Saturday, May 28, 2011

How Buddha Survived the Taliban, and Bihzad Failed

(Published in Tehelka on 28 May, 2011, retrieved from

Title: The Wasted Vigil
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Price: Rs. 1175
Pages: 319

It would be no surprise if the trees and vines of Afghanistan suspended their growth one day, fearful that if their roots were to lengthen, they might come into contact with a landmine nearby.
The book had me at the embossed cover showing the Buddha’s face over the name Nadeem Aslam, the thick pages, and most of all, at the seventy-five-percent discount; but Aslam had me with the imagery of those lines. I knew I would have bought the book at full price.
The Wasted Vigil begins with a woman moving through the rooms of a house – the murals in each room representing one of the senses – with a mirror, so that she can read the titles of the books nailed to the ceiling for fear of confiscation by the Taliban.
This story brings together six people – a Jihadi who compares suicide bombing to the sacrifice of the passengers of flight United 93 and says Jews bombed the Twin Towers; a British doctor married to an Afghani feminist; an American spy who realises the danger of his convictions only when his steeliness is reflected in his friend’s son, a generation later, when the Soviet enemy has been replaced by the Taliban and al-Qaeda; a beautiful, young schoolteacher in whom piety and rationality coexist; a Russian woman on a quest to discover the fate of her brother, who defected from the Army in 1980; a Soviet soldier who rapes an imprisoned girl after his battalion mocks him for refusing to brutalise a child.
Despite the intensely personal nature of the narratives, the fate of the nation is less of a backdrop than the foreground. The story of pawns in the games superpowers play is delicately tinted with the landscape of Afghanistan; their exploration of love, ideology, sanity, and empathy blends seamlessly into the socio-political milieu.
The book is not for the weak-hearted, with its meticulous descriptions of cruelty and barbarism. But the prose is so mesmerising that one reads on, absorbing the details.
One searches for understanding of the transition of Afghanistan from a country that produced master craftsmen such as Kamal ud-Din Bihzad, who would painstakingly labour over a single eyelash in a miniature painting, to a land where turbaned men would burn those masterpieces, whitewash murals, and rejoice over their deliberate destruction of the ancient Buddhas lovingly sculpted from steep rock faces. How did courts, whose poetry had the timbre of music, give way to marketplaces, where amputated limbs and cassettes containing the sounds of victims screaming in pain after suicide bombings are sold? Did a king once challenge clerics to find the verse in the Quran that ordered women to wear a veil, in the same nation where the only indications of the presence of women are sky-blue burkhas?
The novel spans a few weeks, with flashbacks and an epilogue. And yet, the reader is left thinking about the history of the world, wondering about the drivers of human impulse.
The author observes that the first two words of the Muslim prayer also serve as a battle cry. Speaking of the indoctrination of youngsters, who can recite their rights in English without knowing what they mean, Aslam says “replace just one carbon atom with one silicon atom in the 1,1 – dimethylcyclohexame molecule and the smell goes from eucalyptus to unpleasant”.The scrawls of a woman driven to insanity, juxtaposed over each other, are compared to a book of glass, where one must look layer by layer for sense.
The note of hope the novel ends on is poignant, without being maudlin. This is a book where each word, each punctuation mark, should be savoured.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It Could Have Been!

Boredom, insomnia and procrastination on this Tuesday-Wednesday transition period have prompted me to add another page to my blog. It's on the tabs at the top, next to 'Home', and says 'It Could Have Been'. Essentially, these are spoofed news items that this armchair journalist made up in the absence of a real career. 

These Gandhi Kids Say the Darndest Things

(Published in on 25 May 2011, retrieved from

(Image Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this picture is prohibited.)

