Posts Tagged ‘Pulitzer Prize’

Has Indian media aided ban on Gandhi book?

31 March 2011

VINUTHA MALLYA writes from Ahmedabad: The ban masters are back in business. And as usual, vibrant Gujarat leads the way, but this time the Centre is not too far behind.

Narendra Damodardas Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and renowned terminator of artistic freedom, has just announced the State’s “ban” on the book, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India by Pulitzer-winner and former New York Times journalist, Joseph Lelyveld.

The book’s sin: to have elicited reviews that hinted at the Mahatma’s bisexuality, despite the author’s denial of it.

Modi won the dash to the ban on Wednesday after Union law minister (and alleged author), M. Veerappa Moily, had announced in Poona earlier in the day that the Centre too was considering proscribing the book.

As the man in charge Gandhi’s homestate, “hands-on” Modi obviously couldn’t let somebody else be seen to be protecting its asmita before him. (For the record, the Congress government in Shiv Sena land, Maharashtra, too has announced a ban.)

None of the crusaders of Gandhi’s reputation have thought it worthy to read the book before publicly denouncing its content and conclusions:

“We have to think how to prevent such writings. They denigrate not only a national leader but also the nation,” said Moily.

Anyone remember Article 19? Anyone remember that Moily is both a lawyer and an author.

Modi, an old hand at ban baaja, has used this strategy in the past to his advantage: Jaswant Singh’s book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and his support in the unofficial banning of the films, Parzania and Fanaa, to name just two. While in the three instances, the issue was of inconvenient truths, in this case, he is angered that:

“The apostle of truth, peace and non-violence has been represented in a perverted manner”.

Look who’s talking about the apostle of truth, peace and non-violence, when Gandhi’s own great grandsons—Gopalakrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi—and great grandson Tushar Gandhi have no problem!

Appropriating Gandhi is as fashionable as “denigrating” him, it seems.

***

More than the politicians pavlovian response to a book they haven’t seen, read or understood, it is the Indian media’s faithful participation in the process leading upto the ban that is the most disturbing. It is action replay of the ban on Salman Rushdie‘s Satanic Verses in 1989 based on a review of the book in India Today.

The question the Indian media need to ask themselves today is: Are reviews in Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph or The Wall Street Journal the last word on books or on Gandhi? Should we not read and make up our own mind as a mature democracy? At the very least, should we not expect the proscribers to know what they are talking about?

Gujarat’s (and Maharashtra’s) ban on the Gandhi book comes despite Lelyveld ‘s clarification that he had not said anything about Gandhi’s bi-sexuality, and that had he not claimed in his book that Gandhi was a racist.

So, what gives?

In Pratibha Nandakumar’s story of reactions from Bangaloreans in the Bangalore Mirror titled ‘Fashionable to slander Gandhi’, she states without provocation: “If this was a strategic publicity campaign, his agent gets full credit. Everybody wants to get a copy.”

At this rate, we just might not.

Lelyveld is no lightweight, fly-by-night author trying to rack up some sales by creating some buzz. He is a two-time executive editor of the New York Times whose previous tome was on apartheid in South Africa.

Yet, he finds his book banned despite his clarification to the Times of India in a story it ran on 29 March 2011.

In the ToI report, Ahmedabad-based Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud was reported not only to have interacted with Lelyveld when he was researching the book but also as having read it:

“He (Suhrud)  is aghast with the reviews and swears by Lelyveld…. Suhrud goes on to give full marks to Lelyveld and the book. He says it is the first political biography of Gandhi by an expert on apartheid,” says the ToI report.

This did not stop the world’s most-selling English daily’s city supplement, Ahmedabad Times, from posting two pages of “reactions” from “celebrities” on 30 March. Not one of them had read the book, and of the 19 celebrities interviewed only three were aware that the author had denied having made any of the claims that were doing the rounds in the UK and US media.

The others reacted variously to what they had read in the media, that it was wrong (of the author) to talk of Gandhi in this way. A sketchy paragraph that did not clarify the issue introduced this photo feature. The paper did not make it clear to the reader that the author had denied having called Gandhi a bisexual or racist.

Nor did it differentiate between the book and the reviews, making them both sound synonymous.

One wonders if the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) had access to the book when it quoted passages in the story it ran on 28 March, or if it simply borrowed the passages from what was floating around online.

