Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam’s execution: the lesson

This day will go down as a momentous one in the history of not just the Middle East but the entire world. A major player of the region’s politics has gone, gone for ever.

Saddam Hussein came to power violently. He ruled violently. He was deposed violently. There was violence after he was overthrown. And, his end also came violently. The guarantee that violence will cease for good after his death, comes only from a blind belief in the improbable.

That Saddam was a violent man is the point of view of not just George Bush. It is also of the near and dear whom he eliminated ruthlessly. It is also of the many bystanders and the silent observers; and most importantly, probably of Saddam himself. What else does his utter lack of remorse even at the gallows indicate? It’s sure he knew this day was coming; only he didn’t know when.

I switched on the TV as soon as I got up around 8.30 am. And the much expected news was out there. And around 2.30 pm, the first images of the last moments of a tyrant started streaming in. We have heard of people being hanged to death, but never seen such a chilling sequence of events.

There is a lesson in this, nevertheless. Nemesis catches up, one day or the other. The retribution comes in some way or the other.
After all, Saddam did, or at least had the power to do, whatever he wanted. He lived like a king, he lived his life to the full. And, it was time finally for him to leave. But was he one whose departure has to be grieved, especially since he himself played with death so closely all his life?

  • Video footage of Saddam at gallows: on NYT site with report
  • Video footage of Saddam at gallows: with Al-Arabiya TV report on Reuters site
  • Tuesday, December 26, 2006

    Saddam reaches dead end

    It's no longer "Will Sadddam be executed". It's "When will he be executed."

    Today's decision of an appeals court -- to uphold an Iraqi court's sentencing of the overthrown Iraqi dictator on Nov 5 for massacring 148 Shias in the town of Dujail in 1982 in retaliation for a failed assassination bid -- comes as no surprise. If Saddam had got a reprieve that would have been stunning decision.

    This is just another chapter in a saga that has played out over the last four years. Ever since the first indications in 2002 of the White House plotting to attack Iraq -- in a new tactic called 'pre-emptive strike' -- events have unfolded with little surprise.

    The case for weapons of mass destruction, the inevitability of an attack on Iraq even though the hypothetical premise for it couldn't be sustained, the UN debates, the ultimatums, the deadlines, the shock-and-awe strike, the street battles, fall of Saddam's statue and its symbolism, the "We've got him" declaration by Paul Bremer, the trial, the conviction and the sentencing... Looking back it looks all so predictable.

    When Saddam kept taunting Bush, one wondered if he wasn't aware of what he was bargaining for. Definitely it wasn't beyond him to see the writing on the wall.

    After 9/11, the attack on Taliban was a retaliation. But following up with one on Iraq carried little conviction, even in Europe, barring England. No, we will not wait to be attacked again in order to eliminate enemies lying in waiting, President Bush had said and proceeded on a plan of action with clinical precision. Bush has admitted that victory hasn't been achieved: just another way of saying, "We have failed so far."

    It's no one's case that Saddam is an angel, not even his. He sounded quite a realist, when he said, he is ready to be executed, though by a firing squad. Probably he knows the saying: those who live by the sword, die by it.

    Few think gallows for Saddam will improve the situation. Ironically, sparing him would neither. As Iraq slips from bad to worse, the world seems to wonder if the worst has been reached... so that, at least then things would get better.

    Monday, December 25, 2006

    Bangalore, look to New York

    Spiralling apartment prices in Bangalore has made good shelter quite a dream for the average man on the street. Probably the city’s administrators can look to New York for some clue on how the runaway realty boom can be reined in to some extent.

    On Wednesday, December 20,
    the New York city council approved a plan that would induce apartment developers to build tens of thousands of apartments for people other than the well-heeled. The developers who want tax breaks would have to make one out of every five apartment they make affordable to lower income people. The most striking feature is that these lower-priced apartments will have to be included in each building and can’t be built elsewhere in the city.

    The programme to make shelter affordable to the poor is not new – it is 35 year old -- but the new clauses to make it more beneficial to the people are. The revamped plan includes raising a $400 million trust to fund for developing low- and moderately priced housing, especially in New York’s 15 poorest neighbourhoods, including Soundview in the Bronx and parts of Bushwick in Brooklyn.

    If New York can, why can’t Bangalore?

    (Published in Salt and Pepper column of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    Bicycle tax

    Last evening, I was at a shop near Banaswadi to pick up my son’s cycle I had given there the previous day for repair. There was a man who had come before me and he was talking to the shopkeeper about the amount to the paid for the cycle he seemed to have purchased.

    While the man said he would pay only minus the tax, the shopkeeper insisted that since the bill had been given, the full amount, inclusive of the tax, must be paid. The buyer’s contention was he had made clear beforehand he wouldn’t pay the tax. The shopkeeper countered saying he had refused at first to sell the cycle without issuing a bill. Since the man had gone ahead and purchased the cycle and accepted the bill, he might as well pay the full amount, the shopkeeper said quietly, nonchalantly, dismissively.

    I craned my neck as discreetly as a possible to see what the amount being debated was, while the buyer – a middle-aged portly man in grey striped t-shirt who was neither well-heeled nor seemed to have had a wash in the recent past – moved aside, surprisingly I thought, to make way for me to interact with the shopkeeper.

    I could faintly see on the bill that cost of the cycle was Rs 2,000-something and the tax was in double digits starting with one; a maximum of Rs 19.

    While I moved ahead and enquired if the cycle was ready, I noticed that the man was hanging around, obviously, to settle the matter to his advantage. He would pay Rs 2,000-odd but not Rs 19. Quite principled or penny-wise-pound-foolish? I realised later who was smarter.

    My cycle had been completely overhauled; some worn-out parts replaced. I was wondering what my bill would come up to as I watched the shopkeeper scribble illegibly on a piece of paper the parts he replaced and the cost. The whole thing added up to 280. Though I couldn’t read the particulars I could read the figures. He had added correctly. As I reached for the purse, I asked the shopkeeper for the bill. “No, for servicing we don’t issue bills,” he said politely with a smile. “I know you won’t protest,” that’s what he had left unsaid.

    It didn’t take much time for me to understand why he didn’t issue a bill, though there is no way of confirming this: My bill of Rs 280 had an extra Rs 19, or whatever it was. The only clue: soon after I moved out of the shop after paying up, that man too left, after the shopkeeper said something to him. Couldn't hear that, but most probably it was: “Okay, you go, no need to pay the tax.”

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Economist editor on Bangalore

    An account of The Economist American editor's visit to Bangalore. Excerpts:

    • The traffic congestion was bad enough last time. Now it is worse. There is the standard Indian chaos of cars, three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxis, bicycles and nonchalant cows―with the crucial difference this time that no vehicle seems to be moving.
    • Paradoxically, although the best firms are inundated with job applications, the biggest challenge facing every company in Bangalore is how to hang on to workers after hiring them.
    • Three years ago call centres were very much at the heart of things. Now real decisions are being taken in Bangalore and higher-value-added work is being done here.
    • Reuters has outsourced some journalism here, and Bloomberg is expected to follow suit. How long before my own job is being done, for a fraction of my scarcely adequate salary, by an Indian in Bangalore?