“Rahul, what exactly happened in Bhatta-Parsaul?”
“Uncle Diggy, I...I see dead people.”
“In your dreams?”
[Rahul shakes his head]
“While you're awake?”
[Rahul nods]
“Dead people like, in pyres?”
“Walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead. They sat on the ash heaps. See, I have photo evidence.” [Holds out pictures.]
“Damnit, Rahul, how many times must I tell you not to go near those opium dens?! These people are stoned!”
“No, they weren’t stoned; they were burnt.”
“I didn’t mean stoned to death, I meant...”
“Mummy says we can’t talk about that.” [Recites] “We must appease the minorities.”
“No, I meant they were stoned. On drugs.”
“Mummy says we can’t talk about drugs.”
“All right. What about rape?”
“I don’t think Mummy has a problem with us talking about that.”
“No, I meant did anyone get raped? In Bhatta-Parsaul.”
[Sulkily] “That’s what they said.”
“Look, you’ve made another blooper. Uncle Janardhan’s taken care of it for now. But next time, say assault, not rape. Keep it vague. And when you’re not sure about murder, say atrocities. That way, we can blame the media even if they’ve got the whole damned thing on video.”
“What do you mean, another blooper?”
“We’ve been through this before, Rahul. 2007.” [Opens a thick file on his desk, marked ‘Campaign Bloopers 2007’.] “Okay, the Badayun rally. You said ‘You know that when any member of my family decides to do anything, he does it. Be it the freedom struggle, the division of Pakistan or taking India into the 21st Century.’”
“Okay, I meant 'division of India'.”
No! You meant ‘liberation of Bangladesh’. And, again, Mr. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is not an ancestor. Well, not yours, anyway. Neither is Mujibur Rahman. And time and tide waits for no man.”
“Okay, so one other ‘blooper’.” [Rolls his eyes]
“Three-in-one. And that same year, you said Babri Masjid would have been saved had your family been in power.”
“I still don’t see what’s wrong with that.”
[Groans] “We were in power. Mr. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister.”
“Well, last time I checked, he wasn’t my ancestor either.”
“We’ll deal with that in Lesson 591 – Diplomacy and Nepotism. But you can’t bring up family and Ayodhya anymore. Now, you’ve got a cousin who’s been talking about cutting off hands, and swearing on the Gita and yelling ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and...”
“I’ll swear on the Bible and Quran that I’ll cut off his...”
“No!!! Never go against the family, Rahul!”
“The Godfather!”
“No, this is not movie quiz time!”
“Is it about Signor Quattrochhi?”
“No. And you are not to mention him when we speak about the mafia. Which reminds me of why I called you here. All right, let’s move on to Lesson 386 – Banned Topics. This has been updated to include India’s Most Wanted List.”
“Do you have to sound so patronising, Uncle Diggy?”
[Gently] “It’s not you, my boy. Foot-in-mouth is hereditary. Why, after the Anti-Sikh riots, you know who said ‘When a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little.’”
[Sighs] “You know, if I were M K Gandhi, I’d be suing your Grandpa Gandy for misappropriation of my name!”
“Oh, yeah?! I’ll tell Mummy to ask the Prime Minister to sue you, Mr. Singh!”
“Enough study time for today. Now, run along, Rahul. It’s time for Uncle Diggy to have grown-up juice.”
“I want some too!”
“You’ll catch a cold. Why don’t you go to one of your sleepovers? Just make sure you don’t invite your hut-mates back to 10 J for a return nightcap.”
Having got rid of the 40-year-Young Gandhi, Diggy pours himself a glass of grown-up juice. Then, he logs into his secret Twitter account, grins and types, ‘How many Gandhis does it take to change a light bulb?’

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Invitation Promises, to Deceive

(Published in The Financial World, Tehelka, retrieved from

Title: Invitation

Author: Shehryar Fazli
Publisher: Tranquebar
Price: Rs. 495
Pages: 385

Haan? Kya, what’s so funny?’

‘Oh, I was just looking at those.’ I pointed to the little island next to ours, the island of old Indian boats, captured in Pakistani waters over the years ever since Partition and stockpiled here. I don’t know if I ever saw the boats myself as a child, or whether the image I carried was based only on my father’s descriptions. But I did carry that image, a museum of decaying Indian boats in the middle of the sea.
‘They’re probably haunted,’ my father used to say, ‘Ghosts of the Indian boatmen, all over the place.’ This was how he forced impressions of the old country on a child’s mind once in exile.
Oh, no, you think, as you finish the first page of Shehryar Fazli’s debut novel Invitation– alienation, exile, roots, India-Pakistan, and probably some metaphor, all in one paragraph, with an eccentric aunt thrown in. 384 more pages to go, you sigh.
But a few paragraphs down, you realise that Fazli can write. His composition is skilled, his narrative flows. Something about the scenario of an aunt who’s meeting her nephew after a couple of decades and throwing a small tea party at the clubhouse on the beach in his honour, makes you want to read on.
You begin to think the title may signify acceptance into the family, a nation opening its doors to a young man who left as a child, the beckoning into the mind of a man without roots...and then you suddenly notice that the cover photograph is not of a beige cushion, but a cabaret dancer’s pelvis. Oh, no, this is going to be about the seamy underworld of Karachi. That’s why Basharat Peer calls it a “Pakistan we haven’t seen before” and Kamila Shamsie uses words like “Anglophone” and “Karachi Noir” in a long endorsement at the back.
A little later, you discover that the plot involves some land that the protagonist Shahbaz Aslam’s father is trying to claim his stake in, after his fiery sister has won it back in a court case. Aslam Senior either cannot or will not come back to the land that he was forced to leave for Paris because the police figured out he was involved in a failed plot to overthrow the government.
But other elements in the story are the tension between East and West Pakistan in 1970, the power struggle between Mujibur Rahman and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s perception of India, an Egyptian cabaret dancer whose contempt for Shahbaz arouses him, a retired navy officer whose mercenary nature is apparent from the start, and a Bengali taxi driver whom you know will come to some kind of harm before the book is over, possibly caused by the protagonist.
Whether the narrator’s angst and lengthy introspection comes from Fazli’s own experience isn’t clear. They’ve certainly led similar lives. The author was raised in Paris, and moved to Pakistan later. He has said that the idea of writing about the return of a young exile struck him over a decade before the novel was published, but the political context and temporal setting came in later.
The biggest problem he seems to have faced while writing the book is the integration of the two. It’s hard to combine a life one knows with an imagined ambience.
There is a tendency among subaltern writers to force in a political situation and encounters with real-life characters in an attempt to lift the status of their novels from fiction to literature. While Fazli shows more promise than many, he struggles to weave his sub-plots into the fabric of the novel.
One wonders whether the main character had to be an expat. Is a view from the outside what we want? The most interesting parts to me were the interactions between Shahbaz and a couple of Jamaatis, and references to the prism through which India is seen by Pakistan. Neither strain could offer much perspective, though, because the character’s place in that setting isn’t established.
Perhaps Fazli should have taken a cue from Khaled Hosseini, whose Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns don’t quite have the stamp of experience, but portray a vivid image of social realities through characters who have seen an Afghanistan Hosseini hasn’t, while Invitation is rather diaphanous.
Given that Fazli is Senior Analyst for the think-tank International Crisis Group, his knowledge of the events leading up to the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh could have supported a novel that doesn’t draw from personal experience.
The prose is good and the setting has tremendous potential, but an ungainly plot lets the book down. Would I spend Rs. 500 on this one when I could pick up two Orhan Pamuk or Gabriel Garcia Marquez books instead? No. But I would watch out for Fazli’s next work.

