Friday, December 12, 2008

Some food for thought on our identity post-26/11

The Campion family lost Sunil Parekh (Class of 1978) and his wife Reshma in the attacks at the Oberoi, and Patrick has a nice tribute to Sunil and Reshma, with a video celebrating his life. The part of the video showing Sunil in full form at a class reunion was touching to say the least!

It's been very interesting to see some articles being posted on the Old Campionites Association website. The batch of 1987 has been the most active, with Aashish Contractor (Britto) and Jai Natarajan (Xavier) writing two brilliant articles (in my humble opinion) capturing the essence of the change we need, and 'change we can believe in'! My venerable schoomaster Mr. Indrajit Panjabi (litterateur and librateur sans pareil) called them pieces worthy of TIME/Newsweek!

Aashish was on the scene at Leopold helping out (he's a doctor), and first wrote about his first-hand experiences here. He has hit the nail on the head in saying that over the past fortnight "One of the greatest hurdles that faces us as a nation today is our tendency to obfuscate issues, and no one has given us greater training in that art, than our politicians." The departure of Mr. Beautiful Idiot (aka Shivraj Patil) and the other Patil (RR) were steps taken forward, but sleepwalked back again (to quote Floyd, and Amit Varma). He goes on to talk about our 'chalta hai' attitude, accepting everything which comes our way, be it the corrupt police-force or lack of basic facilities for half the population, as long as we can live in our plush environs. The solution he proposes, of giving every person a sense of ownership of the safety and prosperity of the city might be a tad tough to accomplish although. I am not sure whether the 'communal issues' went up in flames in 2002, or whether it's been on low simmer since 1990-91 when Mr. Advani decided to go retro in his rath.

Jai on the other hand, has written a more emotional article, mincing no words in stating that "Mumbaikars over decades of greed and rapacity, have destroyed rule of law and corrupted the systems which should have protected us. We are the system. We are the reality of Mumbai. We are its pestilence. It is convenient to demand action, to demand results, somehow, anyhow. Can we believe in a fantasy that a bureaucracy, government and law enforcement apparatus which have never delivered anything meaningful, which we have ourselves strangled over the years, can suddenly start delivering results in one narrow sphere of security?"

He has taken a dispassionate view on the situation, hitting a raw nerve, and I guess a lot of folks will be up in arms after reading his post. What he writes does largely hold true - l do believe that the nation suffers from a slight lack of unity as a whole. And the only reason why such a hue and cry is being raised is due to the fact that the places hit were hangouts and the rich and famous (with all due respect to the people who perished in those unfortunate circumstances). As Jai wrote:
"Neither Mr. Tata with his billions nor Mr. Bachchan with his pistol was there to save us on Wednesday night. We were saved by lower middle class jawans who on a normal Sunday would not even be allowed to enter the Taj or Oberoi by the security, who cannot even afford a Thums Up at Souk. Do we even deserve these amazing young men to fight and die for us when every public figure and Page 3 celebrity is on air spewing verbal diarrhea about our fear and trauma?". This is probably the first time we have seen the Page 3 varieties of Bombay come out from their coccoons and speak out. It has always been the common man who has been caught in the crossifire, and I am skeptical about any reasonable 'change' happening (not even Rata Tata as the next Obama).

And so to the solution: Unless we re-engage our civic society as responsible and honest citizens of our own free will, we cannot expect better from our institutions. Let’s start with the hard, thankless and unglamorous task of fixing the broken windows and potholes. We have a very long way to go before reclaiming our Maximum City from what we have allowed it to become. Only then can we show the lead to the rest of the nation as we have always prided ourselves on doing.

Much as this makes sense on paper, I am not sure how practical it is. There is a dire need for us to make our nation more 'secure'; the pothole and window fixing will follow automatically. I know of folks who used to stay at the Oberoi, but then shifted to the Taj Heritage as there were rumors floating around about people of 'questionable character/antecedents' living at the Oberoi on a long-term basis. The agencies probably knew, but they never followed up. Why? Because of the general 'chalta hai' attitude which has percolated throughout our society.

And where does the change have to come? To a large extent, the common man is finally showing signs that he is sick and tired of the politicians who have gotten our nation into this quagmire, and although an honest politician is an oxymoron, realization has finally dawned that we don't need Judas-es. It is clear that corruption needs to slowly weeded out, especially in places where it involves national security. And of course, the security forces need to be prepared for any eventuality and properly equipped to handle it.

We cannot afford to let another 26-11 happen to our nation, at any cost. The signs are there for all to see, the action(s) remains to be taken.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Masala in the media

Came across an interesting post on Shiva's blog this morning, raising some fairly pertinent questions about the role of the media (in light of the events of November 26th). He wrote:
It gets worse when it gets sensational and stupid. Picture Barkha Dutt walking up to bedsheets hanging from a window in that cursed hotel talking about how people used that as a lifeline, mindlessly repeating the same thing. Where is the homework? Reportage is like my daughters fighting over who is first. Analysis is about supplying verbiage and making people cry. Presentation is intrusive, voyeuristic and worse, narcissistic.
The Thanksgiving weekend was the first time in about five years that I really got hooked to telly signals beamed straight out of India (courtesy CNN-IBN), much to the chagrin of the people around me. Although CNN did carry the Bombay news as its main item, overriding everything else, the choice of experts called in on Wednesday night (EST) was rather poor, with Deepak Chopra and some nondescript bloke (who looked like he had been yanked right out of a club and into the studios, disheveled hair and all) answering Larry King's inane questions, spouting their own weird conspiracy theories. They did have Amit Varma on the show, making it sound like he was in the thick of the action, but sadly Amit "couldn’t offer him any dope there".

Amit was spot-on in his analysis:
....such theories are a consequence of our tendency as a species to want to give gyan. A media pundit, especially, feels compelled to have a narrative for everything. Everything must be explicable, and television expects instant analysis.

This is foolish, for sometimes events are complicated, and we simply need to wait for more information to emerge before we can understand it. But many of us—not just the pundits—don’t have the humility to accept that. We want to feel in control, at least on an intellectual level, so reasons and theories emerge. But the world is really far too complicated for us. Yet somehow we muddle along.

I think this holds true for all the hoopla that played out on Indian telly channels, causing Shiva to write his anguished post.

I'm sure a lot of us followed cricket matches in school, with the radios carefully hidden underneath our desks. In the middle of a dull Hindi lesson, our antennas would detect a sudden surge in the near-mute commentary (I dare say jabber) emanating from the radios (yes, there were about 7 or 8 of them spread all over class) and heads would suddenly drop, to listen to what the excitement was all about. Sad to say, but the Indian radio commentators of the late 80s through the mid-90s were like rough coir compared to the (supposed) silk of AFS "Bobby" Taleyarkhan (I don't think I have ever heard him, but he is unequivocally considered one of the greatest commentators India has produced). The average radio commentator on AIR was more renowned for his shrieks than for substance. I remember reading somewhere (not sure if it was Harsha Bhogle or Richie Benaud) about the real art of radio commentary being in the ability to paint a picture of what was going on, without unnecessary hype and with minimum words. The same applies to television undoubtedly.

In the end, I cannot really blame the media for the way they deal with the news (and report it), since after all it can only be as good as the general audience it caters to, to use a cliched statement. We love our masalas, be it on the 7pm soap or in our 10pm dinner. So what's wrong if it's in the 9 o'clock news?

PS: Usual disclaimers apply!