War? What war? Have a cola - Don't miss it!!
15th June 1999 Kejriwal @poboxes.com
By Ashok Banker ___________________________________________________________ Friends, this si an article I read on the REDIFF website. Thought you shouldn't miss it. So here it ts. Do take a few minutes off to read it. - Hemant I've often asked the question: Why does India lack good non-fiction literature? I asked it just last week, where I was talking about war literature. The reason I'm asking it again is because I think I finally have an answer. Literature doesn't spring up out of nowhere. First, a society gains literacy, develops mass communication media such as newspapers and magazines, then a body of professionals grows over time, reporting, analysing, writing, editing, publishing... In time, some of these same professionals grow beyond the bounds of their media. They begin to feel the need to write longer, more in-depth stories about the same events, stories that require greater length, analysis, research, time (always precious on newspaper and magazine deadlines) and effort. That's when a journalist sits down to write a book. And when several such journalists write and publish several such books, then a caucus forms. The same journalists feel the need to write newer books on the same subjects or other books on other subjects. Other journalists realise that if so-and-so can write such-and-such a book, then they can too. So they do. Readers, eager for more detailed and better organised information, better writing and more in-depth analysis of the event or personality, buy these books. And come back for more. And so a market develops. With writers, editors and publishers on one end, and readers and reviewers on the other end. And in time, it grows. And grows. And hopefully, out of all the hundreds, even thousands of books published over time, there are a few really good ones. And a few really good writers. And voila, you have a nonfiction book industry. But here's the problem in India right now: We're stuck at Stage 2 of the development process. The point at which journalists move up the ladder from columns and features to book-length works. And the reason became obvious to me during the last month or so. Now, I don't know where you live or what your nationality is, but I'm Indian and I live in Bombay, India. As a professional media-watcher who writes several columns in several mainline publications across the country, I track the Indian media quite closely. And what I've been seeing over the last few weeks has been shocking beyond belief. As you know, the India-Pakistan war broke out in Kargil at almost around the same time as the World Cup started. So it was an obvious comparison to relate the Indian media's World Cup coverage to their Kargil coverage. The difference was glaring. The front pages were splashed with film stars and celebrities talking about cricket, cricket and nothing but cricket. As if this wasn't enough, sponsors' logos were imbedded prominently in these columns, making the World Cup features the most eye-catching items on the page. When Flight Lt Ahuja was murdered and later cremated by his four-year-old son, the front pages gave pride of place to India's win over England. When Captain Amol Kalia and 13 soldiers sacrificed their lives to recapture a key position in Batalik last Friday, the papers gave more than three times the space to the India-Zimbabwe match. Entire pages inside newsapapers were filled with full page ads costing tens of lakhs of rupees advertising consumer products. While not one sponsor stepped forward to run even a small obituary listing and commemmorating the 160 Indian soldiers who have died in Kargil so far. Indian film crews and television serial producers are shooting the usual entertainment trash in Kashmir, while a few miles away soldiers are climbing icy peaks with ropes under direct enemy gunfire, and not a single documentary camera is capturing their brave sacrifice. The media is plastered with the beautiful faces of Sachin, Dravid, Saurav. Meanwhile, in Kashmir, Indian soldiers are being tortured and mutilated almost beyond recognition. Shoe manufacturers are sponsoring World Cup contests and offering prizes worth tens of lakhs of rupees, while the jawans at Kargil are making do with torn snowshoes on that icy, rough terrain because supply chains are difficult to maintain on high ridges. Cola makers are exhorting us to "eat cricket, sleep cricket, drink only XYZ Cola" while Indian soldiers in Kargil, Batalik and Drass barely have time to eat or drink under constant artillery shelling. There are two tragedies taking place in India right now. One is the tragedy of the war in Kargil, a terrible, brutal war which we never initiated and never wanted. The other is the tragedy of the Indian media. Even after India has been effectively knocked out of the World Cup, the coverage continues. Why? Because sponsors and advertisers have paid for the whole duration and want their money's worth. Just this Monday, a television manufacturer took out a front page ad in all major publications announcing proudly that they had produced a record number of CTV sets in May. Fuelled of course by the World Cup craze. It's estimated that over Rs 500 crores have been spent by sponsors and advertisers on World Cup-related product promotion and advertising. With so much money being pumped into commercial journalism, where's the time or the space for genuine journalism? Even if a reporter or an editor cares about the real news issues taking place in the country, how does he find time to work on it and the space to publish it? All the editors are busy bringing out cricketing supplements, and all the space is sold out to consumer products and services. When they said "all the news that fits," they forgot to add "as long as it's commercially sponsored." How important is a film star's comments on cricket compared to a report on the breakdown of talks between oreign ministers Sartaj Aziz and Jaswant Singh? Some major publications gave equal space and prominence to both. Evidently, cricket and national security are of equal importance now in the Indian press. Several mainline publications in India are actively involved in a variety of products and services. Banking, credit cards, music cassettes, etc. Because of this, they shy away from criticising any of these industries. And take every opportunity to promote them. As a contrast, let me point out, that I have frequently written columns or this website in which I have criticised books being sold on this very website, and not a word has been censored.) Several Indian journalists are corrupted to the extent of accepting cash and gifts to write favourably about certain celebrities -- and to not write unfavourably about celebrities who do something disreputable. Like the film star who batters his wife but is never written about in any film publication. Or the business tycoon who raped a socialite but is such a big advertising client that no newspaper will report the incident. Or the soldiers in Kargil who are dying for our sake, but are shunted aside to make space for more advertorials promoting clients of the publication. This is the real reason why Indian non-fiction hasn't developed. And remains so starved of quality writers and books. Because most of the professionals in the media who are talented, experienced and capable of writing, editing and publishing such books -- such as a book that tells us the whole history and chronology behind the Kargil conflict, for instance -- are too busy working on sponsored supplements for the World Cup. Or writing columns about the Indian team's performance in England, but ignoring the India army's performance in Kargil. That is a tragedy almost as great as the deaths of those 160 brave soldiers in Kargil. And it's also the reason why, despite having one of the world's single largest English-literate populations, India doesn't have even a hundred books on the subjects and issues that really matter. As a reader and a book lover, that really rankles. As an Indian, it's humiliating. ___________________________________________________________ Ashok Banker accepts views and abuse at firstname.lastname@example.org ___________________________________________________________