Yesterday was truly larger than life.
Well, it’s one of those times every eight weeks when I get to do a weeklong spell of night shift. My latest spell started three days ago.
And without my bike (Yeah, the Last Samurai isn’t back yet), I depend on the office car to drop me home. So, the car dropped me at half past two last morning and after a late dinner, it was three before I hit the bed.
Was up by half past six because my buddies had planned a day-long trip to Mahabalipuram.
I reach Koyambedu bus-stop. Neha just gets out of the autorickshaw ahead of me to tell me that our friend Preethi overslept and had just woken up. She would take another forty minutes to arrive.
Pornstar (no, not really, I just call him that!) lands up in the next ten minutes.
It was just the four of us who had planned the trip for Neha’s sake. She hadn’t been to Mahabs before. So, we kill time at the spacious Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) discussing The Terminal and Amma’s super strategy to impress the majority of the rural population that prefers buses to trains.
We are still at CMBT. Preethi strolls in with a copy of Da Vinci Code. “This is why I was late. I had set an alarm at six to wake up in the morning. I started reading the book last night and stopped only when the alarm rang. And I went off to sleep,” she said.
With no bus in sight, Pornstar and Preethi decide to have some fun at my expense. They buy two copies of the latest Ananda Vikatan. The youth supplement Ilamai Vikatan has me on the cover with a friend. Thanks to my actress friend Shalini I landed up there.
How did I land there? Flashback:
Shalini called me one morning last week to stand in for her best friend. The Tamil magazine wanted to interview her and her friends for an issue dedicated on friendship. Can a boy and girl be friends — that was the theme for the story. The journalist met us that afternoon, spent three hours listening to us, without taking down notes. Forget taking down notes, he didn’t even take out a notebook. He asked me for my name and informed me he would omit my surname. Finally, they took pictures of us and they wanted us to get closer. Familiar with the vernacular press and it’s sensationalising tendencies, both of us were a little cautious. At one point, he wanted me to put my chin on her shoulder!
Cut to Present.
I’m on the cover and my name according to Vikatan, is Nitish! But for the fact that I know the girl since she was in her Class 9, all other quotes attributed to me were all given by another friend. The journalist had obviously got the quotes mixed up and thank God, it wasn’t anything controversial. It was plain corny. The lines seemed straight out of a Vikraman movie.
So now, there I was in CMBT, with scores of people walking past me, with the odd one smiling at what my friends were upto. Pornstar and Preethi stood by either side of me holding the magazine with my picture in one hand and pointing at me with another. God! It was truly the most embarassing moment of the year!
I was amused and embarassed at the same time and nothing would stop them from putting the magazine down for the next thirty minutes. That’s how long it took before a bus arrived.
(Random note: How come there aren’t too many buses to Mahabalipuram on a Sunday morning?)
And it wasn’t too long either before it got filled up. Sixty seconds, to be precise, thanks to the kerchief-culture.
(Random trivia: The kerchief technique is widely followed in India to reserve a seat for your friend. Just jump on to the bus before it actually stops, find a couple of seats. Sit on one, reserve the other with a hanky!)
There were three others in the bus who had the magazine. Wasn’t I glad that my friends spared me the embarassment after getting into the bus! We just got one seat and Neha sat down. Thankfully, the packed bus started off soon and as it cut through the city, we saw the striking similarity between what we saw in front of us and that still from Swades which has Shah Rukh seated in a bus-full of colourful people. Truly India again!
(Random thought: Swades surely is gonna rock! Ashutosh seems to have got his pulse on the heart of India!)
So we started people-watching. There was this young lovey-dovey couple. The girl in a burkha was conveniently sitting in the lap of her lover and the two exchanged sweet-nothings, blissfully oblivious to the world around them! How you wished you were one of them! *sigh*
But reality was that there was this really old lady standing next to us, catching forty winks or more … yeah, standing!
Then, there were this bunch of giggly girls (who I suspect had seen me on the cover of the magazine) sitting in the last row of the bus. And there was this firang (imported) couple, who seemed pretty used to our journeys. Thanks to the chaos while boarding the bus, the woman was sitting in one seat and her husband in another. They didn’t try switching seats at all nor did they seem uncomfortable. Now, that’s the spirit of tourism!
