Archive for November, 2009

Reality farce

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 November 25th, 2009 Sarmistha NeogySarmistha Neogy

Marketing guru Jack Trout aptly called it the ‘tyranny of choice’. You visit a superstore to buy something specific but invariably come out with more stuff than you really need or can handle, simply because the merchandise displayed on the shelves screams at you in various colours in order to grab your attention. So many goodies, don’t know what to buy, so let me pick up as much as my pocket allows. Fine, but you soon find out that half the stuff is worth less than a quarter of what was paid to acquire it.

Pretty much the same with television these days, isn’t it? I’m talking of the garbage that has given itself a fancy nomenclature — Reality shows. So much of, ahem, reality happening on the idiot box, you just can’t figure out how to insult your intelligence. If money limited your choices at the superstore, the remote control does that in the drawing room.

Take one of the more recent and, the more “top-of-the mind”, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar. Can’t imagine how NDTV Imagine pulled off a 6.3 TVR when the grand finale was aired. Surely, viewers weren’t so dumb as to believe she was going to tie the knot. Was the sheer excitement of watching an in-the-news-for-all-the-wrong-reasons ‘item girl’ garland an egg-faced businessman called Elesh Parunjanwala too tempting, then? How much more fun watching the ‘newly-weds’ cope with the challenges and frustrations of married life in full public view?

Not to be outdone, another reality farce, Pati Patni Aur Woh, merrily plagiarises from international show Baby Borrowers to show the pains, pangs and pleasures of parenthood from childbirth to adolescence.

Which pea-brained girl would ever vie for alleged wife-basher and dope-downer Rahul Mahajan as a husband? Yet the man whose actual marriage ended in a controversial and well-publicised divorce had 15,000, yes, 15,000 results thrown up on google for Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayenge — that’s a cool 40 per cent more than Rakhi ka Swayamvar.

Reality doesn’t always dwell on oomph or scandal value as in Sawant and Mahajan.
Hero Honda Dadagiri 2 thrives on the bizarre to grab eyeballs. Contestants are made to do outrageously filthy /dangerous things such as digging out coins from a heap of hot coals, gobbling insects and dunking themselves in a barrel full of glue. All through the ordeal, they are abused and hooted at by the hosts. The losers don’t just forgo the Rs 10 lakh prize money but also suffer the ignominy of having dung smeared on their faces. A friend who is a part of the production team once told me, “Our team will be happy if someone actually dies while doing these odd jobs.”

The much hyped Sach Ka Saamna, an adaptation of the world-famous reality show ‘Moment of Truth’ ended abruptly on September 18 because of numerous controversies. The show came under the scrutiny of the Parliament for coercing contestants to wash the dirty linen in public for a top prize Rs 1 crore, which nobody eventually got. 

If UK has Big Brother, we’re not far behind with Big Boss 3. Wasn’t it fun damaging your sensibilities watching self-proclaimed actor, director and writer (haha), Kamal Khan trying to hog the limelight, flaunting his wealth, riding rough shod over co-contestants and finally getting booted out a la Jade Goody?  I know, I know, he back. Big deal. Anyways, this show too walked into trouble with the satraps at the I&B Ministry for ‘offending good taste’ and using vulgar language.

My guess is reality shows catch your fancy for being out-of-the-ordinary, not extraordinary. They invariably fail to create a long-term impact as they are remembered not for their concept (which is stale and often borrowed) but for the numerous controversies they brew. An overdose of reality shows and the eventual saturation is lost on the channels as they race to garner as much TRPs as they can, longevity be damned.

News channels too have joined the bandwagon as they give, and most probably get paid for, minute-by-minute update of these shows on their channel.

Unfortunately, there is a huge psychological downside to this brand of entertainment. Sixteen-year old Shinjini Sengupta, a class-XI student of Kolkata turned into a vegetable after she was shown the door in the elimination round of a show on a Bengali channel.
In extreme cases viewers begin to identify themselves with the participants, as was the case with a 32-year-old woman who committed suicide after watching the final episode of Sach ka Saamna. There were also news reports of couples who started doubting the fidelity of their spouses after only watching, and not participating in, this show.
Worse, these shows have now begun enticing children to participate and parents are only too eager to see their wards on the idiot box for the fame and money they can bring.

