Author of The Land of the Wilted Rose, of the The White Mahatma Quartet, Anand Ranganathan studied Chemistry at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to pursue a doctorate from Cambridge. A man of varied interests, he is researching dengue and tuberculosis at the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Delhi. We told you, varied interests!
Drop the Anchor
Television sets, not dams or IITs, are the new temples of modern India and the anchors their resident gods and goddesses. We haul up our dinner thalis with both our hands and do an aarti soon as the doors of the sanctum-sanctorum are flung open by the pandit (i.e. the TV is switched on by our little brat), relieved to get our darshan every night, mesmerized by their sagacity and candour, and by their battles in this grand Dharamyudh that threatens our very existence. Sagacity? Candour? Right-click, drop-down, synonyms, drag-right, oh shit!
They fight for us, daily, guiding us skilfully before the tiny break cuts short their round-trip to the heart of the chakravyuh so painstakingly constructed by those we have voted to power. And after they show up on the other side, having left us weak and helpless and wondering what’s taking them so bloody long, they begin where they left off; determined to put not so much a datum, but a tree trunk in the spokespersons’ wheel. The latter, having never truly faced the nation, betray obvious discomfort at this fact through their rather large collection of emoticons. Make no mistake, they are worthy opponents these spokespersons, of the kind our pauranic warriors wouldn’t have minded sharing a beer or two with after a hard day’s chopping and dicing. All of them, to a fault, are lawyers – you can see that from their choice of words and phrases and proverbs, and the colourful yet understated use of language. Of course, they are clever enough never to begin with ‘My lord,’ or ‘Your honour, let it be known that…’ for it may ruin the battlescape – with what mooh can the anchor then fight a deferential enemy?
Truth be told, it’s a harsh world; while the scions of the parties these brave men and women represent kip off soundly at night, the dexterity with which court and studio are divorced can come undone at times, leaving the poor warriors wide awake in the wee hours looking forlornly at the silent telephone. So, for example, while the phrases ‘Armchair socialist!’ or ‘Closet fascist!’ may find acceptability during a State Vs Union Leader proceedings at Patiala House, when used in a studio, they act like pin-less grenades. The repercussions are immediate. The pitiable spokesperson goes underground, and onto the streets emerge socialists, fascists, closet and cupboard makers and all those who occasionally like to sit in their armchairs and flip through Das Kapital. The case is lost, the spokesperson relegated to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Round 1 to the anchor.
This is not to say that the anchor is safe. A hard-fought victory it may have been, but in a job that demands integrity, ethics, honour, morals, and a host of other mind-numbing value systems, back-stabbing and bitching are as rampant as the next ‘breaking now’ splotch. Other, better dressed, better looking, better sounding comrades are waiting, and the memos in their smart phones are bursting with their colleagues’ error of judgements (you are allowed more than one). Each of the three parameters listed merit a little going into.
What to wear when the whole damn world is watching!? The question, once posed by a teary-eyed Draupadi, becomes all the more important especially after you’ve exhausted the entire nine columns of Fabindia kurtis. That the keepers of Indian avant-garde fashion only do sangeet lehngas doesn’t help. Gone are the days when female anchors wore saris for the occasion and made our mothers fret less about an earthquake or the fall of a government and more about the quality of zari work. For the male of the species, the problem is not so much what to wear. The dress code is strict: a jacket, blue, a tie, red – the problem is whether to sit or to stand. The trend nowadays is to stand proudly and rub your hands continuously, giving the impression of immediacy (you are standing), and an anticipation of a pay-raise (you are rubbing your hands), meaning that an immediate pay-raise is on the anvil. The standing option is unfortunately not available to those who’ve recently undergone a hernia operation; there they are, hiding behind a laptop sipping from an empty mug.
Looks matter. Ask the hairy cyclops who was thus consoled by Mr Mallya as he picked his portfolio up from the interview table and contemplated the life of a bouncer instead of an air steward. That said, the line is kind, and it boils down to what exactly you’d want to anchor. A hairy cyclops is just the requirement for a crime show. For news and current affairs on the other hand, a battle of supremacy between two fine looking anchors is settled the old fashioned way – both are thrown in the deep-end of the evening slot, appearing side by side and refusing to look at each other. The more nervous and fidgety of the two mysteriously disappears from the show after a month, henceforth to be seen only at Person of the Year nights, interviewing person of the year just before he is bundled off to the low-ceilinged banquet hall.
All of which brings us smoothly down to the final parameter, namely – sound, and all matters pertaining to its nature and use. Suffice it to say that the DD era of genial, soft-to-the-touch, diamond-cut delivery is a thing of the past, best reminisced through grainy youtube videos. This is the age of anchors who specialise in delivery before conception; the sort who, if they aren’t paying attention, can run down in one single breath the top twenty headlines along with their weekly grocery and to-do lists, and no one would bat an eyelid. The hair’s all in place. Just the mouth motors along. This demands a higher than usual pitch and consequently occludes some news stories altogether. Imagine a Brazilian football commentator describing the goings-on at a condolence meet. The anchors know this of course, and in their defence they cite the problem of having to keep the eight or so boisterous members of the evening panel in check. But if our Madam Speaker can do the same for five hundred men and women baying for each other’s blood in broad daylight, and with a voice and demeanour that’d put members of the Japanese royal family to shame, frankly, the case stands dismissed. Admittedly, it is difficult for the anchor to whisper “Baith jayiyay, baith jayiyay, nothing will go on record” every time an illustrious guest threatens to immolate the fellow sitting next to him. But still.
To be sure, getting one’s voice heard over the studio hullabaloo is the least of the anchor’s worries. Things are getting difficult in other, subtler ways, or hadn’t you noticed. Knowledge of Latin is now essential, given the recent dominance of matters pertaining to the courts and parliament. Thanks to the anchors Fait accompli, Sine die, and Mea culpa are now as well known among the Indian public as Penne arrabbiata, Quattro formaggi, and Silvio Berlusconi. The death-knell though, is when a vibhuti drenched ex-bureaucrat, himself incomprehensible to all those watching him, calmly asks the anchor to “Kindly repeat the question please…?” A further seven minutes are lost as a result and smart phones are whipped out faster than you can say Dubya, and a memo duly entered.
Kapuscinski in his book Travels with Herodotus describes an Atheninan called Sophanes who during the Battle of Plataea carried “…an iron anchor, attached with a bronze chain to the belt of his breastplate, and whenever he reached a spot near the enemy he would drop anchor, so that as the enemy charged at him from their ranks they could not make him move; if they turned and fled, however, it was his plan to pick up the anchor and go after them!” It’s tough going for our Greek gods and goddesses and I for one wouldn’t swap my test tube with a teleprompter for the love of Lavasa.