Friday, 30 December 2011

Free Speech: Look Beyond Content (Part-I)

Padmaja Shaw,
Columnist, The Hoot 

The year drawing to a close should be declared the Year of Free Speech, not just in India but across the world. The world has witnessed people's movement for democratic rights on an unprecedented scale. Starting with the elections in Iran, through Tahrir Square in Egypt, to the "Occupy" movements all over the world, individuals have chosen to wrench back the initiative from the oppressive governments and predatory corporations and they have done this primarily through those genuine marketplaces of ideas: the social networking sites. A few years ago, at any conference on media, Indians could be justly self-righteous for the apparent freedom we enjoyed for free speech even as in our neighbourhood as every nation-state was still grappling with dictatorial/theocratic governments. Indian democracy may well have been an inspiration for some of the uprisings in the world. 

Then, in the last quarter of this year, two influential voices in India-- Justice Markandey Katju and Kapil Sibal--reminded us that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty", once again. They raised controversies by calling for content control of legacy media and new media. While electronic media were in the cross-wires of the debate for sometime, print media were not really given a clean chit either. The worst, of course, was that the bastion of free speech, Internet, is now openly under attack. Openly, because it has been covertly under attack for sometime now in India and elsewhere.The free speech debate has two aspects to it. One is the debate around media industries--ownership patterns including cross-media ownership, licensing, taxation, exim policy for media technologies, anti-trust issues, action against predatory market practices and so on; the other is about the manifest content on these media. 

Between these two areas of contest are the so-called stakeholders--the corporate media, the state and the citizen. When one looks at the debate on free speech, all appear to be labouring under a deep sense of moral ambiguity about the issue. Let us take the corporate media. Since the dawn of the era of liberalization in 1991, the corporate media have expanded in all sectors--newspapers, magazines, film, TV, radio, cable, net, mobile technologies--in all aspects: production, distribution and exhibition/reception/reach. The expansion was possible purely because successive governments have looked the other way when unregulated expansion was taking place, partly also because successive governments, after the lessons from the dark days of the Indian Emergency, have trodden lightly when it came to regulation of the media. The resultant opening up is something to celebrate, as the Indian media market today is one of the biggest, holding out the promise of the greatest diversity.

However, in the post-liberalization era, the entrepreneurial opportunities expanded leaving large accumulated surplus with the business houses. While the Licence Raj was pronounced dead by many a pundit, we have discovered lately that the liberalization juggernaut was rolling rapidly ahead not because of the absence of Licence Raj but because of the skimmed cream of corporate profits that was oiling its wheels. All it needed to self-perpetuate was to invest in a newspaper here, a TV station there, to manage "images" and to keep the reader/viewer enthralled through trivia. 

During the early years of expansion, when regulatory frameworks could have been put in place, especially when there was ample international experience from other democracies on cross-media ownership, licensing requirements and transparency/disclosure requirements for promoters/investors, the Government of India did not act proactively with foresight then. Such a framework could not have been devised in neutrality as specific players were not in the market then and the regulatory framework could have been applied uniformly to all. If the government comes up with regulation now, there are entrenched interests already in the market and they are bound to politicize it, saying that it is an attack on free speech to control media entities opposed to the ruling party, even when they violate other laws of the land. 

The corporate houses are happy having created a regulatory logjam. Being either subsidiaries or arms of major national/international business houses, media houses have acquired enormous clout in the political economy of the country and have learnt to use the clout to drive policy and control political fate of elected governments. Media houses are active players in pushing the liberalization agenda on behalf of their corporate bosses and advertisers. Not much unlike Fox News the Indian media houses set the agenda for national debate and can pressure the government over issues they deem important. The politicians have little choice but to fall in line if they want visibility and voice. 

Free Speech: Look Beyond Content (Part-II)

Padmaja Shaw,
Columnist, The Hoot 

There is also a relentless process of mergers and acquisitions in the media industry which is resulting in large corporations straddling print, television, radio and new media and consolidating further. In the latest news about such mergers the multi-national corporations are making inroads into the regional space rapidly. So far, even though the nature of ownership, working conditions of the employees and the content left much to be desired, ownership in the regional space was dispersed. Beginning with the acquisition of Asianet in Malayalam, this process is picking up pace. 

Without going into the much-debated issue of media monopolies and their implications for democracies, it is interesting to see that there have been no regulatory growls from either the government or other media entities such as the Press Council of India on these kind of issues. What role does the Competition Commission of India have in such mergers and acquisitions? This is just one instance of a substantive issue that needs more debate. Instead, the Government of India passes rules on showing smokers in movies; Justice Katju asks "Why Dev Anand?"; Kapil Sibal talks to Facebook and Google about cleaning up content; giving the corporate media a Free Speech issue on a platter to trash both the government and regulatory institutions. Having given licences to the media houses, should the government/regulatory bodies be telling the filmmakers and editors of newspapers how to do their job? Do either the government of the day or its regulatory arms inspire faith in the people that they will use their content control power only for the good of the people?

Under any political regime, censorship is a dangerous weapon to hand over to the state. Misuse is inevitable and it will most certainly be against political voices that question their wisdom. The justification for censorship always comes under the cloak of protecting people from obscenity and crime, but ends up as a weapon to be used against political opponents. Kapil Sibal's eagerness to sanitize the cyberspace to suit his finicky taste is being fought back with vigour by all hues of political and apolitical cyber citizens. The irony is that Mr. Sibal's enthusiasm, in one sweep, has legitimized the right of the worst neo-Nazi style propagandists on the net who have launched a sleazy propaganda blitz against the Gandhi family. 

The propaganda is obviously in the run up to the 2014 elections, by when they expect to set up the net-using middle-class electorate to reject the star campaigners of the Congress party. One is amazed to see journalists circulating with this glee on Facebook. One does not know how many such appreciative Facebook friends actually vote. However, by stirring up the issue, Mr. Sibal also ensured greater interest and circulation for the very material he wanted to erase. Also, people completely opposed to the virulent ideologies of some of the groups on the net have shown no hesitation to defend the right of these groups to do what they do. The battle for ideas must be won on another level, not by the police state or the nanny state. Only if the content is abetting crime or criminal behaviour should the state intervene, that too under the existing criminal laws.

All things considered, shouldn't the government and the regulatory bodies concentrate more on the structural issues in the industry rather than its symptoms in the content? The failure to regulate the structure of the industry can in itself be considered collusion by the state to facilitate predatory practices. It has a long-term impact on the functioning of the Indian democracy. Let Shahrukh Khan now smoke in peace, let Dev Anand be page one lead; but let's concentrate on what is happening to the industry first.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Jana Gana Mana

"Jana Gana Mana" is the National Anthem of India. The National Anthem is set primarily in Bengali, it is comprehensible to almost every Indian because of its strong Sanskrit flavour. While it is well known that the first stanza is a tribute to the astonishing geographical diversity of India, the second is a tribute to its multiple communities and the remaining are a salutation to India's undying spirit. Jana Gana Mana was first sung at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress on December 27 1911. Yes, you read that right, our National Anthem is 100 years today!! Jana Gana Mana was officially adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the Indian National Anthem on January 24 1950.

To commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Sri. Rabindranath Tagore in 2010, the leading English newspaper The Times of India had launched a campaign called "Jaya Hey". The truth it is that not many know of the remaining four stanzas that make up the National Anthem. These four verses were set to music and produced by the music label Saregama. The music for the video has been composed by Soumyojit Das and Sourendro Malik. The music video was launched two nights before 15th August 2010 by the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The meaning of the National Anthem in this inspiring music video is narrated by Harshavardhan Neotia while it features 39 of India's best loved singers from across the country from Hindustani classical musicians like Girija Devi, Pandit Jasraj and Pandit Shivkumar Sharma to Carnatic singers like Dr. S. Nithyasree Mahadevan and Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, from playback singers like Kavita Krishnamurthy to Sonu Nigam, from ghazal singer Jagjit Singh to folk singers like Lopamudra Mitra and Lakhandas Baul singing lines from the anthem. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Exchanging Times: Cotton Green

There still exists a Bombay that is distinct from today's Mumbai. No cars honk there and the sidewalks are as wide as today's suburban roads. Alongside the entire eastern stretch of our great city lies a deserted Bombay that has no nightclubs, no multiplexes, no shopping malls, no tall high-rises. Not yet, at least. A walk down its carefully planned avenues will make you eventually wonder at the level of city planning employed by the British rulers over a century ago.