    Monday, December 18, 2006

    One-way thinking

    Act and think -- the worst way to do something, but a practice quite routine with Bangalore's civic utilities. It was in evidence again while Cauvery water pipelines were being laid beside the Rail Line Road, near Bypanahalli railway station, East of NGEF, over the last 10 days.

    The busy road is broad enough to allow just a bus and a car cross each other. As workers dug up one side, traffic slowed down; and with a bus stop too on that road, lengthy pile-ups and flights of temper became commonplace. After laying the pipes, trenches were covered loosely with soft mud. And the inevitable happened: on two successive days, two lorries had their left wheels sinking into the soil throwing traffic to total chaos.

    After days of chaos, it dawned on someone to make the busy road one-way; and a board came up at the U-turn in front of the NGEF. The motorists were relieved, never mind the potholed alternative route through the residential layout.

    But interestingly, now after the pipes have been laid and workers have left, the one-way board is still standing. Only the motorists new to the area are taking the potholed diversion.

    Why the one-way sign still? Only the teashop owner in the vicinity seems to know: "They are making use of this chance to retar the roads." Wishful thinking?

    (Published in The Times of India, Bangalore, Dec 18)

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Blogging set to peak in 2007

    Just the other day, a friend remarked that blogging might just soon fade away as one other technological phenomena that created waves. It was, of course, a remark made without any study, as he himself said. It was more of a perception-based personal view. I countered his argument. Blogging is not a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. It is not going to fade away.

    My view was, and still is, that the casual bloggers may fade out, those who just came to see what it is all about and didn't find it exciting. But blogging as a powerful media of mass communication -- a democratisation of publishing -- will stay on. The excitement of the new medium may wear out, but the medium is only going to get stronger.

    Call it coincidence: BBC has a story on this based on a study by Gartner. It says 200 million people have stopped writing blogs. It says, by next year the number of blogs will level out at around 100 million. The reason: all those who wanted blog have started, those who like it will keep blogging and the rest will stop.

    Again not based on any research, but I have a feeling that the number could still increase. Because as more children grow up and become aware of the medium, many would get on it and a good percentage may just stay on as well. Also, Gartner predicts that the cost of a PC will come down by 50 per cent by 2010. That will be additional reason for people to start blogging, especially in developing countries.

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Supreme Court on press freedom

    The Supreme Court dismissed yesterday a petition seeking a ban on publication of obscene photographs in newspapers. Delivering the judgement, a Bench comprising Justice A.R. Lakshmanan and Justice Tarun Chatterjee, came out with a number of observations pertaining to freedom of the Press and choice of media for people in a democratic country like India.

    The text of the entire judgement of the case can be read

    Here are some the observations:

    On blanket ban:

    • “Any steps to impose a blanket ban on publishing of such photographs, in our opinion, would amount to prejudging the matter... An imposition of a blanket ban on the publication of certain photographs and news items etc. will lead to a situation where the newspaper will be publishing material which caters only to children and adolescents and the adults will be deprived of reading their share of their entertainment which can be permissible under the normal norms of decency in any society.”

    On choice of media for people:

    • “In addition we also hold that news is not limited to Times of India and Hindustan Times. Any hypersensitive person can subscribe to many other Newspaper of their choice, which might not be against the standards of morality of the concerned person.”

    On publication as a whole:

    • “We are also of the view that a culture of 'responsible reading' should be inculcated among the readers of any news article. No news item should be viewed or read in isolation. It is necessary that publication must be judged as a whole and news items, advertisements or passages should not be read without the accompanying message that is purported to be conveyed to the public. Also the members of the public and readers should not look for meanings in a picture or written article, which is not conceived to be conveyed through the picture or the news item.”

    On nudity and obscenity:

    • “Where art and obscenity are mixed, what must be seen is whether the artistic, literary or social merit of the work in question outweighs its obscene content. In judging whether a particular work is obscene, regard must be had to contemporary mores and national standards…

    • “Articles and pictures in a newspaper must meet the Miller test’s constitutional standard of obscenity in order for the publisher or the distributor to be prosecuted for obscenity. Nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene...

    • The definition of obscenity differs from culture to culture, between communities within a single culture, and also between individuals within those communities… Many cultures have produced laws to define what is considered to be obscene and censorship is often used to try to suppress or control material that is obscene under these definitions.”

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    Blogger Beta

    When I first read about the features Blogger Beta had, I wanted to switch immediately. But I couldn't. It was unsettling to see new and smaller blogs being allowed to make the switch first. Apparently bigger blogs had to wait. Finally, my turn came, on Dec 8. That’s why my blog looks different now. The last two days I have been experimenting with the various features.

    The beta version is better than the earlier one. Not only there are many more options, it is easier to change the layout, design, colour and fonts. There is also no need to publish repeatedly after these changes are effected. It’s good to see Blogger having labels like Wordpress. It was long due. It will take some time before I label all my 300+ posts. Hope to complete it soon.

    The big drawback is, there are still not many templates to choose from. Also, there are limited changes we can make to the layout. Nevertheless, I think Blogger is the best bet for non-techies.

    Friday, December 8, 2006

    He can't send an SMS!

    SDR, who is a scientist in the US, is in Bangalore on a two-week holiday. The other day, we were standing at a roadside tea stall at Indiranagar (in Bangalore) and sipping tea. A casual labourer standing nearby and sending a text message on his mobile phone immediately caught SDR's attention.

    “Look at him sending an SMS…” he exclaimed.
    “So what…” I remarked.

    “You think he has enough knowledge of English…” he asked.
    “Obviously he has some knowledge. May be broken English,” I said. “As if we all text error-free top class prose…”

    “But I don’t know to send or receive an SMS…” he said with a shrug and a smile.

    That was a bombshell to me. My friend is from the IIT. They guy used to write codes for computer software, and he presently deals with some high-end research in Washington DC.

    I just froze for a couple of minutes lost in a whirlpool of thoughts. Around me were two guys: One a scientist who doesn’t know to send an SMS and another, an apparent illiterate who is sending an SMS. And in between we have lots and lots of people who are literate but who don’t seem so, with or without modern gadgets. I just didn’t know what to make out of this…
    And, I thought SMS was the most quick and convenient method to pass on an information.

    The report that India has overtaken China in the growth of mobile phone subscribers seemed to be making sense.
    Each month, 66 lakh people are getting a mobile phone connection in India: which means the daily growth is 2 lakh 20 thousand. I am sure this includes renewal of prepaid subscriptions besides fresh connections.

    In India as on Oct 31, 2006, there are 13 crore 33 lakh 25 thousand 611 mobile phone subscribers. But, that’s less than the number of people in China with a mobile -- 44 crore.

    Anyway, India’s mobile phone march is astounding. This is one single revolution that has touched every human being, rich, poor and those in between. Affordable rates and the ease with which one can get a connection are two factors which have catalysed the growth.

    The increased speed of transmission of information has had its cascading effects on business relations and personal relations. And, that has made this world a different place. And, mind you, it’s changing still. And, changing fast.

