Thursday, August 30, 2012

Notes on 'Mainland India' and the "unknown" part called 'the North East'.

Authors Note: You may read: Notes on 'Chinky' and this thing called 'racism' (Part-I) - HERE and Part-II: HERE.

In this post, I intend to address a few of the media-created-and-sundry-activists-and-talking-heads-fueled perceptions, since going by their longevity, these are very 'popular' indeed. Here are a few that regularly do the media rounds:

1.   Indians, the new terminology being: 'mainland India' - are unaware of the seven states that make up the "remote" North East (i.e. the North-Eastern parts of the country);

2.  'Mainland India' is hostile or is prejudiced towards 'North East people' (i.e. towards Indians hailing from the North-Eastern parts of the country);

3. Sportspersons hailing from the North-East (NE) are neglected.

4.   'Mainland India' thinks NE women are promiscuous.

5.   Why people from the "unknown" part called the North East feel out of place in 'mainland India'?

Frankly, all of these are incorrect perceptions; but before I begin my latest post in right earnest (and interspersed with wistful nostalgia), let's have a sneak peek at the perception-creators.

They are: failed filmmakers, sleazy-film makers, living-life-king-size journalists, frothing-at-the-mouth anchors, non-authors that are responsible for the deluge of drek in our bookstores, bad book writers that are somehow awarded top international prizes, habitual opinion dispensers, couch experts, apart from sundry other hired voice-boxes, rented pen-pushers and keyboard bashers.

All of the above are hungry for publicity, 'coz that is their route to survival - via remaining in the public eye. Perhaps we can also infer that their relationship with the media is rather symbiotic.

As for the media (read: television) the less said the better. We have undoubtedly come a very long way from those good ol' pre-liberalization days, when news was just news and not audio-visual bombardment.

In the glory days of DD (Doordarshan), everything was in moderation. News meant: no breaking news, no tickers, no cantankerous cacophony ... and no high BP. What we received instead was polished anchors: dignified, elegant and well-turned-out, and they brought to us uncluttered news, in simple English, which made sense even to those who were not very familiar with the language.

Think: Sunit Tandon, Geetanjali Iyer, Rini Simon nee Khanna, Usha Albuquerque, Sukanya Balakrishnan, Sangeeta Bedi, Komal G.B. Singh, Kaveri Mukherji, Neethi Ravindran, Tejeshwar Singh, Bhaskar Bhattacharyya, Shivendra Kundra, Nalin Kohli, et al and their clear diction and delivery?! Awesome, right?

[Here is a slice of nostalgia: LINK.

And here is DD's telecast of the first Indian cosmonaut, Rakesh Sharma's message from space: LINK.]

Known as newsreaders, news presenters or news anchors then, they were all casual staffers, selected primarily for fluency of language and correct diction, but there was emphasis on general knowledge too. They came as news presenters. Those who could cope with change evolved into news anchors. However, all of them were multifaceted personalities involved in theatre, PR, Education or Event Management and the like. What set them apart from the current lot is that, they were NOT a pack of bloodthirsty newshounds; churning out 'news' was not their full-time job. Needless to say, their silvery voices with clear diction left the listeners impressed, so much so that without much media attention or ado, they gained an enduring fan following; their voices are not likely to fade from public memory that easily.

We miss the heydays of DD and the difference between how the news was cast then and now is drastic.

Think Prannoy Roy (of the late 80's) and his widely viewed 'The World This Week' on DD. It was the best news program of all; with its stunning title jingles to the way they presented world stories. Even the international advertisements were refreshing: Cathay Pacific, MasterCard, JCT Fabrics and Gillette. Remember Appan Menon reporting from Golan Heights? There was a time when 'The World This Week' was the only India-based program that looked out at the rest of the world. It propelled Prannoy Roy and NDTV into super-stardom!

Now compare it with Roy's current avatar. You get the drift, don't you?

This is what Sunit Tandon (presently the director-general of IIMC, the Indian Institute of Mass Communication) has to say; "I still prefer my news delivered in an authoritative and calm way, but then, who am I to decide? It seems the majority like sensation. It used to disturb me earlier but a lot less now. The current bunch is very talented. And there is no standard accent, which is acceptable. Even BBC, which used to have a standardized accent, has all kinds of accents these days. Things have changed, and it's all for the better," he smiles.

Tandon is lost in the theatrical shouty sea of Arnabs, Rajdeeps, Sagarikas, Suhasinis and Barkhas. The much-vaunted 'liberalization' has not been kind to the icons of the Doordarshan era. Sadly. [Perhaps the liberalization genie was let loose without proper checks and balances. What do you think?]

