Learning Our Letters

The A to Z of India in the news this year

The actor Fawad Khan represented a grave threat to national welfare until the Hindi film industry stepped in to issue a ban on Pakistani actors and technicians. str / afp / getty images
01 December, 2016


A state of temporary disuse or suspension. The condition of everyday life in a country where most cash has been taken out of use. A cessation. Also a word by which the government may control the broadcasting rights of major news channels, should those channels be suspected of endangering national security. Usage: “In early November, the ministry of information and broadcasting held in abeyance the order to suspend transmission of NDTV India.”

Blocker, Ad-

Generic term for browser scripts used to aid internet usage without the interference of ads that pop up, drop down, scroll past, spill over, besiege, strafe, split from nave to chaps or otherwise intersect with content. Bugbear of India’s major news entities, including Times Internet and the Indian Express Group, both of which started screening their media for ad-blockers this year. Now leads to situations in which consumers are continually blocked from accessing news by lightboxes saying “We have noticed that you have an ad-blocker enabled…”—buried under banner ads.


Thanks to the government’s astonishing demonetisation policy of early November, what the “haves” section of Indian society is running on at the time of going to press.


One of Pakistan’s biggest English-language newspapers. This October, ran and stood by a story about a civil-military rift that allegedly angered the country’s powerful generals, leaving several Indian liberals envious of an institutional courage said to be lacking in India’s anglophone media. Lucky for us that India seems to be doing everything it can to force its generals to enter public life.

Encryption, End-To-End

Extra layer of digital privacy enacted by Whats-

App in April to protect all data exchanges in conversations from remote third-party access. Sadly ineffective in blocking access to endless family in-jokes and potted histories assuring us that Jawaharlal Nehru was a secret Muslim with syphilis.


Blocks more content on request from India than any other nation; routinely suppresses users with anti-establishment opinions (would block more still from Kashmir if Kashmiris had better internet services); and populates its troubling list of “Trending” news items without human intervention. This year, came to be seen as the prime instrument of the “filter bubble,” in which like-minded groups of people fall victim to confirmation bias with no recourse to balanced opinion. So shifty it makes it into every edition of this glossary.

G, 4-

The cellular standard you’ll be using to read next year’s A to Z media glossary on your Reliance Jio handset.

Himal Southasian

Left-leaning magazine of South Asian issues based in Kathmandu that stopped publishing in August, allegedly due to tacit government pressure. Himal had earlier been suspected of misuse of funds, and its editor, Kanak Mani Dixit, briefly arrested on corruption charges. As elsewhere in the subcontinent, clear evidence that no one gets into the liberal publishing business unless they’re treasonous money launderers.

Irani, Smriti

Former minister of human resource development, current minister of textiles, and India’s most zealous proponent of substituting “the” with “d” on Twitter. Only woman subject of a Caravan cover story this year.

Jacket, Flak

What you wear in a cable-television newsroom while dissecting the minutiae of a military offensive, according to at least one India Today anchor.

Khan, Fawad

The beautiful face of Indian cinema’s moral corruption, according to several forces, including some within the Hindi film industry, who identify him with a Pakistani establishment that minimises Islamic terror. Popularly greeted with wolf whistles when seen on a movie-hall screen. May be the only non-bigot Indians have actually successfully “sent to Pakistan,” making good on a threat frequently heard in this country after May 2014.

Lodha, Justice

Appointed agent of destruction for the Board of Control for Cricket in India, charged by the Supreme Court to check rampant corruption in the sport. Might have been of greater public service if ordered to regulate the rash of terrible cricketer biopics afflicting India this year. Who gave Azhar a pass, anyway?


Widely used in Indian languages to mean organised rallies—a prime tactic for many fledgling movements dedicated to the interests of caste groups around India this year. To newspapers such as the Times of India, a synonym for traffic jams if organised by Dalit groups.

