Monday, December 31, 2007


The last day of the year…Time to take stock..What was done right..Where I faltered..Do I make new resolutions? Whats the fun is they are anyways going to be broken? But today, at my friend’s place, as we sat lounging about, aimless where to go for a night’s dinner or whether we should first have coffee, another buddy came up with the idea..List out a set of things that we would set out to do..eight things for ’08, the year that’s ahead.. thought it was a pretty good idea, considering that I have never been overly fond of lists..Im the last person who would volunteer to make a list, except maybe my grocery shopping, and there too the list is made coz it’s a pain to have to call the supermarket and order the 20 things I actually wanted and not the 50 others I went and picked up…. So there I was making my list, and I forgot to add…these were things that once written, went into a little box at this friend’s place..where it was to remain till the end of the year, when on the New Years Eve, it would be dutifully fished out and then we would do a post mortem of the year that had passed…the idea was that we would have a yardstick to measure the ‘fruitfulness’ of the year..See, like for this year, without yardsticks, the fruitfulness would depend on the mood…if im my usual self, then the year was quite successful otherwise I have my pet, Haves and Havesnot debate to rekindle… So there we were, with our chits of paper and pens…three of us..charting our year ahead…and like always, I tried to chart out realistic goals..or what I think are realistic… Hmm..let me see if just hours later I can remember them… One thing I know for sure, I never made it to the magic 8 figure…the others managed it quite easily…while suddenly in my rather ‘dissatisfied’ life, I had very few burning desires to achieve or even things to alter… Ok, now to the list I want to start painting again..for these days, im plagued by the insecurity that by the time I put brush on canvas, I would have forgotten to paint..or even mix colours to get the right shade…Hmmmm…eminently desirable I want to keep blogging…cant miss out on my only avenue to editorialise, can I? I want to be able to take out time for myself…( means I want to put my foot down and say boss, I work when I work, but I want time off to ‘stand and stare’ like Davies said? I want to meet my parents more often…Ma is always upset that I don’t have time for her…on my priority list.. I want to take atleast one good holiday…hmm..thats something I have been planning for a while, have never gotten around to it… And there was a sixth wish too, which I have already forgotten…And now it remains on that chit of paper, I have signed and sealed and left in that little box till the end of 2008… Hmmm..memory is failing…age is catching up…Not good signs..But the problem is I cant add more wishes to it…Times up…2007 is up too…Whatever I want to undo or change, times gone…No way to get it back..So much for the thought that live life without regrets.. But every year, there are two lines that give me immense strength.. And Im sure Im not the only one to be inspired by Robert Frost… “ Woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep… And miles to go before I sleep..”

Saturday, December 29, 2007


If you have just a day to relax and then have to get back into the grind while around you the world is working out creative ways to spend a New Year weekend…well.. isn’t that enough to get acquainted with depression? Now that’s a rather strong word…so let me say holiday blues…. When we were kids we were taught about the ant and the grasshopper and how that the ant made merry in winters while the grasshopper had to brave it out in the chill hoping for some succour, because he had never done a day’s work to deserve a cozy and happy holiday time… My problem today is that I don’t know whether I am the ant or the grasshopper….I have slaved all summer, so that makes me an ant, but I’m still slaving through the winter too, so that should make me a grasshopper too, right? If it were a fair world that would mean that since I have slaved like the ant, I get to enjoy like the ant too? But no, the present is all about smart working…In summers too, if you learnt how to play the fiddle like the grasshopper, and then you cleverly managed your time and slaved a bit on the side like an ant, then you get invited to all the holiday time cheer and parties and fun, because you are the only one who can play the fiddle, coz the rest of the ants, never spent time learning to play the fiddle…so u become the glamourous grasshopper which is called to every do, so you don’t end up being cold or miserable on the harsh winter day….But you forgot one clause, Id written earlier…You have slaved a bit on the side like an ant too…So what about that? Well, that’s called smart portrayal of your image…On your social networking page, your personal profile should be that of a grasshopper, but your professional page better say you are an ant..For this world is not really kind on slaggers…. Ok, now..I think im an ant…I have the attitude of a grasshopper, but the compulsions of an ant, so I continue to slave….through the holiday weekend, through Christmas and New Year… So here I am, just two days to go to the dawn of the New Year, and Im wondering how to maximize my one day off…A late start to the day…not bad…but an empty kitchen…not so good…tv channels are boring, but wait…there it is…my best solution..a soppy romance that warms up even your frozen toes…So there im in my sweatshirt and pajamas..lapping up ‘A lot like love’ that stretches over nearly 7 years and LA and San Fransisco and coincidences and right timing that never started out as right...Now did that come out sounding right? Hmmm….Ahhh, its bliss, because simultaneously Im trying to figure out who the Ashton Kutcher in my life could be…Hmm…theres noting like a romance to warm up the heart and make you feel younger…Why men have such an allergy to romance flicks…Considering that in real life, many do end up doing all this and more to woo their women…then why do they get upset about the prospect of watching it on celluloid? Is that because they are not happy to do all that they do, to woo the woman, but have to do it coz that how the world is? That could be it, for what other explanation is there for women to complain that all that he was to me before marriage vapourised the day he put a ring on my finger? My wisdom for the day is all it takes to unknot the kinks in life is to just see romance unfold on film..Your brain is fresher, your heart beats faster, there is a smile on your face, and life seems in pastel shades…Ahhhh, bliss…. Ok…theres the calling bell going off…time to get back to reality…hear the irritating din made by carpenters in the apartment next door…look at the neatly spreading film of dust on the dining table and procrastinate on when to pick up the dust cloth and make the glass shine…And then theres the cooking to do…and my cupboard to be cleaned.. Ok, back to reality…But it was good, while it lasted…

