Our newspapers do not apparently believe in obituaries. And if they do, they are disguising their beliefs. For all the pages of reading they put out newspapers hardly provide information on the celebrities who have passed away as if their lives were of no consequence, anyway. If we understand media philosophy aright, an obituary is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. They don'tseem to realise that people matter, their lives and achievements matter and they can be role models for another generation.
On April 9, Gopal Raju passed away. Many would most likely say: Gopal, who? No one in India would probably know him. A New York NRI, Raju was the one who founded the journal India Abroad. It started as a monthly, and not long after turned into a weekly. It was a success from the word go. India Abroad met the needs of NRIs in the United States who wanted access to news from India. No less than Jagdish Bhagwati, the distinguished economist, was to say in a condolence message, that Raju ?single-handedly helped the diaspora here to make its voice felt politically?, and that Indians in the US owe much to him. ?What a great legacy he has left behind!? was Bhagwati'stribute. Raju promoted the Indian American Foundation and in his lifetime raised substantial sums of money each year to assist projects in India. In 1994 he had set up the Indian American Centre for Political Awareness which provided invaluable service to young Indians in America wishing to play their part in their country'spolitical life, at different levels, through Congressional internships.
India Abroad was a remarkable journal in that it broke away from the traditional pattern of Indian publications and pioneered a new style that combined Indian content with American form. His death was mourned by Indians living everywhere in the United States and that was evident in the letters that were published in the journal that Raju edited. But it was ignored by the media in India. A pity. Perhaps Shashi Tharoor is a name more familiar to Indian readers because of the column he has been contributing among other papers to The Hindu.
Tharoor started writing a column for the Chennai paper some seven years ago, to be precise, on April Fool'sDay 2001. By and large it was well-received. Unlike an editorial writer, a columnist enjoys more freedom. The former has to reflect his paper?s?or the publisher?s?point of view. His freedom is limited, unless, of course, his and his publisher'sviews coincide. A columnist need not necessarily have to follow a pattern laid out for him. He is a freer bird. He can view life through his own eyes which is what makes any columnist, for that matter, readable.
During the seven years he wrote for The Hindu, Tharoor wrote some 150 columns on things and events that mattered to him. What apparently fascinated him was what Rabindranath Tagore once summed up as ?the idea of India?. As Tharoor put it in the last column he wrote, (April 27): ?We wear the dust of history on our foreheads and the mud of the future on our feet.? Perhaps he felt the mud of the future too heavy to bear, for he has now bid farewell to the Shashi Tharoor Column. Maybe, in another few months, he may shake off the mud and start writing again.
For the time being surely his column will be missed. Meanwhile one wonders what is wrong with the Indian media. Is it shackled by the government? The question arises following the coverage given to President Pratibha Patil's recent visit to Brazil and Mexico. When a President or Prime Minister pays a state visit to a foreign country he (or she, as in this case) is usually accompanied by a host of selected native reporters. If any accompanied President Patil, they did a poor job. Hardly any paper cared to enlighten the reading public of the significance or relevance of Brazil or Mexico to India. And what is more painful, both Brazil and Mexico cared even less. Both showed total disrespect to our President out on her maiden visit to a foreign country. Smt Patil was to address the 81-member Brazil Senate. But how many were in attendance? Just fifteen. Yes, fifteen. After addressing the Senate, Smt Patil apparently went to address the lower house, the House of Deputies, where, according to reports, only three (yes, only three) members out of 513 were present initially before she entered the chamber.
The media, it is reported, was ushered out before Smt Patil addressed her small audience. How does one address an ?audience? of three? One does not remember any of the correspondents from India accompanying their President writing of this deliberate insult flung at her, no doubt under pressure from officialdom. Smt Patil subsequently cancelled her address to the Mexican Parliament, probably fearing having to face the same situation. A report on this appeared in The Hitavada (April 28) but this report was provided not by an Indian news agency but by the India Abroad News Service (IANS) founded by Gopal Raju. An explanation from the Ministry of External Affairs is called for. Questions should be raised in the Lok and Rajya Sabhas. Were Smt Patil to address the US Congress, the authorities would invariable have seen to it that the house was full, even if Congressmen did not attend the session.
Clerks and aides would have been ushered into the Hall to give the impression that every Congressman was eager to hear the Chief Guest. Brazilians and Mexicans obviously have no sense of courtesy. The IANS report quoted Indian officials as blaming Indian reporters for ?making mountain out of a molehill? and for ?craving for sensationalism?. Some cheek, that. The entire matter calls for a deeper study. If Brazilian and Mexican parliamentarians couldn'tcare two hoots for the Indian President, why in the first place was she sent to their respective countries? Is reporting disrespect shown to our President a matter of making a mountain out of a molehill? Who, in the External Affairs Ministry, is responsible for arranging the President'strip?and for what reason? And what is so damaging in reporting the event? Shouldn'tthe truth be told? One wonders what Smt Patil herself has to say in such matters. Either nobody has cared or dared to ask her how she felt at being disregarded or she has on her own decided to remain silent. In either event, it does not speak highly of our External Affairs Ministry and, for that matter, of our media. As for the media, perhaps the less said, the better. It long ago?since the Emergency, as a matter of fact?lost its guts. Obviously, it hasn'trecovered since then.