Tuning In

Another sensational high profile suicide or murder?

Or is it yet another ghastly rape?

Or, could it be the discovery of another wrongdoing by Bollywood, like being involved in making movies that people like?

Of course, the unmasking of another attempt at influencing the presidential elections in the US cannot be ruled out either.  

These were the thoughts uppermost in my mind as I sat down and dug my eyes into the newspaper report headlined “Cops summon three over TRP scam.”

“At least three channels have manipulated TRPs,” the article quoted the Mumbai Police Commissioner, confirming my worst fears. Concerns for the law and order situation started running through my mind, painting dire doomsday images. Who cares about whether Rhea procured drugs or not, when channels are busy manipulating TRPs. “There is a need for further understanding the situation,” the same article also quoted Karti Chidambaram, a Congress MP. Challenge that for a sentence laden with meaning, if you can.

I made some surprising discoveries.

There are a few businesses in the, well, for want of a better alternative, business, of TV programming. In an economy that operates on the principles of a free market? Can you believe it?

These businesses, being businesses, try to increase revenue and keep costs under control so that their investors can generate handsome returns. Ever heard anything as preposterous?

These private businesses have collaborated to form a body known as BARC, short for Broadcast Audience Research Council, which also comprises of advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasting companies. BARC is a private body, classified as non-government company. One of the things BARC does is collect TRPs, short for Television Rating Points, a proxy for popularity of different programmes based on time spent watching them. This is done through installation of measuring devices in 40000 TVs. 40000 installed devices that represent 200 million households and 800 million individuals. Isn’t Statistics a life saver? Or a money saver? Depending on whether you are an individual or a business organisation.

These businesses, the ones creating programmes for TV, let’s call them channels, vie for an advertising (on TV) pie that is estimated at about INR 300 billion (USD 4 billion) annually. As the potential gains are substantial, it has always made sense for everyone involved to keep the 40000 households off the gravy train. The 40000 households that, by sharing their consumption data, make these revenues possible for TV channels, and enable spenders to believe they are doing it scientifically.  

Channels are interested in high TRP ratings as that will lead to more advertising revenue. It has been argued that they have offered financial incentives to participating households to tune in to certain channels. It seems offering financial incentives is a crime. I am wondering if I should cancel the Smartphone I ordered on Amazon yesterday. Mr. Bezos could get into trouble for offering a financial incentive. It was at a handsome discount. I am in two minds.

The spenders, or businesses who spend on advertising on TV, are represented on BARC, and are also private businesses who don’t have to worry about the financial situation of farmers in rural India, or hardships faced by migrant workers during the onset of the pandemic. They have not been forced to take decisions based on BARC data. They choose to. Hence, it must be an issue of national importance that ratings have been manipulated.

It appears that the government also bases its ad spend decisions on TRP ratings. One can never be sure, but it is believed that they were also not forced to. They could follow the established practice of ‘positive mentions’ of the government by a channel to allocate their advertising spend. Of course, it helps if the two are the same.

Perhaps the channels who are a part of BARC have signed a specific clause to not influence behaviour through financial incentives. Always a great idea to insert terms calling for unnatural behaviour into commercial contracts so that taxpayer money can be spent in unravelling them. And it must be treated as a crime, so that our perpetually understaffed and overworked police force can get involved, as soon as they are done checking on Rhea’s drug usage.

Just as well, though. Can you imagine the pandemonium it could unleash if left unchecked? Viewers having to watch a commercial for Dove soap instead of the rightful Pears during their daily dose of the ‘saas-bahu’ ‘soap.’ Or, being forced to watch a Trivago commercial during the news break when it should have been Makemytrip. Or, even worse, being exposed only to Samsung phones during IPL cricket matches. The common man needs to be protected.

So, it was for a good cause. I calmed down somewhat.

And, of course, it is scientifically justified. After all, science, and statistics, have helped in designing the system in a way that a few rogue households can poison the entire data. It is science, after all, which mandates that if more than 40000 devices are installed, the cost will go up and profit down. And science again which decides that the participating households should not be equitably compensated.

Such being the case, who can argue with the government getting involved.

I am looking forward to some honest and fair news coverage on the channels being probed for the TRP scam.

Off With His Head

It appears they have filed for copyright protection of ‘statue destruction as a method of protest’ and asked destroyers to pay them royalty. “We gave this to the world,” the filing says, and draws attention to the two Buddha statues of sixth century vintage, in Bamiyan in Afghanistan, then the highest standing statues of Buddha in the world, that they reduced to rubble in 2001, against entreaties from around the world. “And you said we were off our rocker then.” So, does the Taliban get the last laugh?

Could they have taken their cue from developments in the land of the free where pulling down statues is rapidly gaining favour as the means of righting wrongs? Or is it the other way round? Difficult to say. Easier to say that traditional forms of protest have been found to be ineffective.

“Merely saying sorry is not enough,” as Bill Maher, the American TV host, so eloquently said in a recent talk. “Statues have to be pulled down,” as he equally eloquently did not say.

“Sorry” does not quite have the same impact, as India realised when it asked Theresa May, then Prime Minister (PM) of UK, to apologise in 2019 for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919. A year later, who remembers the apology, or expression of regret as it was called? For that matter, who remembers May? It would have been a lot simpler to build a statue of May, who was not even a gleam in her parents’ eyes in 1919, and then pull it down. The good thing with this form of protest is, it can still be done. And again. And then once more.

Full marks to the UK for having retained its basic political identity during the hundred year period so that they could be held liable. Makes one wonder what would have happened if, say, an apology was expected from Yugoslavia? Would we ask Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Croatia, or Macedonia, or Montenegro, or Serbia, or Slovenia, to do the honours?

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo may not have realised the significance of this declaration, his own, but the modern human certainly does.

As demonstrated by the expression of regret by the then PM of UK, descendants can now be held accountable for crimes perpetrated by a person. Not merely the immediately following generation, but coming at any point of time in the future. Not merely direct descendants, but anyone either remotely connected in any way or not remotely connected in any way. In short, anyone can be held responsible for anything.

