Sunday, December 21, 2008

Trident and other non triumphs

They briefed us , the media on their reopening yesterday.LA times and its cousins wanted to know
if the hotel management was aware of the threat,if such an attack can be prevented at all.
The first question - evaded , the second answered with a no.

Reporters from some TV channels did walkabouts in the lobby retracing the footsteps of the attackers and their moves.

We had a large lunch.I went back to office and wondered if I should mention something about the other poorer places which reopened the day after the attacks.I wondered if I should say that Pakistani nationals can't check in. I did only one of these.

Then I filed a story.I almost died trying to squeeze into the train where I had as much space to stand as the space I occupy existing on earth.

I wondered if I should eat pani puri near the station.I didn't .Then I came home.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

dalit woman stripped naked,paraded and torched,129 people held hostage in kashmir,low intensity blasts in a slum area inbangalore,malegaon-SAFFRONTERROR,only@% of muslims in important public positions,blasts kill56 in x,blasts kill2,injure32 in y, MUMBAI UNDER SEIGE, MUMBAI:THE ECONOMIC FALLOUT;THE TAJIS OURHOME,lets carpet bomb pakistan;our reporters on promo footage we can run all year long;risk ADVISORY IS BRISK BUSINESSNOW
MUMBAI-WILL FORIEGN INVESTORS PULL OUT,SOME DEATHS AT CST ,financial capital attacked, ISLAMIC TERRORISM TARGETS INDIAN CITY MUMBAI,taj was like my home,the difference between muslim and pakistan flags,
how do you feel(a little louder for the camera pleasesir) now that your family is all dead?

Turn up the nats before playing the story( nats beingnatural sound) ----the story should be more dramatic

the noise is deafening

Sunday, November 02, 2008

White Tiger

At first thought, it is Chetan Bhagat that starts of in a rural setting with generous helpings of intellect and garnished with perspective. But Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger is more than that.
The tone is almost flippant but a tone like that is necessary for a story like this, Balram Halwai is a driver from a small village lakshmangarh, who follows his master in delhi , becomes a criminal and ends up an entrepreneur in Bangalore.

Bangalore of the new India.
In a narrative of the New India we haven’t read before told through the eyes of a man from the darkness writing to Chinese Premier Wen Jibao after becoming a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore.

We Indians have stopped seeing contrasts of what it means to work in the house of a lady whose handbag costs ten times the monthly salary she pays you. Adiga tells the story and its dark and touching at the same time.You don’t know whose side you are on, the man who was murdered or the man who murdered - the rich,the poor, the light , the dark.

‘’Who would have thought that the only person in the household to have a conscience will be the woman who wears short skirts’, Halwai asks, when a child gets hit by a family member who was driving drunk and halwai is made to take the blame for it..

Adiga rips apart the lives of India’s rich who live quite comfortably beyond the law for most part and he startles us into thinking about Balram as he passes from darkness into light and the world of Bangalore’s call centres, South Indian coffee and the mothers of murdered sons. ''See, sometimes i think that i will never get caught . ......I have switched sides. I am one of those who cannot be caught in India. ''

His masters laugh at him for being unable to say ‘’Pizza’’ and for saying ‘’pig’or ‘’maal ‘’ for ‘’mall’’.

The real success of this book lies in the fact that it tells you the contrasts without sounding journalisty or patronizing or unnecessarily intense. The tone then is not flippant, really but just matter of fact.
And being urban middle class Indians, it must have occurred to us, the mind of the darkness but we never dared to think it so articulately.

I have never appreciated firangs writings on India ..except William Darymple types.
But sometimes I think , that we are much more blinded to India’s contrasts being Indians and seeing hundreds people settle down to sleep on the pavements as we head back home from office.And there is this argument that Adiga himself has lived much of his life outside India.
But Halwai is as convincing as a potrait of a driver to a rich family can get.

I can imagine the grateful but dumb look on his face when he is told that he is free to not go to jail for a murder he hasn't commited.I can't feel the humiliation he feels when he can't pronounce worlds alien to his tongue and when his masters laugh , his anger , his opportunism and you know, his 'paaapaness''

The other day I saw a perfect shot .

We could start shooting you know, with marine drive, the way every other slick Hindi movie nowadays starts.

