Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What the papers say

Last night’s bombings in Jaipur are front page news in all the papers, today. Well, excepting the Mumbai Mirror, where the terrorist attacks don’t appear until page 12. (The Mirror’s front page strap-line, in fact, reads “We undertake all kinds of killings,” then, in smaller print, specifies “cockroaches, termites, rodents, bedbugs” – a Godrej Hi-Care advertisement, eye-catching, but more concerned with commerce than good taste.)
Our breakfast idli are hard to swallow, this morning. Less than a month ago, we were at more than half of the bomb-target sites, innocently snapping holiday photos to remember the Pink City, trying to evade the anxious clutches of the perfume-sellers and cloth-merchants. With up to eighty casualties, and twice that number of injured, it’s horrific, so the reporting can be nothing less. More shocking, to our protected western sensitivities, are the graphic photos, which make Jaipur more a Red City, than a pink one.
Under the headline, “Jaipur Jolted,” the Hindustan Times carries an aftermath picture, in colour, unnecessarily labelled “Blood and mangled remains of vehicles at one of the blast sites.” (At the bottom of the page, a large publicity shot of Shah Rukh Khan, the very one I have on my kitchen wall, his undone shirt and his six-pack both rippling in the breeze – free fan-poster with our DVD of Om Shanti Om. They’re planning to open Bollywood stores, where you’ll be able to buy SRK memorabilia from as little as Rs 50. Can I use the word “contrast” again, or are you tired of it?)
The Times of India’s more discreet, at a cursory glance, but the photo of the cycle-rickshaw, with its driver, utterly relaxed, head lolling back, knees splayed, brings tears to my eyes. He looks like the thousands of drivers we pass every day, parked up by the kerb, snatching a quick forty winks while business is slack, except this one’s not sleeping, he’s dead. “BLOOD AND GORE: P11” – in case you’d not had enough. Even the flowers at the flower market in Chauti Chaupar are spattered in blood. We’ve been there.
Not only tourist sites, but popular local temples are targeted, hence the cruel timing. “Tuesday is my God Day,” as Monu says, so Hanuman’s Temple’s packed with chanting Hindus. The bomb takes out an entire family of seven, arriving for worship.
The dead are laid out in overcrowded hospital corridors, and the mobile phones in their pockets start to ring. The doctors use the phones, to ring relatives, with nothing but sad news. It’s beyond imagining.
All of life’s here, in newsprint, a distilled microcosm, including the ridiculous. In the same edition as man’s inhumanity to man, home thoughts from abroad – what a proud moment for us Brits – comprise speculation about Liz Hurley’s pregnancy, a report on the £20K “Hen Night” of Wayne Rooney’s bride to be, before their £3M wedding, and more column inches, for Cheri Blair, than she deserves. And – how random is this? - Bath University, it seems, is offering a degree in funerals.
On the subject of Education, it’s prime recruiting-time for next year’s courses, so in Horizons, HT’s supplement for the young, seats of learning across the world are touting for takers. You could do an MBA in the USA, or go to France to study International Finance (in English), or you could do an MA in Media and Film Production, at our very own Sheffield Hallam, which apparently offers “the Number One Learning Experience in the UK.” If you’re after a business qualification with real clout, though, consider the Mumbai Educational Trust. “Admissions open for razor sharp minds,” MET says, “at the thirteenth best MBA school in South Asia.” You can’t do better than that. Well no, maybe there are twelve other options you should try, first.
Whole rainforests are dedicated to cricket news, and it’s not all good. Next to a picture of racily clad cheer-leaders (this one won’t go away, til the girls pack up their batons and flags, and go away, themselves...), an outraged Kishor Tiwari. It’s more serious than sequinned bikinis, this time. Mr Tiwari’s head of the Vidarba JAS, a non-government organisation for distressed farmers. Since June 2005, three or four farmers a day, in Vidarba, have resorted to suicide, no longer able to make a living off the land. Not only the hard-pressed farmers, but widows and families, have been promised food security and healthcare, yet no support’s forthcoming. Mr Tiwari’s incensed, because the Government’s proposing to waive the 25% entertainment tax – levied on all public events where a profit is to be had – for the IPL matches in Mumbai, at a loss of Rs 8-10 crore.(£1M+) You can’t help but feel, Mr T has a point.
The devil reliably being in the detail, I turn to the small ads, and am not disappointed. Classified – the microcosm, in microcosm. If you want English lessons, personality improvement, pigmentation control, a life partner or just a holiday in Santa Cruz, this is where you should look. If it’s a job you’re after, there are openings for every career, from chief cardiologist or sales engineer, to sandwich artist or office-assistant-cum-payment-follow-up-person. I give you this verbatim. I’ll save the page, if you don’t believe me.
The In Memoriam section’s compulsive reading. For Rs 850 – ten lines plus photo, fifty rupees per extra line - your loved one can appear in “The Unforgettables.” Here, we slip back a century or so, to a time when there’s definitely someone unamused on all the pennies in your pocket. Shri B.N.J.’s family make their anniversary pledge: ”To his august memory we rededicate ourselves.” So they should, since he’s “sagacious as an entrepreneur.” There’s a more lyrical tribute for Shri P.S.: “Your memories are like fragrance, spread through our lives.” You can tell a lot about a people, from the way they treat their departed, I always feel.
My favourite bit’s the rewriting history section. “I have changed my name,” says one ad, “from Rajdeep Suresh Gawhane,” – I’m expecting something radical, like Ron Stevens, but no – “to Rajdeep Suresh Gavahane.” As per affidavit. You wonder, why they bother. I might consider bothering with the next section, though, the Change of Date of Birth. “I, Ashwin P., had changed my Date of Birth, from 08/01/1962 to 08/09/1963, as per Govt. of Mara., Gazette Number....” Why? Had he been lying about his age? Was the new birthday more auspicious? Did he not want a bus-pass? And why, why the pluperfect?
Three little words, for the end of the news review, letting a picture paint a thousand words. In the background, the corrugated walls of a building-site. Centre stage, boys playing cricket in the dusty road. The picture’s taken over the top of a man, spark-out, lying on a pile of bricks, lost in sleep. The caption: Snores and Fours. All-Mumbai, in the click of a shutter.
As Sir Paul said, just another day.