Tuesday, November 28, 2006

SSSHHHH.... IT'S A VVIP EAR

(Photo Courtesy: Pratik Shah)

The VIP tribe of this country is a self-serving, smug one. If you live in Chennai and happen to drop in at 'Coffee' near the Music college, look for this PWD order painted on the wall.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

SHUT UP PLEASE, THANK YOU.

I hate noise. I can't stand it when people talk loudly and constantly interrupt me but I really hit the roof when people use their car horns. And God help me, if a bus or a truck is hooting away. I burst an artery. And when those bloody ambasadors - that symbol of power in India, comes along honking away with impunity, I just want to shed tears - shed tears at his stupidity and his arrogance and my own pathetic helplessness. What can I do to make people shut the F *** up? I feel so helpless.

(Even as I type this, some jackass on a bike has gone tooting down my road. May he run into a pole.Oh god! And now Onyx is here. What their workers do to keep the city clean is negated completely by the noise and air pollution their trucks release.)

There is a vast army of half-witted, insentient noise-polluters who have invaded the roads rendering common sense a rare and priceless commodity in India.

Thats why, when we first landed at the Billund airport (below) in Denmark, we could've easily assumed that the country was in a state of Emergency and all residents had been told to stay indoors and shut up. Everything was so lovely and quiet and empty. (Look at the last snap of the arrival lounge. Not a soul in sight!) Thats how it always is. I had a feeling things were going to go well. They did. I didn't see or hear a rude driver for 40 days and I will need a separate blog to start writing about how I was glowing with good health.







But seriously, what can we do, to make people aware that there is such a thing as noise pollution? That people use their horns ridiculously more than they need to. I have a good track record on the road having avoided dogs, cows, goats, cyclists and pedestrians deftly for nearly 10 years now and all this with only the gentle nudge of the horn in the rarest of rare circumstances. So why can't everybody else shut up??????!!!!!!! Waaaaaaaaah... Waaaah.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

SKAMLINGSBANKEN

Denmark is flat country – so flat, that the second highest point – Skamlingsbanken is all of 370 ft high. But it offers a lovely view of southern Denmark and you can spend a quiet, refreshing morning there…. like we did, complete with a picnic basket and soda that topples over a lot.


Right on top of the hill (bank is an old Danish word for hill) stands a tall obelisk – a memorial erected to commemorate the Danish nationality and way of life. It was erected at a time when the Danes were trying to fight off German aggression on the southern front. But in 1864, the Germans led a successful invasion and captured the south of Denmark and one of the first things they did was to blow away the stones of this symbol that their captives took great pride in. But villagers living around the area collected the stones and rebuilt the obelisk. The Germans left southern Denmark in 1920 after a plebiscite and have not staked their claim since. But it left behind a minority of Germans and Danes on both sides of the German-Danish border.



Today of course things are calm but Danish parents will still not send their kids to German schools or German parents to Danish schools for that matter, and, the older generation would still frown upon a German-Danish marriage.

There is a large Danish minority in the north German town of Flensburg where Danes like to drive down to do their shopping. People pay such high taxes in Denmark that its cheaper for them to drive down to Germany and do some monthly shopping there. Especially if they’re buying the famous Flensburger Pilsener also called Flens.


Back to Skamlingsbanken – and the great fluttering red flag next to the obelisk. Denmark’s national flag called the Dannebrog (old Danish for “The Danish cloth”) is red with a white cross that is not exactly in the center but a little to the left.

Its one of the oldest flags in the world. Legend has it, that during the Battle of Lyndanisse, in present day Estonia, it descended from the heavens at a crucial juncture, resulting in a Danish victory and given the Danish reverence for their flag, it goes without saying that the flag should flutter proudly next to the restored obelisk.

A MORAVIAN AFTERNOON

Its great to record a holiday like this. I can’t remember anything of previous holidays and thanks to the blog, I’ll never forget this one. So heres another little something from an afternoon spent at a Moravian Church with priest Lorenz Asmussen (below).