The Cotton Exchange is a a relatively unknown heritage structure in Mumbai. The Cotton Exchange was constructed in 1844 and is located just a stone's throw away from Cotton Green station on the Harbour Line, which incidentally gets its name from the iconic building. The Cotton Exchange remains well-concealed in Cotton Green. The original name of Cotton Green derives its name from the Cotton Exchange and because of a series of warehouses which used to store grains. Hence, the name "Cotton Green" is derived from the two words: Cotton and Grains. 

The first Cotton Exchange in the world was created in Mumbai. Mumbai was once the cotton capital of the world since it used to export cotton to Europe thereby meeting the gap in supply created by the Civil War in America when the Union Navy blockaded Confederate ports in the South cutting off their ability to export plantation grown cotton to Europe. 

The Cotton Exchange in Cotton Green is an excellent example of Art Noveau architecture and is a sight to behold even today. It is washed in a pastel green shade and is three storeys tall with large windows and high ceilings, it towers over the neighbourhood. It also sports a V-shaped design--one arm stretches over 100 metres in length while the other is 50 metres long. 

The building is nearly intact as it is not such a well-known building but nevertheless remains as an integral part of Mumbai's heritage. There are a few broken windows which are generally caused by local boys who play cricket near the open spaces near the Cotton Exchange. There is an immense sense of silence and peace in and around the Exchange since the roads at the back come under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Port Trust. Looking for an angle to get an image of the Exchange, I bumped into 16 year old Manoj who told me that he regularly comes there to study at night under the light of the neon street lamps since it offers a very serene atmosphere. No matter the time of the day, you will always tend to find kids on the footpath with books in hand.

Friday, 23 December 2011

More Media Regulation? (Part-III)

Anup Kumar,
Columnist, The Hoot

While there are no special privileges granted to journalists that are different from those enjoyed by ordinary citizens. The right of free speech and freedom of the press come from the same Article 19 (1A) of the Constitution. From a strict constitutionalist perspective every citizen, including those who hold power, is a potential journalist--an ideal that has come to its fruition with blogs and the social media. But it would be also naive to suggest that the news media do not have power, like the government, rather they have immense power to shape public opinion, which is a powerful thing. However, as the power of the news media does not come from exclusive privileges and discretionary provisions, regulating the media would also mean regulating the liberties guaranteed to the citizens by the constitution. 

Importantly, the company laws already regulate the corporations that own the news organizations and journalists come under the purview of criminal laws and civil laws that impose "reasonable restrictions" on the freedom of speech and the press. Moreover, from the perspective of corporate laws and other laws Indian media is already perhaps one of the most regulated among the among the advanced democracies. According to the Freedom of the Press 2011 study, India ranks 79th and is categorized as "partly free". Any further regulation of the media would effectively undermine individual liberties that are so essential to a democracy.

So, what is the solution to the growing media malaise? What we have currently in Indian journalism is that the rules of the market, the TRPs and circulation figures, are influencing journalistic practices and news content disproportionately. However, this is not unique to India, similar problems are faced by market driven news media all over the world. The solution lies in exercising the freedom of the press with care. Journalists must exercise their power to shape and foster public opinion with humility and responsibility. In an otherwise vibrant field of Indian journalism, professional standards that guide the necessary gatekeeping functions and inform editorial oversight of daily routine operations of news organizations are either absent or deficient. Although the Press Council and the News Broadcaster's Association have codes, but they do not seem to have been internalized. What we need is the professionalization that comes with the codification of norms and values of a professional journalistic practice and reinforcement of them by the press clubs, editors and the educational institutions, especially by the schools of journalism. 

For example, we in India perhaps need to go through what happened in America and Europe following the communication chaos of the antebellum years at the turn 20th century. Then, the professional norms and values of journalism evolved out of a similar debate that is now taking place in India. The professionalization of news workers to a large extent weeded out the worst forms of yellow journalism and the sellers of snake oil from the news pages. This period also gave rise to organizations such as Sigma Delta Chi fraternity, also known as the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Newspaper Editors who came up with ethical standards for the practice of responsible journalism, which included the fairness doctrine and the norm of objectivity that included acceptance of official explanations at face value unless there was strong evidence to the contrary. 

Thus, I think the solution lies in a better professional education, both in the skills required for what Lippmann described as transmission of fact-based information and the knowledge for what John Dewey described as public journalism that can give citizens resources to engage in a democracy. The improvements in journalistic quality through the elevation in the level of media discourse on contemporary issues can be achieved through a better professional education in knowledge, skills, norms and values of journalism. Self-regulation or government regulation cannot by themselves solve the problem of corrupt journalistic practices and the declining quality of media discourses, both in the organized news media and the growing field of social media. Professionalism founded on clear sets ethical principles must be inculcated in young reporters during their training periods in journalism programmes. Moreover, today we live in a media saturated society in which for all practical purposes democracy itself is mediated, hence we also require educational curriculums in the country to include the core course in ethical media use and criticism..

Finally, this means not only more investment and improvements in journalism and media education in India, but also calls for reforms that emphasize in liberal education that encourages critical thinking skills. Improvements in journalism education must be also supplemented with funding and support for empirical research in news media's performance and media criticism, which is currently very limited in a country like India.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

More Media Regulation? (Part-II)

Anup Kumar,
Columnist, The Hoot  

Contemporary journalism is significantly different from the past when very few could read and most of the journalism was produced for and by the highly educated class. Although no specific empirical data on news consumption is available for India, yet the size of the Indian public sphere does suggest that an overwhelming part of the population is watching and reading the news on a daily basis. The news media's main role is to give fact-based information, which does not necessarily require great intellectual abilities. I think majority of journalists do not have the desire to be intellectuals, which is perhaps why they have chosen this profession. Most of the consumers of the news have basic education and in some cases, they are not even literate. In order to stand true to the democratic credentials, journalists working for thousands of newspapers and hundreds of news television channels have to produce and present news taking into consideration the lowest common denominator of comprehension skills so that the news can help all citizens engage in the democratic process and make reasoned choices. 

Although, Justice Katju is right at one level, often reporting lacks perspective and insight that places the news in its larger historical, social, political and economic contexts. The news media in India present news in a decontextualized and largely episodic manner. Journalism research from across the world shows that this is not unique to India, everywhere in the world daily routine journalism is mostly episodic. A more nuanced and sophisticated interpretation and thematic contextualization appears in the elite newspapers, magazines and sometimes panel discussions on TV. The few media pundits, who have the training and education, play the role of intellectual journalists while undertaking political and social analysis and cultural criticism in their columns and television talk shows.

Justice Katju is also right about the quality of the media discourse in India, especially on television. Research on television content from world over has shown that infotainment oriented news shows, sometimes described as soft news, hog most of the airtime. Not surprisingly, electronic media in India devotes most of its resources to cover cricket, regurgitate content from the movies and exploit superstitions among parts of the population. Whereas, in comparison to infotainment and soft news relatively meager resources are devoted to original reporting on more relevant issues such as skewed developmental priorities of government, unrest in the hinterland led by Maoists, inflation, terrorism and other forms of social injustices.

The upside in all this is that the news media in India plays a relatively decent role in offering a platform for some of the most vigorous debates and news analysis on contemporary issues. Thus, it would be unfair to say that the Indian news media has not made any significant contribution in the area of social transformation. Indian journalism has performed admirably, especially when we compare the Indian news media to news media in other post-colonial countries. The news media has played a vital role in moving the country, slowly but progressively, away from a feudal society at the time of Independence to a much more egalitarian and democratic society we are today. In this regard, we must not fail to acknowledge the role played by the Indian language press. The limited scholarship on the subject has shown that Indian language press has functioned as a bulwark of democracy, especially outside the big cities and in rural areas. Moreover, the Indian news media that comes in multiple languages has done what scholars otherwise thought was impossible. On the one hand, it has sustained ethno-linguistic diversity in the Indian public sphere and on the other hand, it has projected the imagination of India as one nation and one nation with quite fascinating dexterity.  

