Monday, June 25, 2007

Notes on College.

The debate on what is going on St Stephen's College has united the media elite, irrespective of their political inclinations to protest the craziness that Valson Thampu has wrought in college. While, I do not disagree, in principle, with the concept of 'affirmative action', Stephen's has taken a step too far. When you foresake the pursuit of academic excellence, not only will mediocrity result, you will reach a stage where even the elite of the 'minority' community that you are supposedly trying to benefit will stop considering the institution as one to send their children to. That is already happening with my school, St Columba's, where the philosophy of mediocrity imposed by the governing body has seen the number of IIT admissions nose-dive and forget that, there are very few students from that place who will make it to a decent college if it were not 'affirmative' action policies.
St Stephen's was never, ever a hotbed of academic brilliance - from the faculty that is. Even the teachers teaching there now are scary, not just the ones that taught me - including Valson Thampu and Anil Wilson incidentally. The two best 'Christian' teachers in my department left to join the University, so much for academic excellence, or fostering academic excellence within one's community. The college was, both in the time when my father and his friends studied there in the early-to-mid 70's to the time I went there in the late-90's was carried on the shoulders of its students - the college attracted some of the best and brightest students in the country not to go in for professional courses and that showed.
St Stephen's never 'taught' me much academically, even in the library, which I will still admit is one of the best in the University, I spent more time reading inconsequential books - to my course that is. But the stuff I did learn came from being around some of the craziest mo-fo's in the planet. Potheads, Alcoholics, Academics, Insatiable Libido Maniacs, and even the Dhaba Crowd for that matter. Most of these were the best students in the city and the country, and sure some of them fell into all four categories above at the same time and that is what made college fun.
Fair enough, I spent the latter two years in Residence and I had blast there, barely getting any studying done, but heck, I managed to get a very good grade in my second year despite appearing stoned for one exam and a fairly good grade in my final year despite not studying till the gory end. I'm not romanticising it, I really didn't study. Anyone who has ever known me, or knows me knows my proclivity towards slothfulness. But, see somehow being around some other very intelligent people, even if you're stoned virtually all the time, does keep your brain active.
I had the most insane discussions about all sorts of things sitting in my room in Mukarji East (the nicest, cleanest block). And if your brain manages to tick over and does not lapse into redundancy , it manages to do fairly well come exam time. Brilliance begets brilliance - or in this case brilliance begat a decent grade. And when you had a decent number of seats reserved for other communities, even they got carried along in the flow, the ones who came with the maximum 'relaxation' got left behind the most. I'm sure these people would have done fairly decently, in terms of finals marks in another college, but here they somehow fared worse.
Education has to have a purpose and that purpose does not have to be education for education's sake, because St Stephen's has always done a very sad job of that. It has to be academic brilliance, a chance to bring together a respectable number of very good students, who would carry the institution along, and most of the other students as well. It is still early days, and I won't like to make a call right now, but just like I don't think that my school will be in my consideration set for any children I might have, my college is going there, and I do feel a bit sad about that. Read Sanjeev Bikhchandani's piece on the matter, Sanjeev is a graduate from the mid-80's and went to IIM-A after SSC before going on to become India's most successful dot-com entrepreneur in terms of market capitalisation.
Anyway, on another note, I have said, this is my blog, if you have any issues with me which you post as comments, I will delete them. There ain't no democratic system here!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

NDTV supports Hillary Clinton? Financially?

MSNBC, a US news website for those of you who didn't know, did a story which exposed the political contributions made by journalists to various journalists or news organisations to politicians. While, news organisations rarely donate directly, the contributions made by their reporters/editors/managers often indicate the organisation's political bent.
So, this following line is particularly interesting.

(D) New Delhi Television, Stephen Marks, reporter, Bethesda, Md., $2,300 to Hillary Clinton in March 2007.

Hmm, this is particularly interesting! I'm sure this will be defended as a 'Presonal Contribution' but $2300 isn't a small sum of money. Even though it must be admitted that almost every foreign news organisation that has contributed has done so for Mrs Clinton, which kind of indicates whom everybody thinks will win the Novmber 2008 election. What is the betting that NDTV will be the first Indian TV Channel to get an exclusive? It has to be noted that the pakistan TV correspondent in California donated $4000 for Hillary's campaign. Will Rajdeep/Raghav make a contribution as well?
I wonder if this will lead to a rush of donations from Indian news organisations to Hillary's campaign, after all following his Clinton D (Punjab) statement, Obama won't be getting much support from the desi community. Anyway, at least no matter how much Americans complain about their political system being awash in money, at least they keep proper records. Not like the way that the pharmaceutical industry is funding a small two-bit party in India.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Scary Pressers

