Mar 202013

My blog in last week’s Tehelka

Illustration: Ashish Naorem

Illustration: Ashish Naorem

This is a folk tale/parable based around the characters of the Mahabharata. I am not quite sure if it forms part of the main body of work comprising the Epic, or if it is a localised tale, but it is a tale that comes to mind often.

This story takes place a few years after Drona had taken over mentoring and training the 105 cousins – the 5 Pandavas and the 100 Kauravas. The Elders – Dhritarashtra, Bheeshma, Vidura, Dronacharya and Kripacharya – were having a conversation about the young men and their progress. Dronacharya and Kripacharya – like all good teachers – were being fairly forthright about their charges’ capabilities. Duryodhan is a hot head. Arjun needs to stop preening in front of the mirror. Sahadev should talk to people and not just animals. Bhim needs to stop reacting. Dusashana should stop harassing the dasis… And Yudhisthira – as the future emperor… At which point Dhritarashtra interjects. He says “why is it that everyone keeps assuming that Yudhisthira is going to be the emperor… why not someone else. Bhim is stronger, Arjun a better archer, why even Duryodhana wields the mace better.” Obviously Dhritarashtra’s grouse was that his eldest son – Duryodhana – was not even in consideration. He tells the rest that the principals of dynastic succession seem unfair, completely ignoring the fact that he is promoting his son, after all it is important to have the most capable person as the next emperor.

The rest agree – and a test is set for all the 105 pupils. The test was a simple one. Each of the 105 is given a gold coin and told to fill his room . “What do you mean – fill the room,” they ask. “That is the test,” say the elders. The boys had a few days to think through the problem and present the results to the elders.

The day of the test arrives. The examiners arrive at the boys’ rooms to check out the results. They first go to Duryodhana’s room. They open the door and a shower of hay falls on them. Duryodhan has used his one gold coin to fill the room with hay. The next room is filled with caked dung. The next one is filled with dry twigs. Another one is filled with wheat. Someone else has used rice husk, yet another with broken pottery. One cousin has got the nirmalayam (dried flowers) from the temple. And it goes on and on. Each cousin outdoes the other in terms of the items with which they fill the room.

Finally, the team arrives at Yudhisthira’s room – they open the door. Right in the centre of the room is an earthern pot – filled with oil. A large wick is burning. The room is filled with light. Yudhisthira returns the remaining change to the elders…

Every time I glance at Television News – this story comes to mind. Be it instant budget analysis, or the reading of the impact of the Arab Spring, or the implication of tsunamis and earthquakes on nuclear reactors – the tendency of news channels to follow the illustrious examples set by the remaining cousins and brothers is huge. None of the TV news channels try and illuminate the issue in a nuanced manner. It is about filling the airtime with voices till the break.

Screaming, screeching and sound bytes may make for short term audience acquisition. But sooner or later, you will find that you have to screech and scream louder – and that is most likely to deafen the audience.

With Doordarshan trying to regain lost ground and recapture audiences – maybe it needs to follow the Yudhisthira strategy, rather than the ones followed by his cousins and brothers. There is a space for a serious, no nonsense news channel that deals not in speculation or sensation, but in facts. The only problem with Doordarshan is that it is too tightly tied to the Government’s apron strings. If Manish Tewari wants to make a difference as the Minister for Information and Broadcasting – he has to do two things. The first is to figure how to make Doordarshan financially independent, and the second is to dissolve his Ministry. There can be a Broadcasting Ombudsman, but for a Democratic Republic to have a Ministry of I&B, is kind of in the 1984 territory.

Theoretically the Prashar Bharati Act has freed up Doordarshan (all of DD, not just news) from governmental control. But, until such time the Government of India is responsible for salaries and funding, and the Prashar Bharati Corporation is staffed by career bureaucrats, and a Minister is in charge, it will not be truly free. It will be interesting to whether the Government has the courage to let go of control of the Broadcaster. Frankly, in a broadcast environment dominated by over 300 news channels it makes no sense to hold on to Doordarshan. If you look at the figures, it is telling – out of 148 million households in India that have Television (out of a total of 220 million households), around 22 million receive only Doordarshan, and these households will, sooner rather than later, switch to the more sensational Private Sector channels.To survive and thrive, DD has to go back to the drawing board and deliver its Public Service Broadcasting Agenda in a manner that is attractive to the audiences.