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Benazir Bhutto was shot dead today...Shot in the neck and chest as she was getting into the car..We were formulating our strategy on how to make our coverage of the Himachal Pradesh election results extensive when news of a bomb blast at Benazir Bhutto's political rally was first broken on our tickers... Within half hour we were told Benazir was injured...the jaded journalists in us including yours truly, immediately ruled that Benazir would have gotten herself admitted at the hospital to earn a couple more of political brownie points that would help her mount a stronger challenge in the upcoming General Elections there...after all, she was campaigning for democracy at this rally in Rawalpindi too... But our jaws dropped when Pakistani channel ARY flashed that Benazir Bhutto had succumbed to her injuries....The next two hours went in a flurry of activity...the news room buzzed...wire copy was converted to scripts, reactions from all across the world sought, collated and put on air...old footage was taken out of the library...No one had anticipated such an end to Benazir...No one was prepared.....Adrenaline kept us rolling...and then endless amounts of coffee... It was like a personal brush with death, after all we had lived her happiness with her, as she stepped back on the soil of pakistan after her self imposed exile for over seven years, dressed in the colours of Pakistan...a striking woman who within a day of surviving an attempt on her life during the rally marking her return, had started her crusade against Musharraf....We had reported on how she was seen to have been growing soft on the dictatorship in Pakistan, thanks to a personal pact with Musharraf...But then we changed tracks and gave her credit for redeeming herself in the eyes of Pakistanis by denouncing the emergency...and vowing to fight Musharraf all the way... Even as the emotional reaction to assassination started to subside, there were voices heard in the news room, rationalists who were already talking about how astrologers had predicted that she might not survive till February...Another point to astrological predictions, the argment continued.... Someone said she was a corrupt lady...corrupt to the core...But did that matter at this juncture? She was no more...For her kids, she was just a mother...she was not a corrupt administrator..The visuals of grief among her party members and then at her home in Dubai spoke of personal bonds forged over the span of 54 years... That kind of grief isnt crafted, right? But there too there were doubts...Perhaps a different kind of blood ran in the veins of politicians? She had after all publically said many times that her life was constantly under threat, that her children were prepared to hear about their mother's death...Can children be that prepared? Or are politician's children different? They are my musings...I feel bad...No human being, however corrupt deserves such a cruel end...No life should end this way...Not even a chance to give her youngest daughter a parting reassure her that her mother will be there with her in spirit atleast... As each interview of hers is played out across different channels, the images linger...a young gawky Benazir, by her father's side...a her husbands side...with her children... Terror won....Whoever hatched the conspiracy...the world a leader with charisma...three children lost their mother...Its a loss...Death leaves a chill behind...a desperate need to take stock of life....before Time ran out...


