Sep 032012

My column in today’s DNA

The evening of 26th November 2008, saw the beginning of concerted attacks on Mumbai. A squad of highly trained, well-armed terrorists landed in South Mumbai and worked in small teams to wreck death and destruction. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was the first to be attacked. People waiting to catch a train, people sleeping on the platform, people going home – ordinary people were murdered in cold blood. Over 50 died and over a hundred were injured. CST also saw the capture of one terrorist. The Taj and Oberoi, Hotels were attacked and between them saw dozens of people dead, many more injured and the Taj dome set on fire. Nariman House, a centre for Chabad Jews was attacked and a Rabbi and his pregnant wife along with those who lived there were murdered. Cama Hospital was another target. In all, one hundred and sixty six people lost their lives, and 238 people were injured, many seriously. Damage to property ran into hundreds of crores, and the damage to psyche – terrorists walking into civilian areas and killing people at random- was huge.


As the terror unfolded, India watched with gruesome fascination. Live images were being beamed into homes. Every nuance, every speculation, every little bit of panic was captured and relayed. It was almost there was no other news in India. V.P.Singh, former Prime Minister of India and architect of Mandal died on the 27th November, the day after the siege began. But the airwaves were relatively silent on this. Cyclone Nisha hit the coast of Tamil Nadu on the 26th of November, and continued its wreckage for the next two days. Just under 200 people died, tens of thousands were displaced, crops destroyed and the cumulative loss ran into thousands of crores.  But, it barely registered in  the media. It seemed like every single news camera was busy, parked in the one square mile of Mumbai, covering a made for TV event that would keep their viewers hooked.


A few days ago the Supreme Court of India, upheld the death penalty on the one lone terrorist – Mohammed Ajmal Kasab – captured on the 26th of November. The verdict lays out the preparation, planning and the training given to terrorists to attack India. It also carries transcripts of terrorist handlers from Pakistan giving instructions to those holed up in the Taj, the Oberoi and Nariman house. They are heard telling the killers to tell the Indian media, and by default the authorities, ‘hamra abhi toh trailor hai abhi asal film to baaki hai’.  The transcripts make for eerie reading. It is evident that the handlers sitting across the border are able to give accurate information to the terrorists holed up in Mumbai. As the SC states in the verdict, “from the transcripts … it is evident that the terrorists who were entrenched at those places and more than them, their collaborators across the border were watching the full show on TV. “ Calling the television coverage ‘reckless’ the SC has harsh words for TV news media at large, saying that it resulted in a situation where the terrorists who were complete hidden from the gaze of Indian security forces had complete knowledge on the movement and weapons of Indian security forces because it was being beamed live on television. The SC also takes on the freedom of expression defence on live broadcasts in situations like this by saying that it is “subject to reasonable restrictions. An action tending to violate another person’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting the national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression.”


In the competition for TRP’s and the race to be the first with the news, it is evident that news channels have forgotten two important words ‘accuracy’ and ‘responsibility’. In most cases TV news is neither. While the coverage during 26/11 remains the most visible manifestation of this malaise, it is not the only one.   The SC’s observations on TV news are by far, one of the most telling indictments of main stream news television in India. Given the power and the reach of news TV one must ask the question, is there anything to be gained by transmitting news live? There is something fundamentally wrong about news that has not gone through an editorial filter hitting the screens. The  world will not come to an end if news and visuals were transmitted half an hour later, after someone responsible in the news channel – the editor – had a look at the coverage and moderated ‘recklessness’. In fact, it will possibly make the world a better place.


Sep 022012

The DNA has carried a slightly shorter  version of my review of Shashi Tharoor’ s book Pax Indica


Pax Romana or the Roman Peace is a Latin Term used to describe the, slightly over two hundred year period, when the Roman Empire saw relative peace and prosperity. It was a period when the Republic made way for the Emperor (Augustus); various warring factions within Rome were brought to heel; the Empire was kept safe from invasion and the military expansion was kept to a minimum. It was a time when Rome became the focal point of culture, trade and influence and was the dominant power. The term has been used for other Empires – Pax Americana (the period post the Second World War), Pax Britannica (the century leading up to the First World War), Pax Mongolica (the height of the Mongol Empire in the 13th & 14th centuries). In each of these cases the power of the Empire – military, economic, and cultural combined with internal political stability – ensured Peace. In each of these cases the core of the Empire – Rome, America, Britain and Mongolia – were protected from war on, while they expanded outwards with their military and trade might. This Pax Imperium was great for each of the States that were the power centres, but it had a mixed result vis-à-vis regions & people that came in the path of the Imperial Juggernaut.


