Friday, 15 October 2010

Today's news

This morning something struck me. Things are always striking me in the morning because though I am up at 7AM I am rarely awake before 11 or so. But today was different; I wasn’t struck in the face or shin by a door frame or a piece of furniture but by the realization that advertising had replaced news. No, I am not referring to news on TV where reporters advertise asthma drugs and oxygen bars by constantly being out of breath.

By now the alert reader of this blog (defined as the one who is awake before 11 in the morning), has realized that I have a thing against breathless reporters. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the news channels either and recently I received an e-mail from one saying: ‘Our reporters do this to protest the effect of greenhouse emissions and depleting oxygen levels that threaten to end the world’.

This protest seems to be in the same category as those by PETA activists who take their clothes off at the drop of a leaf - That is to say I don't get the connection between what they are protesting and how they are protesting it.

Q. What does a PETA activist have in her wardrobe?
A. Salad dressing.

Now where was I? Ah, advertising replacing news. No, I am not referring to the daily colourful supplement full of BPs (short for Botox People, sorry, Beautiful People). That’s not advertising either, that’s public relations (defined as: people the public would like to have relations with).

The thing that struck me this morning was this: For the last few weeks, more than once the front page of the morning paper has been an advertisement. The advertisers are not the usual multinationals or Indian industry giants who have advertising budgets the size of Pamela Anderson. Instead they are builders whose names you hadn’t heard until a few years ago. I guess today these are the guys with deep pockets, so deep that if you reached deep enough you might even find a politician or two. One would also imagine that the real estate market in Mumbai is booming (no, not in the eighties sense when it was literally booming with guns going off in builders’ offices). And also that there are a lot of people in this city who have money equal to the annual government spend on primary education to buy a flat.

I don't think so.

Because if you dig deeper into these ads you will notice a quiet shift in the messages and tone of voice. Earlier the ads used to say stuff like, ‘Stay in the sky,’ leading to situations like:

“Was he unwell?”
“No, he went to buy a flat.”
“They told him the price and he went straight to the sky.”

Nowadays they have changed the tune and say things like: ‘Pay 10% now. And rest on possession.’ ‘Pay in instalments!’ ‘Special pre-booking price!’ ‘No premium for higher floors!’

Is there a trend here? Is the real estate market not as gung-ho as it seems? Have too many builders bought too much space for too much money and now can’t find buyers for villas in the sky, penthouses by the sea and duplexes in the heart of the city? (Heart of the city – no wonder this city seems mortally wounded.) Will this blog post be the first prophecy that saw the crash coming?

I really wish the prophecy comes true. For one, I would like the front page of my newspaper to carry news. (In case the guys who print it have forgotten there is a reason why it is called  ‘Newspaper’ and not ‘Ad Paper’.) Second, I would like a little indication that this city can be home to everyone and that you don’t have to be billionaire, millionaire or Kalmadi to afford a flat here. And third, I am tired of text messages on my phone from companies selling flats in Noida and reminding me that I will never be able to afford a flat in what I call my home city.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Indian Fame Meter. Or, find out if you are truly famous.

“Is there any country in the world that is under foreign dominion?” Rahul (name changed to protect my safety), asked me. I had been introduced to him six minutes ago by his mother, “Rahul, this is Deven uncle. He writes”. With this curt introduction she had walked away to attend other guests and young Rahul had begun to interrogate me. Rahul is seven years old but I was not surprised by his question; he probably thought, ‘'This guy writes. He writes books. Books are filled with answers to questions...’
“Not that I know of,” I answered.
“Can you find out if there is?” Rahul was relentless. 
“Now? How?” I countered. 
“Why? You don't have internet on your phone?”

Rahul didn't look like the type who wrote a diary every night but had he been, today's entry would have read: Today was disappointing. I discovered writers don't know everything and don't make enough money - they can't even afford internet on the phone.

Rahul looked at me with a thoughtful expression. He decided to give me one more chance before giving up on me as a complete loser.

“So tell me,” he asked, “How does one become a minister in the government?”
“It is a long process. First you have to be twenty five years old. Then you have to contest an election... If you are a criminal but don't have a record (defined in this country as ‘arrested but never convicted’), your chances are better...”
“Damn!” Rahul cut me short and began chewing his lower lip. I got a little worried but decided to be ruthless and respond with questions of my own.
“Why do you ask?” 

Rahul gave me a look that he probably used on flea-infested dogs, crippled earthworms and cell phones without cameras. For a moment I thought he was going to tell what I had suspected when his mother introduced us to each other.“So I stay out of her hair and you stay away from other, important guests.” But no. Luckily Rahul had a deeper reason for his questions.

“The answer to your question is on every street corner; it is such a pity you can't see it.”' He gave me that look again. “But first, let’s rewind to the time of my birth. When I was born my father said, ‘I have made so much money that I actually don’t mind paying tax. Not that I pay it but you know the sentiment. Hmm. So where was I? Money, I have lots. Now my son has to go further; he has to become famous.’ That’s why.”

“But Rahul,” I began to protest and was cut sharply. “My name is not Rahul.” 
“I know but I need to protect my safety,” I replied sheepishly. 
“Then it’s okay I guess,” he replied. 
“But Rahul, there are so many other professions you can take up to become famous!” I continued, “You can become an actor, a musician, an astronaut, a scientist, a singer, a painter... Why you can even become a writer!”

This time he laughed outright and gave me a look reserved for cell phones without a camera and a radio.

 “That’s why nobody knows you,” he told me bluntly, “and nobody ever will. Only the truly intelligent people like Gandhi, Nehru, Gandhi, Gandhi and Gandhi knew exactly how to become famous and chose the right profession – and now the man in the street knows their name.” 
“But how can you say that Rohan?” (I suddenly realized that using the name Rahul was not a good idea. In fact it might endanger instead of protect my safety.) 
“Because, you bloody landline (he didn’t say that but that’s how it sounded), they are the only guys who are important enough to have their names given to streets, lanes, roads, highways, expressways, bridges and now, sea-links.”

He had forgotten to mention chowks but I knew he was right and that is why I will never be truly famous. And neither will Bachchan, Bachchan, Bachchan and Bachchan.