Accompanied with a romanticized voice over about Mumbai. The city of dreams.
We then come to NCPA apartments- the world’s second most ( or one of the ten most ok), residential complexes, tilt down and pan left.The road is quite and smooth and mercs pass by, there are women with expensive dresses and smooth legs passing by .

Passing by two three year old bare chested children sleeping on a piece of sack next to ncpa on the road at 9:30 PM one October evening.

‘What a’fucking joke!’’

Overheard in a secular newsroom

'''secularism and democracy are words thrown around by page 3 people like you , they mean nothing, the muslims will eat up hindus if not for people like Modi and Bal Thackeray

''So , Hindus demolished babri masjid but the muslims lifted the sword first , they deserve everything they get''

''but narendra modi has done so much for development of gujrat''

rape a couple of muslims, rip out foetuses from muslim vaginas and burn them, build bridges, bring the nano to gujrat and hug ratan at a press conference , the press will then concentrate on the better aspects of you mr modi. :)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Namtso Lake

The namtso lake is surrounded by the highest mountains in the World.

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Children curious about my indianness
The Potala palace amidst what is becoming a glitzy Chinese city -Lhasa

The barkhor Square -The Tibetan heartland of Lhasa
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Uses and Misuses of Photographs

Media manipulation by police to create a distinct communalised imagery

(The below is reproduced from one the Delhi Mailing Lists)The Uses and Misuses of Photographs by Sadanand Menon
[Missing source]

Monday, September 22 was an extraordinary day in the annals the Indian media. I would like to call it a day of shame. For, on that day, our media collectively displayed its herd-like mentality and its entirely uncritical attitude to the use – and misuse – of the photographs it publishes.At least eight mainstream English language newspapers (including The Times of India, The Indian and The New Indian Express, The Hindu, the Hindustan Times, The Deccan Chronicle) and many more in the language press from North to South and East to West, uncritically published almost identical photographs on their front pages. The photographs were not generated by any single agency. They were neither taken by ‘citizen’ photographers nor were they official handouts. They were shots by individual staff photographers as well as professional syndicated photographers. What is amazing is what newsrooms across the country chose to do with the image.The photographs were of three suspects involved in the Delhi blasts, who were arrested from their residence in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar. Reports also claimed they were students of the Jamia Milia Islamia. What was fishy about the photographs was that they showed three totally unidentifiable people, their head and face completely swathed in generous length of cloth, flanked by gun-toting policemen in mufti and other hangers-on. Yet it seemed obvious that this was a photo-op provided to the media – not to protect anyone’s identity – but to precisely create a definite sense of identity.For all the three suspects, to mask their identity, were tricked up by the local police in identical ‘Palestinian Rumaals’ or kaffiyehs or abayas or cassavas as this piece of head-dress is variously known. Though none of their faces were visible, to any casual reader of the newspapers it would be abundantly clear that they were of ‘Arab’, ‘West Asian’ or ‘Islamic’ origin. A clear case of racial profiling!Some sceptical comments about this on the net, primarily generated by documentary film maker Yousuf Sayeed who lives in the same area, led to a small critical piece in The Hindustan Times two days later, raising critical questions. The sceptics wondered how it came about that the three arrested suspects came to be in possession of identical, brand new rumaals, which they could readily pull out of their pockets to cover their faces. As if, upon realising they might be arrested soon, they went shopping and bought identical scarves, so that everyone will recognise them as ‘Islamic terrorists’. Critics pointed out that usually suspects arrested on various charges mask their faces with their own handkerchiefs or borrow towels or black cloth to hood their faces; never before had it seemed like such a costume drama as the Delhi police had managed to stage.Then came the stunning revelation by the Delhi police commissioner. He confessed that it was his department which had dressed up the suspects in such a suggestive manner and, even more alarmingly, that the Delhi police had purchased these pieces of cloth “in bulk” for use by those arrested. Obviously, every arrested person could now be given a suggestive ‘Islamic terrorist’ look, thereby setting up dangerous subliminal propaganda within the media.Repulsive as it is, most people will agree that the Police and its dirty-tricks department are not beyond using such obnoxious methods. What is beyond explanation is how the media collectively fell into this trap and carried these images without a single question mark or doubt about what they so readily display on their front pages.For those not used to thinking about these things, the question can be framed a little differently. It has to do with conceptual issues related to the use (or misuse) of the image in the media. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of photographs are clicked. Of these, by common consensus, and governed by a largely abstract logic dealing with the received wisdom of ‘news-value’ or ‘news-worthiness’, about five hundred to a thousand pictures might be considered for use within the media. After that, it is quite chancy or dependent on strong editorial choices why a photograph makes it to the papers, in particular the front page.The front page photo, in the world of the print media, is usually associated with an iconic status. It is supposed be a quick encapsulation of what a paper or a region or a nation or a civilisation imagines as its primary concern. It frames the news of the day with a kind of visual evidence or back-up which then illustrates how it wants to set up the communication and how it wants the readers to enter the narrative.Very seldom, across 365 days in a year, do we find identical images on the front page. That is supposed to be the greatness and the strength of democratic media practice that editorial position and interpretation of events can vary. It is also part of the notion of healthy competition in the media that variety, diversity and contrariness are seen as virtues – that a news item or image which is used sycophantically by one section of the press, can as easily be used critically by another section of the same press.That is why, when you come across a substantial section of the national press use just one common image on their front page, and that too without an critical remarks or interrogative comments, one begins to smell the operation of ‘ideology’, which is nothing but a blind acceptance of certain ‘ruling’ ideas of a class or of a moment – ideas that indicate the power structures within which ‘information’ and ‘meaning’ are manufactured.To me it is shattering, that on the evening of September 21, across the newsrooms of the best of Indian newspapers, not one editorial discussion chose to evaluate the photograph of the three arrested youngsters draped in checked cloth and use their judgement to ‘read’ the picture in a dispassionate manner worthy of a free press. Instead the Indian media collectively behaved as they had not even during the period of the Emergency and its draconian censorship. They all fell prey to their own sense of prejudice and communal mindset. The Nazi propaganda machine could not have expected to produce better results.Obviously, Indian media needs to re-investigate the ‘frame’ within which it is presenting, colouring and analysing news. Such evidence of a collective cop-out is a serious failing, which it needs to critically examine and carry out correctives. In fact, this is a fit case for being taken before the Press Council.Shame, a little shame is all that the media needs. For shame as Marx said, is a revolutionary sentiment.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Weed and wine (HuMONEYING my work- a series on stories i can't tell at work