 However, it is also in the Indian language news media, both in print and in TV, that we find most of the problems associated with illiberal discourse, professional standards and questionable practices associated with the phenomenon of "paid news". It needs to be pointed out here that in the more sophisticated English language media paid news appears in the form of "subsidy news" pushed by public relation agencies. Not surprisingly, many who favour stricter regulations have suggested that journalists cannot take a holier-than-thou approach to corruption, as they are part and parcel of the systematic corruption in politics and society. Even though it is a valid argument, I think it is not fair to compare journalists to the political class, bureaucracy and judiciary. Unlike them, the news media does not have monopoly power to exercise of lawful and sometimes also the discretionary powers that they derive from the blindfolded statutes. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

More Media Regulation? (Part I)

Anup Kumar
Columnist, The Hoot

Is the freedom of the press under threat in India? Not really. Some would argue that it cannot be a mere coincidence that the calls for stricter regulation of the media are coming at a time when the news media have been highlighting corruption in the government such as the 2G Scam and the graft in the organizing of the Commonwealth Games. The media advocacy, often questioned by some, for the movement led by Anna Hazare against corruption has also attracted criticism from the ruling party. Morever, it seems that the criticism of the government on social media is also making some in the government uncomfortable.

A few days ago, Kapil Sibal, the minister for Communication and Information Technology, called for stricter regulation of the chatter on social media sites to check hate speech and protect national security. Earlier, Justice Markandey Katju, the chairperson of the Press Council of India, in his widely reported interview with Karan Thapar and later in his rebuttals to his critics spoke on the decline in ethics and quality of journalism in the country, especially in the electronic media. He suggested perhaps media regulation from outside is needed as self-regulation has failed. 

I agree self-regulation has failed but more regulation by the government might only stifle public debate and harm Indian democracy in the long run. J.S. Verma, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, recently stated that the media and the judiciary are two institutions in which people have faith and suggested that self-regulation must be encouraged. Despite all its failings, the Indian news media has functioned as a support mechanism to the Indian judiciary and other constitutional institutions in protecting and fostering India's democratic experiment for more than six decades, which is a rarity among post-colonial nations. 

No one can be seriously against "reasonable restrictions" on speech and freedom of the press with the goal to improve the quality of journalism and raise the level of the media discourse, which are so central to the functioning of any modern mass mediated democracy. Although at the same time, no one wants the watchdog to become a lapdog. It is also imperative that the organized news media and millions of "citizen-journalists", on blogs and social media sites, engage in some self-reflection. The debate over regulation should be seen as an opportunity to initiate a public discussion on media reforms that not only addresses journalistic practices from the perspective of ethics and also look at the quality of the media discourse. Additionally, the purpose of any reform should be able to put in place a due process to discourage a few bad apples, rather than regulating media through executive fiats or a government monitor.

The irony is that everyone seems to be on the same side, i.e. improving the quality of Indian journalism and strengthening the empowering capacity of social media sites and the Internet. Though there are differences over how to address the problem of yellow journalism, I think the solution lies in professional journalistic practice and media literacy. Before looking at some of the solutions, let us recall some of the issues that were raised by Justice Katju as the detractors were quick to denounce rather than engage in a reasoned debate. There were three separate but related issues that were raised. I am paraphrasing here: 1) The decline in the quality of media discourse since journalists today lack intellectual outlook and have largely failed to play the role, unlike that of the past, in social transformation and cultivation of modern sensibilities. 2) The electronic news media devote a disproportionate amount airtime to cricket and Bollywood compared to more important public policy and social issues. 3) There has been a decline in ethical standards and proliferation in corrupt practices like "paid news" and lobbying for corporation (i.e. Niira Radia tapes). 

Most observers of the news media have broadly agreed with the core elements in Justice Katju's criticism of the news media. However, the observation that Indian journalism is failing because, unlike in the past, today majority of journalists are not well-read or as he put it, they are not "intellectuals" is a misdiagnosis of the problem. I also think that the historical comparison by Justice Katju with "the age of enlightenment" in the 19th century Europe, when journalism was not necessarily democratic, is anachronistic. A better comparison would have been with the period when journalism in older democracies in the West emerged as a profession that was tasked with upholding public interest. The lamentation about the loss of intellectual journalists reminds one of the debates in the late 1920s America between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. Lippmann had argued for a transmission model for journalism and Dewey called for public journalism that educated and raised critical sensibilities in public, although today media scholars understand that it is not an either/or case. Broadly speaking, the role of transmission is the function of news reporting and critical public engagement is a function of editorial and news analysis in the media.  

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Virtual Noise

Sevanti Ninan
Columnist, The Hindu 

There is no denying that 2011 has been a noisy year. It brought us Justice Markandey Katju, who alarmed, appalled and amused us in turn. To begin with, he was appointed as the Chairperson of the Press Council of India in the last quarter of the year and has been making himself heard ever since. His latest views, put out last week, relate to Internet offences. Before and after him, TV anchors have harangued and heckled and now it is Kapil Sibal's turn to utter first and ponder later. What do we get in response to his call for proactive screening of the Internet? More noise, unsurprisingly. A rising crescendo of free-spirited protests, though some of the offences can hardly be defended. 

The noise has been at one level and succeeded at hogging attention while the action has been at another level. Two murders of journalists, 14 attacks on them over the year in different parts of the country, one Home Ministry circular asking for withdrawal of advertising to newspaper, a Standing Committee draft that proposes to bring the media under the ambit of the Lokpal Bill, lots of legal notices to media outlets and some doubtless justified. And a few hundred take-down notices issued by the government to Net intermediaries. Also, a stiff fine is ordered on one of them, Yahoo, for failing to disclose identities of users.

More telling than Kapil Sibal's bombast, one would imagine, is the fact that the Rajya Sabha was told in a written reply that the Home Ministry had asked the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to "monitor" Facebook and Twitter. Has it complied? If yes, how precisely? Last week, there was more action: an amendment to the Cable Act, 1995 got passed in the Lok Sabha. It requires cable operators to transmit all channels in encrypted form and generally attempts to rein in the sector in various ways.

The old Act authorized the seizure of the cable operator's equipment if he/she violated provisions of the Act and limited the period of seizure to 10 days. The amendment says the seizure can be extended by an order of the district judge and there is no limitation on the period of seizure. The pattern since 1995 has been that the authorized government functionaries seldom used the powers of the Act. If that changes, the increased powers could be worrying. 

Between the noise and the actions we have a public sphere increasingly open to both state interventions as well as cyber excesses. The same year that saw social media trigger the Arab Spring also saw digital media being employed to spread the locations of the London riots. Who is to rein whom? When does freedom become licence? There will be more noise in the coming year as we thrash these issues out. Since self-regulation is the debate of the season, can it apply more effectively to cyberspace? There are no media houses in the social media realm, only intermediaries. 

Then there is the whole business of political thin skins turning on the media. As many as 255 of the 360 plus take down notices that Google got from the Indian government in the first half of last year related to the complaints by the government and the political class about criticism. It would be nice to get their details and be able to examine how justified the take-down requests were. Last week, a Maharashtra minister was complaining about press coverage that turned what he said was a minor defeat in the municipal council elections into a major one by virtue of the noise made about it! 

So far, Justice Katju has taken it upon himself to periodically opine rather than act, so that we don't really know in what ways he is toning up the Press Council to respond effectively to complaints. Even passing strictures against media outlets or statements exonerating them, with regard to specific complaints, which is within its powers, is better than no action. 

What action has the Press Council taken on the issue of the Herald in Goa being implicated in a paid news sting operation? Any investigation ordered? It would be nice if future press releases from Justice Katju could be about his institution's decisions rather than his views. In the meantime, the marketing manager of the paper implicated in the Goa sting has sent a defamation notice to Mayabhushan Nagvenkar who did the entrapment. 

One year of noisy debate and dangerous living just went by and we can always be hopeful about the next one. It is necessary to identify who is to rein in whom? When does freedom become licence? There will be more noise in the new year as we thrash these issues out.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

1857 Indian Freedom Struggle Memorial

The role of Bombay in the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny can best be described as modest. The Mutiny originated in parts of Northern India which at a later stage in history came to be known as the first struggle for Indian independence. Bombay has always been associated with trade and commerce in its veins and it reacted in a very characteristic manner when the news of the Rising broke out: the stock market bucked. 

The Indian Freedom Struggle Memorial is dedicated to the martyrs of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny in the form of an obscure plinth located on a fence right outside the underground subway opposite the Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It is dedicated to two martyrs Mangal Cadiya and Sayyad Hussein.

