Recently, there has been a lot of talk around the politicization of terror. But the same people who seem to find the politicization of terror an abominable sin, have been indulging in the commercialization of terror.
Let us look at the Indian media. First it ensured minute by minute coverage of the terror attacks, while putting its own journalists in the line of fire. While these media personnel were busy condemning politicians for visiting the terror sites, they forgot that journalists themselves were distracting security agencies from their jobs. A part of the security forces had to be deployed to ensure that overzealous journalists don’t get themselves killed. But each of them egged their correspondents on. And why not, it’s all about TRPs. If one channel doesn’t, someone else will. After all, such attacks don’t take place everyday.
And the live footage was easily revealing every commando movement, every action of the NSG. Thus the terrorists could easily have stayed forewarned, and prepare for what was coming at them. Makes you seriously doubt, whose side was the media on?
I remember 9/11 coverage by the American media. Many channels had refused to make money out of the tragedy, with a self imposed moratorium of 2 days on commercial advertisements. Only public service ads were displayed during breaks. No such moratoriums by the Indian media. Every penny that could be made was to be made.
To add to this, the soundbyte hungry media didn’t even have any pity on the rescued hostages. Every rescued survivor had a mike thrust in his face, for a description of his ordeal. The ubiquitous “How do you feel” (or “Aap kaisa mehsoos kar rahe hain”) was thrown at every individual willing to speak up. Those who wouldn’t respond were literally chased by the media. Even the great Barkha Dutt – the defining femme fatale of Indian journalism, was party to it, chasing down traumatized foreigners to the rescue vehicles.
Despite such profound examples of sheer stupidity/ greed, what disgusted me the most about the media is that it kept patting itself on the back on completion of the commando operation. There were so many channels congratulating themselves for displaying exclusive footage. Others were happy that they brought to us uninterrupted coverage of the death and gore of the terror attacks. Still others celebrated their journalists, who risked their lives. (else their jobs might have been at risk)
And to top it all, the Indian media wants to take up the leadership in bringing about security, and punishing the failed political leadership. Every Newspaper/ news channel worth its salt has created a marketing gimmick to connect itself with public anger. Times group has its “Mumbai Cares” and “Guts before glory” programs as CRM tools, while DNA has its “Eyes and Ears of Mumbai”. Aaj Tak has its “Aatank ke Khilaaf Ailan-e-Jung”. The list is endless. Each has their premium SMS service to which you can send a message; so that they can now monetize your anger.
It is high time we start seeing through the gimmicks of the media, through the fake concern for the Indian people. Just like any other business, profits are their sole objective even if it means exploiting our emotions. For long enough, the media has hijacked the voice of the nation, its time to reclaim our voice from them.
Here’s a term that has been much abused - the spirit of Mumbai. Once again there are terror attacks on Mumbai, and once again, you can expect the term to be thrown around aplenty. The media and the politician will no doubt be looking to salute the spirit of Mumbai. So what is the spirit of Mumbai?
The way it has been used after each terror attack just goes on to convince me that the spirit of Mumbai is a red herring. Coined by politicians and popularized by the media, it is a term used to distract people from the failings of the government to deal with government passivity to terror. Every time I see any politician cornered in a debate over the failure of the government, he will change the topic to appreciate the spirit of Mumbai, earning audience applause in the process. It has become an easy way to get out of tight corners for the nincompoop politico. Of course, the spirit is no myth. Most offices (expect those in vicinity of the terror attack, like mine) conducted business as usual on Thursday and Friday. There was 100% attendance in most offices, trains were as crowded during peak hours.
Though schools and colleges were closed, most coaching classes and private tuitions continued to be run as per schedules. Though people may have avoided getting out of their houses unnecessarily, one could still find hawkers in the street, most shops open. A remarkable feat, considering paramilitary and military forces were fighting with terrorists in a part of the city.
Part of this spirit though is borne out of sheer necessity. Mumbai is an extremely competitive business minded city. If I don’t reach office, someone else will. My place on the road maybe taken up by another hawker, if I don’t turn up. If my shop has its shutters down, my customer will turn to the shop next door. Terror is no excuse for not working, for not performing. This city IS the business capital of India, and the business must go on. Only cricketers and politicians have the luxury of chickening out, of not doing their jobs.
