No Reporterglück

Journalists often have something they call Reporterglück, which translates into reporter’s luck.

Something like when a tram was stuck forever in Hamburg – and my former Chief Editor, Wolfgang Büchner, was inside and able to email a picture of people in the dimly lit wagon to us, so we could sent in on the wire (here).

But sometimes reporter are not lucky at all. Like I was today. Here’s the story.

There is a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh called Ramnagar, in the District of Mainpuri. A man who is accused of raping a women in Delhi in his taxi, booked via Uber, grew up in this place.

Indian newspapers reported that everyone in the village knew that the man was roaming around, harassing and raping women, but no one did anything, except of telling the women to stay indoors when he was visiting. (here)

It was also written that a women who claims was raped by him had to leave college and was married off because of the crime against her. Another of his victims apparently wanted to report him to the police, but they told her not to file the case. (here)

In a frenzy, I decided I had to go there. So I looked it up on googlemaps, (and was pleased to see a river close to the place pointed out, as I had seen a river bank in one of the video interviews with the parents of the accused), booked a cab, roped in an interpreter, and off we went.

According to google, it would take us 3 hours and 49 minutes to get there. According to the taxi company, it would take 5 hours. It took us 8 hours.

When we reached the pin on my map, it was pouring. We hopped from one tea stall to the other, where villagers were waiting for a spell in the rain, but only got vague answers. Finally we made out a direction, and continued on the ever narrowing road, between fields full of blooming mustard, cow chips, and hay stacks.

After asking around at more tea stalls, and families gathering on the veranda next to their buffalos, and women at a school, and a man with a tractor, we found Ramnagar. But there, no one knew the man we were looking for.

It dawned on us we were in the wrong place. “Is there another Ramnagar?” we asked. “Many,” we learned.

One, we were told, was close to Chhachha, where we drove next. There we heart it should be more like towards Fatepur. Or back to where we came from?

By that time, my colleague in Delhi had figured out that the Ramnagar we were looking for falls under the Elaau police station. So we called the officers up, and were directed somewhere.

Which turned out to be false again.

Even though we had started at 7.30 am, it had gotten dark by the time we were sent from one point to the other – just to locate the police station. Let alone the village.

So we called it a day.

Needless to say googlemaps failed again when we tried to get to our hotel in Agra. It gave the wrong place, and navigated us in such a back lane, that the car grounded and could move neither forwards nor backwards.

Let’s see what tomorrow has in store for us.

Six things I can’t stand in Indian journalism

Here are my top five of annoying things Indian journalists constantly do:

1) repetition

Here’s one very typical example by the news agency PTI: “Actress Parineeti Chopra who is often known as one of the most bubbly actress in Bollywood says she finds the title ‘Bubbly’ very disrespectful. ‘When people call me bubbly, I find it very disrespectful.'”

Yawn. I’m not stupid, ya? I already understood it when I was reading it for the first time.

2) not giving any background

Often, one can only understand an article if one lived in India for at least ten years and had followed the news on a daily basis.

Because there is no explanation given what a person did who’s execution has been stayed, or why a court ruling is so important,  or what impact a decision by the ministry could have, or why this statement by a particular politician is deemed important… – just to give some random examples. This list could go on forever.

3) lack of creativity

Seems hardly any scribe can live without the phrase “when asked if”. For example here in the Indian Express:  “When asked if he would like to take up any particular profession after retirement, he said: ‘Maybe, I will become a journalist. I like this profession.'”

I mean, can you not just use indirect speech? Or use some of the grey cells to find another prelude to the quote? This is so cheap.

4) no names

Sometimes it is the “Times News Network”, sometimes a “Special Correspondent”. I do understand there are sensitive issues when the author should better not be named. But seriously, above an article about a press conference?

5) ads

Often, the whole front page is covered by an advertisement. And the second page as well. As is half of the third page. And then page five again. And so on.

Are paid news not enough?

6) on TV: saying that they ask a question

“My question is this…” or “I just want to ask you a question…” or “My simple question to you is:” (that’s Arnab Goswami of Times Now), or “I’m asking you this:”

Yes. Do. Just do.

A fine example of Jugaad

If you can’t fix something, make do with what is available. This is called Jugaad (or jugaar), and one of the most important principles in the country.

my staircaseHere we have a wonderful example. The light  bulb busted (or so I think, as it hasn’t been proven as of yet). I couldn’t reach for the ceiling, so I thought: Why don’t we call somebody? In Delhi, workman and craftspeople are called for any kind of work. Even if a nail has to be hammered into the wall. No joke, I saw exactly this happening in my office.

Anyway, I did as an upper middle class lady without much knowledge of Hindi does: I told my maid to call the electrician.

When I came home, it got fixed, but not as expected. The electrician, my maid told me, also wasn’t able to reach the lamp. And because the lamp is placed right between the descending and ascending stairs, he couldn’t place some chair or stool to shorten the distance. So he got his tool kit out, and installed a new bulb, cable and switch instead (left side of the pic).