Pax Indica or the Indian Peace is Shashi Tharoor’s look at modern India – that has come out of the shadow of internal divisions and external invasion – to take her rightful place on the world Stage.  Tharoor’s basic hypothesis is that India can use a combination of her size, her trade prowess, her soft power and her growing influence in the world to ensure an age of domestic transformation. He sees word Pax Indica not to imply world or regional domination, as much as foreign policy that allows India to play a role in developing a  21st century “Peace System” that will help ‘promote & maintain a period or co-operative co-existence’ and in  “helping shape the global order’


Pax Indica looks at Indian foreign policy from both a historical perspective, and a normative one. He is rather uncritical in his assessment of history. His great admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru probably gets him to see Indian foreign policy through rose tinted glasses. For example, the entire 1962 debacle in which China wrested ’23,200 square kilometres of Indian territory’ is explained away in one paragraph. His defence of non-alignment is robust. And he believes that those who “critique Nehru for not taking the ‘winning side’ speak with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight’. He also says of non-alignment as Indian foreign policy in the first 40 years after Independence gave India an advantage in the last two decades because that policy

‘enabled us to work with all the major powers without exception – and to get help (if I may be allowed to mangle Marx) from each according to their capacity, to us according to our need.

In this period (post 1991) the ‘post-colonial’ chip has fallen off India’s shoulder and she can look at the world from a position of authority.


In a world where it is acceptable, indeed expected, to berate the problems of non-alignment, Tharoor offers a perspective on why the path of foreign policy independence in the years following 1947 was the correct path for India to follow. However, he also says that in the years to come foreign policy cannot be led by belief and ideology as much as with one single goal – that of ‘facilitating India’s economic growth in order to bring our billion strong masses into the 21st century.’ And he talks about the need to

‘cultivate good relations with countries that can assist us in that process – trading partners and investors in the economy; suppliers of energy resources and assurers of food security; and partners in our fundamental objective of keeping our people safe, secure and free ‘


This kind of explains the seeming contradictions in India’s foreign policy – the friendship with Iran and the desire to boost trade ties despite the west having issues  (“Iran’s natural resources, particularly oil and natural gas, have been increasingly important to India for decades’) at the same time as strengthening her ties with the West;  the growing relationship with Israel (‘India is now Israel’s largest market for defence products and services’) along with a continued support for the Palestinian cause ; India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan – not through the display of naked power or military might, but through kinder and gentler ways; an enhanced involvement in Africa – through trade, government credits and private sector involvement. All these, says Tharoor makes India a very influential player on the world stage.


Right at the beginning Tharoor says that the book is ‘like an onion’ begins with Pakistan and peels outwards, from South Asia and neighbourhood to the world beyond.’ There is a whole chapter (entitled “Brother Enemy) devoted to our troublesome neighbour in the west.  A State whose own internal divisions are so vast that the rulers of Pakistan ‘do not feel able to challenge militant groups and their leaders because they have become too popular with a radicalized and pro-Islamist populace’ – the charitable explanation; or ‘those in power are happy to allow the terrorists to run free and wild, as long as they are only threatening India’ – the sinister excuse.  Tharoor is of the firm belief that it would not be realistic to expect Pakistan to change fundamentally for there to be peace – there are too parties jostling for power in Pakistan to allow that. He spends quite a bit of time listing those parties and their positions vis-à-vis India in public and private. But, in his opinion, ‘we want peace more than Pakistan does, because we have more at stake when peace is violated’ and therefore India should ‘seize on whatever straws in the wind float its way from Pakistan to explore possibility of Peace’. It is possibly the only controversial statement in the entire book. And also rather simplistic. He believes that stronger economic ties, a MFN status, and trade could enable Peace, while more contentious issues like Siachin or Kashmir get discussed separately.


