Category Archives: Media

The ‘lowly’ crime

If all crimes that survive and thrive in Mumbai were categorized into some sort of hierarchy, ‘chain snatching’ would be right below the bottom of the pile. Pick pocketing is now somehow associated with nostalgia, something that happened in Bombay. Chain snatching however is flung about like an example of all that is wrong with crime reporting, like it brings disrepute to the fraternity; like some gangrene infested finger that should someday be relieved if crime reporting is to be taken seriously.

There have been innumerable instances when I have heard this: ‘yeh chain snatching cover karne ki liye main journalism me nahi aaya/aayi thi’ while ranting about reporting. At times, the voice that I heard was also one emanating from my head. It is however one of the best things that can happen to you if you have to make up your mind to quit crime reporting, it’s the lowest denominator.

In fact apart from reporters, much to my surprise I have heard a ‘deskie’ who after quitting said ‘I did not go abroad to edit chain snatching stories’. So apparently chain snatching was all that was wrong with the world. Maybe one of the recent press club election nominees could have promised, ‘If I am elected, I will pass a resolution to ban reporting on chain snatching to get the votes of the crime reporters lobby.’ Maybe?

chain snatching

A cop once gave me a solution that he believed would help everyone: the cops, the journalists and the chain snatchers themselves. While over casual conversation when I asked him about the rising instances of chain snatching he smiled, move forward as if telling a secret that would be lost if said loudly, and whispered with an air of Confucian wisdom, ‘aap log report karna band kar do, chain snatching apne aap band ho jayegi’.

I momentarily thought that apart from dry days (story wise), I would not mind it and the cops would ofcourse be more than happy. But his notion of chain snatchers not snatching chains because we don’t report on it, like somehow they will forget about the ‘art’ reminded me of Gabrial Garcia Marquez and the stuff of magic realism. Later thankfully the cop guffawed like a buffoon indicating ‘he thought’ it as a joke.

Personally while reporting on the crime beat, I had my own struggles with chain snatching. Apart from the very many occasions when I have ‘gone with the crowd’, I also felt that it was one of the biggest crimes plaguing the city then. Chain snatching was so prevalent the police commissioners were talking about it publicly as their biggest headache.

I remember this phase when this movement ‘report chain snatching’ carried out a coup in my head and I recollect feeling good after I had reported a package – two-three stories- on the same. I remember telling friends and colleagues with missionary zeal how it was so important to report on it.

Then however after I had switched from the crime to the court beat, and I heard a press release was issued for the arrest of two chain snatchers, it tickled me. ‘Press release for chain snatchers arrest? Seriously?,’ I questioned myself slightly amused. The law of averages I realized had worked on me over time; the coup had failed, the zeal had gone.

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The debate behind the debate

Sometimes when I see people watching political debates, the BJP vs Cong vs SP types, and getting all animated over it, a part of me sympathizes with them. That is unless they are watching it for some fun, like if Arnab is threatening someone or talking to a chair. But otherwise, the futility of the entire exercise just stares out at me.

There are news debates and there are news debates. Some will have an issue, the usual spokespersons from political parties who will then play passing the parcel wimain-qimg-44733b352e665d972da656384505905bth who is the guilty party. In such debates, the only saving grace would be that one panelist of the six (or maybe two) who would appear as non partisan. And it is only when they speak, do you really hear because apart from that it is all white noise or for better or worse entertainment.

Do you ever think the BJP or Congress candidate will say: Oh yes you are right, my party fucked up? Ok maybe in a more civil language but do you think it would happen? They will look lame, they will say words that may make it difficult for them to look at themselves in the eye at night, but they are paid to defend the parties. That is exactly what they are going to do.

Several news channels, especially the ones that apparently started using the debate format in India for want of capital to invest on reporters, will try giving it the dramatic and theatrical feel with shouting matches and a heavy dose of jingoism thrown in. I really think it has lowered the quality of debates on our news channels. It all gets so repetitive and the justifications are so formatted that you and I could argue on the side of either parties. What about 1984? What about 2002? It just depends on which political party one belongs to. The arguments are mostly the same.

I sometimes think that since we do not see the guilty being brought to book in our lifetimes, watching maybe a news show when the anchor goes after the politicians is cathartic every night at 9. It reduced the collective anger of the nation by a few points. I say it because I have felt it at times.