I knew my requiem for the tsunami victims would be the only time I would have …to revisit a tragedy that I saw laid bare before my eyes… TV channels across the country flashed the images of the tsunami then and went for an annual stocktaking, that sometimes…no, more often than not seems like a desperate attempt to latch on to something easily commercially exploitable….

I know it isn’t realistically possible to follow-up on every tear jerking story that we as journalists had scourged for from the disasters we have covered…Like they say, the golden rule is to look for a human face to a tragedy, to any story… If for many the tsunami was in its essence captured in Arko Dutta’s award winning picture of the anguish of a woman…the bomb blasts of July 2006 in Mumbai, yet another tragedy that I witnessed had a rather good looking young man with long curly locks looking dazedly into the cameras while blood continued to streak down his head… I also know one Kirti Ajmera, a man who was a walking corpse literally, with blood all across him as he bore the brunt of the bomb that ripped through the Bombay Stock Exchange in 1993, one of the many bombs that gave Mumbai, its first big brush with terror… They are forgotten in the hustle bustle of our daily lives..

But on the anniversary of every tragedy, we launch a massive hunt for those very human faces who made our story the top headline of the day….or the coverstory on newsprint…. Old scripts are dusted…search engines activated…vague keywords punched in…and the moment the results are spewed out, the telephones are activated… For those who lost a loved one, or who lost themselves in that tragedy, it’s a time to revisit their old wounds….pick at the scabs and grieve anew…

For in a country like India, tragedies are soon put behind, and normalcy restored at the earliest…We forget the dead…We forget the terror…What more telling imagery can there be than the fact that, on the 12 July 2006, a day after over 180 people lost their lives in serial bomb blasts across the city, many people dared to travel on those very trains, in those very compartments, with no surety that today, its not going to be their life on the line…

I want to know what happened to four year old Soumya who we had discovered in an orphanage run by Missionaries of Charity in Velankanni…a sweet little child orphaned by the tsunami, who the nuns there thought was from Mumbai…Her incoherent mumblings gave them that idea…That was till she met my cameraman, whose questions in kannada let out a torrent…perhaps, even the young child would have felt a gush of relief , at finally, finding an adult who understood what she was trying to say….We managed to locate her address on the outskirts of Bangalore, we even sent a crew there, only to know that the entire colony had set out on a pilgrimage and this child was perhaps the only one who survived the tsunami while attending Mass at the Velankanni Church.. For two days, my story made headlines on our channel, I felt, I had done my bit by bringing the story of this orphaned child to India…Then I moved on and so did the country…But Im sure, Soumya found it difficult to start anew…I wish I knew where her story stands today…For me too, its like an annual cleansing ritual…

Through the years, I have honestly never thought back about the little child, I said bye to at the orphanage, just under three years ago… But somehow today, theres guilt in my heart, that I never followed up on what happened to that child..Should I hope that it is this very guilt that makes media houses, television and newspapers alike seek out the men, women and children who had epitomized the tragedy to them? I hope that’s the truth…But I know it isn’t…Today, the channel I work for now, didn’t even think it necessary to put together a story on the third anniversary…Perhaps, because there are no personal memories attached to the tsunami…We after all launched over a year after the tsunami….

Or is it because, India would rather put its tragedies far behind and continue to forge ahead? Is that why the Tsunami’s aftermath was never a headline, all we wanted to know was how Anil Kumble’s men have the racist Aussies by their scruff, tottering at 330 odd for nine wickets at the end of day one of the Boxing Day Test in Australia…Or even more salaciously, if former Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh is indeed in love with a woman whom his detractors claim is an ISI agent…a new Pakistani Mata Hari luring an ageing stud politician? The woman is a gorgeous 50something journalist from across the border…and the man is an ex-Chief Minister who has power, money and the connections to make him a force to reckon with….the heady cocktail mix to trip the TRPs just right…

Well when you have ditsy slugs like Amarinder’s Muse and the Love Life of a Politician…who cares about Orphan Soumya of the Asian tsunami? Shes not even worth a mention in a news wrap…..

