The Bitter Bus

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A tale about ToI

Note: In another avataar, the content of this post used to live elsewhere. I finally got myself a blog, and copied everything here. Please post comments if you would like to.



Prologue:

This post is about the Times of India. And the love I have for them. Or don't. You see, the Times of India was once my favorite newspaper in the whole wide world. Seriously. Then they changed. A lot. The love is gone now. And I grieve for it.

A few days ago, it occured to me that they should be told about this. Maybe that will make them change. Maybe they will become nice and lovable again. Maybe they can make me want to take them back.

So I decided to start a dialog. I thought I would tell them what was wrong. I would tell them how black the blackness was that they seemed to want to live in. And coax them towards the light. So I decided to write them a mail a day. Well, almost. What I have written so far is below. Some day I may hear from them. Some day this might become a real dialog. I'll post that, too. Till then, I hope, and I grieve.

Read the first mail below, that one is important. It sets the ground for the rest. If you sort of agree with me, you will also probably agree with this.



Dec 5, 2003:

Date: Fri, 5 Dec 2003 21:59:20 -0500 (EST)
From: REDACTED
To: toieditorial@timesgroup.com
Subject: Tale of a love affair

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been in love with the Times of India since I was 10 years old. Many
are the hours I have spent poring over your pages, from front to back. I
learned about the world through them, I dreamt dreams of shaping the world
through the pen like your writers seemed to be doing. I grew up, started
dreaming different dreams, but the love for your paper continued. I moved
to the US a couple of years ago, but the habit stayed: visiting your
website was one of the first things I did every morning.

However, the affair started souring a little while ago. News and views
started moving off your front page, to be replaced by cricket, movies and
half-naked women. The quality of the reporting declined, the views became
shallower and shallower. For a newspaper that claims to be the "No. 1
English Daily" in the world, the usage of the language on your pages
amounted to nothing short of murder. Science and technology issues, topics
which are close to my heart, were reported in so cavalier a fashion as to
make a grown man weep. You also started giving more and more prominence to
clowns like Chidanand Rajghatta, but I shall reserve my vexation with him
for some other day.

I used to think this was an affliction that plagued Indian newspapers in
general. That I was pegging my expectations too high if I wanted you to
match the quality of a New York Times, a Times of London or even a Dawn of
Karachi. To my delight, I have realized in the last couple of weeks how
wrong I had been. I have discovered the Indian Express, and fallen in love
all over again. They have all that I want, and that ToI doesn't have:
depth, seriousness, integrity, commitment to journalism, and above all,
very, very good writing. And they don't peddle soft-core porn and still
pretend to be a respectable newspaper.

So, this is the end of the road for us. I have decided never to read the
ToI again. However, it is hard to kick an old habit all at once. And, in
some corner of my heart, I still have hope that ToI will stop and even
reverse its decline. To help in that effort, I have resolved to make my
own token contribution: every day, once in the morning, I shall tabulate
the articles that appear on the front page of the ToI's website according
to which category they belong to: "cricket", "movies and half-naked
women", "economic issues that the ToI mistakenly thinks the world cares
for", "Rajghatta's ravings", "news", and "etcetera". Sometimes, I shall
include another category, "shameless self-promotion", though I have seen
less of this in the recent past that I used to earlier. And I shall list
important issues that should have made it to your front page, but didn't.
Perhaps someone will read this and decide to make a change. And perhaps
pigs will sprout wings and fly. Hope springs eternal in the heart of the
romantic. And old flames deserve at least this much.

So, without further ado, here is today's list:

1. Rain delays start of play at Brisbane
cricket

2. 'I am nervous, the rest is on God'
movies and half-naked women

3. Ganguly faces one-Test ban
cricket

4. UK group pokes fun at Indians
economic issues that the ToI mistakenly thinks
the world cares for

5. Hrithik brawniest, SRK's brainy
movies and half-naked women

6. Cheating case against Priyanka
movies and half-naked women

7. Travel tips in Punjabi, Bengali
etcetera

8. 'Karisma my surrogate daughter'
movies and half-naked women

9. Howzat! Vajpayee stumps Howard
etcetera

Number of articles worth caring for on the front page: zero.

Issues that should have made it to the front page but didn't:

1. The Prime Miniter's trip to the Commonwealth summit. Who did he meet?
What issues were discussed?

2. Aftermath of the state assembly elections. Why were the results the
way they were? What is going to be the likely shape of the new
governemnts?

3. The Satyendra Dubey murder case. Do you even know what is going on
here?

4. The suicude bombing in Russia.

Thanks,

REDACTED



Dec 10, 2003:


Date: Wed, 10 Dec 2003 13:42:54 -0500 (EST)
From: REDACTED
To: toieditorial@timesgroup.com
Subject: Summary of your front page

Dear Sir/Madam,

I promised in a letter to you 3 days ago to send a daily
summary/categorization of your front page (this it the text of the letter:
http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~mahim/toiletter.txt). Unfortunately,
circumstances intervened and I could not do as promised for the last two
days. Things are better now, so here is a list of today's stories:

1. America denies India share in Iraqi pie
News

2. 'We don't feel like coming back'
News

3. 'Indians killed, left to rot in Oman'
Sensationalized news

4. Vedanta Resources lists on LSE
economic issues that the ToI mistakenly thinks the
world cares for

5. Urmila is mast in Lahore
movies and half-naked women

6. NRIs still seek desi cure-all for ills
issues that the ToI mistakenly thinks NRIs care for
(this is a new category; hope you like it)

7. A well made-up dollar dream
issues that the ToI mistakenly thinks NRIs care for

8. 'I will find justice at Sonia's door'
News (you get the benefit of the doubt here)

9. Pretty girls do make men irrational
etcetera

By your usual standards, I must say 3 or 4 news stories out of the top 9
on your home page is rather alarming. This puts you in danger of losing
your King of the Tabloids status. You need to be careful.

