Category Archives: Media and people

THE BIG FISHERMAN

THE BIG FISHERMAN

A man among ordinary mortals

I have been plonking my way through the key board to put in a few words about a lovely person I read about last week. His name is Panankoodan Poulose Joemon, P P Joemon in short. He has two Post Graduate Degrees in literature, one each in English and Malayalam. Knowing a bit about education in Kerala, India, I would say that this man spent over twenty in school and college.

The Big Fisherman, P P Joemon

The Big Fisherman, P P Joemon

Joemon hails from a poor family in Companypadi, Alwaye and came through a childhood of severe poverty. After basic schooling, Joemon started selling fish to fund his college education. Later, even after his multiple university degrees, he could not find a steady job. He does teach at a tutorial college (usually an underpaid, privately owned tuition home) and also at an English language coaching institute, but neither are steady long term prospects. So he chose to continue his career as a retail fish salesman. Joemon goes to the fish auctioning centres early in the morning and gets his daily sales stock of the damp, smelly stuff. Loading his day’s merchandise on his pushbike he pedals around his town giving out the local fisherman’s loud cry, ‘poohoooy’. He finishes the rounds before his teaching hours and reaches his classroom washed and tidy, on time.

Despite his credentials as a teacher, if anyone asks him what he does for a living, Joemon says with all humility that he is a fish vendor. I love that. In a country where a rich businessman’s or politician’s idiot son becomes a practicing doctor by virtue of his dad’s money power, (does not matter that he did his medical degree in nine years rather than the regular four, or how much he contributes to the local undertaker’s business in the near future) this gem of a man pedals along with his load of fish through the streets of a state neck deep in hypocrisy.

People not half as qualified as Joemon are sitting in the Government Secretariat and other public offices deciding when an old man would get his pension or why a cripple should not get his wheel chair, taking their own sweet time about it. They go on to become government secretaries and accounts managers and many wade their way through corruption for a comfortable living.

Bachelor boy Joemon’s only regret is also noted. No girl wants a fish vendor as her husband. Sadly, the girls are missing a pot of gold on THIS end of the rainbow. Those who reject him will probably end up in bed with a crooked, under educated idiot who got his ‘respectable’ job by bribing his way through and hopes to keep his home fire burning by accepting bribes himself. If I were a tycoon owning a multinational or something similar, I would have offered Joemon a top job in my PR or HR team. Well done, Joemon, this country needs more genuine people like you. Cheers.

I have chosen the name of Lloyd C Douglas’ novel as the caption of this post on purpose. It is a big sea out there and we need Big Fishermen like Joemon. We require men like him to be the rock on which we can build a real nation. Bless you, Joemon.

Not beside the point

Joemon is also an aspiring poet. His friends are currently trying to publish a collection of his work. If you ask him why he chose the life of a fish vendor, he will recite a poem, his own, let me say. I will do my best to translate it.

DESTINY

The sun, glorious sun

rises each morning

his charity spills

on every dark slum.

I know now

that we have not

the sun’s honour,

have chosen instead

to stroll down

stairways of self-deceit.

Citadels of hypocrisy

crumble, even as

streams of sweat,

toil, spill through.

I’ve left behind

silver lined shams

and have come to know

dark, beautiful truths..

I leave alone

naive destiny,

unjust it is

to blame providence.

Trivia: I have the greatest respect for Christianity, as it originally appeared in the world and, just a few decades later, in India. I mention ‘in India’ here because, in the last two thousand years or so, a bunch of resilient Christian missionaries have done far more for the poor, oppressed, low castes and uneducated in India than all the multi billions of eyewash thrown down the drains by democratic India and its corrupt politicians, since 1947. The indirect reference to St Peter is acknowledged.