First a grab from Wiki: The Moravian churches form a modern, mainline Protestant denomination with a religious heritage that began in 15th-century Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic). It is sometimes also known as the Unitas Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren, or as the Bohemian Brethren.

Moravians were some of the earliest Protestants, rebelling against the authority of Rome more than a hundred years before Martin Luther.

Christiansfeld – in South Denmark is the only Moravian town in Scandinavia and the youngest town in Denmark. It is named after King Chrstian VIIth who requested the congregation to build the town in 1772. Build it they did, and so well that in 1975 the town received an award for its distinctive style of straight streets and beautiful buildings.



Our walk began at the church square by the well, which is the center of the town. From there the measuring of the town was started, when it was founded.

Inside, the church hall is all white, devoid of altar or pictures. The Moravian church has spartan interiors because they believe that elaborate art and d├ęcor are only a distraction. Another interesting departure from other churches is that the organist does not have his back to the congregation but faces it.



The Moravian graveyard is known as “Gods Acre” or “church of the dead” with the sisters buried to the right and the brothers to the left. All the gravestones are exactly the same as a symbol of all being equal and alike after death. Here the graves have been preserved since 1773. Interestingly, a Moravian funeral will not involve the telling of stories about the deceased by relatives and friends. Instead, as Moravians age, they start to document the story of their lives on their own and they remain a rich treasure for posterity.



Monday, November 13, 2006

EELAM DREAMS IN DENMARK

There were nearly 30 foreigners working at the Danish Crown plant in Grindsted. Many from Vietnam and a few from Sri Lanka – like Kandiah Kankanidhi (in picture). Kandiah is from Achchiveli in Jaffna and he fled the war in Sri Lanka in 1985. He landed in Tamil Nadu and lived in Purusuwalkam briefly before seeking asylum in Denmark. He lives in Grindsted with his wife and two boys aged 4 and 10. He still has two brothers back in Achchiveli and is able to send a considerable sum of money back home. He was making nearly 170 Kr. per hour, which is around 1360 Indian rupees. (People work 35 hours a week in Denmark.)

Kandiah is satisfied with his life but dreams of going back home. “I want to go back some day. I want the future generations of my family to remember Tamil. If we get freedom, I will definitely go back.”

I felt sorry for Kandiah - thousands of miles away from his homeland, holding onto the pipedream of a free Eelam.

Kandiah won't have a problem finding another job. Sri Lankan workers are generally valued for their hard work. Besides, Denmark, with a population of around 5.5 million could do with as many hands as possible.

WATCHING MY WORK

TV Syd serves the southern region of Denmark – called South Jutland. I spent a day at their office observing how they work and that’s how the pig story happened. I was assigned to go with the team of Dorte Vinther (both in picture) and cameraman, Arne Andreasen. Dorte had yawned during the morning meeting and was thereafter referred to as “the sleepy reporter.”

The thing I noticed first about their office was the silence. Nobody was screaming down phone lines, nobody was barking on their cell phones, indeed, cell phones were not even ringing and all was truly quiet on the southern front. For the story we had to drive from Kolding (pron. Kolling) to Grindsted. TV crews there don’t have separate drivers – Arne drove, filmed and edited the pictures.

Once there, we had to wear space suits like these before going into the factory where Arne and Dorthe got down to business while I got down to staring.




Arne shot for about 30 minutes and then Dorte began her interviews. The story about the imminent closure of this plant had been done before so she did a soft story on what people were feeling on the day it actually happened.

The union leader, Kent Kaltoft was interviewed outside the plant. He said, "Of the 700 workers, 500 already have a job. But I'm not going to stop till the last person finds a job."


Here in India we keep our equipment in the office. But at TV Syd, all the equipment remains in the ENG (electronic news gathering) van. It’s equipped with chargers and monitors and everything else required in handling a breaking news story. Just jump into this thing and hit the spot. Here, Arne puts everything back in place.

Back in the office Dorte begins to write her story in the newsroom. The picture of Tintin looks down upon the place. Why is it there? Because according to the news head Ernst Moller, “hes the best reporter in the world!” That is true.