As the superintendent of the police in Bombay Charles Forjett ordered two sepoys should be tied to mouth of cannon and be blown to bits. He was fluent in the local languages and an expert in disguise and often walked the streets to eavesdrop on conversations to get a sense of trouble brewing. The grassroots intelligence rarely failed him and during the months of the Mutiny, he was more vigilant than ever. It came to his ears that there was growing dissent in the infantry and meetings were being held in the home of a certain Ganga Prasad. Dressed up in a black native dress, Forjett is said to have reached a house in Sonapur (near Metro Cinema) and heard through a broken wall of a group plotting an attack on the Englishmen on the night of Diwali.

On October 15 1857 at the Esplanade Cross (now Azad Maidan), the two conspirators, the strapping Drill Havaldar Sayyed Hussein of the Marine Battalion and Sepoy Mangal Cadiya of the 10th Native Indian Regiment were trussed with their backs to the cannon. The execution of these two officers took place in front of packed crowds, both of Indian and European origin which was Forjett's way of broadcasting the message that any dissent would be dealt with in a similar fashion. The findings of the Court read out with the order delivered as: "There was a sharp report, a sudden flash of fire and when the clouds of smoke blew away, there lay scattered the bloody remnants of the two men." 

History came round a full circle a whole century later, when in Independent India, the Esplanade Cross was renamed as the Azad Maidan to memorialize the numerous freedom speeches that Mahatma Gandhi and others made during the freedom struggle and to signify the importance of the ground in the Sepoy Mutiny. The plinth dedicating a memorial came up in 2007 to commemorate the 150 years of the Sepoy Mutiny which began in 1857 and to honour the sacrifice of these two martyrs.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Types of Love

Swami Chinmayananda 

No activity in human life is taken up with so much sincerity and elaborate preparation as is man's search for the joy of love and yet, no enterprise of man fails so constantly with such regularity, as his quest for love. He helplessly waits to receive love and yet everyone is always disappointed. 

In a nutshell, the love that leaves us with agitation is lower love and the love that leaves us with profound peace and joy is higher. In true love, every action and sacrifice you make towards the object of your love reduces your egocentric desires and calms the agitation in your mind. When love is directed towards a Higher or Nobler object or person than yourself, it is called prema. When it is towards a lower object, it is called sneha. Higher love alone can help us come out of our sense of incompleteness and alienation.

 The lower type of love called sneha is an escape from a person's sense of loneliness. Without this protection the person feels lonely, isolated and helpless. Some people demand love, they need to receive it--they cannot give love. Such an individual depends entirely upon other objects and beings for his existence: his home, work, money, friends and relations. With these, he makes a prison for himself and ever willingly suffers in it. This refers to both passive and aggressive type of sneha. They are both unconsciously seeking freedom from their sense of loneliness.

The higher kind of love is called prema. Here, love is dynamic. The lover is not waiting to be loved by others. He is not a beggar of love. His dynamic love floods forth from his heart and in its irresistible onward dash, it breaks all walls around others, storms into their hearts and therein seeks and discovers a blissful fusion of oneness. In this dynamic love, the lover ennobles the beloved and at the same time retains his own individuality. In such a blessed lover relationship, the two become one and still neither dominates the other. In dynamic love, it is a willful "dashing on" to love, rather than an unconscious accidental "falling into" love. It is a consistent passion to give, not a meek persistent hope to receive. True love is not a passive taking, but a dynamic giving. 

This idea of giving is often dreaded and misunderstood as a giving up of something--a painful renouncing--a state of being deprived of everything pleasant and sweet. But actually, it is a giving up of all the anxiety to enjoy the fruits of actions. Love, when it is true and unconditional, is its own regard. Very few realize it, none dare to live it. Some of us love only if we are loved in return. That is, we give love in payment for love received. This is a very commercial attitude, a shopkeeper's mentality. To give love is freedom; to demand love is nothing but an example of pure slavery.

The human mind always runs in the direction of His love. The object of love reflects his vasanas, his tendencies. It is important to fall in love when your piece of mind is gone and your abilities are distracted. Similarly, it is equally important to rise in love to any ideal, profession, art, science or person that makes you integrated and created. Devotion gives you more intellectual capacities, abilities improve. You become dynamic--a person to be reckoned with. 

Hence, if you want others to love you, be lovable. Love cannot be lust. In lust, there is abject dependence upon the physical object. In lust, there is a subordination of one's personality to the enchantment of the object; while in love, the personality of the lover is tuned to the personality of the beloved. Love brings an expansion of being, while lust ends in an existence loaded with darkness and exhausting fatigue. Love is the victory of the spirit, lust is the cry of the base flesh and low mind. Love lives the joy; lust only seeks it.

Very few are indeed rich in love. How can they love, who have none in themselves? Love transforms work into inspiration with efficiency as its result. Love is the heart of all religions, the theme of all classical works of art and literature, the song of all devotees. Scientists know only what love does--not what love is. Love can indeed empty our asylums, perhaps all our prisons, maybe all our hospitals. People suffer in life due to the lack of love. Love is, therefore, to the human heart what the sun is to flowers! 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Harnessing Potentials

Swami Tejomayananda 

Most of us will agree that we are born rich and yet somehow we are unable to truly realize and harness our true potentials. In order to harness the great potential that lies within each one of us, it is important to manifest it and for that it is necessary to have a great goal in life. Our potential lies in the body, speech, mind, intellect and also through external means. Indeed, the treasure that we possess is vast and invaluable. It is due to this reason that psychologists would agree that we are not entirely using the true potential of our brains which is why we remain as extras in our own movie.

Much of our potential has been manifested out of necessity to survive or thrive. A police officer once tried catching a weak-looking thief who escaped. When asked why the thief outran him, he said, "I ran as part of my duty. He ran to save his life. His motivation was greater." Great potential may at times manifest out of sheer necessity but usually if your goal is only to survive, you work enough only to survive. If you just want to pass, you study just enough to scrape through.

If we have to lift and carry six bricks, it is common knowledge that that we need more strength which is needed in order to be utilized completely. We can also our increase our ability to lift heavier and heavier objects by practicing. But why should we practice, when, for most of us the heaviest object that we need to lift is just ourselves? A singer who aspires to sing in front of the President would have to practice immensely before achieving that level of perfection. Similarly, a weight lifter who decides to win in the Olympics practices day and night in order to lift the gold medal! For he is aware that the aspiration of his countrymen lie in him. The higher the goal, the greater is the potential that we manifest. Goals enable us to perform to our potential.

Sir Edmund Hillary said, "I did not conquer Mount Everest. I conquered myself." When the great mountain stands ahead of us beckoning us, it is important that we take notice of that call. We can more easily overcome our moments of weakness. Therefore, the higher the goal, the greater is the ability we manifest overcoming the obstacles within and without.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Control Freakery

Arun Jaitley

The chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, lost little time after his appointment to make known his contemptuous views about the Indian media. The obvious danger of talking out of turn in order to crusading is that one ceases to be objective. You only have to tabulate the weak points of the target institution and emerge as a reformist yourself. 

While doing so Katju overlooked the fact that despite many weaknesses, the Indian media is a key protector of our democracy and does not need to be regulated. The argument that every institution in a democracy needs to be regulated is not a valid one. It is this mindset that produced the Indian Emergency of the mid-1970s. Has anyone dared to suggest that the Supreme Court is unregulated and hence needs to be regulated? This "control" psyche is destructive of democracy.

The media, both print and electronic, is today judged by the readers and viewers. It is for this reason that some newspapers and channels manage to consolidate while others are marginalized. The viewer is the king. He has a remote in his hand and the viewer is the best regulator of a channel. I would rather trust him than a retired judge seeking more powers. Freedom of choice and rejection to the unacceptable is a preferred option to a Big Brother who watches and intimidates the media. 

As an active participant in politics, I have no hesitation in admitting that besides one's own ethical preferences, a vigilant media is an additional deterrent in the conduct of public and private affairs of a public person. The possibility of being exposed by an intrusive media may be an irritant for a politician, but it has played an important role in keeping politicians on their toes. 

The media surely has its own share of problems. Its campaigning zeal leads to a lynch mob mentality. It has tended to create an environment of prejudice against media targets and influence free and fair trials. The remedy for this can be greater editorial control or, in extreme situations, even judicial intervention. However, the remedy cannot be government intervention. 

