Tuesday 30 June 2015

'No Boring Babu'; Outlook's Irresponsible Journalism

Exactly a day after the world witnessed the humongous response to #SelfieWithDaughter, seemingly joining hands to support daughters in particular and promote gender equality in general, I read this piece in Outlook India’s Deep Throat Column, by a female journalist. Read:

No Boring Babu

The portfolio of a junior bureaucrat, who is posted in the Telan­gana CM’s office, is a mystery. She used to be posted in a district earlier. But things changed all of a sudden after the elections. The lady is present at every meeting and seen in almost every official photograph sent out by the CMO. But what she does exa­ctly is a puzzle. She makes a fas­h­ion sta­tement with her lovely saris and serves as “eye candy” at meetings, admit leading party politicians. In fact, it’s this burea­ucrat who calls up other officials in the CMO and asks them to come for meetings. She knows exactly what time the CM will arrive and leave the office. The lovely lady, known for her ethnic style, recen­tly stunned all by appearing in a trendy trouser and frilly top at a fashion show. And for once, she wasn’t sitting in an official meeting. But this appearance too made for a great photo op.

It also carried a cartoon, which was later removed.

Do you too think this is troubling, sexist and full of insinuations? Made more shocking by the fact that it is Outlook India printing this? (Alas! Like fools we cling to the hope that some reputed media houses are free from the scum of sensationalism.) 

The young IAS officer under question, Smita Sabharwal, had qualified in the UPSC exams with an AIR 4 back in 2001. (Yes, that means she’s been in service for 14 long years, something that the journalist would not have called ‘junior’ if it was her own profession being talked about.) Presently she is Additional Secretary to the CM of Telangana, Hyderabad. Over 2.5 years the district she was collector of, before coming to the CMO’s office, saw visible changes for the better. Residents of Medak and Karimnagar swear by her honesty, her dedication and her work. They responded to this piece of irresponsible journalism by talking about programs and processes she initiated and executed. 

Thank god for that. Else, I may have lapped up Deep Throat’s journalistic innuendos verbatim over dinner tonight, creating my very own version of this soap-y "truth"!

Which, actually, is a habit we as people are coming to enjoy; that of swallowing-without-chewing news which at best is half-concocted and at its worst fully false and even defamatory. Three humour pieces, 30 status updates and 300 tweets on any issue of socio-political import are created and shared only by looking at the breaking headlines. Who has time to wait for the real news to come in, which, when it does after a few days of replayed tamasha on TV, is something no one is interested in? Of course we need the press. But it’s time we asked ourselves - Are we giving the media too much importance? Are we laying at their feet the thinking caps we were all born with? And, are we killing with it our ability to critically examine, argue and really draw out a thought-process instead of hammering on tables because apparently the ‘nation wants to know’ and it’s always comfortable to take a #tag’s side? 

The nation does want to know. It should. But from whom? Now that is a question. 

What is the nation if not the people who inhabit it? That’s another question. Look at the language contained in the few lines of this article. By a woman, for a woman, sans proof, sans responsibility but with an over-dose of sly insinuations. (If the journalist was playing Taboo and was not to use the word ‘slut’, she’d had won with flying colours!) It isn’t Smita making for a ‘great photo-op’. It’s the ignoble parade of most media houses which slut-shame even as they try to be pillars for exposing unfairness and injustice. It disturbs me that educated professionals from a sex we’re trying to uplift have no qualms deconstructing clothes and provoking lines of thought based on invented reasons. Would this have occupied news space if this Additional Secretary was a man? The journalist didn’t feel the need to do her ground work before talking about another woman. All she needed to do was ask politicians about this ‘not boring’ “eye candy” and create mystery around a woman who ‘knows exactly what time the CM will arrive and leave office’. And it gets published! 

What role is journalism playing here, really?