    Mobiles also have been a great leveller. And, it has turned on the head some of our existing concepts. Like that incident at the tea stall a couple of days back revealed.

    Figures give you an impression that all people have mobile phones. No. There are still people -- working men and women -- who don’t possess one… They don’t need, perhaps. Obviously they aren’t very mobile; plus, they have good and continuous access to a landline.

    Wednesday, December 6, 2006

    Shibu Soren gets life term

    More shocking than a Union minister being charged with murder, being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment (with prosecution seeking death sentence), is the tolerance of our political establishment to accommodate such elements. Shibu Soren is only symbolic of a malaise that is dangerous if not treated immediately.

    It seems he has a great following, has been instrumental in fighting injustice... but at the end, if he has been convicted of murder; what has all the glory come to? Soren is not alone. Most politicians, if one were to look at them as an individual, as a person, they have striking qualities. Many of them are good academic qualifications, others have leadership abilities, and many of them are, individually, very concerned about society and the country. It’s sad that we run a system that doesn’t allow the goodness of many individuals to come to the fore.

    In this context Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar’s piece in STOI of Dec 3 –
    Politics and Growth -- is worth reading. He tries to answer this basic question: “Economic theory says that rapid economic growth cannot be possible without good governance. How, then, is India having booming growth and political crime at the same time?”

    Friday, December 1, 2006


    The last month of 2006 has turned in with depressing news:
    • Maharashtra burned with Dalit fury yesterday: All it took for people in Maharashtra to begin killing each other was damage to a statue in Kanpur. Problems may be grave but is this the solution?
    • Trinamool Congress members led by Mamata Banerjee left a trail of destruction in the West Bengal Assembly yesterday: Democracy vests politicians, more than learned bureaucrats, with lots of power and privileges. With people like Mamata around, does democracy have any real meaning in India?
    • On World Aids Day, today, we are told India has the highest number of HIV-infected people in the world: One can't treat AIDS in any effective manner. Solution is in prevention. Have we as a nation really woken up to the situations and circumstances that lead a person to get infected with HIV?
    • CBI may press for death penalty for former Union minister Shibu Soren for his role in the murder of his former private secretary Shashinath Jha: When will our system be cleansed of such elements?

    And, add this to it if you like:

    • Sachar Committee report, which painted a depressing picture of India's Muslims, was presented in Parliament yesterday: The West got into a problem with Islam only recently. But India's birth itself has haunting linkages with the religion. It's not so easy to extricate a legacy of history. More so, if our lowbrow politicians, who sadly make up the majority, see in that legacy a goldmine. The story of Dalits is not so much different. When will lack of development cease to be a vested interest for our politicos?

    Ironically, the government also yesterday released figures to show that India's GDP had grown by 9.2% in the second quarter: How much do these figures reflect reality?

    • NEWS JUST IN: Punjab and Haryana High Court holds Navjyot Singh Sidhu guilty in a murder case: What's happening?

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006


    A common cold and viral fever never got as worse as this. For close to a week, I was down and out. The cold set in Tuesday last, progressively got worse, and ultimately infected the sinus. The condition is called sinusitis: an inflammation of the sinuses which are nothing but small air pockets in the facial bones. Anyone who has been through sinusitis would agree that it’s awful to get it. The splitting pain that radiates from the forehead is unbearable. There is severe pain if one bends down, even if one moves the eyeballs to either side. Sinusitis is easily among the worst forms a common cold can aggravate into. A mixture of steam inhalation combined with mild antibiotics has finally brought me comfort.

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    Newspapers tie up with Yahoo

    The print media won't concede defeat. It has always changed with times, by innovating and adapting.

    A consortium of seven newspaper chains representing 176 daily papers across the United States is announcing a broad partnership with Yahoo to share content, advertising and technology.

    This is another sign that the wary newspaper business is increasingly willing to shake hands with the technology companies they once saw as a threat, says The New York Times.

    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    Reader's Digest sold for Rs 1.6 bn

    Reader’s Digest Association, publisher of the pocket-sized magazine read by 80m people around the world, agreed to be bought by an investor group led by Ripplewood Holdings for $1.6bn. Started in 1922 from a Greenwich Village apartment, Reader’s Digest is the world’s largest magazine by circulation, selling 18m copies a month. The company has had to confront sustained drops in advertising and newsstand revenue at the US edition of the publication. (Read more)

    This is one magazine you can talk about anywhere in the world. Generations have grown up reading it. From Quotable Quotes to Life is Like That, from Humour in Uniform to Book Special; from Drama in Real Life to articles on subjects that affect our daily lives: the magazine has it all.

    It was one of the first to popularise direct mail advertising and sales. Subscription cost is much lesser than what one will have to pay on the stands. If one wants to stop the subscription, one can do it any time and the remaining amount will be refunded. We had a few occasions when our copies had got lost in transit. Always the replacement arrived in a couple of weeks. The customer care has been extraordinary.

    Another remarkable feature is the language. It’s always concise, crisp, and to the point. In journalistic terms: most well edited. My English teacher used to tell us to read Reader’s Digest to learn the art of writing concisely and effectively. Obviously, the copy/ sub-editors have exemplary editing skills to bring out such a digest of articles printed elsewhere.

    As times changed, Reader’s Digest also changed. This transition also reflects that. Hopefully, the commendable attributes that have made RD a unique institution in the book world would remain intact.

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Newspapers to sell ads on Google

    In a move into the old-fashioned business of ink on paper, Google is going to start selling advertisements that will appear in the print editions of 50 major newspapers.

    For Google, the test is an important step to the company’s audacious long-term goal: to build a single computer system through which advertisers can promote their products in any medium. For the newspaper industry, reeling from the loss of both readers and advertisers, this new system offers a curious bargain: the publishers can get much-needed revenue but in doing so they may well make Google — which is already the biggest seller of online advertising — even stronger.

    The new system will begin a test with 100 advertisers later this month. Some newspapers see Google’s proposed system as a way to increase sales. More in The New York Times.

    Thursday, November 9, 2006

    Bush’s defeat and Saddam

    What was expected to happen in 2004 Presidential election has happened in the 2006 midterm. Instead of George Bush going in 2004, Donald Rumsfeld has gone in 2006.

    During the campaign Bush said attacks on US soldiers had gone up because of the polls. Now after the polls, he says: Let the course correction in Iraq policy not be interpreted as a victory for the terrorists. It should instead be attributed to the vibrant democratic process in America.

    Since Bush himself had linked attacks to the polls, how can terrorists not claim some credit for the Republican’s defeat?

    Just one wild thought here:

    Bush is planning an exit policy. But it’s not easy for American troops to get out of Iraq. For that a conducive atmosphere will have to be created. Some understanding with the radicals can’t be ruled out. Will Saddam Hussein’s death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment? Saddam, after his conviction, has been asking people to pardon the United States. Any surprises in store?

    Sunday, November 5, 2006

    Water Gate, Dungeon

    The defaced notice at Water Gate.