On 30 March, in a comment appearing on Hindustan Times online, the writer reproduces a quote by Suhrud that appears in the book (“They were like a couple”) by dropping a key word (“They were a couple”), completely misrepresenting Suhrud in the process. Such is the rush of the press.

In an interview to The Indian Express on 29 March, Lelyveld told journalist Mandakini Gahlot:

“The reason Western media reports are highlighting the ‘bisexual and racist’ aspect is ‘because of the atmosphere we live in where anything is plucked off and reported everywhere as news. The news aggregators are full of it this morning. There is no real reporting, people have not even read the book.”

The God is in the details though.

Whether or not the author questioned Gandhi’s sexuality, Indians have always been uncomfortable with Gandhi’s own honesty.

At a seminar on Gandhi, which was organised by the women’s studies department of NMKRV College in Bangalore in the late 1990s, two young students were at the receiving end of Gandhians’ ire. Their offence was to publicly discuss, from a feminist perspective, his nocturnal experiments with the teenaged nieces.

When they wondered aloud, just as any young woman would (should?), if he had considered the impact of his experiment on the young 17-year-old’s mind, many members in the audience stormed out of the auditorium.

No debate, no discussion.

The latest ban is proof that nothing has changed, only the players have.

Photograph: Mahatma Gandhi (left) with the jewish bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach (right), with whom he is alleged to have shared a relationship even while being happily married.

Would our media spend Rs 20 lakh on a ‘junket’?

22 November 2010

A PTI story estimating US President Barack Obama‘s India trip at $200 million a day prompted CNN anchor Anderson Cooper to do some number-crunching, and elicited a column from Pulitzer prize winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman, and a response from PTI editor-in-chief M.K. Razdan.

Now, the Indian Express has a diary item on the expense incurred by US journalsits who hopped on the President’s “junket”.

Image: courtesy The Indian Express

‘The only award I want to win is from my readers’

8 March 2009

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It is routine to hear super-achievers claim that the ultimate stamp of approval of their achievement comes when they are recognised and rewarded by their peers and compatriots.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman, in a discussion with the editorial staff of the New Delhi-based Indian Express, strikes a discordant note:

“People ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I am a translator from English to English. I sit down with that banker who really can only speak in the tongue of the financial market and I take that and I turn it into something simple that, hopefully, readers can understand.

“The trick is to make something much more readable without losing the complexity. We are in the communications business and sometimes we forget that. We are not in the obfuscation business and I have never written for my colleagues.

“I don’t want to win the journalist-of-the-year award from my colleagues. I want to win it from my readers. The reason why you should never read your critics is that if you do, you start writing for them and your reader picks up the paper and says, what the hell is this about?”

Read the full article: ‘There’s no Wall Street or Main Street, only one street, and we are all on it

Photograph: courtesy Discovery

Coffee Day is right: a lot can happen over coffee

12 January 2009

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Look, what a cartoon strip can do!

The federation of coffee growers in Colombia is planning to sue Pulitzer Prize-winning American cartoonist Mike Peters for at least $20 million over this Mother Goose and Grimm strip, which they say damages the reputation of Colombia coffee by associating it and its symbol “Juan Valdez” with organised crime.

In addition to damages, the federation wants a retraction from any newspaper that published the cartoon.

In an interview with Comic Riffs, Peters, who was shocked by the response, says, “For the record, I love Colombian coffee —it keeps many cartoonists going.”

‘Like a pineapple you have to have a 100 eyes’

30 March 2008

Dith Pran, who served as interpreter to the New York TimesSydney Schanberg during the Cambodian genocide under Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, has passed away in New Jersey at the age of 65.

Dith’s relationship with Schanberg, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, formed the basis for the Rolland Joffe film The Killing Fields, on the mass graves in the countryside where Pol Pot‘s men disposed of the bodies. In the movie, Haing S. Ngor, a Cambodian doctor-turned-doctor, played Dith Pran and won the Academy Award for his supporting role.

“Dith was a true reporter, a fighter for the truth and for his people,” Schanberg told the Associated Press when announcing his death. “When cancer struck, he fought for his life again. And he did it with the same Buddhist calm and courage and positive spirit that made my brother so special.”

Dith Pran served as a photojournalist for the New York Times upon his entry into the United States, and his theory of photojournalism was: “You have to be a pineapple. You have to have a hundred eyes.”

Read the full obituary: Killing Fields’ survivor Dith Pran dies

New York Times‘ obituary: Killing Fields‘ photographer dies

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