Naik, Zakir

Conservative Sunni preacher who came under scrutiny in July, after a mass shooting in Dhaka: the gunmen were suspected to have

been inspired by his slick television sermons. Naik has defended himself by condemning religiously motivated violence, but his NGO, the Islamic Research Foundation, was banned by the government last month. Might have done better if he’d just ingratiated himself with the public

by becoming a celebrity judge on Super Dancer like his Hindu counterpart, Baba Ramdev. See Yogi, Power.

Obama, Barack

Really ought to have checked himself before his “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment on Jimmy Kimmel Live in late October. Obama gloated, “Well, @realDonaldTrump, at least I will go down as a president,” in response to a Trump tweet that claimed Obama would “go down as the worst president in history.” A handsome intellectual responsible for millions of South Asians knowing what American curios such as Jimmy Kimmel Live are in the first place.

Procession, Funeral

Suspicious and potentially militant gatherings if conducted by Asian Muslims. In West and Central Asia, often marked by bombings and drone attacks as an effective way to target military-age men in conflict zones. In Kashmir, just more proof of mass ingratitude, as demonstrated by the massive crowds that turned up to mark the death of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani this June.

Question Hour

First hour of a sitting session of the Lok Sabha, reserved for members of parliament seeking answers from the executive branch. Narendra Modi’s least favourite time of day.


The act of resigning; also a state of acceptance. Accurately describes the state of mind of many who turned on the 9 pm news after Diwali to discover that Arnab Goswami, the speaking trumpet of Indian majoritarianism, was leaving his post at Times Now. Relief, not least to the eardrums, is tempered by the inevitability of his return on some even louder, more reactionary platform.

Strike, Surgical

Resonant phrase that stacks up retweets and shares when used to describe the state’s actions on just about anything. Its effect on suggestible sections of the English-language press is so powerful that it implies an anaesthetic rather than a scalpel.

Tata, Ratan N

Shadowy greybeard hell-bent on clinging to old certainties in bad times, or benevolent Cincinnatus returning to the fray in order to protect the Tata Group from the rash neoconservatism of his former apprentice Cyrus Mistry. No one really knows, since Mumbai business papers are not in the habit of saying anything about him without prior approval.

University, Jawaharlal Nehru

In the popular millennial idiom, a kind of Hogwarts to liberal India, under attack from Death Eaters afraid of political diversity. Site of landmark study by BJP MLA that found a very high incidence of used condoms, animal bones and naked dancing within surveyed area, which does suggest witchcraft.

Vault, Produnova

Proof that you can bend far enough backwards to put yourself at serious risk of spinal injury, but still not be far enough out of the frame of a Vijay Goel selfie.


Shorthand for an argument employing false equivalencies under the guise of political context. For example: “What about 1984?”—popular in 2016 as an argument against most forms of government criticism. Appeared to have had its heyday in 2015, when debates over increasing cultural intolerance raged all over India, but received a powerful new lease of life this year in the usage: “But what about our soldiers dying on the border?”

X-Category Security

What journalists less influential than Arnab Goswami get. See Sudhir Chaudhary, editor of India’s fourth-largest Hindi news channel, Zee News, whose safety was thus mandated by the government earlier this year. Probably not why Chaudhary spread the rumour that the new 2000-rupee note is embedded with a trackable “nano-chip” on prime-time television.

Yogi, Power

The headline of India Today’s most memorable cover this year, featuring televangelist and yoga professional Baba Ramdev beaming at the reader through his thigh gap. Having harnessed the power of deep breathing and extremely flexible stomach muscles to gain an audience, Ramdev’s diversification into fast-moving consumer goods and political interference has achieved mega-success this year.

Z-Category Security

What you get if you are Arnab Goswami, strenuously advocating for the views of a vast majority of your own audience every night on India’s second most popular English news channel (congratulations, by the way, India Today). What you don’t get if you are covering the stone-quarrying mafia in Bihar, mining in Uttar Pradesh, the state-rebel conflict in Chhattisgarh, or any one of the number of conflicts that Indian journalists have actually been intimidated or killed reporting this year. Happy 2017.