Secret Diary: How Yuvi Helped Dada go Topless

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Of Ammas and Amul Babies

(Published in on 17th May, 2011, retrieved from

It’s a time for single women to cheer – well, at least the ones who believe Single Woman is a secret sorority, and any of their sorority sisters who achieves, let’s say, the Chief Ministry of a state, has somehow made all their lives worthwhile, and vindicated their stand in saying “we don’t need men!”
They can now feel empowered by the fact that a trio of spinsters – Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee – have the reins of three states in the South, North and East in their hands. If only yesteryear siren Rekha were to focus on politics now, the compass would look so pretty, eh? She’d even bring the glamour to a Sis and the City series.
But that is where we encounter a problem.
It struck me that while these three ladies may be single and female, Jayalalithaa is really the odd one out. No, I’m not talking about her clothes – though, on the subject, she does have a larger and more expensive wardrobe than either of the others. And maybe, having a few million reels of celluloid stored away does away with the craving to seek immortality in marble. There may have been less debate, too, if a cop had felt compelled to clean her shoes – they’re usually pretty.
However, the oddity I’m referring to is that we can’t really say ‘sis’ – while Mamata is ‘Didi’ and Mayawati is ‘Behenji’ (‘Baganji’ in some parts of India, but never mind that), Jayalalithaa is ‘Amma’.
Why does the state, and the country, want to attribute motherhood to her, when the other two maidens are accorded sisterhood?
Worse, Jayalalithaa has been ‘Amma’ since she first took over as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, at the tender age of 43, which right now, is roundabout the going age for Amul Babies.
I didn’t realise at the time that a grave injustice was being done to Jayalalithaa. In my defence, 43 seems rather ancient when your own age is in single digits, as mine was a couple of decades ago.
But the magnitude of the, shall we say, relative profiling of Jayalalithaa strikes me now. I mean, Pranab Mukherjee is still Pranab-da! Nehru was chacha forever. And Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, at an age when he could have spawned great-grandchildren, was titled The Father of the Nation.
Well, let’s not bring feminism into this – in all fairness, Rajnikanth is still a hero, when Revathi, a good twenty years younger than he, has turned Mommy – but the only other woman politician who’s been granted maternity of the nation is Sonia, and even that’s restricted to Tamil Nadu, which calls her Annai Sonia. And, really, she has her Amul Baby and an Amuller Baby too.
If I were Jayalalithaa, I’d be feeling a whole lot more bitter about those morphed movie covers that read ‘The Mummy Returns’, given that there was no ‘Sister Act’ cover for Mamata – or for Mayawati, when she first assumed power.
The only people entitled to a bigger grouse than she is are the three ladies who ran/run their own nurseries, in a manner of speaking.
First, there was Mother Teresa, who built a congregation from the destitute, by turning the gutters of Kolkata into breeding grounds for conversion. Jayalalithaa has visited the sick, especially those of her party workers who’ve been wounded in fistfights with rival party workers, but she is yet to establish a charitable mission that changes the lives and religions of these people.
Then, there’s the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Some people may compare the mentoring of Aurobindo to that of MGR, but then, there are no reports of Jayalalithaa communicating telepathically with him, even in the movie roles they essayed together.
Finally, there’s Mata Amritanandamayi, the Hugging Saint. But while Jayalalithaa has gone so far as to tease her heroes with an almost-hug on celluloid, hugs from her in real life are rather rare.
All things considered, it seems inappropriate to refer to Jayalalithaa as ‘Amma’ at present. We could perhaps promote Didi to Ma status, and Mayawati to Mataji status. But then, we would still be offending the spiritually inclined women we have spoken of.
So, how many in favour of a motion to change Jayalalithaa’s epithet to ‘Akka’?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Journey to Nathu La: Ex War Zone Exudes Peace

(Published in Travel Mail, Mail Today, dated 15 May 2011, retrieved from

(Photos Copyright: Nandini Krishnan. Unauthorised reproduction of these images is prohibited.)

“Why we not sit there?” I try my luck with the reticent Sonam, who’s been sulking by the side of his Qualis as eight impatient customers cross-question him at the taxi stand in Gangtok.

“Man-wife,” he holds up four fingers.

