Saturday, August 17, 2013

Animal attitudes

I find it amazing that cows, dogs and pigs can jointly rummage through garbage bins on streets. With their noses deep in the muck, even I, an animal lover, would call them all filthy. Yet, most of us Indians would worship one animal, spurn/kick the other and shun the third. What makes us call a cow holy though the milk it gives us is produced after it has chewed through the remnants of cellulose in her own waste?  If we see a hog doing the same, we wrinkle our noses in disgust. When a cow strays near our homes, we either feed her or chase her away. Even in our denial, we are reverent. But if we have a pack of stray dogs begging for our attention, then most of us either ignore them or even pick up a stone or two to throw at them. A friend from abroad, on her visit to India, marvelled at the kind of freedom animals in India enjoy. In no country in the West would they be roaming around the streets as freely, even holding up the traffic, she had said. And yet, in a country which is 'so liberal', where its four-legged citizens may make their homes anywhere, our attitudes towards our fellow beings are deeply ingrained with prejudices.   

Friday, August 16, 2013

DADHICHI’S SACRIFICE: Sabarmati

At the same spot on the bank of the River Sabarmati where Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad now stands, there once stood the ashram of the great sage, Dadhichi. 

Once Indra, the king of the devas, was driven out of devaloka (abode of the gods) by an asura named Vritra. The asura possessed a boon because of which he could not be killed by any existing weapon or one made of wood or metal. Indra, who had lost all hope of recovering his kingdom, went to seek the aid of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu told Indra that only the weapon made from the bones of Dadhichi would defeat Vritra. Indra and the devas went to Dadhichi’s ashram on the banks of the River Sabarmati. Though Indra had once beheaded* the sage, He did not shy away from asking for the latter’s aid in defeating Vritra. 

Dadhichi acceded to the devas’ request but said that he wished to go on a pilgrimage to all the holy rivers before he gave up his life. Since Indra did not want to spare any more time, he brought together all the waters of the holy rivers to Naimisharanya, thereby allowing the sage to have his wish fulfilled at once. 

Dadhichi took his holy dips and started his meditation. He had no attachment for his body. He concentrated his mind solely on God. Slowly, he began to concentrate on his breath and finally he became one with the supreme power. Almost immediately wild animals came out of the forest and devoured his flesh and skin. Indra collected his bones and handed them to Vishwakarma, who fashioned a Vajra (a blunt weapon which had the combined features of a sword, a spear and a mace) out of Dadhichi’s spine. Indra killed the asura with the Vajra and once again reclaimed his place as the king of devaloka.

*Dadhichi was the son of the sage, Atharva. Once, Lord Indra had sworn that he would behead anybody who dared to preach Brahmavidya (literally, the science of Brahman or God) to the Ashwinikumaras, the divine twin horsemen. Since the Ashwinikumaras were vaidyas (physicians), Indra looked down upon them. The Ashwinikumaras begged Sage Dadhichi to teach them Brahmavidya. Since it was irreligious to not preach to someone who was really curious and willing to learn, the sage agreed. Knowing of  Indra’s punishment that would be meted out to Dadhichi, the Ashwinikumaras cut off the sage’s head and kept it aside. They fixed a horse’s head onto his torso. Thus the horse-headed sage Dadhichi (hence known as Ashwashira) preached them the Brahmavidya. When Indra came to know about it, he beheaded Dadhichi with his sword. After He had left, the Ashwinikumaras refixed Dadhichi’s own head on to his torso.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Orientation Speech at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication, M S University of Baroda

Once again, I was invited by the Faculty of Journalism and Communication at The  M S University of Baroda to address the new batch of Masters' students during their Orientation Programme. I wanted to get the students to think differently and I hope I've managed a little. I did not follow the order of the speech I had prepared since I wanted to make it an interactive discussion, but I think I covered most of these points:

"I am not going to spout some gyan on the trappings of the media. Instead, let us talk about the people who make the media.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Journalists are like that only. Woh toh aisa hi likhte hain. They will do anything for ‘news’?” What makes us journalists do anything for news? Our deadlines, our tough bosses, our society, or our genetic pool that makes us different from the rest? What do you think? Why do we choose to publish something that other people do not want to read? Do they really not want to read? Many a times you get videos of irritating news anchors on your Facebook wall. How many times have you clicked on the YouTube link just to check them out? Do you remember what he/she was talking about? Of course, you do. There, his/her purpose was served.

Who are the people who work in newspapers, television programmes, films, magazines, book, websites, social media, etc? What do they do? How are they different from each other?