The bottom line is that if you get a raw deal at the superstore, at the very worst, you won’t go there again and probably dissuade your friends from patronizing it too. Reality shows, on the other hand, work like opium. You know they’re bad, you know some legitimize sleaze, you know others encourage peeping-tom tendencies, but you still watch. Worse still, that is exactly why you watch.

Jitters at Jhitka

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 November 24th, 2009 Devjyot Ghoshal

A strange sense of foreboding envelopes you as the car races into the forests of Jhikta, on the way to Lalgarh. After passing through seemingly peaceful villages interrupted by a smattering of paramilitary forces, the rising tree line of the notorious woods remind you of the terrain where the country’s most perilous insurgency survives and thrives.

Rows of verdantly gaunt Sal trees rise from above a thick undergrowth. The sonorous ring of the forests’ name and the half-hearted expectation to be accosted by the now-famous Lalgarh Naxals rattle relentlessly inside your head. As the cool November wind whips by, you peer into the trees, hoping to catch a glimpse of a covered gunman or two. But the forest recedes as quickly as it begins.

In Lalgarh proper, though, the reality is obvious. The state is limping and despair is growing. The security forces are holed up in their yet-to-be-completed station on the outskirts of Lalgarh town. The liquor shop facing the police station declares the end of this little oasis, often visited by scribes. The rest seems almost inconsequential in its existence.

From there on, the long arm of the law might as well be severed. On the potholed road that leads to Kantapahari and then onto Goaltore, the isolation appears complete.

In the hamlets that line the road, life continues. But beyond the fields that follow the administrations’ lifeline from point-to-point, there is little knowing of which powers hold sway. There is an inkling, though.

Suspicious faces, which piercingly look through you, are abound. There is an obvious reluctance to hold conversation with outsiders and, if at all, that happens there is only that much you can glean from their disinclined minds. There are some questions you just do not ask; others go unanswered.

As the afternoon sun begins its descent, you trace your path out of the Naxal heartland. There is more confidence now; after entering, and working in, a district that much of Bengal’s capital city views with a certain exoticism. The news, one thinks, has been procured. All that remains is to distill and transcribe it.

Bypassing Lalgarh, the car speeds back towards Jhitka. Only this time, a two-file patrol of paramilitary troops line the forested road. The photographer reacts with a professional impatience to capture that stereotypical frame of a state at war. In a flash, the man descends on the road, camera in hand, to hold court with a uniformed soldier to help structure that perfect picture. There is a sense of occasion.

The adrenaline is infectious. Before you know it, you, too, are on the metalled surface. Standing; hand–at–waist; observing; sometimes supervising. Colourfully costumed locals go by on the bicycles, unperturbed by the gun-totting men. The car idles a few meters behind. You watch sedately and stare into the forest.

That is when it hits you. The foreboding reappears with stunning speed. The realisation of being witness to what is India’s widest ranging internal conflict returns with a numbing swiftness. Beyond the facade of placidity, a war is waging.

Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it has ceased to exist.

There’s no time…

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009 November 22nd, 2009 Praveen Bose

Competition among TV news channels is very hot… Each one trying to beat the other, always. Viewers are demanding more. More of ‘news’, we are told. But, what the cut-throat competition does to the young boys and girls on the ground can be mind boggling, to say the least.

An acquaintance chews the cuticles of her fingers every time, just before holding the microphone. If she manages to get a question though, she triumphantly does a high-five in celebration with the cameraman, no matter how insignificant the question. She is bothered if she will appear on TV or not, but she just happy showing her bosses sitting a few hundred KMs that she’s doing her job.

Even though the TV news channels are playing the game of one upmanship, and stumbling ever so often, the reporters on the ground put their body and mind through the utmost stress while putting on a facade helped embellish with war paint.

