Saturday, February 9, 2008

These Times in Hindustan...

Our monthly paper bill is Rs. 273/- . For TOI (that includes the Mumbai Mirror tabloid), Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Economic Times... in short, with the thickness of pages nowadays, a significant amount of newsprint to be able to sell to the raddi-wala.

The thing is : this entire thappi of papers, I find, I can skim through in five minutes. Seriously.

Ind. Exp. we keep because I used to quite like the editorials. Now I increasingly find this is so with HT instead. Today's 'paper actually had a lot of food for thought. On various angles, and not just some 'issue of the day' like the kidney racket or something... Many are mediated - in other words, representing another (not the writer's) point of view, but made the richer, for drawing us - the reader -'s attention to it...

The Faithscape page held me... as Renuka Narayan replicates a poem written by Lance Naik Sukhwinder Singh, the first liver recipient of AORTA. To quote her: Here's how the young soldier thinks of the dead lady whose liver now keeps him alive and fit. Calling his poem Jigar Ki Dhadkan

Khushkismat hoon main ki mamta ke aanchal mein jee raha hoon,
Tootne lage the jo sapne dil ke, un sapnon ko phir se see raha hoon,
Ek maa hai jisne janam diya aur laad pyaar se paala hai,
Ek maa hai jisne jeevan diya aur girte hue samhala hai,
Apna jigar ki dhadkan dekar so gayi sitaaron mein
Bhool na paoon kabhi main unko chamak rahi jo taaron mein
Aasmaan ke taraf dekh ke ghoont sabr ka peeta hoon,
khushkismat hoon main ki.....

RN also writes an aside on Uddhav (eeks - not the Shiv Sena variety - the original one) as he brings a message from Krishna to Radha, in her other article on the same page. Uddhav feels awkward at having no real message to deliver, and fakes one up.

And then there is Khushwant Singh. Again, what spellbinds my attention is his quote - of Kuldip Salil's translation of Ghalib...

Dair nahin, harum nahin, dar nahin, aastaan nahin,
Baithey Hue raah-guzar pe hum, koi hamein uthaye kyon.
(No home, no hearth for us, no temple, no mosque,
Why should anyone remove us from one thoroughfare, can we ask)

And ultimately, there is Barkha Dutt with her article 'Disadvantage Sania'. Lucidly put and clearly point-put-forth, it is a joy to read. It highlights our peculiar Indian love-hate relationships, that swing between adulation and annoyance. Her analysis of what exactly makes people so uncomfortable. She highlights how the visible women in sports hold up a mirror to both our prejudices as well as our changing attitudes. She calls it a mixture of 'breathless awe' and 'bewildered fright'. How we would rather do with the sentimental do-goods of fiction than the messy reality of fact. The article - I think I said this already, but what the heck, let me just say it again - is simply brilliant.

Must say, sometimes when I watch 'We, The People' am filled with misgivings at the thought of the way the media - including Barkha - perpetrates the sensational stuff of the moment. Once I had the (mis)fortune of being sent as an 'expert' to the show by one of my corporate clients to defend their position on a certain brand. It was quite an intriguing experience seeing the episode from the inside out. I recall being totally taken aback and alarmed at the deference with which I was ushered in the NDTV offices at New Delhi into a 'special room' - as one of the key 'experts' of the day along with stalwarts such as Dipankar Gupta, Balki etc. where each of us virajmaaned with our own individual halos of importance (separate from 'we, the people' the hoi polloi that we were kept away from, till we reached the actual 'set').

And the main HT editorial today, highlights the plight of Indians who get hospitalized. Apparently, a quarter of all those hospitalized every year, slip below the poverty line for medical expenses for which they are not insured. Falling ill means entering into an unending debt trap.

In the past two years, while I have pursued my 'course-work' in sociology leading up to the actual PhD fieldwork, have often added to my growing list of topics I could have covered (but ultimately have not) for my dissertation. One has been the whole 'moneylender' thing in India... how come so many of the unscrupulous ones survive and thrive, and where the bloody hell is the 'State' in all these dealings, and why does it prefer to look away...

Vibhu (Mittal) and we have been having this conversation recently ... He is on a sabbatical right now from Google, and while he is busy being (what he calls) Mr. Mom ! , while wife Sujata helps run the company HP in Palo Alto where they reside, we are having this sporadic chat regarding publications - how they are disappearing from the West, and simply snowballing in India. Earlier I had sent in this essay by Ruchir Goswami, a classmate in the 'Culture & Media' sessions, who has done a halt-in-the-tracks analysis of the diversity of publications that come out in IITB versus those in Harvard, as written by students... At Harvard, students have carte blanche, while in IITB, any masala has to be whetted by the DOSA - Dean of Students Affairs...

Since we are talking media out here, let me speak of an Urdu sammelan recently, and cut-paste from my chat mail here:
...I was attending a talk as part of an Urdu Sammelan (lest you wonder where all i go - this was at Solapur, and of interest to me as part of the changing 'Public Culture' space being created in liberalized small town India)... and the speaker - an erudite and extremely articulate editor from Hyderabad was rueing the fact that readership in Urdu is completely dying off - and the culprit is not just the content, it is also the style - they cannot afford to print in color, nor can they bring out the latest in fashion in print : 'glazed paper'.... A huge part of the 45,000 figure you mention (Vibhu had said : On a larger level, that figure is inverted: the US has 1500 newspapers versus 45,000 for India. I wonder if this just reflects the fact that the IITs (or maybe IITB) is not a reflection of the larger Indian demographic at all?) ...., are folks doing it dedicatedly, as part of some inner-directed goal of 'wanting to make a difference'. Like this Urdu ed said, 'We are not just the editors, we are the owners, we are the jamaadar who sweeps the floor, we are the watchman, we are the peons'.

... Actually, IITians just adore and devour all that is published locally. The point Ruchir is making is that the authorities refuse to recognize this is important, and one has to scrounge out time to do these 'extra curricular activities' in the literal sense of the word. In that sense, the campus is as much a reflection of the larger Indian demographic... in the sense of working within impossible constraints, and still bringing out the papers against all odds..

Like all staid media articles, let me also end on a good note (why can't we end with anger????) - Of eleven month old baby Kyson Stowell (Fate names us well!) surviving a twisted tornado and its debris.

And this faith - that the nextgen deserves the best - will keep us all going on, in life. Or to go back to the RN article, Radha laughs, for the words when they reach her, read 'Uddhav has not finished his learning yet'. Shocked, he seeks an explanation.... 'I am one with Krishna. I don't need a letter from Him. He himself is my love letter'. It is the realization that Uddhav figures - a village woman has understood the nature of faith better than he had, particularly faith in oneself, that comes from a secure belief in one's soul connection with all Creation!

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