“Four man-four wife, one man-four wife, two man-two wife?”
Sonam holds up one finger – his index, if you must know – and walks away, as I sigh and return to the coop. Well, nine of us – including a four-year-old, whose seat doesn’t count – have been waiting for half an hour, packed tight as sardines into two rows, while the empty double-seat by the driver’s gets bigger and bigger. We can’t leave because Sonam has the tourist permits of the husband-wife combination that’s been delaying us.
“We’ve been lucky,” my mother, the eternal optimist, suggests, to the glares of her three children and one husband. She’s right, though. The staff at our hotel had managed to get us permits to visit Nathu La Pass two minutes before the office closed, using a combination of driver’s licences, passports, exam hall tickets and IT Park access cards.
Thankfully, a young-couple, wearing enough sindoor, bangles and tilak between them to establish they’re on their honeymoon, shows up right then, and gets screamed at and bulldozed into being separated and squeezing up, so that the level of discomfort is evenly distributed.
Sonam swears at his cigarette in a mixture of English, Bengali, Nepali, Hindi and Sikkimese, before stamping it out and telling us, “we aadh-ganta late!”
We’ve been warned already that landslides could occur anywhere along the 51-kilometre journey, even in summer, that we’re lucky to have visited before and after winter, and that a lot of repair work is going on around the ‘sinking zones’.
As we begin to climb up the steep slope, even the now-disgruntled honeymooning couple is forced to cheer up. 

The views unfold like a series of award-winning three-dimensional photographs, except that they’re framed through the less-than-sparkling-clean windows of the Qualis. Deciding to explore the fourth dimension, I lower my window, and Sonam screams, “no, no! Presser!” Fuming, he raises the window, and activates the child lock. There’s no point in trying to argue that the drop in air pressure at 6000 feet won’t kill you.

We catch a glimpse of yaks at Tsomgo lake, where Sonam refuses to stop on the way up – apparently, vehicles may be blocked any time on the journey to Nathu La – and tells us we can go to the waterfalls near Baba Mandir on the way down. 

I nearly keel over when I spot four men around a campfire on a precipice, where repairs are being made to the roads. One of them has his legs dangling over the cliff-face. Friendly jawans at outposts of the Border Roads Organisation wave as Sonam zooms by.

Despite the slope getting steeper than forty-five degrees as we climb up, the road is smoother than the one winding up from Baghdogra to Darjeeling. It’s incredible, especially when you remember the pass was closed for forty-four years following the Sino-Indian War.
Incidentally, the day of its re-opening – July 6, 2006 – was the Dalai Lama’s 71st birthday.
As we near the pass, we spot ‘Mera Bharat Mahan, Hum Hi Jitenge’ printed in huge letters on the rock-faces around the valley. 

At one point, we come close enough to one of the signs to see that the letters have been made by arrangements of white boulders. Clearly, the soldiers working out here don’t spend their spare time playing cards.

We finally arrive at the colourful doorway with ‘Nathu La’ painted on top. A souvenir shop, a memorial to the martyrs of 1962, a helipad, a watch-post – the walls of which are painted with scenes from India that wouldn’t be out of place in an EVS textbook – and a sign reading ‘Break a piece of this historic Natula rock and carry it with you – Free of Cost!’ are spread across the plateau. 

wall, which most tourists believe readily to be the Great Wall of China, blocks access to the Chumbi Valley of the Tibetan Plateau.

Indian and Chinese soldiers, who communicate by sign language with each other, pose readily for pictures. 

Our honeymooners try to clamber across to the Chinese soldiers, one of whom politely stops them from violating the national boundary. Another obliges an Indian baby as its parents document their infant’s first illegal emigration.

After collecting a certificate for reaching 14,000 feet, we begin the downward spiral. 

Our next stopover is the Baba Mandir – a shrine built by soldiers of the Indian Army to Captain (posthumously Major) Harbhajan Singh, who is believed to safeguard and grant visions of himself to them. Nearby is his camp bed, along with polished boots and a laid-out uniform. A soldier tells us with a smile that the sheets are found crumpled every morning, sending my brothers scurrying towards the waterfall.

A little further down, we do stop at Tsomgo, the highest lake – in India, in Asia, in the world, depending on whom you talk to – at 12,400 feet, where we munch on hot momos and find out that the owners of the yaks speak Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam and Tamil in addition to most of the languages of the North-East.
When we’re finally offloaded at the taxi stand in Gangtok, Sonam cracks a smile for the first time, and lights up in the loaming. The gesture makes one think about the poignancy of jawans building and guarding roads, thousands of miles from their own homes, simply because no one can afford to trust a neighbour.

(Image Copyright: Mail Today. Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)
From Gangtok, there are Sikkimese taxies that ply to Nathula. One cannot use private transport or taxis hired from other states. You can choose to either hire a taxi for the family (which will set you back by about Rs. 10,000), or fight for space in a shared taxi (approximately Rs. 1000 a head – and you might lose yours).
You will need a special permit, which must be procured the day before you make the journey – travel agents and hotel staff will assist you. Make sure you take photo identification.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

TV Channels Go Berserk on Election Day in TN

(Published in on 13th May, 2011, retrieved from More detailed coverage, with about twice as many snide comments available here:

(Picture Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)

The Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections 2011 had all the elements of a gripping suspense film. For one, the lead characters had spent decades in the most maudlin years of Tamil cinema. For another, both of them have won their last couple of stints in power thanks to the anti-incumbency factor each had caused. For yet another, the 2G spectrum scam and cash-for-votes stayed in the headlines throughout the campaign period.
For a fourth, practically the whole of Kollywood jumped onto the bandwagon – or should we make that campaign car? – and screamed its support for one of the parties. For a fifth, both the DMK and the AIADMK had tiffs with their prospective allies, and eventually kissed and made up.
But what gave it all the finishing touch was that both parties – and their allies – own a bunch of television channels. Some of us remember the Karunanidhi arrest drama of 2001, when Jaya TV had visuals of Murasoli Maran hitting a cameraman and trying to assault a cop, and Sun TV had its cameras on in Karunanidhi’s bedroom when the police barged in, sending Rajathi Ammal squealing and rushing to cover her yellow nightie with a respectable beige bed sheet.
The more practical of us wondered how the channel knew of the arrest in advance and thought ‘ah, this is faked’. The more imaginative of us shuddered at the idea of a camera in Karunanidhi’s bedroom, and hoped for the sake of aesthetics that those tapes would never, ever, oh-no-never-never-never be leaked.
Over the last ten years, the Maran-owned Sun Network has been joined by the Karunanidhi-owned Kalaignar TV, and the PMK-owned Makkal TV (which, according to Wikipedia, “telecosts lots of entertainment program on the basis of Pure Tamil and promote the people to speak Tamil and only Tamil, without the mixing other languages words”), making a formidable alliance for DMK coalition propaganda. Jaya TV has been joined by the Vijaykanth-owned Captain TV.
On Friday the 13th of May, 2011, we watched anxiously for the allegations and counter-allegations. Here’s what happened.
The early-bird advantage?
Jaya TV, which usually plays oldies in the morning, telecast a special, ‘J Hits’ and only played songs that had Jayalalithaa dancing with her mentor MGR. Every now and then, two anchors shouted out that live coverage of elections would begin at 8:01 am. The DMK coalition’s channels were to gain a whole minute!
They didn’t use the advantage well, though. Sun News began with a newscaster giving us an insight into the process of counting: "The ballots will be counted from the ballot box. The first one will be counted at 9:00 am. The counting centres have been cordoned off."
Jaya TV, on the other hand, brought in an expert panel of astrologers.
“Have you ever seen a one-month gap between the casting of votes and the counting?" the anchor frowned.
"Never!" cried Astrologer 1, "never ever!"
"Never ever?" asked the anchor.
"NEVER!" the astrologer yelled, and then calmed down, "the reason this is happening is because it's been written so in Amma's horoscope. Her lucky period starts at a particular time today. Amma was born on a Pournami (full moon) day and that means most doshams won't occur. She is straightforward and brave. And you know what's strange? Her lucky days are Tuesday - you'll remember the casting of votes was Tuesday - and is Friday! For her planetary positions to reach the most positive alignment, it's taken a month. That's why there was a lag."

