Students for community service

posterA couple of college boys  (KSR College, Tiruchengode)  hit upon a community initiative to address food wastage by customers in restaurants.  They got a poster printed ,  showing  photo of a needy child  with empty plate.  The message :  ‘Please don’t waste food….wrap it’.

Palaniappan, and  Mohammed Ali, both engineering students, with Merwin Wesley,  found waste of  food by people visiting restaurants unacceptable and decided to do something about it.  The boys designed and printed about 4,000  ‘don’t-waste-food’ posters and distributed in restaurants and eating house in several Tamil Nadu towns, through a network of volunteer students.  They have mobilised over 100 volunteers in 17 towns.

Muhammad Ali – 0-8122139893- and Palaniappan – 0-9500488803 –   registered a society SEEDS.   They conduct awareness programme  to curb wastage of food, household  energy consumption  and conserve  other resources.  Their student volunteers  visit old age homes. With guidance from college alumni, SEEDS conduct counseling sessions in schools for Plus 1 and Plus 2 students  on choice of courses and subjects for higher education.

Interestingly,  the focus of SEEDS  initiative is on smaller towns – Dharmapuri, Erode, Darapuram, Bhavani, Attur, Mettur, Udmelpet, Hosur and Sathy. They  have volunteer representation in some  bigger cities as well – Trichy,  Selam,  Coimbatore, Tirupur,  and Chennai  (volunteers – Sibi Rajan and Rahul).

SEEDS approached 20 schools in Mettupalayam,  Erode and Tirupur,  asked students to come up with 15 suggestions to conserve electricity… School students are involved in household energy auditing in their neighbourhood, and community tree-planting in their localities.  During Deepavali,  SEEDS ogranised  door-to-door and distributed 5,000 pamphlets on how firecrackers pollute environment.

Says SEEDS president Muhammad Ali:  “We don’t approach the Government; instead we go to people. They have supported us. Some people have thrown the pamphlets back on our faces, we take it in our stride.”

Secretary Palaniappan: “I used to spend my pocket money on mobile recharge and snacks. Now, I save it to buy gifts for school children as we conduct a number of competitions for school students.”

‘Satyameva’ Khan, Sunday ke Sunday

Wonder what goes through the minds of perpetrators of abuse and excesses when they watch Amir Khan’s  Satyameva Jayate.  Would they feel guilty ? Would they fathom the  consequences of the  cruelty they perpetrated ?   Short of naming them,  the victims  appearing on the show profiled  their oppressors and their acts in such graphic terms that they should  fall steeply  in their own eyes.

Maybe,  one of these days we get to read in the papers  about one of these guys taking his own life  out of remorse. Maybe someone guilty calls Amir Khan to  apologize on camera. Maybe  I’m daydreaming.

Anyway,  the Sunday 11 a m TV show anchored by film actor/maker Amir Khan is watched by almost everyone I have met.  Having missed the first two episodes,  I found myself conversationally inadequate in any gathering of  friends and neighbours,   who seemed to have  nothing else to talk about for a day or two after an episode.  If you live in a close-knit gated community, as I do, you simply can’t escape  Satyameva chat among residents you run into,  at the clubhouse or the grocery shop in our Chennai apartments complex.

The last straw was my son’s weekly call from California. And he talked about….you guessed it.  When he heard my wife and I  hadn’t watched either of the two episodes   our son promptedly e-mailed the YouTube link to the Amir Khan Shows –  about abuses on women and children.  Now that I have watched them on YouTube I feel updated ;  and  can’t help talking about the  episodes I just watched , while others,  having had their say, are waiting for next  Sunday’s episode.

I don’t know if Amir Khan was inspired by anyone,  but I see a  touch of Oprah in his show.  Both score high marks  on being thorough in their approach to any issue they take up . The format covers  case studies,  victims interview,  relevant research or govt. committee report,  expert comments,  and a summing-up.  At the end of the hour,  I was  left reasonably rattled by the revelations – that 53 percent of our children fall victim to some form of abuse;  that culprits are usually someone known to the victim and trusted by her/his family.  In many cases he is part of family – an uncle,  grandpa or someone so close as that.  There was this case where a schoolgirl falls a prey to indecent advances made by  a teacher who comes home to coach her in maths,  history or whatever.