Talk about beauty, apart from lying in the beholder’s eye, being in simplicity. This law, presently in the early stages of conceptualisation, would be hard to better for its simplicity.

As can be forebears. Not merely the immediately preceding generation but having existed at any point of time in the past. As pulling down of statues demonstrates.

In these charged times, Christopher Columbus has emerged as an unlikely favourite. Indigenous people of America are pulling down his statues as they blame him for discovering America which led to their displacement and marginalisation. Minority groups are pulling down his statues for discovering America that led to centuries of colonisation and segregation. And, believe it or not, Indian officials are preparing to erect statues of Columbus so that they can be pulled down. Why? For setting out to find India, but discovering America instead. “How dare he? Because of him losing his way, India lost the opportunity of becoming America. He has much to answer for. We all know what happened after that. Babur showed up in a few years with his hordes from Central Asia and the rest, which would have been history regardless, is history.” Descendants of Columbus are trying to come to an agreement on whose statue to erect for destruction. “Why was India not where he went? He had to discover America instead, where he is now a reviled figure. India needs to answer for that.” 

There is urgency and palpable excitement everywhere. The Orissa government has commissioned a statue of Emperor Ashok for waging the bloody Kalinga war in the fourth century BC, so that it can be taken down. Statues of Kauravs, from the epic Mahabharat, are sprouting up around the country like weeds during the monsoon, to be pulled down for their criminal acts against the noble Pandavs. The PM designate in the newly formed government in Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has vowed to create statues of Ram, Laxman, Hanuman, and all major characters in the epic Ramayan. You guessed it…so that they can be pulled down, for showing Lanka and Lankans in poor light.

In a far-sighted move, and recognising the problem being faced by people in having to erect statues that need to be pulled down, the Indian government has decreed that every individual sculpt a bust of themselves and deposit it at the newly constituted Bust Bank (not to be confused with any Nationalised Bank, though both might mean the same thing) so that many years hence, when it is realised that the twenty first century human indulged in despicable practices like binge-watching Netflix, endlessly swiping mobile screens with one finger, running behind a bouncing round object on a football pitch, or even trying to meet with other people face to face, and the need arises to pull down their statues, they are readily available. The PM is expected to bless the initiative by giving it a name which, after a few days, he will explain the real meaning of.

Even as the present day rulers erect statues of invaders who repeatedly, well, invaded (is there a better suited word?) Indian territory for several centuries starting about 800 AD, to pull down in protest for being the cause of the misery faced by its people in the twenty first century that they are unable to solve, the common man in India, has, finally, started to ask for identification of the self-serving rulers who failed in their primary duty of protecting their people and real estate from invaders, and capitulated, repeatedly, for several centuries starting about 800 AD. To erect their statues and then pull them down.

On account of his less than kosher behaviour, as viewed in today’s context, Maher had the temerity to suggest rehab and sensitivity training for God, his God, to the point of saying “God is cancelled.” Should we open up other Gods for a twenty first century performance evaluation? Or, let sleeping Gods lie?

Truth Will Out

It seems that people who make Hindi movies, do so successfully, i.e. make movies that make money for the makers, have been doing so for many years, with actors vying for getting roles in their movies, do not value talent. They routinely ignore talent, ignore suitability of actors for roles in their movies, and instead cram their movies with untalented actors, typically younger relatives of people already working in the film industry. Their main objective is to make movies that will fail.

Not only do they not value talent, they also have no ability to judge the ability of actors. It is actually the common man, or other actors who do not get roles in these movies, who are the best judges of an actor’s ability and suitability for a role in any movie.

These people, the people who make Hindi movies successfully, are not running businesses or business organisations. They are actually running charities whose job it is to continuously scan the market for everyone just got off the train from Patna or Hyderabad or Ambala or Chittorgarh or Dhanbad, at Dadar or Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), with stars in their eyes, dreaming of making it big in the film industry, enable them to realise their dreams by casting them in their movies over other actors who may be more suitable for the role, especially if these other actors happen to be younger relatives of people already in the industry. All million of them who are estimated to arrive in Mumbai every year to make it as big as Amitabh Bachchan or Shahrukh Khan.

Adults, the million who come to Mumbai every year to be a part of the world of movies, come armed with a right, somewhat equivalent to the right of first refusal, for movie roles, especially in movies made by repeatedly successful producers and production houses who make movies that make money and who have no value for talent. This right makes it a duty of producers to give roles to people from outside the industry who have come there forsaking family and other opportunities, before they even begin to consider actors who have been associated with the industry far longer or are younger relatives of people in the industry, and do so repeatedly, till they are as successful as imagined by them before embarking on the journey.

It is unfortunate that these lessons have been learnt in the immediate aftermath of the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, a popular young actor in Hindi films, who apparently committed suicide over a month back. He may not have been in the top rung of stars, but he would certainly be considered an aspirant for the top rung. Wildly successful. What would one call a guy who just showed up from wherever he was and in about ten years played several lead roles in Hindi movies, yes Hindi movies, including that of India’s cricket captain, in a movie on his life. Who apparently had 15 crores (about USD 2 million) in his bank account that was seemingly transferred out. 15 crores sitting in the account? More than what 99% of Indians will earn in a lifetime. Remember ten years back he was perhaps one of the million who arrived at Dadar or CST. Unusually academically bright. He dropped out of the undergraduate engineering programme he was enrolled in at one of the top engineering colleges in India to make a life in the movies. As most will understand, a necessary precondition for dropping out of an academic programme is to have secured admission to it first. Through perhaps one of the most challenging academic entry paths in the world.

Likely candidate for a suicide?

Shakespeare would be proud. Unlike the ghost of Hamlet’s father who kept appearing only to his son Hamlet, Rajput’s ghost seems to be appearing to several near and dear ones.

To his girlfriend, exhorting her to write to the Union Home Minister, to seek help in understanding what led him to take the extreme step.