To do that, there needs to be a mindset change at the corporation and at the ministry. They need to stop behaving like they are a manufacturing organisation that is in the business to business space and need to start behaving as though they are in the business to consumer space. That doesn’t mean dumbing down – it just means adapting to the 21st century. There is potential, there is a market, it is upto the bosses at Doordarshan to exploit this opportunity.

(Declaration: The folk tale is part of the oral tradition of stories that my grandmother told me. I have used it to describe the media on my blog)

May 012012

If a boat capsizes in the North East (Assam to be precise) and no one hears of it, are there still casualties ?

Hopes dimmed on Tuesday of finding more survivors after an overcrowded ferry split in two and sank in northeast India, leaving more than 100 dead and around 100 missing.

Police said 105 bodies, including women and children, had been recovered so far from the fast-flowing waters of the Brahmaputra river, where the ferry sank in a sudden storm late Monday afternoon.

Despite an operating capacity of 225, some 350 people were believed to be on the two deck boat when it broke up mid-river in torrential, pre-monsoon rains.

had talked about this earlier, here

What is evident is that there are media centres – Mumbai and Delhi, and media peripheries. There are people and events that matter, and there are people and events that don’t.

Private sector media will be driven by self interest and that is profit. Frankly the private TV channel watching audience is either too caught up its own lives , or too unaware of the magnitude and diversity that is India, or too uncaring about people not in its own vicinity, for TV channels to focus on this issue. One excuse is there is regional media to cover this. But, if 500 people die in an overloaded boating mishap then why is it not a national issue. ?

This is the reason why we need a stronger, more independent DD. The last few times that DD tried to exert independence – by trying to do stuff that earned it money –  private channels scuppered it. But, maybe it is time we thought of a Public Service Broadcaster, one who represents the interests of India in all her diversity. Where calamities go beyond a super star putting on weight post pregnancy, and debate beyond 4 has beens in a TV studio.


spoke to a friend in Gawahati – people jump into boats with everything that they have, no bridges, no following of rules – this is how disasters happen. Easier to pay money to the victims than fix the system.. :(

Nov 182010

Open – The Magazine has transcripts & audio files – conversations, allegedly between Barkha Dutt and Niira Radia – the reason I am putting it up here is that the Open Magazine servers have crashed ….

This is also being put up as is without comment .if you are NDTV’s legal team, please insert the word “alleged” where ever you want :)

To those at Open Mag – if you feel that I am violating your copyright, drop me a line – will take down this post :)

The audio files can be found at the bottom of this post …

As talks between the DMK and Congress (‘them’) broke down over joining the Government in May 2009, Radia was actively involved in opening channels between the two parties through, among others, television journalist Barkha Dutt

“Oh God. So now what? What should I tell them? Tell me what should I tell them?” —BARKHA DUTT

DATE 22 May 2009 TIME 09:48:51

RADIA: Hi, did I wake you up?

BARKHA: No, no, no. I’ve been up, ya, most of the night. The stalemate continues, yaa.

RADIA: Yeah. Listen, the thing is that they need to talk to him directly. That is what the problem is.

BARKHA: Haan so, apparently PM’s really pissed off that they went public.

RADIA: But that’s Baalu’s doing, naa… he was not instructed by Karunanidhi to do that.

BARKHA: Oh, he wasn’t?

RADIA: This is not. He was told to come away and tell Congress that.

BARKHA: And he went public

RADIA: Well, the media… media, the media was standing outside.

BARKHA: Oh God. So now what? What should I tell them? Tell me what should I tell them?

RADIA: I’ll tell you what it is—the problem and I have had a long chat with both his wife and with the daughter right

BARKHA: Haan, haan.

RADIA: The problem is if the Congress has a problem with Baalu, if they have no problem with anyone. They need and go talk to Karunanidhi. They have very good relationship with Karunanidhi directly.

BARKHA: Correct, haan.