The past one year has seen several ministers carry on a campaign accusing the media of being hostile to the government. The recent move of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to renew a licence to operate a channel depending on the number of violations of the broadcasting and advertising codes was the result of this governmental irritation with the media. Media licensing is repugnant to press freedom. Thankfully, the move was short-lived. Institutions like the legislature, the judiciary and the media must adopt an attitude of statesmanship while dealing with each other. There is no place for an attitude that entails teaching the other a "lesson" in order to establish its own primacy. In this context, the recent judicial order of a court imposing Rs. 100 crore as damages against a news channel and its editor in a libel section raises serious questions. 

The channel in question, Times Now, was telecasting a news report relating to the involvement of a retired judge of a High Court in the provident fund scandal in Ghaziabad. It correctly pronounced the name of the judge, who has since retired from the Calcutta High Court. The operator of the channel's database was asked to provide a photograph of the judge that could be flashed on the TV screen. He erroneously pulled out a photograph of a retired Supreme Court judge whose name was phonetically similar to the judge whose photograph he was searching for. Instead of Justice Samantha, a photograph of Justice PB Sawant was flashed for a few seconds after which the retired judge's office protested. An apology was carried on the scroll, though belatedly. A Pune court awarded Rs. 100 crore as damages in favour of the former Supreme Court judge for loss of reputation.

As someone having familiarity with the quantum of damages Indian courts award, this order appears to be somewhat unusual. Observers are still unable to come to terms with the quantum of damages awarded even in cases of death or disability caused by Union Carbide in the tragic 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The quantum awarded in various death cases, be it an accident or otherwise, in India, is normally modest. The quantum awarded recently in the 1997 Uphaar Fire Tragedy is a case in point. If a former judge is entitled to Rs. 100 crore for his photograph being flashed erroneously on account of being mistaken with another phonetically similar name, will this precedent be applied by Indian courts to other ordinary mortals who complain of loss of reputation on account on account of far more serious allegations? I am not aware of a single case where even 1% of this amount has been awarded to an ordinary citizen or a public person for loss of reputation. There is no better way of shutting down Indian media than by awarding punitive damages against journalists, newspapers or TV channels that are completely disproportionate to the value of money in Indian society.

Each media organization is expected to exercise due care and caution. Errors, however, will take place on account of the very nature of the news circulation business. If channels or newspapers are to suffer such an order, on the assumption that Rs. 100 crore are to be the normal damages awarded to a citizen, we may in the next 10 years become a nation without media organizations. 

Citizens deserve a free and fair media. We cannot have a free and fair media by having the Press Council act as the Big Brother, or with the government threatening to de-license news channels, or with the judiciary imposing unreasonable punitive damages on them. We just need an independent and a vigilant media as much as much as we need an independent judiciary.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Movie Review: Traffic

The 2011 Malayalam film "Traffic" is a multi-narrative thriller that intertwines multiple stories around one particular incident. The narrative of the film has been told in the hyperlink format dealing with plot twists, interwoven storylines between multiple characters. The film follows the life of six main characters--an aspiring journalist Raihan (Vineeth Srinivasan) and his friend Rajeev (Asif Ali), who are travelling in a bike and are fatally hit by a speeding car at a signal, a superstar Sidharth Shankar (Rahman) who is getting ready for the release of his new film, a young cardiac surgeon Abel (Kunchako Boban), City Police Commissioner Ajmal Nazar (Anup Menon)  and a traffic constable Sudevan (Srinivasan). 

The story takes place on a certain September 16 at a crowded traffic junction in Kochi. It has been an inspired from a real-life event that happened in Chennai. As the film follows the hyperlink format, an accident changes their lives forever and how they tackle with it is what the story is essentially about. I'd like not to spill the beans here by furthering the story here.

As a film by itself, it is a complete edge-of-the-seat thriller movie with the screenplay which progresses really fast. If you tend to deviate a bit, you lose track of the film. It completes hooks you in by almost taking you to the middle of the action in the screenplay. Every character in the movie has an equal importance as the story moves ahead and they are etched out quite well. The film progresses in a very brisk manner. The interval punch is brilliant which makes you keep guessing till the end. The positive trend in the movie is the absence of a regular hero and an actress since everyone has been given equal role. 

The brilliant background music by Mejo Joseph does wonders for the movie as it helps takes the story forward and also accelerates the level of tension in the film at the right places. The cinematography by Shyju Khalid deserves accolades for so capturing the intricacies of a busy traffic junction and then following the journey.  Traffic is a brutally brilliant film in which the filmmaker lends colour to coincidence and unveils before us a cognition on the dynamics of chance. It is a strikingly crafted film which is raw and genuine, it crawls right under your skin and stays there. 

Summing up, there is an inherent sincerity about it which makes Traffic a genuine movie of recent times. It is a perfect entertainer which provides the thrills at the right places and instills a sense of fear and does not fail to amuse you as a viewer. Though the film has average production values, it is an overwhelming experience. If you like edge-of-the-seat thrillers, don't miss Traffic!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Movie Review: Ananthabhadram

The 2005 Malayalam film "Ananthabhadram" concerns ghosts, black magic and spirits. The film begins with little Ananthan hearing a folk tale from his mother Gayathri (Revathy) telling him that his family comes from a line of powerful magicians and that they are responsible for protecting a "nagamanickyam", a jewel on a serpent's head. The jewel, she narrates in the ancient village of Sivapuram in a house guarded by snakes, including a tiny snake called Kunjootan. 

Years later, Ananthan (Prithviraj) returns to Sivapuram with his deceased mother's ashes. His mother wanted him to light the lamp at Shivakaavu, a dark and mysterious temple of Lord Shiva. During his stay in Sivapuram, he meets his cousin Bhadra (Kavya Madhavan) and encounters the local black magician Digambaran (Manoj K. Jayan). Soon enough, we are shown that Digambaran is not a friendly character as he opposes the lighting of lamps on the grounds of local superstitions in order to get his hands on the nagamanickyam. Digambaran has serious issues with Madambi "tharavadu" (family) which spans generations as he is in pursuit of the nagamanickyam and is resolute in his quest. 

Digambaran has an enemy in Chemban (Kalabhavan Mani), a blind martial arts expert who stands in the way of Digambaran's hunt for the nagamanickyam. The evil Digambaran manages to remove Chemban from his way by blinding him and leaves a trail of blood. Digambaran also lures Chemban's sister Bhama (Riya Sen) into black magic. He repeatedly boasts about the fact that he has the power to perform the parakayapravesam (the process of transferring one's soul into another body) to attain the nagamanickyam using Bhama. 

The highlight performance in this film is by Manoj K. Jayan as the evil black magician Digambaran. No one could have essayed the role with dignity and panache the way he has done. Kalabhavan Mani also has done a wonderful job. Prithviraj irritates a bit with his English dialogues but acting wise, he is efficient. Kavya Madhavan looks beautiful but needs to slim down a bit. Riya Sen appears to be the most confused actress in the movie as there is no clarity on what the role demanded from her. As far as casting goes, the film sticks to the formula of a regular Malayalam film.

Visually, the film is a treat as it draws heavily from the local myths and tales. Certain aspects of dance used by the choreographer Aparna Sindoor draw inspiration from the Theyyam and Kathakali dancers of Kerala making it evident that we have a rich visual culture. The film also uses Kalarippayattu, the traditional martial arts of South India, for the fight sequences between Digambaran and Chemban choreographed by action director Arash. The director also pays a tribute to legendary painter Raja Ravi Varma by using three of his paintings as an inspiration to film the song.

The sound recording of the film is very good but the screenplays tends to progress in a hurried manner as though there is an urgent need to finish the story somehow. As the pace increases towards the second half, it becomes a bit difficult to follow the story. Nevertheless, it is a sincere effort by cinematographer Santhosh Sivan. Watch the film for its high production values and its folk tale which seeks inspiration from the rich visual culture.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Decline of The West

R. Vaidyanathan
IIM Bangalore

Ten years ago, America had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash. Now, it has no Jobs, no Hope and no Cash. Or so the joke goes. Only, it's no joke. The line is pretty close to reality in the US. The less said about Europe the better. Both the US and Europe are in decline. I was asked by a business channel in 2008 about recovery in the US and I mentioned 40 quarters and I was never invited for another discussion. Recently, another media person asked me the same question and I answered 80 quarters. He was shocked since he was told some "sprouts" of recovery had been seen in the American economy.

