Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I was delighted to hear Praful Patel, the Civil Aviation Minister say that Air India either needs to perform or perish. Personal experience suggests it is successfully doing the latter already.

My husband and I were alone in a hotel room in Frankfurt four days before our wedding in India. But we weren’t feeling at all romantic. No…it’s not what you think. We were in love and wanted to marry. The problem was how do we get there? How to get home?

Both of us were students in the U.S and followed the “cheap works best” approach to flying. So, when Air India offered us the lowest fares to Mumbai, we took it. Zero in-flight entertainment, robotic air-hostesses and wailing babies cannot deter two people bent on getting hitched. Despite dealing with rude staff, we boarded a sickly yellow Air India Boeing 747 from O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, with the proverbial song on the lip. In a few days we would wear weighty clothes and ponderous garlands, exchange some solemn vows and walk away into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Little did we realize that our path was littered with obstacles. We weren’t supposed to be populating hotel rooms on the way there and how it all came to be is a story of betrayal by our embarrassing national bird, Air India. I want to kick the protruding backside of the smiling maharaja when I see one.

There was a happy hum on board our flight from Chicago where it all began. Fellow Indians were pinching the cheeks of children and enquiring about their names and health. An English movie of grainy print played on a single giant screen at the front of the aircraft. It was extracted no doubt from a Hollywood archive shelf marked ‘Ancient’. Not in the mood for it, I would’ve certainly finished ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ instead, except that my panel lights didn’t work. Neither did my husbands and neither did his neighbours’. We had both carried only books to entertain ourselves and therefore had nothing to do. Everyone slept, but like alert owls we sat quietly in the dark. Oblivious to the impending food crisis I grumbled about the service instead of just being thankful for meals at least.

A few hours and much wakefulness later the lights came on and one small but tough croissant was placed before us. The hungry and tired don’t fuss about such things and we ate our “breakfast” content with the thought that we would soon land in Frankfurt for two hours, stretch our legs and then sleep all the way to Mumbai. From there my husband would fly home to Calcutta and me to Chennai to attend my first ‘ladies-only’ function on the 24th of December. I had budgeted three days of R and R because brides need that.

But Air India had other plans. They usually do.

We were asked to disembark at Frankfurt and once without, informed casually that two of the engines had failed while landing. Surely, they needed time to repair them and so if passengers would be considerate enough to wait for two more hours things would be set in order and we would be on our way again.

Now, my husband is a business consultant, which means, he has been dodged and duped by airlines all his working life and doesn’t buy these “slight delays” or “technical snags”. So when he heard the words “engine failure” his heart started a downward descent.

But since there was nothing we could do about the vital organs of an ageing 747 we waited patiently in the lousy Frankfurt airport. It was uncomfortably cold, uncarpeted, overcrowded and under-seated and the most exciting food available was cheese toast. Four hours became six, six became ten and ten became fourteen. We should have been in the motherland by then but were stuck instead in the fatherland. And, I, the bride, deprived of sleep and good news, grew older.

Those with American passports had long been allowed to leave for a comfortable hotel while we went about the airport like IDPs. Meanwhile the smiling maharaja became the silent maharaja. There were simply no updates or announcements!

Finally, a little before midnight, rumour circulated that Air India was collecting passports to get visas because the plane of our dreams was grounded. By then my husband and I were gummy-eyed, sleepless, unfresh and angry. Parents, aunts and cousins back home were frantic. Flights to anywhere in December are packed and to India, forget it you must be kidding. How were we going to get home? The only thing available was first class on Lufthansa – 10,000 dollars for both of us. Nope. We’d just have to stay single.

Air India wasn’t saying anything. They were about to put us up in a hotel and my husband was sure that an engine failure basically meant - get a different plane. Would Air India do that? When would they do it? More importantly, I would have no time to go through my fittings, beauty sleep, bridal pampering, and my round of personal invitations. The salad had been tossed up and was falling to the floor.

With heavy feet we reached the hotel and with heavier hearts we went to bed but not without making a plan. We decided we would sleep for just a few hours and get to the airport before all the other passengers. Everyone would be trying to get their tickets written over so we needed to be first in the queue at the AI counter.

The next morning, the restaurant downstairs was full of cheerful chatter. This unexpected German holiday was quite a nice surprise for some. But I thrust a bun with poppy seeds into my bag and off we went to the airport.