However, like I said there definitely are nuanced debates as well and it would be unfair to make a sweeping generalization. On several occasions, the news per se is nothing or even misleading without the proper perspective, or like new channels like to say: the news behind the news. For example rise in diesel prices is can be such a vague news story to flog a hail the establishment without it being told that the global crude oil prices have fallen etc. And it is here that the host and the panelists who are invited make such a huge difference.

If on such debates, you have firstly fewer people (so many windows intimidate me) and have them not talked over, it really helps. Secondly, I wish, especially in terms of complex or technical issues, more air time was given to former non partisan expert and neutral commentators than the politicians. Oh yes news channels do need their version and also need to get them to book, and ‘expose’ them before the nation which is fair. But please do not give them the liberty of too much air time: we would have been watching a Sajid Khan movie if we wanted to see bad television.

Murders and beyond

It was 9pm on a Sunday. Its not that I like murders – or any form for crime for that matter – just to set the record straight, but when you come to know about a crime just when you are about to leave for the day; your wrath for the criminal grows many times over.

I was just about to leave office when news started floating that a man had been murdered at Dharavi. I was agitated for a moment, but then my industrious self got the better of me and I quickly called up the Dharavi police station to confirm the news. It has been more than a month, but the call bemuses me till now.

I did not want to directly call up the senior inspector or other senior officers as it was 9pm on a Sunday, and apparently people who are supposed to ‘have a life’ are assumed to be doing something out-of-this- world at that time of that day, and by extension are not be disturbed unless its something urgent. I was not sure a murder classified as something urgent for police officers after a few years in service or for us journalists after a few years into the profession.

So I tried the police station landline number which on most occasions turns out to be worthless. That bored guy- always the one who will answer your call at a police station landline will make one of the few excuses: I have just come for shift now and don’t know what crap you’re talking about or murder here: you must be kidding me or yes there is a murder but I cannot give you information, please call the senior (if I had to call him, I would not have ‘bothered’ you duh)or yes a murder has taken place and I have the information, but please come to the police station personally and get it.

Reporter: Sir my office is at (name the farthest place from the police station, if it is Colaba police station you say your office is at Borivali and vice versa). Bored Cop: So send someone from your office. By now pissed reporter: wants to say yes I am sending this pigeon from my office that has the paper logo embedded on its right wing, to help you identify which paper it is. Just fold the FIR copy to bits and tie it around its neck but says: OK Fine. Since it is late and by the time I would reach there the police station, edition would go to bed, so I thought what the hell lets give the landline a chance.

To my surprise the guy who picked up; I don’t remember the name now; but you can call him PSI Waghmare, More, Patil whatever makes him look like a gentle and helpful cop, because he turned out to be one. Errr.. for the innumerable Waghmare’s who have been helpful to be lets call him PSI Waghmare.

So PSI Waghmare has some excitement stored for me on a late idle Sunday night. This is how the conversation goes

Waghmare: Yes, a murder has been reported here. Take down the details.

Me: When where how what …etc (and get most of the information. One youngster has stabbed another one). Things go fine till I ask him WHY?

Waghmare: laughs….you asked Why?blog

Me: (surprised at the amusement)..yes. Why did he stab him?

Waghmare: (husky voice tone matching Al Pacino is a Son-I’ll-tell-you-it’s-a-tough-world-out-there) what is your name you said. (Mohamed). Aadnav (surname) ? (Mohamed Thaver), Thaver saab I have been working at Dharavi police station for the past three years. During the first year, whenever a murder took place, I would be keen to find out the motive. Why was he murdered? But now experience has taught me, (and then came pure gold) that here in Dharavi saab people don’t need a motive to kill other people. It has been a while now, and I have stopped asking for motives in murders. Some guy who is high on drugs is nudged by someone else, gets into an argument, someone fishes out a chopper and before you know it there is blood on the ground.

Me: Still I mean err…what led to the fight?

Waghmare: Don’t know son. It will be clear sometime later. And like I said it is not something that interests me. (Just when I am about to judge him) Poverty makes people do all sorts of things saab. I sometimes feel bad for people here but then this is how it is. Chalo saab I have to complete the panchnama (making a list of the things found on the murder spot in presence of five witnesses).

After he hangs up I am dazed for a minute for two. I write the copy. A part of it reads: The Dharavi police are now investigating what led to the fight, as currently the provocation is not clear. Not sure Waghmare would approve.