P for Pappu

A lexicon of the Indian media’s triumphs and tribulations in 2013

Robert Vadra denies flexing political muscle, but still practises strong arm tactics. RAJWANT RAWAT / OUTLOOK
01 December, 2013

Asaram Bapu  Septuagenarian spiritual leader, who, having been accused of sexually assaulting a teenaged girl, indirectly bequeathed to the media the phrase “potency test”. The term confused journalists at first, but only until many realised that they had been administering potency tests upon themselves for decades already.

bicep  A muscle of the upper arm. Every human being has two, but India will, tragically, never see either of Robert Vadra’s. “I can’t flaunt my biceps in India,” Vadra complained to the Delhi Times in October. The reporter, with never-say-die spirit, asked if he flaunted them elsewhere. “Well, I do, surely. When I am on holidays abroad, I sport T-shirts.” India’s loss is abroad’s gain. This bicep drain must stop.

CEO  Designation that Shekhar Gupta gave up in August, even as he continued to remain the editor-in-chief of the Indian Express. He had accepted the role of chief executive “one winter afternoon,” he wrote in an email to his staff, although he did “not even know debit from credit and thought an RO, our daily bread-giving advertisement Release Order, was some water purifying system”. We understand the confusion; acronyms can be tricky creatures. In his email, Gupta wrote that he hoped to find more time to work with EXIMS, “a labour of love”. It turns out he was referring not to some start-up export-import business but to the Express Institute of Media Studies.

Davuluri, Nina  The winner of the Miss America 2014 title, and thereafter the subject of a Times of India front-page story made up almost entirely of mean tweets about her. “Bigotry and bias kept popping up on social media for hours after the event,” TOI’s US correspondent Chidanand Rajghatta wrote, possibly having committed the mistake many of us journalists make, in staying on Twitter so long past deadline that we must somehow make Twitter the story. (See also: Facebook)

editor  Position occupied by Siddharth Varadarajan at The Hindu before he was toppled in October by hitherto warring factions of the ruling dynasty, sending waves of shock through the Indian media industry. Sentiments were assuaged somewhat a couple of days later, when The Hindu reported that its employees welcomed the changes. “Members of the Union gathered at The Hindu’s main office, burst crackers and shouted slogans in support of the changes at the helm of the institution,” the report noted in soothing tones.

Facebook  A social network that promises, according to some media analyses, to swing whole elections in key constituencies. If, that is, the number of people from that constituency on Facebook is bigger than the margin from the last election. And if the opposition party in that constituency can convince all of these Facebook friends to vote for its candidate. And if everybody else votes exactly as they did in the last election.

Geo  A fine science magazine that, along with Marie Claire and People, ceased publication in India this year, after the Outlook Group decided not to renew the licenses for their local editions. Also in the list of closures, sales and layoffs, in a tough year for the media: the Times of India’s Crest, Anandabazar Patrika’s Businessworld, the top editorial team of Forbes India, and the streamlining of the staffs of NDTV Profit, TV18 and Bloomberg India TV.

Hindustan Times  The only major broadsheet that did not carry, on its front page, the CBI’s naming of the industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla in its Coalgate investigations—an oversight, no doubt, and completely unconnected to the fact that the newspaper is owned by members of the extended Birla family.

ICYMI  Twitter jargon, standing for “In Case You Missed It”, that has become a euphemism used by journalists plugging their own work a second or third—or fourth—time. ICYMI preys directly on the malaise of our age, FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out—but at least it has a fighting chance of replacing a ghastlier piece of jargon: the “re-up”. (Sample: “A pm re-up—my piece on how Facebook will change elections in India.”) Let’s admit it: we’ve all used re-up, so after a suitably embarrassed pause, we can move on to…

Jupiter  A gas giant, and the largest of the solar system’s planets, 318 times as massive as Earth. For this reason, lifting a spaceship off its surface would take an escape velocity of 58.5 kilometres per second—as much as is required, according to Rahul Gandhi, to elevate a backward-caste Indian into success. Having discoursed thus on escape velocities, Gandhi indicated that he would leave the other pressing question—the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow—for a later date.

Kutte ka bachcha  The most-quoted phrase of a rare interview of Narendra Modi, obtained by Reuters in July. In a strained analogy, Modi compared the 2002 Gujarat riots to a situation in which he was sitting in a car—just riding along, not driving, mind—when some puppies accidentally came under the wheels. “Will it be painful or not? Of course it is,” Modi said. “If [sic] I’m a chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.” Keening outrage followed Modi’s comparison of Muslims to dogs, but PETA noted approvingly the chief minister’s soft corner for puppies, and endorsed him for prime minister.

landfall  The point of passage of a cyclone’s eye from sea to land, usually clearly identified by meteorologists. With Cyclone Phailin, however, television channels continued to insist, hour after hour, that landfall would occur “any time now.” Then, of their own accord, they started claiming to have spotted landfall, in the manner of English fox-hunters view-hallooing sightings of their prey. Phailin, mischievously prolonging the hysteria, made landfall an hour later than predicted, by which time we had all already swooned from the tension.

Majumdar, Boria  A cricket historian who became, during the great IPL betting scandal of 2013, Arnab Goswami’s attack dog on Times Now’s Newshour. Viewers were treated to an unfamiliar spectacle, in which Goswami was suddenly not the loudest or most aggressive person on screen. Matters would reach a bizarre peak, during these broadcasts, when Goswami would be the one telling Majumdar: “Boria, Boria, calm down!” Visions arose of news anchors as pro-wrestling tag teams, one slapping the other’s hand to spur him into the inquisitorial version of a body slam. Sadly, Majumdar and Times Now parted ways before they could break out the spangled tights.