To his father, exhorting him to file a First Information Report (FIR) with the police authorities of Bihar, where he lives, a thousand miles away where, and not Mumbai, where he chose to reside and make a life, against his girlfriend, contending, among other things, that she had befriended Rajput to further her own career.

To the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the feared central agency, whose cases hold suspects guilty till proved innocent, and not the other way round as in the case of normal criminal proceedings, exhorting them to initiate proceedings under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

To the Chief Minister of Bihar, exhorting him to offer help in requesting the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the other feared central investigating agency, to take over the case if the family requests, even while the earlier request for CBI’s involvement, apparently made by the girlfriend, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

To his sister, exhorting her to write to the Prime Minister requesting his intervention in ensuring justice is done.

And leading to more lessons for the common man.

It is a part of the Home Minister’s job to help people understand the reason for a near and dear one taking the extreme step. One can involve the Home Minister and Prime Minister in solving wrongdoing by any authority in the country by posting messages on Twitter with hashtags like #VandeMataram and #SatyamevJayate. Much like Indians in distress overseas could post to the Twitter handle of the then Foreign Minister who would, in a blaze of media glory, rescue the people in distress. The nation does not need any other process to make justice available to the common man and let him sleep in peace. Except a few Twitter handles.

ED is a vigilant organisation. If there is a possibility of misappropriation of 15 crore Rupees (USD 2 million) in a case of death seen as a suicide, they will jump in. Wrongdoers, be warned! People with suicidal tendencies, don’t take the final step unless you have 15 crore Rupees in your bank account.

Adults can be befriended by members of the opposite sex at will, to advance their own career, and they will have no say in the matter. Adults who have probably been considered responsible and mature and allowed to lead an independent life.

Really?

Aishwarya, here I come. To use you for furthering my career in Hindi movies. You have no choice in the matter. Or should I target Alia Bhatt? There is a much greater age difference between me and her. Will look more natural in the movies.

And, most significantly, any event can be used for settling political scores, especially where different political parties are involved, like the BJP led Union government, Shiv Sena led Maharashtra government and JDU led Bihar government in this case. There is value in multilateralism.

Don’t get me wrong. It is tragic. Any unnatural loss of life, any loss of life in its prime, is tragic. As is Rajput’s. While one can understand heightened emotions of near and dear ones, one expects governments and government bodies to behave in a judicious and equitable manner which is what eventually allows the common man to feel safe. Of the more than hundred thousand suicides in India every year, I wonder how many get investigated by the ED and CBI.

Hopefully, as Shakespeare says through Lancelot in The Merchant of Venice, the ‘truth will out.’

Patriotic Tourism

China is fast opening up as a credible alternative. Finally.

Not that I have any issue with Pakistan, despite political antagonism between the two states. I believe they have a similar set of ordinary, toiling, striving, dreaming, hoping human beings as any other place in the world, trying to make life comfortable for themselves and for their near and dear ones, living under the yoke of a successive set of incompetent, egotistic rulers with hidden agendas.

Of course, why any right minded Indian would want to go to Pakistan remains an issue. Similar topography. Similar looking people. Similar food habits. And they even speak the same language. So much so that when they play cricket, the Hindi-based messaging system that both Indian and Pakistan players deploy so effectively against other teams, becomes futile. Were it not for the  histrionics necessitated by the need to prove patriotism, a cricket game between the two would be a quiet one.

But, like it or not, so far Pakistan has been the only option for Indians. For travel. Or, to be more specific, for being threatened with forced travel. In other words, deportation. Not by authorities. But by that responsible and informed, self-appointed judge, the common man. The needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man.

And if you are not one who agrees with him, the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man, that is where you must go. Pakistan.

Over seventy years since independence from the British, and still only Pakistan as a deportation option? In this period India has sent satellites into space, beaten Australia in Test cricket on their home ground and moved on from being a socialist state to a free market economy. But Pakistan. Still only Pakistan for deportation. Have you no shame? Or imagination? Or sense of responsibility? Have you not heard of market expansion? Or abundance of choices a free market provides? What will the world say? Though in times of no travel as enforced by the Covid-19 epidemic, travelling anywhere, even Pakistan, might sound like a refreshing change, it is apparent that the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man has shamelessly neglected his duties.

And it is not that opportunities haven’t presented themselves.

Where were you when North Korea apparently made several attempts to assassinate South Korean leaders? Or when the Rangoon bombing happened? Or when tunnels were found under the DMZ? Or when they announced their first nuclear weapons test? Or when the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk? Or, even as recently as the assassination of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur airport?

Even though they never directly or indirectly threatened the sovereignty of India, could you not have at least threatened to deport anyone to North Korea?

Where were you when this country became a point of contention during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, bringing the world to the brink of a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Yes, Cuba. Where exactly were you when Cuba was suspected of being involved in a broad range of military activities, from Guinea-Bissau to Syria to Laos, to Sierra Leone to Cape Verde to Mozambique and many other places?

Even though they never directly or indirectly threatened the sovereignty of India, could you not have at least threatened to deport anyone to Cuba?

Or, when a western power initiates military activity in any part of the world to promote peace?

How much nicer, civil, developed, would it be to say, “As you have not forwarded any random unverified forwards proclaiming the bravery of India’s soldiers which will likely be contradicted by other accounts tomorrow, you have been found guilty of being unpatriotic and will be summarily deported. Please pick your choice of deportation destination out of North Korea, Cuba, USA, France, Venezuela and Pakistan and call our Contact Centre for further instructions.” Is it not better than blandly saying, “Go to Pakistan?”

In keeping with the developed world, perhaps throw in a group discount. One unpatriotic Indian will be deported free with every five. And some Amazon vouchers.

Finally, and thankfully, a credible option has emerged in the form of China.

After the Doklam standoff a few months back, the engagement between the Chinese and Indian troops in Galwan valley in Eastern Ladakh continues to be a see-saw battle. Even though the physical engagement ended several days back, the tables continue to turn every few minutes with the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man contributing newer and more creative accounts of bravery of the Indian troops and treachery of the Chinese, while the unpatriotic keep asking the government for specifics of the engagement.