Many of them are celebrities in the eyes of the general public. They are always in high spirits, but also always nervous if they have missed out on anything.

Those who have just joined the profession are more prone to a sense of ‘undying commitment’, come rain or shine…,

One young reporter while covering an event where an Indian IT giant’s top official spoke, caught something, but did not put it on record. She turned to her fellow journalist and friend from a rival group: “I need to go to the washroom urgently. Please don’t flash the statement.”

Her friend said: “Achcha don’t worry. You go. I will hold on.”

When she returned, they flashed the news simultaneously. Yes, and they remain the best of buddies… And, their bosses don’t know.

Take that risk?

Friday, November 20th, 2009 November 20th, 2009 Abhilasha OjhaAbhilasha Ojha

Discovery Channel will showcase a documentary on Mumbai 26/11 on Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the brutal killings and the “hi-tech cat-and-mouse game” as the docu called it. While, of course, the docu is a very moving story that takes one back to that horrific time when Mumbai was held hostage, what I also found captivating was a young man’s confession who was, at the time, caught in the midst of all the horror and saw it unfold in front of his own eyes. “My life became a slide show in those split seconds and I realized that I hadn’t done so many things…. I hadn’t played pool… I wanted to learn the guitar,” he said and then made a last ditch effort to save himself.
He did save himself.
Amit Peshave, the restaurant manager at the Taj, Mumbai, is shown playing the pool in the last segment of Surviving Mumbai, the docu which will be shown on Discovery on November 26, 2009 at 8 pm. It’s one of the most endearing images, one that essentially shows how important the simplest things in life are, especially at a time when you’re dangling by that weak thread between life and death.
And I’m sure, many of us, without feeling the fear of death, can relate with that feeling too. On a personal — and a completely different — note, call it mid-life crisis, call it completion of 10 years of writing but I’ve now started feeling lethargic, out-of-sorts and completely withered in the office arena. Strangely enough, it’s a battle in my own head, one that I’m fighting every single minute. And, perhaps, that explains why I end up asking a good – and a very valuable — question to myself: “What is it that I really want?”
Theatre? Yes. Music? Yes. Working with kids in schools and NGOs? Yes. Working towards a completely new venture? Yes.
So, what stops me?
But, if it wasn’t for risk, Alex Chamberlain, a guest at Mumbai’s Oberoi hotel, another place which witnessed the bloody siege, would’ve been a dead man. “I saw a door knob and I decided to escape even though there was a terrorist right in front of me. I didn’t know what lay ahead but I had to disengage myself from the rest of the group.” He tried convincing others – without much success – and managed to escape, and survived to tell his tale, along with another survivor who went along with him.
Why, Peshave too wanted to survive – “not at the cost of my guests but yes, at one point, I thought, I really should escape”. What’s more, the need to survive became so clear to him – “I had wanted to do a lot in life and I wanted a chance to live my dreams.” Like Peshave, Anjali Pullock, along with her husband, who was caught in the hostage drama confesses to thinking: “My life has never been exciting…. and I’ll just die.” Today, she holds her husband’s hands and takes the walk in the park: something that the couple was, perhaps, too busy to do otherwise.
Seyfi, another 26/11 survivor, in fact, takes his wife’s shriveling hands in his and says, “It’s a miracle to survive along with your spouse.” Today, the couple, who are, by their own admission, “madly in love anyway” don’t think twice before travelling to other destinations, helping each other in the kitchen and going for long walks and singing and dancing together whenever they get a chance.
There are two things that are common between all these individuals; tremendous luck factor peppered with that uncanny knack of taking that risk just when it was completely unexpected.
On the face of it, they’re doing nothing different — learning to play the guitar, going for a round of pool, sipping coffee at a nearby Barista, taking leisurely walks in the neighbourhood park, playing Scrabble with the spouse, going on weekend breaks. It’s no big deal, really, we might think.
But guess what? They took that one risk and survived to tell their stories. If they hadn’t there would be no Scrabble, no long walks, no dancing, no guitar, no music. Simple? Not quite, no?