Usha Albuquerque (now a Consultant and one of India's best known Career Counsellor) says DD was an excellent launch pad. "We didn't have visuals for every news item, so articulation and diction were very important." Nonetheless, with no competition, DD had all the TRPs to itself.

"Today, with so many channels vying for the same audience, it's not surprising that they have to depend on sensationalizing and blowing things out of proportion," says Albuquerque. "Competition has brought plenty of unsavoury aspects into journalism - unwanted intrusions, judgmental reporting, news anchors who behave like moralists, and news that is also politically motivated."

Albuquerque believes DD had a lot to offer. "We never coloured the news."

"Today, news anchors have to operate in an extremely competitive scenario," says Tandon. "The emphasis of channel owners is on grabbing eyeballs at any cost. There is less emphasis on voice and language skills, balance and journalistic accuracy."

[Do listen to Mr. Tandon's thoughts: LINK.]

News these days is big business, and so, it's a small wonder that it has been turned into a 24/7 monster with a huge appetite; so much so that news has to be actually manufactured and then dispensed at the top of one's voice with all sorts of sound effects, racy visuals, astonishing headlines, jumping anchors and all.

In the game of TRP, Vitamin M is the Emperor. And in order to attract loads and loads of the latter, the humble news has to be jazzed up with spicy content, the spicier the better.

Therefore, uncluttered news, in simple English, which made sense even to those who were not very familiar with the language, was passé. Sadly, for the last decade or so, even DD replaced "bland" news, which has been its signature style for years, with a more "viewer-friendly" format (apparently designed to win back at least some of the viewership, which it lost to others.) To cut to the chase, DD decided to imitate the more 'successful' private channels: a case of "join-'em-if-you- can't-beat-'em" syndrome.

Just who provides all this Vitamin M, meaning: whether it is star-bucks, moon-bucks, dragon-bucks or some other bucks, is not yet known. But given the trends - it's not difficult to decipher, no? [Aside: It's not just Japan or Vietnam that has been hit by 'Radia-tion', if you know what I mean :)]

Not unsurprisingly, the print media too takes a cue (from it's colourful and snazzier audio-visual counterpart) and follows suit, just like the sunflower follows every movement of the sun.

Result: Not only are path-breaking new terminologies like, 'mainland India' coined, but 'intellectually stimulating' debates on 'interesting' topics like:

1. Whether 'Mainland India' is unaware of the "remote" part called the North-East?

2. Whether 'Mainland India' is hostile or prejudiced towards the 'North-East people'?

3. Whether sportspersons hailing from the North-East (NE) are neglected?

... Et al are first conjured up, and then debated full throttle, with an 'appropriate' cast of 'experts' and sundry other professional opinion-dispensers!! [What type, I have already mentioned at the beginning of this post.]

Frankly, all of these sounds like (to my mind at least) repackaged tactics employed by the erstwhile 'East India Company' - that besides discovering new definitions, possibilities and opportunities offered by something as innocuous as trade, also found time to take the principle of 'divide and rule' to hitherto unheard-of heights. [Note: Please do read this paragraph slowly ... and then ponder over it.]

Some sane folks have been saying that the people running the show should be aware of their social responsibilities; that they can be catalysts for positive change, and if that is not happening, something is clearly missing, etc, etc. But then being aware of one's social responsibilities would automatically mean no Vitamin M chappar phaad ke (or at least a drastic fall in it's inflow) and that would in turn result in 'downsizing' (also known as 'rightsizing'.) You get it, don't you?

As for point # 2, i.e. whether 'mainland India' is hostile or prejudiced towards the 'North-East people' ... frankly, this one reminds me of the scene in 'Chak De! India' where the caretaker of the stadium (Sukhlal) asks one of the NE girls, Mary Ralte (Kimi Laldawla) from Mizoram - which country she belongs to. She mentions her state and then turning towards another fellow player, Molly Zimik (Masochon "Chon Chon" Zimik) from Manipur, says - "imagine being treated as a foreigner in your own country?!" - or words to that effect. And then they both ask Sukhlal, how he would feel if he were to be treated as a guest in his own country.

But before anyone amongst you decides to jump into clichéd conclusions or puts on the smug I-told-you-so expression, please remember that in the same film, the girl from Andhra Pradesh, Nethra Reddy, tells Sukhlal that the difference between Telugus and Tamilians is the same as that between Punjabis and Biharis - when he insists on calling her a "Madrasi".

[Note: How North Indians view South Indians? - the assumption that everyone hailing from the south of the Vindya Ranges are "Madrasis". And how South Indians view North Indians? - the assumption that everyone hailing from the north of the Vindya Ranges are ... well, what else but "North Indians"!!]

Umm, in my humble opinion, these (Chak De! India) scenes, rather dialogues very aptly capture or sum us up. By 'us' I mean, 'WE - Indians'. In short: These scenes/dialogues are succinct about the way we think, perceive and treat our motherland, per se.