Sorry for not posting for a while, I have been pretty tight for time and typing out a blog post on my mobile phone using T9 just doesn't have the same feeling of using a full-size keyboard. Anyway, someone once asked me what the craziest thing I had ever done was? Strangely enough, when I thought about it, that particular incident was really crazy and it didn't involve any sex. It did involve me plotting about how to kill some faceless-asswipe making yet another PowerPoint presentation during a Press Conference.
I know Microsoft claims that presentations and presentation software such as PowerPoint have made the world a better place, given that 99 per cent of PowerPoint presentations are as interesting as having an enema, especially ones you have to endure at Press Conferences, where some unheard of company proudly announces that they want to be '#1' is something or another before handing out gold-plated pens. Seriously, PowerPoint presentations at Press Conferences are beginning to get scary now because people are discovering that their new laptops with souped-up NVIDIA Graphics Processing Units can process one hell of lot of graphics and now in addition to inane numbers coming out of the mouths of idiotic managers, one has to endure inane graphics as well.
You know how to identify me at a Press Conference nowadays? I'm the guy in the corner listening to my iPod and still wondering why on earth I went easy on pot. It was easier dealing with press conferences when your synapses were slowed down, because you could just check out the women (Yes, I do that, sue me!) and ignore the crapola up on stage. What is even scarier is the current crop of air-headed bubblebrains actually listen to the PowerPoint but follow up their rapt attention by asking the most inane question.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Formula 1 and the ridiculousness of hosting an event!

In an aside, about a topic I care deeply about but see massive amounts of ineptitude all the time.
Tomorrow the papers will carry the news as a 'Famous Victory', but I see see it quite simply as a colossal waste of money. A part of me is still hoping that this is another crazy statement from Suresh Kalmadi, but, despite being an avowed F1 fan and a convert to the Church of Hamilton, I think hosting a F1 event is a great way to lose money, or conversely put money in Bernie Ecclestone's pocket.
See, I must state at the outset that Suresh Kalmadi has done nothing for Indian sports, and I put him and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi on the same page as being destroyers of sport, rather than 'lovers of sport' as they claim. For Gods sake, we won what, one medal in Athens, nd will be lucky to get beyond two in Beijing. While Delhi gets a (much needed) makeover for the 2010 Commonwealth games, what is the betting that the Australians, who have a population equivalent to that of Greater Bombay won't kick us in our balls?
FIFA ranks India 161 in the world in football/soccer, behind St Lucia (a country with a population of 150,000) and ahead of Laos! I hate to say it, but even I am sniggering. The greatest failure of successive governments in the country has been in Sports - so much so that heading sports associations is the exclusive privilege of politicians. Sharad Pawar and his cronies are doing the same to cricket, Jagmohan Dalmiya as the Devil? That man was a Saint compared to this bunch of goons! But, the two men I named earlier are the real villains of the piece, and in another country to our East, they would have been executed by now for ineptitude.
See, don't get me wrong, I love driving, I love speed and I (along with the Anglo-centric English media) think that Lewis Hamilton is the greatest thing to happen to Formula1 since Michael Schumacher, but there is neither any economic rationale for F1, just look at the huge cost that Malaysia has had to incur for building Sepang and hosting a race that barely anyone watches. However, Lewis Hamilton is destined for greatness because his father spotted his talent at a young age - and that can only happen if a country has racing infrastructure from the ground.
Hamilton's father Anthony was truly middle-class in Britain, he had to work three jobs at times to keep his son's dream alive, and thank god that he did. But Lewis Hamilton, who is 22 mind you, the same age as India's current crop of budding star racers, all rich men's sons, managed to go small carting tracks and racing circuits across the UK, and fair enough Ron Dennis of McLaren spotted him, but the infrastructure for making him a star was already there. See, before signing off $100 million to Bernie, spend that money on building quality carting tracks and a few good racetracks, maybe not F1 grade, but racetracks where we could maybe consider training some drivers.
And for God's sake, Mr Kalmadi, bringing Formula 1 in on government money, are you crazier than I thought?Hopefully, the baller in the Sports Ministry will over-rule, I'm no fan of that man either, but he keeps this crazy in check! Spend money improving our sporting facilities, instead of doing that - or paying a cokehead to do a show in Melbourne, as you did last year! Spend money on sport, proper sport, like that country to our East. Because Sport is a tremendous glue that holds the social fabric in place. And maybe, just maybe, if I ever come to power I won't have you shot for treason, because in failing Indian sport, that is exactly what you have done. As for Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, he isn't even worth expending spit on!
A couple of more things tomorrow, the first of them is that there is no massive 'Media Conspiracy' to prevent certain news items of appearing! The second is the crisis at the Indian Express!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Assorted notes