There is an entire chapter on China that doesn’t say too much except that we can’t compete with them, we shouldn’t have conflict, maybe we should co-operate. He says that the normally complacent Elephant (us) is naturally wary of the “hissing dragon’. History, the last 60 years including India’s support and sanctuary to the Dalai Lama and the Chinese support of the Indian communist movement – plus the war of 1962 and China’s territorial claims on parts of Arunachal Pradesh have kept relations between the two strained. He lists all the advantages that China has “India’s sclerotic bureaucracy versus China’s efficient one, India’s tangles of red tape versus China’s unfurled red carpet to foreign investors, India’s contentious and fractious party politics versus China’s smoothly functioning top-down communist hierarchy,” and then says, without a trace of irony or sarcasm “India has become an outstanding example of the management of diversity through pluralistic democracy’. But he says, “India is a fractious democracy, China is not. But as an Indian, I do not wish to pretend we can compete in the global growth stakes with China” . He sees India and China following different paths and both making the future their own.


The first 7 chapters of the book are devoted to the neighbourhood; ‘The Near Abroad’- the Arab world and the Rest of Asia; The United States of America; Europe, Africa and Latin America – bunched together in a single chapter.   The bulk of these chapters are a walk through the history of India’s relationship with that country. It is in the last 4 chapters that he makes his recommendations. He believes that India ought to use a combination of soft power and public diplomacy in a multi aligned world to achieve her objectives. With the rest of the neighbourhood and the world he advocates growing trade ties to bind us together. In the case of the rest of the world the recommendation is similar – trade ties and soft power to see “peace in our times’. Tharoor is a fan of Indian soft power, though the role of the state in building that power is unexplained. Soft Power arises despite the state – from films, trade ties, cultural exchanges – all the State can do is exploit it, if it exists. The chapters on the ‘Global Commons’ and the need to move from “multi alignment’ extend his philosophy of being ‘ajatshatru’ (without enemy) and ‘sangamitra’ (friend to all) – and that is the guiding philosophy of the book. It may seem optimistic, simplistic and even naïve in parts – but it possibly has a grain of truth and practicality. Apart from Pakistan, India has decent relations with most of the world. It cannot afford to militarily engage to establish influence; nor does she have the kind of wealth to sign blank cheques for the rest of the world – so all that remains to be used is soft power. And, Tharoor advocates that India use that to the hilt.


Pax Indica is foreign policy 101 – a great introduction to foreign policy for students and those interested in reading about how India’s foreign policy evolved since independence. It is a good starting point to understanding Indian foreign policy, but any reader should read more before forming opinions. Shashi Tharoor has a way with words, and the book flows easily and is immensely readable. As he admits, it is not academic, more his perspective as a ringside observer of changing world dynamics.  Pax Indica is a bit like a nice breezy travelogue – the generic kind carried by tourists on visits – through the terrain of Indian foreign policy. There is a bit of history, a bit of geography, some amount of characters to know about, who to know about, the events that mattered, those that didn’t, what to see, what to avoid. It is a very good first person, insider view of Indian foreign policy.  It is an easy read for a serious subject, and that should not be held against the book. If you know nothing about Indian foreign policy this is a good starting point. The book looks at India through rose tinted glasses, and it is good to discount some of the optimism. But, in a scenario where the overwhelming opinions emanating from India is one of doom and gloom Pax Indica is a good countervailing point of view.



Pax Indica

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (June 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067008574X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670085743
Aug 202012

My Column in Today’s DNA

Chaos theory is that branch of mathematics that looks at how random results arise from supposedly ‘normal’ events. The most popular representation of this is the Butterfly effect. The basic premise is “a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, and a hurricane hits India”, essentially an event in one part of the world has terrible repercussions in another. In a globally linked world the butterfly effect is becoming more and more common.

Nothing can explain the butterfly effect better than the last ten days in India. In South Mumbai, a crowd of Muslim men gathered to protest atrocities against Muslims in Burma (approximately 3,000 kms away) and Kokrajhar, Assam (about 2,000 kms away). They had been shown doctored pictures and MMSes lifted from social media to help get them ‘charged’ up. Some of these pictures were a decade old, came from other countries, referred to other ethnic/religious groups, had been debunked multiple times – but none of these mattered. What mattered was the brutality in these pictures that was circulated, and the irresponsible and incendiary speeches that whipped up violence. The crowd became a mob with OB vans, vehicles and property being destroyed. The violence in Mumbai resonated through social media, with the word Muslim being used as an Adjective, Adverb and a religious descriptor. Did it add to the tensions on the ground – unlikely? Did it polarise the universe that inhabits social media and discusses politics and current affairs? Yes.

