Sunday, January 28, 2007

Changing Kerala

I am in Mallappally, 30 km south of Kottayam Kerala, for a family wedding. This morning we had been to a nearby village called Karukachal. As we were buying vegetables, two persons, in a car, came to an adjacent shop to buy chicken. They were speaking Hindi and new not a word of Malayalam, only a smattering of English. I was surprised to find that the lady at the shop did understand a bit of Hindi. My father-in-law explained that the scene was changing in Kerala. Many people, especially shopkeepers, can understand not just English but Hindi too. One reason is the commercial interest stemming out of increased tourists coming from the north. And, the other, the exposure to Hindi serials on TV.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cricket telecast tamasha

It is totally inexplicable why a controversy over telecast is allowed to develop just before every major cricket series. Most of India missed the telecast of the first onedayer of the Windies series at Nagpur on Sunday. Today the Delhi High Court, in response to a petition moved by Nimbus, allowed Doordarshan to telecast matches with a 7-minute delay -- deferred live as they call it. This is only an interim measure; the next hearing is on Feb 8.

There is a serious issue of ownership of airwaves that needs to be settled once and for all. Is telecast of cricket matches of such national importance that the feed has to be made mandatorily available to all citizens of the country? If cricket telecast is so important, then why bring in bidding, and make it totally commercial? Are we getting our priorities wrong here?

Bidding for telecast is a very straightforward business deal. In the bidding in February last year, Nimbus paid the highest, $612, and got the telecast rights. Zee came second at $530 and ESPN $401. Interestingly, Prasar Bharati did not even participate in the bidding.

After all that, now the government, via Prasar Bharati, is apparently muddying a clearcut case by talking of national interest, public interest etc. It can't have the cake and eat it too. On the one hand it wants to literally cash in on the national passion for the game, pocket ad revenues, and on the other hand, it wouldn't even participate in bidding, forget paying up, and get the exclusive rights.

While keeping away from bidding, the government broadcaster was thinking in terms of getting a content-sharing agreement with the highest bidder. And, in typical govt style, forgot all about it, till the eve of the match. Knowing well that Nimbus is not a broadcasting company (it is a TV production company), Prasar Bharati should have worked out an arrangement with it well in time. But, Nimbus had other plans, as the launch of their Neo Sports channel illustrates.

It looks like there is a reason why PB did not bid. There is a clause which says that the private broadcaster in order to get uplinking facility should share the feed with the public broadcaster. PB says Nimbus had agreed to this. If Nimbus felt this was in violation of intellectual property rights and forceful acquisition of telecast rights, why it didn't go to court earlier? And, PB says Nimbus had agreed to this clause and did share feed during the England series last year.

Cricket is a national passion. It's a great unifying factor. But is it not just a game? Inability to see issues in the right -- real national -- perspective is a major problem. We need to set this right first.

Friday, January 19, 2007

RIP Art Buchwald

Though it was known that Art Buchwald was ailing, the news of his passing away yesterday was a shock. His syndicated column, The Hindu used to carry, was a must-read for me during school days, on the recommendation of my English teacher Mr Prem C Nair. Not all this articles were set in the Washington political context; many were based on international politics, and it was easy to relate to the topic.

Buchwald made people laugh, but he had a such a tragic childhood. His mother was mentally unstable, he lived a number of years in orphanages. Probably, the sense of humour was a protection against the hardship of life.

Even when he suffered heart attack, had his leg amputated, suffered kidney failure, he never lost his sense of humour. He even confronted death the same way. He preferred to court death, stopped dialysis, and moved into a hospice.

People came calling, probably thinking that it would be last meeting. But he announced to them that in the hospice that he was having a whale of time. And, in what he describes as a medical mystery, he recovered, and moved out, alive!

He has been an inspiration on how one should look at life. "The world is a satire. All you are doing is recording it," he said once.

Here are some of his gems:

  • The buffalo isn't as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo.
  • Just when you think there's nothing to write about, Nixon says, "I am not a crook." Jimmy Carter says, "I have lusted after women in my heart." President Reagan says, "I have just taken a urinalysis test, and I am not on dope.
  • Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was.
  • Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got.
  • We seem to be going through a period of nostalgia, and everyone seems to think yesterday was better than today. I don't think it was, and I would advise you not to wait ten years before admitting today was great. If you're hung up on nostalgia, pretend today is yesterday and just go out and have one hell of a time.

  • We'll miss you, Art. Rest In Peace. (Obit on New York Times)

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Shilpa Shetty in focus

    I am not one who watches reality shows. But here I am going over one video clip after another featuring Shilpa Shetty and her housemates in Celebrity Big Brother show on Channel 4. It just goes to show how much the controversy has helped the channels and the programme!

    This is not a show where participants are expected to be boring, diplomatic, staid, insipid, etc. Such programmes are centred around emotions, much like soap operas. I am sure, when Shilpa agreed to participate she must have definitely expected to be cornered out there, though it's doubtful if she foresaw the intensity of it.

    This is a reality show, where participants show off their real colour. So, we all got to see to see some real, but bitter, truths. Are Shilpa's housemates representative of British society? I hope not.

    Every game has rules and there are limits to which they can be stretched. How much ever real this show is, how much ever they have been under pressure to make it exciting, I doubt if one could go this far. The words used, though in poor taste, came across as much more disgusting and nasty because of the context in which they were used.

