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Friday, February 25, 2011

Terracottah Warriors

It's an incredible story.

23 centuries back, an Emperor decides, at the age of 7, that when he is buried, he will be protected by an army of warriors, who will be buried with him.
Only, the warriors will be of fired clay, "terra-cottah".
And that, the facial characteristics of no two warriors will be the same: each will be a distinct individual.
Over the next forty years, 8,000 bigger-than-life size statues are fired in kilns, and each one is coloured beautifully.
There are horses, carriages, generals, and they are buried in tunnels around the tomb of the Emperor.
When the Emperor finally dies, the tomb is sealed, and so are the tunnels containing the terracota warriors, in 3rd Century BC. Oh yes, a final detail: there are rivers of mercury in the underground tunnels surrounding the tomb.
And also, the weapons the warriors have are real: and since they are chrome-plated (23 centuries before the discovery of chrome-plating by anyone else), the weapons will remain sharp, century after century, without rusting.
The tomb is discovered soon enough, but the soldiers lie buried for 23 centuries, till they are discovered in 1975.
The Emperor? Chinese, obviously, from the Qin Dynasty.

Well, two of those warriors are in Delhi, at the National Museum. For those of us who are not lucky enough to go to China, it is an awesome experience to come  face-to-face with the Terrocotta warriors. The link to the Exhibition timings etc is this (its on till March 20th):

Happy hunting!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breaking bread with bloodhounds.....the PM's breakfast with editors

I watched the Prime Minister's 'breakfast meeting' with 'senior' editors today on TV ( echoes of the Agra Summit, and Musharraf infamous breakfast meeting with editors, ofcourse, crossed my mind...)

Ordinarily, put any Prime Minister in a one-to-one interview with a journalist, and 99 times out of 100 he would come out well, because the journalist would be overawed, and would feel obliged, and also because on any given day, a Prime Minister generally has more information than a journo. And, it is not too difficult to "negotiate", and get to know the questions beforehand, and be prepared beforehand. Even some one as argumentative as David Frost was putty in Nixon hands, if one sees the documentary "Frost/Nixon".

But when a Prime Minister takes on two dozen editors, and that too, on live TV, group dynamics take over: they have to demonstrate to each other, and to the world, how leonine each one is, and how "independent" they are, and so, they proceed to outdo each other in aggression. After all, they have nothing to lose: all the suppressed anger at the humiliation each one get from his or her proprietor can be safely channeled and let out, in a heroic amount of indignation and independence. The Prime Minister (atleast not this one) is not going to order raids on their paper or channel, or cut off advertising.

That's what happened today: the Prime Minister was interrogated, and came off apologetic, eager to please, defensive, in front of a group of journalists who skewered him. Apart from the format of the interaction, the second problem, which anybody who is familiar with TV knows, is what kind of TV persona the subject has. Since the PM is not Ronald Reagan, with quick repartees, or Obama, with his made-for-TV eloquence, or even combative, the PR set-up, headed by Information Adviser, Harish Khare, should not gone in the first place for a televised event of this kind at all, in the first place.

But then, Harish Khare has been a press journalist, and after today's performance, it is clear that a newspaper journalist has no business to be Information Adviser in today's TV age. If Prime Ministers before had HK Dua or Baru or Ashok Tandon, it was because TV had still not achieved the kind of prominence it does today.

If the whole idea was to project the message that the Prime Minister and the government are in control, and to tell the government's side of the story, it did not work: it seemed at times that all the editors out there had come off straight from the daily 3 pm BJP briefing to grill the Prime Minister.

Not even Doordarshan was on the PM's side, with its  "senior" editor asking a question on, what else, corruption. Neelam Sharma is a TV presenter, with no reporting experience, and I wonder whose idea it was to send her to the "breakfast' meeting. A big number of anchors and presenters on DD News are still selected with zero journalism experience, with their looks being paramount, in the old-fashioned way, and boy, did it show....

All in all, a worthy successor to Musharraf's breakfast meeting.......

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is The Age of Writing Over?

We know the age of reading is over: reading, that is, as defined as "general reading, motivated by curiosity, for the pleasure of reading, without any specific benefit in mind'. We know it is over: a walk down Nai Sadak reveals that the famous Sunday Book Bazaar consists of little more than textbook guides, GRE workbooks, medical books, and Lonely Planet guidebooks. And what's more, despite the crowds at the Book fairs and the "great explosion of Indian writing in English", the younger generation now spends its leisure hours smsing each other, surfing social networking sites, watching reality shows on TV, and if they read at all, those books are likely to be technical manuals or textbooks.
The Age of Writing, too, seems to be at an end. Emails and Smses have ended the long, detailed inland letters we wrote to friends and relatives, and "u" for you, and 'b4" seems to be the cutting edge of spelling innovation amongst youth. SMS English has crept into emails and Facebook.
All this would not matter, if atleast our youth knew how to convey their meaning, even in such painfully amputated English. Everyday, in office, I find educated youth, with post-graduate degrees, and in responsible posts, writing shockingly poor English, in terrible constructions of words, which would have put a Second-standard student to shame a few years back.
The truth finally struck me: like the Viennese Waltz, or pencil moustaches, both general reading and writing are going to be extinct in a few years from now. Sad, but true. We are going to be a nation of data entry operators, and mechanics and technicians.......
PS: I asked my daughter, who is in the 10th standard, to name a single battle in Indian history. She did not know. Hopefully, I asked her, 'What about the Battle of Plassey?". She replied, "Well, I read about it last year, and now I do not remember what that was'.
And academically, she is amongst the top in her school. God help us!!