Bangalore, about 3,000 kms away from Kokrajhar, saw another sort of Butterfly effect. Random SMSes were sent to families in the northeast, warning them of attacks on their children and loved ones who lived, studied and worked in the rest of India. Panicked families began calling back their loved ones. A combination of these SMSes and news of ‘threats’ going viral in the real world led people to leave Bangalore. There have been smaller numbers leaving cities like Pune, Chennai, Vadodara and Mumbai – but Bangalore has faced the worst impact. Various state governments and the central government are making the right noises in terms of reassuring citizens but rumour carried rapidly by unfiltered media has had a powerful impact in creating a sense of insecurity.

It is at times like this you get to see two very different sorts of leadership qualities in both social media & mainstream media. There is the leadership that seeks to reassure and calm. And there is that which wants to create a narrative of victimhood and fear – watch out ‘they’ will take over your lives. Both exist and both are a reflection on the real world. Technology — be it broadcast or social media — has not created these attitudes, at best it allows these attitudes to be transmitted without filters to millions of desktops, mobile phones and TV sets.

Not surprisingly, calls have begun to have greater curbs on social media. Bulk SMSes have already been restricted. There is talk of monitoring social media sites. There are rumours of censorship. But it is neither social media nor mobile phones that are causing panic. People are. It is not the media that is spreading hate. People are. Most who are rioting don’t use social media – someone is downloading material, replicating it, at times morphing it and distributing it with only one express purpose: fermenting trouble. And there is a very good reason for this. From the time of Independence, there has been no cost, no penalty associated with polarising communities, instigating violence and causing death and destruction. In fact the converse is true — people who have done this have not only gotten away scot free but are ‘respectable’ members of the political class. Foot soldiers have been punished but those are the casualties of war.

India is such a complex nation, that even our butterfly effect is multi-layered – distance (event that take place elsewhere), and time (unconnected events in the past). Policies of not ensuring the rule of law, of pandering to religious fundamentalists, of making excuses for law breakers in the name of caste, community, religion, have come back to bite India hard, where it hurts. This is not a social media issue; this is a real world Rule of law problem. If you live in India, the laws of the land apply to you — it doesn’t matter if you sit at a computer and instigate people to cause violence or stand in front of a crowd and egg them to destroy. Both are criminal. The solution is not censorship of social media, or indeed banning gatherings, but punishment of those who break the law – without bias, without exception. Break the peace, go to jail has to be the mantra, going forward.

Aug 152012

Again a piece of Lazy Blogging- here is something adapted from a post I did last a few years on the Idea of India – through songs.

I had earlier posted a version of this post on Blogbharti, as a part of the spotlight series . Today, on the 58th Republic Day 65nd Independence Day, I thought that it may be appropriate to post it on my blog… This version has pics… and a few more songs…
One of the things that interest me is this entire concept of Indian identity. After all, there is nothing that we really have in common – not language, nor culture, not religion or even gods, or even a common philosophy, theology, or even a view of the world. (We think we do. But, if you probe even slightly you realise that we dont. ) Our multi-party democracy and our zillion paths and our seeming anarchy will drive any one seeing the country right up the proverbial wall. Yet, we know who we are. We may not be able to define it in specific words, but most of us know what we mean when we say we are Indian.

On  Independence Day – the day, we the diverse people of India became Independent and united – in this shape and form for the first time in history, I thought it would be nice to have a list of songs from Hindi Film Music that represent this Indian-ness;not the national identity or the citizenship part of us but something that we recognise in ourselves and others as being Indian. Why only Hindi Film Songs? well because I have limited exposure to songs in other languages. Here is my top 16, do add to the list.

1) Sare Jahan se Achcha Hindustan Hamara – Written by Iqbal way back at the turn of the last century, the song that, I hope, really defines India. Not just the nation state, not even the geographical land mass, but the spirit of the space. There is a stanza in the song,

Mazhab nahin Sikhata, aapas mein bair rakhna….
Hind hi hai hum, Hind hi hai ham vatan hai,
Hindustan hamara

More than anything else this symbolises secularism in India for me. Not secularism in the western sense of separation of organised state and organised religion, but secularism in the sense of mutual tolerance, acceptance and co-existance. The irony is that Mohammed Iqbal became one of the strong proponents of division on religious lines. I am not really sure if it was ever used in a film, in its entirety. The new version of it for the Incredible India campaign is also worth hearing. I couldn’t find the video of the one we all heard we were in school, so here is the one from the Incredible India campaign.