Picture Courtesy: Mathrubhumi Daily

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OF CORPORALS, CAPTAINS AND GENERALS

OLD HOMETOWN NEWSPAPERS

 During my boyhood in Trivandrum in the sixties, Kerala Kaumudi was the most circulated and widely read newspaper in the capital. The Calicut based Mathrubhoomy, thanks to the formidably highbrow stuff published in its Weekly, was considered a bit too posh. Kottayam’s Malayala Manorama was yet another product from Madras Rubber Factory, a flavour it manages to carry, to this date. In those days of manual typesetting and composing, Kerala Kaumudi had the distinct advantage of having its press and other facilities in the city. Trivandrum, though the capital of Kerala, was not considered a major market by the newspapers from the north. Commercial newspapers need an atmosphere of entrepreneurship and fund backed adventurism in the local markets to thrive. For the Fourth Estate, unfortunately Trivandrum in those pre political-mafia days was very small-time. In simple language, there was little advertisement revenue in the city of ‘Sarkari Babus’*.

One of my clearest Trivandrum memories is that of our King. Every morning, His Highness Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was chauffeur driven in his Studebaker Commander from his palace at Kowdiar to pray before the family deity at the Padmanabha Swamy temple. I distinctly remember that the registration number of the old straight-six car was KLT 1. Despite the car being American, it was a right hand drive model and His Highness used to sit on the kerbside of the back seat. Though he was a king without a kingdom, he was deeply loved and respected for his humility, austerity and simplicity. His hands were locked together in an eternal and honest Namaste to his Lord and his People, a gesture never sincerely copied by any politician since.

The freshly poisoned communist recruits were the only lot that turned their noses up at the harmless King. As champions of the poor, they masqueraded as the brave warriors who had ousted the King from power. Now, having ruled for about three decades collectively, the Communists have turned his once lovely kingdom into a showpiece of chaos, nepotism and corruption. The top leftist leaders are seriously involved in building an opulent Communist Empire and wear invisible crowns. They even maintain court jesters and courtesans in their proletarian Barnum and Bailey show.

In the 1960s and early 70s, Trivandrum was mostly a city of pompous but very middle class officials, government clerks and a few well grounded socialist intellectuals. The original well-to-do natives were conservative to the extent of being stuffy and aloof.  Those who visited the city briefly and the deeply sarcastic settlers from north Kerala were seldom admitted into the circles of Trivandrum’s upper middleclass and aristocracy. So the only Trivandrumites they ever met were the likes of domestic servants, fisherwomen and market vendors. They had every reason to believe that all Trivandrum folk spoke like Suraj Venjaramood.

Sorry for going off at a tangent, after I started with newspapers. Yes. Those days Kerala Kaumudi was still a free newspaper and was not remote controlled by communal undertones. The style or personality of a newspaper slowly grows on you. Even in the seventies and eighties, when Kerala Kaumudi was widely criticised as the mouthpiece of a particular community, my dad continued loyally with his old paper. Perhaps it had something to do with his deep friendship with K Balakrishnan, the editor of Kaumudi Weekly, which though a namesake, was a different entity. Today, Kerala Kaumudi probably holds the third spot in Trivandrum’s circulation charts. From the remoteness of my small Sussex town, it is still a favoured paper for me since it is the only Malayalam Daily that makes available its full edition as a PDF file online, totally free of cost. Recently it has also made its old editions available online in the archives section. I usually save the pages with interesting articles for a later leisurely read.

 AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN

 

Captain Raju Daniel

Today, with a little spare time on hand, I was going through a saved page dated 15/01/2010. It carries a piece written by Kovalam Sathishkumar about a chat he had with senior Malayalam screen actor, Captain Raju. Raju was indeed a Captain in the Indian Army before he joined the movie scene. Though he usually appears in negative roles, he is known to be one of the few gentlemen in the industry. Many years ago I have had the opportunity to work with his younger brother and I conclude that uprightness runs in the family. Lalu Alex is another known good soul and curiously, he too is a villain.

In the narrative, the Captain speaks about his experience of serving at the lines of conflict along the northern borders. He modestly discloses quite a few ground realities of army life, motivation and patriotism. He also has the wisdom and maturity to acknowledge that the enemies across the border are nothing but ordinary men like us.

What brings me to write this post is a comment which appears towards the end of the article. Here, there is a remark that if he had not left the army to act in the movies, he would have been a Lieutenant General by now. I am not sure if this comment came from the interviewer or from the Captain himself. Whatever be the source, I would like to dispute this little claim, without casting a slur on the good Captain’s name.