It is important to recognize that the dominance of the West has been there only for the last 200-and-odd years. According to Angus Maddison's pioneering OECD study, India and China had nearly 50 percent of global GDP as late as the 1820s. Hence, India and China are not emerging or rising powers. They are retrieving their original position. The dollar is having a roller coaster ride at present. In 1990, the share of the G-7 in world GDP (on a purchasing power parity basis) was 51 percent and that of emerging markets 36 percent. But in 2011, it is the reverse. So the dominant west is a myth.

Similarly, the crisis. It is a US-Europe crisis and not a global one. The two wars--which were essentially European wars--were made out to be world wars with one English leader commenting that "we will fight the Germans to the last Indian". In this economic scenario, countries like India are made to feel as if they are in a crisis. Since the West says there's a crisis, we swallow it hook, line and sinker.

But it isn't so. At no point of time in the last 20 years has foreign investment--direct and portfolio--exceeded 10 percent of our domestic investment. Our growth is due to our domestic savings which is again predominantly household savings. Our housewives require awards for our growth not any western fund manager. The crisis faced by the West is primarily because it has forgotten a six letter word called "saving" which, again, is the result of forgetting another six letter word called "family". The West has nationalized families over the last 60 years. Old age, ill health, single motherhood--everything is the responsibility of the state.

When family is a "burden" and children an "encumbrance", society goes for a toss. Household savings have been in the negative in the US for long. The total debt to GDP ratio is as high as 400 percent in many countries, including UK. Not only that, the West is also facing a severe demographic crisis. The population of Europe during the First World War was nearly 25 percent and today it is around 11 percent and expected to become 3 percent in another 20 years. Europe will disappear from the world map unless migrants from Africa and Asia take it over.

The demographic crisis impacts the West in other ways. Social security goes for a toss since people are living longer and not many from below contribute to their pensions through taxes. So the nationalization of families becomes a burden on the state. The European work culture has become worse with even our own Tatas complaining about the work ethics of British managers. In France and Italy, the weekend starts on Friday morning itself. The population has become lazy and state-dependent.

In the UK, the situation is worse with drunkenness becoming a common problem. Parents do not have control over children and the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation in London said: "There are all signs of arteriosclerosis of a culture and a civilization grown old. Me has taken precedence over We and pleasure today over viability tomorrow." (The Times: 8 September).

Married couples make up less than half (45 percent) of all households in the US, say recent data from the Census Bureau. Also, there is a huge growth in unmarried couples and single parent families (mostly poor, black women). Society has become dysfunctional or disorganized in the West. The government is trying to be organized.

In India, the society is organized and the government disorganized. Due to the disorganized society in the West, the state has to take care of families. The market crash is essentially due to the adoption of a model where there is consumption with borrowings and no savings. How long will Asian savings be able to sustain the western spending binge? According to a recent report in The Wall Street (10 October 2011), nearly half of US households receive government benefits like food stamps, subsidized housing, cash welfare or Medicare or Medicaid (the federal state health care programmes for the poor) or social security.

The US is also a stock market economy where half the households are investors and they have been hit hard by bank and corporate failures. Even now, less than five percent of our household financial savings goes to the stock market. Same in China and Japan.

Declining empires are dangerous. They will try to peddle their failed models to us and we will swallow it since colonial genes are very much present here. You will find more Indians heading global corporations since India is now a very large market and one way to capture is to make Indian sepoys work for it.

A declining West is best for the rest and also for the West, which needs to rethink its failed models and rework its priorities. For the rest--like us--the fact that the West has failed will be accepted by us only after some western scholar tell us the same. Till then, we will try to imitate them and create more dysfunctional families.

We need to recognize that Big Government and Big Business are twin dangers for average citizens. India faces both and they are the two asuras (demons) we need to guard against. The Leftists in the National Advisory Council want all families to be nationalized and governed by a Big State and reform marketers of the CII variety want Big Business to flourish under crony capitalism. Beware of the twin evils since both look upon India as a charity house or as a market and not as an ancient civilization.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


The song "Nee" is certainly one of the well-composed non-film songs in recent times. The lyrics for the song have been written by Aisoorya Vijayakumar and sung by my childhood friend Jaya Vidyasagar, a talented and classically trained singer from Mumbai who has lent her voice for this song. It has been composed by Rishi S. for an independent music label called "Sonore Unison".

I imagined the song as an expression of a young girl waiting by the window as she was disillusioned and depressed since the boy whom she was in love with had moved to the city for higher studies. However, it was on a rainy morning, when her lover returned as a true gentleman from the city, it was as though the young girl almost received a new lease of life. On the joyous occasion of his arrival, she breaks into this song and sings it as tears roll down her eyes as she welcomes him back into her life. The song is a wonderful tribute to her lover's arrival back into her life.

The rough meaning of the song would read something like:

The pain residing in my eyelids ended because of you
The sprout residing in the seed has reached the sky
Did my heart spring back to life because of your arrival?
My eyes broke into sweat because of our relationship

The pain residing in these eyelids
That feel of shock, laughter and admiration with a mild tremble has ended because of you
The solitude that existed in the scattered mind stood behind a veil here.

Frozen moments moved fast
The days of depression disappeared,
The pain residing in these eyelids
The feeling of shock, laughter and admiration with a mild tremble
Partially due to joy and partially due to warmth
Has ended because of you.

Song Name: Nee
Singer: Jaya Vidyasagar
Lyrics: Aisoorya Vijayakumar
Music and Mixing: Rishi S.
Label: Sonore Unison

Illustrations: Krishna Kumar Kandi

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Steve means success

MN Kundu
Hindustan Times

If I were to define success, I would say it means "Steve". By changing the digital world and thereby bringing a revolution, Steve Jobs, who died last week, changed the approach and lifestyles of people all over the world. He dared to rebel and walked the untrodden path. His stress was: Be different and see the difference in your life. Steve was not only different but made it possible for the rest of mankind to think that they too can be different and agents of change.

I found the best tribute paid to Steve in a tweet: "Three apples have changed the world. One seduced Eve, the second awakened Newton and the third one was in the hands of Jobs." Steve wanted us to always follow our inner voice but give a damn to dogmas and tradition. As if he knew the imminent end of his journey on this planet, he said, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogmas. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your inner voice."

The man who made the world of technology richer with his iPhone, iPad, iPod and desktop PC, saw to it that the worlds of computing, music and mobile phones were no longer the same. Steve was a dreamer who could convert and shape his dreams into reality. His passion bordered madness. Until he succeeded in achieving something different and new, his search for new ideas made him ruthless and restless. He used to say, "innovations come from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea."

Steve was a prisoner of hope. He was the kind of man who, in the words of Emerson, would hitch his wagon to a star. The lesson we get to learn from his life is: do not vegetate and dare to be a little bit of a rebel. Open up your mind and the whole world will open up for you. Steve Jobs did that because he knew that "without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible"--Khalil Gibran.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Headlines you will never see...

Sevanti Ninan
The Hindu

Last fortnight, a new documentary screened in Delhi had a packed hall in thrall. Called "Brokering News", it glided effortlessly through a succession of sound bytes and TV news clips to suggest a range of unethical practices prevalent in the media. The existence of election-time paid news, of complicity between stock market experts and the TV channels that feature their tips, of cosy deals that enable each newly released film to get varying degrees of prime time pre-release exposure, of increasingly political ownership of channels, of seductions to journalists, abundant "reviews" of new gadgets and automobiles and so on.

This documentary has been made by Umesh Aggarwal for the Public Service Broadcasting Trust and will be shown on Doordarshan, which will doubtless be delighted to air it. It was a brisk film built largely on circumstantial evidence and assertions of a general kind. Business journalist Sucheta Dalal saying for instance that: "Every single aspect of news is for sale," or filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt saying that the publicity a film gets is what it negotiates, not what it deserves. Or sports journalist Pradeep Magazine revisiting the cozy relationship that existed between media houses and the Indian Premier League until things that went sour for the IPL. The documentary had a compelling case study and specific accusations were levelled by a journalist who said he quit in disgust. The audience loved it.

In a country consumed with the issue of corruption, the discussion on degrees of ethical deficit in the media never moves beyond first base. Noteworthy, but unsurprising. Media corruption is not an issue that the State wants to tackle seriously for the same reason that corporate corruption is not an issue for the media until it becomes impossible to ignore. You need each other. Where would a politician be without publicity of any kind, where would a media house be without corporate advertising?