RADIA: Because you see, in front of Baalu, in front of Maran, they can’t talk.


RADIA: So they have to tell him directly, there [are] enough Congress leaders in Tamil Nadu. They need to go in and tell him exactly—the biggest problem is that the following of Alagiri is saying that you cannot give [inaudible] a cabinet [inaudible] and keep Alagiri in the MoS state.

BARKHA: That’s right. But will Karuna drop Baalu?

RADIA: He… look, if you tell him that Baalu is the only problem. I would imagine, he will drop him.

BARKHA: But you see the problem right now is also over the choice of portfolios, naa…

RADIA: No. They’ve not said anything. The portfolios have not even got discussed.

BARKHA: Congress claims, for whatever it’s worth, that the DMK wanted surface transport, power, IT, telecom, railways and health.

RADIA: You see, you see my honest advice…


RADIA: that you tell them that they need to tell him directly that we are happy because Kani’s [Kanimozhi, DMK Chief Karunanidhi’s daughter] got no issue being about independent. But Alagiri is now telling her that you cannot take an independent charge if Maran remains cabinet minister.

BARKHA: I see.

RADIA: And Congress is sending messages through media and through various sources, saying that. And Maran is telling everyone that he is the only acceptable person.

BARKHA: Person, yeah, yeah, yeah. That I know.

RADIA: But that’s not correct, naa?

BARKHA: No, I know. We’ve taken that off. We’ve taken that off.

BARKHA: Also, but, but the Congress needs to tell Karunanidhi that we have not said anything about Maran.

BARKHA: Okay. Let me talk to them again.

RADIA: Yeah? The choice of candidate we will leave to you. We have some reservation about Baalu. And let them tell the reservation. And we have not said anything about Maran. We are not talking


In another telecon, Barkha Dutt offers Niira Radia the assurance that she is on the job as a reliable go-between

“That’s not a problem, I’ll talk to Azad. I’ll talk to Azad right after I get out of RCR” —BARKHA DUTT

DATE 22 May 2009 TIME 10:47:33

BARKHA: Haan, Niira?

RADIA: Barkha, what I’m told is that the Congress yesterday, apparently, God knows who they are talking to in the DMK.

BARKHA: Haan, well must be Maran…

RADIA: Relayed—no, they relayed that the infrastructure portfolio should not be given to Maran or Baalu.

BARKHA: No, that’s because they want to keep it for themselves.

RADIA: No, they wanted to; they didn’t want any infrastructure, that’s what Prime Minister said, so he said that’s why they give him labour, fertiliser, chemical—and telecom, IT, they said for Raja. So what has happened is, is that message not relayed to Karunanidhi?

BARKHA: Oh I see!

RADIA: They might have told some minion down the line or told Maran who is not relaying the truth.

BARKHA: I think they have told Maran.

RADIA: Yeah, now what they need to do is, they need to speak to Kani so she can set up the discussion with her father, because even the Prime Minister’s discussion was … she was the one who’s translating, and it was a very brief discussion for two minutes.


RADIA: That we’ll try and work it out, and the let’s not you know take it a hasty easy decision. That’s the type of conversation that happened.

BARKHA: No, I’ll set it up as soon as they get out of RCR.

RADIA: What she saying is that, you know, that someone senior like Ghulam [Nabi Azad, senior Congress leader]—because he is the one who is authorised to speak. ….

BARKHA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

RADIA: Right? Was to speak to her then she can tell her father that I have got this message from the Congress.

BARKHA: Theek hai, not a problem. That’s not a problem, I’ll talk to Azad—I’ll talk to Azad right after I get out of RCR [Race Course Road, presumably, the PM’s residence].

RADIA: Yeah, and then she said when father lands, I can speak to him.



The two conversationalists touch base again

“I’ve had a long chat, I had a long chat, and they promised me that Azad will speak to her” —BARKHA DUTT

DATE 22 May 2009 TIME 15:31:29

RADIA: They will speak to her?


RADIA: Who? Ghulam?

BARKHA: Ghulam. Yeah.

RADIA: You know, the problem is she’s catching a flight at five haan, going back. Dayanidhi Maran is attending the swearing in when only Raja has been authorised to attend, so he’s gone and told his leader that Ahmed Patel has told me especially to attend the swearing in.