Dial ‘M’ for Money

Monday, November 16th, 2009 November 16th, 2009 Joydeep Ghosh

Television channels and newspaper reports claim that Madhu Koda (former chief minister of Jharkhand) has embezzled Rs 4,000 crore. Recent reports point out that transactions worth Rs 650 crore, a small portion of the money, took place in the Union Bank of India.

I am always bewildered by these numbers. How does one carry this amount to a bank or give it to someone? Even if they are all Rs 1,000 notes, that means 65,000 bundles – one would need at least a van or a tempo (small-sized truck) to carry it. Sure, it could have been done in tranches, but still.

So where did this cash come from? Better still, do people really keep Rs 1,000 crore in their houses or say in ‘godams’ (in hindi movies, especially in villages the zamindar has godams where he hoards all the food grains)?

And when needed he hires a tempo, loads all this cash, gives it to a politician or crook, who in turn, carries it to a bank (in the same or another tempo) and deposits it.

How long does it take the bank teller or the note counting machine to count it? To count even Rs 50-60 crores, it should take at least a few hours, as a single bundle is only Rs 1 lakh.

In smaller cities, branches may have to be closed because of the size of transaction.

Forgive my lack of experience. Being a middle-class person, the only time I have seen suitcases of cash is in the movies.

But it would be rather interesting to know how people hoard cash, carry it around, protect it from rodents (besides the law, of course) – what if one bundle is eaten by a rat (Imagine this sentence: Money hoarder: “chuha mere godam mein ek crore kha gaya or chuhon ne note kutar diye”)

And what happens to this money, once it has been captured. Ok, some part of it would go as awards to policemen or CBI officials. What happens to the rest? – Is black money a state subject or centre?

Questions, questions, questions… And I have no answers.

Ham Sab Ek Hain

Friday, November 13th, 2009 November 13th, 2009 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

Reproduced below are excerpts from a 48-page report of the Competition Commission of Pakistan on the sugar shortage currently on in Pakistan. The CCP was asked by the Supreme Court to file a report. Who/what does this reminds you of? One guess:

  • As will be revealed later in this Report, the Government of Punjab admitted during the hearings held by the Commission that no professional exercise was done to arrive at the cost of production-related data while fixing the “support price”. 
  • Punjab government’s crackdown adversely affected the supply-chain — trucks belonging to the USC were stopped from carrying sugar across provincial lines as well. 
  • This crisis of non-availability was precipitated, in particular, by the actions of the Government of the Punjab in August 2009 when it sealed the sugar mills and seized the stocks lying with the mills. This contributed in a most direct manner to interference with the normal demand-supply linkages of the sugar market. The panic on the part of the provincial governments disturbed these linkages to the detriment of all stakeholders, especially those on the supply-side such as sugar mills, dealers and retailers. 
  • It is the Commission’s considered view that the present crisis did not arise because of a price hike but more so because of mismanagement on the part of the Federal and particularly the provincial governments. The crisis actually began when the Punjab government panicked at the rising sugar prices in August and sealed sugar mills while seizing the stocks lying with them.

As they say in Hindi “ham sab ek hain” (we’re all the same) 

With grateful thanks to  


20 Sachinating years

Thursday, November 12th, 2009 November 12th, 2009 Aabhas Sharma

Much before Manchester United took giant strides into my life, the only sporting passion I had was Sachin Tendulkar . Watching Sachin Tendulkar bat was the only thing that got me going. The mood fluctuated accordingly on how Sachin had performed on the field.

At my local colony ground, me and my friends tried to imitate the strokes which Sachin used to play and I am sure that’s something people growing up in the Tendulkar era also did. And I am very sure that kids even now would rather imitate his strokes than those of MS Dhoni.

As any kid growing up in India, I was always fascinated by cricket from my early years. As a six year old, I had the privilege of watching the only ODI century Sunil Gavaskar has scored and the first ever hat-trick in a World Cup, which Chetan Sharma took. Both these distinictions happened in the same match, my first ever experience in a live stadium. And the memories are still fresh as a daisy.

