the same point that Taj is the symbol of India, its icon describing it as the real public space the Indian people share. I find this as an expression of the fact that even our public discourse, where we hope to find more nuanced, balanced and more sensitive opinions, is now being monopolized by the people with middle class, English speaking, urban background. For them India means the urban, shining India.

Continuing his criticism, Mukul writes again:

English and American papers treated the terror attack as an assault on the West. The terrorists had, after all, specifically looked for American and British citizens to murder. Ironically, even as NDTV, CNN-IBN and Times Now put hotel guests at the heart of the horror and bumped train commuters to its periphery, older English-speaking peoples counted their dead and dimly regretted all Indian casualties as collateral damage. In that residual category, if nowhere else, the Indian dead remained one People.

But here I am not sure whether he is accurate or fair to the more sensible and sensitive sections of western media, some of whom were keen to uphold the tradition of objectivity and fairness in their reporting and analysis. In my earlier post on Mumbai, I spoke about New York Times, to which I had been going back almost every hour of the crisis to get a balanced view of things.

And even in covering the heroism of people on the ground, they were much better than some of the Indian newspapers and television channels. For example, it was in New York Times that I read the wonderful story of the VT station's announcer who grabbed his microphone and urged the people to back off, to leave the station through the rear gate. He was shot at by the terrorists but luckily was unhurt. The story was one of the most moving tales of heroism I have read in this entire episode. Somini Sengupta of NYT wrote it. It is possible some local newspapers originally broke the story, but the credit goes to NYT for giving it the attention it deserved globally.

As for analysis, some of the analytical pieces they gave were superb, and even after a week of shrieking and shouting and hysteria that our TV people enacted, I am yet to come across anything as nearly sensible as these ones I read in NYT.

So perhaps, while most of the western media, as Mukul alleges, might have treated us Indians collectively as collateral damage, there were exceptions even in the west and they were honourable exceptions. They are the proud inheritors of the true traditions of journalism as an ethical and conscientious calling.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Laughing Gas

Shivraj Patil Quits as Home Minister (and India Heaves a Sigh of Relief.): news

A costume drama comes to an end...!

Mumbai's Agony and Media: What 24x7 Television News Said to Us?

DURING THE three days of terror that shook Mumbai and kept India and indeed the whole world on the tenterhooks, the media had a trying time. It is not easy to be a media-person in these days, when our entire society and polity is fractured, when one has to be very cautious in each and every step, every word, because at any moment one can fall a prey to the jingoistic nationalism on the one hand or the false propaganda and rumour mills that work over time on the other.

Both traps were there in plenty in those few days of acute national attention on Hotel Taj and a few other buildings in Mumbai. Rumours flew thick and fast and at one point the news channel telecast had to be shut down for a few hours in Mumbai to prevent spread of rumours. What provoked such an action at a time when the entire nation's attention was riveted on Mumbai was the rumours that spread like wild fire that gun battle again broke out in the Chattrapathi Shivaji Railway Terminus where it all started. It was an accidental shot from a policeman's rifle that caused the trouble.

Watching the various television channels that continued to report from the courtyard of Hotel Taj for more than three days, it was evident the hundreds of media crew who had camped in the vicinity of the hotel were taking heavy risks as the battle was still raging inside. Bullets were flying thick and fast and grenades were being thrown and some of the media-persons were even hit by shrapnel.

So indeed it was a huge task, a task which the Indian television media carried out rather successfully. They were able to provide minute by minute developments 24 hours a day for more than three days. It was a herculean task no doubt.

But that is about spot reporting. Even in reporting spot developments, they were focused on the two super star hotels of Taj and Oberoy Trident and then the Nariman House where some Jews were trapped, while there was practically no follow up on what went on in other parts of the city; there was nothing about the railway station, nothing about the hospitals that were attacked, nothing about the dozens of bodies that were lying unrecognized in morgues. Nothing about the life in the city, about the virtual siege of a metropolis with more than 12 million people.

They were most often talking about those icons, and I heard Burkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai and others keep on talking about those iconic buildings. How they were the icons of emerging India, how they represented the resurgent India, how they were the torch-bearers of India of the new century.

Sometimes I thought I was now in an election campaign, where they were once again talking about the Shining India. More than four years ago, I was in Delhi when the BJP-led Vajpayee Government launched this Shining India campaign, while the majority of Indian people thought otherwise.

This divide between the India of the upper class and middle class for whom Taj is the only icon that represents India, and the poor people who commute in the suburban trains from CST was more and more evident in all the days of this television cacophony. It was much sound and fury, with little substance.

So I spent much of my time on the net even as they kept on shouting on the mini-screen, some of their voices going hoarse, for credible information on what really went wrong in Mumbai. To get things in perspective, to know why these things happened and what lies ahead. It was a horrific failure on the part of our government, our administrative services, our security forces and our secret services. It was unbelievable that such a brazen assault was possible in any country with a minimum sense of security. It was as if they just came in, shot people as they wished and took the hotels and challenged the entire nation.

I must say our national reaction too was not sober. Many people on the television channels were shouting for tough actions, for tough laws and even a police state to put an end to terror. It was evident they were raising accusing fingers at the 'other', the enemy within, the Muslims in this country even as it was more and more evident that this heinous crime was committed by outside forces. The opinions that got aired vociferously on the channels were part of a pattern that we are very familiar with nowadays.

It was also part of this pattern that Narendra Modi appeared on the Taj premises at the peak of the conflict, denouncing the government. I was overjoyed when that dignified lady, Mrs. Kavitha Karkare, wife of slain Hemanth Karkare, refused to meet this cynical gentleman from Gujarat and spurned his offer of money. She gives me hope and confidence, that despite its terrible and traumatic experiences, this great nation's soul is still intact, that no Lucifer can overpower it, even in the most trying times.

Well, I must say that among the newspapers online that I searched, the one which proved to be most credible, most reliable and with maximum information from every part of the world was the good old New York Times to which I went back on almost every hour of this crisis as one falls back on a trusted friend in the hours of crisis.