Archive for August, 2010

‘Better to be over-fair than not give full picture’

31 August 2010

Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter and author of The Cure, Geeta Anand, in an interview with Meher Marfatia in Housecalls magazine:

Q: Are there are any rules for rookie reporters coming wide-eyed into the field?

A: I’d dvise young journalists to write the truth as it is, not like a movie screenplay. Never lie about your article’s intention… or be tempted by the slightest embellishments to it. There’s no shying away from saying what you have to, but not before loads of research. Go first to the ‘other’ side while starting a story. Better to be over-fair than not give the full picture. Stick with balance, nothing in life is black or white anyway.

Photograph: courtesy gogomag.com

The award for the best opening para goes to…

30 August 2010

It takes a certain skill for the same sports reporter to write the same opening paragraph for the same event (national sports awards) for the same newspaper three years in a row.

Saji Chacko manages to do it with aplomb for Mail Today year after year.

Link via Chiranjeev R.

Also read: If imitation is the best form of flattery…

The light goes out of Selvan Shiv Kumar. RIP.

29 August 2010

sans serif records with a heavy heart the passing away of photojournalist Selvan Shiv Kumar in Bangalore today. He was in his early 40s and had been ailing for some time. He is survived by his wife and son.

Shiv Kumar had worked in The Times of India, Deccan Herald, Hindustan Times and DNA in Bangalore, Delhi and Bhopal, covering the hunt for Veerappan and the manhunt of Rajiv Gandhi‘s killers among other assignments.

In July 1997, Shiv became the first Indian photojournalist to be selected for the Reuters Foundation Willy Vicoy fellowship for the fall term at the University of Missouri, USA. As photo editor of the newly launched Bangalore edition of DNA in 2008, Shiva was responsible for a five-days-a-week picture page.

He was photo editor of Bangalore Mirror at the time of his demise.

Last active on his Twitter account in May, one of his tweets reads:

“Photojournalism has lost its sheen of spontaneous pictures to the present day of posing and the subject looking into the camera.”

Read his profile: Light Stalkers

Visit his blog: http://shivselvan.blogspot.com

View some of his pictures: Flickr

For a nice setup, another life was (almost) lost

24 August 2010

Image: courtesy The Times of India

Also read: For a few TV rating points, a life was lost

What’s in a name when it’s all about a soundbyte

24 August 2010

The veteran sports writer Nirmal Shekar in The Hindu:

A well known sportsman told me four or five years ago that a young television reporter chased him for half an hour after a practice session for an ‘interview.’ Finally, she got lucky and the sportsman obliged.

“OK, shoot,” he said.

“No sir, just give me a quote,” said the reporter, sticking the microphone perilously close to his lips.

The clever young man said something trite and insignificant but did manage to put a smile on the reporter’s face.

The parting shot from the reporter: “Sir, can I please have your name?”

Read the full article: Bathing in the banal

Also read: The arrival of a TV anchor foretold

Paprazzi picture of Bollywood babe sans makeup

Look, what I got my wife on our wedding day

23 August 2010

Stranger things have happened to journalists, of course. But for R. Uday Kumar (seated, right), a reporter with The Times of India in Mysore, it all happened on the same day, 22 August 2010.

Uday tied the knot to K. Nitya Darshini on Sunday morning.

Mid-way through the nuptials, Uday rushed out of the marriage hall, in his wedding attire, with newly wed wife in tow.

Reason: Uday, who recently won the best reporter award instituted by the Mysore district journalists’ association (for his report on a family that lives at a cremation ground), had to pick up his prize from the governor of Karnataka, H.R. Bharadwaj, who garlanded the just-married couple to the visible delight of MDJA functionaries.

Photograph: Pragathi Gopalakrishna

For a few TV rating points more, a life was lost

21 August 2010

Mail Today, the tabloid newspaper owned by the India Today group (which also owns the Hindi TV channel Aaj Tak), reports that two TV journalists have been arrested named in Ahmedabad for coaxing a man to immolate himself outside a police station in front of their cameras.

The journalists—Mayur Raval and Kamlesh Raval—belonging to TV9 Gujarat and a local cable company GTPL, reportedly urged Kalpesh Mistry, 29, to set himself on fire to protest his harassment by police over a property dispute. Mistry suffered 90 per cent burns and later died in hospital.

