Monday, June 23, 2008

Kumar Ketkar's editorial on Shivaji

This is the piece on the Maharashtra government's decision to install a massive statue of Shivaji off the coast of Mumbai, which sparked an attack on the Loksatta editor, Kumar Ketkar's house. I finally managed to get my hands on the English translation so I decided to post it.

'All the problems have been solved. Now let's build a statue'

It appears that all the problems of Maharashtra have been solved.People are not only happy and contented but are looking forward to a magnificent future. There are no indebted farmers in the state now, nosuicides, no deaths caused by malnutrition. All children go to school,there is no unemployment among the educated as there is tremendousgrowth of industry as well as the knowledge sector and everyone hasbeen employed. There is no question of the unskilled or the uneducatedbeing unemployed because there is no such person. All the rivers andsmall and big dams on them have irrigated most of the land, includingthe drought-prone rainshadow belts. Obviously, there is no foodshortage and, in fact, Maharashtra is surplus in food. There is noload shedding and not only is Nariman Point-Colaba shining but thewhole state is illuminated. Dr Abhay Bang had espoused the cause ofArogya-Swarajya. That cause has already been achieved and the averagelifespan in the state is 100 years.

This great success could not have been achieved without the farsightedleadership, commitment, conviction and vision of the state government.The credit for this goes to Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh andDeputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil. That is why the whole state isapplauding and saluting their leadership. Indeed, that is why thepeople of the state are immensely delighted that the duo that rulesthe state has taken up the grand project of erecting a magnificentstatue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, right in the Arabian Sea,across Nariman Point, about one kilometre away. The government hasdecided that the statue will be taller and more grand than the Statueof Liberty in New York Harbour.

The very idea of such a statue, mooted by the Congress-NCP four yearsago, was welcomed by the whole Marathi people. Such a monument was thenecessity of the hour, to announce to the world that Maharashtra is astate of warriors and patriots and the symbol of that spirit is Shivaji Maharaj. That is why Victoria Terminus was renamed asChhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). Instantly after the renaming,trains began to run on time, crowds could be managed, corruptiondisappeared, the local train journey became comfortable, like in theEuropean suburban railway, and there were no accidents. Could thishave happened without the glory of the name of Shivaji Maharaj thatadorns the station now? Then the state and the people took theinitiative to rename the domestic as well as international airport ofMumbai. Both are now renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj airportterminal. Like a magic wand, the airports became efficient, employeesbegan to behave courteously, flights were punctual, take-offs andlandings perfect, no more hovering in the sky looking for landingspots. Who would have believed this if it had not actually beenexperienced by the people? Was it possible without the miracle calledShivaji Maharaj?

Naturally, the government felt that having solved all the problems ofthe people, what remains to be done is to tell the whole world of thegreatness of Shivaji. The government has decided to have more than oneacre of land inside the sea acquired and filled so as to build themonument, which will attract all global tourists. All facilities willbe given to the tourists. There will be a museum near the statue,artifacts of the 17th century, Shivaji's personal effects, swords andshields and attire. There will also be directives issued by theMaharaj to his administrators on how to govern and make the peoplehappy. Along with the museum, there will be shopping malls, sellingT-shirts with Shivaji's painting. There will be Shivaji key chains,Shivaji gift items, including cutlery.

Of course, there will be no beer bars. So obviously, there will be nodance bars, which the Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil detests so much. There will be perhaps wine, which according to the leader ofNCP, Sharad Pawar, is not alcohol. So wine will be sold and servedalong with Coke and Pepsi and other soft drinks. There will be swadeshi McDonald's as well as vintage Marathi vada-pau, which hasbeen renamed by Uddhav Thackeray as 'Shiv Vada-Pau'. There will alsobe 'pani puri' sold by the MNS activists of Raj Thackeray. No'bhaiyyas' will be allowed to do business, only locals will beengaged.The monument will inspire not only the people of the state but allthose who visit Mumbai.

The globe-trotters will go back to theirrespective countries with the message of Shivaji Maharaj, and theglory of the state called Maharashtra, where every person is happy andcontented. It is the most ideal place on earth and anybody looking fora role model should look at the creation of Vilasrao Deshmukh-R.R.Patil. Did anyone else think of and visualise such a fantastic idea?The monument would be ready soon.

In the year 2010, on May 1, the state will be celebrating its golden jubilee. Could there have been agreater tribute to the image, symbol and glory of Shivaji Maharaj thansuch a statue, standing in the middle of the sea, warning all theterrorists to keep off Mumbai, and to keep away from India because thepeople of Maharashtra protect and promote the idea of a Great India?