NaMo  The media’s favourite abbreviation for Narendra Modi. Not to be confused with Nano, an earlier phenomenon from Gujarat that also claimed to be a saviour of the masses, promised to make India competitive again, and is still not street legal in the United States.

Omidyar, Pierre  One of several American technology billionaires who have decided that the best way of liquidating their fortunes would be to fund journalism. In October this year, news broke that Omidyar had hired the blogger Glenn Greenwald away from The Guardian for an as yet unnamed startup. A couple of months earlier, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, bought the Washington Post. Chris Hughes, enriched by Facebook, bought the New Republic last year. Possibly sensing the hungry eyes of media owners trained upon his bank balance, Nandan Nilekani decided to run for parliament instead.

piggyback  Game played either by young children horsing around or by television reporter Narayan Pargaein covering the Uttarakhand floods this summer. Pargaein had helped one of the flood’s victims with food and money, he told Newslaundry. “So while crossing the river he offered to help by carrying me on his shoulder, between which I thought of reporting the flood. We offered Rs 50 as well for the help he gave me.”

Quota  Space unofficially set aside for certain kinds of stories in The Hindu in its new-old dispensation, as it had been in the days before Siddharth Varadarajan ran the paper (see: editor). In the weeks since the great coup, the movements and statements of the Karats have again started to be reported in diligent detail. No political story is considered truly complete without the opinions of Subramanian Swamy and Justice VR Krishna Iyer. Honorary doctorates bestowed upon—and orations subsequently delivered by—members of the Hindu family are faithfully reported. We await only the return to the sports pages of the veteran cricket writer Raju Bharatan and his copious puns: “Laxmanifold” and “Tendulkarma” and probably now “Virat-a-tat” and “Sharmagnificent.”

Rajan, Raghuram  Pin-up model of the year, sending the rate of a particular kind of interest soaring as soon as he was appointed governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Sadly, that is the only original economic double entendre left to be made after Shobhaa De used all the others up in September, in an Economic Times column titled “Economy with Raghuram Rajan Will Be Sizzling Hot.” This very magazine contributed to the frenzy by publishing, on its October cover, the closest shot ever taken of the face of a Reserve Bank governor. (“We are confident that this record will stand the test of time”—Editor.)

“space to eat, drink, think”  A description of Prufrock, a new members-only club, as laid out in an introductory email by Tarun Tejpal, the publisher of Tehelka. The email, sent only to invitees into the club, shot rapidly around Delhi’s media circles, provoking conflicting feelings: hilarity over its pretentiousness and grief over not being one of the chosen few. Hilarity won handsomely at the time, but the absurdity was forgotten in weeks to come, as news broke of Tejpal’s alleged sexual assault of a colleague, and the magazine’s subsequent responses.

Toyota Innova  A compact multi-purpose vehicle, capable of carrying eight people in fair comfort. But in a pinch—during flash floods, say, in one of India’s hillier states—the Innova has been reported to squeeze in approximately 93.75 people (Gujaratis, mostly) and ferry them from Kedarnath to Dehradun. Narendra Modi’s superior organisational skills may or may not have had something to do with this.

Unnao  A district in Uttar Pradesh, catapulted into the limelight in October after a local seer dreamed that 1,000 tonnes of gold lay buried near a local temple. The Archaeological Society of India began excavations. Media sensation! ASI heeds visions of local coot! So widespread was media coverage that the leader of the village of Daundiya Kheda, where the gold was supposedly interred, had to field calls from as far afield as Dubai and the United States. “From morning till I go to sleep, they call me up,” he humble-bragged to the Indian Express. Witheringly, he said of the journalists who were camping in his village: “They ask the same questions every evening.”

Vindu Dara Singh  Once best known for being the son of the legendary wrestler Dara Singh, this two-bit actor ascended to the acme of his fame earlier this year, when he emerged as a middleman in the IPL’s betting and spot-fixing scandal. On Twitter, the unverified account @VinduDara (notable because all its tweets are made as replies to the unrelated @YogurtBay, the handle of a Mumbai chain of frozen yogurt shops) describes him thus: “Son of a legend trying to be half the man.”

Waar  A Pakistani film released in September and rumoured to have been financed partly by the military. The producers, the Pakistani novelist Ali Sethi wrote in a lacerating Friday Times review, “want us to believe that yoga-practicing, slow-dancing Hindus (and not jihad-preaching Arabs and Libyans and Egyptians, to say nothing of our military’s homegrown ‘strategic assets’) are masterminding the suicide bombings and mass killings in Pakistan”. Waar broke the first-day box office record in Pakistan, earning 11.4 million rupees upon release. But for an anti-India film, Waar may still do India a spot of good. After watching a pirated copy of the movie, Ram Gopal Varma tweeted: “i just want to leave direction nd [sic] go to Pakistan to assist its director Bilal Lashari.”

X, 9  Media group formerly known as INX Media and operator of the NewsX television channel, now being probed by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office. According to a report published by The Hoot, shell companies associated with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited invested in 9X Media through a series of illegal transactions. At the fulcrum of all this is Niira Radia, the lobbyist whose transcribed phone conversations continue to form the ur-text of cronyism in India.

Yes  Usually the only word that panelists are able to get in edgewise during Arnab Goswami’s Newshour. Also “No.”

Zero  Number of journalists who did not, upon hearing about Firstpost’s acquisition of Faking News, crack the joke: “But how will we tell the difference?”