I do wonder why this surprises me and angers me still - this gall, this utter lack of respect towards public servants, for instance, and a fellow human being at large. If it isn’t already fashionable to misread, mock and malign them with each passing prime time, it will be. Just like it is already in vogue to find the easiest scapegoat, the government, to disown our responsibilities as citizens . Please tell me how we as a collective seeking services motivate the ones who are working up good in the yellow corridors? By playing with their dignity, with as much liberty as we use to make police uniforms dance to item numbers in movies? Does few-and-far-between mean naught when it comes to good officers? 

And if it’s their job to serve you, pray, what is yours?   

I don't know Smita and know not how this story will unfold, but at a larger level I do know that no matter how many like her, #DespiteBeingAWoman, work their years away in public service, popular journalism will read and look like exactly this above. Because as a nation what we don’t want to know is where we as people are responsible, or even where we are being irresponsibly spoon-fed tasteless food 24X7. 

Our taste-buds have been that dumbed down, and our antennae for Trending News always on alert. Not a good combination, don't you think? 

Tuesday 16 June 2015

For a long and happy life

Exide Life Insurance has come out with this lovely video recently. In this short and sweet TVC we see how the husband celebrates a happy today because he's planned his future well, and well-in-advance too. A hand-made book titled ‘Our Long and Happy Life’ is used by him to show his wife the various “financial phases” that form a part of their life as a couple – from a new car, their own home and a world tour to kids and even a peaceful retirement. When his wife asks him ‘What about our today?’ we see he has it taken care of too. 

My Money Book, for a Long and Happy Life

The scrap book from the video has been given a real face by Exide Life Insurance, as a part of this campaign which aims to encourage and then help people prepare financially; a well-planned life for a beautiful tomorrow.

My Money Book’ has been conceptualized and designed to help people in planning, organizing and recording their financial engagements. Creating a consolidated, comprehensive record of all our financial engagements made easy! How?

For one, it will help us stay organized with all important information in one place and easily accessible. It can be updated quickly and with ease, saving time and keeping our financial history on our finger-tips, literally. As a legacy book, The Money Book is a great reference book to have in your home libraries. No more mad searches for documents or those elusive payment dates. 

The book has pages for various types of Insurance policies, including health, motor, home. Bank account and locker details, along with credit card details have also been given space. Loans information, and all kinds of investments made can be recorded in specially designed pages too. Basically, you name it and it can all be recorded in there. A novel idea!

Every phase of life demands financial investments, out of need or desire or both combined. Best that we’ve got it all figured out well-in-time, don’t you think? 

My plans?

I have often wondered what I would put in a time capsule, if I was to open it 20 years later. My wishlist is not too different from many others'. Say, I want to invest for my son's education; see him go to a good college. I want to travel the seven continents with my husband, and that obviously will need some financial planning. And then of course, insure my health and care-taking when the time comes.

Whatever I put into my time capsule, it will eventually mean - ‘I have planned my finances well,’ because when you do that you have actually planned for your happiness too. 

But for now I’m going to begin by filling in My Money Book.

[This is a sponsored campaign review.]

Tuesday 2 June 2015

We are losing our Zen

Part-by-part and day-by-day our Zen is going away from us. Remember Maruti Zen, the oldest model? It’s a 15-year-old car I got married to, after my husband bought it as a young adult with his father’s hard-earned money.  We know it’s going away because every month it needs to be upped, with a part needing replacement or some other dying permanently. The engine is coughing with over-use, protesting at every ignition now. The belts screech as if in pain every time the engine starts. The rear windows are getting jammed like arthritic knees. Mysterious groans of ageing are heard through every trip. And the AC? It’s 45 degrees in Delhi, what can you expect?

Some of you will not even remember what this car looks like, while others may have missed noticing these tiny cars amidst the monsters ruling the road roost. The only people who do give it public attention are the two cops at the Gol Dak-khana round-about. Every once a week, en route Connaught Place, they stop our Zen to ask with a smile, ‘RC, please? Just checking if this should have been scrapped already.’ Confidently, the Registration Certificate is shown to the uniformed men. It’s not time. It's in its twilight days, not good night time yet!