Things have come to such a pass that even Shri Vipin Rawat, Chief of Defense Staff of India, has had to modify his game plan because of the threat posed by China. If needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man is to be believed, instead of working with the troops and their officers, he is honing his writing and social media skills to ensure that India emerges victorious. As a start, he, seemingly, has penned ten sentences about the Indian Army and is now in the process of making them viral through various means. The pen is mightier than the sword. This will certainly catch the enemies off guard.

We salute you sir. Actually, in all fairness, we salute the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man, the great warrior of the social media world.

I, and many others like me, have been in the cross-hairs of the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man. Because I pay taxes, and try to do so honestly. Because I maintain cleanliness. Do not litter. Even before the present Prime Minister announced the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) in 2014. I ask questions.

For the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man, who had no way of knowing that cleanliness and hygiene were desirable behavioural traits since the Prime Minister had not revealed it earlier, and has been tirelessly extolling the PM’s vision in introducing this revolutionary concept that nobody else could have thought of, this surely amounts to treason. Following before 2014 the vision revealed by the leader only in 2014? Am I mocking the vision of the leader? Asking questions? Let us not even go there.

Now I go and shoot myself in the foot again by not forwarding unverified messages extolling the bravery of soldiers. What was I thinking?

China, here I come.

Patriot Acts

I think the society management team should cancel the DJ (loud blaring music that needs to be heard by people not participating in the event the DJ is playing in) during the Holi party that has been planned, as a mark of respect to the martyrs,” beeped the message on our housing society’s WhatsApp group.

The reference, for the uninitiated, was to the terrorist incident on 14th February this year when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives laden car into a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the Pulwama district of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in the death of over forty personnel of the CRPF apart from the attacker.

And Holi, which falls on the 21st of March this year, is perhaps the most widely celebrated festival in India, after Diwali.

Though the tension has since eased off, for a few days, the nuclear powered neighbours had stood eyeball to eyeball, primed for escalation of hostilities. Ably led by politicians who, protected by hundreds of armed elite security personnel, were fulfilling their constitutional duty and ratcheting up the patriotic ante by making angry, threatening speeches and sending other people’s children to die in a blaze of glory for the nation.

Ably supported with minute by minute strategic guidance to the armed forces provided over WhatsApp messages to each other, by a vast populace just as willing to send other people’s children to die in a blaze of glory in the service of the motherland. Their job made twice as difficult by having to continue pursuing their regular money-making professions of selling flavoured, coloured sugar-water or a revolutionary, newly invented shampoo, in the service of the nation, even while providing this strategic guidance to the armed forces and telling them to “kill them in their own lair” and “they should know we will hit back”. All so brave. From the confines of their bedrooms and warmth of their kitchens.

And then, as soon as the situation had escalated, it eased off. Perhaps you can send other people’s children to die for the nation only for a few days at a time. Perhaps the untimely death of forty security personnel can only fuel patriotism for a few days at a time.

But the dovecotes had been set aflutter. Once more.

Why only DJ?. If we want to pay a tribute, we should cancel the entire party,” came the riposte.

A hush fell on the group. The bar had been moved up in a flash. “Sorry for the late response. Just got back after celebrating my husband’s fortieth birthday with some friends over drinks in Cyber Hub. Why Holi? I think we should cancel the Diwali celebrations. Would that not be more appropriate?” came the next message.

The bar had been moved higher yet. Diwali was at least seven months away. But it was the biggest festival.

And Eid and Christmas too.

Why leave out Budh Purnima and Gurpurab?

How much higher could the bar go?

Hey guys. Have you heard about the shooting in Christchurch? Over forty feared dead in a gun attack in peaceful New Zealand. What does the society plan to do about it?

Till I received the message I had not realised that it was our housing society’s responsibility to do something about the terror attack in New Zealand.

But that happened in faraway New Zealand. Why should we cancel the DJ for that?

By now apparently it had been accepted that cancelling the DJ would become the society’s main method of honouring the memory of the deceased.

You mean if our soldiers die in battle in Africa, you will not cancel the DJ for them? And I believe there were several Indians among those killed.

I agree. We have to get over our parochial mindsets. A life is important. We should show solidarity with the global community.

What about casualties of the civil war in South Sudan. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed in the conflict in the last four years. I think we should show that we care for them.

But we cannot cancel the DJ for both Pulwama and Christchurch, can we? Would that be the right way of honouring the memory of people who met an untimely death at the hands of a deranged fanatic?

More silence.

Sorry I had to travel to Bangalore for an important meeting. I think we should take out a cycle rally to honour the memory of those killed in Christchurch. I will be in a business meeting but my thoughts will be there with the cycle rallyists.

Guys, guys, guys, why are we not thinking of a candlelight vigil?

More silence. Possible struggle with internal shame for not having thought of a candlelight vigil to honour the martyrs’ memory.

What about the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008?

What about it?

Why don’t we cancel the DJ to honour the memory of those killed in that attack?

But that was more than ten years back.

So? You mean the people who lost their lives became irrelevant to us after a month? Or two? Is there a cut-off date to honour the memory of martyrs?

More silence.

Have we already forgotten that at least nine CRPF personnel were killed when Maoists blew up a vehicle with an IED in Chattisgarh just a year back? I don’t recollect cancelling a DJ ever for that incident?

You want to cancel a DJ for nine CRPF personnel killed? Nine? Do you realise we may need to start honouring every two or three or four poor people on the footpath run over by expensive SUVs driven by drunk drivers?

IS THERE A MINIMUM THRESHOLD IN TERMS OF LIVES LOST THAT QUALIFIES FOR RESPECT AND HONOUR?

The all Caps had its impact. “I am sorry. Did not mean to offend. Just wanted to clarify. I agree. We need to cancel the DJ to honour the memory of those nine brave CRPF personnel.

Silence.

The management committee of our housing society, I believe, has decided to book ten different DJs for the planned Holi party and then cancel them to mark different terror incidents.