But this is not about my cricket watching expereinces. It’s about a man who has rewritten history books and changed the way cricket was watched, played, broadcast in this country and who certainly changed me as a cricket fan.

As the clock ticks by, I know that the moments which have made me happy over the last two decades are now scarce commodities. Each century will be treasured more. There will be elation but mixed with a tinge of sadness. Sachin might look unbeatable but it’s impossible to beat Father Time.

Much before Abdul Qadir was smashed out of the park by a 16 year old-kid and the legend was born, Indians had two favourite cricketers. Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.

The aspiring bowlers wanted to be Kapil, while aspiring batsmen used to ape the forward defensive stroke perfected by Gavaskar. Then the autumn 1989 saw a curly haired boy with the thinnest of voices and a demeanour which suggested as Denzel Washington said in Remember the Titans, “This is my sanctuary”, the Indians found a new hero.

Even before Sanjay Manjrekar scored a determined 218 against Pakistan, all eyes were fixed on how this boy would do. Poor Manjrekar, didn’t get too much credit for scoring loads of runs against an attack comprising Wasim Akram and Imran Khan, who were at their peak then. As if there was a force telling us “wait till you see the boy bat”.

As the legend grew, so did the madness.  Apart from driving bowlers and captains all over the world insane, the people of India were growing crazy over a 20-something boy.

My first ever experience of watching Sachin in flesh came six years after he had made his debut. My father took me and my brother 400 kms away to Nagpur to see India play New Zealand. I knew the only thing I wanted was a century. After all these years of watching him on TV, this was my chance to see him bat. India were smashed to bits and pieces by Nathan Astle in that game. Back in those days a score of 348 was unheard of. But New Zealand did that. Had the crowd given up?

No way! We cheered on and remained confident of beating the score. We knew with Sachin on the field, anything was possible. And Sachin didn’t disappoint. Although India lost the match, I got a glimpse of things to come in the future. A 60-ball 65 studded with a towering six and some trademark boundaries, we went home happy. It was the day when I probably realised, India winning was secondary to me. I was happy to see Sachin bat and the result was almost secondary.

Perhaps that’s why my indifference to cricket these days doesn’t come as a surprise. Though other factors have contributed to cricket falling down in the pecking order, Sachin still manages to get me in front of the TV. The day he hangs up his boots would be the day all ties with cricket would be severed. You can lose faith in the religion and still have it back. But once the man who started that religion walks away, it’s almost impossible to find a way back.

True story

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 November 10th, 2009 Rrishi Raote

Late one night in early September this year, a young relative of mine drove to the Delhi international airport to pick up his girlfriend, who was arriving from a Western land. She had threatened him with consequences if he met her without a bouquet of flowers in his hands and sweet words on his lips.

Having forgetfully failed to fortify himself with the flowers during the day, the young swain was nervously inventing excuses as he drove towards the airport.

Right outside the airport entry, he was therefore delighted to see an illuminated flower stall. Equipped with a suitable bouquet he turned onto the airport entry road, where a queue of cars waited to pass the police dogleg. The officer at the barrier was putting his head into the passenger window of every car.

Came the young relative’s turn at the naka, and the officer put his head in, saw the flowers on the front seat and without explanation picked them up and took them away. Asked why, the officer said only “Chalo, chalo,” and waved the young man on rudely.

With a line of impatient Delhi drivers waiting behind, the young man obeyed, unhappily.

Not 50 yards on the young relative noticed a man running after his car and gesturing. So he stopped, and the pursuer ran up to his window and asked, eagerly: “The policeman took your flowers. Do you want to buy some more?”

The answer was, of course, “No, thanks,” but as he drove to the parking lot my young relative found himself thinking:


iPhone’s are under attack!

Monday, November 9th, 2009 November 9th, 2009 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

It had to happen, with users unwilling to spend Rs 34,000 for buying iPhones in India. Instead, they chose to rely on friends and family in the US to get *jailbroken handsets that would cost less than half the amount they would otherwise pay.