There is also another reason why the State will not stick its neck out on this issue. When a media house is raided, the community shrieks about the violation of press freedom. This has happened in some notable cases since the late 1990s. During the Anna agitation, the Law Minister Salman Khurshid asked on Headlines Today why Team Anna's draft of the Lokpal Bill had not called for investigation of corruption in the media and the NGO sector? The anchor asked him in turn why the government had not chosen to investigate those who figured in the Niira Radia tapes. And the good Minister said that if they did so the government would be criticized. "Now you are asking why the government has not investigated. If we go ahead with the investigation, we would be accused of being insensitive. If we do, there would be a mass movement for the media."

The major difference between corruption in public life and corruption in the media is that one has become a raging issue and the other not enough of an issue. To the extent that you need the media to make corruption an issue, media corruption will never become a big ticket item on the national agenda. And the interesting thing is, to the extent that civil society cannot fulfil any of its own agendas without using the media to ride on, it will leave media corruption well alone. In the list of problems Indian NGOs work like gnomes to address, those involving media abdication or transgressions are very hard to find.

We did not invent media corruption, nor do we have a monopoly on it. Trawl on the Internet and you would find journalists from Kenya, the Philippines and Nepal speaking on the subject. The Philippines too has paid news.

And then corruption is not sufficiently nuanced word to describe the problem. Paid news and journalists, big and small, on the take are the relative uncomplicated face of it. What of journalists not doing their job and going only after soft targets rather than big corporate or government fish because their owners need advertising from them? At the bottom of the pile, corruption exists because journalists are not paid enough, at the top it is at the management level and because the advertising the channel or paper is able to summon is not enough to cover costs, particularly since the cover price is low and no costs are covered at all. You sell a newspaper that costs Rs. 15 to produce at Rs. 3.

Desperate measures to finance escalating costs of production are also happening because hordes of players enter the media sector for a variety of reasons. There are no less than 40 news channels across the country financed by political parties or families, according to the aforementioned documentary. A highly fragmented market that shows no signs of consolidating.

The more expensive news gets to produce and the less advertising there is to go around, the more shows you will get on gadgets and cars and movies. And fewer news crews going off the countryside to report what is happening to ordinary people. Not reporting is not a cognizable offence, but it undermines the reason for the existence of journalism in a free society.

So, who will bell the cat? Not civil society, not government, not the corporate sector, not the media themselves, not the political class. We should look around at other societies to see what mechanisms they have come up with and pursue a variety of solutions. Until then, we will titter every time the Niira Radia sound bytes are played, but nothing will change on the ground.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Thank You, Steve Jobs

The death of Apple founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, as tragic it was, brought back some hope for aspiring journalists like me that it was possible to find positive stories amidst death. For probably the first time, I learnt not to be boggled by the scams and the brain-numbing figures associated with each scam. Though it was a tragic end for Steve at the young age of 56, it rekindled a hope that it was possible to find and unearth positive stories even during adversities which could find a mention on the front page of a newspaper.

He, of course, left behind a legacy which is tough to replace. He created one of the world's best companies, Apple and led the company to a towering success with his inspiring leadership qualities and a unique vision. What he left behind is far more important was that he left the world as a role model for many people. He left behind the possibility that one person can make a huge difference. He proved that even school or college dropouts had the potential in them to dream big and make it large. At this juncture, it is interesting to note how school and college dropouts often emerge successful as architects of a better future than the ones who spend years studying in IITs or IIMs.

Steve proved many experts wrong by his sheer conviction and his high vision. He demonstrated beyond doubt that clarity of vision and a passion for that vision which settles for nothing but the best and an unwillingness to compromise on principles, ethics or on the need for excellence, one can achieve much more than what is actually unimaginable.

As the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once stated: "All progress depends upon the unreasonable man." Steve was the best example to prove this point. He was unreasonableness personified. It is often said that reasonable people do only reasonable things. Starting from the basics in a tiny garage, he succeeded in building the Apple empire with a vision and a demand of nothing less than the best which has given us the Apple we know of and love today.

He loved doing what he was doing which explains why he emerged successful. In a philosophical angle, doing something which you love is known as swadharma (self-duty). Swadharma is the basic quality in man who has the ideas and potentials. As also, there is always something which a person loves doing which does not seem to take much effort. It is generally believed only self-realized people can live up to the standards of following their swadharma but it is not the case. In this case, Steve personified grit and imagination applied to technology. As a writer once said: "To computer jobs, he brought simplicity. To an industry known for its geeky/ugly functionality, he brought beauty." The day Steve resigned as the CEO of Apple Computers, the Oscar winning music maestro AR Rahman said: "A true master knows when to quit. We will miss you, Steve."

In his impactful Stanford Commencement speech in 2005, he said, "Remembering I'll be dead is the most important tool I have encountered to help me to make the big choices in life. Because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death; leaving only what it is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to close. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." Such great words coming from a college dropout and more importantly, a cancer patient can only make us stand up in awe of the greatest innovator and mass communicator of the 21st century.

He surely had an enormous impact on the modern life and the changes he initiated in the field of computers and technology will roll through our lives for decades. But for millions, he will epitomize the man who stood for encouragement, belief in one's self and being a role model who could exactly demonstrate how much of an impact is possible by a single man.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Ek Shaam Shammi Ke Naam

Every childhood hero takes away a little bit of one's life along with him when he dies. In the India of the 1950s and 1960s, when Indians were just learning to enjoy freedom, Shamsher Raj Kapoor or Shammi Kapoor, as he was more popularly known, became the most obvious symbol of freedom. Nearly forty years after his iconic movie "Junglee" released, it is easy to be dismissive about that yell which rose from the belly, filled the throat and then knocked your head off: "Yaaaahoooo!" It was the roar of liberation from the silly boredom of convention.

Shammi Kapoor entered the Hindi film industry when Dilip Kumar was still going strong and Rajendra Kumar was bowing out of the race for the best actor. Shammi Kapoor, who came as a breath of fresh air and became India's first youth icon with his sea-blue eyes, chocolate boys and a man with a colourful personality and an amazing sense of rhythm and dance. In a very boisterous way, Shammi Kapoor encouraged the youth to go find our voice, even if it that turned into screaming. He always seemed to promote the message to be brilliant even if it would mean being around like a fool and be authentic in a special way.

Shammi Kapoor's singing voice is Mohammed Rafi, who actually went to sing almost all his songs, which were very youthful in nature. As human beings, they seem to be miles apart from each other but the magic of crossing the bridge does the trick. In fact, it was because of the songs that Mohammed Rafi sang for Shammi which made me believe that Mohammed Rafi had a life and he could sing even cheerful songs which hinted at sex in subtle undertones. Shammi and Rafi almost resulted in the fact as important as the voice for the body. Listening to a Shammi Kapoor song today would mean instantly waking up from the seat and swaying to the rhythm of the song as easily as one could four decades ago. The indebtedness for Rafi was visibly evident when Mohammed Rafi passed away in 1980 when Shammi Kapoor remarked: "It is a sad day since I lost my voice."

Despite the fact that Shammi Kapoor started gaining weight and started hamming in the Hindi movies, he was graceful to bow out of the Hindi film industry in 1971. Though, Shammi Kapoor lifted love from familiarity and hinted sharply at sex in subtle undertones, we could simply forgive him for being India's first youth icon in the post-independence era who taught the youngsters back then to find their own voice. In his later years, he taught us to live to the fullest without a sense of regret or self-pity. In a very subtle manner, he taught us the lesson we need desperately: a colourful and youthful attitude to a situation.

Instead of mourning his demise, his life is an example of how life should be celebrated and the power of being in the now.. Truly, we lost a priceless gem in the Hindi film industry who left leaving a space which is irreparable. Tally ho, Shammiji!!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Guru Principle

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

The Guru tattva is the principal and the wisdom of a Guru is a tattva (an element), a quality which is present inside each one of us. The Guru tattva is confined to a body or form. There is a story that Lord Krishna once Uddhava, his close friend and a very wise man, to the gopis and gopans, who were full of devotion. Uddhava went to give them wisdom, to talk about liberation but none of them was interested in listening to that. They all echoed: "No, tell us about some story about Krishna, tell us what is happening in Dwarka, where He is. We don't want to hear this wisdom; you can keep that to yourself. But tell us what news you have of Krishna? We don't care about wisdom; we are happy with longing and we are happy with love. So, let us sing and dance."