Girls raped at tender age   by live-in relatives,  and married women forced into abortion for carrying a female in womb suffer in silence.  In rare cases where child victims gather courage to speak,  their accounts are hardly believed or their complaints taken seriously,  more often,  by their own parents.  Victims of abuses get trapped in a  ‘can’t talk, aren’t believed’  syndrome.

Amir Khan has got some of them talking , on camera;  and their gut-wrenching stories prompts  us to  re-define relationships within extended families,  re-draw lines of permissibility. Vulnerable children and,  particularly, their parents can’t be faulted, if  they start   looking over their shoulders,  so to speak ,  at friends and relatives with penchant to get too close to their young ones.

We have had just two weeks of  Satyameva Jayate  (SJ).  It would,  perhaps,  take 20 more episodes for  Satyameva Jayate to become an unfailing  weekly habit . And then,  every  Sunday, 11 a m,  would the  Amir Khan Hour,  nationwide.  Undoubtedly,  Amir Khan is on to a good thing.  My concern is,  if a busy celebrity of his stature would continue to  find the time and energy to sustain the weekly show, at a reasonably high bench-mark he has set for himself in the initial episodes.  Would he re-visit topics he has covered,  in later episodes ? For issues such as female  foeticide and child abuse couldn’t be wished away with a single celebrity show.

As Khan says,  the magic wand that makes things happen is within each of us.  We could do our little bit to put our shoulders to the conversational wheel Amir Khan has set in motion, nationwide. I don’t know  if  Cindrella and Harish Iyer would consider opening  a Facebook page  to encourage others who have been through such hell  to come out of their closets to talk out their past. The Amir Khan Show has got the country talking about issues we have till date  refrained from mentioning even within the confines of our living rooms,  let alone on national television. And bloggers could keep the talk going with their posts,  reviewing what Amir Khan brings up in his weekly episodes.

India at Davos: Advertising the unavailable

They advertised India’s $35 dollar computer in Davos during the World Economic Forum 2012. The photo on The HIndu op-ed page came as an  ‘eye-opener’ for me, in the sense that I didn’t realise our India-brand building specialists were capable of advertising abroad something that is not available off the shelf in India.  Anyway,  I don’t suppose anyone in Davos took up the computer maker on their  bargain offer (of $35) .

The advertising agency involved in the  ‘India Ingenious’  campaign may well be  justified if they say  they are in the business of marketing,  not a product, but  a perception.  The product in reference – Aakash tablet computer –  going by its  status reports,  is still  very much a work in progress.

The photo credit: Ravinder Kaur,  associate professor,  Modern South Asian Studies,  Copenhagen University,  who took the photo to go with her article : Dazzling images do not a shining nation make.  Notable among the points made  by the author  is that India,  in mounting the  image campaign through billboards,  and promos .  on city  buses,  cafes,  streets and, even half-empty parking lots,  of  Davos,  has  had to compete  with players such as  Mexico,  Thailand and  Azerbaijan,  for attracting foreign investment.  China, they say,  was conspicuous through its visual absence.

Katju bashing won’t fly, Tavleen

It was on TV.  What was billed  ‘The Ramnath Goenka Debate’  turned out to be a media gang-up against Press Council chairman  Justice Markandey Katju.   It was a provocative Katju against a panel of  ‘press freedom’ caretakers,  comprising a media columnist, couple of TV anchors,  an editor, and an academic, who argued newspaper reporters and lesser media persons need not be intellectuals –  ‘you needn’t have read Zola to report on 2G scam’.  His provocation was Justice  Katju’s  Karan Thapar interview  where he expressed an opinion that a majority of media people were of low intellectual level.
It is difficult to quarrel with the professor’s contention, in the manner he put it.  But then the professor may have no reason to know that a newspaper reporter in New Delhi  of the 60’s and 70’s handled assignments as varied as an interview with Neil Armstrong  on goodwill visit after his  moon-landing,  a Rotary Club address by  John Freeman on Indo-British relations, an interaction with Yahudi Menuhin , Army Day reception at  Gen. Manekhshaw’s  place,  a farewell tea party hosted by Mexican envoy and poet  Octavio Paz, and a scholarly lecture on the Nehru’s relevance by  P N Haksar,  who didn’t hand out a prepared text.  I agree with the professor when he says there is nothing intellectual about reporting routine crime,  a court case proceedings or municipal council meeting.

