Journalism

Munnu

This is a review of the Graphic Novel, Munnu, by Malik Sajad. It’s a coming of age story of Sajad, alias Munnu, in Kashmir. Kashmiris are depicted as Hanguls, or Kashmiri Stags. The book is not for the light hearted, or the opinionated. It’s for the “third person” in the conflict. It’s for the “neutral opinion”, or the “moderator” in the debate on Kashmir. This review, though, has not made any effort to be politically correct. So feel free to sputter¬† deliriously with anger.

I’ve rated the book 5/5. But, maybe I should have thought twice before doing so. While Sajad makes you love the protagonist, he will probably garner more wrath than appreciation from the typical Indian TV News audience.

The story begins quite simply – it is introduced as the story of a very talented little boy who likes to draw. The story then expands to his navigation through the mess of adolescence and adulthood with a new job that makes him draw through reefs of pages to understand his life. I thought I knew Sajad’s backyard and understood his angst through each of his panels.

Sajad just wanted to draw, but then he had to deal with the bottomless depths of history of Kashmir even before he could grow into his adult pants. He donned the coat of a political thinker and cartoonist, but was indeed a child that only expressed his confusion through the newspaper. Soon, though, he comes to understand. Slowly and quickly, with each death and hopeless story that he encounters. And he draws about each of these learnings, over and over again till he thinks he has understood them. The part with the complicated history of Kashmir is exquisite, I’ve bookmarked it.

The character building of each of Sajad’s family members is complete. The peripheral characters are given due attention, too. For instance, when a “martyr” is portrayed, it’s subtle, and never forceful. Just mysterious enough to make you wonder which side is right, after all.

The art in the graphic novel is spell-binding. The detailing needs a thick lens to appreciate fully. The content needs wide arms to accept; I did, and it was warm.

Read the book for a look at how it feels from the point of view of a little child in a strife ridden Kashmir. Read the book to understand the nightmare that such a society thrusts on people – a society that allows no expression and no room for movement in its social or economic fabric. It’s harrowing and depressing. But at the same time, there are sparks of brightness in the form of innocence that pierces through the grimness that is curfews.Read the book. Look at it. Look at the Hangul’s eyes in the panels. They have lines of hope, anger, passion, confusion and a strange indifference about the chaos that surrounds them.

The Kashmir story is not black and white, but this black and white grey chronicle is quite something. It’s beautiful. 5/5.

Tehelka: fearless journalism

This is a review of The Best of Tehelka, which is a compilation of some of the best works by Tehelka, between June 2000 and December 2001.

Tehelka was one of India’s best known investigative journals in 2000. Their most famous scoops were the match-fixing scandal in 2000 and the Operation West End. The match-fixing scandal revealed, from the horse’s mouth, how cricket matches were fixed. Operation west end exposed the corruption in defence procurement in India (which continues to this day).

I was too young and ignorant to know the impact of these scandals while they were being exposed. But today, I get them. In India, we’ve surpassed the size and filth of the scandals then, with the creative decadence of politicians and capitalists today. Nevertheless, the template for corruption and power play has remained more or less the same.

The scandals usually involved high profile people like cricketers, including those who are adored greatly even today (and who’d rather not be reminded of the scandal(s)), politicians, some of whom continue to wield considerable power even to this day, proving that Indian electorate has a short memory span, or is wanting in ethics. The scandals also ended with the sordid suppression of the whistle-blower.

Tehelka withstood the ire of the underbelly of Indian power as they battled slander for a whole year. They courted arrest. Needless to mention, David gave in against Goliath. They soon closed shop. But, after two years, Indian civil society rose up to the occasion, and decided to revive the magazine. Today, it survives, and continues to battle many court cases as highly influential politicians and parties would prefer it closed. Power fears fearlessness.

The book that I’m reviewing is a set of essays, poems, articles that were published on Tehelka. The most famous among them are the very articles that brought the scams out to the public.The essays, interviews and poems in the book are funny (‘I don’t know anyone who has met God’ by Khushwant Singh), shocking (False Notes, Charu Soni), controversial (The Elusive ‘Holy Cow’, DN Jha), and chilling (The Lagaan Team, Shoma Choudhury).

The style is different in each piece, and most are refreshing. Although I enjoyed most of the articles, they took some work – a little bit of wikipedia-research to understand context and figure out the ugliness or stupidity of the times, and the corresponding climaxes.

What I appreciated most about this compilation is the diversity.¬†The compilation is also chaotic, which I thought was in keeping with the creativity of the magazine. What I didn’t like much was my own inability to fully understand some of these works. I’d have really appreciated if they had put in a sentence or two as post-script for the noobs like myself.

The most famous contributions by Tehelka left me feeling bad for us. For, I don’t know of a magazine today that is capable of such fearless journalism as Tehelka was. Tehelka’s sting operations set off a large set of ethical questions in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, that didn’t help infuse virtue into our polity or journalism.

I would recommend the book if you have been a news-junkie. I would recommend it if you like real life horror stories. I would also recommend it if you like bold satire.

This is not for the light hearted. It is for the seasoned scandal-weary Indian news-reader.

3/5