Tuesday, September 11, 2007

NDTV'S WESTERLY 'RAIN' OF ADOLESCENT ARROGANCE

Barkha, means rain in Hindi and evokes rich emotions of love, fun, ‘pakoras’, life and energy. Immortalized by Madan Mohan in that classic song no one other than Lata Mangeshkar can sing, barkha is part of the very soul of India.

Unfortunately, there is another barkha, Barkha Dutt, playing out jarring alien notes the year around, right in our living rooms. Listening to and reading this Barkha has started making me really sick. Initially, I thought my instinctive reactions were just emotional; I felt compelled to admire the confidence and language skills of a bright young girl who would surely learn rapidly and grow to become a cerebral and celebrated journalist of unimpeachable integrity, bringing with her a fresh breeze in what earlier was a dour medium. Alas, she has morphed onto a pompously arrogant individual full of 'I' in her sayings and writings that reflect nothing more than the views of a westernized, urban schoolgirl who has been unexpectedly placed on center stage before she even had time to untie her ponytail.

What can one say of a child who adamantly believes Kashmir is a political problem and not a religious one ( don't be surprised if she truly, cross her heart, believes that creation of Pakistan was not a religious issue, that if she remembers that India was partitioned in 1947); who asks 'Do terrorists have a religion', when the whole of modern civilisation is seized of this unprecedented problem born out of religious fundamentalism; who hears, for the first time in 2006, a 'Hindu' singer sing a Hindi song 'Allah ke bande' and promptly deduces that now that a 'Hindu' has sung a song calling for Allah, things are beginning to change for integration of Muslims into our society

What do you say of a Delhi kid who manifestly had a dislike for Hindi songs and apparently listens to only Western music? What can one say of the depth, knowledge and understanding of, and disdain for history, and the over-bloated ego of a child who writes: 'At different times in history, I have offended both sides equally...' (HT Dec 17, 2006). Worse, what can you say for a Delhi kid who cannot speak Hindi properly, as was evident during the joint Indo-Pak program aired on NDTV on Independence Day this year, and is obviously proud of it? What is there to say of such a kid who feels completely disconnected to the ‘Hindi speaking universe’, as she refers to it, dismissing it as ‘low brow’. The tragedy is that people like her will not even learn from the Pakistani elite who proudly shifted to speaking in Urdu, rather than English, on that joint Independence Day discussion that she had hosted, much to her discomfort.

This westerly Barkha is so fixated about the superiority of the ‘English speaking world’ that it will never strike her self-respect or ‘bimbostic’ intelligence that the Chinese have beaten the western world in a tiny span of 25 years, without learning English! Had they also been inflicted by a few alien English speaking ‘Barkhas’, they too would have been still groveling and looking down upon ‘low brow’ Chinese speaking Chinese as an inferior lot belonging to the ‘Second China’. Of course, they are beginning to learn English now, not because they feel Chinese is inferior but because they want to beat India with it in the only field that India has stolen a march over them – IT.

A quick check about Barkha's background has amazingly put everything in the right perspective. What do we have? A Teflon-coated individual who has never been touched by 'India', not even by her domestic servants, with whom a meaningful interaction as humans would have made her learn much that she is blissfully ignorant of. A warmly cocooned education in Modern School was followed by a degree in English literature at St Stephen's. That is it. Then, of course, were the degrees in journalism in Jamia and New York, where she manifestly learnt the craft, as a westerner, of looking at every event and development as nothing more than a headline and a story, to be dramatically reported and immediately forgotten in search of the next one.

Prannoy Roy and Kargil happened to her at an inflection point in Indian TV reporting, and so early in her career that it was like a little child being given a bigger 'lollipop' than she had even dreamt of. Obviously, it went to her head so quickly that she started believing in her overblown persona. That is why she has remained stuck in adolescent values and beliefs which she tries to trumpet as 'liberal' and middle-ground, looking ever over the shoulder to the West for approval. That is why, while she accuses others of intolerance when they tell her what she is about, her arrogant intolerance is louder and more 'fascist', as if to say that anyone who criticizes her completely muddled and confused views is against 'liberalism', whatever that means! That is why her chat shows are mostly nothing more than 'kitty parties' where she craftily guides discussions with a carefully selected and pre-programmed panel, to further her own narrow personal beliefs, values and agenda.

Worse, increasingly it is becoming clear that the problem is not just her adamant views which she wants to force people to accept. There are very serious issues of moral courage and integrity involved too. I can write 300 pages on the subject and take her apart bit by every bit. The saddening part is that she is not the only one. There are many others in the national media who stink and whose integrity is more rotten than the politicians they selectively pillory and shield. Vir Sanghvi comes readily to mind.

No wonder NDTV 24/7 is sinking fast and losing ground to other news channels, including very, very good Hindi channels like IBN 7 and Aaj Tak. The team, lead by Barkha, seems to be rather happy with their channel looking like Karan Johar's movies - glossy, classy, make-believe, rooted in the US and hardly ‘Indian’ Indian. Like Johar’s movies, the channel seems to be of, for and by NRIs of only the Anglo-Saxon variety. Ironically,the best programs on the channel are ‘Double Take’ with puppets and ‘Chhupa Rustom’, the spoof with hidden cameras, followed closely by some shows hosted by Vikram.

It is not surprising that Prannoy Roy has launched NDTV Profit and NDTV Good Times. With NDTV24/7 being relentlessly lashed by the westerly Barkha of adolescent arrogance, that seems to be the only route to survival.