Monthly Archives: October 2005

What is “Breaking News”?

I get to see the “Breaking News” banner (With a Red colour background) almost every other day on news channels. In earlier days, this was a rare sight, to see this flashing banner which almost covers half of the entire screen when on display. But now we have a “Breaking News” so often, it seems we are nearing the end of the world or something.

So, this evening I switch on the TV again, and I see the “Breaking News” flash again, and I decide on to hold on to this channel which was “Zee News”.

The news was about the Delhi Bomb blasts that happened yesterday. These were the “Breaking news” feeds:

1. Koi thos saboot ya suraag baramad nahi hua hai
(Police has got almost no evidence/clue till now)

2. bomb blast mein shaayad abc group ka haath, lekin is baat ki pushti nahi
(abc group may be involved in the blasts but it can’t be verified)

3. cyber cafe owners customers ka record rakha karen
(Cyber Cafe owners requested to keep record of the customers)

Most of the points mentioned above were “tentative” in nature. And this was Breaking news.

This news is relevant, yes, but is this “Breaking News”? I thought that phrase was used to tell about events that could shock me. Those events that could leave me stunned. But like many others, Zee News is cheap. Flash the red banners and the channel surfers are bound to go back and take notice.

A few days back we had similar news, a bomb blast and the news presenter was talking with a reporter who was at the site. A brief excerpt of what I heard:

News Presenter: xyz-ji, yeh bomb dhamaka kaafi zabardast tha, ab tak kitne logon ke marne ki aashanka hai wahan par?
( This bomb blast was a big one, how many people have died till now?)

Reporter: ji kaafi log ghayal hue hain, lekin kisi ke marne ki koi khabar nahi hai hamare paas
(Many are injured, but we are not aware of the number of casualties)

News Presenter: aisa kaise ho sakta hai, itna bada dhamaka aur ek bhi aadmi nahi mara? fir bhi aapka andaza kya hoga, kitne log mare hein, kuch to bataiye?
(Such a big blast and none dead? How is it possible? What’s your estimate, how many, do you think, must have died?)

And I wondered. Sitting in his air conditioned room, facing the camera how settled this news presenter was, while he actually hoped that someone had died there at the site. How convenient it was for him to add some more spice to the news. How thick skinned had he become after reporting the bomb blasts and the dead, and how he almost took a certain pride in it while he announced them on national television. How cheap it was, this human life, for him.

More from Rajeev Shukla, the congress MP from the Rajya Sabha, a respected media-man, as he wrote in his column published in yesterday’s Indian Express. Allow me to quote him here:

” Hard news are being sidelined even as peoplelike Kunji Lal, a non-descript astrologer from a remote village are able to take two national news channels hostage for hours. Lal predicted his own death at a precise time last week and our news channels went hysterical; putting all news on hold while relentlessly broadcasting what were deemed to be the last few hours of an otherwise healthy old man. Unfortunately for them, the man proved to be a fraud and lived past his deadline to the channel’s embarrassment”.

What do you say to that? I am so sad I missed that important “news”. I am sure this one was also accompanied by the Red coloured “Breaking News” banner.

Why are we treated with this trash? Or is the average Indian TV viewer too obsessed with the saas-bahu soap dramas that s/he looks for an element of drama even in the news? I do not understand, why would an astrologer’s prediction of his own death be relevant to me? When the police requests the cyber cafe owners to keep records of their customers, why does it become “Breaking News”? Why are the gory details of the dead telecasted live on national television?

Update: In the rare case the above post interested you, please read Alaphia’s post here.


Yesterday was Blog Quake Day. I have been off blogosphere for the past few days and I missed. But it’s never too late to do a right thing.

My request to fellow bloggers is to link and tell about the earthquake and the relief operations. Do every little thing that you can. Link to the sites, spread word, request for donations, anything that you think can help in any way. Mind you, this is much worse than the Tsunami that happened last year.

DesiPundits page on the quake. Uma’s latest post on this. Sujatha’s effort here.

Online donations here. United Nation’s appeal.

More links here


We need more of this

I am not (yet) a fan of Vikram Seth, simply because, and forgive me for this, I have not read his work. But yes, over the years I have seen his books in almost all the bookshops that show some interest in the prose of Indian authors. One of them, “The Suitable Boy”, is the longest novel written by an Indian (The author took a decade to write it) and according the Wikipedia, its the 7th longest novel ever. But frankly, length of any book has never impressed me — infact, to me it is of the least significance.

For Indian writing, two events of prime significance happened earlier this month. Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar the Clown” and Vikram Seth’s “Two Lives” were published. Seth’s new work almost made a silent debut amidst the fanfare Rushdie received.

But now, it appears, with all the interviews that Vikram Seth has given, add to it, his sense of humor and timing, I have a feeling he would end up impressing more people than any Indian author has done so in a long, long time.

The author launched his book in the 5 major cities of India. Starting from Chennai and ending it in Delhi, covering Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai in between. He gave interviews and came up with interesting and funny quotes like “I’m a slow writer and I respect trees” (when asked why he spent six years writing his latest book) and, here is more, “I will pretend to read from the book for a while and you take your photos,” (when asked for a photo session) and the best quote of all, here:

“what is important for a writer is when a reader is gripped by a book and delays his dinner to read a few more pages.”

That is just so true.

I have always believed that reading is something that helps build a better society, it is much more than just a way to ward off boredom. I hope the efforts Vikram Seth undertook will make people get up, take notice and read. We need more authors coming out, talking to people and signing autographs.

We need more of this.

Postscript: If this post interests you, I suggest you to please check out the links above.

Please read

I dug up this from the archives.

In a link that I will soon reveal, Amitava Kumar, in a column written in 1999, asserts that most Indian writers in English, are reporters to the west.

