Friday, March 31, 2006

Information Democracy at work.

I have thousands of parallel lines of thought running in my brain right. Millions of synapses are firing instructions at the same time, and I'm not on any psychoactive substances (maybe residual activity?) - no, I'm sitting in office waiting for someone to return a phone call to me, blissful in the knowledge that I have delivered most of my deliverables. At the end of the day, while I might write Correspondent/Editor (or whatever) on my visiting card I'm just a delivery-man. But my deliverables are chunks of often quite unreadable and boring text.
So thats that, then.
Now, to the topic. The 'Great Bearded One' (GBO) whom often comes in here to comment is someone I have known for some time. Now despite the fact that GBO looks like Santa Claus and is as old as my parents, he is someone I genuinely like - middle-aged with grown-up kids, bustling company that doesn't need too much tinkering and a house on the hills of Pune, and the man also brews wine. Perfect middle-aged harmony. Its been a while since we last met up, but we've been in touch over email and I've been following GBO's latest crusade - in which he is armed with the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Now GBO is the sort of person whom revel in the RTI Act. Y'see GBO's crusade has had some rather strange side-effects. He first targeted the airport authorities because they let people like Rahul-baba go through security unchecked - even though he has no legal right to do so (but, the crown prince is the crown prince, na?). Then there was the entire thing about how retailers inside the airport were charging more than the MRP for water/chips/soft-drinks and not giving bills - this has already had an impact. His latest one is on how people are misusing the VIP Parking slots at the airport. This was as direct consequence of a wannabe former beauty queen/Bollywood bimbette claiming that she had the right to park there. Strange since a couple of cabinet ministers never used the VIP parking facility even when they had it. This has now extended to other 'free' services various departments of the governments give including exemptions from highway tolls.
But, GBO is a clever man, he has found a massive loophole, which is that the for all these 'free' services, agencies should actually 'pay' the service tax on the value of the 'free' service, since the service-tax net thanks to the man with the veshthi is so immense it also covers airport parking as well as highway tolls. Aha! That means that in case Bollywood bimbette gets away without paying Rs 100 in fees/tolls, the agency that gave her the exemption will have to pay the Rs 10 to the central government anyway. The things you discover.
GBO believes that the RTI is used correctly can be a very effective weapon in the upliftment of some of India's more backward areas - incidentally, Bihar still hasn't implemented the RTI Act. He told me, that if he got the details of a few village panchayats he could find out exactly how much money had been spent there and on what. The RTI Act is tremendously powerful, and the bureaucracy in some cases is determined to stop people from getting information because it will expose flaws and corruption. GBO, being an argumentative sort (like many other stout middle-aged men) is also not easily put off by government apathy, and despite the fact that when you meet him you might find this almost impossible to believe - but GBO is bloody determined, even putting up with apathy, because he knows that in case of apathy, someone might end up behind bars (the RTI Act is THAT powerful).
Which is a good thing, because he is also bloody determined to make a good Zinfandel this year, and I plan to take a few bottles of those. I'm not going to explain the RTI Act in major detail, but if you want to help GBO in his 'Inforamtion Crusade', mail me at presstalk [at] and I'll put you in touch with him.
On another note, this critical analysis of The Hindu, is extremely readable and explains the extreme hipocrisy in what most liberals consider to be India's 'best' newspaper. Would you trust a newspaper whose editor was the card-carrying member of a political party? I wouldn't. That's why I read the TOI, which despite its extreme vapidness, is India's most apolitical large newspaper. Don't give me shit about HT here - Shobhna Bhartiya is a Congress MP and the Indian Express is the Congress Express.
The last post got a lot of activity, even at many of the blogs that linked to the post. On that particular case, I'll see what is happening and I'll keep everyone posted. And whats with all the wardrobe malfunctions at LFW, Mumbai (Check out this Flickr Tag, some very nice photos of Lakme Fashion Week here). Is it an event that is finding publicity hard to come by screaming "Look at Us", because that is what the cynic in me thinks. I saw the pics of Carol Gracias losing her top (given that every photog I know is camping at the NCPA just for things like this) and well, I'm not one to comment of physical perfection, but Frankentits should do it.
And a couple of links for the people who have been sent here all the way from - thanks for the link guys. Tokyo Undressed has some killer photography from you guessed it, Tokyo and Girls, Guns and Rope is a new book that would press the correct buttons of any male.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sexual Harassment in the media.