An eye witness to the incident says the journalists were busy shooting the immolation instead of helping the victim. “They told me not to bother about it as it was all a drama,” the tea vendor reportedly told the police.

Police have booked a a case of abetment of suicide under section 306 of the Indian penal code against the two journalists. Protests by journalists organisations decrying threats to the freedom of the press are awaited.

Facsimile: courtesy Mail Today

Well-armed gunmen shoot unarmed woman

19 August 2010

On World Photography Day, visitors write thousands of words to the background music of a fountain at Lal Bagh in Bangalore on Thursday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

2009: A lensman’s eyes reaches parts others’ eyes don’t

2008: With so many legs, who on earth needs a tripod?

***

Also read: Is the end nigh for black and white photography?

T.S. NAGARAJANMy most unforgettable picture

The maharaja’s elephant that made me a lensman

Why namma Gopi (almost) cried in January 2008

How a world-class yoga photograph was shot

EXCLUSIVE: Unpublished doodles of R.K. Laxman

18 August 2010

The hand of India’s most famous newspaper cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, rests in a hospital in Bombay without a pen or pencil in its grip. Not even sure if (or when) it will regain the strength to pick up a pen or pencil to regale the millions who have woken up to the magic behind its mind for decades.

In this sans serif exclusive, Laxman’s grand-nephew, the journalist turned corporate manager Chetan Krishnaswamy, paints an intimate portrayal of Mysore-born, Kannada-speaking “Dudu”, with unpublished doodles and illustrations from the family album.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

After resolutely hanging on to the front page of The Times of India for close to 60 years now, it is perhaps difficult for the Common Man to remain in obscurity for too long.

Even as his creator lies in a hospital in Bombay recuperating from a series of paralytic strokes, the Common Man seems to have naively steered himself into the centre of a religious controversy.

A caricature of contemporary politics based on a biblical scene, with the Common Man occupying Jesus’s position, which appeared in ToI in July, hurt a section of the Christian community. Matters seem to have cooled off after the newspaper tendered an apology.

Many years ago R.K. Laxman had infuriated a group of Hindu fanatics when a cartoon showed  them setting fire to an automobile. The group had barged into his room and demanded to know how Lord Ram’s staunch followers could be projected as rabid arsonists.

Much to their annoyance, the quick-witted Laxman expressed his doubts on whether they had all really imbibed the Ramayana.  He went on to expound that the most ardent Ram bhakt was Lord Hanuman, who had gone about setting fire to Lanka with his blazing tail.

Rather confused, the group had trooped out awkwardly.

***

Suffice to say, Laxman has led an unconventional life. In 1960 he divorced his then dancer-wife Kamala and married his niece also named Kamala. Laxman did it on his terms and brooked no criticism.

The genius is prone to being eccentric and intimidating at times.

At a Bollywood party, a fawning crowd sought his views on actor Sanjay Dutt’s involvement  in the Bombay serial blasts of 1993. Laxman said that he did not think that the actor had played a major role in the terrorist act.

“However, the judge should pronounce the death sentence for the way he looks and the way he acts,” added Laxman brazenly.

There was a disconcerting hush that preceded this statement.

***

On most occasions when Laxman travelled into Bangalore or Mysore, I would be his privileged companion. I drove with him (and Kamala) to all his engagements and eagerly absorbed  his wry observations, sarcastic comments and comical anecdotes.

His world view was simple yet fascinating.

Laxman’s spontaneity and brilliance, was most visible when he held forth before an eager, awe-struck audience.

On one occasion, he recounted how he had mastered the art of slinking away from noisy parties that always began well past midnight. At an appropriate hour,  Laxman would sidle up to the host, mumble a vague incoherent excuse interspersed with words like “airport”, “appointment” , “meeting”  etc.

Invariably, the tipsy host would fall for the ploy and accompany him to the exit.  At home, Laxman would contentedly  slurp on his staple fare of curd rice and retire to bed.

Once in Mysore, after we finished attending a seminar, a leading business house was hosting dinner in Laxman’s honour that evening.