After a round of feel-good talk about India, Pornstar started singing. After a while, he took out his phone and played ‘Ajeeb Daastan Yeh Hai’ in mp3. Technology!
Now, that was a truly defining moment. There are somethings you just can’t get by taking a car. It didn’t matter that we were standing. A bus full of colourful characters. A journey. Friends. Good conversation. Great music. Wow! Aren’t human needs simple?
So, there we were on board the bus of life and the destination didn’t matter.
We didn’t go till Mahabalipuram.
Neha wanted to check out Dakshin Chitra — the heritage village showcasing the culture of the Southern States in India first. So we requested the driver to stop at MGM and walked it from there. Just a five minute stroll.
(Random funda: There was a board outside Dakshin Chitra which said “Request Bus Stop” with a note to the drivers of all buses to please stop there. Funny!)
Little did we realise that we were to spend the day there. There was so much to see, so much to do. So many interesting frames, moments, things. So we got our fortune read — Kili Josiyam (where the parrot picks up the card on subtle hints from the astrologer) and Kai Josiyam (palm reading where the lady hardly seemed to pay attention to any detail and asked questions like favourite flower, a number between 1 and 12, name and age… all which I thought were completely unrelated to palmistry) for 20 bucks a head. We had Malai Coke (Tender Coconut) and munched on peanuts. We saw how this artist did glass-work through the blowing technique. We saw the bioscope which showed us glimpses of Thalaivar in ‘Thalapathy’ and Captain in one of those movies which have taglines like ‘Rude but not bad’ and lines like ‘Ithu high court illai, ithu my court.’ We almost saw puppetry, a documentary on the states of Southern India, plenty of handicrafts, pottery and weavers at work apart from the different styles of homes.
(Random mood-transition: This blog already reads big. Time to end story.)
There was plenty we did. True, life has no retakes. But thanks to Sony Handycam, there are replays. (Coming up, some video grabs from the trip.)
Outside Dakshin Chitra, another bus bursting at the seams zooms past us. But after a rather large dose of life, we just decide to take the easy way out. We spoil ourselves in the luxury of a call taxi that takes us home.
The trickiest part about news is that it just happens. It happens irrespective of whether the media is present or not. It happens irrespective of what time it is. It happens when it shouldn’t.
A friend knocked herself down with a couple of drinks at the end of a long, hard day’s work. She had just about caught 20 winks when she got a phone call. A phone call that changed the course of the next twenty hours of her life. A phone call that snatched away in a moment all the sleep she had accumulated.
The Kanchi Acharya had been arrested.
It was now well past midnight. It was raining cats and dogs and probably cows. You know country roads, cattle is omnipresent. So, Kanchipuram was seventy-five kilometres and over two hours away, thanks to the pothole-ridden stretch. And my TV journalist friend started out in search of truth. And arrived at a version of it four hours after the arrest. At another version of it a little later. And, yet another version a while after that. And another. And yet another. That’s the thing about truth or rather what we think is the truth. It keeps changing.
Which is why, in most cases, what gets reported is not exactly the truth but a version of it.
Is it really possible to get to the bottom of truth when you are miles away from when it really happened? When there are multiple versions of it, different sides, multiple perspectives and changing contexts?
Whatever it is, the role of the media is to get to the truth or the closest we can get to it.
No matter what it takes, some may say.
And that is where lies the debate of ethics.
An investigative sting-operation ‘Tehelka’ style might lead to the truth, but are the means to arrive at the truth right? Where does private space end and public space start? When the media is a watchdog and caretaker of the greater good of the society, should truth be told if it is likely to work against the principle of greater good? Or is it okay to hide the truth in the interest of a society’s greater good?
These are debatable issues. There can’t be a fixed answer to these complicated questions. What works in one case might completely back-fire in another. Which is why, judgement is so important in making decisions while pursuing or bringing news to light. And, judgement is a result of human interpretation of a complex situation, which is why ethics today play a great role in the media. You might have been wrong as you may later discover with the advantage of hindsight, but what is important is was your judgement made in the context of the greater good of the society?
That, I think, is what defines character. That is what defines ethics. That is what defines good, the very virtue media stands for.