    Srirangapatna is a prime tourist spot. It's reasonably well maintained, though there seems to be some disconnect among people who are responsible for it. That's what one believes as one sees some areas very well maintained, while others are just left to rot. One problem could be that the monuments are scattered over a wide area. But definitely there can be one single authority in charge of taking care of them all, if there'sn't already one.

    The notice on the wall of the archway ‘Water Gate’ is hardly readable. Someone has defaced it. I guess it is: ‘At the northern end of this archway fell Tipu Sultan in May 1799.”

    As one enters the archway, our mind races into an imaginative mode trying to visualise how it would all have been then. The place, obviously
    under the care of Archaeological Survey of India, is sadly neglected. The walls of the fort -- each stone of which will have a story to tell -- are just left to the mercy of spoilers.

    The banks of what must have been once an overflowing Cauvery, have been turned into a sort of ‘dhobi ghat’, a laundry. If one looks at the stones, we can see priceless engravings on them. A little away from Water Gate is a monument, much better kept, that denotes the “place where Tipu’s body was found”. It is very sad that our tourism department focuses on just a few well-known places.

    Engravings on the ruins of the fort being used as laundry
    Nearby is Col Bailey’s Dungeon, which seems to have got a fresh coat of poor quality whitewash: nevertheless a better place than the Water Gate. But here too someone has defaced a write-up on the historical significance of the dungeon, which was used by Tipu Sultan to imprison the British.
    Each visit to a historical place, reinforces my feeling that there is so much the tourism department can do in such a diverse country like ours. The tourist promotions that we see are just a miniscule of what can actually be done. If money is the problem, it can easily be generated by introducing a token fee of something like Rs 5 or Rs 10 for admission to these places. The fee shouldn't prohibitive that it'll discourage visitors. Over a period of time, a good sum can be collected and ploughed back into the upkeep of these places. (Photo above: The defaced notice at the entrace to Col Bailely's Dungeon.)

    Friday, November 3, 2006

    The Gumbaz

    (Continues from the previous post) After spending some time at the Sangam, we moved to the more crowded, more imposing, Gumbaz (pix on the right), which houses the mortal remains of Tipu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and mother, situated in the midst of lovely gardens. More than the Sangam, this looks more like a tourist spot.

    This is my friend’s first visit to this place, and on seeing the crowd at the Gumbaz he said he had imagined the place to be very quiet and sort of deserted. “This seems to be a very popular place for tourists,” he exclaimed. By nature, Mr Whitfield looks for places that aren’t very crowded. But the Gumbaz left him very impressed.

    As we came out we saw a man selling tender coconut water. That's absolutely irresistible for Mr Whitfield (pix on the left): “Ah… this is just out of the world… I am sure there’s no way these can be exported in bulk to New Castle!” (That’s where he stays, in north east England.)

    It was around 1 pm and we headed to Hotel Mauyra, the restaurant of the Karnataka State Tourism Corporation. Often anything that’s government owed is looked at with some scepticism. So, this was truly a treat. A little under a kilometre away from the main highway, on the banks of the river Cauvery, the complex has a river-side restaurant and cottages. We preferred to dine outside under the trees with the sound of the water brushing the little rocks. The picture on the right-above shows the view from the restaurant. The waiter was extremely courteous and well-mannered. “I don’t think in Britain we have such simple, decent, quiet eateries beside nationally famous rivers.” Mr Whitfield was enjoying every bit.

    The best part, the cottages (pix on the left) are very affordable: three types of Rs 500, Rs 600 and Rs 750 (air-conditioned) for 24 hours from noon to noon; Each can accommodate a family of three. Bookings can be done from the KSTDC outlets in Bangalore.

    Thursday, November 2, 2006

    Business at Sangam

    The drive to Srirangapatna, on Wednesday the 18th, was my first on the Bangalore-Mysore road after the new one was laid. It was a relief to see such a good, smooth, wide road. It left me wondering why we take so long to get such good things. My friend, Mr Whitfield, commented: “Such scenic, lush greenery beside a main highway is a real treat!”

    It’s quite a few years since I made the last trip to the 18th century capital of Tipu Sultan’s Mysore. Some 125 km from Bangalore, around 11 am, as we slowed the car down near an expansive junction, wondering which way to turn, a man came rushing in. After telling us to take a left turn, he suggested that we could have him as a guide. He showed us an identity card, which didn’t excite us much. He quoted Rs 300. That was much less interesting.

    Then he pointed to the road to the right of the main highway and said the ruins of the fort, temple, etc lie on that side. “You can’t enter the road this way since it’s one way. And the fine for violation is Rs 300. I shall take you around. Give me just Rs 200.” Mr Henry Whitfield said it was better we go on our own. As I told him that we weren’t interested, the guide reduced the fee to Rs 100.

    To be fair to that guy, I must credit him for being very polite and he bore no regrets, at least publicly, for having his offer turned down. “Okay sir; wish you a very good time here.”

    We tured left and took the road that leads one to the Gumbaz and a little ahead of that to the Sangam. We first went to the latter. As we parked the car and made our way towards the Sangam, Mr Whitfield told us how he regards guides with some amount of caution. “My experience is that they don’t give us any more information that what we already know. The worst bit is that they hurry you though and don’t let us soak in the beauty of the tourist places. Instead I would’ve liked some literature here on this place.”

    Srirangapatna, derives its name from a 1,000-year-old temple of Lord Sriranganatha, and so obviously there is some religious significance attached to it. So, not surprisingly, as one approached the Sangam, there was a notice not to have non-vegetarian food.

    Sangam, or the confluence, is the place where the river Cauvery and its two tributaries, Lokapavani and Paschima Vahini, meet. The place was moderately populated, rhe rivers had a gentle flow and there was good greenery on either sides of the river.

    The moment my friend saw the coracles, he immediately took a liking to it, and fancied being taken around a good stretch on the river. We checked out the rate: Rs 200 for a round around the Nandi atop a rock. We were told that one coracle can seat up to 10. When we told an operator that were just 3, he said irrespective of the number, the fare was the same. That was quite understandable, but not his reluctance to put together a group of 10 people for one trip. He expected tourists themselves to come in a group of 10.

    (Left top: View from the bank; and left below: view of
    the bank)

    Anyway, with a little patience the fare came
    Rs150, but we couldn’t find anyone to come along with us. Not wanting to waste time, we decided to pay that amount for just 3 of us. (Probably the operators know from experience that it makes better business sense this way.) And, just as we stepped onto the coracle, two 13-year-old children also got in. Wondering if they were enjoying a free trip with our Rs 150, we asked them how much they are paying: Rs 40 each. The economics was getting clearer. The guy made a total of Rs 230! And we just spent less than 10 minutes in the water.

    Forget the management gurus, these illiterate people know what's a win-win situation! At the end of it all, we had no complaints, for we had a good time.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    Friend from Britain

    The visit of a family friend from Britain gave me an opportunity to enjoy a short holiday in the midst of hectic work last week. We visited Srirangapatnam and Bylekuppe. That’s the reason I’d almost gone off blogging.

    Mr Henry Whitfield has been a fairly regular visitor to India, one of the objectives being to climb mountains in the Himalayan region. This time too he spent some three weeks in the soothing and energising environs of the Spiti valley and adjoining regions of Himachal Pradesh.