After a hot bath we headed to the venue, which was supposed to be at one of the offices of this flourishing  group. The minute we landed there, Laxman  noticed that people were already mid-way through their bisi bele baath and mosaranna.

The bigger crisis was that there was no whisky being served.

In a split second, Laxman grabbed the arm of his old friend, the legendary nuclear scientist Raja Ramanna (who hailed from Vontikoppal originally), coaxed him to abandon his plate and propelled him out.

All of us jumped into Raja Ramanna’s Mercedes and headed to Hotel King’s Kourt for Johnny Walker Black Label and dinner.

Of course, a magnanimous Raja Ramanna paid the bill.

Earlier that day at the seminar in Mysore’s intellectual retreat Dhvanyaloka,   Laxman was edgy while presenting his paper.

At one point, the academic doyen Dr C.D.Narasimhaiah interjected and commented: “You Tamilians have always been humorous….”

The Mysore-born Laxman bore into him from above his thick rimmed glasses and said: “Who told you I am a Tamilian, I am a Kannadiga….”

The loudest applause came from noted Kannada writer S.L.Bhyrappa, who was sitting by my side. I would like to believe that Laxman was quite genuine when he made that comment.

***

On another occasion, chief minister S.M.Krishna was felicitating the cartoonist at Bangalore’s Institution of Engineers. Soon after the event, there was a milling crowd that blocked me from getting to Laxman.

Even as the driver revved the State car with Laxman in it, there  was confusion all around, security was instructed to look for a certain Chetan Krishnaswamy.

Sensing an emergency, I rushed to the car and plugged my head in, he looked at me a trifle irritated  and enquired: “So where are we going?”

That evening, accompanied by my dear friend and former bureaucrat Pramod Kumar Rai, we sipped beer in his guest house.  The next morning the hospitable Chief Minister’s wife sent the Laxmans piping hot idlis for breakfast.

***

On a visit to a not-so-distant relative’s house in Bangalore, he irritatedly whispered into my ears: “Who is who here? The servants and the relatives all look the same.”

Thankfully nobody heard that.

Dudu , as Laxman is called in the family, was born on 24 October 1924, the youngest of six sons. His strict headmaster father Rasipuram Venkataraman Krishnaswamy Iyer was  imperious and remote, preoccupied with his work to bother much about his youngest son.

The mother Gnanambal, who was the Mysore Maharani’s favourite partner in tennis, bridge and chess, was the cheerful collaborator.

Not many know that in his working years Laxman unfailingly sent his mother a portion of his salary by post. When he came to Mysore on vacation, he would spend most of  his time sprawled on his mother’s cot.

The other great influence was his famous sibling R.K.Narayan, who, to young Laxman’s relief, underplayed the importance of academics, connected him to important artists in Mysore and allowed him to illustrate his short stories for The Hindu set in mythical Malgudi.

Interestingly, both the brothers had contrasting personalities.

While Narayan was a teetotaler, unassuming, patient and more gentle; Laxman was mercurial and quite a free-spirited rabble rouser. Narayan mentored his nephews and grand nephews; was always concerned about the extended family’s well being and future.

Laxman was affectionate but seemed more distant.

However, both brothers were non-ritualistic in their spiritual beliefs.  Laxman, though was a little more vocal in criticising established religion and sometimes refused to walk into crowded temples.

His favorite deity has always  been the playful elephant god Ganesha, which he drew with great dexterity and vigor. For his artist eye, the rotund form seemed to manifest itself everywhere: in a tree trunk, a weather beaten boulder, a drifting cloud, etc.

Laxman’s  other enduring  subject has been the common crow, whose quirks have held him spell-bound  since childhood. Curiously, Narayan’s obsession was the owl: he had accumulated a collection of statuettes  over a period of time.

As kids, my cousins and I would be intrigued by this strange collection every time we were able to sneak into Narayan’s  airy room in Mysore.

Is there an explanation for one family spawning two such outstanding creative figures?

N.Ram, the present chief editor of The Hindu, had attempted to respond to that question:

“It happens very rarely but it has happened elsewhere. They express individual genius, which has always defied explanation, but they are also products of a particular family and social milieu that has been congenial to creativity: liberal and modern in outlook, yet imbued with strong values and laidback integrity and respectful of independence and originality.