* * *
I just wrote this for a friend for her college magazine. Now, I’ll just ask her to cut and paste from here! he he!
I lost it twice this week.
No, not virginity (How I wish! But, that’s another story).
Besides, you can lose that only once, remember!
So, yeah, I lost it.
I was so damn pissed that I lost my cool. Twice in a week!
First, it was seeing The Last Samurai being towed away… But first, what’s The Last Samurai? The Last Samurai is TN-01-H-2505. It’s my bike, my companion, like my best friend Murugan, my bike too is what Mammooty in ‘Thalapathy’ describes Superstar: En Nanban, En Thozhan, En Thalapathy. (My friend, My companion, My commander-in-chief.)
The original warrior. Together, we had bravely fought many deadlines, destiny and dames.
So mine was The Last Samurai Suzuki probably manufactured and was also phased out like Samurais were in Japan long ago. The Samurai, if you remember, is the No Problem bike.
And truly, a no problem bike.
It’s light, compact and still macho. It still gives me 50 km/litre demanding no maintenance whatsoever, even after a decade of its existence. It’s just a simple old bike that nobody would wanna steal it.
It’s this harmless, innocent-looking thing that I parked outside the ATM a few days ago, right in front of the ‘Parking’ board (The Board said Parking and had an arrow mark pointing right).
I come back and find he’s gone.
Instinctively, I look for a police tow vehicle and there I see it, fifty metres away. I knew the police station was just another 200 metres away, so I begin to jog, with my orange helmet in hand. Now, anyone seeing me running with my ubiquitous helmet would have surely noticed what I was following.
It was embarrassing, physically tiring and mentally taxing. My stress levels shot up with every extra step and there was just one thought in my mind: “The bastards towed it away from a Parking Zone. How dare they?”
So I reach the Aminjikarai police station just the same moment as the tyres screech to a halt. As the men started unloading the bikes, I could see them drag out my bike and they had stuffed the side-cover of my bike into the pocket atop the tank. They damaged him!
I was so furious. I went over to the front cabin to see who the villain of the piece was. I could just see his back because he was on the driver’s seat and about to get out from the other side. As I jogged over to the other side, I pulled out my wallet and fished out my Identity Card. I knew I would need this now, more than ever.
So I come face-to-face with this fifty-something man taking a folded 100-buck note from a man who seemed to be pleading. Now, don’t we all know what that was?
Now, I was pissed as hell. I caught his hand with my right hand, flashed my card with the left hand, like we’ve seen the cops do in Hollywood movies.
“Hindu Reporter. What is this?”
The guy who offered the bribe realizes the man is in trouble. In an attempt to bail him out, he says, “Sir, it’s just the wages for lifting the bikes.”
The cop who’s visibly embarrassed asks: “What do you want, Sir?”
“You bloody take my bike from a Parking Zone, make me run 200 metres, you are taking money from someone right in front of my eyes and asking me what I want? Get down. Let’s go.”
He gets off and asks: “Sir, please don’t make noise. Tell me which bike.”
I point out that he’s even damaged the bike.
“It was in the No Parking Zone,” he says.
By now, I’d completely lost it.
I yell at him at the top of my voice. I tell him that it was a Parking Board and challenge him to prove otherwise. And soon, like it always happens it Madras, a crowd – members of the I-want-free-entertainment-club – gathers in front of the police station. More cops rush to his rescue. On learning I’m a journalist, they know they can’t be too nasty. So they invite me inside.
I walk in and bring the roof down. The corrupt cop is summoned in. He admits it was a board that said ‘Parking’ and that my bike was right in front of the board. “Parking is allowed only towards the right of the board, Sir. He had parked it right in front of the board.”
He knew his case was weak. He was soon asked to release the bike. They tried to make peace and I just had one question for them:
What if I wasn’t a reporter?
In another incident a coupla days ago, it was a fight with an autorickshaw driver. He had quoted a price, we negotiated and he finally agreed. A few metres later, he restarted negotiations cribbing about the distance, at which point we put our foot down and said ‘No.’ He said: “Get down then.”