Like religion, what good is patriotism if it cannot be made a show of or foisted upon others.

Tall and Taller…

It is an established historical fact known to all Indian politicians that the height of a statue determines the stature of a person. Sorry, that came out wrong. Let me clarify. Not the stature of the person whose likeness the statue is, but the politicians associating themselves with building that statue. And the benefits it delivers to people. The taller the statue, the greater the benefit delivered to people.

Like the “Statue of Unity” dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the Ironman of India, credited with uniting hundreds of principalities and fiefdoms under the umbrella of a single nation at the end of the British Raj, whose statue, on the banks of the Narmada river, has recently been inaugurated by the Prime Minister. At a height of 182 meters, it is said to be the tallest statue in the world. In a touching gesture, the statue has been dedicated to the nation. Built by the money of the nation, built by the labour of the nation, built by the technical expertise of the nation, there must have been many choices for the dedication, assuming one was required, but still the leaders chose to selflessly dedicate it to the nation. The nation should be grateful.

The government of Maharashtra led by Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister, is under pressure from their coalition partner to announce that the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the seventeenth century Maratha warrior, who single-handedly waged successful battles against the might of the Mughal empire, and carved out a kingdom for his people, will be the tallest in the world. They also want a name for the statue. What is a staue without a name, even if it is of a famous person? If the Ironman’s statue can have a name, why not that of Chhatrapati? “Statue of Courage” is the favoured option.

Not to be outdone, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has lost no time in announcing the construction of a statue dedicated to Lord Ram, on the banks of the Saryu river. Lord Ram, the mythological character, protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayan, the seventh reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, and an epitome of Hindu virtuosity. And a rallying point for Hindu votes.

“Do I need to clarify? You guys should read the news,” he chided reporters asking him for a cost-benefit analysis of building the proposed statue. “The Gujarat government has clearly stated that the Statue of Unity has been built to boost tourism in the state and generate direct jobs for more than fifteen thousand tribal people every year. It is an established model.” He added, “Not only that, despite being built with people’s money, their technical expertise, and labour, it will be dedicated to the nation.”

When it was pointed out that there were no tribal populations in the state, at least not in any significant numbers, he responded, demonstrating deep understanding of both tribals and non-tribals, “Have you seen the way people live in our state? Do you think that the living condition of tribals would be worse than that of people in our state, leaving politicians aside of course?”

Mayawati, a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and credited with the vision of converting public spaces and open lands into constructed-over memorials with hundreds of statues of Dalit leaders, is laughing all the way to the bank. The political vote bank. “I will appropriate today what other political leaders might think of appropriating five years later,” is her new slogan for the upcoming elections. She has promised to construct a tallest in the world statue of Babasaheb B R Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and the Indian Republic, and a symbol of Dalit pride.

State governments with no known plans of building a tallest in the world statue are worried.

The Chief Minister of Bengal is understood to have floated a proposal within the party to construct a statue of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at the renowned Viswa Bharti University, founded by Gurudev, apparently with the money he received for his Nobel prize, in Shantiniketan, that will be the tallest in the world. This proposal has met with stiff opposition from a section of the party who want the tallest statue in the world to be that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, leader of the Indian National Army, who had defined an alternate path to independence from the British and vanished, never to resurface, in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945, and who feel that Netaji has not received his due recognition in the struggle for attainment of independence.

The government in Tamil Nadu is waiting and watching. They have drawn up a list of leaders whose tallest in the world statues they will construct along Marina Beach in Chennai. But only after the others have constructed theirs so that they know how tall to build it.

Descendants of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the RSS ideologue and former leader of the Jan Sangh, a forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party at the Centre, are miffed. Why has he been relegated to having only colleges and the Mughalsarai train station named after him? “Could a tallest in the world statue that boosted tourism and gave direct employment to over fifteen thousand tribals not have been constructed at Mughalsarai station?” They have queried.

A cartoon carried by today’s The Hindu newspaper:

26thcartoon-2

I am beginning to understand the meaning of a tall leader. And taller. But not our leaders. They only understand the tallest.

Beauty and the Beast

The level of scholarly debate in the country has been upped several notches with a newly appointed Chief Minister (CM) of one of the North Eastern states, jointly known as the Seven Sisters, weighing in with his erudition.

With a need to impress his political bosses, perhaps in return for an out of turn favour of being given the huge responsibility of running a state, he has lost no time in trying to cement his position in the party by putting his foot in his mouth speedily.

He has stated that Diana Hayden of India, crowned Miss World in 1997, did not have the beauty to deserve the Miss World title in 1997. He should know. After all, he is a democratically elected representative of the people and appointed CM of a state. If he does not know about women and beauty, barring spiritual gurus and movie moguls, who will? Moreover, he is an Indian male.

It seems the only women to deserve the Miss Universe and Miss World titled are the Venezuelan women, the American women, the Russian women, the Australian women, the Chinese women, the Filipino women, the Colombian women, the Angolan women, the Dominican Republic women, the Japanese women, the Swedish women, the South African women, and women from the many other countries that could not be immediately named.

But Indian women, no way. Except if you are Aishwarya Rai. Because he knows. Because he is a democratically elected representative of the people and appointed CM of a state. If he does not know about women and beauty, barring spiritual gurus and movie moguls, who will? Moreover, he is an Indian male.

For proof, one need not look far. Show him an Indian man in his right mind who would choose an Indian woman over a Caucasian woman, assuming he will have such a choice, assuming a Caucasian woman has been found who is willing to consider an Indian male, and he will show you a liar. Of course, excepting when he needs someone to cook dal and chapati for him. Like our grandmothers used to.

According to him, Indians were crowned Miss Universe or Miss World in quick succession. Quick succession meaning a period of about a quarter of a century. Like in 1994, in 1997, in 1997, in 1999, in 2000 and in 2017, till the time of writing this article. Such crowning stopped after the cosmetics market was captured. It was a clever ruse of the cosmetic companies of the world to corner the market in India.

