Dipped in Witriol
The real God of the Indian media (not to be confused with Rupert Murdoch or some desi baronji /baron-deviji) resides somewhere in the eastern sector of swarg lok or heaven. Seated on a (news) paper mache throne, Lord Patrakara, one of the lesser known gods, keeps watch on his world of editors, reporters, camerapersons, and proprietors. It is a thankless job considering the number of publications and television news channels which have mushroomed in recent times. But his holiness does what he has to without a murmur of protest till denied his daily quota of wafers, cola, and heavy metal music.
Unlike other gods, Patrakara does not have a temple on earth venerating him, which he, incidentally, feels is just as well. In fact, writing in the Daily Celestial he has put his views on record. To quote: “If I had temples where I was the deity then there would be hundreds petitioning me with prayers for improved circulation and viewership. Now they just fix the figures.” In charmed circles in heaven, apna media God is known as a bit of an eccentric. No one can quite figure out why he reads Homer and Eratosthenes one minute and then switches to Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism in the next, while the sound system in his chamber belts out Metallica’s Enter Sandman. “All this media watching has got to him,” was the conclusion drawn by Zeus, the Greek god of thunder and lightning.
Every year, in August-September, Patrakara travels the length and breadth of India to assess the media situation in this part of the world (incidentally he jocularly describes the trip as a paid holiday). This year too he has undertaken the journey. His first stop was Delhi where he checked into a five-star hotel as T.V. Papyrus, an Egyptian national. Dressed in Bermudas and a flowery bush shirt, he looked very much a tourist than a god. We caught up with the Lord who gave us darshan and obliged us by answering a few questions. Excerpts:
Q: Lord Patrakara, what are your areas of concern vis-à-vis the media?
A: Well, to be frank, I am more worried about what is happening to journalism in heaven than what is happening here in Bharat. Somehow, practices followed by editorial, management and marketing on earth are beginning to be replicated in the celestial media. That certainly is cause for concern, and the gods have been left wondering as to how mere mortals managed to influence the heavens.
I know you are puzzled by what I’m saying, so allow me to explain. A few years ago we had one paper--The Celestial Times--and a news channel--Swarg Darshan. Now we have several papers and TV channels; with each trying to outdo the other, the competition has become cut throat. So, we have people manufacturing stories, gods being pitted against gods, and a spate of one-sided reports. Why, we even had a sting operation where a cherub was caught on camera saying he wouldn’t mind eating a stolen apple!
Q: What are your latest observations on the Indian media?
A: I find several journalists are currently going through a condition I call Anna-rexia. Disappointed that Anna Hazare has given up his fast and disbanded his team, many reporters/editors are being forced to throw up all their perceptions and convictions much like anorexia patients forcefully vomit the food they eat. For many Anna has been a letdown and they now go about their jobs as if their purpose in life has been lost. How could they be so subjective and put all their eggs in one Anna basket?
However, more disturbing is the trend among media houses of diversifying into non-publication businesses. We all know the Deccan Chronicle group’s forays into the cricket league and the book trade has put it in a financial mess. Now, we have intelligence that media houses are toying with the idea of copywriting the alphabets of the English language. That would mean paying royalty each time anyone in India uses letters from A-Z! I have to stop them from going ahead with their crazy plans. That, incidentally, is the real purpose of my visit.
Q: Getting back to the celestial media, are things as bad in heaven as they are on earth?
A: Well, not quite, but the time has come to take action. The rot actually set in with some of the papers and channels covering the fun and frolic sessions we have up there. Soon, lesser gods, cherubs, and devadoots began to get coverage. And then, suddenly everyone wanted to be featured, and events were actually organised for the benefit of the media. It did not take long for marketing to begin demanding money for positive coverage. Capitalizing on this, one fallen angel, deported to hell, even wanted a PR plug and was willing to pay a lot for it, but luckily someone caught him out.
Q: But how did the media in heaven learn all these earthly tricks?
A: Some gods, I can’t name them, apparently went disguised as conference room furniture to a series of brainstorming sessions of a few media houses in Delhi. They returned with gyan about paid news, sting operations, fudging circulation figures, etc. Before long, editors began to veer towards the view once expressed sarcastically by W.H Auden that what the mass media offers is “entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.”
Q: You talked about paid news? Is there anything called money in heaven?
A: No. But we now have bonds redeemable at all banks worldwide. The earth is the only place where currency, as you know it, operates. Till a few years ago we had nothing to do with money in any form. But then financial institutions in America and Europe began to influence some of the gods using a new communication system developed by NASA. Finally, it was decided to introduce bonds. And now everyone is heading to man’s own planet for some real fun. Why, even lowly cherubs can be seen snorkeling in Lakshwadeep, sunbathing in Kovalam, and partying in Goa.
Q: Getting back to the media, are you going to take some tips from the Press Council of India?
A: I did call on Justice Markandey Katju, the chairman of the Council. He was kind enough to share with me a report on paid news. I went through it and, frankly, I was shocked at what I read. On my next visit, the Judge gave me a copy of Plato’s Republic and gifted me a collections of poems by William Wordsworth. But my reading poetry will not help us in heaven. In fact, I’m afraid nothing can. Once paid news spreads its roots then it is here to stay.
Q: Lord Patrakara, can you tell us something about the condition of journalists in your part of the universe?
A: The cherubs who do all the running around are poorly compensated. Of course, those among them linked to marketing are favourites of the managements and taken care of. As for the gods who play editors, they move around in big chariots and drink the finest somras. It’s much like what you see here: the committed journalist is fast becoming an endangered species.
Q: Could you explain the new trend of gods coming to earth disguised as humans?
A: Because they realise that’s where the fun is: the pubs, the corporate holidays, Bollywood… it’s perfect.
Q: Isn’t heaven supposed to be perfect?
A: Well, it is, but suddenly the folks up there feel such perfection triggers boredom. You see, a bit of paradise lost is paradise regained. In fact, earth was a heaven that the Almighty created for man, woman, and journos. But they had different ideas…