Umm...Forget the fact that Ms. JJ had been vocal about the DMK postponing Counting Day to avenge its defeat.
"And the first vote in Srirangam was cast at a time that was very lucky for Amma?" the anchor asked.
Astrologer 1 said, flabbergasted, "you ask very incisive questions. I think you know some astrology too."
The anchor blushed, laughed and said, modestly, "Yes, a little bit, a tiny bit."
Kalaignar TV, which doesn’t believe in God, leave alone astrologers, brought in the unfaithful. One of their panellists was anti-DMK-turned-anti-ADMK journalist R R Gopal, editor of Nakkeeran magazine, who is best remembered for his interviews with the brigand Veerappan, and being arrested under the POTA in 2003 (during Jayalalithaa's rule) in the Rajamaniman missing case of 1999.
After discussing the advantage of experience Karunanidhi (86) has over greenhorn Jayalalithaa (63), the anchor announced that in breaking news, the first postal vote has been cast in favour of the DMK. Nakkeeran Gopal struggled to get his hands into the frame and clapped right by the lapel mic., drowning out the rest of the anchor's speech. Turned out they were counting their chickens before the early birds laid the egg, as Navjot Singh Sidhu might say.
Focal Length reaches Infinity
Sun TV was happy to discuss the progress of technology, and then blame it for the lack of crowds at the DMK rallies.
And then, Jaya TV began to try and link up incompatible entities. First, the anchor said, "Astrology is a great science, right? What is the connection between the horoscopes of the people of the nation, and the time at which votes are declared?"
Astrologer 2 then compared the nation's fate and Amma's fate – not the time of the election results being declared – to the relationship between a mother and child, leaving the anchor confused.
Kalaignar TV’s anchor, confused his guests by saying, "There's going to be a change in Tamil Nadu", and hurriedly recovered with, "I mean, not a change of rule. But a change of pattern. Since 1984, no party has won twice in a row."
"Definitely," Nakkeeran Gopal replied, "you know, people come and tell me 'only AIADMK will win.' I ask them, 'Dude, what makes you say that?' Because they will have reasons. They've cast their votes for the DMK, but they say AIADMK will win. They say, 'no, sir, AIADMK has created a web of deceit. A conspiracy.'"
They then criticise the media for having favourites – ironic indeed!
And then Gopal muddles the viewer even more with a series of consecutive, unconnected sentences, "The thing is, people of the higher castes have decided 'we should somehow make Jayalalithaa win.' She promises to help youngsters. But she spends 4 months a term in Tamil Nadu, and 4 and three quarters of a year in Kodanad. People will think they can pay off their loans and fees, and they're going to get fooled."
This somehow spurred a discussion on how sad it is that people are so naive as to sit in an AC room, become armchair philosophers and predict an AIADMK win. Then, they moved on to Kerala. When they returned to Tamil Nadu, it was to draw a parallel between the two prospective Chief Ministers and the singers Nithyasree Mahadevan and Pushpavanam Kuppuswamy, apparently with the intention of conveying that the exit polls were wrong.
Astrologer jinxes machinery
Astrologer 3 told the Jaya TV anchor, "The biggest bootham of the Panchaboothams (Five Elements) is Vayu and helps Jayalalithaa. Look, communication happens through the airwaves. The correct communication has reached the voters, as to who is corrupt and who is not. A year before or so, the communication transfer was confused. But it's got fine-tuned in the last year, and as we get closer to months, six months, and so on, it's become progressively sharper. The vayu graham is aiding Amma."
About an hour later, when the astrologers had been replaced by two people who were introduced by a different anchor as “scholars and political pundits”, the panel decided to have a chat with the correspondents. The anchor tried to disguise terrible phone lines with, "We can't hear them because of the people shouting with joy" – an effort that went in vain when the correspondent crackled, "hello? hello?"  before the line went dead.
It was bad enough when the phones got jinxed. But then the mics. did. And that happened when Cho Ramaswamy, arguably one of the most coherent political analysts in the country appeared. The anchor had interrupted a panellist to give Cho centre stage. But then, Cho’s voice broke - not because he was getting emotional, but because the microphone was dying.
Cho had finished denouncing the ill-informed media that published the wrong exit polls and patting himself on the back for correctly predicting an AIADMK victory. Just when he was getting started on corruption, saying, “I've never seen a more stupid management of electricity till now. No steps were taken to do anything about it, whatsoever. Then, there is the sand mining mafia. Everything from sand to water to everything else is stolen", the anchor cut him off, leaving him surprised.
The anchor then threw a googly at his guests, with "stealing anything is all right. But our own brothers and sisters, the Lankan Tamils...why was the DMK so uninvolved?"
But one of the panellists was ready with a conspiracy theory, "I'll tell you why. Karunanidhi and his family have set up and supported several industries in Sri Lanka. Their main concern was that these should not be harmed."
The jinx continued when the discussion was interrupted by Vijay dancing on screen. The control room had surprised the studio with an impromptu ad break.
Delusions galore
Naturally, none of the channels saw eye to eye on the vote count for the first couple of hours. But this is not we’re talking about. Well, actually, the problem had to do with anchors whose brains might well be a violation of international airspace. And they weren’t pretty either.
First, the Jaya TV anchor addressed one of the first correspondents who managed to get through and say journalists are not being allowed into the counting centre.

"Why? Why are we not being allowed?" he fumed.
"No, sir, no one is allowed," the correspondent replied.
"But do you know why?" the anchor cried.
"Election regulations, sir," the correspondent said, and the anchor diverted the discussion to farmers.
But he came across as positively well-informed by comparison to a Sun TV anchor who spoke of how well the Congress was performing in West Bengal.
One of the experts, V K Rangarajan, grinned, "You're talking about West Bengal? The Trinamool has a clear lead. So what do you mean the Congress is doing well?"
The anchor said, "no, I mean..." and looked confused.
The second expert came to his rescue: "No, he means that the Trinamool, though it has a different flag and different members, is also made up of Congress people. It is Trinamool CONGRESS."
Expert 1, grinned, "well, he's already said that the DMK has done about 90 percent of what Kamaraj promised."
A break was declared. Sun TV, playing dramatic music, went on to present graphics of votes counted and leads, constituency by constituency.
When they finally returned, Expert 2 said, "See, Mr. VK expressed the view that the Trinamool Congress is different from the Congress. But you must remember that the Trinamool split from the Congress. The TMC, under Moopanaar, Tha Ma Ka as we say it, also split from the Congress, but they were allies."
The anchor nodded and moved on to a discussion on Nandigram.
But VK ruined that by hinting at corruption in Tamil Nadu, which is “unlike West Bengal”, prompting the anchor to declare another break.
When they returned, a couple of hours later, the panel had changed, and so had the ambience. It was clear that the DMK was losing ground rapidly. A different expert told the same beleaguered anchor that it was people’s longing for change, obsession with change, and temptation to see how a change fits that had caused the problem. Yeah, right, blame it on Barack!
The expert, whom we were told represented the Muslim vote, launched into a eulogy that quickly took on the tint of an obituary, "His greatness, his kindness to the people, his heart that beats for the people, his wisdom, his mastery of language..."

Without completing the thought with a predicate, he said, "If Jayalalithaa comes to power, will she show us a changed face, or will she be the same dictator she was?" He seemed to catch the anchor's eye and hurried on, "this is too premature. We can't discuss results yet."
Another break.
They returned twenty minutes later to discuss the power struggle – literally. Expert 2 said, "the problem is that AIADMK created so many problems in the preceding five years that the DMK has not been able to do solve all of them in its five years of golden rule. Because of this, people think that the governance was not all right. Let's take power for instance. We are still trying to make up for the excesses of Jayalalithaa's regime, which has caused a deficit. At least, Karunanidhi has announced that there will be cuts for one hour."