Went to a dinner on Saturday, lots of media people there and felt great to catch up with people who have spent the better part of the previous month in the badlands of Haryana. Anyway, the discussion turned to blogging and after attacking one, now completely defunct blog, I managed to convince people that there was a need for a 'critical' media blog. You know, the sort of blog where people can bitch out the stories that go into news channels - like trying to comprehend what exactly is running in the minds of people at TV Today, because I would would certainly like to smoke some of the shit they're on. But beyond just dissecting the news, there should also be critical commentary on things like accentuated accents - I mean the terribly fake accents you come across sometimes. Or the godawful dressing sense of some reporters who seriously look like the car dragged them into work in the morning.
My new blog is currently a work in progress and it seems unlikely that I will get around to launching it before July - thinking of buying a domain name and contemplating a switch to WordPress, and given what I just wrote, debating whether there is space for a good collaborative media blog. Not the typical names of oldies and keeping a blog restricted to one part of the country or one type of media - a good, and that word is very bloody important - good media blog, run not by people who sit idly by and constantly critique the media, but by fairly intelligent insiders.
Someone sent me a mail asking me about the marital status of a prominent female anchor, and even though I know, it is in such bad taste to comment on why someone did something or even to write about who on earth is sleeping with whom. I will gossip about these people over a beer or two, but this blog, and I have made the mistake previously, should not become too bitchy. I don't want to say that someone is warped in the head because he goes around dipping his wick everywhere or that certain reporters have slept around for stories/jobs. It happens, but nothing off my back, right!
Anyway, another person wrote in saying why I don't write about radio. Which got me thinking, why don't I write about radio? Well, MP3 player in car and a couple of iPod's essentially, but then I made the mistake of hearing the latest channel in Delhi, and lets put it like this - I want to release a couple of big cats in their studio (pun intended), because that had to be the most infernal crap I have ever heard. That said, some of the other new channels are pretty nice, but sadly I don't live in Bangalore and therefore don't get Indigo, which is a brilliant channel by the way!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

157 channels and there is nothing on....

Bruce Springsteen wrote a sometime back, called 57 Channels (and nothing on!), and that fact has both everything and nothing to do with this post. Just talking to people from the big, bad world of television nowadays is quite frightening. Just adding up the things that one already knows, there will be another 30-odd channels by the end of the year. I mean, that is what I know about, and doesn't include the small players. Little wonder that both Tata-Sky and Dish TV have kept the channel numbering sequences open till 1000. In fact, the latter has support for more than 1000 channels. That said, the launch of DTH and the subsequent expansion of DTH thanks to Insat 4B there will be at least three more DTH players starting in the next three months. But, the problem now, less than two decades after DD launched DD Metro and we moved from a one-channel country to a two-channel country, at least in 'Metro' areas.
The costs of establishing a channel today are minimal, unless you discount the 'content' bit and since the same content often rotates - I've seen the same title on AXN, Star Movies and Zee Studio, and Star World and Zee Cafe often run the same show, but different seasons at the same time. But, what gets me is the proliferation of News channels - according to the grapevine there will be at least one major business channel launch soon from UTV (to be headed by Govindraj) and I've lost count of the number of channel that TV18 is planning, four new channels according to some (leaving alone the fact that they will probably start or acquire channels in the general entertainment space and are even planning a foray into print). Then of course, we have INX, which is planning at least two, maybe even three news channels.
I was talking to a Corporate Communications chap sometime ago and he was telling he how the headcount planning for press events is going crazy. Another person told me that this is a reason that I am seeing a huge increase in 'select press briefings' and traditionally fax-heavy PR agencies are not inviting everyone. "We don't want everyone and their uncle to come", one media-manager told me. Oh well, there has to be a plus working in a fairly well-established publication/news channel. Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out why so much TV?

Friday, June 08, 2007

On things I really know nothing about...

