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Mutually Exclusive

The downfall of a great scoop is that by its very nature it can never remain ‘exclusive’ to the channel that breaks it

“This bruschetta is shit,” said my friend as he coughed out the offending antipasti stealthily in a napkin and tried to drown out the aftertaste with Kingfisher.

Now he really was in trouble. I stared at the portion that was hideously stabbed with my fork but still, presumably, looking forward to battling it out with my personal army of H. pylori. I lowered the cutlery thoughtfully. “But it says on that slate it’s an exclusive Napoli recipe – a must try. Look!”

“You bastard!” cried my friend, using the sharp end of his tongue to nudge out remnants of the heeng and jeera meteor shower that had bombarded his palate moments earlier. “Read it again – it says Nepali not Napoli, you son of a b–”

At this point he threw away all pretensions of stealth and ran over to hold on to the railings of the rooftop eatery; from the gut-wrenching jingles I knew the eject button had been duly pressed.

We were at the Hauz Khas Village, that last refuge of the desi bohemian where there’s a studio or a boutique at every turn and a restaurant springs up every minute of a longer-than-usual day. This particular spring revolution, like its middle-Eastern counterparts, may be bloodless, palatable it certainly is not. The only thing more dangerous than the food is the lift that takes you to it. But it’s a free country is it not, and who’s to tell, Italian khukri classes could well be the next big thing after Bikram Yoga!

What disturbed me was not the food – one must taste everything once at least (old Chinese saying) – and the bruschetta was decidedly better than what followed for the main course; what got my goat instead was the liberal sprinkling of the word ‘exclusive’ in the menu. By the time I’d read through the tome I was certain ‘exclusive’ was a dish.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought the word had long ago been copyrighted by every news channel that ever existed or was made to exist for political considerations. Where else do you hear this particular word every three seconds, tell me?! The day isn’t far when the doctor wILL feel your pulse, pause, and then declare, “HmM, I suspect a severe case of exclusivitis. Tell you what, you get these 53 tests done by Monday and…”

The disease isn’t just common to our shores; come to think of it, it may indeed have arrived at our shores from where else but the progenitor of everything infectious, the West. It’s another matter that we have now perfected the art of ‘the exclusive,’ while the aunties and uncles of the world’s premier broadcasting corporations resort to this magic pill just once a week at best. Someone please tell them it’s not an antibiotic but the blasted Hajmola, to be sucked five times a day, every day.

The results – for a channel that hasn’t yet learned to keep a dedicated staff for the purpose, not to mention a full-fledged Department of Advanced Exclusives – can be downright embarrassing. The mind harks back to the recent high tea Colonel Gaddafi had laid out for the conscience keepers of his enemy states. All Western news channels ran the story as ‘An exclusive to beat all exclusives, in fact the mother of all exclusives,’ and for a day or two it appeared to be so, until the visuals of the unshaven despot confronted by not one but a gaggle of these correspondents started to appear. Turns out the gracious host was worried of downing too many cups of reghwa, and so decided at the last moment against one-to-ones, and each channel therefore had no option but to run the same ‘exclusive.’ Such brazen trickery gained high TRPs only because the late Colonel couldn’t, for the life of him, pronounce the word Qaeda. “Gaeda! Gaeda!” cried the man who would soon be found inside a conduit. The interviewing uncle, a veteran of countless Middle-Eastern revolutions and counter-revolutions, and someone who I suspect is still single because protection to him means a bullet-proof jacket, tried his level best to eke out a Qaeda from the Colonel but to no avail. After all, when the Gueen didn’t mind…

All these so-called exclusive interviews, scoops, visuals, take-a-looks, sound-bites, news clips, then, are about as exclusive as the friendly Aashram traffic jam. Rat-a-tat-a-remote and all you see is the dreaded word, always in bold, forever engulfed by a digital flame, and sometimes transliterated, for there isn’t yet an acceptable Hindi word for it. Nivarak would mean nothing to you, Aiksclusiv will make you pause for that critical second.

Exclusive: /Ik’sklu†sIv, εk-/: adj.; n.: Only to be used by one particular person or group; only given to one particular person or group.

Exclusive means having a swimming pool in the back of your house, in a DDA colony. It also means owning a Kanjivaram you’ve been guaranteed no other woman on this planet would be able to lay her manicured hands on. Is there anything more catastrophic than two ladies at a Delhi Times cocktail suddenly coming face-to-face and discovering not only that their sari is identical, their damn blouse too has been stitched by the same darzi?

Let’s face it, easy flickability has allowed us to watch 20 news channels at one go. If the day is besieged by just one burning subject matter, we are eager to find out the various takes news channels may have on the same story. A channel may very well have an ‘exclusive’ but since it appears almost instantaneously on other channels, ‘exclusive’ is rendered as superfluous as a human tail. And herein lies the beautiful paradox of news reportage: a great news story can never be exclusive to the channel that breaks it. Its greatness demands that it be replicated and made to spread forthwith.

Good is bacterial, great viral.

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