that morning cup of coffee you see drip down from the vending machine
you grab it careless when you walk in grumpily on a tuesday afternoon
on a way to a press conference at the hilton

that will have 14 cheesecakes for dessert that the journos might not even notice
waiting for soundbytes

from the man
now surrounded by a mob of reporters
with boom mikes

From the graying man who
‘s casual tuesday dinner with his annorexic fuckbuddy(my age) bottle of wine costs half my salary

that morning cup of coffee is blackened by the
black leathery hands of a lower caste man
Who picked the weeds
on the pesticide rich soil
on which the coffee grew

Blackened by the pesticide
That slowly coursed in through his veins

To die
because the 200 Rupees
He earned for picking weeds
in the pesticide Rich soil
with his leathery black
67 year old hands

didn’t pay for his

and the nearest shiny glass walled hospital
needed registration
Before he was warded to the ward
so he went straight
and Free to the morgue

(inspired by a coffee plantation worker I met in Coorg when travelling on work)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Brussels airport

Her haircut was like mine but slicker. She looked at me with her bright blue eyes as she groped my breasts for bombs and asked ‘’How old are you?’’ 21, I answered with my small honest voice.

Aunties in silk saris passed by alongside husbands who moved the trolley for them. But I waited there and she made me take off my belt. My button was broken so when my belt was removed,my jeans popped open. She untucked my shirt, she made me take off my boots touched my feet, my ankles and then asked ‘’Are you alone?’’ I said ‘’Yes’’
She did the round again, the feeling up and found no bombs and said I could go. She didn’t button me up. I did it clumsily in a corner.
The others who also logically deserved this treatment were software engineers in suits with rich wives and knew the techniques of international travel.