Thanks,

REDACTED



Dec 11, 2003:

Date: Thu, 11 Dec 2003 19:00:40 -0500 (EST)
From: REDACTED
To: toieditorial@timesgroup.com
Subject: Summary of your front page

Dear Sir/Madam,

As I have promised to you (see http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mahim/toi), here is
a summary/categorization of the 9 news items on the front page of your
Internet edition.

1. Bhajji dropped as India take on Australia
cricket

2. Bihar's Karate Kid in world's eye
etcetera

3. Britain gets EU to tackle India
economic issues that the ToI mistakenly thinks
the world cares for

4. IIT-ians take up cause with vigour
"news" (This is getting stale now. You missed the bus.)

5. Om and Liz in casting coup
movies and half-naked women

6. It is pits here, says Anju George
news (This one was close. But you get the benefit of
doubt, since I love you.)

7. Study abroad, get NRI status
news

8. 'To fall in love was my sin'
movies and half-naked women

9. Don't gamble, if love fails you
etcetera

Your score for today: 2 out of 9. Not bad at all.

With regards,

REDACTED



Dec 13, 2003:

Date: Sat, 13 Dec 2003 09:42:21 -0500 (EST)
From: Mahim Mishra
To: toieditorial@timesgroup.com
Subject: Summary of your front page

Dear Sir/Madam,

Pardon me for being a little late. But late or not, here it is again, my
almost-daily summary/categorization of your front page (see
http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mahim/toi for what came before).

Before I go on, it would reassure me a lot if I knew there was someone at
the other end reading all my labors of love. So, could you please let me
know? A simple one-liner would be fine. You can make it anonymous too,
since your overlords at the ToI are not likely to be very happy about you
writing to me. Maybe it would be best if you didn't mention this at all.
Just send me an e-mail - any random junk text would do - with
"Kabuliwaala" in the subject line. That would let me know. If that doesn't
work for you, you could also wear a blue and white striped shirt to work
tomorrow. I will know that you have read and you care.

On to the summary.

1. India struggling to avoid follow-on at Adelaide
cricket

2. Microsoft to abort Win 95, 98
news. But seriously, the No. 2 lead? This did not make
it so high even on tech. websites

3. Organisers threaten to axe India
(Sports) news

4. Hotshot Hrithik 'jobless' now
movies and half-naked women

5. Mel B steals lesbian's thunder
movies and half-naked women

6. Serena set to top rich list
etcetera

7. I don't want to be CM: Judeo
news (you are getting the benefit of doubt here)

8. Spooky house stumps rationalists
etcetera

9. Porn fuels Kenya's Internet boom
etcetera

I'd give you a 2.5 for today.

That's it for now. I shall wait to hear from you.

REDACTED



Jan 15, 2004:

This page has not been added to for a while. I became lazy, and I thought no one was reading. A lot has been said about the beauty of an artist toiling away in loneliness in the middle of the forest, but you know what, I have a strong feeling that artist would have much rather preferred to do his stuff right in the middle of the town-square. Or something. So anyway, I figured that the folks at ToI were not likely to listen to my rants, and that there wasn't much reason why anyone else would care, and the novelty wore off a little too, and so I stopped. But a couple of things happened in the last few days that told me at least some people were amused and agreed with this stuff. First, I got a mail from Prof. Soumen Chakrabarti (more on him later), and then someone apparently posted the URL of this page on an Indian students' mailing list at Stanford. So, I figured, if people are amused, and touched deep in their respective hearts, then maybe this is worth something, after all. So, here we go again.

First, Prof. Soumen Chakrabarti. He is from the CSE department at IITB, and has apparently been referring to ToI as 16-ply Toilet paper on IITB newsgroups for a while (get it? T-o-I-let paper? ok, never mind). In the beginning, I agreed with this characterization whole-heartedly. But a little thought made me realize it wasn't as straightforward as it seemed at first. Now, there is no delicate way to put this, and some of you may be a little grossed out by what follows, but I think it is important that we understand this vital difference, between ToI and toilet paper.

First, the humble toilet paper. What do we want in an ideal roll of the white stuff? I want it to be soft, smooth, and, well, light. Why I should want the first two is pretty obvious; the third is to make sure it goes down the drain when you want it to. In fact, sheets of satin that you can bunch up a few yards of and still have it be small enough that it fits inside your fist, with space to spare, would be ideal.

Now let us think about a few sheets of ToI. Are they soft? Nyet. Smooth? No way. They'd give you a pretty bad rash, in fact. Will they flush easily down the toilet? Nope. And don't try this at home. Backed up toilets can be messy and traumatic. Also rashes at the wrong places.

So, the analogy fails on every count that matters. I am sorry, Prof. Chakrabarti. You will have to come up with something else.



Present Day:

That was the end of it. I got tired of the Times of India at that point, and stopped wasting my time over them. This page lives on for your gratification.