I debated long and hard before posting this, and a part of me still thinks I should not have, but because at the end of the day, media incestuousness would mean that almost nobody will pick up the story, and as I mentioned, blogs do have a purpose of informing people about things that they will never get to hear about. This is a serious problem in the Indian media.
I heard a very disturbing story a short while ago about an alledged case of sexual harassment in a media organisation. I've always believed that organisations shouldn't be too uptight - and as the case is under investigation, I'll refrain from further details.
People who I know and respect at a level have decided to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that harassment doesn't occur in their organisations - across media groups in India. Large media groups - and there are several - almost always have no Sexual Harassment Cells, whereas even the smallest Investment Banking firm with what, 15-20 employees would have one. Ironic isn't it, because these same media houses then do stories about on harassment. And the worst part is that they are legally required to have such a cell.
So, what is the story here? The incestuous nature of the media here has buried sexual harassment stories before. I mean two phone calls and a round of scotch at a five-star can bury most media rivalries for the time, and who will give a damn if one junior reporter quits. There are some, and this number is dreadfully small, editors who have a 'zero tolerance' policy, but other than the occasional well-publicised event (and that also because the harassed person would have ranked higher in the editorial schemes of things than the harasser) and some interesting initiatives by newer media companies - old media seems to ignore this problem.
Shocking? Definately. So what do we do about it? Well, the media company in question will not change its policies (given that a senior member of their management is accused of far worse, but people choose to ignore that) until something happens. A precedent, and that usually means legal recourse - though chances are that media companies will try and argue in the courts that they should be exempt from the need to have sexual harassment cells.
So, if you work in the media - I have a couple of questions - Does your organisation have a sexual harassment policy? And being the media sexual harassment works both ways, actually all three ways when you come to think of it.
This blog isn't a 'Name and Shame' blog, I'm just mortified that such a thing can happen and that people choose to ignore it. Its a pity, really. And do me a favour, please spread this post around, maybe then something might just happen, after all people do read blogs.
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EDIT : Point being raised after a chat with someone else who has had to deal with such an incident - Never forget the basis of both sides of the story. Secondly, if the complainant has a history of being whiney (and I know, first-hand, how easy it is to make up stories, rather spice them up a bit to make a certain individual seem like a total sleazeball, it is very easy), it doesn't help matters.
What is construed as 'sexual harassment'? The odd-SMS? In fact I agree with some of the points raised by the person here, there is no hard and fast rule to apply in this case - because one aspect being raised is is this dismissal baiting? In fact, the head of HR at a very large organisation (25,000 plus with a large number of women in senior management and famous for it) once told me that their sexual harassment cell had discovered that a quarter of such cases were actually classified as dismissal baiting - 'Zero Tolerance' after a full and through investigation is the only way forward. That said, there is always the 'Out of Context' situation - what do you do here - a random 'You Bitch' thrown out of context can get you fired. Now, that said, everybody has to deal with such a case seriously and nobody wants to be seen as lenient on such matters - and as one person (a lady) told that while the person involved might have a cavaliar attitude on some matters - if push comes to shove things will move. But which way is the question?
That however, doesn't remove the basic premise of this post - Do media organisations need full-fledged sexual harassment cells? Yes, they do. And should each case and complaint be investigated? Yes, they should be. And I also believe that the punishment for 'Casual/False' complaints should be as strict as the punishment for an actual case.
None of the parties involved read this blog, or to be more precise not that I know of.
EDIT : Evidently people 'do read' stuff on the internet and I've been advised to change the tenor of this post. I've done that and removed bits and pieces from here and there (which fair enough are allegations - because then I'll also be guilty like much of the Indian media is of convicting without evidence, and that is something I don't want to do) - but my central contention remains the same, and you can't argue with that!

Monday, March 27, 2006

So, where were we?