This was a pertinent argument because in almost all other cases, foreign companies did not need any subterfuge to get Indian consumers to adopt foreign products. Indian consumers have taken to foreign products like ducks to water.

Do you remember any Master Healthy World or Little Miss Healthy Universe contests? You don’t because there were no such contests. But packaged breakfast cereals made by foreign companies are now consumed by children across the length and breadth of the country.

Do you remember any Mister Healthless World or Mister Healthless Universe contests? You don’t because there were no such contests. But carbonated soft drinks made by foreign companies are now consumed across the length and breadth of the country.

Our women, as per the CM, used leaves and seeds to keep their bodies in shape. And that is what they should continue to use. Like our grandmothers used to. Only men, sorry Indian men, need to keep pace with the changes taking place in the world. And since he is an Indian male, he obviously has the right to decide for Indian women what they should and should not do. After all, how are we going to eliminate heinous crimes against women unless men like him are allowed to take decisions for women.

Padmavati to be released as Jill and Jack

“Jill and Jack.”

There was a hushed silence. People in the audience looked at each other. They were used to outlandish statements by Bollywood film folks, but this one took even them, hardened film scribes, by surprise.

“Jill and Jack”, the veteran film-maker repeated, in a louder voice, to make sure everyone heard it clearly, lest another fringe group decides to save the country’s honour laid low by film folks not speaking clearly. “Yes, that is the name we have now settled on for our movie that is based on a work of fiction of a noted Indian Sufi poet of the fourteenth century, which will be released this week in theatres across the country. It has been chosen after careful thought, since works of fiction, and movies based on them, are bound to tarnish the reputation of historical figures whose veracity has not been established, and bring shame upon our rich culture of tolerance and plurality.”

The veteran film-maker had been here before. He could sense that it was all getting a bit confusing for the gathered scribes. He decided to elaborate.

“You know that ‘not on my watch’ was the verdict of four states ruled by one particular political party, who, despite clearance by the highest court of the country, banned this movie for fear of a widespread public outcry since only a handful of fringe groups had raised the outcry for banning the movie. These states were also concerned that a widespread law and order situation would have arisen. And this was despite taking the last letter, the letter ‘i’, out, and changing the name of the movie to Padmavat, from Padmavati originally.”

The gathered media persons were only too aware of the situation. They were proud participants in the democratic traditions of the country where fringe interest groups protected the country’s rich culture and traditions on behalf of a billion who did not give a second thought to them. These groups had such a great influence on the hearts and minds not only of their members, but also of the common man, that if they gave the cry for boycotting a certain movie, nobody would heed it. As such, per highest traditions of democracy and civil society, the only logical way out was to resort to threats of physical violence on behalf of all the people who did not pay heed to their cry, as it was for their own good.

“You have witnessed the agitation that gradually spread across other states, as we kept dropping letters from the name, first dropping the “t” from Padmavat to make it Padmava and then dropping even the “a” to make it Padmav. We kept dropping letters like items of clothing worn by a screen vamp while seducing the hero in a seventies Bollywood movie, and fringe groups, working for protecting the rich culture of our country since time immemorial, kept taking birth like the hundred Kauravs born to Gandhari. These name changes stoked the embers of not only cultural, but also literary fires buried deep inside the hearts of fringe groups unilaterally representing the entire nation. We were blamed for distorting and misrepresenting not only the rich culture, but also the richness of the Hindi language as no words like Padmava or Padmav existed in the language.”

Gathered media persons were riveted. They did not realise that such a logical thought process had been followed behind the naming of this movie.

“Now, we are a reasonable set of people, as you are well aware, especially when commercial interests are at stake. Taking a cue from the fringe elements claiming to represent the entire nation, we dropped one more letter and changed the name to Padma.  Now, as you all know, Padma is a synonym for Lotus. It is also a popular name for females. As you all also know, Lotus is India’s national flower. And as you probably also know, Lotus is the symbol of the party currently in power at the Centre. While I consider myself to be brave in the face of adversity, suicidal is not a trait I associate with myself. Having already upset the cultural and literary fringe groups unilaterally protecting our heritage, could I afford to distance even the political establishment and the female population? Hence, without waiting for a new fringe group to take birth claiming to protect our rich culture from time immemorial, we took suo moto action and changed the name to Padm, in effect dropping the anglified “a” at the end, as many Hindi speakers call the Lotus Padm and not Padma. Like Ram and not Rama.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

“But superficial actions can only take you so far. And people cannot be fooled easily, as we realised to our anguish, especially the fringe elements who claim fiction and mythology to be the rich history of this land. Unfortunately the meaning of the word did not change from Padma to Padm. It stayed as Lotus. So we made it Pad. “Guess what? The movie Padman, which was scheduled to release on the same day as the now-rechristened Pad, took objection to the move and blocked its release. Left with no other option, the name of the movie was soon changed to Pa and soon thereafter to P. I sometimes marvel at the federal setup of the country. Did we need so many states? Every time we dropped a letter 4 new states stood up and banned the movie. This could not go on forever. Fortunately we started with 8 letters when we started dropping letters with Padmavat.“

Normally a boisterous lot, the audience of film scribes did not even have a question to ask.

“But objections kept coming. Having come so far we could not turn back at this stage. Being a fan of the musician Prince in my younger days, I found the inspiration to change the name to “”. Yes, that is correct. The movie without a name. As my idol Prince had once done by changing his name to a symbol followed by the tagline, ‘the artist formerly known as Prince’.

But it wasn’t so easy for us. What would we use as a tagline?

The movie formerly known as Padmavati?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padmavat?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padmava?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padmav?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padma?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padm?

Or, the movie formerly known as Pad?

Or, the movie formerly known as Pa?

Or, the movie formerly known as P?

We were forced to look beyond the obvious. That is when we discovered the rich world of fables and stories and myths outside India. That is when we settled on Jill and Jack. I have to say it was a tough choice. When the other names in contention are Alexander, Pocahontas, Shakespeare and Aristotle, a choice is never easy.”