An hour after waiting at the Air India counter a German lady finally appeared. We told her our story stressing that a union was at stake. She was a stern sort and didn’t say much. But suddenly she produced two tickets on Kuwait Airways that would take us to Mumbai but with a layover in Kuwait. That wasn’t good enough. We wanted to fly straight home. What if we got stuck in Kuwait? By then she saw how anxious we were and the cockles of her heart began to warm-up a little. Hammering away at her keyboard she scanned for seats. And voila! A few minutes later she produced two direct tickets on Lufthansa to Calcutta! Wow! Hurray! But wait, what about our four bags full of wedding stuff?


By way of a joke she said, “I’ll try and get them out but I hope your wedding dress is not in there.” Ha. Ha. My husbands stuff was but what good is a wedding suit if it makes you miss your wedding? So we ditched our bags, hoping they would come on the Air India flight, whenever, and sprinted across the confusing Frankfurt airport to reach the Lufthansa counter to get our seats confirmed. We realized that we had under-reported our wedding story. We had to use it to full effect now. We repeated it to the young blonde at the Lufthansa counter who was lovely and sympathetic. But she had bad news. My husband was confirmed. I was not.

We took the chance and raced to the gate where passengers were boarding for Calcutta. Seconds before the gate closed and the last confirmed passengers had boarded, an efficient German lady finally put us through. We couldn’t believe it. We were finally going home! We would attend our wedding after all! We looked terrible, we hadn’t changed our clothes in 48 hours and our bags were left behind. But it didn’t matter. We collapsed into clean seats in a fresh white plane, looked at each other and burst out laughing.

We landed in Calcutta like a set of beggars without any possessions except each other. But it was alright because we still had a beautiful, fun wedding. We made it in time and took our solemn vows. One of them is to never fly Air India.

Published on the website.

Monday, June 23, 2008


The Indian government has often successfully prevented the internationalisation of the Kashmir conflict. Anyone who attempts to unearth some of the dirty secrets of the Indian government in the state is often reminded that they are venturing into very murky waters. Reproduced below is a press release from the International People's Tribunal whose members were recently harassed and intimidated while carrying out their investigations into the mass graves.

On June 20, the 'International Peoples Tribunal on Human Rights andJustice in Indian-administered Kashmir' visited the northern districtof Kupwara, a heavily militarized zone about 95 kms from Srinagar, toconduct its investigations in the area, as part of its ongoing work tobe conducted in 2008-2009.

The team comprised of Tribunal Conveners Dr. Angana Chatterji andAdvocate Parvez Imroz, with a Tribunal staff member and camera crew.They first visited a mass grave in Trehgam village and interacted withinhabitants of the area. After which the team reached Regipora around3pm and stopped at a hotel for lunch. After the team came out of thehotel two persons were sitting on the ladders, one in a blue checkshirt and another in a white shirt, introducing themselves as SpecialBranch Kashmir (SBK) and CounterIntelligence Kashmir (CIK) personnel. They questioned the Tribunalstaff member about the purpose of their visit. After responding,Tribunal members proceeded with the fact finding.

The Tribunal team then visited the martyrs' graveyard in Regipora,after which they stopped at a nearby tea stall to speak with localpeople about the graves. Four persons, including the previous two thatintroduced themselves as the SBK, CIK personnel again questioned themembers of the team: Who are you?, What are you doing here?, How manyvillages you visited from the morning?, Who are the persons whom youinterviewed from the morning? Are you a foreign national? (to Dr.Chatterji who is a citizen of India and resident of the US). The teamagain answered their questions without any argument.

After this episode ended another four persons establishing themselvesas SBK and CIK personnel came to the scene. The personnel asked themembers, how many foreigners are there in the team and are they carryingpassports with them? The personnel again asked, Who is the Lady? Whatis she? Which are the places you visited from the morning? And whomdid you talk and interviewed from the morning?

Three more persons, who were at different locations in the market, andseen making phone calls constantly, again questioned the Tribunalteam: 'Did you take any footage and pictures from the places youvisited?' The team again answered to their queries. In total, therewere 12 intelligence personnel. The questioning by the personnel tookaround one hour. Then the team proceeded towards Srinagar. While theteam rode back, a car started to follow the team. The team detouredfrom the highway and went to another mass grave in the area.

