We are what we speak

January 27th, 2013

Some weeks ago, while getting a flat tyre fixed at a petrol pump, I saw a middle-aged, and a rather distinguished-looking, gentleman walk up to a mechanic. It was a cold winter morning and he was wearing a hat and a red muffler. Perhaps he had come from one of the upscale localities near which this petrol pump was located. He looked like he belonged to Delhi’s educated and upwardly-mobile world.

These thoughts flashed in my mind as thoughts are wont to do and then other thoughts – of the many that keep our minds occupied during the course of the day – took over. Suddenly, an obscene abuse shouted out loud in Hindi interrupted everything and everybody at that petrol pump. All eyes turned to the source of the profanity. It was that man in the hat and the muffler – that ‘educated’, ‘civilised’ man. Expletives were pouring out of his mouth and the target of the cuss words was the mechanic who had messed up his car. The abuses that the man was shouting were aimed at the mechanic’s mother and sister. We all know those. We’ve heard them hundreds of times – on the streets, in shops, and in the movies. They are blurted out without a thought, sometimes even by us.

This incident at the petrol pump took place less than a month after the brutal rape of a 23-year-old in Delhi. The man in the hat was probably among those who had followed her story with horror and anger. And yet, here he was standing in a public place and shouting out expletives degrading to women.

In doing so, he displayed the attitude we as a society collectively have towards women. Even in our choice of expletives, we refer to the mother or the sister. When we want to hit out at a man, we will go for profanities targeted at the women in his house. It’s disturbing how often we hear such expletives today.

I remember the time when Shekhar Kapur’s film, Bandit Queen, on the life of Phoolan Devi hit theatres. There was immense curiosity about the film. Cinema halls were choc-a-bloc. The one I went to in Chandigarh had mostly students. Anybody who’s familiar with Chandigarh would know that this is a city where people choose to be proper. Life is easy and the reasons for losing your cool or abusing are few. And if you do abuse in public, you’re bound of invite several disapproving looks from the elderly uncles and aunties who are found in good measure in Chandigarh. Back in 1994, when the film was released, the city was even tamer and majority of the young folk minded their language. Bandit Queen, which is loaded with cuss words, soon had the women in the hall cringing. Given the subject and her life, I cannot imagine how else Shekhar Kapur could have delivered this brilliant film. So the movie wasn’t the problem. The problem was what I witnessed after the film. As they got out of the hall, the young men – mostly students from Chandigarh’s well-to-do, educated families – went berserk shouting profanities. They abused as they kick-started their scooters and bikes. They abused as they drove away. They abused as they crossed the women on their way. It was horrifying. All it had taken was a 119-minute film to cut through what was socially acceptable and have men switch over to the other side. In less than two hours, the film had shattered the veneer of decency which the society had been living with.

If I were to watch Bandit Queen with the same set of people today, I’m not sure the women would cringe the way they did then or the men would get out of the hall and shout out the expletives to celebrate their freedom from social and moral barriers. There’s no novelty associated with these expletives anymore. We hear them all too often now. And so we’ve progressed.

A behind-the-scenes video of Jackie Shroff which recent went viral on Facebook and Twitter shows just how far we’ve come. In this 1998 video, the actor is shooting for a pulse polio awareness advertisement in Hindi and Marathi. He keeps getting stuck on the sentences and rolls out a string of expletives degrading women. He does it again and again to the point that it is utterly disgusting. Yet, the social media was delighted and celebrated this video by posting it over and over again. Some serious news channels also carried the story and labelled Shroff’s obscene tirade as “hilarious abuses”. The man, instead of being censured for spewing such profanity, was suddenly back to being a hero.

If this is the way we are, then how can we as a people who allow or participate in such obscenity then turn around and put all the blame on the governments and the authorities when women get targeted? How much can things change until we change ourselves?

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Censor censorship

July 28th, 2012

The government has done it yet again. It has found another target for censorship. This time it’s a particular video work which was being shown at an exhibition in the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

Titled “I Love My India,” the video by Mumbai-based artist Tejal Shah is about the 2002 Gujarat carnage. It is nine years old and has already been shown several times at exhibitions in India, London, Oslo, Rome and Lyon. But now suddenly the ministry of external affairs has asked the Beijing gallery to censor the art show. Once again, this knee-jerk reaction of the government to what clearly violates the Right to Freedom of Expression, guaranteed under Article 19(1) (A) of the Constitution, has caused a lot of disappointment and dismay. The art world, including Ram Rahman, Dayanita Singh, Bharti Kher, Subodh Gupta and Devika Daulet Singh, has already written an open letter of protested.

