Saturday, October 12, 2013

Of Dumb Dailies and Smart Manipuris

We have heard people swearing by a certain news story, because The Indian Express published it. The reputation of Ramnath Goenka, who took on the might of Indira Gandhi continues to rub off on the Express in some measure. Shourie's exposes about   A.R. Antulay also contributed to the fair, fearless image. Now that Sir Arun Shourie has come out as something of an hypocrite (read Khushwant Singh report ), let us take stock of the Express:

In June 2008, the paper carried a story on the arrest of a Nazi war criminal in the Goan forests, trying to hawk an antique stolen piano ! This is the tribute paid by Reuter blog writer Jonathan Allen to India’s Fourth Column:    You would think a press release about a Nazi war criminal named Johann Bach being caught in the jungles of Goa after trying to sell a stolen 18th-century piano would be worth double-checking….

The Express report had quoted an intelligence agency Perus Knarp (which is nothing but an anagram of Super Prank) with the motto “Eht rea enp cabk skripc”, (The Pen Pricks are Back). Penpricks is a Goan blog designed to debunk the elite of the Indian Press, rolling in riches, thanks to the consumer revolution. The Penpricks  knew what suckers the biggies were and pulled off a smart one on them...On being criticized for reporting the momentous details without bothering to double check the facts, the Express instead of apologising, claimed that they had checked with the Karnataka Police, the ADGP in turn stating that the query did not strictly  concern his territory, but there were some unconfirmed reports from field staff...

This is what Tehelka wrote after the appalling incident, which would have been hilarious had it not been so irresponsible and crass:

The Telegraph and Deccan Herald ran the story, each adding some embellishments of their own. As another site points out, no newspaper has apologised, with The Indian Express blaming the hoax on faulty local intelligence and The Telegraph hedging its bets by claiming that ‘some blogs ‘ have described the story as a hoax. The real winner in all this is, of course, DNA. The paper ran the story a full day after it was revealed to be a hoax. Gives the whole idea of lazy journalism a cutting edge.

To be fair, the Indian Press is now a generic term, and all papers save a couple are mere names, indistinguishable in policy and principle and that principle can be summarised in two words: Profit Motive…When the DNA was launched in 2007, they had approached us for finance, and on being asked whether they saw space for a fourth daily, given the dominance of the TOI, Mumbai Mirror and the HT, they confided that they had the assurance of Mumbai establishments, BMC included, and that corporate subscriptions alone would translate into a circulation of 2 lacs! Look at that repulsive baingani mast…DNA is just a repackaging agency living off corporate charity ! Wrong DNA, ha, ha...!

When in charge of the Bank’s business-mandate in five North Eastern states (minus Assam and AP), interacting with Police was part of routine, given the sword of abduction hanging all the time over the heads of our staff. The DGPs and the ADGPs started counting us among friends, and would narrate intimate and often amusing tales from their past. The following tale was told to us by  a very able DGP, which being part of Chabiwala Bank’s hoary past, needs to be documented lest it be forgotten :

Boss when I was the SP of Ri-Bhoi district 25 years back, on 1st July 1988 if my memory doesn't fail me,there was a daring robbery in your Naya Bunglow branch, then it was known not as Nayabunglow, but Umsning branch. The amount looted was around  Rs. 5 lacs, which was huge in those days. We managed to recover the same, of course. The handiwork was that of three Meitei boys who had come with the resolve to loot this branch, which is outside the town. They stayed under the guise of college students in a rented house at Nongpoh, 30 km away…You know, the main source of funding for the UG outfits those days was bank robberies only. Boss, I have been to many states and countries, having spent several years abroad also. From my experience, I can say for certain that the plains tribe of Manipur the Meiteis, form the purest and hardiest breed of humans on the globe. (The writer also finds Manipuri boys the smartest, the girls the most beautiful, and the culture the most artistic and rich, in the North East.)

When we took them into custody, their landlady refused to believe the Police. We were told that the three were cited as role-models of the state’s Youth, so disciplined were they. Would wake up at 5.00, go for an hour’s jog, then do yoga, and spend their time reading and writing. They excelled in their studies and were quite clever. No bad habits. Sirji, we found meticulously drawn maps of your branch in their room, and they knew the topography of the branch better than your staff (which does not surprise YT at all). On the fateful day, it was dark outside, for it was past 4.00, and they came with big-big torches, reaching first for the main-switch, shutting out the power. The boys then had full control over the lighting, because all your emergency lights had become copper sulphate. That helped them disarm the guards, who were left paralysed, choosing not to shoot in the dark. It was cake walk for them. When they fled, the boys bolted the branch from outside. The wives of the officers were there on the first floor, where their residences happened to be, quite terrified, and after the heist, it is they who opened the doors from outside, freeing staff and customers alike...

They could be apprehended by us because three sturdy Manipuris stood out like sore thumbs in the sea of Khasis. Ya, and let me not forget an important detail I happened to stumble upon. Their leader is now the Finance Minister in the parallel Government run by Manipur’s major UG group. Only last week I read his interview in one of the press cuttings our Intelligence had gathered.
And now, for why I believe Meiteis to be the purest of ‘human breeds’. In the course of making these chaps sing we sometimes become harsh, everybody knows. As you see, I have no mean physique, no…? Not only did this guy not sing, but after I delivered a hard slap across his face, my wrist ached so badly, I had to apply balm and do physiotherapy for a month!

The conventional dress of Manipur is simple and functional. The women wear Phanek, a wrapper usually with horizontal stripes around the waist, and an Innaphi covering waist upwards, like a dupatta. Men wear a Khudei which is a knee-length cloth draped in folds at the waist. Different communities have strict dress-codes for various occasions such as festivals, marriages and religious occasions. For instance, Meitei women dressed in starched, spotless white innaphis are married women headed for a wedding, and those wearing salmon pink, temple bound. All traditional dresses of the people here are hand woven. The Meiteis have 7 clans or Salais, each with a different colour code, like "Houses" back in School. Intra-Salai wedding is proscribed- shades of Khap... 




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