I was used to feeling sexy in Indian airports.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

GreatINDIANmiddle class

Goes on holiday to a lovely place like Coorg, and goes to visit monasteries with a packed cardboard box of apples, chips and sandwiches

And stays in a resort that offers home style s/n Indian food
I never get why you'd want to go somewhere and not get your hands dirtied by the place
eat the local food, stay in nice lovely locally place etc

Anyway no cribbing.
I did travel show and stayed in one of these resorts hence observation


My neighbourgood in Sion in bombay reminds me of the India that i grew out of. Barring the stray
dominoes pizza, the coke ads and the vodafone ads that are like bombays skin now anyway, it has little evidence of the India i grew into.It has old Kirana shops, aunties in saris who think the only 24/7 job ust be for a brothel, melody toffees, old tailor shops, general stores whatnot

I cover retail for some business stories I do
Now , it some times makes me sad that even fab India has fallen into the 'retail trap'and has started looking more and more like west side type places with instore advertising.

Retail when I was young was a Tripti oil store in Bangalore where my mother had a montly account and I went there occassionally , five year old, alone only because it was so close to my house
it required no crossing.

And bought maggi pockets.
Once I crossed the road oppossite and a scooter hit me.
I had an Accident. There are two types of accidents
One:When some thing hits u
Two: When something runs over u

I am sure I have a memory of a scooter running over me but my mother shut me up and said i wouldn't even have been alive had a scooter run over me.

Anyway Part two of the India I was growing into was the Trinethra supermarket in Hyderabad. I then thought I could indulge in things aa long as they were below 20 Rupees. bags, chocolates whatever

And then my dad got a fancy job, we moved cities and gorged on foregn products in super markets, I'd pick up whatever i fancied and put it in the trolley,we'd travel abroad,

And then I kept moving for studies , to work

But then it's amazing because I finally moved back to bangalore after 12 years and NOTHING in the city reminded me of what it used to be.It was almost like a new ccity except Cubbon park and lal bagh.

And for someone who generally has a good memory its'sad, this change

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


In the clinical confines of a news room being told that

if the blasts were in a slum area and only 3 people died ...why cover it?


One farmer committed suicide feeling sad for Ratan.He after all took his land and paid him back for it.

One out of ----

Reporting is fun sometimes

Marine drive is nice and my little cozy apartment crammed with 5 girls who can't afford bombay's crazy rents

Zenzi/ big town/things open late/everything so far

grown up and working

Friday, May 09, 2008


An edited version appeared in The Hindu
A woman is downloading wall papers of Aishwarya Rai in her office. The only thing surprising about this is that this is in a hotel in Lhasa , once the capital of Tibet. The view from my hotel reveals that Lhasa is today like any other Chinese city. There are wide roads lined with Chinese restaurants serving spicy Sichuan food. This is an indication of the wave of immigrants from the Sichuan province coming in search of better opportunities. One wouldn’t guess one was in a harsh high altitude Tibet except in the monasteries and the Tibetan heartland of Lhasa , The Barkhor Square.

There is a flurry of red in the Bakkhor square as monks make their way to the Jokhang temple, circling their prayer wheels. Old women in chubas chant mantras as they drag themselves to the temple. In this human traffic are the white tourists, beggar children with runny noses( almost always) and the only Indian – me.

Above, the government watches carefully from strategically positioned cameras. A jolly man plays a traditional instrument to gather a clapping crowd. The police come and ask him to leave, threatening to confiscate the instrument.

The temple- the holiest shrine for the Buddhists has dingy rooms full of lamps lit by yak butter. The flames sway gently in the intense heat typical to high altitude Lhasa. The magnificent brass Buddhas stand tall worshipped by thousands of pilgrims.
The pilgrims prostrate themselves repeatedly in front of the temple making scraping noises each time they get up and creating the faint buzz of mantras.

All around the Jokhang are rows of shacks selling yak butter, large red sides of meat, souvenirs etc. Women sell what are called street noodles- the equivalent of the Indian bhel puri? To assure you of the quality of the item they are selling you, shopkeepers always say’ Tibeti Chinese’ . The ways to vent out frustration are few and subtle ways like this help.

