A healthy self-esteem is one thing, but self-promotion has a tendency to get out of hand in the region from Balochistan to Assam, and the ‘proprietors’ of non-governmental organisations are more prone to this than others. For instance, take the 20th anniversary profile of the Pakistani labour rights group, PILER. Contained in its 29 pages of glossy artpaper are a grand total of six photos of the PILER campus versus 17 of the executive director, Karamat Ali – one picture of PILER’s boss for nearly every year of the organisation’s existence. Now, Chhetria Patrakar could stand maybe a dozen photos of someone greeting guests, giving speeches and marching at rallies. But why would anyone want to see Mr Ali checking the time on his wat
Hinduism Today, a publication with which many Himal readers may be unfamiliar, is a Hawaii-based quarterly magazine that provides news on Hinduism and the global Hindu community. It tries desperately to be everything to everyone, trying to present Hinduism (as if such a thing were possible) to getting-along-in-age motel owners in Arkansas and Ivy Leaguers in Boston. But in its very Newsweek-inspired design format, the publication has happily managed to steer clear of the Hindutva agenda. Its current issue names the peaceable Dada JP Vaswani, leader of Pune’s Sadhu Vaswani Mission, as its ‘Hindu of the Year 2002’. What a relief to see a Subcon religious figure celebrated for following the path of peace rather than making headlines for behaviour less than divine.
The repressed South Asian libido’s love affair with the female form (especially the leggy athletic variety) has long been an open secret. But for some reason, the game of tennis has assumed a preeminent role in this ongoing psychological drama. A highly unscientific and notably arbitrary survey of major Indian dailies reveals that Anna Kournikova, the Russian starlet who is also reported to play tennis on occasion, receives more photo slots in daily papers than, well, anyone else. Even Sonia Gandhi. Unfortunately for Miss Anna and the Subcontinent’s super-continental size visual appetite, the Russian vixen, who has never won a major tournament, was knocked out of the recently concluded Australian Open in just the second round. This obsession with Miss Anna looks especially strange when one considers that almost no one in our penurious land actually plays the country club sport of tennis. Now badminton, that’s another racquet sport and it is quite popular in the Subcon. Perhaps the best way to promote it is to insist on short skirts without bloomers to show – you said it not I – legs…
Pakistan recently got its first all-news television channel, Geo, which has pulled in viewers thus far by, among other things, covering a shoot-out in Karachi live and offering critical analysis of Islamabad government policies. Geo is building on the success of other private channels in Pakistan, such as ARY and Indus Vision, the second of which was the first entertainment channel to successfully challenge the domination of India-based television giants such as Zee and Sony. Geo has assembled an impressive lineup of reporters and analysts and secured major advertisers for its most popular slots. The long-term impact of Geo – and other news channels in the works – remains to be seen, though Pakistanis can look forward to more lively debates and a competitive television news environment. As one Dawn columnist summed it up, “Pakistanis have been desperate for TV news and are enjoying watching politicians squirm on live TV. Years of exposing wrongdoings in print seem inconsequential when pitted against half-an-hour of grilling on TV”. (For more on Geo, see Himal September 2002.)
Anyone in search of back problems or a blunt object should immediately consult the recently published Eleventh SAARC Summit report. With 1069 pages of glossy paper, the four-kilogram tome is chockfull with photos of South Asian heads of state with famous global personalities and less-than-light reading on country leaders. To gain a glimpse of how each of SAARC’s seven members sees itself, browse the lengthy country profiles. First comes Bangladesh, “your investment destination”, where bureaucrats never smile though a few philosophically hold pens; in the following section on Bhutan, a few smirks appear, though we mostly find very serious people dutifully working for Gross National Happiness. Next comes India, where Atalji’s lips hint at some combination of pleasure and discomfort, and 16 pages are devoted to promoting sparsely populated Arunachal Pradesh while north India fails to receive mention. One cannot be sure what to make of the Maldives, given that it appears to be a land filled entirely with bikini-clad blonde women, though that is still better than the following section on Nepal, which includes a picture of former PM Deuba appearing to be getting turned down for a date by an unamused Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka. Given a certain person’s importance to the Pakistani polity, it is not surprising that the president-General’s photo gallery is the most extensive, though nothing can compare to the 86-page Sri Lankan section, where a minimum of nine different people are seen smiling, a formidable grin-to-page ratio. Place your orders now for the indefinitely postponed 12th summit report…
In mid-January, thousands of NRIs congregated in New Delhi for Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to rekindle their on-again, off-again affair with India and hear nice things said about themselves from senior politicians and media outlets. Atal Behari Vajpayee set the ball rolling by offering dual-citizenship to former Indians living in the West (their miserly cousins in Asia and Africa did not get the offer), but India Today took the cake for bowing down to the all-mighty overseas lobby by parading American astronaut Kalpana Chawla on its cover under the banner ‘MAKING US PROUD’. One cannot be sure, though the presence of an American flag behind Chawla’s right shoulder begs the question of whether “us” referred to India or the US. Either way, there does not seem to be much pride in Indians in India, especially when an article inside informs that NRIs “have come to represent so much that India is not but would aspire to be: confident, audacious, go-getting – and successful”. Gee, thanks, retorts the muffled chorus of a billion-plus.