We pride ourselves for upholding the freedom of speech and expression, yet we have a sorry history of censorship. We all know that one of the darkest examples of it was in 1975. But the history of censorship dates back much earlier. One of the earliest examples of it was a film called Karma. A pre-Independence movie released in 1933, this had a rather long and passionate kissing scene between Devika Rani and her screen lover and real-life husband Himanshu Rai. Devika Rani incidentally was the first recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. And what a brouhaha that liplock caused. National debates broke out on the content of cinema and for decades after the release of Karma, the kiss disappeared from the screen.

In the 80 years since, we have only moved backwards. Days before Tejal Shah’s video controversy erupted, Google reported that Internet censorship from India was up by 49 per cent in the second half of last year. Goggle had logged 255 instances of India asking for censorship of online content. In all, the Internet giant had received 1,000 such demands from governments around the world. So, India made for 25.5 per cent of these demands! In its transparency report, Goggle said India had sought the blockage of 133 YouTube videos, 10 of which were made on national security considerations (which we could perhaps grant as justified) 77 on defamation (rather arbitrary), 26 web searches and 49 blogs.

Some time back, while debating the attack on freedom of speech on the web in India, Arun Jaitley had said: “The days of censorship, the days of withholding back information are all over. I always believe that if the Internet had been in existence, the internal Emergency of 1975 would have been a big fiasco… Therefore, these institutions which have come up by virtue of technology have a great role to play.” This said, he also pointed to the dangers – of hate speeches, objectionable content and information that could create religious hatred or trigger violence appearing on sites. This, he said, could be objected to. Fair enough. But the most critical part of his speech was this: “The difficulty will arise … if the kind of information which is sought to be objected to and removed is too wide, and then becomes a threat to free speech.”

This is precisely what is happening. Not just in the case of the Internet, but also in films, as well as the art and literary world. Take the example Rockstar in which director Imtiaz Ali had to blur the ‘Free Tibet’ banner which was in the background of one of the songs. He had to do this on the orders of the Censor Board of Film Certificate. The scene appeared in theatres with the ugly blurred patch in the background. People who perhaps wouldn’t even have notice the flag otherwise noticed the blur. They talked about it and the banner which the government so wanted to underplay.

So where do we draw the line? “Free Tibet” protests are a reality. They exist, whatever be our political equations with China. Should no Indian artist or filmmaker dare to portray them in any form in our films because it will disturb our relationship with China? China is not known to be the shining example of a country that respects freedom of speech or expression. And it makes no pretence of being one. But we are. Or at least we would like to believe we are. Which is why, we cannot afford to have two sets of rules. And we cannot waiver every time we are confronted with a situation where external influences, from within and outside the country, are expecting us to push for censorship. Films, art and books have always mirrored social, political and economic issues and realities. And they will always do it. There will always be something which will rock the boat.

As Indians, we have a much bigger responsibility of upholding the spirit of freedom. We know what freedom means, we’ve earned it the hard way. Which is why we cannot put a limit on how free freedom of speech and expression can be.

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Bothersome buzz

February 21st, 2012

Some days back I had a blast from the past. And it did not bring with it any sense of nostalgia. Only horror. The phone beeped to say that I had a message. As I unsuspectingly entered the inbox, this is what jumped out at me:

“Ultimate hair loss treatment. Organic hair oils wid (sic) magnetic formula for baldness, dandruff, hair loss, insomnia. Instant results guaranteed.”

In one grammatically-challenged sentence, the bliss of the last few months was shattered. I had quite forgotten about telemarketing SMSes and their nuisance value. Since September 2011, when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) enforced strict regulations on unsolicited telemarketing calls and SMSes, such calls and messages had practically disappeared. The order had brought instant relief to over 85 crore mobile subscribers across the country. It was wonderful.

In hindsight, I should have known that it was only a matter of time before the enterprising Indians with their repertoire of hair oils that can spring a fertile jungle on a bald patch, magnetic earrings that can make you lose 20 kilograms in a month or quick courses that can make you a better orator than Obama found a way around these regulations. Trust the Indian jugaad to open new gateways.