Commissioned officers in the Indian army come from two sources. The first lot are officers who join on a Permanent Commission after graduating from the army’s own colleges. The others are graduates who come from the main stream. The latter group is offered a short service commission of about five years or so. Based on their demonstrated capabilities, the army may offer them a permanent commission at the end of their contracted period. A friend of mine, a Colonel with the Artillery, tells me that less than twenty percent of Short Service chaps make it to a permanent commission. Also, the direct Commissioned Officers hold a few advantages over the Short Service chaps. They are usually a bit younger when they get the Commission and are considered more blue eyed, by virtue of their longer association and training with the army.

Most Short Service Commission officers are happy to leave the force at the end of the contracted period. There are many lucrative opportunities for them in the public and private sectors. They are very much in demand as well trained and disciplined recruitment material for top security and administrative jobs. Most of them make more money in their later civilian careers than they would have ever made in the army.

As for the Short Service officers that stay on, very few of them make it to Brigadier level. Usually, the upward climb ends at Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel. It is a known fact in the Indian Army that if you do not make it to full Colonel in your early forties, the real top brass posts are out of reach. In this context, I assume that Captain Raju was allowed to leave after five years of service because he was on a Short Service Commission.

History tells us of a vertically challenged Corporal who went on to become a formidable General and an Emperor. A handful of officers from Short Service cadre have indeed become Lieutenant Generals under exceptional conditions. I have no doubt that Captain Raju was an exceptional officer and always, a perfect gentleman. Cheers.

Notes:

1. ‘Sarkari Babu’ – Hindi for Government Clerk 2. Captain Raju’s picture- courtesy Kerala Kaumudi

Asianet Kerala’s Broadcasting Embarrassment

In full cry

In full cry

Non-resident Keralites, at least in UK, do not have much of a choice when watching Malayalam TV channels. They are usually at the mercy of local dish TV operators that do their own scheduling and editing, showing scant respect for the subscribers. They even truncate serious interviews and documentaries to show old Prem Nazir-Jayabharathi film songs. It seems that the channel bosses back home have little control over their agents here. Asianet and Asianet News are two locally available Malayalam channels and subscription for both together costs about £160 a year. It was the insensitive local editing and programme scheduling that prompted me to look up Asianet.

Asianet is reputed to be the biggest Malayalam TV broadcasting house, which airs multiple channels. Yet, if you Google for Asianet, the results can be quite confusing. A search for Asianet landed me Asianet Communications, Asianet Global, Asianet Satellite Communications, Asianet Data Line and Asianet Digital TV among other things. Finally I had to call my journalist friend back in Trivandrum to solve the mystery.

I am told that, now Asianet is more than one company. A big chunk of the original firm has been acquired by none other than media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The remaining three of its channels, Asianet, Asianet News and Asianet Plus, are controlled by Rajiv Chandrasekhar, technocrat and former CEO of BPL Mobile. He holds majority shares, through Jupiter Entertainment Ventures, his Bangalore based company. Other prominent share holders are Reji Menon, the original promoter of Asianet, T V Madhavan and K Madhavan, the current Asianet MD. Two brothers of Reji Menon and K P Mohanan, the current Chief News Editor also hold a few shares.

Besides owning FM Radio ‘Indigo’, Rajiv Chandrasekhar’s future media ambitions include Asianet channels and FM Radio channels in Kannada, Tamil and Telungu, the other three major south Indian languages. He is also a Rajya Sabha MP representing Bangalore. The sitting Director of Karnataka Power Corporation and also a former advisor to Government of India on Information Technology, Chandra Sekhar indeed is an admirably smart cookie with many more colourful feathers in his cap. Currently Asianet is reputed to have a 35% share in the 250 Crore Kerala advertisement market.

The write-up about Chandrasekhar was just to impress upon the reader that Asianet is controlled by a very capable chap. Now let us come to the real subject of this little piece here.