"Gosh, the cover prices of the newspapers here! Whats it in dollars...
Less than ten cents? How do you guys manage it and keep afloat?"
These words were said by Tim Pinnegar, the Apac publisher of The Economist in ET a couple of weeks ago and I didn't notice it until another publication reprinted the quote. And to use the favourite line of a person I once worked with, therein lies the rub. The rub being the constant whinging of Indian bloggers about the sorry state of the Indian newsmedia. "They don't do this, they don't do that... Times of India is evil personified, a waste of space.. yada, yada, yada." Heck, after Aamir Khan bashed the media, I even started wondering if its become fashionable to criticize the media - I wonder how soon before "Tum nahin jaante main kaun hoon" actress -types like Celina Jaitley get into the act. (Maybe not, as long as their only assets are their boobs)
I'm not taking it upon myself to defend the media, how can I, just look at the title of the blog. Everyday I read the papers or watch TV wincing at misinformed journalists and badly edited copy. Talking about bad copy - the best copy you will read in India belongs to Man's World even though their TV show is godawful, I genuinely like that magazine. Of course, since my editors also read this blog (and now due to someone not keeping their trap shut, so does my mom) I will praise my own publication to high heaven as well - no actually, not being sarcastic or anything (or keeping an eye on upcoming increments), I also like reading my own magazine. Then again, there are some magazines that should really be put out of their misery.
Newspapers of course are a linguistic nightmare, whats worse is that very often they're a factual nightmare as well. The problem as highlighted up at the top is that is costs you the reader/consumer next to nothing to buy into the media - for gods sake the Times in Mumbai gives me a 100 pages of tripe for four bucks, I'll get the same back in raddi. But a 100 pages is a 100 pages, and that keeps me fairly well occupied before I have to go and spend 30-40 minutes with my nose up someones armpit. And if you keep yourself distant enough from the news, absorbing just some things and neglecting others, I can find almost everything I need to know to live. Yeah sure, I'll walk into work and have my various RSS feeds deliver me unadultrated news, but then again I'm not your typical reader or consumer of information.
A newspaper/magazine/TV Channel has to take a conscious call on what a majority of their readers want - so Jessica Lal gets the prominence while the story of some woman in Chattisgarh/Jharkhand wherever gets ignored. The righteous indigation of some bloggers to this is amusing - but what the fuck is the editor supposed to do? The editor has to ensure that he sells papers, well, at Rs 2-4 per paper that isn't a particularly hard task, but he has to find the lowest common denominator for the front page. So if that means that you highlight the tale of a never-made-it-big model who was allegedly shot dead by someone who got acquitted because it will sell papers it works - because people are always willing to buy stories of nepotism and police brutality - especially if it concerns a PLU. Which is why the story of the woman in a village who was gangraped by the local political goon and his henchmen will never make P1 or P8 for that matter - she isn't a PLU. Celina Jaitley's histronics make for a better story.
This is where blogs can play a a vital role. I'm fairly surprised at the number of hits this blog is getting everyday - especially from media house IP ranges. So mediapersons read blogs and they do like to be aware. Most of them know that too many blogs across the world steer violently to the left - so violently in fact that other than a few they tend to dismiss most of them. But they do pick up stuff from blogs - leftist or not. So maybe someone might pick up the story and do something, maybe. Of course, it depends on how its packaged. Even blogs have to market their wares - and righteous (or should I call it 'lefteous') indignation is hardly the way.
The fact of the matter is that because media is so cheap in this country we get what we pay for. On one Air Deccan flight I took the passenger sitting next to me complained that the airline had no blankets or pillows, I asked him how much he paid - "Rs 2500" but that didn't stop him for showing righteous indignation - he even told me to write about it. Then, despite my 'nice guy' sort of image, I told him that he gets what he pays for. Upon this he started complaining about the media - I told him that he gets what he pays for there as well.
Would you pay Rs 15 a day that it would cost to give you a newspaper without any inherent biases - with well-paid reporters and one not beholden to advertisers? Would you pay Rs 50 that it costs to produce a good news/business magazine? Would you pay Rs 100/month to subscribe to a good TV News Channel? Chances are whatever you say here, you won't, these cheap prices have spoilt you silly.
Thankfully for Mr Pinnegar, I still have no qualms of putting down Rs 120 every week on his magazine - which despite its absurdly stupid stand on the nuclear deal between the US and India (and this isn't some post-colonial angst speaking over here) is a great publication. That said, Rs 20 for this is the most collosal waste of money possible. Trust me, four packs of chewing gum are a better investment. Don't bother pointing out the irony to me.
PS : Someone called this blog intriguing. Its the strangest adjective anyone has used on the blog. How would you describe this blog?
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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Media Employment Agent

Now, Thalassa told me in the comments of one of my posts long ago that solicitation - y'know for 'nefarious' reasons was illegal. Which kind of ruled out any possibility of me becoming a pimp. This made me quite sad, but then again, you don't need a feather boa, more bling than Bappida (no maybe a bit less than Bappida - Bappida is THE role model for practioners of bling) and more gold than bone in my teeth. Of course, in a place like Delhi, being a pimp is quite an honourable position it seems - after all members of the country club that is the Rajya Sabha have to be 'entertained' after all. Anyway....
In the past, what, six-odd years since I left that hallowed institution, which doubled up as a nice, warm womb - protecting me from the vagaries of reality. I've been helping people get jobs for no monetary consideration to myself. I am, as Pierce Brosnan says in The Matador, 'A Facilitator'. But while, Brosnan got paid shitloads of money and got to kill people, sometimes I don't even get a 'Thank You' from either of the parties involved. Its not only the people I work for where I have to do people hunting. I've placed people in various media companies where I either know people or people know me - both proactive and reactive placements.
A typical request would be like "K, do you know someone who would fit into our desk?" or "I need someone in production, K do you know someone?" or "K, listen we need eye-candy, desperately. Do something."
And my question to all them is, "Why, me?"
Why do people I haven't spoken to in months, think of me whenever they are going through a human-resources cruch, or they remember me when they need stuff to smoke. Sometimes both, because this is the media after all. The foll0wing conversation, while a work of fiction is representative of what I have to endure...

