Is India’s ‘iron man’ Modi a spinmeister or is there something everybody is missing?

Mr Modi has become synonymous with Gujarat's growth

Is Gujarat’s red hot economy a myth?

BBC’s New Delhi correspondent, Soutik Biswas writes in his column:

Is Gujarat’s so-called red-hot economic growth a myth peddled by the government of the controversial chief minister Narendra Modi?

Mr Modi, who was blamed for not doing enough to stop the horrific 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state after the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, has modelled himself as a no-nonsense economic reformer leading one of India’s fastest-growing states.

Gujarat also signed on to a fiscal responsibility law only after five other states did, and 20 states preceded Gujarat in implementing value added tax.

More interestingly, states like Uttarkhand (13.2%), Bihar (10.9%), Maharashtra (10.7%), Tamil Nadu (10.4%) and Haryana (10.1%) recorded double-digit growth in the seven-year period under review.

None of these states have the kind of hype associated with them as does Mr Modi’s Gujarat, which is often called the most business friendly state in India. So is Gujarat really the “breakout” state that Mr Modi wants the world to believe?

So is Mr Modi a spinmeister or is there something everybody is missing?

Read the full column: Is Gujarat’s red hot economy a myth?

India’s 70 year old “Guinness Rishi (monk)”

Guinness Rishi epitomizes India‘s obsession with breaking Guinness records. Officially, he has seven nods — and unofficially, many more, he says.

As a candidate in last month’s Delhi municipal elections, Guinness Rishi didn’t do any campaigning. In fact, he thinks the 30 votes he got were 30 too many. He suspects his wife voted for him out of spite.

Rishi’s real goal was to garner zero votes and become the world’s most-losing politician, complementing the seven Guinness World Records certificates on his wall. There should be 22, the self-described record maniac grumbles, but Guinness has it in for him.

Few epitomize the stretch for stardom in India more than the 70-year-old Rishi, who changed his name from Har Prakash to Guinness in case anyone had doubts about his obsession.

Up a steep flight of narrow, paint-splattered stairs, past a hairball of exposed wires and a groaning clothesline, his “election center” bedroom is jammed with old newspapers, dusty trophies and a flat-screen television blaring news in Hindi. A small bit of peach fuzz partially obscures the flag tattoos covering his skull.

Rishi caught the bug while traversing India as a salesman in the 1980s, he said, eventually clocking so many miles on his moped that local reporters picked up the story. Elevated above the humdrum by the attention, he became addicted to the bright lights — he offers up his own klieg light if you want to photograph him — and set out on his records quest.

“I’m not tall enough, I’m not the best dressed, I don’t wear the biggest turban to stand out in a crowd of millions,” he said. “To be different and get recognized, I have little choice but to keep trying to break records, or else I’ll be forgotten.”

His records include most continuous time riding a motor scooter (1,001 hours with two accomplices); producer of the world’s smallest Koran, even though he’s Hindu; fastest consumption of ketchup, though he said, “I hate ketchup”; and most flag tattoos on his body (officially 220, although he’s added 146 since then), including several across his forehead, cheeks, chin.

That last record has created a few issues at home.

“My son and wife are very angry, embarrassed walking with me on the road,” he said. “People call me a joker, a cartoon, mad.”

Those looking to break a record or create one can submit, without charge, a request and documentation on Guinness’ website, where processing can sometimes take several months. Alternatively, applicants can get a fast-track decision in a few days for $750, or for $6,500 have an official Guinness judge to witness the effort.

Rishi alleges that in several cases Guinness ended a category after he submitted information, or declined to issue a certificate while he held a record. “That’s incorrect information,” said Nikhil Shukla, the new Guinness representative in India. “Absolutely no.”

Having lost his candidacy, but not by enough, Rishi is considering running an even less effective campaign next time. One problem, he said, was that neighbors started threatening to vote for him if he didn’t give them whiskey. “I couldn’t afford all those bottles,” he said.

As he prepares to say goodbye, Rishi outlines his latest idea: to persuade Ripley’s Believe It or Not to embalm his body after his death, Chairman Mao-style, allowing people from around the world to see his tattoos, bringing great happiness to children.