Clearly, they believe that the lighting for the functions held in Karunanidhi's honour every few days was supplied by his inner glow.
But Expert 1, who had clearly tuned out, followed this with, "Like he said, the power deficit has been caused by Karunanidhi's concern that people should have access to electricity and electric lights. We only have 8000 MW allocated to us, but we need 12,000 MW. This situation has been forged by the DMK."
The anchor, looking defeated, announced a round-up of the results.
When they got back, Expert 2 had been replaced by a member of the Marxist Communist Party. He and Expert 1 got into an argument over whether Jayalalithaa cares for her allies, and the anchor, defeated, announced a break – a very long one.
A reconstituted panel spoke about how there may be allegations about a certain amount being lost to the exchequer, but then, the amounts of money that Jayalalithaa stole during her time in power were not accounted for.
As the anchor announced a final break, one was forced to feel sorry for him.
The morning's anchor a.k.a. Man With a Tiny Bit of Knowledge of Astrology returned to Jaya TV at 2:00 pm, welcomed us to this delightful morning - clearly, he's a time-traveller too - and happily showed us a pie chart that declared the 200-33-1 figures of AIADMK-DMK-Others.

With a member of the Marxist Communist Party on the panel, he asked, "you're largely responsible for the victory, right, for exposing the scams?"

Even the party member looked surprised, and the anchor asked, "I mean, everyone has worked together. What did you expose?"
‘It’s the genes! No, the jeans! No, the fixing! No, the coalition!’
A Jaya TV anchor began the analysis in the morning with, "what are the main issues this election? Why is AIADMK winning?"
Expert 1 paused, thought, and said, "the election is basically a public declaration of what the people want."
The anchor, looking awed, began to take notes.
Kalaignar TV's anchor asked his panel, "can an intelligent psephologist fix survey results?"
The non-Gopal expert replied, "yes, definitely. I can conspire to fix the results of survey and present it in a scientific manner."
Nakkeeran Gopal then blamed the trends on the fact that no one could go near Loyola college, and said the conduct of this election was a snub to everyone.
Within minutes, Kalaignar TV wound up the analysis and broke off into songs. One wondered whether there was an underlying message in the songs, when one realised the lyrics of one, sung by a desolate woman, are about the joy of nostalgia, and the memories of a time when she was happy. A couple of lines go, "People who don't remember things they should, people who shun me when I need them most." After this, they went off into a series of re-telecasts of Maanaada Mayilaada episodes.
Sun TV would follow this lead a little later, telecasting the film Thiruda Thirudi (‘Male Thief, Female Thief’). Wonder whether there’s a subtext to that!
But Sun News persisted with the fact that many of the first time voters were youngsters, who wanted change at any cost, because they were used to changing their clothes and mobile phones. Makkal TV took the cake, though. A senior citizen declared that DMK was losing because “voters wearing jeans got carried away the rebellion in Egypt, infatuated with anti-establishmentarianism, and voted against the DMK because they felt compelled to by what is happening in the Arab world.”
Then, the intra-coalition blame game finally began a little after 2:00 pm. The Sun News panel decided that the DMK lost because it aligned with the Congress, “which is at the centre of corruption.” A Congress member on the panel said, resignedly, "say what you want. We have ruled for 50 years. So the good is because of us; and where the good is defeated, our failure is because of us."
‘Huh? Why bother with the elections?’
First, Kalaignar TV sent its experts home and celebrated the dances of its reality show contestants.
But, Vijay TV had never been concerned with the elections. Through the most interesting part of the day, they telecast the film ‘Black Water’ (no, not Kala Paani!), set in Australia and dubbed in Tamil.
Jaya TV then decided it was pointless to show the AIADMK-DMK ratio, and is focusing on the leads of the AIADMK and its allies instead.
Kalaignar TV moved on to a three hour film called Mr. Bharath, which starred Rajnikanth in bell-bottoms, a floral scarf and an evil look taking on a suited-up Sathyaraj (who had to powder his wig at the time) and Ambika (in a pink sari and elaborate bun).
Raj TV initially had a formula for its panel  - pro-party, anti-party and redundant member for each state. The discussions seemed promising at first. For instance, an expert said, "From what I hear, the reason the DMK coalition is losing so badly is that in some areas, the Congress supporters didn't vote for the DMK, and in some places, the DMK supporters didn't vote for the Congress."
"So, essentially, they cut off their noses to spite their faces," the anchor nodded intelligently.
"Yes," said the expert. The other two experts, who had been engaged in a violent verbal argument a few minutes earlier, looked on blankly.
But the discussion wasn’t quite as cerebral for West Bengal, and got a little worse when comedian-turned-politician S. Ve. Shekher compared the Tamil Nadu elections to a horse race, and the channel finally gave up and went into ‘Tele Buy’.
Strangely, DMK mouthpiece Murasoli had nothing to say about the elections. The latest news on the site was that Karunanidhi has announced that the national flag will fly at half-mast as a sign of mourning for Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, who passed away in a helicopter crash last week!
The lone soldier
Jaya TV was the only channel that did away with all its scheduled programming.
Through the day, a series of panels discussed the burning of the Dinakaran office and the killing of three journalists, the murder of a police officer witnessed by ministers, the treatment of Lankan Tamils, the 2G scam a.k.a. The Legend of the Thirteen Zeroes, Karunanidhi’s multiple love interests, offspring, and business interests, his family’s domination of the film industry, the duplicity of Karunanidhi and Ramadoss in embracing Tamil while getting their descendants to study Sanskrit, English and Hindi, the power deficit (well, electricity-wise), the sweets being distributed in Poes Garden, the crackers being burst by AIADMK supporters, the awareness of children and Wearers of Loincloth in Villages about corruption, and Jayalalithaa’s resounding victory.
One of their anchors glared at the camera at one point and said, "you can fool some people for some time. You can fool many people many times. But you cannot fool all the people all the time. This is a whiplash which PROVES IT!" He pointed his finger at the camera fiercely, and Vijay came back to dance on cue.
Sun News battled on. A new panel discussed the election in such sombre tones that one was reminded of Mani Ratnam's early movies, and the whispers in the dark that characterised them.
Later, they cut live to Poes Garden, where the correspondent tried to convey that Jayalalithaa had let down her allies by announcing that she will set up government alone. The AIADMK supporters first drowned him out, and then his earpiece malfunctioned.