    Mr Whitfield was my father’s colleague in the chemistry department of Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala, back in 1968. At that time, the government had a wonderful teacher-exchange programme with Commonwealth countries. It was discontinued as the government became paranoid of “foreign hand”.

    Though he was a chemistry teacher he used to teach English also. I was a small child then, and I have very vague memories of him. After the completion of his tenure, he and my father kept up correspondence through letters and the relationship has survived the test of time.

    It’s not very often one can find a person like Mr Whitfield. He is so unassuming, down to earth, humble and caring: a very simple man who lives in New Castle in the northeast of England. Though his background is chemistry and worked in a technical capacity, now he has given them up all and pursues what is more dear to his heart -- building construction and repairs. At the age of 59 he is fit like a fiddle. He told me he goes on long walks, some 10 miles, twice in a year. There aren’t opportunities for him to trek like he can in India.

    What's more; he is an Indophile. He is very knowledgeable about India. In some respects he looks more Indian than some of us. He can understand some of our customs and traditions so well that there’sn’t so much of explaining to do. Having been a regular visitor, he can tell us how greatly we have changed over the years.

    The swelling number of people on the streets is what has struck him the most. He had been in Bangalore some 15 years back. He can barely recognise the city. The crowds, congestion on the road and noise are what depress him. He wishes we did something more to keep the public places clean and have better roads.

    But he is totally impressed by the technological progress Bangalore in particular, and India in general, has been making. In fact, his visit to Bangalore was not just to meet us and spend a few days with us, but also to pursue his interest in alternative sources of energy. He has been looking for a small wind turbine of 1 to 1.5 KW that he can install on top of his house or a solar module to generate electricity for his house.

    He firmly believes that Bangalore, being the Knowledge Capital of India, will help him acquire one which is far better than what would be available back in Britain. He kept telling me that importing something from Bangalore would be far better than getting on in his place. I still can't believe this. His perception is a result of hype or reality?

    Right from the day he came, on Wednesday, he and I have been pursuing leads on this. We did lot of research on the Internet and made phone calls. He was amazed at the sort of options that he got in Bangalore. He was successful in zeroing in on one company and plans to follow it up with them.

    Next, the trip to Srirangapatnam with him.

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    Let’s wish Antony well

    That will be the best way to face up to the biggest surprise of the Union cabinet expansion on Tuesday, rather than the cynical, “How long will he last?”

    One comment I heard was: We need some one like A K Antony -- who has an indisputably clean image -- in an area like the defence, which has lately been muddied by scandals of kickbacks.

    But will someone who is so obsessed with rules be able to tackle the many pushes and pulls of the defence ministry? I would prefer not to jump into any hasty conclusion, because I am hoping for a surprise. (His profile by
    IANS, ANI)

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Google vs Yahoo

    These two words are, I am sure, among the most popular across the world. So how the two companies are doing should also be of interest to the world. The battle between the two pioneer Internet search engines continues; and has also got a bit interesting. (The two have today diversified into many other fields, particularly to mail.)

    Their third quarter figures were out a few days back. Google showed a 70% increase in
    revenue earnings compared to the same period a year back; while Yahoo's corresponding revenues marked a 19% increase. The net profit of Google increased 92% while that of Yahoo fell 19%.

    The performance of Google and Yahoo has to be viewed against the
    performance of major newspaper companies in the US. Tribune reported a 2% drop in publishing ad revenue, The New York Times reported a 4.2% drop, and Belo, which publishes the Dallas Morning News and the Providence Journal, reported a 5.5% slide.

    Unlike any other product, the main revenue of a media organisation is through advertisements rather than through the selling price. In fact, journals are the only product that is sold at a far less price than what it costs to produce.

    The healthy growth of the online publications is very significant: because one view often heard was that companies would prefer to give advertisements to print journals rather than to online journals; which means, print journals will survive while online journals will struggle. But the figures above seem to indicate the opposite.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Blogs in Google News

    There have been reports of individual and personal blogs figuring in search results of Google News (which gives links to media organisations). One view is that, this has brought down the quality of Google News search. And this has set off a debate. Should blogs be kept out?

    I feel yes. Google News should not include blogs in search results. If at all they do, it should be weblogs of recognised media organisations. Is it an issue of credibility? Not so much: because the website of a particular organisation may not have credible info on it, and conversely an individual blogger could be very credible with the info that he or she posts.

    The real issue is more of recognition. Remember, a good number of individual bloggers are on pseudonyms. Even if they reveal their real names, rarely there are addresses, phone numbers and other contact information. That is not the case with recognised media organisations. Being overboard with full contact details brings in, though not necessarily, some about of accountability. I say “not necessarily” because there are organisations which never respond to emails you send them or pick up a call made to a number listed on their site.

    One solution is: Google News can have separate links for media organisations and individual blogs. I am sure Google has, or if not, can come up with a technology to do it.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Reuters opens first virtual news bureau

    Reuters has become the first established media organisation to station a newsreporter in a virtual world -- Second Life. Adam Pasick, a media correspondent with the agency based in London, will serve as the news organisation's first virtual bureau chief, using an avatar - an animated character - called 'Adam Reuters', and will file his stories at Reuters virtual news bureau.

    Second Life is a simulated 3D world, created by Linden Lab in San Francisco, where characters can go about their daily business using a virtual currency - Linden Dollars - to shop, work, and generally hang about. According to Reuters, nearly a million people are members of the community with players spending nearly £7 million a year in the virtual world. Linden Dollars can be converted into US dollars at the online marketplace so that players can make real money from their virtual counterparts.

    Saturday, October 14, 2006

    New freedom for UK journalists

    Journalists (in the UK) have won the freedom to publish news articles that contain allegations about public figures without the threat from libel. As long as their reporting is in the public interest, and has been undertaken in a seriously responsible manner, then it can be published without repercussions under English law. Such is the verdict of The House of Lords, which yesterday (Oct 12) found that even if newsworthy allegations later emerge as defamatory and false, journalists can publish without fear of reprisals. (Freelance UK)

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    The Word is Flat, says North Korea

    The nuclear bomb cycle has turned a full circle, or at least almost, with North Korea exploding a plutonium device on October 9.

    The first test explosion of an atom bomb was at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. The US used it on August 6 the same year over Hiroshima and three days later over Nagasaki to end World War II. The Soviet Union also got its hands on it and the world lived on the brink of a full-scale nuclear war for four decades.

    In the eighties, President Ronald Reagan of the US and Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev ended the Cold War during which mercifully N-arms were not used but many smaller countries waged conventional war on behalf of the Big Two.

    The end of Cold War left only the Big One on the scene and the field opened out for others to proclaim leadership and power. “If you can have it, why can’t we?” that’s the simple question the US is asked about nuclear weapons. The US reply mostly is: “Quietly we will accept you, if you are a responsible and well-behaved nation.”

    It’s on this principle that the US and the UK have been saying that it is okay for India to have nuclear weapons but not Iran or North Korea. Implicit in this is India’s transformation.