*(Apple sells iPhones locked with network operator and to use the iPhone in India, you will have to pay to get it unlocked for using it with Indian sim cards)

Today we heard of the first iPhone virus, dubbed the ‘ikee’ worm that breaks into iPhones, changing their lock screen wallpaper to an image of 1980s pop star Rick Astley with the message: “ikee is never going to give you up.” And that’s all the virus does, FOR NOW.

As per a security company’s survey, nearly 97 per cent of people believe the iPhone will suffer from further virus attacks in the future. It’s safe to declare that hackers have now started to take Apple seriously. Before this, Apple was computing hardware was widely believed to be free from any kind of viruses unlike Microsoft’s Windows which are all so vulnerable to virus attacks. Well, yeah, Apple was damn right but the reason was that no hacker ever took Apple seriously so as to even try to create a worm for it.

“Fortunately the worm doesn’t do anything more malicious than that - it doesn’t steal information, access your emails or snoop on your calls,” informs Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for security and data protection company, Sophos. But now that the virus writers have put the iPhone’s source code on the internet – which means that other hackers can potentially create much more dangerous versions of the worm.

This worm appears to have been created by a 21-year old Ashley Towns, a student from Wollongong, New South Wales, who boasted about it on his Twitter page. Towns claims to have created the worm out of “boredom,” wrote in the worm’s code that he found it “stupid.”

This must be treated as a wake-up call to iPhone users around the world to take greater care about their security - especially if they jailbreak their phones. This also means that enterprises also need to make sure that they don’t have staff who are endangering corporate data by running insecure smartphones.

This latest incident raises the stakes — and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that more hackers might become intrigued about the possibility of striking jailbroken iPhones in this fashion to deploy more sinister payloads than an image of Rick Astley in future.

Trenches… But, Not For War Time

Sunday, November 8th, 2009 November 8th, 2009 Praveen Bose

It’s a sight to behold. It was incomprehensible how a road that was just about fine just the previous night now had a trench cut right through the middle like we are prepared for a bombing raid by an enemy air force. It is like all of us are only waiting for the sirens to go off before jumping into the safety of the trenches.

I had heard stories of people having to jump into the trenches, first hand, from a teacher who had to do just that during the Indo-Pak war of 1971.
All the while, we only hope it will not rain heavily. But, rain gods have their way. It drizzled a little heavily. We got to see some slush, but not enough to stop us.

If a European, who lived through World War I horrors, and lived through the trench warfare woke up from the graves today and walked on the road where the office is, and voila… I am sure he would find nothing amiss. The trenches were practically of the same dimensions as they were in 1915. The difference he would find would be the concrete and glass buildings all around, and of course taller buildings.

I wonder how are the well-heeled denizens in the locality managing their lives. Do they stay cooped up or go out leaving their airconditioned cars behind and fell the petrichor (the smell of rain on dry ground) perhaps?

But, it is many a times better and definitely healthier than what I have had to see and smell… the pure sewage that flows on the very same road when it rained. I remember at the start of the career, in 1999, it was a story of the raw sewage and the story is repeated every time on the road when it rains in Bangalore… that is twice a year — during the monsoons and again during the retreating monsoons.

At night the excavators continue to hum and haw, sounding perhaps like the advancing tanks that often sent a shiver down the spine of the soldier hiding in the trenches. Now, when the trenches will be filled we may need caterpillar tracks for the vehicles knowing the skillful work done by the civic authorities.

I may also need to buy some gum boots to deal with the freshly dug earth having played with by the rain gods and the civic gods. As I walk on the road I ensure that I as at atleast 4 of my colleagues are with me as we all walk hand-in-hand. At least even if one loses his/her foot, the others can hold the person up and prevent him/her from falling onto the road which could leave looking like a person working in a paddy field.
Or, perhaps an easier option would be for me to go on a week’s vacation while the trenches are filled up, and come later to answer questions of the superiors.