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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Square And Straight LXXVI - Indian Journalism: Laughably Crying Out Loud?   Posted on Jul 3, 2014    Comments ()

A Hurrah For Endangered Journalists?


By Lazy Fly


At the breakfast table, the wife sounded worried as she plonked the sugarless cup of tea in front of me, but as usual, nagged and snapped.


“From today, you stop making fun of politicians because we want to feel safe at home,” she said.


This was sudden. I was flummoxed.


“That is my profession,” I began my defence on very predictably feeble lines.


“Profession, my foot, I say! We already know that politicians will do anything to anyone anytime. Now, a former French Prez Sarkozy, supposedly with total immunity, spent quality time in a police station in France the other day. Some idiot Indian governor was questioned by our government shamuses. So, you stop writing your nonsense. I do not want to answer any humorless bureaucratic schmuck!”


“What has police detention of an ex-President of some ‘y’ European nation on charges his having committed ‘z’ crimes got to do with my weak attempts at humour?”


I asked the question as I tried to steal a cube of sugar. The wife snatched it back.


The son Dirk sprang to be his mother’s advocate as he shoved a large piece of omelette into his mouth.


“Can’t you see the big picture? Sometimes you include undeniable facts in your so called occasional smile inducing jocular columns. Supposing someone took those seriously, filed some imaginary charge against you and arrested you for sedition? Some foolish but corrupt police officer could grimly announce for the benefit of television cameras that you were doing all this at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency or Pakistan or both! We know that in reality, even ordinary constables do not talk to you. But how would one in the outside world believe it when a highly placed government official or some minister calls you Satan personified? Finally, you may emerge from some god forsaken prison, declared completely innocent. But, what happens in the meanwhile to your reputation, our facing flak in the neighbourhood, or worse, being arrested, as accomplices? Cartoonists who drew caricatures of chief ministers like Mamata and some north Indian guy or gal were flung into the slammer after being roughed up. A guy who put out some stupid tweet against P Chidambaram – whose son came fourth in the Sivaganga parliamentary constituency in the recent parliamentary elections – supposedly nurtured for 4 decades – was beaten up in Madras airport! For pointing out global flaws another pen-pusher guy was raided while undergoing treatment at a hospital owned by Chidambaram’s kin for a heart attack in that same one-horse town of Chennai without assigning any reason. Grow up dad, this is India!”


To be honest, I felt a chill running down my spine, the way Dirk put it. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to give up so easily, so I gulped the bitter tea, steadied myself and tried to sound seriously nonchalant.


“Things aren’t so pat and bad. No matter how big or small you are, truth will ultimately triumph. Despite their somewhat blue-blood pedigree, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are facing serious charges of fraud over a defunct newspaper and the hiring of its real estate – which is piffle – when compared to much more serious allegations – with proof strewn all over the internet – about Nehru-Gandhi clan’s link with the erstwhile hated Soviet KGB and Pakistan’s ISI with confirmations issued by a former KGB boss Viktor Chebrikov along with details of over US$ 2 billion in a Swiss bank in Rahul Gandhi’s name. Some of this was written earlier by Dr Swamy himself. Certain UN organisations have officially accused Lankan President Rajapaksa of having ordered the killings of over a 100,000 innocent Tamils. And the chap came to Modi’s coronation as if he owned the Rashtrapathi Bhavan! Arrest warrants have been issued by the International Criminal Court against 3 serving Presidents of African nations. Charges of having collaborated with the corrupt in the same court are pending against a former British PM. Former CMs of some north Indian cow states are still in prison for money laundering and other serious criminal offences. The cartoonists on whom prison doors were slammed came out laughing. Our Supreme Court ordered the release of an extreme left-wing sympathiser doctor in another north Indian state. The Madhya Pradesh CM looks like some buffoon when he dodges questions over the reported admission scandal. Kanimozhi, the daughter of former Tamil Nadu CM spent several months in Tihar. So did former Union Minister for telecom – A Raja. And this Raja lost the elections. So, politicians cannot brazenly act against us journalists so easily. And then trying and convicting some politician isn't as easy as falling off a log either,” I said.       


It was the daughter Diana’s turn to scoff at me as she buttered her toast.


“You are the pits, dad! Three internationally known journalists are behind bars in Egypt jailed by some tin-pot African dictator with a silly name Sisi. In the last 14 months some 23 journalists were killed in Pakistan. The Paki version of Arnab Goswami was shot at and wounded. Mumbai’s ace crime reporter Dey was killed in cold blood by some underworld goons some of whom are still roaming free. The guys who raped that photo-journalist girl in some deserted, defunct Mumbai mill compound may walk free. This is despite reports that allege that the event was staged to divert attention from the sinking of the naval submarine Sindhurakshak by Dawood Ibrahim’s agent provocateurs – something hinted at by India’s former defence minister AK Antony. An ordinary probe is yet to be announced. The Time magazine got shifted to some warehouse from central New York by its own bosses since it made losses forgetting that once it was flag-bearer of independent reporting. There are reports that say the losses were engineered by the CIA! Some Pommie media-hack who worked for Murdock and also the British PM Cameron went to prison for prying into the lives of ordinary people. Snowden, the former CIA contractor who croaked CIA and NSA secrets is cooling his heels in Moscow where freedom of the press is as regular a sight as seeing a singing dinosaur. The other chap who did something similar – Assange is holed up in some South American embassy in London. Look at the appointment ads and begin working for some PR agency writing reports that none will read, but will give you tons of money. That is the smart thing to do,” Diana said.