    In the international comity of nations there is this division of “good guys” and “bad guys”. Of course the parameters have always been set by the US. We were really “bad guys” in spite of all our good credentials till the 1990s. With the same credentials, today we have been shifted (by the US) to the “good” side of the divide. And the shift has brought with it a number of troubles too for us. That’s a different matter altogether.

    The real power of a nuclear weapon is not in its explosion, but in its use as a device to bargain, to blackmail and to threaten. India realised this with lot of discomfiture in the May to July 1999 conflict in Kargil and in the build-up of troops on the border following the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament. Pakistan bluntly said it would use the nuclear bomb if India attacked it. India had no answer.

    Israel can attack the Hezbollah in Lebanon, because Hezbollah or Lebanon or Palestine doesn’t have a nuclear bomb. The US attacked Iraq because Saddam Hussein didn’t have a nuclear bomb. Iran is possibly developing nuclear weapons capability as a protective measure. Now, North Korea is cleverly using the bomb trick. And the rest of the world is left scratching their heads, and wondering if the many little villains scattered across the globe also get hold of this bomb.

    Probably this is also North Korea’s way of telling Thomas Friedman that The World is Flat not just because of information technology.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Google in trouble over Orkut in India

    The Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to issue notice to Google for the alleged spread of hatred about India by its social network service "Orkut". (PTI report in TOI)

    Google nets YouTube in $1.65bn takeover

    The founders of the video website YouTube last night accepted a $1.65bn (£880m) takeover offer from Google for their 20-month-old venture, which has a big online following but has yet to make money. (Guardian)

    Monday, October 9, 2006

    YouTube inks more deals

    The internet wave continues to revolutionise the way we live. What YouTube, a video-sharing site on the web, has been achieving over the past 20 months since it became operational is amazing. That technology knows knows no barriers has once again been proved by Chad Hurley, 29, and Steve Chen, 28, two former employees of Pay Pal, who founded YouTube.

    Thomas Friedman would have to now update his book, The World is Flat, yet again, because YouTube has made an amateur's video equally accessible around the world as a celebrity's -- the world has got further flattened.

    YouTube has 60 employees sharing 10 landline telephones in small offices in downtown San Mateo. Stunned by the popularity of the latest startup, IT giants have been lining up to strike deals with YouTube.

    Today, we have news coming in of YouTube signing more deals with various companies, like Universal Music and CBS. Warner Music was among the first to sign a deal with YouTube. Google itself is said to be talks to buy it for $1.6b.

    The march of technology is amazing.

    Sunday, October 8, 2006

    Fearless war reporter found dead

    Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian journalist known as a fierce critic of the Kremlin's actions in Chechnya, has been found dead in Moscow. More from BBC

    Friday, October 6, 2006

    Are Gandhi’s ideals relevant today?

    What a clichéd question! It has been asked a countless times and will continue to be asked a countless times. While it’s always answered as yes or no, some basic elements of the principle that’s being popularised today as “Gandhigiri” are missed out.

    The context is so important. For a plant to grow, it’s not enough that the seed is of good quality. It should also be planted in fertile soil, and further it has to be nurtured well for it to yield good fruit.

    Let us not be overawed by Gandhi and the path he took. He was a human being like anyone of us, but the big difference was, he was an extraordinary man. He was a genius; he was one in a million. No one could rally around a disparate mass of people like he did. He devised a plan, worked selflessly for it to succeed. The British as rulers of the world had simply no answers to Gandhiji’s posers. An empire, where the sun never set, was humbled. Never before had one single man brought an empire down without spilling blood.

    But, there is another side which reminds us that Gandhi was not a God. He was not a Saint. He was a politician. He was a strategist, only that the world hadn’t seen a politician like him. Gandhism had its limitations.

    Ultimately, India won its Independence with so much blood spilt. It must have pained Gandhiji so much. His writings reflect his awareness of the limitations of his philosophy. It’s not a philosophy that guarantees absolute success. It doesn’t work everywhere with everyone all the time. How we apply his principles and on whom, how, when and where are equally important.

    We didn’t spill blood fighting the British. It’s also important that the British, being what they are, respected Gandhiji, and didn’t allow blood to be split. But we spilt blood fighting among ourselves. We spilt blood, not while driving the British out, but while winning the freedom for ourselves. Gandhian principles worked with the British, but did it work with our own people? Blood continues to be spilt.

    Everyone talks only of truth and non-violence; but very few of “spirit of sacrifice”. That, I think, embodies Gandhian ideals the best. Not surprisingly, that’s also the least practised. Probably that’s what is needed for non-principle to succeed, that’s what is needed to ensure that blood is not spilt.

    From what I have understood after reading about Gandhiji, is that he is one person who made full use of the “one-step-back-two-steps-forward” principle. He never hesitated to withdraw or retreat, when he was sure he could then rebound much stronger, which would then take him much farther. That was a crucial element of his strategising. And it worked.

    The word sacrifice has an aura around it. There’s no need for it. The little pleasures that we give up in our daily lives, the little adjustments that we all make in our daily lives with people around us, are also small sacrifices that make our lives much simpler, happier and worthwhile. Probably, this world can do with a little more of such sacrifices.

    I guess, it’s here that we need to understand Gandhiji’s strategies, learn them and apply them in our everyday lives, wherever appropriate. We may or may not be able to change the entire world. But definitely we can, in our own small way, make a small change to the small world around us. The synergy of it works; only that we need to exploit this synergy much more.

    Thursday, October 5, 2006

    Tourniquet: Bad advice for a snake bite?

    We have learnt that applying a tourniquet is the first step to be taken in case of a snake bite. But here is a different take on it ....

    Mike Edwards, 46, was bitten by a timber rattlesnake while working on his farm. The bite was (very) severe... As Edwards and his wife, Andrea, waited for the ambulance to arrive, a good Samaritan tried to help using advice gleaned from Hollywood -- applying a tourniquet.

    But a toxicologist who arrived on the scene said the tourniquet just kept all of the venom in one place, and it swelled, which made it harder for the antivenin to get to it. It could have cost his life. Edwards' condition was critical by the time they arrived at the hospital and his blood pressure was dangerously low, his wife said. Mike said he lost vision at one point and was convulsively twitching.

    Middle Tennessee Medical Center's Dr Kevin Beier, who specializes in emergency treatment, said venom is used by snakes to break down the tissue of prey to make them easier to digest. "When you trap the venom, it causes tissue damage and necrosis (tissue death)," Beier said. Beier said there are rare circumstances when using a tourniquet would have helped, such as in the cases of the victim going into shock and to slow the spread of the venom.

    But Beier said the method of cutting a wound and sucking out the venom is never recommended. "DO NOT DO THIS," he said. "That's been shown not to have been of any benefit and it can increase the effect of infection or damage." Full story

    So, what about the first aid we learnt? May be some doctors could comment on this...

    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    Blogs and me

    Usha tagged me with the following questionnaire:

    1. Are you happy/satisfied with your blog, with its content and look? Does your family know about your blog?
    I am quite satisfied with the content.
    I wish I knew a bit more of technical stuff, so I could improve its looks. On the plus side, blogging has given me opportunity to learn a lot of tech stuff which hitherto I didn't know. The learning process is continuing.
    Yes, my family knows about the blog.