I know I am steeping into a hornets nest here, so I must clarify that my understanding on the topic is fairly limited. While I must confess that I am fascinated by technology, I usually limit myself to writing about personal technology. However, I do follow trends in military technology for the simple fact that several innovations made in military technology have made it into regular day-to-day use, much like how auto-racing has invariably led to virtually every advancement in passenger car technology today (from the humble rear-view mirror in 1907). While, many would attribute most advancements to the might of the US military-industrial-scientific machine, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has seen some of its developments in food-packaging technology (thanks to our involvement in Siachen) make it to grocery stores across the country.
But we are not talking about food over here – even though food sciences research has been remarkable. After hours of wandering aimlessly across internet forums, because I often do that sort of thing to get leads and I find internet forums to be quite fascinating (I’m a member in a couple) you also get a clue of what is going on. And one of the more interesting things that I spotted was the tremendous resentment towards the media on fairly well-publicised stories against the DRDO, which in essence accused them of incompetence.
Again, and before I get accused of veering one way or another, I must clarify that I really don’t know much, so bear with me here. I will not blame the scientists over here though, I personally believe that thanks to our years of dilly-dallying on military projects thanks to a succession of governments who have found it more conducive to accept bribes from arms dealers, whose son’s smash up perfectly nice BMW 7-series (killing a few people in the process) rather than help come up with the funds to develop the best we can.
At the end of the day, there is no argument against the fact that our best scientists and engineers graduating from college do not join the DRDO, or any major governmental research body for that matter. Blaming reservation politics for this would be unfair right now, because the emergence of better jobs and opportunities for such graduates exist. Again, I do not disagree from the contention that the DRDO has not been up to scratch with some of their more recent projects, most of which are years and in some cases, decades beyond schedule (The Light Combat Aircraft being a pretty bad case in point). Fair enough, there have been some successes. The problem here, according to me, is not with the organization, but with government apathy. In some cases, there has been a serious funds crunch, with at least this current government more content on pilfering coffers to strengthen the grassroots organization of the cast (you really think the NREGP is anything but that?) rather than putting more money into defence research.
I might be wrong here, some might argue that the DRDO is well funded enough, but I really don’t think so. I mean look at the stuff that DARPA is talking about in the US, and I get pretty scared. We talk of ourselves as a world power and demand a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (Every permanent member has a significant level of military production) but try to run our Armed Forces on imported hardware from a bunch of Russians whose agents can afford to throw some of the best parties in Delhi. The solution, according to me, and this is not the opinion of someone in the know, is that we pour more money into research, pay kids more, make them want to become scientists and engineers, and maybe, just maybe we’ll get somewhere.
And point two, there really needs to be better PR somewhere in the system, because I am pretty sure that while many people who write on the armed forces know more than me, that is not exactly saying much, is it? But then again, I have always had this sneaking suspicion that most journalists know dick, but will never admit it! Maybe, that’s why I call this blog what I call it!

Monday, June 04, 2007


Originally uploaded by Tripping in India.
While the reports on the colossal failure of Project Tiger are all over the papers, because the Chinese want Tiger Penis wine and Tiger Bone Bonegra (what is it with aphrodisiacs?) one fairly successful conservation project in India has been achieved with Rhinocerous'. Now, I'm not implying that these animals are not endangered, but over the weekend I witnessed first-hand in Dudhwa National park in Uttar Pradesh the success of a relocation project.
Almost two decades ago, when Rhino's numbered in the few hundreds in India, and were all concentrated around Kaziranga as you read in the Geography textbooks the NCERT made, it was decided to transport a few specimens from Kaziranga to Dudhwa, which is located in the Lower Terai region of the subcontinent. To introduce a level of genetic diversity a few more specimens were brought in from Royal Chitwan National park in Nepal (I think they've dropped the 'Royal' bit now) and all in all around 8-9 animals were brought in. Today there are close to 30 Rhino's in the 27 square km 'Rhino Enclosure' in Dudhwa, with the species breeding quite well, we saw six Rhino's during our hour-long elephant ride through the park.
Even though people end up going to Corbett or Ranthambore from Delhi, I must suggest Dudhwa. The problem is that this location is hardly promoted and if you don't have a car, it really isn't very easy getting here. Technically, you can take a train to Baraelli from Delhi and catch another meter-gauge train from there to Palia, through the heart of Western UP's sugar cane country. Me and my colleague had access to a car from Shahjahanpur which is the closest stop on the main-line two hours drive away, but Lucknow is only a three hour drive via Lakhimpur.
I was also fortunate enough to meet Billy Arjan Singh, a great conservationist who hand-raised two leopards and a tiger before releasing them in the wild. He was also instrumental in the government creating this National Park in the first place (the downside is that a meter gauge train line runs through the park). He was a bit cranky, but most 90-plus year old men are, and I felt some of his anger came from the fact that he was not physically capable of doing much at his age.
However, that aside, this was a fascinating trip. It was mighty hot, but I had a great time! I even managed to see the rare and endangered 'Barasingha' Deer and we also encountered a herd of wild elephants and saw lots of birds thanks to my colleagues eagle eye (no pun intended). Heck and an Elephant ride, even on the eight-year old half-wild 'Batalik' (that was the elephant's name) was great fun! No Tigers though, but the grass was way too high, but if we travel again in March, when they burn the grass down (to prevent against large scale fires) we might get lucky, there are an estimated 25-30 big cats in the 850 sq km of Dudhwa National Park.