That's all they wanted to do. This is how love makes you crazy. That's when all the boundaries drop and you feel one with everyone around and one with the whole universe--and that's called the Guru tattva. Devotion is the inherent nature of man. When you rest in your own nature, there is no conflict. But usually, we feel a conflict and then we feel about a negative quality we have or something that we did.

A Master is one who lifts these burdens from you that you yourself cannot carry--and kindles in you devotional love. Offer everything to the Master--your anger, your frustration, all your bad feelings and good feelings. Your negativity pulls you down. Your positive qualities bring pride and arrogance in you thereby making our life becoming a big weight. When you offer it all by dedicating it, you become free. One ends up feeling much lighter like a flower. You can once again smile and rejoice in the moment. What remains in you is pure love. Since ages, all the knowledge and wisdom have been passed on.

In India, we continually express our gratitude to the guru-shishya tradition. The festival of Guru Poornima is the day to celebrate the knowledge and love. India has been rightly called "Bharata" in our scriptures. The Sanskrit word "Bha" refers to "Bhaskar" which means light while "Rata" signifies chariot or land. Hence, the name "Bharata" could translate into the chariot of knowledge or the land of knowledge. Our mind is connected with the moon and the full moon is a symbol of completion, celebration, a pinnacle. The highest desire is to ask for knowledge and freedom. Ultimately, happiness cannot be brought by money. Comfort is a small thing. But there are only two things that will be asked which make life more fruitful--how much love did you give? And how much knowledge have you acquired? What gets imprinted in the consciousness is knowledge.

Knowledge is not what you read in a book; it is derived from awareness. Knowledge is like the ocean, which cannot be measured. Some people take a walk along the beach while they receive good oxygen, fresh air and they are happy with that. Others would put their feet in the water and feel the scintillating impact of the ocean. A few more adventurous souls would go for surfing or scuba-diving and they find precious things. So, it's up to you--if you want to take a walk on the beach, swim or go deeper. Every single person on this planet is a spiritual seeker since everyone is looking for peace, love and happiness. This is precisely what the "spirit" comprises of.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

JRD: A Class Apart

Sudha Murthy

There are two photographs that hang on my office wall. Everyday, when I entered my office I look at them before starting my day. They are JRD Tata and Jamsetji Tata.

It was a long time ago when I was young, bright, bold and idealistic. I was in the final year of my Master's course in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) in Bangalore, then known as the Tata Institute. Life was full of fun and joy. I did not know what helplessness or injustice meant.

It was probably the April of 1974. I was the only girl in my postgraduate department. I was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in computer science. I had been offered scholarships from universities in the US. I had not thought of taking up a job in India. One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture hall complex, I saw an advertisement on the notice board. It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile company Telco (now Tata Motors). It stated that the company required young, bright engineers, hardworking and with an excellent academic background, etc.

At the bottom was a small line: "Lady candidates need not apply". I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life, I was up against gender discrimination. Though I was not keen on taking up the job, I saw it as a challenge. I had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers. Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful. I decided to inform the topmost person in Telco's management about the injustice the company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and and started to write, but there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco. I thought it must be one of the Tatas. I knew JRD Tata was the head of the Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in newspapers (actually, Sumant Moolgaonkar was the company's chairman then). I took the card, addressed it to JRD and started writing.

To this day, I remember clearly what I wrote: "The great Tatas have always been pioneers. They are the people who started the basic infrastructure industries in India, such as iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and locomotives. They have cared for higher education in India since 1900 and they were responsible for the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Fortunately, I study there. But I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating on the basis of gender."

I posted the letter and forgot about it. Less than 10 days later, I received a telegram stating that I had to appear for an interview at Telco's Pune facility at the company's expense. I was taken aback by the telegram. As directed, I went to Telco's Pimpri office for the interview. There were six people on the panel and I realized then that this was serious business. "This is the girl who wrote to JRD," I heard somebody whisper as soon as I entered the room. By then, I knew for sure that I would not get the job.

The realization abolished all fear from my mind, so I was rather cool while the interview was being conducted. Even before the interview started, I reckoned that the panel was biased, so I told them, rather impolitely, "I hope this is only a technical interview." They were taken aback by my rudeness and even today I am ashamed about my attitude. The panel asked me technical questions and I answered all of them. Then an elderly gentleman with an affectionate voice told me, "Do you know why we said lady candidates need not apply? The reason is that we have never employed ladies on the shop floor. This is not a co-ed college; this is a factory. When it comes to academics, you are a first ranker throughout. We appreciate that, but people like you should work in research laboratories."

I was a young girl from small town Hubli in Karnataka. My world had been a limited place. I did not know the ways of large corporate houses and their difficulties, so I answered, "But you must start somewhere, otherwise no woman will ever be able to work in your factories." Finally, after a long interview, I was told I had been successful. So this was what the future had in store for me. Never had I thought I would take up a job in Pune. I met a shy young man from Karnataka there, we became good friends and eventually got married.

It was only after joining Telco that I realized who JRD was: the uncrowned king of Indian industry. Now I was scared, but I did not get to meet him till I was transferred to Bombay. One day, I had to show some reports to Mr. Moolgaonkar, our chairman, who we all knew as SM. I was in his office on the first floor of the Bombay House (the Tata headquarters) when, suddenly JRD walked in. That was the first time I saw "aapro JRD". Aapro means "our" in Gujarati. This was the affectionate term by which people in Bombay House called him.

I was feeling very nervous, remembering my postcard episode. SM introduced me nicely, "Jeh (that's what his close associates called him), this young woman is an engineer and that too a postgraduate. She is the first woman to work on the Telco shop floor." JRD looked at me. I was praying he would not ask me any questions about my interview (or the postcard that preceded it). Thankfully, he didn't. Instead, he remarked: "It is nice that girls are getting into engineering in our country."

He smiled and started a discussion with SM. As for me, I almost ran out of the room. After that, I used to see JRD on and off. He was the Tata Group chairman and I was merely an engineer. There was nothing we had in common. I was in awe of him. One day, I was waiting for my husband, to pick me up after office hours. To my surprise, I saw JRD standing next to me. I did not know how to react. Yet again, I started worrying about that postcard.

Looking back, I realized that JRD had forgotten about it. It must have been a small incident for him, but not so for me. "Young lady, why are you here?" he asked. "Office time is over." I said, "Sir, I'm waiting for my husband to come and pick me up." JRD said, "It is getting dark and there's no one in the corridor. I'll wait with you till your husband comes." I was nervous. Out of the corner of my eye, I looked at him. He wore a simple white pant and shirt. He was old, yet his face was glowing. There wasn't any air of superiority about him. I was thinking: "Look at this person. He is a chairman, a well-respected man in our country and he is waiting for the sake of an ordinary employee." Then, I saw my husband and I rushed out. JRD called me and said, "Young lady, tell your husband never to make his wife wait again."

In 1982, I had to resign from my job at Telco. I was reluctant to go, but I really did not have a choice. I was coming down the staircase of Bombay House after wrapping up my final settlement when I saw JRD coming up. He was absorbed in thought. I wanted to say goodbye to him, so I stopped. He saw me and paused. "Sir, I am leaving Telco." "Where are you going?" he asked. "Pune, Sir. My husband is starting a company and I'm shifting to Pune." "Oh! And what will you do when you are successful?" "Sir, I don't know whether we will be successful." "Never start with a diffidence," he advised me. "Always start with confidence. When you are successful you must give back to society. Society gives us so much; we must reciprocate. I wish you all the best." Then, JRD continued walking upstairs. I stood there for what seemed like a millennium. That was the last time I saw him alive.

I consider JRD a great man because despite being an extremely busy person, he valued one postcard written by a young girl seeking justice. He must have received thousands of letters everyday. He could have thrown mine away, but he did not do that. He respected the intentions of that unknown girl, who had neither influence nor money and yet gave her an opportunity in this company. He did not merely give her a job; he changed her life and mindset forever.

Close to 50 percent of students in today's engineering colleges are girls. And there are women on the shop floor in many industry segments. I see these changes and it reminds me of JRD. If at all time stops and asks me what I want from life, I would say I wish JRD were alive to see how the company we started has grown. He would have enjoyed it wholeheartedly. My love and respect for the House of Tata remains undiminished by the passage of time. I always looked up to JRD. I saw him as a role model for his simplicity, his generosity, his kindness and the care he took of his employees. Those blue eyes always reminded me of the sky; they had the same vastness and magnificence.