Let me close with some of John Elliott’s words: “One of the magical things about India is its unpredictability and its ability to turn muddle and adversity into success. … Jugaad … is the knack of turning shortages, chaos and adversity into some sort of order … such as using a belt from a motorbike wheel to run an irrigation pump, using a Pringles potato chips container to bridge a piping gap in a car engine, and applying turmeric powder to fix a radiator leak.”


“Jugaad is a brilliant patchwork solution for a deprived  and underdeveloped society, but it is not enough for a country in India’s state of development because it deters efficiency and innovation and destroys institutional structures. In the past few years, India’s pace of events has overwhelmed jugaad, making it impossible for the country to cope with basic services, projects and development – and that is now leading to the risk of implosion.” (from Elliott’s book “Implosion. India’s Tryst with Reality”)

Expanding the home

Indians are the absolute, unchallenged masters of expanding their homes onto the streets – mostly out of necessity.

They (have to) wash themselves in the streets, dry clothes in the streets, cut vegetables in the streets, have their cattle graze in the streets, come together for a talk in the streets, set up their bicycle workshop or shoe repair point or ironing board or sewing machine in the streets, and some even have to sleep in the streets.

Press spokesperson, what’s that?

When I work on a story and it turns out I have to contact someone in Germany for that, I’m always happy. This is not because then I can ask my questions in German, but also because I can be quite sure there’s actually someone who answers them.

In Germany, journalists deal with spokesmen and spokeswomen most of the time. They speak for a court, for the local police, for a ministry, for a company, for an association, for a celebrity, you name it. As it is their job to speak, they are normally reachable, reliable, fast, and willing to say something (well, the answers might be evasive, but they do talk).

That very concept is not popular in India. At all. In fact, till now I know exactly one spokesperson – the guy in the Foreign Ministry – to whom this applies to.

spokespersonPolice stations for example, even the headquarters, just don’t have spokespeople. So you either have to convince someone of lower rank to read out the file for you. But then you can never quote him. That’s why Indian media so often use phrases like: “He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to the media.”

Or you have to get the police chief of the district/state on the phone. Or at least his deputy. But when you call from a number they do not know, they hardly ever pick up the phone. So you can either try dozens of times, or write a message. The police chief of Goa for example gave me the most important details for a case of rape in this way.

If you want to know something about a company, it gets really difficult. Your chances are best if you know someone inside, who can help you with the numbers of the director or managing director or chief executive officer. Or you know someone who knows someone. (In fact, this concept is applicable to get anything done in India.) If you call the general number instead, chances are high you get connected to new people over and over and over again, until you speak to someone you have spoken before and the circle is closed.

In the rare case an organisation does have a spokesperson, and the person actually knows something, it can’t be taken for granted you can then quote them. It happened we called the official spokesperson of a ministry – and the guy said we had to attribute it to “sources”. And this wasn’t a very hot or controversial issue.

Having said all of that, I want to close with a positive note: Once you acquire the mobile phone number of a person, you can call him or her anytime (well, nearly). Indians still pick up the phone when they get a phone call from a journalist at 10pm, even if they sit at home for dinner, and are in fact answering the questions.

Feeling young

Two middle-aged german women walked into our dpa office in Delhi today, looking for the office manager Brigitte, a friend of theirs. As she wasn’t around, I got up to greet and help them. “Are you an intern?”, one of them asked. “Well, no. I’m the bureau chief.” They stormed out, their faces turning red.

World’s biggest democracy at work

ticket Lok SabhaIt took me three stamps and four signatures at the multiple security checks, five times of scanning the invitation card and four times frisking to get into Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament of India. Seriously, no exaggeration. Doing it once thoughtfully would serve the purpose of security better, I think, but who am I to give advice? Anyway, the frisking was so inattentive that I was able to smuggle my pen and papers inside.

On the visitor’s gallery literally nothing was allowed. Like choosing your own seat. Or sitting cross-legged. Or whispering. Or taking off your shoes. Every time someone tried, one of the many watchdogs (one for every seven visitors) corrected us sharply and threatened to throw us out. Lucky me there didn’t seem to be a rule against writing. So I could quietly take down notes.

Down below the regulations didn’t seem to be so strict. As soon as the group of parliamentarians from Papua New Guinea – visiting India to see democracy at work – had been welcomed by the speaker, the house fell apart. Everybody was shouting, opposition as well as government parties. I didn’t even understand what the controversy was all about.

Lok SabhaAfter about five minutes most of the parliamentarians quieted down and the question hour could start. Later on Prateep, with whom I visited Lok Sabha, explained to me that this was in fact the first time in the monsoon session – already some weeks old – that the question hour was allowed to be held.