The earliest warning that the telemarketers weren’t about to throw in the towel yet came in the form on an SMS from a number prefixed with a code that clearly wasn’t from anywhere in India. Of course! They were transmitting the messages via an SMS gateway from UK to skirt the regulation. All they had to do was send an email through a particular email address and have it arrive as a text message on someone’s phone. It was so foolishly simple to use this mail-to-SMS gateway service – number@SMS-gateway. Our determined telemarketing companies made the most of it.

And now, even this front has been dropped. Having tested the waters and having emerged unscathed, the telemarketers are almost back to the frantic pace they maintained before they were abruptly brought to a halt by spoilsport Trai. In a span of 24 hours, I have received about nine SMSes about dream houses at dream locations. Here’s a sample:

“Gurgaon property ¾ BHK with 7 acre park.”

“Dream houses at Noida near proposed metro. Construction in full swing.”

“Farmhouse with cricket stadium, swimming pool and government electric Phase II launch.” (Duh!)

“Luxury apartments from co-developers of an xyz mall in Delhi.”

“Property bhi aapki, rent bhi aapka.” (Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?)

As expected, real estate agents/promoters are taking the lead, yet again, in bombarding one and all with their “do-not-miss-this-opportunity” claims. But they aren’t the only ones. Along with the property SMSes, these are some others which I have had to suffer in a day.

“Scared of Facing d Public? Public Speaking, Prsntation Skills. Cours startng in Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad and Gurgaon.”

“Reduce fat up to 5 kg pm (100% result). Ayurvedic product or money back. Gurantee no excise [they obviously mean exercise] no side efeect (sic).”

“Free workshop on Image Management and Body Shape Analysis”

About two years ago, in August 2010, an unsolicited telemarketing call to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had sent the then telecom minister, A Raja, swinging into action to put a lid on such an invasion. The minister was in a crucial meeting with political leaders to resolve the standoff over the price rise debate in Parliament when he got a call from a finance company offering him a home loan. A visibly angry Mukherjee said, “No, no, not now. I am in a meeting” and then cut the call. He then told the curious gathering that he received about four or five such calls every day.

About a year after that fateful call, Trai issued the regulations and the telemarketers went into their shell. There they sat, biding their time, waiting for things to cool down. And now they are back. I wish one of them would call Mukherjee again. The timing is perfect. Budget is round the corner and he’s bound to be as busy as can be. One home loan or property sale phone call will be enough to ignite his famous temper. And peace will prevail once more.

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Where is my river?

January 12th, 2012

This side of the river. And that side of the river. For many of us in Delhi, the Yamuna is an important reference point. It comes up in our conversations every now and then when speaking about locations or when giving directions. But unfortunately, that’s all that the river has become – a mere reference point, a meandering blue line that runs through one corner on the map of Delhi. The river is not really in our thoughts. It’s just there, an ugly, polluted ordeal that we have to deal with during rush hour.

Why just the Yamuna? Most major rivers in our country, the lifelines around which ancient civilisations thrived, are no longer part of our lives. Driving around Delhi, dealing with the chaos and the blaring horns, does the thought ever occur that there is a very alive river flowing through the city? Are tourists who come from across the world for the ‘Incredible India’ experience and have Old Delhi, with its choked lanes and innumerable sounds and flavours on their don’t-miss list, ever tempted to make it to the banks of the Yamuna to enjoy a quiet evening out? What would it be like to go boating in the Yamuna? Or canoeing? Or fishing on a sunny winter day? Or bird watching? Given the state of the river, these are unthinkable thoughts.

In few other countries would a river that offers such immense possibilities and opportunities be so blatantly mistreated. Take the Thames, for example. There are over 200 rowing clubs on the river. Kayaking and canoeing are popular and so are events such as the Thames Meander that involves rowing, swimming in the river and/or running along it. Let alone such sports, can one even think of taking a stroll by the Yamuna?

Some months ago, an art project, which was incidentally organised in collaboration with the Delhi government, did try to draw attention to the Yamuna and make the people of the city aware of the forgotten river. Cultural shows were organised. Art exhibitions were held. Every possible effort was made to draw people to the banks of the great river. It was a good idea and a great starting point for the government. If only it had the will to make this a sustainable exercise and develop the riverfront. The way things are today, the river is barely visible even from any of the bridges that connect the two parts of Delhi, on this side of the river and that.