BARKHA: Ahmed says this is rubbish …

RADIA: But I am telling you but this. Karunanidhi’s very confused.

BARKHA: No, but why can’t Kani stay also and attend it?

RADIA: She doesn’t want to attend no because her father told her to come back. She has to follow what she’s father says, no. Call Ghulam then.

BARKHA: Let me call him.

RADIA: She’s leaving at five. She’s catching a flight at five.


Niira Radia and Barkha Dutt discuss cabinet composition possibilities—with Raja’s inclusion or non-inclusion the big question

“I am telling you, nahin hai. Trust me. Nahin hai” —NIIRA RADIA

DATE 22 May 2009 TIME time 18:09:06

BARKHA: No, you see Congress’s condition is Baalu should not get surface transport. Not Baalu, DMK should not get surface transport, beyond individuals right?

RADIA: Correct, correct, and they are not individuals. Let me tell you one thing’s for sure, 3 plus 4 was yesterday; because of Maran, they wanted to make it 4 plus 3.


RADIA: So, now it is back to 3 plus 4 that was already worked on the table?

BARKHA: No, so why does this formula not sound right then?

RADIA: Because of Alagiri naa, if you make Alagiri… not cabinet. No, he’s not got cabinet.

BARKHA: Oh, Alagiri got what, according to these things?

RADIA: You see, according to her, he’s got Health, but he can’t be cabinet. Either Maran is not cabinet, either Raja is not cabinet or Baalu’s not.

BARKHA: Alagiri’s got Health and that’s a big compromise by Congress because they said we won’t give them Health. So that’s their face saver. No, but Alagiri, Health can be cabinet?

RADIA: Agreed, but then Raja is MoS.

BARKHA: Raja is MoS!

RADIA: Then is Baalu MoS?

BARKHA: Nahin ho sakta. Nahin, nahin, nahin, if Baalu gets the Heavy Industries and Alagiri is in the Fertiliser, according to …. Baalu gets Fertilizer; Alagiri gets this thing, Health.

RADIA: Maran gets Telecom and IT.

BARKHA: Maran gets Telecom and IT. Raja gets demoted.

RADIA: Who gets…?

BARKHA: Raja. Nahin hoga?

RADIA: I am telling you nahin hai (laughing). Trust me, nahin hai.

BARKHA: Achcha, theek hai.


In yet another telecon, Barkha Dutt explains her situation to Niira Radia

“Everybody I know in the Congress was at the swearing-in, so I haven’t been able to speak with the top guys, and now I just finished and I am going to make my set of calls” BARKHA DUTT

DATE 22 May 2009 TIME 19:23:57

BARKHA: You see, what happened was everybody I know in the Congress was at the swearing in, so I haven’t been able to speak with the top guys, and now I just finished and I am going to make my set of calls.

RADIA: Kani just landed in Chennai. Just now. I just spoke…

BARKHA: Where is Daya? Where is Maran?

RADIA: Daya didn’t turn up for the swearing in because he was called back, because he went and told Karunanidhi that I have been asked by Ahmed Patel to come for the swearing in. But the leader said then you join the Congress.

BARKHA: (laughs) So now?

RADIA: So Raja was the only one who’s authorised to attend which he’s done and Raja’s catching the 8:40 flight…



via News You Can’t Use – the audio recordings :

Recording 1 ; Recording 2; Recording 3; Recording 4; and Recording 5

via – the Secret Journal of Rakesh Jhunjhunwalla – the download link for the audio files here.

The Open Mag site, yesterday, went down before I could read or put up anymore of the links. It is back up today…. the remaining conversations that have been tapped and reproduced are here. They are, allegedly, between Radia and Vir Sanghvi, Ratan Tata, Raja & Kanimozhi


And you can find a copy of NDTV’s statement on this entire affair here

Vir Sanghvi’s statement is here.

And finally, for those of you who have time and energy – read this by Girish Nikam on his website – it provides alleged detailed documentation and conclusions of the IT department on this whole sorry affair.