Baptista , a Portuguese woman studying Tibetan tells me ‘This faith is one thing they cannot destroy’. Her pale skin flushes and her eyes crinkle as she talks about the Chinese people and the Christian missionaries who, according to her are determined to destroy Tibet’s religious heritage

Tibet is difficult to write about because it is all at once unimaginably beautiful and also heart breaking. The economic divide between the Chinese and the Tibetans is painfully obvious. They only English words that the poor Tibetans learn are ‘money’, ‘Please give me some money’ that they chant repeatedly to hapless tourists.
One night when we were walking back home, a mob of dirty looking Tibetans surrounded us and grabbed our packet of food with such desperation and rage that I didn’t know how to respond. The Chinese are very friendly and fascinated by Indians. I had groups of Chinese women come and have their pictures taken with me.

A few meters from the Barkhor , there are wide streets and shopping malls in the Chinese quarter. Shops sell everything from Kashmir carpets to leopard skins. One man offered me a leopard skin for 5000 yuan. The description of our hotel in last year’s edition of the lonely planet guide was that of a basic staying facility with pit toilets that smelt noxious. The hotel is by now like a business hotel with plush furnishing and bath tubs in the bathrooms. This only indicates the rapid pace of development in this part of China. The pit toilets however, it must be mentioned are a common feature in the rural areas.

In the city there are glitzy clubs and occasionally posters of Bollywood actors like
Divya Bharti and Salman Khan pasted on doors. People here barely speak English, they don’t even know the word ‘Indian’ . When they saw me they’d whisper ‘Indu, Indu’ , the word for India in Chinese .
In a restaurant a Tibetan boy searches me out and asks me if I am from India. He had been in India for many years before returning to Tibet to work as a tour guide. Tenzing is nostalgic about India and longs to return saying he is ‘grateful to (my) country’. He takes us to a sort of a Tibetan Opera house meets disco where Tibetan and Chinese youth dance to the latest Tibetan numbers. There are also traditional Tibetan dance performances in between. The Tibetans who have been to India are eager to talk to me in Hindi.
Getting to Tibet is difficult but it is worth it . The drive from Kathmandu to Lhasa has perhaps has the most dramatic landscapes in the world with charming hamlets and towns along the way. The Turquoise Namtso lake just five hours away from Lhasa is surrounded by the highest mountains is a must see.

And a few hours away from Lhasa, it is immensely desolate, determinedly barren.
There are vast stretches of mountains in harsh grey, brown and rust in the highest elevation in the world.

In the Barkhor itself it is impossible to imagine McDonalds even exists as you are drawn into a fragile world of faith.


My dad is in a different city every other day and sometimes in diffferent countries. In my head there are no boundaries and it seems no big deal to me to just keep moving. I did the usual train journeys from Chennai to Bangalore saying a brief bye to Filter coffee, exploiting cheap booze and good weather in Bangalore and returning to weekdays and humidity. In between I'd speak Kannada to the Chennai auto drivers and each time, each time , feel relieved when I remember that in Bangalore , they use metres!

It is easy and even fashionable to hate Chennai. WHen I left two blog posts ago I was determined to hate it. It has the worst weather in the world, it is conserative, people are sleazy, clubs shut early, good booze is hard to get...etc are the many truths, hatruths, stereotypes about Chennai.

Hatruths are half truths are subjective statements.

Yet , I grew to love the city and to discover that you can fall in love with any damn place except some are faster infatuable with - Bangalore ( oops...will somebody agree please it has the best weather in the world for a traffic jam) , (NewYorkParisydneylondonice) .

INFATUABLE: Ability to get infatuated. Infatuation potential.

ANyhow , in the year I spent in CHennai I discovered more than the heavenliest coffee on earth at Saravanas, the Beasant Nagar beach in the evenings , the best South Indian food, carnatic music etc etc.

People in Chennai are so humble and helpful almost like a flashback from an old world when the market didn't rule us.

Anyhow so even though I am slightly afraid of this bizzare decision to go to mumbai for a job i have little expertise in , I know I can return to Bangalore , to gudang garam cigarettes sold lo(o?)se,to old friends in an old bar.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Moving again

This feels alien. Writing on this blog. But then I suddenly felt a wave of affection for my old self and decided to ressurect it. I tried approving the comments I got but rejected them all by m istake. Anyhoo, I am moving again to Bombay to work for a news channel. Will write more here maybe.