(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 19th September 2009)
There are some people who want the country to consider an amendment to the human rights laws. One must be entitled to free speech with a stranger/acquaintance as long as it is restricted to the weather, clothes and jewellery. The professionals who are vigorously nodding as they read this are – I don’t really need my crystal ball for this – doctors, lawyers, singers and people who work in the media.
The thing about working in a news medium is, people believe interlocution with a creature that is partially responsible for what they watch, read and hear, must compulsorily involve the information the said creature has spent about ten hours processing in the office.
“So, who is going to win the elections? Congress or BJP?”
“Is Osama alive?”
“When is the recession going to end?”
Whatever answer you come up with, the weather expert talking to you has the opposite opinion, and will spend another half-hour making you reiterate all the analysis you’ve just typed out in office. And those who don’t consider us Oracles, believe in the concept of encyclomedia.
“What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Indo-US nuclear deal?” (Maybe you should speak to Manmohan Singh and Prakash Karat.)
“What exactly is the subprime crisis?” (Look up ‘Bird and Fortune’ on Youtube.)
And then there are those who believe they hold the key to broadening the perspective of news media.
“You know, you people are all doing the same story again and again. You should do something about how corporation people have dug up the road outside my house and are not filling it in.”
“Nowadays, you get these sunshades for cars which you can put across the windscreen…”And then there are those lovely little innocent questions that insiders would roll their eyes at, but which might strike the layman as intelligent.
“Do you people learn the anchor reads by heart, or is it written on the camera?”
“What about reporters? Is someone telling them in their ears what they have to say?”
“How do you know when to start talking and when to stop?”
And of course, there is that dreaded ‘compliment’ – “Wow! There is SUCH a huge difference between how you look on television and how you look in person! I mean that in a good way!”
When I worked in radio, several curious strangers have asked me, “say something like you say it on radio?” A friend of mine who did a spot of playback singing has become a recluse because she couldn’t go to a get-together without someone asking her for a demonstration.
And then there are doctors. With every generation of my family sprouting a few of those, I’ve seen just what they undergo. At funerals, people want to know what could have caused the person’s death and how he or she could have been saved, and whether they themselves run the same risk. At weddings, people want to know what the possible causes of heartburn could be. There is always someone around who sticks out one’s forehead or neck, and wants to be checked for fever, or someone who sniffs and asks if the noise is indicative of swine flu.
My lawyer grandmother spent most of her youth being questioned about divorce proceedings, and turned rather cynical. But that world view came in handy when someone asked her opinion on a good time to make his will.
“Ask that man,” my grandmother claims to have said, pointing at a smiling gentleman, “he is an astrologer.”