Media mumpsimus? Really, Mr Khurshid?

July 12th, 2012

Union law minister Salman Khurshid is an articulate and intelligent politician whose command over language is praiseworthy. But on Tuesday morning, he turned into an English teacher for media professionals at a press conference called by him to clarify his comments on the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. In a newspaper interview that appeared in The Indian Express the same day, Khurshid had claimed that the Congress ‘is directionless and the country has seen only cameos of Rahul Gandhi’s thoughts and ideas’.

While clarifying, he started lecturing journalists on the nuances of the English language, chided them for their linguistic recklessness, and openly stated that journalists need to change their ways and stop sticking to their mumpsimus — persistence in erroneous use of language out of habit.

Referring to his interview, Khurshid had said: “I was asked some questions and whatever I said was wrongly interpreted. If you [media] are unable to interpret statements properly, then many other issues will be discussed only within the party. Please ask the journalist what I said and what he wrote. You misinterpret and put question marks in order to run your television channels and newspapers.”

But the most interesting part was he did not deny anything that was published in the interview. And he did not do that simply because there was no misinterpretation. At the press conference, he was just trying to douse the fire caused by the his most inflammable words in the entire interview. Being a deskie for the past nine years, I know that a perspicacious and discerning news desk seldom fails to pick out the most apt quote for the headline. And that’s what happened in this case.

It is true that Indian media is often accused of being reckless in its selection of words, which, critics say, is aimed more at sensationalising news rather than disseminating information. And that may be true to an extent. For our media, which still writes headlines that read “charred to death” (death is inevitable when a body is charred), the accusations somewhat sound justified. But this is not the trend…not at least in the news report Salman Khurshid was referring to.

The problem is that Salman Khurshid does not know that the legalese and high-sounding words that the savant in him uses in his speeches and calibrated statements cannot be used by newspapers or TV channels. Media has its own ways and it sometimes goes for over-simplication of a complex term, but that does not mean that it can always be accused of frivolity, or mumpsimus. If Mr Khurshid is paying so much attention to “purity of language”, I hope he won’t mind being reminded of what George Carlin, an American satirist and author, said about language: “By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.”

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Cooking fresh mutton biryani for Mr Jundal?

June 26th, 2012

Yes, it’s time to rush to your kitchen and think of ways to cook delicious dishes for yet another special guest of our country. His Highness Zabihuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundal. Mr Jundal, an Indian Mujahideen terrorist arrested on June 25 for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, is hungry and would like us to serve him hot and fresh food. Preferably mutton biryani.

Although we do not know much about his preferences yet as far as cuisine is concerned, we should play safe and offer him biryani because his buddy, Ajmal Kasab, likes the Mughlai dish. In fact, Kasab is so fond of mutton biryani that in August 2009 he refused to eat food in jail unless he got it in his plate. An opportunity indeed for us to serve them. You won’t want to miss it, will you?

I believe we should feel lucky and privileged that the taxes we pay on our hard-earned money are being utilised for such noble purposes. I do. And so should you. Because you have no choice. It’s extremely satisfying to know that at least one tender mutton piece condescendingly consumed by Mr Kasab or Mr Jundal will be bought with my money. Ok, your money as well.

For the past many years, we have been serving the likes of Mr Kasab and Mr Afzal Guru. And now, Mr Abu Jundal has joined the VVIP club. The more the merrier, I guess. At least that is what the government and our President like to think. That explains why the club never loses any member.

Back to biryani. If you are a first-time tax payer and wondering how to cook biryani, here is the recipe: 2 cups basmati rice, 3/4 kg mutton pieces, 1/2 cup milk, 1 cup yogurt…

Hang on… why am I telling you the recipe? You can just Google it. I am getting back to work so that I get salary at the end of the month and pay tax. That’s the only way I can serve Mr Jundal and hope that the next mutton piece in his plate will be bought with my money.

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Why this madness now, Mr Sinha?

February 8th, 2012

Election fever seems to have caught up with former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, as it usually does with most politicians, prompting them to render high-decibel rants about their achievements and / or equally cacophonous and jarring criticisms of their rivals.

In Sinha’s case, it is the second weapon, so to speak that he has employed to attack on telecom minister Kapil Sibal in the Economic Times.

Here is a recap: The senior BJP leader is taking a dig at Sibal for asking his party to apologise for having wrongly accused ‘Mr Clean’ aka P Chidambaram of being directly involved in the 2G scam. Many will agree that the demand by ‘Kaabil’ Sibal is ridiculous and needs to be dealt with contempt. The BJP veteran takes a dig at ‘Kaabil’ Sibal by delivering a sarcasm-laden apology for all the wrongs of the Congress in the past 65 years, and for that ails the country since Independence.

On the surface, the former finance minister is responding to Sibal’s preposterous demand. But anyone with average intelligence will tell you that there is more to it than meets the eye. Like a shrewd politician, he has got the timing of this article right. It is election time and Uttar Pradesh, the politically most important state in the country, is going to the polls. In one single article, the BJP has attacked the entire Congress in general and ‘Kaabil’ Sibal in particular, in an apparent attempt to dilute the party’s voter loyalty.

After having completed his tirade against the Congress and the telecom minister, the infinitely wise BJP leader moves on to deliver lessons in judiciary to Justice O.P. Saini who rejected Janata Party’s chief Subramanian Swamy’s plea against Mr Clean. Then, he starts dwelling on parliamentary democracy and accountability of ministers. Ugh!

