Manipur: forever fringe?

BY SHYAM G. MENON| IN Media Practice | 11/06/2010
For all its sound and fury the Indian media couldn’t move its masters – the mainstream market – on the situation in Manipur.
How many Indian cities or states will suffer a one day-blockade, leave alone two months of it, asks SHYAM G MENON.

There is a thing in today’s journalism.

 

It is called the fringe.

 

That’s how editors have described to me articles submitted on topics out of the mainstream or away from their immediate focus area and yet very much part of this world. Initially I used to think fringe was topic driven. So rural was fringe for urban, mountain was fringe for coastal, frugality was fringe for luxury so on and so forth. It is not entirely that. Fringe is being peripheral in an ever deepening excavation of subject with sworn loyalty to endorsing righteousness for the digging. The human mind is more Google Earth than good old atlas. The former with its ability to zero in on and keep magnifying personal address makes an alien of neighborhood. The atlas, with no greater magnification than what’s possible on printed page, leaves you feeling silly for never having explored your neighborhood. Money is more in Google Earth. Since the best editors are those who don’t upset readers or squeeze advertisements (besides not bothering to see the atlas), the market acquires the onus of telling a publication what is worth writing about and what isn’t. This intelligence has taken us into the realms of absolute immediacy. Fringe today is anything more than a glance or finger length away.

 

I don’t know how many finger lengths away, Manipur is. There must be some Internet website with a tool to measure the distance in finger lengths and inform us how astoundingly fringe the state is. What I do know from my school days (and hopefully they haven’t changed the syllabus yet) is that Manipur is in India. Fringe or not fringe, market or not, I expect an Indian to know about Manipur. If an Indian editor needs to weigh his options – should it be that article on urban real estate or the one on near two month-old economic blockade in Manipur – it is he who is grossly fringe to journalism. And yet it is this person who will triumph at day’s end with his obvious preference for the real estate story. Unlike a hill state, which even if you Google Earth it cannot outgrow an image of rugged terrain, real estate is a mountain of developed data, glossy pictures and potential quotes all a mere phone call away. Further, every new day with morning paper bought and read begs for chatter, even the pompous wisdom of smart knowledge, not Manipur or real end to misery.

 

Manipur has had to battle it hard to be heard. Few people elsewhere in India knew of the blockade for the first one month. Then, thanks to the Home Ministry’s insensitivity of dispatching a rebel leader bang into it, the issue hogged headlines for a day or two. For the last four weeks it has been the stuff of regional news with occasional forays into headlines and the odd opinion piece on it. Then it got displaced from that hard earned visibility. There were the relapses to telecom scandal, the train accident, the Kargil War expose’, the Pawar angle to IPL. Finally there was the Bhopal verdict delivered 26 years after the gas tragedy. It shook the nation up and sent media houses into furious activity, mining deeper and deeper into the past to come up with that extra tit-bit that would qualify to be great news for today’s outraged readers.

 

All the while, a state’s today lay bogged in suspended surgeries, shut hospitals, costly food and even more expensive fuel. Not to mention, the misery had been going on for more than fifty days when the Bhopal verdict was announced with its juicy adjunct of top industrialist sentenced. If anything, Manipur has been proof for the fact that no matter how highly the media regards itself for its tsunami style breaking news and much publicized human rights campaigns, when it matters, where it matters – it is a big zero. It is loudly ineffective. That should be a headline. For all its sound and fury the Indian media couldn’t move its masters – the mainstream market – on the situation in Manipur. How many Indian cities or states will suffer a one day-blockade, leave alone two months of it?

 

If the present can be the aftershock of the past and its post mortem at the expense of noticing a crisis right now, what is fringe? Would it be today ignored for learned analysis years later? My editors would know.

 

(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)

 

 

 

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