And we did, stopped another auto, almost instantly. He asked for ten bucks for the distance he had brought us. I refused, he had left us stranded in the middle of the road and had the gall to ask for money. He started giving me a strong dose of words straight out of the heartland of Madras – the slums. That was it.
I sent my friends off in the other auto, got back into this one and said: Let’s go to the police station. You picked the wrong guy.
He readily agreed and started the vehicle and I’m thinking: “I just hope he doesn’t take me to some dangerous slum area full of bad guys.”
But soon, I figure, he’s just brought me back to the starting point – GRT Grand Days. And coolly says: “Now walk from here.”
Too bad for him, he didn’t realise there was a police booth bang opposite to the auto-stand. It’s another story that there wasn’t any cop inside it then, but I note down his number, punch the buttons of my phone and give him an ‘I-kill-you-bastard-look’. But then again, the point is, what could you have done if you weren’t a reporter?
He brought you back to the spot. He isn’t wrong anymore.
In the previous case of the policeman, he had given me back my bike. He wasn’t wrong anymore.
But the point of these stories: What is it that makes us angry?
I think it’s injustice. The untruth. It’s not that we can’t afford to pay ten bucks more than an auto-driver has demanded. Nor is it that we are stingy about to bribe a cop ten-twenty bucks to get the bike back.
We spend 40 bucks on a coffee at Qwikys or Barista. We spend 10 bucks on Parking at Sathyam. We spend ten bucks on a fone call that lasts more than five minutes on a mobile call. Then, why does ten bucks make us angry?
It’s because it’s not reasonable. We know it’s not right. It’s not fair.
I think it’s just human to dislike dishonesty, especially when you are the victim. It’s human to feel strongly about it and raise your voice against it.
Which is why when Amitabh Bachchan as the ‘angry young man’ or Superstar Rajnikant kicked rotten ass in the mid seventies, people cheered, they celebrated. A hero was reflecting public anger and living their fantasy of kicking evil butt. A matinee idol was born.
Cut back to 2004.
Bad asses, hide. For angry young Suderman is all set to roam the roads on his rejuvenated Last Samurai, which is expected back after a complete service and a new look – a freshly-painted shiny black skin with golden Japanese letters that read ‘Last Samurai,’ replacing the original red skin and Samurai logos. He he!
This movie… I like.
Even if I didnt know English, I would still like very much.
A frriendh tol me it very much like Munna Bhai MBBS. I not agree then but now I see.
1. Unlikely occupant who come to stay in place strange to him.
2. He win hearts.
3. Even bitter old cleaner like him.
4. Villain very much like Boman Irani in the Hindi movie.
5. Both Munna and Viktor make statement against system, make case for love.
6. Both enter place out of love for father.
7. Both are eternal kind romantics.
8. Both movie touch heart, strike chord, make laugh, feel good.
What you think?
Yeah, I was there!
At the biggest Superstar production EVER: The Dhanush-Aishwarya Wedding Reception!
With more than 5000 people for company.
I just typed in my report on that for tomorrow’s paper. So you guys need to wait just a few more hours for that. And you will find it right here.
Meanwhile, here’s a preview.
The best looker of the evening: Vijayakumar’s daughter Sridevi! She was the prettiest face on stage.
The nicest boy of the evening: Dhanush, of course. The more I see him, the more I think he’s just a nice lil’ boy!
The girl to die for: Soundarya Rajnikant, who looked super hawt, second prettiest only to Sridevi!
Sidey-face/s of the evening: PRO Nikil Murugan at his sidiest best… villain look, almost mottai with french beard, ties with Selvaraghavan in his sidey shades that make him look like he has ‘Madras Eye’ !
Rapist in the midst: Manzoor Ali Khan… can anyone be more ugly than him?
Politicians: Stalin, Vasan, Swamy…
On the menu: Some Milk Sweet, Mini Parota, Channa, Masala Puri, Kashmiri Pulav, Raita, Uttapam, Sambhar Rice, Curd Rice.
Dessert: Ice-cream and jelabi!
Most well dressed man: Vikram, super printed shirt with some signature all over and his long hair rocked!
The most stylish man: Bloddy, no marks for guessing that! Super star, of course!
I ended my story with his song from ‘Baasha’ that sums up the scale of the reception: Style Style, Super Style!