The piece originally appeared in Marathi. It has been translated intoEnglish by the writer.

Source: The Indian Express, June 6, 2008

Intelligent journalists...Oh really?

"Even though you are a journalist, you are intelligent," a distant cousin remarked when I had helped her fix a puncture. Though I was sure it was a compliment (quite befitting of my talent), I couldn't heock ovlp expressing my shock. My cousin wasn't in the mood to explain and I didn't want to pursue her.

During my internship with Bombay Times, I had the priviledge (it was indeed an eye-opener), to meet students of the prestigious Lahore University Management Studies (LUMS). I struck a friendship with one of them, Sheikh Aslam - a tall, lanky guy with brown skin and light eyes. Sheikh was intelligent...and he aspired to be a journalist. He was the editor of the premier business schools in-house magazine - "it's a much sought-after post", he'd proudly declared. During the course of our conversation, I told him that I had studied life sciences before switching over to journalism. He said, "No wonder." I asked, "What?" He stated, "You are too intelligent to be a journalist." I was surprised he would make a comment like that. After all, I met him on a journalistic assignment. I asked him for an explanation. He simply said, "You are wasting your brains."

Over the course of my short journalistic career spanning three years, I've been repeatedly told that I'm too intelligent to be a journalist. I once asked my boss if I were a misfit in the media. He said, "Look at your stories. They're really good. You must be doing something right." Now, how's that for encouragement.

But why am I talking about all this right now? Because Vishwas Heathcliff, on his blog, has said that you need intelligence for journalism. Probably Vishwas is caught in a time-warp. Or maybe he should just go on field to actually see for himself, how many intelligent journalists actually make the grade.

I've had TV journos asking me full forms of IO (investigating officer, for the uninitiated), nearly four days after their routine court drills. Better late than never, huh? Then, there was one who couldn't tell the difference between Kangana Ranaut and Shamita Shetty (how?). And though I have my sympathies for those convent-educated literature graduates who become sub-editors and can't understand basic arithmetic such as percentages (that doesn't stop us from using them any way), I am not as grateful to those who believe that 1,500 and 15,000 are equal. I actually had a senior sub-editor reason this one out!

What I find unnerving is that there is more than just enough room for such intelligent journalists to thrive and even flourish. I may perish but they won't, I am sure.

So when Vishwas says, journalism requires intelligence and concentration, I simply don't understand.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cowherds in Baroda

For a city of its size, Baroda aka Vadodara has a very large floating population of cows, as I discovered on my trip to the city, last week. Cows are omnipresent - along the city's roads, lined up along the dividers on the streets and in groups of ten in the tenement areas (you can't call them slums or jhopadpattis) and grazing on the greens. Then there are herds of buffaloes that jostle with modern contraptions such as green-and-yellow autorickshaws that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), Yamahas and Honda Civics. In fact, there are more cows on the streets than there are stray dogs and that makes Baroda curiously 'different' from any other Indian city.

The cattle, I gather comes from the neighbouring 'semi-rural' areas. Herdsmen have been traditionally coming into the city during the monsoon to look for small-time jobs to supplement their incomes. (These jobs have now become the primary source of income during the rains over the last few years as flooding has become a prevalent phenomenon in the low-lying plains around Baroda.) But unlike migrants in other Indian cities who leave their belongings and cattle in their villages, these semi-nomadic herdsmen, prefer to bring their highly-productive cows (and some bulls) into the city. They mark their cattle with stamps or rings (in the cows'nostrils) and leave cows to graze on the greens around the city (even the patches on the road dividers aren't spared). Thankfully, Baroda doesn't have too many open garbage dumps so the cows keep away from plastic junk that can fatally clog their intestines.

At night, the herdsmen, return after their daily-wage jobs, to gather their cows together. If you drive through the city late at night, you see the cows tethered together outside tiny semi-permanent shelters along the city's periphery. Older cows, who can no longer produce milk, are left astray. There are very few slaughterhouses in Baroda and even I am not sure if those that exist slaughter cows in post-Godhra Gujarat.

I find it quite amazing that even in India's most industrial and developed state, there lies a confluence between two entirely different forms of lifestyle - the nomadic and the urban.The move from a semi-nomadic lifestyle to a sheltered urban life may be tempting, but people still prefer to cling to their old way of life, much like the inhabitants of Mumbai's slums.