Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Nira Radia Tapes: Making the Wrong Call?

(From my column with, retrieved from, published on 23 November 2010)


What I find funnier than the recordings of conversations between senior media personalities and Nira Radia, the PR person who, ironically enough, managed to land herself in one of the most notorious financial scams of all time, is the former’s passionate defence of their rapport with Nira ‘just-a-source’ Radia, in forums ranging from Twitter to Op-Ed pages in newspapers.

Thankfully, none of the voices of the scandal has pointed out that the websites that put the recordings online have used the mandatory note that they cannot vouch for the authenticity of the recordings. Then again, I suppose one could simply call up Nira Radia, and establish authenticity once Pal Pal Pal plays – unless she has changed her caller tune.

Even more hilarious than the caller tune was a conversation between Radia and A Raja – the linguistic obstacles were usually surmounted with an ‘Aenh?’

As fellow-journalists from Delhi and Mumbai call me up frantically to figure out the branches of Karunanidhi’s family tree (which admittedly resembles a banyan), I find myself preoccupied with a bigger question – why would people discussing power politics lay it out openly enough to qualify for the final scene of a Scooby-Doo mystery, right down to shaking their fists and going “if it weren’t for you pesky kids...”?

What happened to a good old code? If only they had chosen to use a pseudonym for ‘The Leader’, such as, say, ‘Lemon Tea’, everyone could have got off so much more easily. ‘Someone has to sweeten the lemon tea’ sounds rather more James Bond-like than ‘someone has to talk to the leader and tell him we don’t want Maran’.

One can just imagine the tweets:

Amazed, angered, disappointed and horrified at misinterpretations of my culinary discussions!

Wake up people, media persons have to discuss lifestyle, you know!

Everyone is allowed to catch up over lemon tea to cultivate a source.

Some of us promise to have lemon tea out of politeness; it doesn’t mean we’ll keep the date.

We’re all just good friends discussing recipes.

But if our leaders find Hollywood clich├ęs too kitschy, they’ll have to invent a new medium of communication. The Commonwealth scandal proves emails are out. The Radia tapes show that someone might be recording at the other end, or somewhere in between. Everyone is too suspicious of special investigations to have a face-to-face conversation with anyone else.

So, the question is, how do the movers and shakers of this country keep the corruption rate intact without getting themselves into any trouble? Here are some covers that could provide our politicians with fool-proof meeting ground:

Host more parties: Munching while talking should be a good enough code, the noise would buffer...ahem, diplomatic conversations, entry is by invitation only, and since most politicians will be in attendance, the process of Chinese whispers should be quicker. 

How do politicians party when the nation’s in disarray? Well, they could consider not confining their secularity to the Iftar season. With Deepavali, Christmas, Pongal, Bihu,  Holi, chhath puja, Ganesh Chathurthi, Rath Yatra, Dusshehra/ Navaraatri/ Pujo, there are opportunities through the year to host festive dinners.

Buy more IPL teams: It’s hard to conceive of a manner in which the tournament could be further tarnished. With a couple of teams having been booted out, the round-robin pattern could run into problems unless more purchases are made. Chances are that viewership will decrease anyway. A good time to buy, one would say. 

If politicians are shy of being seen supporting their own teams, they do have the option of painting their faces and carrying placards, so as to consort with each other without being recognised.

Buy more airlines: A branch of the Maran dynasty has already ventured into this field. What better way to talk to friends in high places than sitting back in a business class seat you’ve been honest enough not only to rent, but buy?

If only the protagonists of the 2G Spectrum scandal had resorted to one of these ideas, Karunanidhi could have hailed Raja as ‘a Dalit icon’ without offending an entire section of the Indian population.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How My Sibling Turned Into a Sib at the Dentist's

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated November 13, 2010)

“They gave me the date rape drug.”

That ought to send shivers down one’s spine. But when the speaker is a six-foot-three-inch creature that looks like it has come back from a wine-tasting evening for vampires, one’s reaction is markedly different.

However, my emotions were steered back to horror when my brother, who was still oozing blood from his mouth, proudly showed me a packet containing four huge human teeth.

“I’m going to make a chain with these as pendants,” he announced.

“Why not just paint K, O, O, L on them while you’re at it?” my other brother smirked.

“You think a bracelet will look better?” the date-rape-drugged one looked at him respectfully.

“Why not tattoo ‘They gave me the date rape drug and all I got was these four teeth’ on them?” I grinned, and was ignored, perhaps deservedly.

My drugged brother looked at the evidence of his erstwhile wisdom with disturbing fondness. “I’ll decide what to do with them once I get sober.”

My other brother and I looked at each other, and mutely decided against correcting him on how the medication works. While the three of us have helped many a dentist expand his or her business, the youngest of us was the only one who had been administered what I remember, perhaps incorrectly, as ‘wakeful anaesthesia’.

In order to understand the significance of the occasion, one must get acquainted with my brother’s brief history of trying to get high.

The date was August 27, 2010. He had turned nineteen. We pronounced him old enough to drink, and decided to treat him to a night at the pub.

Having dressed in keeping with the code, and rather incongruently with my pyjamas and floaters, my brothers looked every bit the yuppies they aspired to be.

“ID card, sir?” the bouncer asked, and I flashed my press card.

“Not yours, ma’am, sir’s.”

My older younger brother flashed the access card to his IT Park.

“Not yours, sir, sir’s.”

“I don’t have mine,” said the youngest, stoutly.

“Then, sorry, sir.”

“Do you have your licence?” I had deemed this to be worth a shot.

“Madam, he has a licence?” the bouncer stared at the baby face hovering a foot above his own.

Akka, they don’t even think I’m eighteen!” my little brother scowled, having abandoned all ambition of discretion.

“Sir, only above 21 allowed.”

“Can he just sit with us and drink mocktails or something?”I asked.

“That would just be more humiliating,” he fumed.

“No, madam, entry not allowed.”

“Then, can they go in and brink my dring outside? I mean…”

“Dude, you can’t hold your fruit juice. Brink your dring?” my other brother hooted.

“No, sir, sorry.”

“But that’s legal!”

“You can drink if you’re over 18, but you can’t sip mocktails at a pub. You can choose your Prime Minister, but you can’t celebrate his win. Why don’t we just market ourselves as Ironic India?”my other brother began, “or Moronic Mothe…”

“Yes, yes, but can’t they bring my drink outside?”

“No, sir, sorry.”

Less than three months later, he was the proud victim of a narcotic.

The only thing I found more disconcerting than his status message – ‘Manoj Krishnan was given the date rape drug, relieved of wisdom and given raw material for a tooth necklace’- was the number of his friends who ‘Like’-d it.
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