Caller : "Hi"
Me : "Who is this?"
C : "I'm so-and-so, you know we met at that party that Shades threw in Def Col"
Me : "We did?"
C : "Ya, remember I was the guy cutting lines in the toilet"
Me : "Oh"
... ten minutes of random pfiff-pfaff
C : "Accha coming to the point, do you know anyone wanting a job?"
Me : "As what, your left tatta?"
C : "That too, but I need some people to help out on the desk/production agency/TV channel."
Me : "Hmmm..."
C : "I mean, I need warm bodies essentially."
Me : "So talent is no big deal."
C : "Well, it would help if they had big tits, but guys would do as well. But they must speak english and come from a decent college, I just can't deal with ghatis."
(Strangely enough, the above line is like a permanent fixture in all requests like this. They always go, "Buddy/K/Dumbfuck, PLU's only, please.")
Me : "Hmmm.... I'll see what I can do."
C : "And while you're at it, you wouldn't happen to have any good shit would you?"
Me : "I hardly smoke nowadays."
C : "Whadayusayin Doooooood? The last time I met you that night you were kicking it."
Me : "That was an year ago"
C : "Ya, but... You know anyone who would know where I could get some nice shit from?"
Me : "Sigh...."

So, essentially, point being this, I have decided that I will start "K's Media Employment Agency". Hey, every idiot worth his salt has a Media School of some sort up and running, yet many people will not hire such graduates, preferring a BA (Pass) from a top-notch college to someone claiming a diploma course in 'Sting Operations'. I've said it before, the thappa you get makes a huge difference to your life, even in the media. That said, there some people in the premier TV channels who never even completed their graduation (in some cases lying about it), but they can speak good English and are PLU's, so well...
I currently have three people on my head with requests that I find them warm bodies (cold bodies would do as well for one of them, but the problem is that cold bodies can't move around or talk) to hire, but the problem is that there is almost nobody there to hire - and everybody you want to hire wants to become Woodward and Bernstein rolled into one, and overnight at that. Assuming the supply-demand curve is as dire as it looks, Journalism is up shit creek (even though this means that salaries will continue to rise). But, you do find one good apple every once in a while, and out of the blue sometimes. So, my role in the future of desi-English journalism may not be limited to writing a pointless blog and the occasional pointless feature.
On another note, someone also asked me how the Chevrolet Aveo was - well - I'm sure the automotive magazines will praise it to high heaven (particularly since General Motors tends to take people on frequent trips to the US to test cars - who cares if they have a huge hole in their pocket), but crash tests done by EuroNCAP bring out some dangerous aspects of the car. In fact, if you're going to die anyway - you might as well save three lakhs and buy a Maruti 800, and the car tested had side airbags. And of course, the advert featuring Saif and Rani sucks - so maybe people won't buy ther car anyway. But keep in mind, if you buy this car what you are getting is a Daewoo and a very unsafe one at that. Not that many of the other cars sold in India are much safer according to these tests which are backed by the FIA. Pity that safety isn't a major aspect when people buy cars in India. Buy a Suzuki Swift ZXi instead, no matter what the magazines say because it gets good ratings all around. Many thanks to the 'Bearded One' for enlightening me on this.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

General raves, rants and links...