Every Saturday, K P Mohanan, the News Editor of Asianet, presents a programme called ‘Kanvettom’, in which he is the star-in-chief. He usually analyses and comments on political or social issues that are of recent media interest. The Asianet website claims that ‘Kanvettom’ is a very unique editorial programme, ‘the first of its kind in the history of Indian news television’. Being the news editor, it seems that Mohanan has created his own war medals and is wearing them in public like some quaint general from a banana republic. The site also introduces Mr Mohanan as a veteran journalist and editor, who has worked with major media organizations in different parts of the world and also as a permanent member of the World Press Institute, Minneapolis, USA. He also claims to have interviewed a dozen Prime Ministers and Presidents, including Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Carter.

Now, about World Press Institute, any journalist can apply for a membership if they have the following.

1) At least five years of full-time news experience 2) Fluency in all aspects of English 3) Several written essays 4) Three letters of recommendation 5) At least three work samples.

There must be at least a thousand south Indian journalists who meet those requirements. WPI seems to be some sort of a charity school that instils American values of journalism in budding journalists from third world countries. They also arrange tours across America and hold interviews with available celebrities and politicians. Most probably, Mr Mohan must have interviewed his celebrities as part of his internship at the said World Press Institute. To know more, please do visit: http://www.worldpressinstitute.org

It is common knowledge that being a print media journalist and an electronic media man are poles apart. The traditional journalist most probably did his work the previous night in his pyjamas with a bottle of rum as witness. Whatever one came across the next morning was an erudite one man show, with no supporting crew. The electronic media man, unless someone else scripts his show, needs all that a bit more. He requires an unobtrusive presence that sets aside the centre stage for the subject that he discusses or the person he interviews.

Here, I am not belittling the unseen print media professional. I have personally known some of the greatest, like K Balakrishanan and P C Sukumaran Nair. (Strangely, both of them would have made fantastic electronic media personalities, just because they knew what they were writing about and never deviated from their subjects). Two modern equivalents (almost) would be Gouridasan Nair and T N Gopakumar, who by virtue of being alive in the present times have the good fortune to prove themselves more than adequate in both the versions.

Now let me come back to the news editor at Asianet. First of all, Mr Mohan dresses up and grooms himself too much for the part. (Do we have a male Oprah Winfrey doing a soliloquy?) Secondly, in every episode, HE IS THE SUBJECT. His voice modulation, emphasis, gestures, facial expression and everything else is a NO-NO lesson for any aspiring TV/Radio journalist. Finally whatever he says comes out as a biased personal opinion and a not as an impartial evaluation. The rather disturbing on-screen presence of the News Editor goes on to highlight the brilliance of other very professional Asianet newscasters and anchors like T N Gopakumar, Prasanth Raghuvamsom, Manjush Gopal and a dozen others. All of them set a great example for Kerla’s electronic media journalism, prudently stepping aside to leave the centre stage solely for the subject at hand.

Here I have a couple of questions for the brilliant Rajiv Chandrasekhar. Despite you being a very smart businessman, why is the news editor at Asianet allowed to blatantly project himself, hogging the centre stage and paying scant respect to journalistic sensibilities? Has anyone bothered to rate ‘Kanvettom’ for its journalistic values? Why is Mr Mohan let loose, throwing to wind the concepts of a sane and sober media presence? Why do we, the paying viewers deserve him? I am sure that the issue of minor shareholding has nothing to do with it. Rajivji, it is time for some quick cut and paste at your desk.

However, Kanvettom is the not the most tasteless programme we have seen on Asianet. That trophy goes to supporting actor Jagadeesh, who with his appalling English and brassy costumes, talent searched future comedians and mimicry artists. When he cold-heartedly murdered those haunting Mukesh melodies, the spirit of the great man was seen restlessly pacing the Royal Albert Hall, where he did one of his greatest performances.

As always, at all times, may better sense prevail.

NOTES: (1) The visual used in this article is courtesy, Asianet website. (2) If there are any errors, please do correct me. (3) This piece is authored by my right as a paying Asianet subscriber. (4) It is not the blogger’s aim to personally offend or insult anyone.