My request to every Mumbaikar is this: Yes, we are spirited. Yes we will continue to live like we have, terror or no terror. We will not be afraid of attacks. But let us not allow the politicians and the media to exploit our spirit. I request everyone that every time you hear the mention of the term ‘spirit of Mumbai’ look for ulterior motives. Look at if the person mentioning it is using it to divert our attention. Do not let applause to our spirit calm the sense of outrage, the anger within us. Stay angry. Ensure that terror is an election issue, for nothing else but votes matter to the politician. Enough is enough, we Mumbaikars need to draw the line. We will not be afraid of terror, but we will also hold our politicians accountable for it.
(As an effort to revive my blog, this is the first part of a multi part series on things that connect us as Indians, a common thread running through us. I am not sure how frequently will I be able to update the series, how many parts will there be to this series, or even if there will be a next part. I very well realize that I run the risk of stereotyping Indians, but it is a part of an introspection process. The idea is borrowed from Zhu’s blog, who is writing a series on Canadians.
It would be the most obvious thing to say that we are such a diverse country. Some say there are 2 Indias, many go on to say there are too many Indias to count. And yet, we have not just survived 60 years as a nation, but we have whole-heartedly embraced the Indian identity, despite our differences, be they religious, linguistic, social or any of the many parameters that lead to the diversity of the nation. So what is it that forms an Indian within us? What is it that generates uniform sentiments amongst most of us, if not all of us? In this series, I will try my level best to answer these questions. Criticisms, ideas, opinions are all welcome)
Based on the above background, it would be anyone’s guess that my first article should be dedicated to cricket.
Yes, Cricket! The topic on which every Indian has an opinion on, must have played some time in his life and thinks he can do a better job than the captain/coach leading the men in blue on the field. Hockey may be our official national sport, but to borrow from Pepsi, there is nothing official about cricket. If there is a cricket match, you can bet what the topic of conversation for the next few days is going to be. Cricket pervades through coffee tables, dinner conversations, roadsides, class rooms, tea-shacks, i.e. the works. If there is a TV in the open anywhere in the neighborhood, you can be sure that there will be a small crowd around it. Cricket is a universal ice-breaker in India, and people who have just met become close friends just based on cricket conversations.
Cricket is an import from England, but the sport has been truly Indianised. The Brits watch cricket with gentlemanly grace, Australians and South Africans with a can of beer, the West Indians with a touch of Calypso, but Indians watch it with passionate fervor, with devotion to the game. The Indian cricket team may not be the best in the world (except for the shortest version of the game), but I am sure every team would love to have supporters like the Indian cricket fans.
Cricket is played across the country, from east to west and north to south. Gully cricket is an important part of formative years of any kid in India. It doesn’t matter if you have the equipment or not, you can play cricket anywhere. The bat may take the form of a flat piece of wood, Thaapi (a washing instrument) from the wash room or just a hard cover book. Any kind of ball will do, and if it’s not there, a rolled up piece of paper or a small, rounded stone serves the purpose. Any place is good enough to serve as the cricket pitch, be it an open ground, the staircase, the road or even classrooms during the recess. Your skill level is also no restriction for playing cricket, although being good certainly provides its own bragging rights.
But bragging rights aren’t limited to playing the sport. Your knowledge of the sport is as important. Most Indians are arm-chair cricketers, who love to talk cricket. At such times, being able to throw in obscure cricket facts, pulling out player statistics and talking of on-field incidents can make you very popular. But be careful not to bluff, as it is very easy to get caught, given the mania surrounding the game. And that would be very embarrassing.
Indian cricketers have demi-god status in India, and are the richest cricketers in the world. Fan support remains unparalleled in the cricket world and can rival any other sport. The Indian cricketers earn more from product endorsement than from playing the sports. However, this fan support has curtailed their public life severely, as Indian cricketers can’t be seen in public, as they carry the risk of being mobbed. However, the ire of fans is as passionate as their support. The average cricket fan takes defeat and non-performance very seriously. Even Sachin was booed in his home ground following India’s disgraceful exit from the World Cup. Past greats have faced the same fate, with both Gavaskar and Kapil facing questions on their role in the team towards the end of their careers. Sachin and Saurav have just managed to silence critics asking for their retirement.
There are critics of the sport in India. Most of them consider it a waste of time, considering the length of a game. Others are just put off by the hype surrounding the game. Many accuse cricket of ruining the development of other sports in India. Still others aren’t able to digest the home team’s inconsistent performances. However, even the critics find it hard to ignore cricket, and you shouldn’t really be surprised if you find a critic as ardently following cricket.
Cricket has gone beyond the status of sport in India, and has often been referred to as a religion in India. However the passion for the sport is limited to international matches. Only recently has there been any interest in local leagues, which is essential for the development of the sports, as well as cricket retaining its status in India. I hope the interest continues, as cricket continues its status as the unofficial sport of India.