Odds and ends. Mostly odds.

The “objectives of demonetization” — an ongoing game of hunt-the-slipper being played with the economy — received its newest and shiniest entry courtesy IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who informs us that prostitution has declined as a result of the note-ban. It is reassuring when ministers pay such close attention to such niche businesses — it tells you that they are thoroughly on top of things.

The minister also displayed his capacity for empathy when he said that only those people who could not enhance their skill sets had lost their jobs in the wake of demonetization. With that one blanket statement, the minister brushed off the estimated 1.5 million people who lost their jobs just between January and April this year as a bunch of losers. If it was a reflection on his own ministry, which back in January this year was busy signing MoUs to upskill people, the low-profile minister modestly allowed that fact to pass unsaid.

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Media magic

The advantage of having a friend — in this case, Nakul Shenoy — who is adept at magic (though he, all the while, denies that there is anything called magic) is that you can over time learn to spot the moves even as the magician makes them.

Take cups-and-balls, a trick that dates back over 2000 years. It is one of the most ubiquitous of magic acts. Watch the legendary Penn and Teller perform the act:

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On Rahul Dravid, and distortions

On the sidelines of the Bangalore Literature Festival this weekend my friend Amit Varma, who edits the excellent Pragati magazine when he is not commenting on affairs of state through reasoned prose and catchy limericks, talked to me of the bubbles we live in.

To underpin his argument, Amit referenced a book written by Walter Lippmann that feels as fresh and relevant today as when it was first published in 1922. In the opening chapter Lippmann argues, broadly, that our one world is actually many worlds. There is, for instance, a real world; there is a world that our overlords, our rulers, would have us see; and then there is the world we construct in our heads, made up of the bits and pieces of information we collect and force-fit into a highly personal worldview.

Amit brought the book up in context of contemporary problems roiling the media landscape — the media’s role in creating such artificial worlds, the dawning realization that this is leading us into dangerously ill-informed waters, and the increasing difficulty in now penetrating the bubbles and setting records straight.

I then logged into Twitter at some point yesterday and discovered yet another example of Amit’s argument at work. On my timeline, I found considerable angst, neatly split between two contrasting viewpoints. One side of the argument was that Rahul Dravid had criticized Virat Kohli’s in-your-face aggression, and also attacked him for his statements on how Anil Kumble’s tenure as national cricket coach had ended. The other side held that Dravid had been wronged, that the media had misreported both his words and his intent through selective quotation.

What baffled me was this: Dravid spoke with great clarity and nuance; rather than court controversy, he did his best to play them down as largely the confections of the media. There was no ambiguity whatsoever in all that he said in course of a nearly one-hour interaction. So wherefrom the dissonance? How do two sets of people construct two such wildly contrasting worlds for themselves, in one of which Dravid is a villain and in the other he is the wronged figure? Where do they get their basic facts from? Here is a sampling:

The Financial Express ran a story under the bold headline:

Do not follow Virat Kohli blindly, says Rahul Dravid; makes big anti-Virat statement

The Hindustan Times ran its story under the headline: Cricket Controversy: Rahul Dravid says Anil Kumble’s axing was ‘unfortunate’.

A strapline below the main headline says:

“Rahul Dravid, former Indian cricket team captain, has said that Virat Kohli’s statements before the start of a major series are sometimes ‘cringe’worth while the Anil Kumble sacking was a sad affair for the team”

For its part, Times of India front-paged the story under this headline:

Cringe on reading Virat Kohli’s pre-match statements: Rahul Dravid

The organizers estimate that somewhere between 500-600 people were present at the event. These people needed no external agency to tell them what was said, and what the context was. But the vast majority gets its information through the lens of the media — and in this case, the reports I cited above dangerously distort both the statements and the intent, of the speaker.

I use the word ‘dangerously’ with deliberate intent. Never mind political and societal issues where distortions and misinformation can have life or death consequences, during my time covering cricket I have at first hand witnessed the risks inherent in such manipulations of fact. There have been instances of reports that took facts and statements out of context to create a controversy; this, in turn, has led to anger and heartburn in the team dressing room between the person who spoke the words and the person(s) who the media portrayed as targets. Such anger has taken a lot of time and effort to dispel and, in some instances, the conflicts persisted despite the affected player’s best efforts to set the record straight.

And all this for what? A few more clicks that, at the very best, bring in a few rupees — measured not in lakhs and crores but literally in mere hundreds and thousands — to your bottomline? At what point do we ask ourselves if this is really worth it? At what point do we stop bemoaning our vanishing credibility while simultaneously, by our every act, we continue to erode what remains of that credibility?

Or to put it bluntly: The three stories cited above are flat out false. Not in the sense of fakes, but in how the reporters cherry-pick words and thoughts, bowdlerize statements, and create an impression that is at variance with reality.