After the Tribunal team left the last site, they were stopped atShangargund, Sopore, at around 6:40 pm by three persons in civilianclothing. The personnel ordered the driver of car to get down and tookhim aside. The driver was asked, 'Which places you visited?' hereplied them and then the three persons without proving their identityforcibly boarded the Tribunal car, which was already filled tocapacity. These personnel without proving their credentials oroffering justification ordered the Tribunal team to Police Station inSopore. When the members asked for identification, they responded thatthey would introduce themselves at the police station.

Police Station Episode:At the police station Advocate Imroz, Dr. Chatterji, and thecamerapersons were asked to give details of their identity, thepurpose of their visit to Kupwara, and asked to hand over the tapeswhich the police alleged contained 'dangerous' and 'objectionable'material. Dr. Chatterji and Advocate Imroz stated that the Tribunal, apublicly announced process, ongoing since April 05, 2008, had beenundertaking its work peaceably, lawfully, with informed consent oflocal people and that they had not visited restricted areas, andstated that the police had no lawful reason to demand the seizure ofthe tapes. At the police station, where the Tribunal members weredetained for 16 minutes, the Tribunal team received calls frompresspersons and other concerned citizens. After several calls tosenior police persons, the police released the Tribunal team.

After the team left the police station a red colored Indica car, whichcame out from the Police Station Sopore, tailed the Tribunal teamagain up to Sangrama.

In addition, there are Intelligence personnel stationed at Dr.Chatterji's hotel. On June 21, she was followed from her hotel byIntelligence to the Tribunal's office in Lal Chowk, Srinagar, whereabout 8 personnel have been stationed the entire day questioning anyperson that leaves or enters the office.

The Tribunal is gravely concerned that team members are being singledout for intimidation and harassment by the government - Police,intelligence, and other agencies. As well, Dr. Chatterji was stoppedand intimidated at Immigration while leaving India for the US whereshe is a professor of anthropology, in April after announcing theTribunal, and again on her re-entry in June.

The Tribunal is extremely concerned at the harassment and intimidationdirected at the team and how some of its members are surveilled. Weare concerned that such intimidation and harassment makes furtherdangerous the work of the Tribunal which remains daunting under thebest of circumstances. We remain gravely concerned that suchinterventions stand in the way of the Tribunal carrying out itsresponsibilities to communities affected by the culture of violence in Kashmir.

We hope and expect that the Tribunal will not be harassed, intimidatedor threatened and that its members, as human rights defenders, cancontinue their work. We call on our colleagues and allies to supportus in this crucial process and request that they remain attentive tothe tactics of intimidation and violence in Kashmir.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Dr. Angana P. Chatterji makes her acceptance speech after receiving the IMC's 'Tipu Sultan award for courageously serving India.

Robin Phillips and Omar Khalidi share a laugh before the panel discussion begins.

The husband and wife team of Harpreet Kaur and Manmeet Singh. The duo made the film 'The Widow Colony on the Sikh widows of the 1984 pogrom.

“Raped, raped, raped, raped, raped, raped, raped.”

Film-maker Harpreet Kaur let the words echo through the room seven times even as the audience shifted uncomfortably.

She was driving home the horror of seven rapes experienced by one of the victims of the 1984 pogrom against the Sikhs in Delhi. She doesn’t want people to forget because 24 years later the Sikhs are still awaiting justice.

The lack of justice in India was under the spotlight at the 4th annual conference of the Indian Muslim Council, USA (IMC-USA). Jawad Khan, President of the Chicago chapter says, “IMCs founding members were Muslims and hence the name. But it is for all minorities, not just for Muslims. Our effort is to safeguard (everyone’s) rights.” It was formed in 2002 after the Gujarat genocide and one of its lobbying successes has been being part of a coalition that got the US State Department to revoke Narendra Modi’s visa.

Nearly 450 people gathered at Meadows Club outside Chicago for the conference on the subject ‘The Idea of India: Challenges and Prospects.’ Most people spoke in Urdu, greeting each other with a warm, “Salaam Alaikum.”

The keynote address was delivered late in the evening after 8.30 by Tarun Tejpal, CEO and editor-in-chief of the investigative magazine, Tehelka. He spoke of the need to move away from the “politics of difference and back to the politics of ideas.” He said, “India is a free country and it is incumbent upon us to stand up for our rights and get them, and that is the beauty of the founding principles of this country.” IMC awarded him the Moulana Muhammad Ali Johar Award in Journalism. He received a standing ovation as Zakia Jafri, widow of Ahsan Jafri who was killed in the Gujarat genocide, handed it to him.