The comments to the last post have kept me well entertained, but all things must come to an end, therefore, I must write again. Note to various bosses who will read this post - Its late on Saturday evening, I'm not doing this on company time.
Anyway, I was talking to someone yesterday about how I survive on Google, I mean life for me without Google would be impossible. Everything I could possibly need on the interweb, I find off the search engine, and trust me, while I'm not a 'Google writer' like many other journalists in India, through Google I am able to access a treasure trove of information - especially data. Hard numbers make a story that much more interesting and unless you're a genius and know where to get the data from, Google is the only way to find it. I also Google because it gives me a fairly decent page rank of 5/10 for some arbitrary reason - which means I get a lot of visitors to the blog looking for stuff like this. Well, I wish I knew where you could find the MMS - but I can redirect you to this torrent portal which has some of the stuff that you might be looking for - it also has a great collection of torrents of classic Bollywood films and the entire Satyajit Ray collection. Yes, yes, I don't condone piracy, but its easier this way.
And to those protestors who said Google bending over backwards for the Chinese government is a violation of democracy is hurting the 'Free Tibet' movement, I really don't know what the fuss is about. Google has been the biggest contributor to the democratisation of information in the past decade. But of course, bashing a big American corporate entity gets you good press after all. Wonder why all those people didn't make a peep when journalists across the world recieved 2006 calendars titled 'Tibet of China' from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Hmmm...
Recent events in Delhi have been very peculiar to say the least. The members of lead partner of the ruling coalition boycotted a large talking-head shop organized by a prominent media house. Now the theory goes that in some tapes some not so nice comments were passed by certain people against the Loha Lady v2.0, and this prompted an assanine reaction from the party. Makes you wonder how much different Delhi is from Chennai and Lucknow. Now, what is interesting is that it seems not all tapes (I mean who the hell uses tapes to record stuff anymore - this is the era of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray Discs and we're talking tapes, Geez!) are equal. Now, back to the point, on certain tapes it seems that the man known as 'Da Pimp' and a very media-savvy businessman (who also on certain occasions has lashed out at other cricket teams) spoke about the legs of a fading tennis starlet - by the way, have you guys seen the way Martina Hingis has come back this year?
I'm flabbergasted. At the bad taste shown. Fair enough, you can understand people - well, men - can talk extremely offensively about women between each other. And such conversations should be kept private at all times. Some terms we use are - well, better kept in conversations not including the fairer sex. For example, yesterday I was talking about a sexy new starlet on the Bollywood circuit and how I like parts of her... lets not go there, lest that ruin the 'nice guy' blogger impression I've been building up. But for gods sake, gentlemen please, show some taste in the women you choose.
Anyway, enough gossip, most of what I've said is old news on the circuit anyway.
Also with reference to the last post, I'm a completely shameless soul and back to my rather vapid and pointless existence. But for some strange reason my cable TV is not working of late. Bastard cablewallah. I'll switch to DTH, the moment I get some moolah into the system, and now that I'm not paying Citibank a 46.78 per cent annual interest rate on my credit card (the bastards increased my monthly interest on my card without sending me a notification, which they are legally required to do, I'm still contemplating pulling rank on the matter or a lawyer, lets see, I'll most probably just procrastinate on the matter) - these guys are more usurious than moneylenders in India - and they're supposed to be professional. I'm rather borrow money from Salim-bhai than charge anything on a Citibank credit card. Yes, I'm that pissed off to use this blog as a corporate bashing zone.
Anyway, moving on, I use Flickr a lot, and this Wired article gives the ten best Flickr mash-ups. Some of them are really cool and a perfect way to waste your time.
This has been doing the rounds of the internet for some time now - the ten strangest Lego creations - but it still fascinates me. I still believe I have some of my old Lego sets from when I was a kid - I particularly loved their space sets. I noticed that Lego's are bloody expensive nowadays but some of the new sets are really cool.
Hotel Room Nudes, a time when I think I should have really taken a shot at photography - some of the pictures by Brian Nelson are really cool.
And of course, there is the Hollywood Animation Archive, a really neato concept for a blog.
What is the best way to raise money, a nude calendar of course. And what does the internet do, collates all of them together - warning - some calendars might induce violent wretching.
Wowee, thats a nice way to pass time.
A not-so-bad History of Pornography. That said, the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms that I had bought thinking it would elucidate me in college, had a very interesting history as well.
I don't know if this is a good idea or a bad idea. Would you buy it?
On another note, I am planning - tentatively, it must be added - a ten-day trip down National Highway 17 from Bombay to Kochi. I'm sick and tired of my Mallu friends telling me that the roads in Kerala are awesome. So this is a plan for the end of April, and I have to do it before the monsoons and before I gett too old. Anyway, there is a Saturday night to be enjoyed, so I will take your leave. Tatas, and do leave your comments, even if this is the most vaccous post you have read in a long time.
And by the way, it must be goddamned difficult to "Think Beyond the IIM's" if IIM graduates are getting offers like they are. So sorry, Mr Ponytail, but it might help if you could explain why on earth you're creating so many blogs over at MSN Spaces, has Blogger banned your IP range? Just for good measure, I'm tagging this post as well.
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Thursday, March 16, 2006