“He’s crazy,” his wife, Bimla, says from the next room, near a pile of dusty magazines. “I would never vote for him; look at all this garbage in here. Why don’t you take some of this stuff with you?”

Although every country has its share of glory seekers, India has really taken to this particular form of chest thumping. Guinness says applications from India are up 178% over the last five years, making it the world’s third-most active nation of wannabes, after the U.S. and Britain, with actual records up almost fourfold. Guinness has just appointed a Mumbai-based representative to manage the crowds of record seekers, with plans to open a full office next year.

Among recent Indian records: most consecutive yoga positions on a motorcycle (23), most Mohandas Gandhi look-alikes photographed (485), most earthworms swallowed (200), longest ear hair (7 inches).

“Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame,” said Tharaileth Koshy Oommen, a sociologist at New Delhi’s Schumacher Center for Development, a civic group. “People feel once they have world-level recognition, they’ll get more recognition back home. It’s a kind of anxiety.” (courtesy: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times & Tanvi Sharma in The Times’ New Delhi bureau.)

Hindustan stands by Katju’s opinion in The Hindu: Media (read, channels) are irresponsible, reckless and callous!

Media cannot reject regulation

Chairman of the Press Council of India Justice Markandey Katju wrote in The Hindu

If red lines can be drawn for the legal and medical professions, why should it be any different for profit-making newspapers and TV channels?

….The way much of the media has been behaving is often irresponsible, reckless and callous. Yellow journalism, cheap sensationalism, highlighting frivolous issues (like lives of film stars and cricketers) and superstitions and damaging people and reputations, while neglecting or underplaying serious socio-economic issues like massive poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, farmers’ suicides, health care, education, dowry deaths, female foeticide, etc., are hallmarks of much of the media today. Astrology, cricket (the opium of the Indian masses), babas befooling the public, etc., are a common sight on Television channels. 

Paid ‘news’ is the order of the day in some newspapers and channels where you have to pay to be in the news. One senior political leader told me things are so bad that politicians in some places pay money to journalists who attend their press conferences, and sometimes even to those who do not, to ensure favourable coverage. One TV channel owner told me that the latest Baba (who is dominating the scene nowadays) pays a huge amount for showing his meetings on TV. Madhu Kishwar, a very senior journalist herself, said on Rajya Sabha TV that many journalists are bribable and manipulable.

 ….Why then are the electronic media people so furiously and fiercely opposing my proposal? Obviously because they want a free ride in India without any kind of regulation and freedom to do what they will. 

Read the full column in The Hindu: Media cannot reject regulation

The Daily Talk, a chalkboard ‘newspaper’ in Monrovia (liberia) city!

The Daily Talk, a chalkboard ‘newspaper’ in Monrovia (liberia)

In Liberia, a country where radios and televisions are luxuries most people cannot afford, one enterprising journalist has found a way to get daily news and information to Liberians. Alfred Sirleaf founded an innovative newspaper, TheDaily Talk.

The paper is Alfred’s answer to the misinformation he says caused Liberia’s brutal civil war. His innovation is to write it up each day on a blackboard in the centre of the capital, Monrovia, accessible to all.

Says the Founder & the Editor-In-Chief, Alfred Sirleaf about his The Daily Talk initiative:

I spent much of my time in Monrovia, Liberia‘s capital, loitering on a traffic island amid the dust and fumes of Tubman Boulevard. As it happens, this turns out to be a good vantage point to watch the world go by: presidential motorcades, boda-boda cycle taxis, Chinese construction machinery, liveried NGO vehicles and UN Land Cruisers trundle by, as well as the tide of pedestrians flowing into town in the morning and back to the shanties at sundown. All of Monrovia passes here. And on their way, many stop to read about what is going on in the world at The Daily Talk, a chalkboard ‘newspaper’ displayed on the side of a decrepit wooden shack.

I had recently produced a documentary project about Nairobi‘s ‘jua kali’ culture, the ingenious solutions that the city’s slum dwellers find for the demands and difficulties of slum life, from inexpensive shoes fashioned out of old tyres and kerosene lamps from coffee cans, to bootlegged electricity and jerry-rigged water supplies.

So when I heard about a hand-written news service in Liberia’s capital it struck a chord as very much part of the same do-it-yourself spirit.

