Saturday, January 15, 2005

Amita MalikSIGHT & SOUND
Sense of relief

AFTER more than a fortnight of unrelieved gloom and utter sadness, some hopeful stories are emerging on the media. An old man emerges from the debris in Sri Lanka, after something like 10 days with no nourishment. He has a broken leg and lesser injuries but after treatment in hospital his condition is stable.

In Car Nicobar, the rare tribes nearing extinction have survived. Some of them shot poisoned arrows at helicopters that were trying to find out if they had survived. Members of another tribe hitched a ride, arrows with blood on their tips — they had been killing wild pigs and meant no harm to the petrified driver and passengers in the vehicle.

The Melbourne match raised Rs 50 crore for tsunami victims
The Melbourne match raised Rs 50 crore for tsunami victims 

What can be described as a joyous event for raising funds for a very serious cause was the fund-raising match in Melbourne between World 11 and Asian 11. The best cricketers in the world came from far to play, and an astronomical sum was raised for the relief of victims. In his speech, an Australian dignitary mentioned two poignant facts: children who had been playing cricket on a Chennai beach were the first to be washed away. The famous cricket stadium and its pitch had been devastated in Galle in Sri Lanka. And Sri Lankan batsman Jayasuriya’s mother had been injured but escaped death when the terrible waves came. The same dignitary said that such functions were to reassure the victims that they were not alone and that the world was with them and they have hope of recovering from the disaster.

I seem to be picking on CNN but cannot help remembering how their ace international correspondent made an ignorant remark when she came to Kolkata for Mother Teresa’s funeral. Christiane Amanpour expressed amazement that there were actually Christians in India and that they observed the same rituals as western people. That she cannot go much beyond such thoughts was evident when, on her first days in Sri Lanka, she seemed to concentrate only on interviewing Christian priests—who have admittedly done a magnificent job, especially in South India. But to concentrate on one rather boastful individual seemed a little lop-sided.

It reminds me of an occasion when I was being interviewed in New York on CBS, one of the best networks in America. When the interviewer asked me what had happened to "the poor Christians" since the British left, I told him that one of Christ’s apostles, St Thomas, had founded the Christian church in India. "St Thomas who?" he asked. "One of Christ’s apostles, I repeated. "You mean to say there were Christians in India before the Americans?" he asked. "Yes, long before the USA itself was born", I said. I shall never forget the dazed look on his face. Even TV interviewers on the best US channels seem to be ignorant about India.

Back to some comments on everyday TV. Because of their modesty, we tend to take for granted some of the best anchors who are not as pushy or publicity-hogging as some of their colleagues.

One such anchor whom I have neglected in my column is Vikram Chandra who puts across with quiet authority programmes as far removed as complicated business reports and the programme You Decide on NDTV, which takes up different issues on weeknights. It involves an expert panel and ordinary viewers from all over India to give their views. Vikram does this without any airs and in a relaxed manner, which puts viewers and panels at ease and makes them trust him. It is not easy to build up such a devoted viewership and Vikram deserves every bit of it.

In the middle of all the gloom I could not help noticing the drop in TV manners as well as dress sense in anchors. Some of them, even when interviewing the most eminent personalities, begin with "Now tell us." There is no sign of a polite "Please" to go with it. And, they end with, "All right" instead of "thank you". And I wonder why women doing a food programme from Hong Kong should be wearing long shoulder-brushing earrings which brush against the soup. Or why girls doing weather reports should dress like film stars and sport flashy nose rings which distract us. In fact anchors dress up and talk like stars, which they are not. They are just anchors, doing a routine job.