India A and India B

Everytime you go for a press conference by some foreigner, be it a businessman or a politician, you hear the same old thing – “India’s massive middle class is a great market we want to target” or something similar. Even Dubya made the same point when he spoke at the Old Fort. The problem is that while these 300 million people are an undoubtedly huge market, and they include avowed consumerists like myself, it is easy to forget that there are 750 million ‘other’ Indians. Indians who very often live in startlingly tragic poverty, and despite the massive taxes that I pay on virtually everything, in the last 60 years it is unlikely that their lot has improved.
This is not an epiphany for a corporate journalist like myself, but that said, some of the stuff I saw and heard when I visited Vidarbha’s villages last weekend was heartbreaking. And trust me, I am no bleeding heart liberal – and it is possibly because I’m no bleeding heart liberal that I can elucidate the situation a bit better than most. I have no agendas to push here – I don’t want to become a noted ‘social activist’ who will pander to Western European Greens and make repeated visits to the West to talk lengthily about the tragic conditions in India but never bother to visit those regions ever again – nor drink a glass of water that those villagers offer them – choosing instead to drink Aquafina or Kinley (while railing against Pepsi and Coke, mind you!)
Income disparity between urban and rural areas is a fact of life, it happens and it has always been there. The problem is that India’s rural poor have rarely had it so bad. Mass consumerism in cities is broadcast into their villages and frankly, these guys get tempted, after all who wouldn’t. A new motorcycle, why shouldn’t one of them get one, because believe me, the motorcycle, or much rather the Japanese 4-stroke motorcycle has done far more for these people that successive governments in the states or the centre. It has given these people mobility, a sense of freedom.
The problem is that they count on getting a good crop to pay off their loan from the bank, but the rains fail (or something else happens) and they can’t pay back the bank. The bank doesn’t give a shit about the poor crop (mind you, the local moneylender is far more flexible) the bank will snatch the motorcycle. And by the way, whenever the Communist parties keep on insisiting that Petrol prices should be raised to cross-subsidise Kerosene, someone forgot to tell them that the greatest users on Petrol in India are motorcycle owners – the closest you come to the ‘common man’ ideal in India I guess.
At the same time, in the evenings, some villagers who are lucky enough to have cable TV watch the party people of Bombay and Delhi yak to presenters about the tragedies in their lives. The tragedies of loosing ten grams of cocaine in a bust maybe, ten grams of cocaine the price of which would have ensured that one person might have kept his life.
Imagine the dichotomy of an urbane, well-educated person standing with money, goods and clothes worth Rs 50,000 in front of a widow whose husband killed himself for Rs 20,000 and the lakh of rupees that his family will get after he dies. It happened with me. Can you look that widow in the eye and can you forgive your own wild consumerism? Can you forgive yourself for the regular five-star lunches you have when these people eat plain jowar rotis.
At a level, you can. After all, throughout your life you have seen utter poverty right beside you and not given a shit at traffic crossings across India have become dehumanised like soldiers in World War II. So none of us has really given a damn for the vagrant in the street. Its normal for a Mercedes S-Class to drive past slums or a man with three Mont-Blanc pens to jostle with a daily wage labourer in a Bombay local. We're used to it.
But you also know that you can’t do anything much. You know that maybe, just maybe your taxes might go to the right people. But you also hope that people in places like Maker Chamber –IV pay all their taxes instead of making elaborate schemes to avoid them. Because, unless the problems of two India’s is addressed, the rubber band that between the two that is getting stretched further and further will snap. But the national media really doesn’t care (well, one publication sent me, so well, them aside) because these people won’t buy airtime or space.
True, I understand the logic that the only way to improve the lot of the really destitute is through economic development. Fair enough, but that needs to be prodded along much faster than it is happening right now. But, somehow I believe that there are two India’s and never the ‘twain shall meet. Usually. When they do, like when I did, the experience will leave one much the worse. Gutted and Guilty. And realizing that I am such a fucking hypocrite. No not just me. Each and every one of us.
Maybe, those Miss India contestants should be taken to see this other India, and what about the I-Banker I met in the morning who made tens of crores appear out of thin air, maybe so should everybody among the much vaunted '300 million'. The ‘twain should meet, because only when you see what is happening, one might realize that the optimism on the surface with rollickling stock indices is matched by a level of despondency at the bottom. Some might argue, that I’m painting a particularly bad picture, that it really isn’t that bad in the villages. Maybe so, maybe I’m basing this post on the observation of only four-five villages in Vidarbha, villages in Haryana, Punjab and some southern states are rich. Maybe so, but even then, my main argument is that we are actively creating two India’s right now, and when that rubber band snaps, there just might be hell to pay.
EDIT : There are some pictures on my Flickr photoset, not too many, but a few that you guys might find interesting. And I'm adding some Technorati tags to this post as well.
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Thursday, March 09, 2006