While the forgotten river sits right under our noses, cocking a snook at us for our shortsightedness, we find ourselves lured by property developers who promise to create riverside and seaside experiences for us for a few crores. And foolish as we are, we continue to ignore what is real and instead chase the unnatural for a similar experience. So, the Yamuna continues to remain one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Despite the Yamuna Action Plan which was initiated in the early 1990s and the crores of rupees that have been washed down the river, the water body is a mess. Three years ago, in 2009, the government admitted in the Lok Sabha that despite the Yamuna Action Plan, the river was no cleaner than it was 20 years ago.

The river of great opportunities is today Delhi’s biggest dumping ground. Delhi throws close to 60 per cent of its waste into the Yamuna. The question is: how to reclaim the river from the city?

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Put a stamp on it

November 21st, 2011

Some time ago, a friend who had just started collecting stamps lamented how bland Indian stamps were as compared to the ones brought out by most other countries. Surely India, with its wealth of history, colours and cultures, couldn’t make for a dull subject. And what a pity if the Indian postal department had failed to celebrate this country. Curiosity led me to the India Post website – something I, like many others like me, have never quite given a thought, even though our growing up years wouldn’t have been the same had it not been for the Indian postal service.

And what a treasure I stumbled upon. Of course there were the usual dull brown, the sickly yellow and the faded green stamps. But there was also a lot more: the history of India through its stamps, the events, moments and landmarks that have made and defined India and Indians, and the people who have been part of our lives through it all. Among the commemorative postage stamps issued in 2001 was a set of four stamps based on stories from Panchatantra. Another one was on Raj Kapoor, released on his birth anniversary (December 14), that captured three characters, including those from Mera Naam Joker and Aawara, played by the legendary actor. And one of V Shantaram which immortalised his character in Do Aankhen Barah Haath.

Two years later, the department issued stamps as a tribute to some of the country’s finest singers – Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar. The play of light which was so crucial in Guru Dutt’s films is also visible in the stamp brought out in his memory in 2004. Bimal Roy, S D Burman, Ritwik Ghatak, Bismillah Khan, Madhubala, all of them have a stamp to their name. And each of them is worth possessing. The 2006 series on ‘Stop Child Labour’, the 2007 series on the landmark bridges of India (Howrah, Mahatma Gandhi Setu, Pamban Bridge) and the series on Rajasthan’s Pushkar fair are not just stamps; these are storyboards.

But perhaps the most significant of the lot is the story of the Indian freedom struggle through its stamps, starting from the uprising of 1857. Sepoy Mangal Pande of the 5th Company, 34th Native Infantry, looks out of a stamp. In another stamp, Rani Laxmibai, the woman who was described by a British general as “the only man among the rebels”, is astride her horse, sword in hand. Kunwar Singh, nearly eighty and ailing when he took up arms against the British, a couplet by the last Mughal Emperor and poet Bahadur Shah Zafar, Tatya Tope, who led the revolt against the British in Bundelkhand, Awadh’s Begum Hazarat Mahal who took control of Lucknow during the revolt of 1857, Rani Avantibai, the queen of Ramgarh (Madhya Pradesh) who led her forces to reclaim her land from the British in 1857 – they are all there with the story of India’s fight for Independence.

No, Indian stamps do not lack colour. In fact, they go much beyond the colour and into stories that some people remember to this day. I wonder, though, if decades from now the stamps to commemorate Commonwealth Games 2010 will also tell a story. Only, I doubt if many people would want to remember that story.

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Finders keepers

October 5th, 2011

Last week, there was a small newspaper report about the discovery of the wreckage of a British cargo ship which had sunk in icy waters in the North Atlantic during the Second World War. The ship, S S Gairsoppa, was on its way from Calcutta to England in 1941 when it was torpedoed. It sank in 20 minutes flat. And with it sank the 240 tonnes of silver estimated to be worth £155million now. For the last 70 years, the ship has been sitting 4,700 metres below the sea some 300 miles from Ireland. US-based salvage firm Odyssey Marine Exploration, which discovered the ship, will keep 80 per cent of the find when it retrieves the treasure. That’s its contract with the UK government which it says is “desperately looking for new sources of income” and has asked it to find more such British wrecks.