The conference, began at mid-day after namaaz with the screening of four short films. All four examined the violence visited upon different minority groups – ‘The Widow Colony’ about Sikh widows of the 1984 killings, a CBS documentary by CNN’s Christian Amanpour on Dalits in Tamil Nadu, ‘Encountered on Saffron Agenda’ a documentary on encounter killings in Gujarat under Narendra Modi and an NDTV documentary on the murderous attack on Christians in Orissa called ‘In the Name of God’.

The films set the tone for the day’s discussion – minority groups are increasingly threatened even as perpetrators of violence are going scot-free.

A panel discussion on “Impunity: A Roadblock to Justice” saw panelists raise several human rights abuses taking place in India. Munaf Zeena, a member of the Muslim Council of Britain had flown in from the UK especially for the conference. He said, “The numbers in Gujarat don’t matter because it shocks the conscience of humanity. Just as Rwanda did, so did Gujarat.” He added, “India is afraid of international accountability for its actions.”

Another panelist, Rahul Deepankar, a doctor and a peace activist, raised the issue of lack of development in India, remarking, “My school today in rural Uttar Pradesh is worse than when I left.” Harpreet Kaur minced no words while reminding the audience of the 1984 killings. She said, “The world’s largest democracy is raping its mothers and brutally butchering its men. How can India call itself a democracy?”

The audience was asked to write down their questions for the panelists which were then read to them by an IMC member. But there was such a flood of paper that most questions went unanswered. Manmeet Singh who co-produced ‘The Widows Colony’ with his wife Harpreet Kaur was asked if the Sikhs had received justice after Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister. To nods of approval from other panelists he said, “Lets create social bonds. Lets not leave Christian issues to Christians, Muslim issues to Muslims and Dalit issues to Dalits.”

After a quick coffee break the second panel discussion began on the topic, ‘Strengthening India’s Secular Democracy.’ Dr. Angana P. Chatterji, a rights activist and professor of social and cultural anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies questioned the very basis of India’s secular experiment saying, “Secularisation has become concomitant with Hinduisation. We need to re-formulate and question the notion of our secularism.” Dr. Chatterji was also given the Tipu Sultan award for courageously serving India. With her right hand placed gently across her heart she appeared genuinely moved in accepting it.

Robin Phillips, executive director of the Advocates for Human Rights, explained the definition of human rights but also took it out of an academic context by asking, “How can we ensure that good people are not silent in the face of human rights violations?” Here she urged her audience to be more attentive in small everyday acts and conversations.

Dr. Omar Khalidi from MIT and Harvard University’s Aga Khan programme for Islamic Architecture echoed Harpreet Kaur’s sentiments by questioning whether India was a democracy at all. He said, “Since 1958, Kashmir and North East India have been under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (which gives them impunity from due processes of law).” He was in agreement with Dr.Angana Chatterji’s assessment of the Hinduisation of society saying, “If you cannot prove that you are Muslim or Christian during a census then you are automatically a Hindu!”

It was a long day at the conference but most people appeared to have found the speakers very engaging. India’s democratic credentials were heavily challenged given that large minority and subaltern groups simply live below justice.


Participants at the walkathon cool off in the grass at Lincoln Park.

Kanta Khipple seated under the shade of a tree as the walkathon started. She is one of the early founders of Apna Ghar. Now in her mid-seventies, she recently started a programme at Apna Ghar for elderly women victims of abuse.

“I have a personal story. When I came to the US 25 years ago, my husband used to abuse me.” But reluctant to discuss anymore, she (name withheld) disappeared into the crowd of blue T-shirts gathered at Lincoln Park.

On a bright and typically windy morning in Chicago, nearly 200 people from different parts of South Asia got together for the “Stride Against Violence.” Most of them wore the event organiser’s blue T-shirts with this message on the back. In its second year, the walkathon and fundraiser was organized by Chicago-based Apna Ghar, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. As honorary event chair, Illinois State Senator Heather Steans also joined the walk along with her husband.

There was a carnival-like atmosphere with lion dancers spicing things up before the walk. After a quick session of stretches the walkers set out at 9.30 on June 8th on a 5 kilometre route, to the sound of drum-beats around the Lincoln Park area.