Name some of the journalists/news anchors you know. What do you think of them and their style of presentation or reporting? Who is the best? Who is the most irritating? Who inspires you? Who do you want to emulate? All of you have some conceptions about the people who do a particular job. But are you really qualified to make such judgments? Would you be any different if you had person A, B or C’s job? Maybe. Maybe not.

How many people work in a form of media? Let’s say, film. All of you watch films, right? Now, has any of you waited in the cinema hall for the closing credits to end? You know, when the text scrolls down a black screen with some music in the background. Has any of you tried to count the number of people who are listed in the credits of a film? Nobody? Why should we? Some of you may have watched a movie at least a dozen times in the theatre or on TV/DVD? Do you remember the dialogues and the songs? Yes, of course! Now, do you know the credit list? Not at all. How many times do we read the Acknowledgements' or Credits' page of a book or magazine, or the credits at the end of our favourite TV show? We never even think of all those people who have given us a product — film, TV programme, newspaper, magazine, book or website — that we judge so easily.

When you like a film, do you appreciate the film as a whole or only one character in it? When you like a story/article in the newspaper, do you like it because you like the journalist who has written that report, or the way it has been presented in the paper with pictures and an attractive headline?

The point I am coming to is that media is all about teamwork. There are hundreds of people who work behind the scenes to bring together a package of content that will glue viewers to television screens or grab readers' eyeballs. Take for example the guys who do headlines in the newspapers. Do you know what they are called? How are they different from the journalists who write the reports? Did any of you think that the reporters write their own headlines? How you wish! The guys who actually ‘make pages’, which means edit stories, sort and select pictures, design the pages using softwares such as QuarkXpress or Adobe InDesign, put eye-catching headlines and proof-read the whole newspaper are called sub editors or subs. Did you know of them? No. Do you know their names? No. Why? Because they remain invisible, like the designers and copywriters who create ads. We all love those Amul hoardings. Does anybody know who had drawn the Amul Girl? It was Eustace Fernandez. We remember the girl very well, not the person who made her. That's advertising. It's meant to sell products and services, not the people who create the ideas to sell products and services.

So how are media persons different from people in other jobs? One, they are curious, very curious. In most other jobs, a knowledge of the job is good enough for you to sail through. But if you are in the media, you need to know everything about what's happening all over the world. Now, that's impossible. So you try the next best thing i.e. gain access to information about things happening all over the world in real time. You get it from websites, newspapers, news wires or agencies, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and people sources from different places. You've got to have the curiosity to know and have the ability to build a network of people who will give you the required information when you need it. Two, you need to be creative because you have to stand out. There are hundreds of newspapers in India in many languages. If you want the reader to pick yours, you have to provide content which is designed and packaged well. Hundreds of journalists are invited to a press conference. If you can't make your story different from the guy next to you, then you are simply not good enough. And three, you need to be expressive. Ideas in the head serve no purpose if they are not communicated properly. You may have a fresh perspective of looking at something, but if you cannot put it in the form of words, photographs or pictures, it's of no use. If you do not do it properly, it may be misinterpreted. If you have these three qualities, you will have bright career in the media.

You need to start looking at things in a different light. The next time you watch an anchor on a news channel, think of why the show has been made like that. Why does the person behave in the same manner every night for months? Are you judging the person or the image or the hundreds of people who work at that channel? Think, realize, understand and know better.

They say that you either find a job you like or like the job you get. I'll advise you to try both, for as judgmental you may be, it is difficult to judge yourself."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Chicken in the microwave

A few days ago, I tried cooking Indian-style chicken in the microwave without using any oil and I managed some good results. It's a simple recipe but it sure tastes divine. 


Ingredients:

Curd: 200-250g 
Chicken legs: 4-5 pieces (skinned)
Cinnamon: 1 stick
Green Cardamom: 4-5
Cloves: 4-5
Peppercones: 12-15
Bay leaf: 1
Red chilli powder: 1 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
Ginger garlic paste: 1 tbsp
Salt: Just a few grains
A few Coriander leaves for the garnish


Preparation:
Grind the cinnamon, cardamoms (shelled), cloves, bay leaf and peppercones together to a fine powder. Mix the powdered spices with the curd till they blend well. Add the turmeric, ginger garlic paste, red chilli powder and a few grains of salt and mix well. Use a spoon to marinate each chicken leg with the spice-and-curd paste. Transfer all of it to a glass dish and put it inside the refrigerator for 12-15 hours. The longer it stands, the better it tastes. 

Microwaving:
Take the marinated chicken out and put it in a plastic steamer (the ones you get for making idlis, but you do not need the stands here). Microwave for 15 minutes. (You may choose to add water if you want more gravy.) Once it's done, let it cool inside the steamer for 40-45 minutes. Open, transfer to a serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander leaves. The curd gives it a slight sour taste while the spices pack a punch!