There is no problem with the essence of the article. Every word written, every allegation made and every suggestion put forward make sense. But Sinha has conveniently ignored a few laurels his own party earned during the six-year rule. For example, while talking about corruption, he does not feel the need to hang his head in shame and admit that his ex-party president Bangaru Laxman had made a mistake by accepting a bribe of Rs 1 lakh in 2001. And UTI scam, Mr Sinha? How did the UTI’s capital get reduced to Rs 50,000 crore from Rs 75,000 crore while you were the Finance Minister during the NDA rule? Sure you wouldn’t want us to go there, would you?

If he had admitted some of his party’s mistakes in the write-up, the credibility of the article would have increased manifold. But he did not have the grace to do that. Hence, one cannot help but doubt the motive of the BJP leader and his party in publishing the article with their eyes on votes, and only on votes.

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Making R-Day more relevant

January 27th, 2012

By the time I woke up on Republic Day, some part of the money I had paid as tax last year was wasted by Indian President, Pratibha Patil, on checking out well-built soldiers of armed forces that turned out in full battle regalia.

The nation did a lot to impress her: An endless procession of regiments, bands, cavalry, antiquated artillery tanks and modern missiles, interspersed with school children and tableaux. I won’t be surprised if it turns out later that some of the tanks and missiles do not even work.

It is beyond my comprehension why this elaborate extravaganza is made part of Republic Day. Such military parades used to be a regular feature of communist countries. But even they got bored of this and discontinued it long ago. For some reason, India refuses to grow in its thinking by letting this go on.

My point is that if the government really has a very compelling reason to let this continue, then the least it could do is revive the raison d’être of this custom. Originally, the parade was started to instil a feeling of pride among Indians. But now the purpose is missing. Most Indians care little about it. There are people who oppose it primarily because a substantial proportion of the armed forces budget is diverted for the preparation of this mammoth exercise. But defying all clamour, India has retained this practice. If the exercise cannot be discontinued, at least the government can make it a little more relevant.

And why only blame only the government for not thinking enough. The we-won’t-change mindset is just about everywhere. Take our TV channels for example. When I switched on the box on Republic Day, the ones that looked the most insane were the movie channels. They were all showing “patriotic” movies such as Karma,  LoC, Kargil and Gandhi. I mean, come on! Why “patriotic” movies on R-Day only? Do people really wake up on Republic Day or Independence Day with a sudden rush of patriotic fervour and take delight in watching movies in which virtuous India trounces devilish Pakistan? Isn’t that ridiculous?

But there is some history behind it. This is the Doordarshan (DD) legacy, which the new movie channels have been carrying forward. Years ago, DD would show movies with a holi song on Holi, a brother-sister love song on Raksha Bandhan. I don’t know if they still do it because I don’t watch it anymore.

Clearly, the DD guys lacked imagination and were too lazy to think of something more interesting. For them, a special telecast or programme was just about connecting an occasion with a related song in a movie. But what are these highly-paid producers of these new-age channels doing? They are just sticking to a trend set by DD many years ago. And why is that? Because breaking away from a trend would require them to use their mind. And obviously, they are too reluctant to do that.

The two instances prove at least one thing: We need to do more thinking in order to be in sync with today’s world. Things that worked well in the past may not do so in the future. And if this is the lesson each Indian has to learn then the beginning should be made first by the First Citizen of the country.

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It’s time we listened to Jairam

March 13th, 2011

jairam.jpg“NEWSALERT: Japan tsunami may spread to US, Australia; India safe”

I heaved a sigh of relief as I put this alert on the Business Standard website around 2 pm on March 11. The news surely calmed Indians even as Japan was being devastated by the country’s most powerful earthquake since records began. Hundreds of houses, fully compliant with the construction norms for quake-prone areas, were swept away by a wall of water after the 8.9-magnitude tremor. The damages suffered by Japan are incalculable, and the country might take several months before it recovers from the shocks and of course aftershocks.

Millions of people in India watched the horrific videos on TV and shuddered at the thought of facing a similar tragedy here. Nature’s ferocity and wildness was evident, and it appeared to say in a roaring voice that humans had messed with it way too much, and now it was time to pay back.

While Nature was avenging the insult and abuse it suffered at the hands of humans across the globe, the one person who came to my mind was our Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. The man, who has given a new meaning to environmental governance in India, has received accolades as well as abuses for his crusade against the factors causing damages to the environment in the name of development and economic growth.

Often, our politicians, builders and industrialists accuse him of being anti-development. Clearly, the myopic bunch does not even have the slightest clue why Ramesh takes environment more seriously than his predecessors who occupied the wallflower Environment Ministry. Most of them just dismiss his objections as mere political gimmicks. But the live video of the earthquake and the tsunami that vociferously invaded Japan should beat some sense into the heads Jairam-bashers that the man’s words should be taken far more seriously. It has to be understood with absolute clarity that environmental abuse is far worse than terrorism, and it should be avoided at any cost. If the messages to save the environment continue to be ignored, the day is not far when India will have to face the wrath of the Nature in the manner witnessed in Japan.

So, let’s stop and listen to what Jairam and other environmentalists have to say. If steps to prevent environmental damages are not taken in time, it will be too late, and when Japan-like calamities knock on our doors, we will have nowhere to hide. Everything acquired at the expense of the Nature will be annihilated by Her in the most brutal manner.

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