I know this because I was there. The question in my mind now is, now that I have seen at first hand how grotesquely the media houses in question distort events, how do I believe any report I read in their pages or on their sites?

Here is the full video of the event featuring Rahul Dravid and Rajdeep Sardesai at the Bangalore Lit Fest this Sunday morning. Watch, and make up your own minds:

In passing, here is a lineup of stories that adhered to what was actually said and, in all cases, provided the context necessary to understand the words:

#1. An Anand Vasu report for Cricbuzz

#2. Another piece, also by Anand Vasu, for the Economic Times

#3. A Saurabh Somani piece for Wisden India on the Kumble question, and another on Dravid’s thoughts on the game and on Kohli

#4. An Ashwin Achal piece for the Hindu

#5. Two stories on Cricinfo

#6. A Scroll piece on the event

This is not an exhaustive list, merely an indicative one. And even here, it is interesting to see that every single piece focuses on two statements that came at the very end of an event in course of which Dravid spoke with such clarity on so many contemporary cricketing questions.

In passing, this: At the tail end of our conversation I asked Rahul Dravid when he will write a book on his life as a cricketer. His response was that he knew what would happen if he wrote an honest book, and he didn’t want to put his family through the fallout.

At the time, I thought Rahul was being a bit paranoid, a little bit over the top. I now understand why he said what he did.

Bangalore Lit Fest, and a question for you

The 6th edition of the Bangalore Lit Fest begins tomorrow, at the Lalit Ashok. Here is the full list of speakers and performers, and here is the schedule. If anyone reading this is from Bangalore and attending, do come up and say hi — I’ll be there both days.

This also means that starting now, the blog is on a break till Tuesday morning (I have to record a podcast on Monday). I’ll post snippets from the more interesting sessions on Twitter, though, for those interested.

On my way out the door, this: A couple of conversations yesterday revolved around “the media” and its many sins of omission and commission. Both times, there was considerable dissatisfaction with the way the media functions; both times, however, the dissatisfaction was vague and non-specific; the goalposts kept shifting and it felt to me when trying to respond that I was dancing on quicksand.

So, a specific question for you: What is your take on the state of the media today? When you say “media”, who exactly are you referring to, and what is your specific grouse(s)? What specific examples have you seen that dent a particular media outlet’s credibility? Appreciate your responses, and there is no restriction on length. The reason for asking is, I want to work on an essay-length piece on the current state of the media once I am done with this weekend, and your inputs will help give it a focus and direction.

Thanks much, look forward to your inputs. (I won’t have the space to respond to each individual comment over the next three days, but I’ll find the time to read, and I’ll post considered responses once I am back).

Be well, all.

Oops!

It is not that the Delhi High Court dismissed Subramanian Swamy’s PIL seeking a court-monitored SIT investigation into the death of Sunanda Pushkar, though there is that.

It is not that an acerbic, and clearly annoyed, high court called out the PIL as a “political interest litigation” — though there is that, too.

What should make you sit up and take notice is this:

The court also said Swamy appears to have concealed data or information which he should have disclosed at the first instance. The central government, as well as the Delhi Police, told the high court that they did not subscribe to the views expressed by Swamy that the probe in the case has been influenced by Tharoor.

And this:

It was also observed by the Court that Swamy, on being specifically asked about the basis of his allegations, says that he shall file another affidavit regarding the same, thus admitting that he has information that was not filed before and which ought to have been filed.

Which is to say, having first filed a PIL where facts in his position relevant to the case were not disclosed, and having been pulled up severely by the court, Swamy now wants a do-over.

All that has been achieved so far, meanwhile, is that the new lexicon for a New India acquires another phrase: political interest litigation.

Update, 6:45 PM: Here in PDF form is the full order by the Delhi High Court. Elsewhere, predictably:

 

 

WTFJH: The Gujarat edition

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RK Laxman’s genius is timeless. Above, as exhibit A in support of that argument, a cartoon dating back to December 2002, and as relevant today as Gujarat prepares for the polls.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has over the past month or so become a permanent fixture in Gujarat, which is fair — it is his home state and his political stronghold. What is interesting is what Modi has been doing in course of his frequent-flier electioneering.

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On parsing stories

One of the conversations on the sidelines of a recent interaction with college students in Chennai was about reporting, and how to filter out the noise and focus on the facts when reading a news story. You can demonstrate the point with almost any story from the mainstream press; here is a benign instance relating to the just completed Nanded municipal elections:

In a significant morale-booster ahead of the crucial assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the Congress Thursday swept the municipal polls in Maharashtra’s Nanded, defeating the ruling BJP in a keenly contested battle. While the Congress has been in power in the civic body for nearly two decades now, and Nanded had remained loyal to the Congress even during the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly polls, the shot in the arm for the party came from the magnitude of Thursday’s win.

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