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Book Review: A worm’s-eye view of ‘The Statesman’ & ‘Times of India’

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Book Review: “JS & The Times of my life – a worm’s-eye view of Indian Journalism Suraiaya, Jug. (2011). Chennai. Tranquebar Press, Westland Ltd. Pages: x + 340. Price Rs: 495.

What is the role of the media in reflecting public thought? Should it merely reflect or attempt to shape it? Should it or should it not play the role of an Ombudsman in exposing venality and corruption in public life? If Arun shouries’s debut as a journalist at Indian Express provided some answers to these unremitting questions, there are others who differed with him. Girilal Jain of the ‘Times of India’ described him and others of his ilk at the Indian Express as the ‘Galahads of the press’. If we suspected that for the ‘Times of India’ the issue was more of revenues and advertising rather than exposing the venality of the political class, Jug confirms it: “Thundering was bad for business, it was bad for advertisers who did not want their products associated with all that negative sound and fury explicit in Thundering” (p. 207). “Slowly the Express began to be seen as a newspaper for the professional malcontent […] through sensational and fearless exposés.” (p. 208). Jug grudgingly admits that the ‘Express’ under Shourie was ‘fearless’ in its ‘exposés’. But pray, what the hell is a ‘professional malcontent’? Anyone who doesn’t kowtow to the powers that be? If the editor with the ‘second most important job in the country’ is not a ‘professional malcontent’, is that what he does – kowtowing to the powers that be?

Although the initial chapters of “JS & The Times of my life – a worm’s-eye view of Indian Journalism” appear a bit laboured, Jug writes with an easy Wodehousean humour and an occasional turn of phrase (“in the order named” or “or the other way round”) in most parts. Jug himself pulls quite a few pranks like Galahad Threepwood (uncle Gally) in one of Wodehouse’s novels. He did not resort to anything like putting a pig in anyone’s bedroom (uncle Gally put Lord Elmsworth’s prize pig in his bedroom). But he and his wife sneaked into the (ToI) Jains’ Calcutta mansion posing as the Maharajah and Maharani of Malabar. There appear to be quite a few other Wodehousean characters in Jug’s life. Wonder who Jeeves is?

When Gautam Adhikari, who came to recruit him for ToI, assumed he wrote the day’s third editorial, Jug didn’t correct him that in fact it was written by Bachi. Uncle Gally would approve. ‘No need to complicate matters my dear chap’! Nor did Jug have any hesitation is saying ‘Kayasth’ when queried about his ‘caste’ by the ToI editorial team. It would help if everyone felt ‘at home’.

As ‘The Statesman’ was only one of two newspapers which did not ‘crawl when merely asked to bend’, one expected Jug to give a ring-side view of how the paper fought Indira’s infamous Emergency. One would have loved to see how Cushrow Russy Irani, popularly known as C. R. Irani, stood up to the imperious lady in Delhi. However Jug could never get to excuse ‘the MD’ who closed down JS (originally the Junior Statesman), the staid Statesman’s irreverent offspring which gave Jug his footing in Indian journalism. Therefore, in Jug’s book, Irani comes out as imperious and overbearing as one of those fire-breathing aunts in Wodehouse’s ‘Freddie Threepwood-Jeeves’ novels. To Jug, JS was some kind of childhood love, and he could never get over his separation from her – or is it the other way round? Hasn’t JS invented everything that became staple for Indian journalism (both print and electronic) later, such as debates, sting operations, opinion polls etc? (p. 45)

One can understand jug’s compulsion to wear his secularism on his sleeve. “I refuse to live in a place called…Greater Kailash…I refuse to live in a place with a name like that.’ ‘….Nizamuddin East, a name to which I had no objection.” (p. 181). Or his ‘secular’ compulsion to patronize a ‘Muslim mendicant with two rupees but a Hindu mendicant who sat alongside, with just one rupee’. Jug, who is not a Muslim but a Hindu in spite of being a Suraiya, explains his reasons for doing so at length. (p. 221-222). It is the curse of our times that a Hindu has to repeatedly proffer proofs of his ‘secular virginity’, lest he is considered ‘communal’. In the discourse of our political correctness there is no middle course. One can call it inverted social snobbery, but there it is. On the other hand, Muslims who have benefited from India’s liberal democratic institutions and made it big in various professions have the freedom to rant against Hindu ‘zealotry’ and how it is ‘destroying the secular fabric of the nation’. Therefore while a Seema Mustafa or a A. G. Noorani can rail at the Sangh Parivar with impunity, a Jug Suaiya can not do likewise at the Muslim Personal Law Board. It is simply not done. This is the reason why if a writer accepted into the secular club has to write something about, say the Indian Mujahedeen (IM), he has to perforce balance it with a stronger denunciation of the Sangh Parivar.

Calling Jug’s book a ‘worm’s-eye view of Indian journalism’ is perhaps a bit over the top. It would be more appropriate to call it a ‘worm’s-eye view’ of the ‘The Statesman’ (and a bit of Calcutta) and the ‘Times of India’ (and a bit of Delhi). A wee bit more of the ‘Times of India’, a paper at which, for Badshah Samir Jain (SJ), writing was ‘Class III’ activity (p. 209) Dilip Padgaonkar (Paddy) would be none too happy to know that he got the top job only because SJ felt Gautam Adhikari wrote better than him!  A paper for which Madhuri Dixit’s marriage was worth a lead editorial (p. 306). A paper which booted out Vinod Dua for writing about the prospects of the monsoon and its impact on the lives of the common people on the front page. (p. 311). Jug got his own against Vir Sanghvi by taking a dig at him about Niira Radia but he willy-nilly conformed to the taunt of chamchagiri by accepting SJ’s suggestion about the title of the book although he disagreed with it in his opening ‘Statutory Warning’!

The review is part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com (http://blog.blogadda.com/2011/05/04/indian-bloggers-book-reviews)

 

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