Gateway of India

The Gateway of India, Mumbai

2) Chino Arab Hamara, Hindustan Hamara Rehene Ko Ghar Nahin hai, Sara jahan hamara. Written by Sahir Ludhianvi and sung by Mukesh, for the film Phir Subah Hogi the song possibly is an anti thesis to Sare Jahan se Achcha. It captures the dispossession of the dispossessed. Written for the film made in 1958, the songs lyrics are still valid today. The song was not given playtime on AIR (the only medium on which the song could be heard). Check out this stanza

Jitni bi buldinge hai, Sethon ne baant li hai,
Footpath Mumbai ke hai aashia hamara

While the number of home owners has definitely increased since the film was released, so has the number of homeless footpath dwellers. There is another song in this film, also sung by Mukesh, that deals with similar feelings – Aasman Pe Hai Khuda, aur Zameen pe hum.


The Little Beggar Girl, Mumbai

3) Sajan re Jhooth Mat Bolo, Khuda ke paas Jaana Hai – Mukesh waxes philosophical in this folksy number from Teesri Kasam. Picturised on Mukesh, the lyrics are by Shailendra, and music by Shankar Jaikishen. Check out this stanza

Bhalaa Kije Bhalaa Hoga
Buraa Kije Buraa Hoga
Wahi Likh-Likh Ke Kya Hoga
Yahin Sab Kuch Chukana Hai

At a very core level this is so true. I remember a ricksahawaalah telling me when HKL Baghat died, aise log na aise hi saad saad ke marenge. But, the flip of it is true too. You hear of people giving complete strangers shelter after a downpour, people who risk life and limb to help strangers, water being given away on streets to pilgrims & passers-by.

4) Aurat ne Janam diya Mardon Ko, Mardon ne use Bazaar Diya. Lata Mangeshkar in a rant against a system that is male skewed. At the core, India is still very much a man’s world, with women as an after thought. It is still a country where a Prinyanka Todi is not allowed to exercise her choice, and a Priyanka Bhotmange is gang-raped to teach her a lesson, it is a society which is OK with terminating a girl child and a system where women are offered the chance to marry their rapist. There are success stories, but by and large she is still property. This has Sahir at his revolutionary best, music by N.Dutta. This film also contains the great Geeta Dutt number Ramji ke Dwar Pe, Tora Manva Kyon Gabraye Re…. Lakh deen dukhiyaare saare, Jag mein mukti paaye. Check out this stanza for its poignancy

mardon ne banaayee jo rasmen, unko haq kaa farmaan kahaa
aurat ke zindaa jalane ko, qurbaani aur balidaan kahaa
kismat ke badle roti di, aur usko bhi ehsaan kahaa

(woman – Marathwada)

5) Vande Maatram.The film Anand Math, Music by Hemant Kumar and sung by Lata Mangeshkar. There are many versions of this song, including the one on All India Radio, and later by A.R.Rehman but, this remains my favourite rendition. It takes a rare genius to take a song about the beauty of the mother goddess and convert it into a marching song.

sapta koti kantha kalakala ninaada karaale
nisapta koti bhujaidhruta kharakarvaale
ka bola ka noma eith bole
bahubal dhaariniin namaami taariniim
ripudalavaariniin maataram
vande maataram …

What does it mean -Aurobindo translates its as -

Glory of moonlight dreams, Over thy branches and lordly streams,
Clad in thy blossoming trees, Mother, giver of ease
Laughing low and sweet! Mother I kiss thy feet,
Speaker sweet and low! Mother, to thee I bow.

6) Yeh Mehlon, Yeh Takhton, Yeh Tajon Ki Duniya – Mohd. Rafi singing for Guru Dutt in one of the most famous scenes from Hindi Films. A silhouetted Guru Dutt singing to a bunch of men and women who have sold their souls for something else Yeh Duniya Agar mil Bi Jaaye to Kya Hai. One of those songs that resonate deep within your soul. The other great songs in this film were – Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind per woh Kahan Hai Kissi.

read all about it

The newspaper vendor

7) Kissi Ke Muskurahato pe Ho Nisaar – Bringing joys to those around you. Mukesh in the film Anari. India is full of men and women who just give up material things to bring happiness to others. Look at the number of NGO’s and the good that they are doing at the grassroots – the people who serve without recognition, because they want to. People who help those less fortunate than themselves:

Maana apni jeb se fakeer hain, Phir bhi yaaron dil ke ham ameer hain

I remember a Dalit activist telling me that he works with the Pardhi’s because they have even less than him. And those stories abound, people who just help each other.
Pardhi School
(A Pardhi school – Maharashtra, run by volunteers. Read more – here)

8) Chodo Kal Ki Baatein, Kal Ki Baat Purani, Naye daur mein likhenge milkar nayi kahaani Sung by Mukesh for the film “Hum Hindustani”. At a very basic level this epitomises our view of history. While it is a great philosophy to move on, it also means justice sometimes doesn’t get delivered. Check out this stanza:

Aaj puraani zanjeeron ko tod chuke hain
Kya dekhe us manzil ko jo chhod chuke hain
Chaand ke dar pe jaa pahuncha hai aaj zamaana
Naye jagat se hum bhi naata jod chuke hain
Naya khoon hai, nayi umangein, ab hai nayi jawaani

Innocence, Naughtiness, Friendship & Mirth

Children LS - Bikaner

9) Chitthi Aayi hai - Sung by Pankaj Udhas, music by Lakshmikant Pyarelal, lyrics by Anand Bakshi. I remember hearing this song when I was a student abroad, and for some peculiar reason, my eyes filled up. For as long as I lived abroad, this song moved me and on my return I found it cloyingly sentimental. There is something about India as ‘home’ that draws us back. How many of us know people who still call India home after living for donkey’s years in firangland and with firang citizenship? This is the stanza that used to reduce most people to tears :

Saat Samundar Paar Gaya Tu, Humko Zinda Maar Gaya Tu
Khoon Ke Rishte Todh Gaya Tu, Aankh Mein Aansoo Chhodh Gaya Tu
Kum Khaate Hain Kum Sote Hain, Bahut Zyaada Hum Rote Hain
Chitthi Aayi Hai


10) Mera Jootha hai Japani – Mukesh for Raj Kapoor in a song that is us. In a modern era it may be educated in London, with an Australian citizenship and a home in Spain. But phir bhi dil hai Hindustani. I love the modern reworking of this song too. Udit Narayan sings for Shah Rukh Khan in Phir bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. Check out this stanza for the new Indian chutzpaha

Thode anari hain thode khiladi, Ruk rukke chalti hai apni gaadi
Humein pyaar chahiye, Aur paise bhi
Hum aise bhi hain, Hum hain vaise bhi


11) Mera Rang De Basanti Chola – I love practically every version of this song, utilised in the Hindi Cinema. From the Mukesh & Mahendra Kapoor version in Shaheed to the Sonu Nigam version in the Legend of Bhagat Singh. While the title track from RDB is not strictly mera Rang de Basanti Chola, it too, for me, fits in. Somehow the song represents that part of us that revels in Independence. The modern Indian republic is the first time all of us have been equal stakeholders, and this anthem for me represents not just that part of us that knows that we are free, equal, and independent but the part of us that is willing to fight to keep it that way.

13) Choti si Aasha. We all hope, and we will wish for a better tomorrow. Small little hopes that we wish would come true. Sung by Minmini for the film Roja, the music director is A.R.Rehman. For me this song was more the Indian ethos than the patriotic Bahrat hamko jaan se pyaara hai. This is a new India, where everyone can hope, dream and hopefully can make it. It is the India, where the maid sends her children to an English medium school, where sachets rule the roost in rural India, and where the gardener, the carpenter and the milk man own a mobile to boost their own business, it is an India where we all have small dreams that can be realised.

I will be a pilot — says the girl to her brother….

14) Aao Bache Tumhe Dikhaye -We had just moved from Delhi to Bombay. I was 7 or maybe 8. There was this school in the lane in which we lived in Vile Parle (E). The PT teacher (he could have just been the NCC in charge) would get the kids in the school to sing this song after their march. It was, surprisingly harmonious. Today when I travel India and I come across some place ordinary, I am struck by its timelessness & beauty. this song echoes in my ears.Goosebumps time…

mornings ...

15) Allah tero Naam, Iswar tere Naam – Lata Mangeshkar in one of my favourite Bhajans from Hindi Films. Music by Jaidev, for the film Hum Dono. Tolerance as secularism – a very Indian ethos. And despite bombs, terror, and a fatwa per minute, despite Khalistan, Khaps, and moral police and the hardening of stands across the board — that value still persists. Watch ordinary people of all shapes, sizes, and all persuasions passing by religious monuments or on festival days … they still share …. the elite have moved away from this, but the bulk are still ‘secular’ – in their faith.

