Feb 122014

My column in the DNA on 26th December 2013

And one more year comes to a close. As the years pass, it seems like each year is ending more rapidly than the previous one, jam-packed with events that come like a barrage of missiles at the unsuspecting population. This year has been no different — awe-inspiring events and stomach-churning brutality competed for headlines. There were people whose loss made us feel bereft, and there were those who we wished to see hanged. Like every year, the headline for this could read “the best of times, the worst of times”, but that cliché is so well worn, that it would be tragic to dust it out and use it again.   In these plethora of events — the good, the bad, and the ugly — that made it to our headlines, I am going to filter out the depressing, the mind-numbing and the savage ones — and look at my top five events and personalities for the year.

Justice Verma Commission report: The end of 2012 saw the death of the young woman savagely attacked, raped and brutalised by a gang of men, out for a joyride and ‘good time’. For some reason, among all the brutal and bloody rapes and murders that take place in this country, this one awoke the conscience of India. Women and men poured out onto the streets not just to protest this death, but also to ask for an India where they, their families and friends could lead a life of relative safety and security. The culmination of that protest was the appointment of the Justice Verma Committee to look into amendments to the criminal laws that dealt with violence against women in general, and sexual violence against women in particular. In addition to looking at rape, the committee also looked at other forms of sexual violence — stalking, acid attacks, marital rape, sexual harassment at the workplace, khap panchayats and honour killings, child sex abuse, trafficking and more. But it was not just the  proposed amendments to the law that made the Justice Verma Commission Report extraordinary. Its sterling achievement was drawing up The Bill of Rights for Women. If even a fraction of them come to pass in my lifetime, it would be a tremendous achievement for the Indian Society.  Parliamentarians diluted some of the recommendations during the passage of The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, but it is a start.

Mangalayan: The smallest, lightest, most cost-effective spacecraft is on its way to Mars. And it is completely made in India — a testament to Indian scientific progress, ingenuity and, dare one say, jugaad. The naysayers were many — it can’t take off, it won’t leave the orbit, it is a waste of time, energy and effort; what about sanitation? But the scientists at ISRO persisted with the dream of having a Mars Mission and triumphed over all negativity.  When it enters Mars’ orbit — and here I evoke the power of positive thinking — it would place the Indian mark on the planet. The rationale that a country like India with its myriad developmental issues should not spend money on luxuries such as space exploration is often heard, especially in international media. But, can India deny future generations the advantages of at least a fledgling space programme? I would believe the answer is ‘no’.

The triumph of the outsider: Two major political shifts have taken place in India this year — and they both have two do with the outsider surmounting all odds to rise to the top. The two men could not be more unalike, but they have managed to catch the imagination of their political constituencies and are setting the agenda for political discourse — Narendra Modi, the BJP’s PM candidate, and Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and Delhi’s CM-designate. Love them or hate them, one thing is clear: you cannot ignore them. And, you cannot take away from the sheer dint of hard work, perseverance, vision and personal charisma that attract people to their ways of thinking. In a political system bound by traditional courtesies, family ties and used to incremental improvements, Modi and Kejriwal have come from outside the system and shaken it up. It gives hope to people that they don’t have to know someone, or be related to someone to make it big.

Sachin Tendulkar retiring: When Sachin Tendulkar’s last match was played in Mumbai, and when he walked back to the pavilion for the last time, there were tough, grown-ups who were in tears.  I would think that 50 per cent of India cannot remember an Indian cricket team in which Tendulkar was not present. And if Indians could unite on anything, it was that Tendulkar is their favourite hero. And we got together to give him a farewell like no other. Inspiring because nice guys sometimes finish so far ahead of the rest, and with so much grace and decency that it feels good.

Nelson Mandela’s long walk to the stars: When Nelson Mandela died, I posted on Facebook that it felt personal, like a very dear and loved member of my family had died. The response to that one statement was huge — those who responded seem to feel the same.  For a man who started life believing in violent means to achieve ends, and then transformed himself into a symbol of peace and reconciliation, Mandela appealed to that part of us that celebrates all that is good and noble.His funeral in South Africa became a celebration of his life. What more could one ask of a life well-lived?