This street news service is the brainchild of Alfred J Sirleaf, a tireless dynamo of a man who lists founder, proprietor, editor-in-chief and principal correspondent among his job descriptions at The Daily Talk.

He is on a mission to provide daily information on local, national and international issues – free of charge – for a community that might otherwise not be able to access or afford the news.

I set out to document Alfred’s work – but more than this I found his homespun news agency offered a window onto everyday life in Liberia at a critical time of change.

While the world’s media waited for a verdict in Charles Taylor’s war crimes trial, Liberia was gearing up for its next presidential elections and life in the capital was at last returning to normality following 14 years of civil war.

As I hung around Alfred’s traffic island on Tubman Boulevard I met some of the passers-by that depend on him for their news: Michael, a former child soldier who makes a living selling souvenirs to international aid workers; Nathan, a trainee pastor striving to build a new church; Kormassa, a single mother who juggles nightshifts at the hospital with raising her children; and Larry, who teaches the pupils at Hope School for the Deaf how to fend for themselves.

These characters, who I happened to meet as they stopped by Alfred’s shack to read the day’s news, tell their own stories in this documentary, and if this random sampling of Monrovian society is anything to go by it is clear that Liberians do not have time to dwell on the past – they are busy making the best of the present and dreaming of the future.

While the global media too often define Liberia in terms of the tragedy of the recent civil war, from its street-level perspective The Daily Talk describes a busy, hopeful nation in the process of renewal.


Facebook saving lives: organ donors signups shoots by 800%!

Proving yet again the rising power of social media to effect meaningful changes in the lives of people, a Facebook announcement on users’ ability to add an organ donation event to her timeline saw donor registration numbers shoot up overnight.

“Starting today, you can add that you’re an organ donor to your timeline, and share your story about when, where or why you decided to become a donor,” said a May 1 update posted jointly by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Soon after the announcement, which was made as part of a tie-up between Facebook and Donate Life California registry, the institute saw online sign ups shoot by nearly 8 times.

“As of 12:30pm today, the Donate Life California registry has increased its online donor sign ups by nearly 800 percent from yesterday thanks to this mornings announcement of the partnership with Facebook! Thank you Facebook!” the California registry posted on its Facebook page.

The statement by Zuckerberg and Sandberg talked about the role Facebook played in helping survivors of Missourie’s Jopplin tornado retreive missing property and Tsunami survivors in Japan locate family and friends.

It then spoke of millions in the US and across the world waiting for organ donations for their survival, and how many of them die because the crucial donations do not materialise.

India’s displaced mothers due to Industrialisaton: A photo essay

In No Man’s Land: A young mother at Little Rann of Kutch, a salt marsh where many workers are employed to pan for salt. She is a seasonal migrant who has come from a nearby village.(photo courtesy: PATTABI RAMAN)



As India‘s urban population has exceeded the rural population for the first time in history, I decided to work on a long-term photography project on Rural India. This photo series, Working Mothers in Rural India, is a portrayal of women in rural India who fulfill the dual roles of mother and financial breadwinner for their family.

Overall, rural Indian women make up 22.7% of the labor force. Amidst great levels of industrialization and growth, the rural sectors of India suffer neglect. Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for the rural population—in fact, nearly 90 percent of women working in rural India do so in the agriculture or allied industrial sectors. Despite the fact that many women are the primary breadwinners, a woman’s daily wages average just half as much as a man’s, though men and women work equal hours.

Many working women in rural India have tremendous workloads, as they are responsible for farm or agricultural as well as household production.

Pattabi Raman’s photo essay on working mothers in parts of rural India illuminates the challenges and struggles many working mothers around the world face, and highlights issues that are specific to women in parts of rural India, such as the threat of displacement due to industrialization.

View the full photo essay by Pattabi Raman: WORKING MOTHERS IN RURAL INDIA

Irish journalist from Mail Today goes missing from Rishikesh

Mail Today, the tabloid newspaper from the India Today group, on Jonathan Spollen, the 28-year-old Irish journalist formerly with the New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune, who has gone missing from Rishikesh.

Read the full articleIrish journalist goes missing

Courtesy: sans serif