I was dozing off, after hardly having slept the night before and having driven 200 plus km through the Gir Forest in an uncomfortable car, walking into a poultry farm in Navapur wasn't exactly bliss. The smell of chicken poo was overwhelming, but so was the weird sensation under my feet. I was standing on a bunch of feathers under which there was what appeared to be freshly moved earth. That was the moment it hit me, "What the fuck am I doing putting myself in the line of danger?"
Hours of watching National Geographic and reading horror stories of an impending biological apocalypse in Time magazine were all playing back in my head. This shit was seriously dangerous, I believed, but then again it also hit me that no-one had yet died of this infection in India, so there was no need to be overly paranoid about things.
But back to where it all began....
Every time I complain about sitting around at office and staring at the tits of some model online and not getting to travel anywhere other than five-star lunches or scotch whiskey tasting sessions, I get a 'bambooed' (pronounced the north-Indian way - BUM-booed rather than BAM-booed, which basically means something not so nice). Tomorrow I head off for the heart of India. I don't think I would quite be replicating Captain Marlowe's journey up the Congo (much less since I will be using a fancy 737 courtesy Jet Airways instead of a broken old steamer), but given that India has almost no electricity, I guess I can make the analogy stick.
Anyway, thats tomorrow, and that is also my excuse in advance for not posting for at least the next four days. Anyway, back to the tale. The travel over the next few days is after spending the end of last week exploring the Marathwada region. I had gone to cover the post-outbreak impact of the 'alleged' H5N1 outbreak in north-western Maharastra. So, the question is was there H5N1 in the first place and how scared should we be? And is this all a plot to sell medicines? Tamiflu, the supposed cure for 'Bird Flu' is a general drug for Flu and isn't a ready-made cure, but each dosage costs a bomb and under WTO regulations, India's generics companies won't be able to easily produce cheap copies the drug (unless an 'emergency is declared).
The thing is that there are compelling arguments on both sides, I have no doubt that H5N1 can become a tremendously virulent disease that kills millions of humans like it has already killed millions of birds - though most of them indirectly through culling. Yet, why are we all getting worked up on a 'potential' disease threat when millions of people are dying day in and day out from highly avoidable diseases - and India is sitting on an AIDS timebomb. But, in 1917-18 tens of millions of Indians died in the Flu outbreak, so we can't ignore the problem either.
The problem is that after visiting Navapur and Nashik and speaking to the people involved on all sides of the tale, speaking to other journalists who have been covering the issue, I find myself unsure of what the hell is going on. It is a conundrum as people would say. But, I do know this much, H5N1 was a very good way of selling airtime on news channels.
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Monday, March 06, 2006

Idhar se udhar aur udhar se idhar!