The audience seemed to come to. A senior reported asked, “With the new name, will the film be able to overcome objections from these fringe groups?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. As the objections were raised on the basis of imagination of what the film might contain, without it having been viewed, it remains to be seen. I cannot say how creative the imagination of these groups might be and what they might imagine to be portrayed in the film without having seen it. But the good thing is that so far Bollywood films have remained confined to the actions of fringe groups operating within the country. It is our desire to take the culture overseas and be banned by overseas interest groups. So far no Indian movie, to the best of my knowledge, has been banned overseas, especially in a western society that upholds the rule of law and democratic traditions, like India does. With Jill and Jack, we expect the overseas market to open up and establish a global market for the banning of Bollywood movies.”

“Surely you meant the name to be Jack and Jill, and not Jill and Jack,” another scribe found his voice and asked.

The film-maker was silent for a few moments. Then he said, “I am not sure how to put it in an inoffensive way. You see, it appears that some of the western audiences are not as culturally sensitive to the erosion of their historical and cultural legacy through fictional books and movies as we are. A name like Jack and Jill might not get much attention. Hence, it was necessary to tamper with the name to ensure that the movie gets the full opportunity of being banned overseas.”

The audience stood up as one and applauded the film-maker’s farsightedness.

Poster Boy

Flop!

The crisp newspaper I was holding in my hand drooped, as if in response to the brute force of an invisible mushroom cloud emanating from the calmly spoken, but nuclear-powered word.

It had started calmly enough. Leafing through the newspaper I had chanced upon an ad for Padmavati, the latest Bollywood release. As the movie only claims to be “based” upon historical events, its release is being objected to by a section of the population claiming that it presents a distorted version of history. Nobody else would have guessed that its presentation is not an accurate representation of history. And, since it is a private, commercial movie, that never claimed to be an accurate representation of a period in history that is, at best, fuzzy and vague, it needs to be violently objected to as not doing so would tantamount to not upholding the honour of the nation.

BBEI9kb I was showing the ad to my wife to suggest that we catch it over the weekend, afraid that if we miss this one we would have to wait for another week (since new movies are released only on Fridays) to see a Bollywood movie that was being violently objected to by a section of the population in order to defend the honour of the nation.

One glance at the ad and the verdict had been announced by my wife. In one word.

B-b-but why do you say that?, I asked tremulously, not willing to give up so easily.

Can’t you see it? Or, rather, can you not see what is missing?

Never having developed the ability to see what was not there, I looked around helplessly.

Look more closely.

Since the ad mainly consisted of close-ups of Deepika Padukone, the lead actress who was playing the title role of Padmavati, I looked more closely.

You still don’t see what is not there, don’t you?

I nodded helplessly. That faculty had still not developed.

Tell me, where is the picture of our Prime Minister (PM), Mr. Modi in this ad?

There is only so much a man can take. Why should there be a picture of the PM in an ad for a Bollywood movie? Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? If he starts working in the movies, who will go around coining slogans for our development?

Knowing who I was up against, I had the good sense to not voice these words. But my face probably gave me away.

She got up quietly, went to the cabinet where the old newspapers were stacked and returned with a sheaf of them.

She casually opened up one of them and thrust it in front of me. There was an ad in front of my eyes.

Modi2

I looked up at her.

What does this ad tell you?

Beyond telling me that the more money I spend the more I will save, ads have never really told me anything. This one was no different. It told me nothing. I merely stared blankly at it.

You will probably want to tell me that the back-breaking work of connecting the remote parts of the country and enable digitisation has been done by thousands, perhaps millions of lowly-paid workers and hundreds of dedicated engineers, toiling in hostile conditions.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is an engineer or a worker.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for achieving success in connecting the remote areas? Do you see the picture of any engineer or worker in this ad? But the PM’s picture is there, isn’t it?

It was an open and shut case as far as she was concerned, but seeing the still slightly hostile look on my face, she flung another half-opened old newspaper towards me. As if by magic, the old newspaper, while in flight, opened up to another ad when it landed in front of me.

Modi4

 

Knowing you, you will perhaps argue that the rapid strides in medical facilities, eradication of killer diseases across the length and breadth of the nation has been done by doctors spending the prime of their lives in studying and understanding medicine, and then committing themselves, alongwith health and social workers, to improving the lives of millions of poor people across the country.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is a doctor or a nurse.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for the success of prevention and control of diabetes, and many other diseases? Apart from the model, do you see the picture of any doctor or nurse in this ad?

Though still unable to see what was not there, I was decidedly getting the drift, as I often do when my wife gives it to me. The drift that is. But she was not done with me. Not just yet. She picked  up another old newspaper and opened it right under my nose.

Again there was an ad in front of my eyes.

Modi1

You will surely try to tell me that the reduction in GST rates for leather exports is the result of the hard work and research done by traders and producers in the industry who got together to put up a rational and logical case for the reduction of GST being in the best interest of the country leading to its reduction.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is a leather trader or exporter.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for the industry achieving success in reducing GST rates? Isn’t it clear that the PM, out of the goodness of his heart, has decided to shower this munificence on the leather export industry at this time, for the good of the nation of course. Do you see the picture of any hardworking leather producer or trader in this ad?

I was speechless. As usual.

Are you now convinced?

I am a reasonable man. Faced with a wife with an opinion in direct conflict with mine, and a bundle of old newspapers still unflung, I became thoroughly convinced.

Tell me, if the makers of a Bollywood movie do not have the self-respect to include a prominent picture of the PM in their ads without him having any role in it, what kind of a movie do you think it will be?

Flop!

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

“How many dead?”

“None.”

“Burned beyond recognition? At least seriously injured or maimed?”

“Hmmm…I don’t think any.”

“Any coverage in the media?”

“To the best of my knowledge, nil.”

Answering the Minister’s questions was a bright graduate of the elite Administrative Services College of the country, whose smile had been growing wider and wider as he responded to each question thinking about how effectively he had been managing his area of responsibility, and now went from one ear to the other.

“Is this an issue which the western world has expressed concerns about and which might lead to cancellation of overseas jaunts of senior ministers?”