As the crowd took off, sitting on a chair, under the shade of a tree, Kanta Khipple smiled proudly. “In our culture we don’t speak about domestic violence. We tend to tolerate it,” she recalled. “But today we are preventing drastic abuse.”

Kanta Khipple and Prem Sharma, still with the organization, are part of the original founding five members of Apna Ghar. The idea was developed after Prem Sharma set up an Indo-Crisis hotline in 1984 to answer calls from women in distress. “At the time I had no idea how prevalent domestic violence was. But with our answering service we documented each and every call and found that it was very high,” said Prem Sharma.

They also found that women from South Asia would visit existing shelters but because of difference in language, food and culture, they would leave mainstream American shelter homes in just a few days. To serve all these needs, Apna Ghar was started in 1989.

The walkathon has become an important event in the fundraising calendar of the organization. Apna Ghar’s development director, Sharmila Kana said, “I think we have managed to raise approximately 20,000 to 25,000 dollars from the walkathon.”

After the walk, participants sat around in the grass at Lincoln Park cooling off, snacking and enjoying a lovely summer day. In a tent with a stage the entertainment programmes were rolled out for them. It included tap dancing, bhangra, a lottery and even henna amongst other things. Even a few curious residents of Lincoln Park stopped by briefly to watch.

Close-by in the registration tent the impending rain was providing some clues as gusts of wind kept blowing papers and empty water bottles off the table. As the year’s second fund-raiser was drawing to a close, Rehmah Sufi, a development associate said, “The federal government is cutting social service funding and we are trying to figure out how best to respond to this.”

Prem Sharma remarked, “Right now we are 80% dependent on the government and 20% on funding. We need to change that.”

Apna Ghar offers a range of services to its clients who are distressed women victims of physical, mental, emotional and sexual violence at home. It operates a 24 hour helpline, a shelter home, transitional housing along with a range of rehabilitation services and legal services. It has recently even started taking in elderly women who are victims of neglect. The need for these services has not gone down. Munching a sandwich, Neelam Kacker, the Treasurer said, “It is a bottomless pit and we need help all the time.”

One female participant said after the walk, “I support this cause because I was also once a victim.”

As the day drew to a close, dark clouds appeared over Lincoln Park. When the last thank you was said by compere Sharmila Kana, and the crowd began to leave, almost on cue, the rain suddenly started to come down in big, heavy drops, drawing to a close an event that raised money to help the stigmatized but brave women who left their homes after suffering domestic violence.

Published in India Abroad. in the June 20th, 2008 issue.

Friday, June 06, 2008


“I think blogging is for jobless people,” declared a friend over lunch one day.

It is totally untrue.

I’ve been blogging for three years and have found the experience useful, educative, interesting and even therapeutic. My conclusion therefore is that blogging, quite simply, can be good for you and the world around you. Heres why.

First, it is truly democratizing communication. For instance, celebrity blogs like Aamir Khan’s and Amitabh Bachan’s allow people to directly listen to what they are saying. These actors in turn can be rid of the mainstream media (MSM) hounding them and then misquoting them or editing their words out of context.

Watching the harassment of Aarushi’s family by the media, I thought of how a blog could have solved a couple of things. The family could have communicated with the press, if they wanted to, through a blog and also removed the menace from their doorstep by giving the media the quotes they need to file stories.

Second, blogging has immense untapped potential as a political instrument. What happened in Burma last year bears testimony to it. A young generation of Burmese students witnessed for the first time the violence of the junta. Angry but motivated they ducked into internet cafes to blog about the repression as blood flowed on the streets of Rangoon and other towns. Their pictures and first-hand accounts were picked up by the MSM which immediately internationalized the issue. The junta could not be dislodged but they were forced to allow a UN human rights investigation, something that hasn’t happened in Burma in three years.

One tiny voice can become a loud echo. Imagine if honest government servants begin to anonymously blog about their political bosses. They could name names which the MSM could investigate. The thought is delicious and it’s possible.

Third, blogging can challenge and complement the mainstream media. It challenges the media by acting as a watchdog of the watchdog. It was a blogger who exposed the touch up job of a Reuters photographer. The photographer had added a few extra plumes of smoke to a picture of an Israeli bombing of Beirut in 2006.

Bloggers also exposed CBS and its anchor Dan Rather for failing to authenticate documents used in one of their stories. Quite obviously the media is fallible and here bloggers can complement it. The first pictures of the Indian Ocean tsunami were taken by bloggers. The New York Times was calling bloggers in Chennai and Bangalore to get more information. So if you see something you can do something about it.