India has 3,300,000 kilometres of road, the world's second largest network after the US, which means that it would take you a minimum of six full lifetimes to travel all the roads all over India. That is if all the roads were as nice as NH-8 from Dahisar to Surat. In the past ten days, I have travelled more than 1750km on roads, and because I took some rather interesting routes I saw bits and pieces of India I would never have seen otherwise. It all began with a trip down to a beach and a fort, but that was just the beginning.
After the veshthi-ed one presented a budget where he did nothhing major, much to chargin of CNBC and NDTV Profit, but the one industry where he did make an excise cut is the one industry that I cover. Which meant that I had to start calling people and asking them how this move would impact sales, growth, yada yada yada. You call them up and you start talking and they tell you tales of how the budget is good because of its rural focus and the investment in power plants - ewe need much much more electricity. But they somehow try to skip the issue of the part that involves them. Until you ask it point blank, and then they tell you tales of how they will have to take a hit on stocks already in showrooms (because the new reduced duties are only applicable from April but the price cuts were applicable from March1) and then they carry on saying how the industry might not have enough capacity to meet enhanced demand - well until another 400,000 units of capacity comes online by the middle of 2007 - Maruti's second plant at Manesar (250k units operational by November) and Hyundai's second plant (right behind their first - initially 150k units by June-July). And of course, you gotta be lunatic to buy a new Tata Indica for private use, because despite putting four hot models in the car, it is an awfully 'dum dum' purchase.
Why? Because I was to spend 1050km and over 28 hours sitting in one on Thursday and Friday. The Indica looks sensible from the Diesel point of view and the fact that it is comparitively large, but its rather uncomfortable over long distances. Hopefully the Swift Diesel expected late this year might change the market dynamics in that segment a bit.
The reason I was stuck in an Indica from 8.15 on Thursday morning - I was dispatched to find out a bit more about this H5N1 thingy in the places where it had hit. Found out a lot, still kinda iffy on the entire conspiracy angle theory, but the poultry industry has been hit hard from an economic perspective. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about bird-flu, and while the TV Channels and the newspapers went beserk on the need not to eat poultry, many questions were not asked and many people were not met. I'm still eating chicken, though I will avoid the "Chicken Mela's" being organised because those can be disgusting. I should know, I saw one in Nashik. Oh yeah, and the grapes from Nashik are awesome, I got two kilo's of big, black grapes for Rs 20 a kg, a third of the price that these grapes would cost in Pali Market. Anyway, this was one of the better assignments I have been sent on in a long time, and I really enjoyed it, though my shoulder blades are still feeling as if someone drove a nail through them at eight different places.
The drive though uncomfortable because the seats had awful support (something you begin to notice after five hours in an Indica) was extremely pictureseque. The list of various National and State Highways we crossed on the two-day drive was quite long, and in order they were (some roads repeated) - National Highway (NH) 4, The Bombay-Pune Expressway, NH50, NH3, Maharashtra State Highway (SH) 17, Maharashtra SH23, Gujarat SH15, Gujarat SH80, Maharashtra SH9, Maharashtra SH13, NH6, Maharashtra SH13, Maharashtra SH7, NH3 and NH8. And I must admit that the Maharastra government takes relatively good care of its State Highways, in Gujarat the roads are decent but not that great. I also drove through the Gir Forest, the home of the Asiatic Lion, and no, I didn't see any lions. What I did see was extremely thick teakwood forest and some very unique hills, whose origins date back to the geological time when the Indian plate was still drifting out in the ocean and before it collided with the Eurasian Plate. That is really ancient - these hills were over 100 million years old and were also part of the reason why the soil around Nashik is so fertile. I have some pictures of the trip up on my Flickr Photoset please go over and leave your comments there!
The trip through the Gir Forest took us through Gujarat's Dangs District, and the western edge of India's tribal belt. The tribal areas of India look almost the same as they did a few centuries ago (other than the innumerable VHP flags all over the place), and other than the occasionaly brick house, homes are built in very much the same way. However, something did strike me out here and while on the Maharashtra plains, the biggest revolution to happen in rural India in the past two decades has been Hero Honda. Not anything that any government has done, but the introduction of a reliable, fuel-efficient motorcycle has changed the way some of India's most remote areas communicate. Please don't talk about mobile phones, an entire movie could me made just using my expressions and my exasperation as I kept on looking forlornly at my handset hoping for a signal - that said most taluka headquarters did have connectivity, but most of those were miles apart. Not a good thing when you have to attempt to make a phone call for a story.
Back to the point, people who used to trapped inside their villages, without any means of communicating with the wider world - buses used to come once a day at best - now can move around with ease. Hero Honda may not be solely responsible you might argue, what about Bajaj and TVS? No doubt that they have also played a role, I saw many Bajaj and TVS bikes, but the super-efficient two-wheeler revolution was brought into India by Hero Honda and whatever Rajiv Bajaj says about them being a videshi company, this is one company that has changed the face of rural India.
Well, I returned at some 2 in the morning, was at work filing by 11.30 and was in Silvassa to meet a friend by late Saturday night - and the quality of NH8 rteally impressed me, its even better here than the Delhi-Japir stretch of the very same highway at its other end. In the meantine I also discovered that I had turned 10,000 days old a few weeks ago, and I have officially used up 40 per cent of the days in my 25,000 day life. Damn!
Anyway, I should post a bit more regularly this week. Do check out the photos. And I am uploading one image here which is quite funny - I saw it at a dhaba a few kilometres outside Thane on the way back from Nashik. Quite useful for lighting fires.
PS: Sorry for the double post, I deleted it, but Bloglines should still show it. Blogger has been acting up of late. And did the Oscars really surprise anyone?
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Saturday, March 04, 2006


Hi, in case you've been wondering why I haven't posted for some time, it is not because I have been censored in any form - i.e being told not to blog, but rather because the last week can easily be classified as 'hectic' for me. I have just returned to Bombay laaate last night after two days on the road, and my road count (of the various National and State highways I touched) exceeded twenty. My professional life squeezed in between old ladies, the booooo-jet and dead chicks and the occasional scotch tasting session has meant that I have hardly had anytime to pour out my incoherent babble onto the unsuspecting denizens of the interweb. So sorry, but normal service should be resumed shortly, after I update the other blog with the third part of a long tale.