“Not at all. We keep giving them other issues to express concerns about.”

The bright graduate was positively beaming, imagining his future prospects.

The Minister, so far looking down at a piece of paper on his desk, with a pen in his hand as if poised to sign, looked up. He took off his glasses, wiped them on his kurta sleeve, and put them down next to the offending piece of paper, which seemed to be triggering his questions.

The bright graduate quailed. The muffled sound of the glasses being placed on the desk sounded like a thunderclap.

Looking him squarely in the eye, the Minister asked, “Did you hear about the Elphinstone Road foot over-bridge stampede?”

Of course he did. It was the latest man-made disaster in a distinguished series of man-made disasters over many years and through tenures of multiple governments. On the 29th of September, till the time of writing of this article, twenty three people had died in a stampede on a foot over-bridge at the Elphinstone Road station of the inhumanly crowded Mumbai suburban rail network.

“Yes…yessir,” he stammered.

“Since when has the suburban rail network of Mumbai been inhumanly overcrowded?”, the Minister continued, even before his stammered phrase could be completed.

“I don’t know sir. I have known it to be overcrowded ever since I gained consciousness.” He was a Mumbai lad and was well versed with the history of his city.

The Minister was on a roll. He was not asking those questions to get answers. He was driving home some messages. He was fed-up of bright graduates coming out of elite colleges spouting theory at him and asking for approval for frivolous proposals. It was time they learnt some practical lessons. “How many times have safety concerns been expressed arising out of overcrowding of platforms, overcrowding of bridges, overcrowding of coaches?”, he shot back.

“Many times sir.” He was a bright student and was warming up to the format. He had excelled in quizzes in school and college and followed news and current events closely.

The Minister leaned back in his chair. A smile was playing at the corner of his lips.

“Now tell me, did you read about the forty people who did not die because the Corporation fixed the platform tiles so that people did not accidentally slip and fall in the path of an oncoming train?”

The graduate was flummoxed. He had not come across such a news item. His face expressed his lack of awareness.

“Or the seventy who did not get electrocuted when the Corporation fixed the live wires that had come loose and were hanging dangerously close to passers by?” the Minister continued without pausing.

“When did that happen sir?” he could not help asking, and displaying his ignorance.

The minister looked at him squarely in the eyes once again. He shifted uncomfortably. The Minister asked, “Tell me, what is the primary duty of a democratically elected government?”

“Why, to look after the people of course”, he brightened up, on getting a question he knew the answer to.

“Exactly. And such incidents, where nobody dies, and which nobody ever hears about, who would they give any comfort to? Would these incidents give a feeling to the common man that the government has his back?”

“Obviously no-one sir.” He was getting the drift he thought. He loosened up a little.

“What is a responsible government to do? With great power comes great responsibility. Spending the tax collections is an exercise of great responsibility and a hard-earned one. Why will a government, not just ours, any government, waste it on measures that do not give comfort to the common man?”

He was flummoxed again. ‘Twas the day for him to be flummoxed. “Then what does the government do, sir?” He could see the issue, but did not have the mental capacity to imagine the solution.

“The government does the only thing that a responsible government can do; wait for an accident to happen, as we did in the case of the Elphinstone Road foot overbridge stampede that killed several people. And now that it has happened, once again, like any responsible government, we have cancelled the leave of all officials and flown them in from various parts of the country for urgent consultations. After all, the taxpayer money has to be spent productively, isn’t it?”

“These officials, as we know, are from an elite corps, and have already hit the ground running. After analysing the situation they will reach a conclusion that everyone has known for many years. But these officials will reach the conclusion while lodged in expensive hotels and eating expensive food, hence their conclusion can be considered to be the final word on the event. Moreover, they will even absolve everyone concerned of any responsibility and attribute the accident to a freak confluence of events that everyone could have predicted.”

“But there will always be Doubting Thomases questioning the intent and effort of the government. Therefore, further analysis will be done by the high-powered group who will decide to spend more money on a review of all random things that can be thought of in such a high-pressure situation, like testing the strength of airport runways in the country, checking the depth of water in lakes and canals and installing traffic lights where not required. For the safety and security of the common man of course.”

He was beginning to see the real picture. He may have received his college degree many years back, but he was getting educated today. He could picture himself sitting in the minister’s chair in the not too distant future, serving the nation and the common man. Dreamily he asked, “Then what sir?”

“Then what? Then we will wait for the next stampede at an overcrowded Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. Or the next unplanned town to be washed away in a cloubburst in Uttarakhand. Or the next 8-year old to be murdered in a school in Gurgaon. Or the next unsafe building to catch fire in Delhi with tenders unable to access the site. And roll out the time-tested plan for ensuring the safety and security of the common man.”

“Tell me. Have you not heard of Nirbhaya?”

The bright graduate suddenly came to. After all, who had not heard of the gruesome rape in Delhi several years back that led to a slew of initiatives to prevent rapes, from pink coloured taxis to women-only banks.

“And have rapes stopped? Or slowed down?”

His eyes lit up. It was all clear to him now. With a touch of reverence in his voice, he asked, “But how do you handle all this, sir? After all, manmade disasters are such an innate part of the fabric of our great society.”

The Minister took a deep breath, and slowly released it as if trying to release the burden of his great responsibility to the common man. “It is a tightrope walk. Between running advertisements announcing great achievements of the government, security detail for ministers and self-appointed godmen (and women), money paid to consultants for coining new and imaginative names for government schemes, and providing safety and security to the common man. But, like I said earlier, with great power comes great responsibility. We have to take judicious decisions keeping all interests in mind.”

The Minister was floating on a cloud of his great responsibility towards the common man and did not notice the bright graduate quietly picking up the printed proposal he had taken to the Minister for his approval for the Corporation to fix platform tiles so that people did not accidentally slip and fall in the path of an oncoming train, the piece of paper that had started the interrogation, and walk out of the  office while crumpling the proposal into a ball and expertly tossing it into a basket placed strategically near the exit.