Why this has happened? Unfortunately, it is a fast culture that is prevalent today (post liberalization, that is.) And though people (including students) have greater access to information through print and electronic media, besides the Internet of course, they prefer to remain content with shallow, incomplete knowledge and information - so long as they are able to find suitable jobs. They do not want to penetrate the depths of subjects, nor are they keen to gather information - for the sake of knowledge. That IS perceived as 'a waste of time'. Yes, you read it right, 'a waste of time'.

Students these days are more focused on their specific subjects, but specialization has made their visions narrow. They are more concerned about collecting information related to their profession/careers etc. Modern day education system has been geared to finding jobs. THE be-all and end-all of education IS to get hold of a good job or career. As for the parents, they are too busy pushing their wards toward professional courses that would (according to them) result in a fat pay packet: i.e. towards medicine, software engineering, management and the like.

Where all this will eventually lead? Well, none have the time to ponder that over. [Since, you see the mall-culture too is an impediment to clear thinking!]

As for sports ... what's that? With apartments and shopping malls coming up on whatever parks and playgrounds we have left, Xbox and video games - have taken the place of outdoor games. Only the thumbs are exercised ... and that's enough. In future, we are all set to scoop up all the gold medals that are available or can be manufactured - in thumb wrestling!!!

Moral of the story: Given our job-induced culture, we do not give any importance to sports, or even to learning about our own country, heritage and history. [Do read my earlier post: 'Our Culture, History and Heritage - Some Thoughts': HERE.]

But since TRP reigns supreme and we are champions in the fine art of kabaddi - the art and science of 'leg-pulling', we have done and are doing what we know and do best. This 'leg-pulling' bit is not playfully ... but more like: bringing someone or something down. As in, bringing down anything that should have been carefully nurtured, fortified and if not, then at least should have been left untouched; like merit, like talent, like excellence, like peace, like harmony, like ... a nation.

Parting shot: Perhaps one is born to be part of the proverbial rat race only; nothing else matters. Perhaps owning tons of Vitamin M, several swanky residences, fancy hot wheels, exotic vacations and being kitted out in Haute couture, patent leather shoes and snazzy wrist-and-eye-wears are far more important than one's motherland. Perhaps copying or parroting some script is the ticket to lucrative book deals. Perhaps playing politics and creating artificial rifts and issues - is THE right thing to do. Perhaps becoming puppets and dancing to the tunes of some or the other neo-East India Company is far more desirable than unprofitable and intangible things like, one's motherland. Who can say?

PS: The 4th point (i.e. whether 'Mainland India' thinks NE women are promiscuous) - I will discuss later. In the next post, lets talk about how things were a couple of decade or so ago. Do stay tuned.

Photograph: Indian Women's Hockey Team after winning the 2002 Commonwealth Games Hockey Final. Pic. courtesy: Link.


  1. NE will prosper and be cared for only when it gets political attention from centre.
    And it will get attention only if had more LS seats.Higher the seats,higher is the importance.

  2. @ BK Chowla: Chowlaji, that’s not the case always. E.g. Uttar Pradesh.

    But I was discussing something completely different; something that needs to be dealt with first.

  3. I remember watching Usha Albequereque (and her Tamilian Thaali!). I loved Neethi Ravindran's English, Oh, nearly everybody's English. Unlike now, the videos were less and there was no need for them to give importance to some portions of the news and shout at the top of their voices. When I read the list of DD news readers, I could visualise nearly everyone, Roshmi. Thank you!

    I remember 'World this week' too. Yes, I still remember how we were admiring Pronoy Roy!

    I remember 'Chak de' scene. That was a good movie.

    Medicine also has taken a back seat. Every household has got only engineers now!

    An Assamese friend of mine, Kavita Saharia writes mostly about North East states. She writes about the people, their cuisine etc. Until I read her articles, I didn't know much about Meghalaya, Manipur, Assam, etc. She gets lots of readers, thank god.

    Very good write up, Roshmi! My son also read now and he always likes your articles. Thank you.

  4. @ Sandhyaji: Thank you once again Sandhyaji :)

    ... And you spelt Pronoy Roy exactly as it should be!

    The newsreaders and news anchors of yore (i.e. from the glory days of DD) – were a class apart. Today we have just the opposite. Sadly. Corporatization of everything is not good and has taken its toll.

    Yes, Chak De! India was a good watch.

    I’ll try to catch your friend’s blog. Should be interesting. There is soooo much to learn … really! And that’s the best part :)

    PS: Good to know your son likes my posts, please say thank you to him on my behalf.

  5. You can see Kavita's name in my right side bar. She has taken some break now. Very nice lady.