Columnist Tavleen Singh wasn’t  dignified when she chose to be sarcastic at Justice Katju.   And she took on Sharad Yadav becaue he had said something nice  and praiseworthy about journalists of the old school. “it is bakhwas (rubbish),”  said Tavleen,  adding that media reporting those days was nothing but  “a gracious form of clericalism”.

As a has-been reporter, and her senior by some years  I can claim a nodding acquaintence with Tavleen  during her stint with The Statesman in New Delhi. Maybe her reporting in that paper  wasn’t ‘clericalism’ , gracious or otherwise. It was unbecoming of someone who claims to have been a media person for over 30 years to have been so scornfully dismissive,  as Tavleen Singh was, of other people’s opinion. What she said smacked of intellectual arragance,  an accusation that some  panelists, including Tavleen, had  levelled against Justice Katju.

The press council chief  had words put in his mouth – ‘Mr katju thinks we’re intellectual hacks’;  he was taken to task for suggesting that media,  like any other profession,  needs  a regularity mechanism,  and must be made accountable.  And we had Tavleen, once again, hitting out at Justice Katju –  ‘ why don’t you take a look at others, say the judiciary, before you attack hacks like me’. Strong words, these.  And they may get Tavleen a ‘Wow’ and  ‘wah,wahs’  from her peers,  but it  doesn’t take the debate forward.  It was at this stage that  Mr Pratap Bhanu Mehta intervene to say  the conversation was getting embarrassing,  and the level of debate,  pathetic.

At the end of the day,  I don’t suppose  Taveleen’s  TV performance  and her public display of rightuous indignation  help careers, notably,  of   media columnists who live by background briefings and  ‘deep throat’  links with high level govt.  and corporate sources. After all,  isn’t their  talk-show appearances  also about building self-image ?

Tavleen and some other panelists, in order to score debating points,  couldn’t resist taking a cheap shot at Justice Katju’s much publicised  ‘Dev Anand’ remarks.  More than one panelist was heard saying that the press council chief couldn’t dictate to media what to publish, and where. Justice Katju,  they held,  sought to control editorial freedom.  It was for editors to decide if  Dev Anand’s death merited  Page One news.  Mr Mehta justified the front-page display, saying Dev Anand represented, what he called, sociologically important dream and fantasy to millions in India. That Justice Katju made the  Dev Anand remark  to highlight the need for media to excercise of social priority wasn’t lost on  many of us,  although Mr Mehta and Tavleen Singh chose to interpret it as press council diktat to editors,  on  a matter that was   editor’s prerogative.  Most newspaper editors apparantly got his message right,  said Justice Katju –  ‘had I not raised my voice, the recent birth of a filmstar’s child would have been on Page one,  instead of P.7’.

The NDTV talk-show host was generous  to allow Justice Katju the last word. And he signed off reiterating that he was all for press freedom; and that some of his remarks were widely misunderstood.  The press council chief made appropriate noises about the importance of the media. The country looked up to the media to reflect social reality. They should stop giving too much space to news relating to fashion parade, film stars, sports celebrities  – ‘Es gharib mulk mein aap ko film-stars aur fashion parade hi dikhayi detha hai‘. Media needs to get its priorities right, observed Justice Katju.

The debate (38 plus mins) : Are majority of media people of poor intellectual level ?

