Breaking Down News: The Pen Is Mightier

In a TV debate where a variety of autochthonous writers were ranged against BJP talking heads, and one RSS thinking head — reason won

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Updated: October 24, 2015 9:33 am
General VK Singh, animal idiom, Dalit killings, ABP, Bharatiya janata party, Sahitya Akademi, indian express General VK Singh has reaped intense coverage from this developmental story

The legendary puppy has grown into a metaphorical dog, and General VK Singh has reaped intense coverage from this developmental story. Is he trying to score over his political master, who once spoke of puppies and got serious bang for barb in the media? This question is bound to be debated through the week ahead. For the moment, social media is wondering about the process for appointing army chiefs. Is it entirely random, like buying a pig in a poke, to use a time-honoured animal idiom?

It isn’t often that TV channels, barring Doordarshan and regional houses, invite writers who live in India and have won acclaim here. Being cultural illiterates, they assume that writers who have never been to Hay on Wye must be culturally irrelevant. But ABP has made up for this systemic neglect with a show in which a variety of autochthonous writers were ranged against BJP talking heads Kanchan Gupta and Sambit Patra, and RSS thinking head Rakesh Sinha. The writers won. The heads lost hands down, plain outclassed, and caterwauled pitiably in defeat.

You only have to watch this debate online to understand why the government is bamboozled by the writers’ revolt, which continues — there was a silent demonstration outside the offices of the Sahitya Akademi yesterday. The main point, raised by award-winning (and award-returned) poet Keki N Daruwalla, among others, is that the government does not have a single negotiator who even understands what is at stake. Witness the predicament of Patra, who had only one answer to the writers’ numerous complaints about the murder of rationalists and vitiation of the political discourse: “Where were you when Pandits were thrown out of of the Valley?”

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It’s hard enough being stuck with a choirboy falsetto and a shocking pink waistcoat (Amit Shah has more to answer for than he imagines), and having to wrap his head around writerly issues must make it hurt. Rakesh Sinha cut the crap and launched a screechy ad hominem attack on Ganesh N Devy, who has done more for the preservation of Indian culture than any RSS man. If he had executive capacity, he would have immediately launched a CBI probe into Devy’s activities, antecedents and motives. From Stalinist Moscow to contemporary Delhi, the gut reaction of the fascist is to have everyone probed, examined, censured, denounced and, God willing, incarcerated.

Since a wide spectrum of writers attended, the varied issues which confront the community came up. Contrary to the government’s beliefs, the literary community is not a monolith made up of rabid communists who vote Congress. Indeed, writers with party affiliations — left, right or centre — are dismissed as incompetent by their community, and try to take revenge by seeking administrative appointments in cultural institutions.

The slur of party affiliation was what goaded Urdu poet Munawwar Rana into returning his Akademi award on camera. “It is being said that you are with the cow, you with the elephant, and you with the chicken,” he said, taking out his award and a cheque from his jhola and plonking it on the table. “This is not how literature is discussed.” Patra complained that this was news TV and not Bigg Boss, but Rana had done the reasonable thing. These days, nothing is real until it’s on TV.

The universe has not lost neither its capacity for darkness, nor its black humour. On Wednesday, the government of Haryana released a banner advertisement titled ‘Ek varsh – sarvatra harsh’ (One year, joy everywhere). Sheer poetry, in two tongues. The accompanying visuals showed state chief minister ML Khattar at the side of prime minister Narendra Modi. Here, the two gentlemen stroll convivially down a Metro platform. Discussing politics, no doubt. There, they award some kind of prize to a child while Maneka Gandhi looks on benignly.

Along with that banner ad, that same Wednesday, ran the story of the two toddlers who were burned alive in caste violence in Ballabhgarh. ANI’s take of Rahul Gandhi in high umbrage followed. Some shallow journalist had accused him of going there for a photo-op. While it is usually difficult to embrace Rahul Gandhi’s position, or even to understand how he got there, this time it was different.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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