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Its three years to that fateful Sunday morning….one that started unlike many others for me…Considering that I was tracking a rather controversial case, and had been, just for that sake, camping in Kancheepuram, for nearly a month then…the Kanchi Shankaracharya case…Just as I was thinking about tucking into some breakfast, I saw our driver, rush in, anxious…His parents were uncontactable, and there were news flashes on a local Tamil channel that high waves, some over two storeys had crashed against buildings along the Marina beach side… Was it a rumour or a false scare? The TV was turned on..and the anchor looked unsure…Bad sign, for that meant he hadn’t encountered a situation like this before..and he was going on and on, in that rather excited tones which becomes rather difficult to control when information is constantly filtering into your ears from your producer, so even as you are talking you need to be formulating it into coherent sentences for your audience…I switched on to national channels and they hadn’t latched on yet….10 minutes of flicking channels…and the first bit of information filters into the tickers…BREAKING NEWS…Earthquake off the coast of Sumatra…epicenter near Banda Aceh.. Huge waves reported to be formed as a result….. In another half hour, it has been identified as a Tsunami…just like the ones, we read about in geography textbooks, that is said to be the bane of Japan….But tsunamis aren’t anything to be scared of, are they? The mind questioned…and then started reports of people gone missing in Chennai… Alarm bells are by now ringing like fire engine horns in my head….Reporters are already on air, speaking excitedly about water entering first floor and some ‘exaggeratedly’ about second floors of building by the beaches…… My first brush with the deadly Asian tsunami that wiped away lakhs and lakhs of people in just under 5 minutes….A watery grave for many, some just disappeared off the face of the earth…poooof…. Theres a question that worries me till this date… When I was reporting on the tsunami, and I was traveling to Nagapattinam and Velankanni, had seen families fleeing inland…away from the seas which had turned on them…And just a couple of days later, I also saw huge mass graves being dug in a small corner of the earth and bodies, randomly dumped into them…brought in trucks and pushcarts and jeeps, barely covered, and just DUMPED into those graves…not even photographed.. Who were they? What were they doing when the waters just pounded the life out of them? Did they have time to panic? But that’s not the question that keeps coming back to me on every anniversary... Did anyone come back for these people, did anyone try to locate them? If they did, would they have known that their loved one lies buried in that non-descript patch of land far off the beaten path between Nagapattinam and Velankanni? I have never got a chance to go back there and check if the Church put up some epitaph…like a mass gravestone there…Some evidence that here lies buried many hearts, unknown, unsung…

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Theres something to be said about being without no options at all, that you start inventing new things to keep yourself busy… Just yesterday, I walked into a party , feeling miserable and down, only to realize that I was much better off than many around…We seem to be a generation of the walking wounded…We eat, breathe, live a life of little care, but is that truly so? At the risk of sounding melodramatic, is it true that misery draws all those miserable together? Maybe it does, because all my friends are lonely like I am…they are miserable, some even more than I am…so whats the point? The funniest part is none of us seem to be in any hurry to put things right…Is that because we feel age cant catch upon us? Is it because we feel we still have a good many years before the pressure of living in an exacting society will take its toll on us.. These phrases that the thirties is the new twenties….that you are just starting your life when you reach your thirties…Well, ask a conformist…a person who has lived their life so far, exactly according to what the norms have dictated…Studied till the age that the average guy studies, got a respectable job, not the best mind you, one that might not find him a mention anywhere else but in the conversations of a doting parent, and then, like the true darling of his parents marries and then has kids and devotes the rest of his life to bring them up…He will rubbish it as bollocks….atleast he will have a valid reason….arent we brought up to think thats normal right? So which means those who think the thirties is the new twenties are people in a minority…people who find they can express themselves better, people who have the resources to do it too, but they are in fact people who have missed the bus, willingly or otherwise…People who say they are happy to fight the world, but in their true honest moments, they seem themselves as Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, making ogres out of harmless buildings, living out a wholesome life in their imagination…never managing to make illusion meet reality….thats the tragedy… So wheres the conversation heading…I think it should head towards a debate between the haves and havesnots…like they say you have a husband, you have the kids, you have the acceptance of people around you of leading a truly stellar life…What do the havesnots have in contrast…well, they have the independence, the carefree life sans responsibilities….the freedom to be impulsive and then to take leaps of faith…So which is the rosier picture? Somedays, the trade off seems to be a devil’s bargain…