Monday, May 2, 2011

Columnists - A Breed Apart

I read few columns because most bore me. The one columnist I really used to like was Art Buchwald but he is long gone. When I was asked to write a column sometime ago for the New Indian Express I made up my mind to write in such a way that my column would make an impression on the reader as Buchwald's column made on me. I don't know if I did justice to the noble aim I set myself as I went about mixing humour with serious issues and sometimes with mundane issues. Some readers wrote mails saying they liked what they read. Thankfully no one gave me gaalis thus sparing my sensitive soul.

I did some 32 columns in the Sunday Express before the paper went quiet. They suddenly stopped the column without as much as a - 'thanks mate, we'll catch up later sometime.' Of course they stopped a lot of columnists I hear, because the Chief Editor had changed. Maybe all newspapers are like that. A bit short on the niceties - like most corporate houses are. We pay you so what else do you need (thankfully they paid all dues - thanks mate). Corporate houses must realise that when you deal with them we deal with people and the brand and experience we carry with us takes a beating when the individuals concerned lack basic courtesies or politeness.

This was not about the relationship between newspapers and columnists so let me get back to the main idea. I realised sometime that the mediocre columnist who is doing the job because of some controversial nature, or because of some celebrity status or a connection to the editor, usually does not have enough content to sustain. And that is when the columnist starts to prey on current items to grab some readership. Take a hot current topic, blast it or praise it in such a way that it attracts people to it for the nature of the headline, fill up your garbage and that is it. Many papers sustain themselves on such mediocre ideas as created controversies, so this is fine. No wonder we have newspapers with no content.

I remember reading one particular column by Shobha De who wrote about what she would do if she was Dhoni's mom. Naturally this was just after the World Cup. She said that if she was Dhoni's mom she would take him some place quiet where he would not be bothered by all else and stuff like that. It was really difficult to read that. I mean why would Shobha De want to give advise to Dhoni's mom of all people because Dhoni's mom seems to have done everything right considering how the young fellow turned out. Then there are columns by politicians who start out all big and end up with so much gas that no one wants to read them. Sports columnists, especially cricket, with the exception of Peter Roebuck, write so much nonsense. I saw Mandira Bedi writing a cricket column in the Times.

But I read one column recently by one gentleman that was surprisingly mischievous. He wrote about Sachin and Satya Sai Baba. How a mortal god like Sachin has to go to someone like Sai Baba because even he has doubts sometimes. (So, did you for a moment think that Sachin never has any doubt? Or do you really believe that Sachin is god?). And how god men are there to precisely remind us that we are human after all. And he ended it all with the most mischievous line - that we must take all this with a pinch of ash.

I could see that he was amused that Sachin - the god - had shown a chink. And that chink was some controversial god man called Satya Sai Baba. His whole article reeked of how mortal even our gods (can we look at Sachin differently and seek to emulate his dedication and passion for excellence and leave out this god business?). In the same vein now that Satya Sai Baba is no more, could you leave him in peace. His followers are not the violent kind so the columnist can write whatever he wants. I'd like to see him write with that same tongue in cheek amusement about someone who is not a soft target. The Shiv Sena, MNS and their ilk to start with. Somehow I suspect all the humour will fade away.

It does make you think of the different ways we deal with different things in our society. Just goes to prove that we are hypocrites and cowards of the first order. Just look around you and see what we all do - slam the soft targets always and leave the not-so-soft ones alone. Rarely have I seen anyone speak or write about the not-so-soft bhai log. 

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