Mar 242010

And, finally that day has arrived …. the day we were all waiting for with bated breath. The day entertainment and news jointly mutated to become a completely different entity … newtertainment, perhaps ? As the name suggest Newtertainment , a term i just coined out of sheer boredom, to describe the heady mix of sensationalist headlines, fluffy features, and celebrity mutterings that are shown on most 24 hour news channels – that ends to end up neutering the senses and possibly the brain !

Star News is conducting a national hunt for news anchors .

From their FB page

STAR Anchor Hunt is first ever talent hunt on news platform. Star News will choose best talent of the country to anchor news shows on STAR channels through STAR Anchor Hunt

The eminent judges are:

Deepak Chaurasia – from Star News :

“one of the smartest political minds in Indian television who would often offer the most provocative take on the day’s news from the campaign trail and beyond.”

Tisca Chopra.

Kushwant Singh’s niece, is an actress who has worked in theater, television and movies.Tisca Chopra topped Hindu College, University of Delhi in English Literature.

Chetan Bhagat

the author of four blockbuster novels, Five Point Someone (2004), One Night @ the Call Center (2005), The 3 Mistakes of life (2008) and 2 states-the story of my marriage (2009).

(all the descriptors are from the Star Site )

I guess if the world’s largest selling English Language daily can have a car shaped hole through its masthead, a news channel can hunt for anchors !

I am hoping that April 1st has come early, but i fear that it is not the case !

Apr 182008

…. are always fun (except for the newspaper concerned), but they take a life of their own when the newspaper masks the fact that it has been made an idiot, by taking the moral high ground….. 

What am I talking about…. well, it is about the famous [tag]Maliaka Arora[/tag] and [tag]Arbaaz Khan[/tag] break up reported in all its glory in the [tag]Mumbai Mirror[/tag] yesterday.

One of the sultriest women in India is said to be single again. Arbaaz Khan and Malaika Arora's 10-year-old marriage has gone kaput. Buzz is Arbaaz has found a new love. The disintegration of one of the strongest marriages in Bollywood has sent shock waves through the industry.  ……Our well-placed source in the entertainment industry also tells us that Arbaaz will not remain single for long. He has already decided to remarry and even has a girl in mind, who is, incidentally, not from the entertainment industry. When contacted, Malaika refused to comment.

Arbaaz, however, said, "I don't want to comment on my personal life or on Malaika." When we asked him whether he's planning to remarry, he said, "Why is the press so impatient? They will know whether I'm remarrying or not in due time. I will probably talk about it soon. At this moment I don't want to say anything further

 However, this morning was the retraction masked in outrage… 'we have been made a fool…but how could they, we trusted them"

 Yesterday, on the front page of this newspaper we carried a story about Malaika Arora splitting up with her husband Arbaaz Khan. We were told by none other than Malaika herself that her husband was "remarrying".

There were many reasons why we thought the story deserved front-page treatment: Malaika Arora is a huge pin-up star and Arbaaz is a celebrity in his own right, and comes from one of film industry's most-respected families. In an environment where celebrity unions crumble faster than cookies the two, who have been married for 10 years and are parents of a five-year-old boy, offered a great example of a happy family unit in the face of relentless public scrutiny.

John Updike defined celebrity as a mask that eats into your face. Apparently it also chews up your integrity. It turns out that our story was false. Not for want of journalistic rigour on our part–the reporter did what any journalist sould do on receiving a tip-off– he called up both Malaika and Arbaaz for their versions. Both, through commission and omission, lied brazenly to the reporter

Why would anyone do something like that ? The answer is simple

Both husband and wife had been contracted by a cosmetics company to launch a skin-care product, and the campaign, unveiled on Thursday night, revolved around Arbaaz playing Adonis to his wife's Aphrodite. They used the myth to renew their vows on stage, thus the sham of remarriage.

I am not sure whether the outrage is because the journalist got played for a fool (as did the paper) or whether it is because Medianet got left out of the deal……

If you are going to publish publicity as news, then expect those who want publicity to use your paper to their own end…. 

If you are going to lie down with the dogs, expect to catch a few fleas…. 

 I haven't had such a good laugh in years….:)