Until this day, parliament was characterized by adjournments – on the first ten days, Lok Sabha lost 88 percent of it’s sitting time. They hardly ever got to work, didn’t pass a single bill, because opposition hindered any kind of discussion by disrupting the house over and over again. Reasons for their shouting and screaming was: the decision on a separate Telangana state, alleged land deals by Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, Chinese incursions, killing of five Indian soldiers along the Line of Control, mission coal scam files, the hike in fuel prices  and maaaaany other issues.

The speaker already threw 13 people out this session. But what do you do if half the house is agitating?

India’s many, but not properly qualified Young

Shashi Tharoor

Shahshi Tharoor speaking at the Gen Next Workforce Summit

India will have 116 million workers in the age bracket of 20 to 24 years, as compared to China’s 94 million, said Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, at the Gen Next Workforce Summit 2013, citing a prediction by International Labour Organisation (ILO). It is further estimated that the average age in India by the year 2020 will be 29 years as against 40 years in the USA, 46 years in Europe and 47 years in Japan. So, according to the Tharoor, this demographic fact has the potential to be the biggest competitive advantage of India in the years to come.

The charismatic political leader also understood to entertain his crowd. He said: “When my children were young  I was told that they were part of Generation X and today as we discuss debate  on the working environment of the next generation that is Generation Y, I wonder what the successors of the next few generations will be called, now that we are nearing the end of the English alphabets! Perhaps from Generation Y we will have a Generation Why Not?”


the media, trying to catch his every word

Tharoor went on, that the the quality and employability of the vast majority of the graduates in India is both seriously questioned. “I have spoken to CEOs who feel that once you get beyond the top institutions, the graduates they hire from the rest need a year’s remedial education—not on the job training, but a year’s actual education to make up for the deficiencies of what they have learned, or rather not learned, in College.” According to him, that is why Infosys has built a campus in Mysore and TCS in Thiruvananthapuram.

He is also concerned about the enrollment figures: 116% in primary schools, 69% in Class VIII, 39% in Class XI, and only 18% go to College. Students should be free to pursue formal education when they want it in life and the skills they want to acquire.  “This is an overdue need in a country where, for 3000 years, if you wanted to be a cobbler or a carpenter, you had to have a father or an uncle who was a cobbler or carpenter, because no one else was going to teach you.” To Shashi Tharoor, that is why there is a caste system and why sons and daughters of movie stars are movie stars – and the sons and daughters of politicians are politicians.

Difficult task: Peace concert in Kashmir

press conference

ambassador Michael Steiner (m) after the press conference

Zubin Mehta and the Bayerische Staatsorchester (Bavarian State Orchestra) will give a peace concert in the crisis-ridden Indian part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. I’m really curious what kind of people are going to comprise the audience, especially if, how the german embassador to India, Michael Steiner, put it, “people from all walks of life” are going to come.

One of my concerns is: What they will do if there is a bandh, meaning a complete curfew, as there are so many on so many days in Srinagar? Will the orchestra still play in the Shalimar Bagh, Mughal Gardens, with hardly anyone listening as travelling on the streets might be impossible?

Other questions also arise. According to the official statement, Steiner said (he actually didn’t read it out this way, but anyway): “Music is a universal language. Music connects. With the magic power of music, crossing geographical, political and cultural borders.” But what kind of boarders – can this music actually cross the India-Pakistan border, when people can hardly get to the other side? Will the normal, “all walks of life” people from Pakistan really be allowed to come over for the concert?

For me there is also the problem of how to cover the event. I’m not capable at all to write about the musical skills when listening to the works of Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky. So do I focus on the conflict between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, who have fought two of three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947? Or the communal and religious tensions in the Indian part, which over and over again turn into violence?

The monkey in the Staircase

gang of apes

Here a whole gang of them in Varanasi.

Someone screamed in the staircase. Followed by a sound like the bark of a dog. A few seconds later Puran, our office boy, emerged, trembling with fear. “A monkey attacked me”, he uttered.

No one wanted to enter the staircase, but someone had to open the upper door. So brave Puran went out again, frantically looking up and down and behind and around himself.

The beast somehow left the house, but it wouldn’t leave us alone. When my colleague Sunrita stepped out on the rooftop terrace, which is also the way to the toilet, she saw it climbing about on our roof. And she devoutly hoped it didn’t have a companion that waited for her in the sink or on the toilet bowl.

Shortly after her I had to go to the bathroom. As I hesitated at the doorstep, the two photographers leaped to my defence. They armed themselves with monopods and backed me up. Only when they had cleared the toilets, I was allowed to relief myself – while the two men were guarding outside, heavy metal in their hands.

Delhi Encounters

(Daily) News from Delhi

Experience - The Blog by Ash Bhardwaj

Culture. Travel. Physicality

India Real Time

Unique analysis and insights from The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires on the daily news in the world's largest democracy

India Ink

(Daily) News from Delhi