Ravish Pe Report
Why NDTV’s Ravish Kumar is a perfect blend of Naipaul, Camus and Kapuściński. And what Arnab could learn from him.
I have wanted to write this for some time now, but prudence compelled me to reign in my writerly urges. That’s because the capsule of cynicism that we pop in every morning along with Revital has made us more guarded than even our Prime Minister when it comes to declaring anything. We wait and wait, just in case there’s a chance that our convictions are proved wrong in the near future, saving us our blushes and black ink. There’s a point there, true, and history is replete with pearls of wisdom cast by Oracles who bemoan every passing day their earlier lack of restraint. Like Bill Gates, for example, who once said, rather grandly, “I think 0.64 MB ought to be enough for anybody”, or the decision-makers at the famous Decca Records who, while rejecting Beatles, said, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
But in restraining ourselves we also miss the chance to hail someone when the timing is just right, when tired and defeated men are on the lookout for a Moses, when nations are yearning to discover a leader, when viewers are aching to watch night-time news without their earplugs in place. I will therefore not wait any longer, and simply declare, that Ravish is, by a long way, the best news presenter and anchor we have currently on Indian television. Period.
Some men make great anchors, and Ravish is one such specimen. His persona certainly suggests that he is made of iron. This man, with a long and lithesome face, appears nightly on NDTV India, a Hindi news channel from the NDTV stable where unfortunately very few stallions remain, and only because the doors of subjectivity and irrelevant subject-matter have been forced shut on them, preventing their bolting. In any case, once proud and magnificent, they are now old and haggard, incapable of winning the TRP race. The turf they trot on is no longer soft and welcoming, and the people who bet on them are watching their every faulty move through binoculars. It’s a race they are bound to lose. Ravish is their only hope.
My first glimpse of Ravish and his artistry – there’s no other word to describe it – was through his weekly Ravish Ki Report. His voiceover is pure literature, and the way he walks fearlessly in and out of peoples’ homes holding a microphone like it is a holy staff, would have made Ryszard Kapuscinski proud. In this he came across as a writer first and a journalist second.
Permit me to say that the only men who could write better than VS Naipaul are now all dead: DH Lawrence, Camus and Kapuscinski. And so the Trinidadian rules without equal, but remove the barrier of a different language and Ravish comes close, very close. I urge you to watch one of his Ravish-reports, the one that he did on the blue-collared workers of that hellhole called Kapashera. It was as though a young Naipaul was walking the narrow sewage-strewn alleyways in search for an answer. What emerged was an unparalleled exhibition of the beauty inherent in a language; perfect sentences, first written and then spoken. He gave extended time to the people he interviewed, allowed them to speak their minds and didn’t rush them, and ended each segment or an interview with his own take – so reminiscent of Naipaul in the path-breaking A Million Mutinies Now. Importantly, he did not try and be clever and deliberately hermetic.
Sharp mind met beating heart, and limpid prose was given voice.
The beauty of Hindi, the sometimes lullabyic delivery with that most endearing Bihari lilt, the ever so thinly veiled sarcasm and bathos – all hallmarks of a great writer who has now, woe befall on him, abandoned his craft and jumped lanes for a little bit of extra money. Unfortunately, anchoring doesn’t give Ravish the opportunity to write, but because he is so good at unearthing that panacea every writer endeavours to unearth, namely, the Human Condition, he is a boon to the anchoring profession as well. If things go as planned with the TAM libel and his organisation is once again awash with “damages” money and in a position to hire more anchors, they are well-advised to relieve Ravish from his current duty and ask him to get back to his reports. It can’t come sooner.
So what is so different in what he does? First, he doesn’t call more than two or three people to his show, unlike Arnab who makes it a point to invite a whole cricket team, umpires included. This is absolutely crucial if you want the viewer to not tear his hair out and enrol in anger management classes come weekends. The debates, that are seldom more than an hour long, if appropriated by ten panellists, are a sure-shot recipe for disaster. Add to it the fact that the anchor loves to hear his/her own voice, and you have the rest of the mugs fighting to be heard.
Ravish is different. He makes this evident in the beginning of his show, when he says – and I am paraphrasing: “Mr Panellist, take your time and take it easy. There are very few of you on the show tonight and here each one gets ample time”. I have seen him do this on many occasions. This is wonderful, for the viewer as well as for the panellists – who can now talk as human beings do normally, and not behave in manner and speech like a trapped animal. Furthermore, in trying to get the best out of the panellists, Ravish chides them, but always gently. They don’t mind it one bit, they even smirk sometimes. His regulars are all wonderful Hindi speakers and among them is one bald, bespectacled man with a smoker’s voice, who, although he resembles a bouncer at a Gurgaon pub, is brilliant in his analysis and his – how shall I put it -Margdarshyata.
Second, Ravish always asks the question the viewer wants to ask. Of course, there are other anchors who claim to do the same, but there is a vital difference. Ravish’s contemporaries drape the “viewer’s question” with so many of their own, that in the end the politician or the spokesperson always cunningly manages to address the anchor’s question and not the viewer’s. After all, who wouldn’t like to take four easy ones and ignore the real nutcracker?
Finally, his ease with words, his self-confidence, and his self-deprecating humour makes those around him comfortable – this is crucial for those who may have a serious point to make but are not ring-masters of diction as Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar or Mr Manish Tewari are (it is another matter that their own ring-master never ever appears on television). And he doesn’t drop names, which is remarkable for a Delhi journalist.
I haven’t, before writing his column, googled or wikipediaed him – on purpose – and it may be that when I do I’ll discover that he’s won many awards and accolades, or is, as some trollers might have dubbed him, a Congresswala or a BJPwala – someone “on the payroll” is the oft-used expression. Personally, I haven’t found him to be prejudiced at all.
If things go right for him and he doesn’t succumb to the usual trappings of influence and hubris, the future for Ravish is as bright as his name suggests.
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