    2. Do you feel embarrassed to let your friends know about your blog or you just consider it as a private thing?
    No, not at all. I don't consider blog as a private thing. Blogs are very much in the public domain, even if the contents are private.

    3. Did blogs cause positive changes in your thoughts?
    Yes, in some ways. Reading blogs has exposed me to diverse lines of thought, many of them refreshing, positive and encouraging. Also, blogs have been a steady source of information for me. Today, I search blogs as much as or more than websites.
    As a professional journalist, I am also, in some ways, expected to keep going through blogs to know the pulse of the people.

    4. Do you only open the blogs of those who comment on your blog or you love to go and discover more by yourself?
    I often hunt for new blogs based on the topic of interest. It's almost becoming a past time. Of course, I also have list of blog buddies, whom I visit regularly.

    5.What does visitors counter mean to you? Do you care about putting it in your blog?
    Yes. Besides the number, it is a pointer to the type of subjects that attract readership, and also the regions where most of my readers are.

    6. Did you try to imagine your fellow bloggers and give them real pictures?
    An image of the blogger's personality does indeed get formed in my mind as I keep reading her/his postings over a period of time.

    7. Admit. Do you think there is a real benefit for blogging?
    I find blogging a much better method of making friends than most of the networking sites that have sprung up of late. Blog is nothing but another medium of communication. It has its advantages and pitfalls.

    8. Do you think that bloggers society is isolated from real world or interacts with events?
    Yes to a great extent. Not just the absence of get-togethers, many bloggers are pseudonymous. It has its advantage, because some people are able to though express themselves better that way. With many bloggers exchanging emails and also keeping in touch over phone, besides the occasional bloggers meetings, the isolation is breaking down.

    9. Does criticism annoy you or do you feel it's a normal thing?
    Criticism does not annoy me, except when it is personal.

    10. Do you fear some political blogs and avoid them?
    No, I neither fear them nor avoid them. Sometimes I look out for them.

    11. Did you get shocked by the arrest of some bloggers?
    Earlier I used to; not now. Because I have reconciled to the fact that blogsphere too its share of saints and sinners like the real world.

    12. Did you think about what will happen to your blog after you die?
    No. Though I won't be able blog, the URL will survive, won't it?

    13. What do you like to hear? What's the song you might like to put a link to in your blog?
    We Thank Thee by Jim Reeves:

    We thank Thee each morning for a new born day
    Where we may work the fields of new mown hay
    We thank Thee for the sunshine and the air that we breathe oh Lord we thank Thee
    Thank Thee for the rivers that run all day
    Thank Thee for the little birds that sing along the way
    Thank Thee for the trees and the deep blue sea oh Lord we thank Thee
    Oh yes we thank Thee Lord for every flower that blooms
    Birds that sing fish that swim and the light of the moon
    We thank Thee every day as we kneel and pray
    That we were born with eyes to see these things
    Thank Thee for the fields where the clover is grown
    Thank Thee for the pastures where cattle may roam
    Thank Thee for Thy love so pure and free oh Lord we thank Thee
    Oh yes we thank Thee Lord...

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    Tabloidisation of media

    I had the opportunity today to interact with journalism students of some Bangalore colleges at a seminar on Tabloidisation of Media Today organised by the Bishop Cotton Women's Christian College. Along with me were Mr K Sathyamurthy, City Editor of The Hindu and Mr Vijay Grover, Bureau chief of Zee News.

    It was a very stimulating discussion. Students had a number of questions on where the media is headed for. There was a sense of concern among the students on what they said was "decline of serious journalism". Mr Sathyamurthy said whether it be tabloids or broadsheets all types of publications had their place in a society. Mr Grover said often ideal methods were overtaken by practical constraints and realities. All of us touched upon the diversity of Indian media and choices people have today to pick the media of their liking.

    I put forward my views on tabloidisation in a paper which I presented at the seminar. The following the full text:

    Dear members of the panel, Principal, members of the faculty and students,

    First, let me thank the Bishop Cotton Women's Christian College for inviting me to this seminar.

    In a way, I am quite pleased that we have this topic of "Tabloidisation of Media". Not least because it's an easy one to speak on. I am pleased because we have today an opportunity to discuss what tabloidisation actually is.

    Personally, I feel tabloidisation is a much misunderstood term, leading some people to even make almost dooms-day predictions of journalism's imminent death. Incidentally, there are some people who feel journalism is already dead!

    Well, I have my own views about it. So, let me very categorically say that whatever is happening around us, journalism has only, quite contrary to popular beliefs, got more vibrant and serious.

    The four postulates

    Let me present to your four postulates on this topic:

    One, tabloidisation is not the same thing as becoming a tabloid.

    Two, there's nothing to be alarmed about this change.

    Three, tabloidisation is not a dirty word.

    And, four, we haven't seen the last of the changes.

    I shall dwell upon these as we go along. At the outset I wish to strongly assert that the current global wave of tabloidisation -- which is just about 10 years old -- is nothing related to the typical tabloids which have been in existence for around 100 years.

    Tabloidisation is one thing, tabloids are another. A tabloidised media has not necessarily become a tabloid. The Indian media – both electronic and print – have become tabloidised to various extents. But they haven't become tabloids themselves.

    I hope this distinction is getting clearer. Hopefully it'll become as we go along.

    What is tabloid

    Let us see what constitutes a tabloid and what constitutes tabloidisation? The crucial difference between the two lies in the message.

    Tabloid is a concept wherein the message is not serious in nature. The first tabloids appeared in early 1920s; and prominent among them was the New York Daily News. For the first time, as tabloids, they came out in half the size of a normal newspaper.

    A tabloid is a product. The oddities and the trivial occupy more space than serious issues like education, science, foreign policy, economic policy etc.

    What characterises a tabloid typically is the 3-S formula: Sex, Scandal and Sports. More than half the space of these tabloids was taken up by detailed reportage on crime, gangwars, bootlegging, sex and financial scandals.

    Typical tabloids of early days, gave lots of importance to murder trials and love affairs. Some 20 per cent of space was devoted to sports, racing results etc. Serious issues were completely avoided.

    If you look at the English language tabloids in our country, they don't even fit this description, except in the size of the paper and probably the use of big photos. Not only that, they also cover serious issues, probably from a different angle. Actual tabloids can be found in the vernacular press.

    What is tabloidisation

    Tabloidisation is altogether different. It is a process. It's more to do with simplification of the message, making the message more relevant to the audience. As I see it, it is the current trend wherein journalism is more about individuals, families, their lives and society; and not about government policies and proclamations.
    Tabloidisation at one level is demystification of everything that is academic; use of colours, use of graphics, illustrations etc. Tabloidisation at another level is giving emphasis to individuals rather than the state. Tabloidisation is more of practicals and less of theory. Less of concepts and more of reality.

    What triggered tabloidisation

    Why do we have this issue of tabloidisation staring at us?