The beleaguered anchor said, "speak...speak...speak" in a paternal voice, and the correspondent yelled, "hello?...hello?...hello?" They cut back to a different anchor and a studio analyst who supplied the numbers.
And Game Over
At 2:39 pm, Sun TV announced that Karunanidhi had resigned as Chief Minister, and that party workers had begged him to stay on. Jayalalithaa would take on the post of Chief Minister on Sunday, the channel said mournfully.
Jaya TV was seemingly too busy criticising the components of the alliance that Jayalalithaa often referred to as "minority government" to be aware of the resignation drama.
Finally, the channel said Jayalalithaa would make her victory speech at 3:30 pm.
By 3:36 pm, some of us were placing bets on what was delaying her:
a)      She couldn't find the right shoes to go with her sari.
b)      She couldn't find the right shawl to go with her sari.
c)       They couldn't make the mics. work at her place either.
d)      The astrologers were demanding their pound of flesh.
e)      She'd locked herself in and was shimmying a victory jig to her old songs.
However, she began her speech at 3:50 pm. Thanking the people of Tamil Nadu and the voters from the bottom of her heart, she said, “this is not my victory, but that of the people and democracy.” She then translated that into English for the benefit of the English and Hindi channels.
She also said she could see that wherever she went, she could see that people were disgusted with the DMK government, and were waiting for an opportunity to show their anger and resentment against the DMK. Over the last three years, they were waiting for elections, to throw out the DMK government, she said. "Today, our priority is to bring back stability to Tamil Nadu. The economy has been ruined over the past three years. Time and again, this has happened. It is not an easy task to rebuild an entire state."
Bringing in the metaphor of a house, Jayalalithaa said “Renovation is easy. When the foundation is gone, the ground has been shaken, and debris is scattered everywhere, we have to clear it away first," she says, "time and again, we've had to do it. Time and again, I have had to do it." She spoke of her stints in 1991 and 2001, and how the World Bank had written off Tamil Nadu, and everyone had pitied her for having to take over as Chief Minister.
"Our first priority is to restore the rule of law and order", she said. When asked about Karunanidhi's comments against her, she replied, "you should put the question to the person who made the statement." Then she smiled, "if he has the courage to face you now."
Ten minutes after the press conference, Jaya TV began to telecast an 'exclusive' interview with Jayalalithaa. Must have been hard to get that appointment!
After recapping everything she said at the press conference, Jayalalithaa spoke of the Lankan Tamils.

“The state government can only do so much, as this is an international problem. The Centre should take steps, and once I take over as CM, I will pressurise the Centre,” she said, “There are two options. One, the President of Sri Lanka must be tried for war crimes, and brought before the International Court of Law. The Centre can direct its efforts to that. The next step is that the people of Sri Lanka should live in dignity and pride. If the Sri Lankan government does not do anything to promote this, we can impose economic sanctions, and advise other nations to do the same."
The anchor asked, "When asked which state has been run the best over the past five years, people say Gujarat, Bihar, Orissa. For people to say Tamil Nadu, do you have a timeline?"
Jayalalithaa replied, "The time we've been given is 5 years. If the 2006 debacle hadn't happened, we'd have done more than Gujarat, Bihar or Orissa. Sadly, we didn't get the opportunity. Now, we will do it. I cannot be overwhelmed by the burden imposed on me. I have to do this for the people."
After giving her a chance to thank the people in Tamil and English, the interviewer said, "one last question - when are you going to Delhi?"

With a cheeky smile, Jayalalithaa asked innocuously, "for what?"

He said, "to meet the people at the Centre, accept their congratulations, and tell them what you want them to do for Tamil Nadu".

She replied, "let me first assume the post of Chief Minister. Then, I will schedule the visit."
That done with, Jaya TV continued to castigate the DMK with its panel of experts, before it realised Jayalalithaa’s interview might have been a more fitting climax to the day, capped by a suitable montage of celebrations. Aww. Too late.
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