Gouri Dange:The Tower of Babel-Babble

30 Nov,2011

By Gouri Dange


It’s not my mandate to talk about the news channels (that is ably done elsewhere on the MxMIndia site), but I couldn’t help snorting my coffee, at the alacrity with which one of the channels tried to cleverly throw in a new coinage, when The Slap incident happened.


Speaking urgently into the camera (you can see the glee on their faces – after all, they’ve got some easily spreading news, lurid angles, lots of scope to whip up opinion polls and to repeat the incident frame-to-frame, this-and-that angle through the day), one newsperson (oh please, let me just use newswoman) used the word ‘Slapgate’ to label the incident. I mean comeon, “Slapgate”? Grow up, and grow away from the pretend-American phrases, please. Even the Americans don’t us the something-gate label for scandals or shocker incidents anymore.


Some freshly-minted words and phrases after such an incident, do catch on. For instance, it was the easiest thing to caption the whole Slapping Incident ‘Why this kolaveri, kolaveri, kolaveri di?’ (kolaveri, for those who aren’t caught up by this gone-viral-on-internet song, means ‘murderous rage’ in Tamil). From A list channels to chota-mota papers, anchors and sub-editors instantly thought of asking cheekily (albeit unoriginally, as it turned out): Why this kolaveri…


But some slapped-together phrases simply don’t make the cut. Chiefly because they don’t roll off the tongue well, though the newswoman concerned did a valiant job of spitting out all the awkward consonants of the word ‘Slapgate’as effortlessly as possible as many times as possible. The Hindi channels lovingly tossed the word ‘thappad’ around all day and well into the night. I didn’t watch MTV, but surely it was a landmark day for them, when their original One-Tight-Slap had suddenly become an official form of protest. The word ‘Slapgate’ didn’t hold, however many times the lady tried to use it with her expert guests also because the incident was dying down in spite of best efforts by mostly the electronic media and the usual suspects in Mumbai to keep it alive. Even TV channels faithfully moving the incident to other geographical locations, with various grassroots heroes putting their foots into their mouths while being asked for their reactions, didn’t quite help to keep the fizz and the buzz going.


Never mind the various body parts – faces, palms, feet, and mouths. I am so through with watching that other body part – the Talking Head – on TV. And on Indian television, the heads rarely do much talking; they are only ever shouting heads. Some of them in fact seem to be trained and threatened by their handlers (their party, or their social organization) to keep saying whatever they want to say as if speaking into a dictaphone machine. No amount of attempts at interruptions, even by anchor people known to have PhDs in the Art of Interruption, can dam the flow of some of these shouters. It comes from the sad fact that they know how it is on Indian television. That if they pause for breath, some other geezer/geyser will instantly begin spouting, so they must say their say, without any of the natural rules of dialogue or debate being used.


And in this, I think the Dilliwallahs far outshine the Mumbaiwallahs. In sheer lung power and in the tenacity, to go on talking over anything else being said. The Mumbaiwallah expert-panelist tries, but makes the fatal mistake of stuttering or trying to take an eloquent pause after making a point, only to be completely drowned out by shouting voices, who are not responding to him, so much as upchucking the words that are left in their stomachs, before the anchor begins screaming for a chance again.


The important thing seems to be to not stop talking. So remember, Mumbai people, if you’re on one of these programmes, ‘Jo darr gaya, samjho marr gaya’, is the rule on Indian TV debates. Learn better breath control, never stop to clear your throat, and don’t make the fatal mistake of pausing to bleat some rhetorical question to the audience like ‘Don’t you agree?’ You’ll just give away your time to more able shouters.


When we were very little, we played this game that one kid recites Jack and Jill on top of her voice while the other hollers Mary had a Little Lamb. The effort was to make your opponent forget her track and begin to inadvertently recite yours. I find the ‘discussions’ on prime-time Indian TV much like that game. At the risk of being stamped phoren-lover, I would much rather watch something being discussed on western television even if I have no particular interest in the subject, than watch and listen to the Babel-babble, even on relevant subjects, on Indian TV.


Gouri Dange is a Pune-based counsellor, novelist and columnist. Naming No Names appears every Wednesday

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One response to “Gouri Dange:The Tower of Babel-Babble”

  1. Ananda Puranik says:

    Some channels have sadly perfected this to ridiculous depths!!!

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