TargetThe Hindu article

Oprah, Rushdie rob limelight in Jaipur

Ms. Winfrey,  the one and only Oprah Winfrey,  says she was flummoxed to find that India, a country that prides itself on its close-knit families and respect for elders could also need shelters to house widows shunned by their families.  After her visit Oprah called  Maria Shriver,  and both of them  resolved to help fund the organization that runs the widows ‘shelter.

The audience applauded. The audience comprised mainly writers,  critics and other participants at the  Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).   Ms Winfrey was being interviewed for telecast by  NDTV’s  Barkha Dutt.   Viewership for the show  telecast, prime time,  was  high.  And Oprah  was at her scintillating self;  said a lot of sensible things.  Loved the show.

My issue, however, is with the Jaipur festival folk who hosted the Oprah show.  Someone  with  celebrity status such as Oprah needs no promotion; she commands media attention wherever she goes.  The same cannot be said for many others at the literature  festival who deserve to be heard by a wider audience.  I wish the organisers programmed their proceedings in ways that enable lesser known participants gain much-needed media exposure. I know,  festival organisers can turn around and say they host varied programmes . They can’t be faulted if such festival proceedings  go unnoticed in the media. Organisers cannot tell newspaper reporters  and TV channels whom or what to cover at the festival.

And the media always  goes after celebrities.  The reason why persons of social stature and celebrtiy status are invited to such events is understandable. The festival organisers need participation of the likes of Oprah and Rushdie much more than their need to participate at Jaipur.  In the process  the celebrity invitees take up virtually the entire space, and media attention,  leaving most other  participants  crowded out of the limelight.

The Oprah show at Jaipur took up media time/space that could have otherwise gone to other participants  who could do with some publicity to further their career. The factor that drives lesser known,  but promising,  writers to Jaipur is the possibility it holds for  networking and for media attention.  A person of  Oprah’s calibre and celebrity status has scores of platforms open to her. Ms Dutt could have done her interview in a studio setting.  The festival  organizers could have hosted a round-table format, with Oprah interacting with  a group of writers who deserve to be heard and seen on TV .

What dominates  media coverage at Jaipur is  the protest-reading by four writers , of passages from The  Satanic Verses,  and the controversy over the proposed  visit to Jaipur of author  Salman Rushdie.  And then we had him  announce that he wasn’t coming, after all.   Rushdie’s announcement came with a much publicised statement,  citing intelligence report that held him back from Jaipur. Apparently,  Rushdie  knows  how to gain publicity mileage  even  in absentia.

Of Team Anna and Arun Maira’s ‘fireflies’

Our industrial output,  slipping into a negative growth mode,  plunged to minus 5.1 percent in October (see headline).  The same month last year saw a robust 11.3 percent growth.  Economics alone wouldn’t  explain such  steep fall to dismal depths within a year.  Corporate leaders talk of a governance deficit.  The government (read PM),  facing the charge of  decision-making paralysis,  points to compulsions of coalition politics that resulted in the govt. having to put on hold FDI in retailing, despite a cabinet decision. Localised protests hold up commissioning of Kudamkulam nuclear power plant. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are engaged in disruptive politics over the future of Mullaiperiyar dam.  And then we have Team Anna  dictating terms to the govt. on drafting the  Lokpal Bill, and giving parliament a timeline for enactment of the Bill.

This then is the scenario in which I got to read  Arun Maira’s  ‘Transforming Capitalism.  The book’s sub-title – ‘Improving the World for Everyone‘ – sounds rather presumptuous , I thought.  But then I wouldn’t fault the author, for it is often the publisher who gives a book the title that   sells.  A  compilation of  Mr Maira’s  newspaper and magazine articles,  the book is designed to help business leaders and managers undertand the social issues they need to factor in,  while making business decision. Mr Arun  Maira,  a Planning Commission member,  has spent decades in the corporate sector –  in the Tatas and later at the Boston Consulting Group.