“The link between childhood and adult creativity is now well recognised in the social science, especially psychological, literature: that is, the importance to the creative mind of a childhood in which exploration and curiosity are encouraged, not restricted or stifled.

“Laxman, a decade-and-a-half younger than Narayan, is very different in make-up, temperament and experience. But he is a product of the same kind of upbringing and social milieu that have fostered creativity, although they cannot of course ‘explain’ it.

“Further, Laxman (who, in his autobiography, tells us that ‘I do not remember wanting to do anything else except draw’) has clearly benefited, from the beginning, from having Narayan around him: to mind him as a child, to encourage his independence and creativity, to have him illustrate his Malgudi stories and novels, to take pride, without ever making a fuss, in his gift and accomplishments. I have observed the two brothers together: so close, yet so different, and so independent from each other—creative contrasts from one distinctive, difficult to replicate, pool.”

***

Although Laxman never wore a wrist watch in his entire life, he had a fondness for tweaking watches and other mechanical contraptions. He was the quintessential man about the house repairing gadgets that had broken down and fixing other knick knacks.

A born engineer!

As kids he would regale us with magic tricks. Coins would disappear and appear, sometimes dropping out of our noses and ears. He always had a bundle of tricks up his sleeve, and was the most awaited guest in our houses.

In the later years, brother R.K.Srinivasan’s home  kept a brown hardbound book for Laxman to doodle everytime he came on a vacation. The book, a family heirloom, has a range of Laxman’s caricatures.

They are whacky, whimsical, political, absurd – perhaps  reflecting Laxman’s relaxed mood. A whole bunch of them are ball-point scribbles, but with the distinctive stamp of the artist.

***

In November last year, Laxman visited Bangalore and Mysore and patiently posed for pictures with the entire family. It was painful to see him wheel chair bound and cheerless. A paralytic stroke had rendered his left side completely useless.

I had lunch with the Laxmans in their hotel room in Mysore and took them for a quick drive around Laxman’s old haunts in the city. He rode with me in silence, periodically making uncharitable comments about the city.

He cursed the lack of street lights, the  bad roads and shoddy planning of what was once his most beloved city. This time,  I was careful not to make unnecessary small talk or embellish his views with my own banalities.

As darkness set in, he wanted to be dropped back to his hotel. Unlike in the past, it seemed evident that the genius  had not enjoyed the drive.  As his helpers heaved him out of the car and placed him on  his wheel chair, he thanked me quickly and cursed the flight of stairs that appeared before him.

***

Recently, actor Akshay Kumar visited him at the Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai to talk to him about his latest film that was based on the Common Man.

Wonder whether Laxman will ever regale an audience about this encounter with the same fervor and zest.

***

Author photograph: courtesy Facebook

View unpublished doodles/ illustrations here

***

Also read: Has namma R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

Laxman & Narayan: How one family produced two geniuses

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

The 2010 Shakti Bhatt first-book prize

16 August 2010

PRESS RELEASE: In its third year, the Shakti Bhatt first-book prize is a cash award of Rs one lakh.

Entries in the following genres may be submitted: poetry, fiction (including graphic novels), creative non-fiction (travel writing, autobiography, biography and narrative journalism) and drama.

A thee-member advisory board will shortlist six books published between 1 June 2009 and 30 June 2010. This year, the board includes journalist Anil Nair, IFA programme executive Sanjay Iyer and poet Jeet Thayil.

The shortlisted books will be sent to the 2010 panel of judges; they are playwright Mahesh Dattani, writer and surgeon Kalpana Swaminathan and novelist Ruchir Joshi. The winner will be announced in the second half of November and the prize will be presented in December.

Last year’s winner was Mridula Koshy for If It Is Sweet.

Authors from the subcontinent are eligible but books must be published in India. Publications must be in English or translated into English from an Indian language. Books that have been published elsewhere and have already won prizes are eligible, though less likely to win. Vanity press publications are ineligible. 

The Shakti Bhatt Foundation is a non-profit trust. It wishes to reward first-time authors of all ages. For further information, mail shaktibhattprize@gmail.com

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