Fourth, blogging is actually good for health! It’s not such a wild idea if you think about how sharing a painful experience can lighten your burden. A study published in the Oncologist reported that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt physically and mentally better compared with those who did not. That’s why some hospitals have even started hosting patient-authored blogs on their website.

The reason it’s different from keeping a diary under your pillow is that sympathetic or similar people can connect with you.

And for anyone who thinks it is technologically challenging let me say that if you’ve figured out email you can figure out blogging.

But while blogging can be rewarding its also true that too many people are blogging and too few are making any money off of it. There are 9 million blogs out there and 40,000 new ones are added everyday. Many of these talk about excruciatingly dull things like brushing of teeth and combing of hair.

The credibility of blogs is also a problem. After all anyone can write one and say what they please. The interactivity of blogs is also a double-edged sword. I was so rattled by anonymous hateful comments on my blog that I had to disable the feature.

But a good blog that follows some self-censorship can be deeply satisfying and eventually finds its readers. Blogging is much, much more than a pursuit of the jobless. Best of all, it’s free, it’s easy and it can be empowering. And although there are so many blogs out there a well-written blog behaves like a magnet – it draws readers to it.

Published on

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Keep in mind an old Indian road safety sign while watching the latest Indian television news.

“Speed thrills but kills.”

Yes, speed is killing some of the most basic tenets of journalism on television, such as accuracy and challenging power. Being wrong is pardonable, but being late, absolutely not. Viewers have many choices today, so keeping it fresh draws more immediate benefits than keeping it honest. That’s why Indian television news has competed in one rapid race, but to the bottom. And viewers are insulted.

The double murders in Noida have become a lightning rod for viewer criticism of this trend. The media’s split personality is under scrutiny. It is a crusader, but also a moral leper. It is a watchdog, but also a vulture. It is high-minded, but also hypocritical. And competition, which is normally a good thing for the consumer, is driving such extreme behaviour. Competition has killed critical thinking, so, dear editors, do something about it.

For instance, 24-hour news places immense pressure on reporters and editors. So, if the police make a new statement theorizing about extra-marital affairs or honour killings, it is dutifully reported “as it happens”, since wall-to-wall coverage requires that things move forward. Newsrooms do not debate the merits of a police statement. That responsibility has been abdicated. Besides, there is no time to grapple with such professional and ethical niceties because the competition has already put it on air. It’s up to the viewer to think and evaluate.

But anyone who justifies this blind reporting is making a very self-serving argument. An editor of a Hindi channel recently defended his channel’s actions in the Noida murder coverage as merely “reporting what the police was saying”. Yet, the same channel has also started a parallel investigation by hiring private detectives. Clearly, it doesn’t believe the police, so why report it?

Also, take a closer look at the cast of characters who appear on the screen when there are such stories of investigations into murders, frauds, scams or controversies. Usually, the most vulnerable are on air as in this case — a grieving family and friends. Rarely will you see the policeman or politician involved turn up in a studio for the evening news, open to being grilled.

Jayalalithaa had nearly 44 corruption cases against her. But be sure you’ll never see her in a studio.

The bureaucratic and political establishment has learnt how to game the system by feeding the news machinery with a meaningless and quick sound byte while entering or exiting a building. Yet, you would imagine that if 25 reporters decided they weren’t going to budge till they got an interview, corrupt government servants would eventually have to answer some tough questions. They are duty-bound to. But that seemingly simple option doesn’t happen because of the pressure to produce. The 24-hour hungry beast waits for no one and people such as Jayalalithaa have figured it out. Dodge the media a couple of times and they give up. Grieving families and poor folks don’t know that and are made to believe they are obliged to talk to the press.

There is a sub-culture even among reporters. Better to sink together than stand alone. For instance, to avoid getting into trouble with each others’ editors, reporters may decide to collectively abandon a painful wait for a politician. Dodge-them-and-they-go-home works exceptionally well. Thus, competition has given us some variety but also more of the same.

Who will break this vicious cycle? Who will show the courage to construct a fiercely independent style? Who will endeavour to cultivate an intelligent audience? The decision has to be made at the top and the foot soldiers on the field will follow. Whoever decides that things need to change will show leadership, courage and critical thinking — qualities television news can profit from.

Published in Mint on June 5th 2008.