IN an earlier column I had referred to the passing away of a couple of Indian celebrities, regretting the absence of an obituary page in our national newspapers. The question was raised why it is that our dailies which are doing so well circulation and advertisement-wise are so reluctant to acknowledge the good, often splendid, work done by the departed in many fields. There must be some reason for it. One of the deceased I referred to was Manohar Malgaonkar (the surname is spelled as Malgonkar). It is pleasing to find that since then, Deccan Herald (June 18) has written, not an obit, but an editorial on Malgonkar who “as a pioneering Indian English writer shaped a niche for himself and was among the few to earn early international recognition”.
Deccan Herald noted that Malgonkar “did not have the earthiness of a Mulk Raj Anand, the evocativeness of an RK Narayan or the philosophical subtleties of a Raja Rao, but had a strong sense of the social and political milieu of pre- Independence India”. Malgonkar’s stories, the paper added, “had a historical dimension and they drew on the ebb and tide of shifting times and he succeeded in bringing history to life through an interplay of human relationships”. Malgonkar, said the paper, “did not always readily accept the world in which he lived and questioned its beliefs and values” maintaining that “the diversity of his tastes and talents, and his pursuit of many interest might have helped him to make sense of a changing world in the most turbulent of recent times”.
One might ask: “Is it necessary for a distinguished person to be recognised in an Obit page when he receives more prominence if taken editorial note of? Good question. The Telegraph (June19) carried a full edit page article by Rmachandra Guha on Anjan Ghosh who died recently. Guha wrote about him in the highest praise, calling him “a gentle, cultured and utterly civilised human being”, who admired MN Srinivas and Andre Beteille and under whom he studied. One advice Anjan Ghosh gave him was to “read scholars, not presented in the syllabus”. Ghosh was a social scientist who first taught at IIT, Delhi, then at IIM, Calcutta to end up at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences. One can be assured that Anjan Ghosh, for all his scholarship, would not have even been heard of beyond a small and limited circle, but if he could impress Guha, he surely must have been quite a scholar to be reckoned with.
An Obit Page need not necessarily have to be limited to the lives of politicians, literary figures, film stars and sportsmen. It should acknowledge the contribution of scholars and others who have richly contributed to the intellectual, emotional and economic growth of India.
At a time when so much is spoken and written about the Bhopal Tragedy, it takes some courage on the part of a columnist openly to wonder what it is all about. Writing in The Hindus (June 20), the distinguished media columnist Sevanti Ninan, raised a very controversial question. She asked: “Why does a fourth estate which let Bhopal lie all these years despite petitions, pleas and dharnas in the capital city, suddenly get galvanised by a lower court judgement? Why does it zero in on Warren Anderson when he was not a subject of this particular judgement? And why does a government which all these years found many reasons to convince itself that it could not get either Anderson extradited or make Dow Chemicals responsible for removing pollutants still there in Bhopal, suddenly constitute a Group of Ministers”? Ninan said that “formulating a theory of media behaviour and consequent effect is something that needs to be undertaken”. According to Ninan and what she says merits deep thought. “We also need to deduce, from class and location analysis, why some extreme situations in some parts of the country fall by the wayside in terms of media attention, allowing the government to do little or nothing despite continuing public suffering”.
Mush more validly she said: “Through it all last fortnight, you had a fascinating demonstration of how Congress Party spin, once deployed with all those chummy TV anchors, worked to move the focus away from the Prime Minister of the day to the Chief Minister of the day. Suddenly, the Warren Anderson principle of responsibility of the man at the top applies to the guilty corporation, but not to this country’s government”. Who is guilty: The government or the TV media? Or both? Is there no one to call the UPA government to order? The Asian Age (June 19) blamed the Congress Party. It said: “Instead of showing the way and taking the bull by the horns, a defensive Congress Party is intent on ruining its own case by seeking to shift the ‘blame’ on the everyone else in the party, hoping that the late Rajiv Gandhi should come out of it unscathed”. This said the paper, “shows a baleful poverty of politics” and has produced “mimic affairs in a banana republic”.
Earlier in the week a report had said that Rajiv Gandhi had given in on a request made by then US President Ronald Reagan. If the request was made over the phone, there is no way of proving it. But it is clear that India, at the time of Rajiv Gandhi, was still far away from being a power in its own right and was willing to give in to the request of an American president. If now, the Government of India takes the issue seriously, what does it suggest? That India’s Prime Minister can stand up to Obama without any hesitancy? Is the United States now going downhill? Interestingly, that is the subject of lengthy article in Mainstream (June 5). According to its author, Dilip Hiro, “by now, from Afghanistan to Honduras, Brazil to China, global leaders large and small, increasingly sense that the Obama Administration’s bark is worse than its bite, and though the US remains a major power, it is no longer the determinative one. The waning of the truncated American Century is by now irreversible”. That is a strong observation to make, but for that reason not incorrect. But one wonders whether President Obama and the US Administration is aware of the ‘fact’.