Through the year we consume all that is going wrong with the world as news. Maybe as the year comes to an end, it is time to introspect and pick out the good — the events that will stay with us in years to come. The events that we will think and smile wistfully about.

Goodbye 2013. Happy 2014.

Apr 302012

My Column in Today’s DNA

The last few months  have seen social media set the agenda as far as main stream media, and even political parties are concerned. A whole bunch of dedicated cyber gureillas are fighting virtual wars on behalf of the parties that they support. The last week has seen two such cases.


Sachin Tendulkar, the man called the God, got nominated to the Rajya Sabha. In a completely polarised world, it was an act that was welcomed by all sides and all Political Parties. After all,  the biggest lament about the Houses of Parliament is that there isn’t enough representation from the young, aspirational, non dynastic, self made achievers. There were a few jokes, on the lines of God being called in to save the UPA, but much of this was in good humour. But, for a small vocal minority of self styled patriots on twitter Sachin’s acceptance of the Rajya Sabha seat was abject betrayal. They believed that his entry into Parliament was his entry into politics on the side of the Congress. A shrill fringe tried to hijack the agenda by converting their ignorance into anger, and their anger into a flurry of tweets against Sachin.There was a strong unfollow Sachin campaign. But, this was Sachin. Not a politician. The fight back was instantaneous. Even those who aren’t cricket followers or great Sachin fans went out to bat for Sachin.


Earlier in the week social media had seen another flurry of activity. This time against Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi. He had been allegedly caught in flagrante delicto on camera with a lady lawyer in his chambers in the Delhi High Court.. Mr.Singhvi got an injunction against the main stream media from carrying the contents of the CD. But, social media is not mainstream. It is individuals dispersed across the globe. All you need is one person to upload the video on a file sharing site and pass on the link, which is further shared. This is what happened and the video went viral. A small bunch of motivated opponents of the Congress Party found a way to set the agenda. The Main Stream Media that hitherto had been prevented from reporting about the contents of the video reported the leak of the video. The Public heard about the alleged peccadilloes of Mr. Singhvi, who had no choice but to resign. We can wring our collective hands and say ‘invasion of privacy’, or irresponsible behaviour on part of individuals to release the video, and we wouldn’t be wrong. It is a terrible precedent and is going to have repercussions in the years to come. Every political leader, business leader, opinion leaders are going to face what their western counterparts have been facing for decades. The rise of reporting sexual sleaze aimed at destroying reputations while titillating the audience.


The system is coming to terms with the repercussions of the democratisation of communication. The fact that everyone not only has a view, but the medium to express that view is just sinking in to those who hitherto had controlled the agenda.  In an interconnected world, everyone has an agenda that they can put forth with equal ease. Expertise and Opinion are no longer hierarchical, flowing from the top to the bottom. Instead it is multiple strands of peer to peer communication. One of the things about social media in general and twitter in particular is how quickly an idea or a link can get picked up and go viral. More than any other social network, Twitter can work towards building up support or destroying reputations possibly because engagement is quick and fast. There is also another reason, and that is most on twitter are engaged in more than conversations. It is made up of narrowcasters – people of all hues and persuasion putting out links and opinions that are aimed at furthering an agenda in a free flowing, unmoderated space. Often it is a whole bunch of Chinese whispers in an echo chamber. False is true, if it suits the ultimate agenda.


The question then is how do you prevent a small bunch of dedicated zealots from setting the agenda? How do you prevent the poisoning of discourse and spreading of hate? Do you need to control the net ? The answer is that the net cannot be controlled and any attempt to control it will back fire. Ideas and opinions can only be countered by other ideas & opinions and the way to prevent zealots from taking over and setting the agenda is by ensuring that more people have access to the net. The more agendas that are set, the more the extreme agenda will be diluted.

Mar 182007

Move over He-Man, here comes Sachin Brought out by Virgin comics, the one that do Devi and Ramayan 3000 ad … the master blaster is a series where Sachin wields a magic bat to overcome evil. If only he could do the same against the other team’s bowling attack!! (aside – anyone remember Sunil Gavaskar as super hero Supremo – magic bat and all)