It’s fascinating to think that a government would resort to treasure hunts to boost its economy. But then who minds a little bit of treasure, especially if it’s just lying around waiting to be discovered. A lot of companies in the world have been dedicating their time and resources to such treasure hunts. According to UNESCO, over three million shipwrecks are scattered across the ocean bed. While not all of these doomed ships carried precious cargo, there are plenty that did. Hundreds of these ships, if found, could reveal the history of the time they belonged to; they could give an insight into the trade during that period and a sense of the explorations and the wars carried out over centuries. Several marine salvage firms like Odyssey which specifically go after prized ships are armed not just with technicians but also have on board teams of archaeologists, researchers and scientists. The chain of events that their finds sometimes trigger is quite interesting to sit back and watch.

In 2007, an ownership dispute erupted over a ship which Odyssey found in the Atlantic Ocean and codenamed ‘The Black Swan’. The firm retrieved its treasure of 500,000 silver coins (weighing 17 tonnes), hundreds of gold coins and several other artifacts – the largest ever collection of coins salvaged from an ocean site. The valuables were taken to the United States and have since been kept in an undisclosed location. It wasn’t long before Spain filed claims to the treasure and accused the company of stripping the gravesite of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a Spanish vessel which had gone down in 1804. A back and forth has since been going on in court. While Odyssey says it will continue to “vigorously defend” its right to what it has legally recovered and that the coins will remain in its custody during the appeals process, Spain argues that it considers the site an underwater cemetery which contains the human remains of its sailors. With that it has wonderfully countered Odyssey’s argument that Spain hadn’t bothered about the shipwreck site until now but has suddenly woken up to stake claim after the treasure has been retrieved. It practically called the firm a grave digger when its lawyer said, “People have this idea of treasure hunters as glamorous. But if it involves going down to a gravesite and taking someone’s wedding ring, it’s a different kind of thing.”

In the middle of all this, Peru too has filed a claim. Several descendants of sailors who were said to be transporting the treasure have turned up for their share.

Coming back to where we started. S S Gairsoppa, the latest find, was carrying treasures from India to the British Empire. So far, the deal is clear: 80 per cent for Odyssey and 20 per cent for UK. There is one question though: Where did that wealth which is going to be neatly split between the salvager and the one-time empire on which the sun never set come from? India?

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The specialists

September 1st, 2011

It is not every day that I find myself sitting in an autorickshaw with six other people, two large bags containing merchandise and a camera. But what we witnessed in the last couple of weeks in Delhi was anything but an everyday occurrence. Besides, the situation that I, along with one more reporter and our cameraperson, was in in that autorickshaw, which had somehow also accommodated three roadside vendors and the autorickshaw driver, was in no way as uncomfortable as the one several people inside Parliament were facing.

We were outside Ramlila Maidan where Anna Hazare’s fast had entered the tenth day when sudden rain had us making a dash for the autorickshaw. Three vendors whom we had been speaking to about the fly-by-night economy that had sprung up around the protest followed us into this shelter-on-wheels. As we talked about their makeshift business – they were selling Anna caps, flags, badges, wristbands etc – the power of the focused, super-specialised enterprises hit home. These are fascinating businesses, small but immensely successful.

A walk through the congested lanes of Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar, the largest wholesale market in Asia, was a revelation. Could businesses get more focused than this? Some tiny shops here sell only soap – branded, non-branded, with and without wrappers, and of all possible colours lined neatly on the shelves. Another shop right next to it sells only detergents. Yet another is lined from the floor to the ceiling with pasta and macaroni of every imaginable shape. Cooking oil, vanaspati, coconut oil, mustard oil, sunflower oil, soya bean oil, oil in tins, bottles, pouches, oil sold open – the variety in one shop is almost sickening.

But how much can you make when you narrow down your options to this degree? You’ll be surprised, the shopkeepers in the congested part of Old Delhi said. Most of the shopkeepers here, I was told, are “crorepatis”. It’s kind of tough to swallow that a person can be raking in moolah when all he’s doing is selling kites all year round, or for that matter flags or macaroni. But then it’s not easy to fathom the speed at which the wheels spin in this specialised market. Most wholesalers are also the manufacturers of their specialised product. Busy as they are from morning to night, a majority of them have no time to stop and talk to anybody in peace. It’s fascinating to see the electrifying atmosphere around these people almost all of whom do business while sitting on a mat on the floor of the shop. At any given point of time, they are talking simultaneously to about half a dozen people – retailers, manufacturers, craftsmen, customers, vendors. Small is clearly big here.