Barring Arundhati Roy, of course.

Now, I hope that you have read Arundhati Roy’s essay “The End of Imagination”.

An excerpt:

The jeering, hooting young men who battered down the Babri Masjid are the same ones whose pictures appeared in the papers in the days that followed the nuclear tests. They were on the streets, celebrating India’s nuclear bomb and simultaneously “condemning Western Culture” by emptying crates of Coke and Pepsi into public drains. I’m a little baffled by their logic: Coke is Western Culture, but the nuclear bomb is an old Indian tradition?

It is not anything else that I wish you read but this. Please take some time out and read it if you still haven’t. See for yourself, what you missed for 7 years.

And here, Amitava Kumar praises Roy’s stance and is also “slightly” critical of her.

If you shall need more matter on this subject, and something less emotional than Roy, please read about this book here.

A quick post

Okay, a couple of things here.

For good writing lovers, check Outlook Magazine’s 10 years: anniversary special.

It has columns by Pankaj Mishra, Tarun Tejpal (of, Sagarika Ghose , Pico iyer, Sham Lal, Khushwant Singh and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to name a few.

And trust me on this, at Rs 15, it’s a steal.


Secondly, for all those lucky souls who have not upgraded their “yahoo messenger” to the new, “yahoo messenger with voice”- please stay away from this new version. It has lots of bugs. To name a few:

1. Sign in, Sign off and then Sign in again- and zap, the application crashes. I have checked this on both WinXP and Windows 2000 machines.

2. Late message delivery. The messages, for some strange reason, are not delivered on time. It takes a while for the message to appear on the other side. It is not because of any firewalls, routers etc because till last month when I was using the old messenger, anything like this never came up.

Now, you might ask how do I know that the messages are sent late.

I talk with my colleagues on Instant messengers all the time, even though they are seated a couple of feet away from me.

Travelling in small-town India

I arrived here in the evening on a train that runs on meter gauge track. It takes almost 8 hours from Indore to reach here. The official time table indicates a little more than 6 hours, but I do not care since my train to Goa arrives past midnight. Whether this train pulls in at 5 PM or at 6:30 PM, I am hardly bothered since I have a lot of time to kill anyway.

I have travelled enough in this long, wide country to conclude that travelling by train in India is an important part of your syllabus if you think of India as a “full term course”. All the theory learned like “The diversity of the land”, “the different dialects in the speech” come to life when you travel in the train, second class. But meter gauge track is different. It’s like specialising in “small town India” and the villages. The usual trains pass by them with speeds of 110 km per hour as if flipping pages of the book and skipping small, not so important chapters. At the small railway platforms of these very same villages, the meter gauge track trains spend hours.

So we start our journey from Indore and pass on, the two of us, my friend $D and me, passing by stations like Mhow, where we have a stop of 45 minutes. A man sells Kachoris in a cardboard box. It is a long journey and food could be a problem so we eat what we get. By early afternoon we reach Kalakand. Everytime that I have passed through this station, I am reminded of the sweet. I am told the village name is Kalakand because it is famous for the sweet with the same name.

Lucky Ali sings “kitni haseen zindagi” in my ears.

The train stops at the slightest excuse it finds. We do not get annoyed, all this was expected. But we observe. We see villagers carrying huge loads of vegetables in the train. One corner of the coach smells of coriander. On the outside of the windows, hooks are attached, one by one. Some of these hooks carry small logs of wood while the rest carry big cans of milk.

We reach Khandwa at 6:15 PM. According to the timetable we should have been here an hour back.

$D’s train is a good 3 hours late so I have company before I catch the train that will take me to Goa at midnight. Our first stop is the railway canteen run by a bespectacled man who seems well educated and a nice person. Dressed in a simple, clean full sleeve shirt and a little stocky. We order tea and in addition, I order bread and omelette. After a journey like this, where there are no big stations and no food stalls, this is a treat. The man behind the counter continues to read his newspaper while his son, probably 10 years old, tries to engage him in conversations. His trials go in vain.

$D is bored. Unlike me, he does not carry a Walkman. Amidst of all the trains that come and go in front of us, he picks out Bangalore-Delhi Karnataka Express and goes in to roam inside the train while it stands on the platform. “The girls are beautiful inside”, he arrives at the conclusion after he comes back with a wide grin. Evidently, the Bangalore-Delhi culture is in full form inside the coaches. That is the only glimpse we see of the metro culture in one of the busiest rail junctions of Central India. I see $D enjoyed his short lived adventure.

The much sought after train to Bhagalpur arrives. $D finally leaves at around 9 PM. This main part of his journey shall take a good 36 hours more. He has a waiting list ticket. That means no guarantee of a seat. I do not have a confirmed seat for the journey either but Deepavali is around the corner and we are going to our homes to celebrate. Nothing else matters to us. Homecoming could not get better than this. That is the biggest joy.

I stay there, on the platform, sitting on a bench while listening to Six Pence None the Richer’s “Kiss me”. I just heard, my train is on time, a quarter past midnight. This train coming from Delhi and going to Ernakulam in Kerala, will go through the Konkan route and drop me home, Madgaon, in the next 24 hours.

The year was 1999. In the next two years that I went home from Indore via Khandwa, things did not change much. The meter gauge train to Khandwa continued to stop at the slightest excuse and continued carrying logs of woods stuck outside the window. The man behind the counter at Khandwa Station’s canteen continued to indulge himself with late evening newspaper reading while I always ordered my favorite Bread and omelette with tea. I looked at him and wondered if he ever recognised me. Don’t know why, but I hoped for that. But I do not think he ever did. And whenever he noticed me for those 3-5 seconds, each time, it appeared as a mere interruption in his evening newspaper reading project.

$D told me, nothing much has changed there, even now.

Things don’t change much in small town India.