    There is a one-word answer to that: technology; and if I may add one more word, Information Technology. We are in the midst of an extremely dynamic era in the whole history of our civilisation. There haven't been many inventions like the computer and the internet which has had such a dramatic influence on our daily lives.

    When this is the case, I really don't understand how journalism can be isolated and insulated from these changes. Journalism is a social science. And, it evolves as the society evolves. The changes in journalism are only a reflection of changes in other aspects of our daily lives.

    We live in an era of multimedia. There are multiple means of getting information. News spreads the fastest through the mobile phone network. Radio and television come after that. Technology has redefined not just news value but the manner in which news is disseminated.

    Look at the growth of blogs. Conventional media, both print and electronic, have acknowledged their presence. The news and views given by a citizen journalist is valued as much as that of a veteran journalist. It's no longer a one-way flow of information from the media to the people, there is an equal measure of reverse flow.

    I hope you may have noticed how one TV news channel last week began a programme called My News, wherein the viewers are given an opportunity to select which news item they want to watch. Every news organisation has become highly interactive.

    Don't be alarmed

    This brings me to my second postulate. Don't press any panic button, because journalism has got tabloidised. There is nothing to be alarmed. As I said before, serious journalism is still vibrant, much less dead. Why do I say that? Because I see it all around me. We just have to keep our eyes and ears open, be a bit more perceptive to what is printed and telecast. I'd even go to the extent of saying that serious journalism has only got more serious now.

    Examples are aplenty. Let us take one: last year's flood in Mumbai and Bangalore. I don't think at any point in Indian journalism floods got, not just such an extensive, but such an incisive coverage in our media. Issues were dug out and examined with clinical precision – the issue of unplanned development; lack of an administration that a metropolis like Mumbai or an upcoming global city like Bangalore should have; the inability to handle growth of the slums; the skewed pattern of development wherein tier 2 and 3 cities don't get official patronage; so on and so forth.

    Now, here in Bangalore we have a very serious issue of over 1,000 schools being shut down, midway through the year, and students and teachers being left in the lurch. This is a serious issue, one that is concerning students' education and future. Media has taken up this.

    Another example is infrastructure and civic amenities. The Bangalore media have taken up very seriously this issue.

    Yet another is health issues. One newspaper recently carried an article on how doctors are discovering Uric Acid as the new villain, in lifestyle diseases.

    Don't be shy

    Now, let me come to the third point. Tabloidisation is not a dirty word. This is in fact a derivative of my first postulate, that tabloidisation is not the same thing as being a tabloid. Tabloids may be "dirty", but not tabloidisation.
    Just as we needn't be alarmed about tabloidisation, we needn't be shy about it: because I interpret tabloidisation as a democratisation of news; a process of demystification.
    A recent issue of Newsweek has on its cover, the topic of many families the world over preferring not to have children. One may argue that it is personal matter for a couple. Why should it make it to the cover of an international news magazine. But, this is a very relevant topical issue; and can't viewed as sensationalism.

    In the public domain, in the common parlance, the tabloid does have a negative connotation. That could be one reason, why the venerable Times of London decided to use the word compact instead of tabloid when they converted the paper to tabloid size on Nov 1, 2004.

    When Amitabh Bachchan had to undergo a major surgery and also when Vajpayee had to undergo a knee-replacement, media had a lot of reports on the medical aspects of it; trying to demystify the issue for the reader. Newspapers and magazines carried a number of illustrations on medical problem and the surgical processes.

    When a newspaper carried an illustration of the abdominal area to explain better what Amitabh's illness actually was, one person told me, that the newspaper was invading the privacy of the great actor, the illustration was in bad taste, that there was no need to explain his illness in such detail etc. A very similar point was raised about Vajpayee's knee. Why the PM's knee so important? Is it more important than the Prime Minister's views on our country's secular fabric?

    In both cases the point that was missed was that a lot of scientific and educative input had gone into the reportage. It was not just a picture of the abdominal area.

    It's not over yet

    We haven't seen the last of anything, that's my last postulate. Tabloidisation itself is in various forms and degrees. The clear-cut demarcation between highbrow journalism which broadsheets pursued and the lowbrow journalism that tabloids followed, is gradually getting diffused. A lot of grey area has crept in, probably one reason why there is a lot of confusion over this change.

    Today we have a lot of middlebrow journalism. While broadsheets are getting more informative and entertaining, tabloids aren't ignoring serious issues either. Today, if you look at some of our tabloids it's not all entertainment and gossip. There are lots of articles worth reading.

    Let me conclude with a suggestion to the students. Try to understand contemporary media. Merely noticing the changes in journalism today is just half the job done. Try to look at them in the context of social evolution. Learn how media profile has changed over the years, how it is changing today, and how it could change further. Evaluate and understand the different roles media have played at differnt periods in history. That would give a better picture of the changing scenario and also help you understand this change better.

    Monday, September 18, 2006

    Homosexuality is okay

    This issue is going to hog quite a bit of limelight, if it has not already. A petition challenging the anti-gay law, Section 377, will come up before the Delhi high court soon. Meanwhile, over 100 prominent personalities have signed a letter demanding repeal of the law. Read about it in The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, Daily News and Analysis, International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, and The Guardian.

    NDTV yesterday had a special edition of We the People, in which this issue was discussed. There were some very forthright and frank opinions and also narration of personal experiences by gays and lesbians of being shunned by members of their family after their sexual preferences were made known.

    Some of the arguments in favour of a change in the law do make sense. One, this is a personal, private issue between two consenting adults. It’s not for other people, much less for the government, to make a judgement on the right or wrong of it, as long as there’s no public nuisance resulting out of the relationship.

    Two, the origins of alternative sexuality are not recent, but it has existed from time immemorial. You can’t suppress that’s already there. When one is faced with reality, it’s much better to accept than to deny, or shove under cover.

    There are two counter-arguments which don’t seem to make much sense. One, is that legalisation could convert this into some sort of a pop culture among the young. I don’t think something that is innate to one's nature can be influenced in such a manner. Even if so, why not? That's what social change and evolutions is all about.

    The other point is that it’s “wrong” to have such a relationship, from the moral sense. If two people are comfortable and happy with such a relationship, then how could it be “wrong”? Is it wrong to feel good?

    It is very sad to see conflicts in people’s minds over this. Teenage is the time when sexuality bursts out into a person’s consciousness. It’s natural for boys and girls to have crushes on other boys and girls. Everyone sorts that out gradually. And, if someone can’t, then that’s quite unfortunate, especially in this age.

    Worse the discrimination and excommunication they have to suffer after they come out in the open with it. It’s very unfair. People need to be respected for the choices they make, as long as, of course, they don’t harm other people.

    This issue is a major one and it needs to be in the public domain. As Soli Sorabjee suggested as a first step homosexuality needs to decriminalised, if not legalised.

    With the stroke of a pen the law can be repealed. That’s just the legality of the issue. But far more challenging than that, is getting the mindset changed. It’sn’t going to happen overnight. But discussions and debates on this topic would definitely help clear the air.

    Counselling centres have a major role to play. They need to address this issue too, especially for parents who would have to confront their children’s choices.

    The whole world has moved on, why not India too?