The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 5, 2001
Speaking generally

Between masala and trivia... the viewer is shortchanged
Chanchal Sarkar

HAVE you, in the summer season, watched the sugarcane juice pressers by the roadside? A mass of crushed and drained cane-stalks lie beside their wheel. The coverage of the Vajpayee-Musharraf Summit exposed the same featherweight, mock-thoughtful comments ponderously pronounced in channel after channel, time and time again, in unending panel discussions.

There is an expression in Bengali about blowing a til (from which tilkuts are made) into a tal (large, fruit hanging from trees almost like coconuts). That is what our electronic journalism did. There was very little to go on — the issues before the two countries were known to everybody, their order of importance was also well-known, the impossibility of either side conceding anything of substance was equally well known. Why this heroic search for a ‘breakthrough?’. Why the laughable dependence on ‘body language’, ‘mood’, the clothes worn? What a terrible waste of expensive electronic time on such an enormously lavish and expensive a setting?

Of course zillions of people lapped it up. The Indian public,, with minds stunted by the kind of journalism it gets, can tirelessly discuss politics (to give it a serious name) and political gossip for hours. And this is what they are given. On the one hand they get the treacly, pelvis-twisting mohabbat-laden songs of Indian films of Bollywood or otherwise, on the other hand the unreal high drama or the gossip-spiced political discussion (to give it a respectable name). No one will say how much arm-twisting and promise-making of the Americans went behind the summit, no one will deplore that the ‘core’ people, the Kashmiris,, one of the poorest and most backward human beings in Indian and Azad Kashmir, were more or less left out of the ‘frames’ and ‘shots’ of the TV producers in their attempt to serve up entertainment, not information.


Game of money & power

Certainly I was one of the millions of people sitting in front of the TV watching Wimbledon. It was not like in the comfortable little hotel in Srinagar on the edge of the Dal Lake where my friend Jamal Kidwai, who was Information Secretary in the Government of India and, later Vice-Chancellor of the Kashmir University and Jamia Milia, had called a meeting. That was the first time that the amazing teenager Boris Becker won the championship.

Martina Natratilova and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, share a light moment at Wimbledon.
Martina Natratilova and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, share a light moment at Wimbledon.

It’s not for that ambience of the past or because of the memories of absent friends but I have come to regard the opens, including Wimbledon, as a gladiatorial display. A repetitive, gladiatorial display, because it is much the same every year. Even the players are the same except that a few younger new names have now begun to emerge.

But Wimbledon is now part of the "globalisation" that we in the Third World should look at with suspicion but which we are learning to adore. As students in England we could get into Wimbledon by just going and buying a ticket, now they are sold possibly from years ahead. And what fantastic prize money. The women’s champion was to receive £ 452,000 (3.3 crore), and runners up half that, and then down the line even to those who made it to the first round.

The players are surrounded and cosseted by coaches and managers, sometimes several of them, and some come to play from the United States and elsewhere in their own private jets. Where is there sport any more? It is a money game which now often turns out to be a competition not of wills or skills but of power-service. And, anyway, unlike the Olympics it is not a world affair. Only eight or ten countries are in the picture and very few from Thailand, Indonesia or anywhere in Africa. Japan, of course, is not Asian in our sense any more. Morocco is the only Third World country to have made a good showing. The Arthur Ashes, and Yvonne Goolagongs and Venus Williams are less than a handful. As for India, it’s better not to write about it; we are only participants in a spectator sport.

Trauma in Belsen

Belsen was one of the 16 concentration camps set up by the Nazis and the only one to be liberated by the British Army. After liberation, too, it was in the zone of Germany occupied by the British. Even after more than 60 years, the world has not come to terms with the horror of Hitler’s Final Solution. But one lives and learns of the stone-hearted craftiness of the liberal "victors".

In the years following 1945, the information machine of the Western powers did not want to put to the world that it was the Jews who were the main targets of concentration camps. There were others, of course, the Gypsies for instance, the rebellious Germans (few but notable for their courage), the disabled, and people from the conquered territories — the countries of Eastern Europe like Poland, Rumania and Albania, for instance, but no one was tortured as much as the Jews were. Yet, during the great flight of the Nazis as the Allies closed in on Germany, America and Britain let quite a lot of important Nazis escape and seek shelter in various parts of the world, Latin America for instance.

Incidentally, there were no trials like Nuremberg for the atrocities committed by the Italian Fascists, not only in Ethiopia where it went beyond human understanding, but also in the countries neighbouring Italy where Italian soldiers had been posted. The state papers and documents relating to their atrocities were suppressed by successive Italian governments, even the democratic ones, and are only now coming to the surface. We in India know nothing about those atrocities nor do we care. This also shows the level of our foreign and intelligence services and of the leadership of Pandit Nehru who was supposed to be an expert on foreign affairs.

Even now it is the British who have recently broadcast over the BBC World Service (radio) three amazing programmes called Images of Belsen which describe, reveal and tell the world about a concentration camp during and even after the war because it took years to resettle the displaced persons or DPs as they came to be called. The details of camp life and what Belsen looked like after the first British troops went in are examples of superb broadcast journalism. Three cheers, BBC.

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