Ah, our Zen has had its days! 

Once upon a time a boy just entering college with a car was hot property for hitch-hikers, and his parents the ideal providers, God bless them! The Zen has driven his family to countless places. Then, it made space for me like a loving mother-in-law does. The front seat became mine, the gear-shaft the resting place for my hand, over his. (Oh, why did they have to ban tinted window screens?) This small car has been filled beyond capacity like our fridges, with a chirpy family going to Mussoorie, or a couple enjoying the beauty of silence driving on the green Ridge Road, in Delhi. We have even shifted our first 'home' from NACEN, Faridabad to West Delhi over three choc-a-block trips to and fro, without a truck! The Zen has been a cause for neighbour's envy too, though only when it came to finding a parking slot in fancy Khan Market. It has also stood by us in our most difficult times, say speeding to a hospital in Dehradun, 270 kilometers away in the middle of the night. I remember I was in my second trimester then. And it made us reach just in time, which it still does, but then the nagging thought remains that it has numbered days on its hand.

Why are my husband and I losing sleep over the inevitable change of car? We must be like those typical middle class kids from the 90s ...

… kids who knew not what class meant, except the one we were studying in in school with tenacious loyalty to our sections – A, B, C. We were so free of frills, that a string attached to a polythene or possessing a pile of the flattest pithoo stones in the colony meant having enough. No, having it all! No one was sitting and comparing who had a fancier Geometry case, or who wore branded shoes. Old habits die hard. While the world gradually started speeding past our Zen in shinier cars, we stuck to truly feeling that we have what we need. 

Did our Zen keep us grounded? It did literally, because it’s a low chamber and speed breakers are not for them! Close family started hinting it’s time we felt embarrassed and the salaam of guards at Gymkhana continues halfhearted. As for us? We still feel free of it all, just like we kept our Zen free of labels (even that red ‘Government of India’ sticker sarkari people slap on their very personal wagons). Freedom, from the race towards glamour and social mobility that is supposed to go only one way – upwards, is delicious. It's the most important ingredient for Contentment. But you must think us crazy, isn’t it?

Our son has with utmost happiness over-turned the ‘Baby on Board’ to now visibly read ‘Child on Board’ on the rear windscreen. He loves our Zen, calls it a racing car, but doesn’t love that he’s no longer a valid applicant for sitting in my lap in the front seat. The other day some friends I made in the world of blogging were over for the first time. While I was changing my shoes to go drop them to the Metro station, I over-heard my 4-year-old telling them a story. ‘And then, papa pushed the car and mumma sat inside to start it. I sat on the bonnet.’ This was a few weeks back, right outside the CafĂ© Coffee Day on Janpath. We had to change the Zen’s battery; a bright green replaced the older one. I smiled at my friends then, not knowing if they were contemplating taking a rickshaw to the station instead, but happy to learn that the kid had formed a memory – and his too, like ours, was about riding high on our Zen.

That 15-year-rule of scrapping may not be valid soon, but time is ripe to change our loyal friend for a new one. There’s a child to be picked from school every day. There are social obligations to attend to every weekend. And there are emergencies … ones we never see coming at hours when all we can do is depend on the car to make us reach where we just need to.  The old has to make way for the new. Has to. And we’re at it. Looking and looking. 

But apart from nostalgia for the simpler, string-free life, and the trembling feeling of seeing out-turned empty pockets, we’re scared about another thing... Will we become runners in the urban rat race of features-packed swankiness? Will a car become more to us than just a means of transport – reliable, comfortable and a necessity? 

Will we lose, with our Zen, the zen-like freedom with which we drove this mini-dinosaur with not a care in the world? Now that remains to be seen. The only definitive for now? 

That we are losing our Zen. And it feels strangely sad.

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