Once the script is done, the edit begins.


These are pictures of the production control room. Everything that happens in the studio is controlled from here. The plant's closure became the top story that evening.

And that’s the way it goes.

Monday, November 06, 2006

HOW TO MAKE BACON

Don't think me macabre for taking pictures of pigs being slaughtered. I just happened to be there. The process was fascinating and I must admit I'm not really big on animal rights. The eyes don't moisten. So anyway, here it is - a photo essay. And if you care about pigs and other four-legged friends of man, skip this one.

These pictures were taken at the Danish Crown factory in Grindsted, Denmark. The plant was shutting down because it was too small and it was no longer viable to run it. The pigs are gassed in a chamber just ahead of this one. Here they enter the assembly line where man and machine go to work to remove the innards. This is how it ends up as bacon and ham at the breakfast table.


A worker makes the first cut.


There are quite a few stages and each worker or machine yanks out a specific part from inside the pig. Theres blood all over the floor and thats not the scary part. Instead, its the knives in the workers hands. I kept thinking, what if one of them went berserk one morning? (Like that morning.) But workers in Denmark are not frustrated. More on that later.

This is pretty much the last stage of the inside-clearing job. As you can see, theres almost nothing there!

Now, the Danes love using their flag. Everyone has a flagpole in their lawn and if its someones birthday the flag goes up. Little flags even go into the birthday cake and all over stores in Denmark you will find all kinds of everyday things with the flags design, like, notebooks, pens, pencils, postcards and of course flags. So it was only appropriate that the last pig that came out of the assembly line went through proudly with the Danish flag in it.

It was an emotional day for the employees at Danish Crown in Grindsted. They had worked side by side for many years and as the last pig rolled out a wave of nostalgia swept over them. But everyone was still smiling. Unemployment is so low in Denmark (about 3%) that only a minority of the nearly 700 workers here had not yet found another job.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

CARTOONS COST MONEY


The tiny country of Denmark has unfortunately been remembered in the last year for the notorious Prophet Mohammed cartoons. The controversy erupted again a year later when the youth wing of a right-of-center party was caught on tape drawing cartoons during a drunken bash. Companies like Robert Damkjaer Ltd. have been badly hit because of these needless doodles. They are exporters of meat and 80% of it went to Muslim countries. But their products were boycotted and almost a year after the controversy only about 60% of their business has revived.


Company owners reportedly still have good relations with their buyers in the middle east but under pressure from local mullahs and imams, people there are unable to carry on business with the Danes.

FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD


Delightful Danish pastries. More delicious photographs when I find the time.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

SADNESS

In the three-and-a-half years that I have been working as a journalist, I have never - not once - been able to reach a government officer on the landline. Not once.

This is EXACTLY how it goes.

"Hello, could I speak to Mr. XYZ."

"Yaar pesarade?"
(Whos speaking?)

You are put on hold while your name and designation are told to the person you want to speak to and of course that person does not want to speak to you and never has the grace to come on the line. Then you are informed...

"Saar meeting le irkaar."
(Sir, is in a meeting.)

"Okay, when will the meeting get over?"

"Teriyaade medem"
(Don't know, medem.)

"Okay, give me his mobile number please."

"Teriyaade medem" or "Permission illame kudaka mudiyaade medem" (Without permission I cannot give it to you... Medem)

Okay stupid F &$#*$#&!!!!

"Okay, when should I call back?"

"Naaliki....Inniki, Saar roombu busy."
(Tomorrow... sir is vurrry busy today.)

Then you can call tomorrow and you will be told all these same things again. Then try it the day after and you will find they do not care to even come up with a different lie. This will carry on till you get fed up. Till YOU get fed up because they don't tire of the exercise.
This means, you can't get simple information or cross-check it by speaking to the 'right' people. The only way to gain access to these people is to hob nob with them. I think many journalists see this PR exercise as a part of their job and are happy to build sources this way to acquire contacts and more importantly mobile numbers. It helps to go through with it sometimes because these are the benefits. But I'd rather go home and read a book.

Alas, my holiday has ended.