16) Chak De India – the Indian way of saying Just Do It. This is the India not of the class system or the caste system or the old aristocracy. This is the India of a Sunil Mittal, an Irfan Pathan, a Mahindra Singh Dhoni, a Shah Rukh Khan, the Mayawati. Men and women with no famous lineage, a modest background achieving dreams achieved within their own lifetime, while they are still young. This is the India of the small town IAS officer, the India of, hopefully, the new meritocracy. An India, where we as members of the Republic take charge of our own destiny and move ahead, despite the system.

Have a peaceful Independence Day, and spare a thought for all those who fought and continue to fight to ensure that those freedoms remain !


and finally,  the National Anthem – an extended version of it –

Aug 062012

The column in today’s DNA

The TV business, explained a very senior member of the fraternity over a decade ago, is like fire. It needs to be constantly fed with more – more shows, more content, and more money. And, the more you feed it, the more it consumes. If you look at the media landscape today, one realises that statement to be more valid than ever before..

Every TV channel has seen an increase in cost of content – not just in producing it but marketing and distributing it. Channels have to do more to attract and retain audiences. Bigger Stars, more chutzpah, more on gloss and glamour, the newest films, breaking news, – everything geared towards grabbing the attention of the viewer for that split second, and keeping it for as long as possible. There are costs – not insubstantial ones – attached to doing this.

Channels hope that their revenues will offset these costs. There are traditionally three sources of revenue. Worldwide, TV channels earn their money from advertising; from subscriptions to households; and through licensing their content to other channels. In western countries apart from a handful of terrestrial (usually under 10) channels that are free to the household, the rest are subscription based. The free to air terrestrial channels carry a mix of programming – and is paid for by advertising; while the subscription driven channels tend to be far more focussed on a certain kind of content or audience – cookery channel, golf channel, religious channel or a children’s channel; adult channels, old age channels, pet lovers’ channels and more. These are evolved and sophisticated markets that are structured and transparent in their functioning.

In India the market is still evolving. According to TRAI, there are 800 channels and 160 of these are pay channels. Out of 24.7 crore households in India, there are 14.7 crore TV households out of which 9.4 crores have access to cable TV and the rest only receive Doordarshan. Conditional Access – where you pay for the channels that you view and only those – has been promised for a decade or more, but not delivered. The cable lobby is simply too strong. Channels earn a fraction of the revenue that is collected by the cable operator from the household. The rest is not declared. In addition to under declaring the number of households in their locality, cable companies also demand a fat carriage fees for carrying the channel. The world of cable operators is still the proverbial ‘wild west’ – they rule their roost with an iron hand. Channels that push too hard do not get seen.

Most channels rely on advertising as the main source of revenue. The rates they can command from the client is dependent on only one metric – the TRP that is monitored and reported by a monopoly agency TAM, owned by international giant A.C.Nielsen. They monitor 8150 households across India and the viewership ratings are based on these households. In each of these households a meter is fitted to the TV set. The family is given a remote control. Each family member is identified by gender & age by a button on the remote. While watching TV, they are supposed to push their button followed by the channel number. If it sounds complex and unintuitive, it is. Not only that, it relies too much on manual inputs and prone to error. But, it is the only system we have for monitoring viewership. The advertising budget that is spent on various TV channels is determined by ratings..

There have been murmurs and sporadic raised voices for over a decade on the system of monitoring. There have been questions asked about the sample size, about large states being left out, about representation. There have been accusations of fudging the ratings. It was rumoured that for certain large sums of money you would get a list of households that form the sample. In turn you would give money to these households to indicate on the remote that they were watching the channel or programme that you represented.

Ratings always mattered, but, as competition grew, every fraction of a rating point counted. The agencies are squeezing channels on advertising rates. It is estimated that over 80% of all Channels are making losses. It is against this background that NDTV has taken on AC Nielsen in a court case on fudged ratings. And this has opened a floodgate of complaints across broadcasters.

This is an opportunity for broadcasters, agencies & clients for creating a robust rating system that is comprehensive, representative, allows for customer choice and is trusted by all industry stakeholders. It is about allowing niches to be created that can be targeted with appropriate content. It is about allowing diverse voices to be heard. And, that can only be good for the industry as a whole.