“But the media is the fourth pillar of democracy,” I protested picking up my plate of half-boiled egg, sunny side up.


Babushka, the daughter of the late, lamented Bolshoi the Boxer – original talking dog of the world, stopped slurping her milk from the bowl, looked up and laughed. It did not sound like a bark.


“You are talking like a loser. A few months after the independence, a south Indian – called TTK who took a huge hit was India’s Finance Minister – for which – there still speculations that Nehru was to blame. In the parliamentary debate that followed, Feroze Gandhi said thus: For some time you have been calling me the lap-dog of the Nehrus and are known to think of yourself as the pillar of democracy. Today, I will show what a dog does to a pillar. This was all about journalism. As the editor of National Herald, Feroze exposed the dirty details of how a certain moneybag called RK Dalmia diverted public funds to buy Bennett and Coleman – the company that owns India’s largest media group – The Times of India. Later, the affair became notorious as the Mundhra scandal. Well, Dalmia went to prison handing over the reins of the paper to his son-in-law – a certain Shanti Prasad Jain to keep it afloat even as the old man pretended to be in Tihar, while he was cavorting with nurses in some hospital under some ‘sick’ pretext or other all the time. At the end of the day Dalmia never got back his paper. So, he got his brother’s daughter Saroj married to the then upcoming media baron Ramnath Goenka’s son Bhagwandas and reportedly financed the Indian Express group, which is now split on a north-south divide. Once upon a time – the Express Estate in Madras, where former PMs like Morarji Desai used to stay is now a shopping mall where young nerds jump of floors to commit suicide over broken love affairs! The media company’s offices have been shifted to a far away suburb. This was the way Saroj got even for her father-in-law triggering the closing of an evening paper in Madras called 5 pm. Goenka senior tried to pummel the company of Ambani senior into submission through a series of exposes on Reliance. One of the journalists who did that part of the job is Arun Shourie, who today cannot stop singing praises of the late Dhirubhai whose son Mukesh is believed to own the largest chunk of India’s media. Manoj Sonthalia, the owner of the southern editions of Indian Express is reportedly very close to Mukesh. Sooner or later, someone is bound to bitch about what I said the barking of a talking female dog. But then, what do I have to lose? I am less than a human!”


This was becoming too controversial. I had to end this.


“All of you are talking through non-existent hats. Sarkozy sold 2 nuke reactors to be installed in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district at approximately four times the street price to approximately Rs.50,000 crores at today's exchange rates. They were made by a company – Areva – whose name is mud in France because a leak from one of its reactors destroyed the food export of an area called Tricastin. Arguably, - if something goes wrong with the reactor as it happened in Fukushima in Japan, a third of Maharashtra and 90% of Goa would be vaporised and the king of mangoes – Alphonso – will cease to exist. As Sonia’s son-in-law – the great Robert Vadra said in the past, but for us journalists, India would be a banana republic full of mango people. Like the most famous person in my tribe Arnab Goswami keeps saying at the end of a telly debate sometimes, I am closing this matter here. Those who own newspapers and those who work for them have their personal lives and none of us has any right to comment on them. Just as the sudden excitement over the spat between the fading actress Preity Zinta is fading into insignificance very fast, the so-called danger to the independence of the media is being blown out of proportion and I will not allow it under my roof. I am not scared of anyone and will write I feel like,” I said with a grim finality.


Imitation is the best form of flattery.


I have decided to flatter one of my gurus in journalism and the originator of its subtle humour quotient – the eternal Behram Contractor, also known as Busybee.

Behram had a fictional character strutting in and out of his columns - the only talking dog in the world - called Bolshoi the Boxer. I have now created the daughter of Bolshoi and named her Babushka. The two terms are Russian. 

Bolshoi is a ballet theatre in Moscow. Babushka means elderly lady in Russian.

According to Wikipedia, Boxer is a stocky, medium-sized, short-haired dog bred from the Old English bulldog and the now extinct Bullenbeisser

Boxers were first exhibited in a dog show for St. Bernards in Munich in 1895, the first Boxer club being founded the next year. 

Based on 2013 American Kennel Club statistics, Boxers held steady as the seventh most popular breed of dog in the United States for the fourth consecutive year.


I am using his description for the fictional woman he called The Wife long before he had got married and his imaginary children. His offspring inked on paper were his sons Derek and Darryl. The similar ones of mine are the son Dirk and daughter Diana.


And I am adopting the nom de plume – Lazy Fly for this column whose unique attraction point is pure political satire - the hallmark of Busybee’s Round & About. 

This column’s common headline is Square & Straight – a takeoff on the more famous Round & About that the humorist used to pen daily. I surely do not match the master in crispness or in humour quotient.


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