    Participants know that they are in a nasty, mean game, to that extent they'd be taking it their stride, they have no choice. How ironic then that all this dirt is doing a world of good for Shilpa and Channel 4.

    Monday, January 15, 2007

    Washington Post holds bloggers meet

    Washington Post on January 9 hosted a meeting of bloggers; perhaps the first of its kind*. Only 100 attended, though anybody who has "a blog about DC" was invited.

    The Post's Marc Fisher reported: "This was a chance for all sorts of local bloggers to hear from Post news executives about how the paper is not equipped to cover the micro-local events and issues that bloggers specialize in, and to explore ways in which the paper, its website and bloggers can collaborate, at least by referring readers to one another's work."

    Company executives talked about sharing revenues with local bloggers from ads sold by the Post's sales staff, which must be exponentially bigger and effective than any bloggers' effort. The meet-up, coincidentally, came just a few days after Backfence, a local news/blog-like effort co-founded by an online veteran announced a staff cutback and reorganization.

    Just an indication of how the mass media landscape is changing.

    * Update following Dinakaran's comment: ... perhaps the first of its kind organised by a media organisation.

    Sunday, January 14, 2007


    Today's STOI carries a good Mind over Matter article on why and how we should Stop Making Excuses. Interestingly a couple of days back, AP put out a news item on how because of new distractions procrastination is getting worse. Psychologist William Knoss says people spend more time in delaying than to do the actual work.

    On a daily basis, we keep making excuses either to postpone an activity, or in defence of a mistake. A number of these excuses are "finding faults with others" types. It's quite a negative approach to life.

    The article also led to me think, what's the difference between "excuse" and "reason". An excuse is a personal, superficial defensive shield to escape repercussions, while reason is a logical, justifiable, credible explanation.

    Most often people and events around us are not under our control. On the contrary, full control of oneself is possible. And that will, to a great extent, obviate the shortcomings of our surroundings. There won't be need for excuses.

    Sunday, January 7, 2007

    News on FM channels on radio

    Why government has not allowed news on private radio channels, when it allowed news on private TV channels more than 10 years back, is still a puzzle to me. There could be only reason: fear of negative publicity. But that can’t be, since the reach and potential of TV images on private channels is much more than private FM channels. Only on government’s FM channel, Rainbow, and on its MW and SW channels do we get to hear news.

    Some change of mind seems to be on the way. Yesterday, All India Radio’s director-general
    Brijeshwar Singh said in Kolkata that the Broadcast Bill to be tabled in Parliament next session might contain a provision to allow news on private FM channels. This, when it happens, will add a new dimension to dissemination of news, which already has got widely diversified.

    Tuesday, January 2, 2007

    It is faith that keeps us all going

    One morning, a college student, on reaching the library, didn't know where to leave her bag since the entire rack was full. On the security guard's suggestion, she left it on the counter, like many others. When she returned an hour later, her bag wasn't there.

    Mercifully the mobile wasn't inside, only Rs 350 and many bits of paper, with random jottings. This was the first such incident. The system ran on faith; until one person shattered it.

    The next day, I was at a temple in Banaswadi, in Bangalore. There was a designated place to leave footwear, but not helmets, which are now compulsory. I was wary of leaving it unattended. So, I carried it into the temple.

    A security guard, with a disarming smile, stretched out his hands, and offered to keep the helmet safely. His body language infused a lot of faith in me. I involuntarily handed it over to him, but he didn't give me a receipt.

    Just as I was about to enter the temple's inner premises, the previous day's incident of a girl losing her bag came to my mind. What if I would be the first one to lose something in the temple, and that too my helmet?

    No, I won't take a chance. I turned around, tore off a piece of paper from the pocket notepad I carry; splitting it into two pieces, I wrote my name on both. I showed the security guard the tags I had just created. He looked amazed. He obviously wasn't getting a hang of what I was up to.

    "Just to make sure that no one else by mistake picks up my helmet", I explained as I tucked one tag under the visor of the helmet and put the other tag into my pocket.

    "There's no need for all this...", he said. The warmth of the smile — that he sported a couple of minutes back when he offered to keep my helmet safely — was missing.

    God, did I indicate that I didn't have faith in him? Am I distrusting someone who is genuinely helpful? Within seconds, did I convert a trustworthy person into a suspicious one? How would I have felt if the world didn't have trust in me?

    No. I got to be realistic. I drew on my resources of body language and I told him gently in the friendliest tone, "Just in case; lot of helmets here..." He had a reassuring smile.

    Yet, I couldn't still help asking myself: What if I still lost my helmet? What if the guard would have only shrugged his shoulders and said, "I told you there's no use keeping all these tags". I left those thoughts aside as I moved into the temple.

    When I brought my palms together in prayer, I realised there were more pressing things in life than a helmet — with or without a tag.

    When I came back, the helmet was there, but not that security guard. As I picked it up and began walking away, I saw him. With the same disarming smile, he raised his open palms upwards, indicating all was well, not just the helmet, by the Grace of God.

    Life is about relationships — matrimonial, parental, sibling, fraternal, friendly and even the one with strangers. It's faith that sustains a relationship, it fuels our daily lives.

    Faith need not be spiritual. William Adam, the British businessman navigator, said, "Faith is a continuation of reason". Henry Bailey, a British author of medical detective short stories, said, "Faith is a higher faculty than reason". St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, said, "Faith is to believe in what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe".

    It's the faith that we have in one another that makes our lives comfortable.

    (Published in Speaking Tree column, today's Times of India)