Away from this dizzying experience, in more sanitised environments, similar specialised businesses have and are flourishing. Sometime in 1959, an Italian cabinet maker’s son decided to break away from his father and started his own range of sofas and armchairs. The man, Pasquale Natuzzi, is today known as the ‘king of sofas’ with his creations selling for up to over Rs 3 lakh. Closer home, a super-focused business which has been part of our lives is that of the Harrison locks. For over 50 years now the company has been making locks – a product seemingly small but something everybody needs.

If I were to think of the minutest, and on the face of it most insignificant, example of such a business, the one person who comes to mind is a scrawny, elderly man on a bicycle who comes into my colony every week. All he sells is saag leaves, spinach, mustard, hak (kashmiri saag) and Bengali saag. He is not a very congenial person and speaks rather brusquely. But every time they hear him call out, people listen and step out to buy what he’s offering. That’s the power of a specialist.

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In the wrong spirit

July 22nd, 2011

What is it about the United Spirits spoof on the Seagram Royal Stag advertisement featuring a Harbhajan lookalike that really pushes the boundaries of decency? After all, by now we are all used to brands taking potshots at their competitors. And we’ve quite enjoyed some of the creative strategies that have played out in these ad wars. It’s been fun to watch Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Nestlé and Cadbury, Sprite and Mountain Dew, Set Wet Zatak and Axe, and several others trying to pull the rug from below each other’s feet. But what Vijay Mallya’s United Spirits has done in its commercial for McDowell’s No. 1 Platinum is different and calls for some serious thinking.

For one, in all the above examples it was one brand pitched against the other. The joke was on the product, never on a person or, worse, his background. A quick recap of the two ads: The Royal Stag advertisement shows Harbhajan Singh opting for cricket instead of working in his father’s ball bearing manufacturing unit in Jalandhar and finally thinking aloud, “Have I made it large?” The spoof shows a Harbhajan lookalike making giant ball bearings, the size of gym balls, on his first day at his father’s factory and then asking, “Have I made it large?” In walks his father and gives him one slap across his cheek and says, “You were supposed to make ball bearings, not cannon balls.” The next shot shows Team India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who’s sitting in a swanky restaurant, saying, “Forget large, do something different.” The spoof might have been funny had Harbhajan’s story not been the story of his life.

I got to speak with Harbhajan Singh briefly soon after he scored two centuries in the India-New Zealand Test series in November 2010. The bowler had made history by becoming the first batsman at number 8 position to score consecutive Test centuries. During the interview conducted over the phone from an airport while he was waiting for his flight, Harbhajan said it was his father who had encouraged him to chase his dream of becoming a cricketer. Harbhajan has five sisters and comes from a modest family. Yet, his said, his father gave him the courage to follow his passion rather than take over an established family business which was small, but assured security. He also spoke of the dilemma he faced between cricket and the family business at the young age of 20 when his father died.

Should any brand be allowed to mock all this in its attempt to take on a rival? Is all fair, really, in love, war and advertising? I hope not. The ad ends up making fun not just of Harbhajan but also of his dead father.

Coming from where he does, Harbhajan has “made it large”. And so has Dhoni. The Indian cricket team captain who is listed by Time  magazine among the world’s 100 most influential people was also born into a modest family in Jharkhand where his father had shifted to from Uttarakhand in search of a job. The two great cricketers who have been pitched against each other in the advertisement chose to “do something different” and “made it large”. The taglines of both the brands in the surrogate ads apply to them both. So it’s really unfortunate that Dhoni should be part of this. Though he has said that he wasn’t aware of the line the advertisement was taking, that’s a bit difficult to believe. But if he really didn’t, then that is highly irresponsible for a person who comes across as a well-rounded, conscientious and clear-thinking individual. The Rs 26-crore, three-year deal that Dhoni has signed with United Spirits Ltd does not compel him to give the company the right to compromise on that image.

We shouldn’t need rules or guidelines to keep a check on something like this. A little bit of sensitivity from the advertisers would do. And the realisation that between the two, making it large carries more weight than doing something different, especially if the difference is at someone’s expense.

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