Transforming Capitalism‘ is the sort  of book  you choose to  read for ideas,  for professional guidance,  and for other info. of  your interest.  You don’t need to start at the beginning  ,  and plod through chapter, after chapter, to get at the guts of it , on Page 148 (as I did) . The chapters, reproduced from Mr Maira’s media writings  ,  are stand-alone pieces  that  people read on morning commute.  As the author says in the preface,  his chapters are longer than Tweets,  but they are short enough to be read during a brief plane ride. You can start anywhere, flip through chapters,  go back and forth. I did this all,  and also revisited a chapter,  in which Maira writes about  people’s movement led by Arvind Kejriwal  – Parivartan.

Reading of all  the good work he has done at Parivartan,  I couldn’t help wonder if too much TV does a person  any  good  for his  reputation or for  the cause he upholds .  Mr Kejriwal  of  Team Anna fame is all over on TV nowadays,  so much so that you can’t escape his  presence at prime-time  talk-shows,  by switching channels, unless  you switch to cartoon channel or switch off altogether.

Anyway,  even as the govt.  announced  the  date for moving the Lokpal Bill  in Lok Sabha  Anna Hazare  reiterated his threat to go on fast from December 27, if,  by then the Bill doesn’t get passed in parliament.  Team Anna may have zero trust in  govt., but their apparant intolerance with the ruling party,  and the ultimatum Anna Hazare sets for the parliament  do not set a healthy precedent  for growth of people’s movement in a democracy.

In refreshing contrast to present day,   the 2009 scenario   of   civil society awakening after RTI,  as articulated by Mr Maira in his book , appeared  conducive to the spread  of  Parivartan-type communities in various  parts of the country. The  communities were driven by  by varied causes –  provision of drinking water,  adult literacy,  village schooling,  micro-lending,  women’s issues and concerns.

Mr Maira,  terming them  ‘communities of practice’,  says the spread of such communities  would transform India from bottom up. The communities  (‘fireflies’, in Mr Maira’s book) that used the provisions of the Rights to Information Act  to help people get their dues and prevent grass-roots corruption can be connected to each other through networking, and not by hierarchies.  The  author would like to see the govt. (with its  power to facilitate ) as well as the corporates (with their  resources) stepping forward to promote a supportive framework that enables many more ‘fireflies’ to rise.  This, according to Mr Maira,  is the only way India can step up growth in a free market economy. This perceptive chapter in the book has been reprinted  from  Civil Society,  a monthly magazine.  Its publisher Umesh Anand  was the one who persuaded Mr Maira to do the book.

And I got to read Arun Maira through  this  programme of  book reviews by bloggers.  Anyone who blogs; and  has flair for books  can access Blogadda for details .

MUDA telecast : passing the buck

Telecast of the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA)  meetings has been shelved.  Its members  have passed the buck to Bangalore,  seeking  clear-cut directive from Karnataka government,  on whether or not the proceedings of MUDA should be open to the media via closed-circuit telecast.   MUDA isn’t particularly known for fair dealings when it comes to allotment of residential and other sites to members of the public.

To bring a measure of transparency in its public dealings MUDA chairman P Manivannan thought of opening its periodical meetings to the media.  Some MUDA members felt that presence of news reporters at the meeting hall would cramp their style. Meeting their objection Mr Manivannan  arranged for a  closed-circuit telecast of the proceedings to the MUDA press-room.

Which wasn’t okay with some MUDA members,  notably MLAs   who don’t feel comfortable with anything short of in-camera proceedings.  In the government if someone doesn’t want to get anything done,  the issue is referred to the higher authorities.  Papers are put up for approval. And a file is created,  to move from desk to a bigger desk,  till the file finds itself on CM’ s desk.

The issue whether or not to telecast  MUDA meetings has been referred to the department of law and parliamentary affairs.  The file would then move up the bureaucratic and ministerial ladders.  If the matter pertains to policy direction,  which the telecast issue,  presumably, is,  it goes to  CM.  If he deems the issue is worthy of wider consideration,  he could set up a committee.

My hunch is, a matter needing  ‘clear-cut direction’ would  call for a committee deliberation.  Besides,  if they  okay MUDA ,  you can’t stop  GUDA,  DUDA and BUDA (Bellary)  wanting  to  go  ‘live’ in the interest of transparency .