Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Return of Flora Aunty

I don't watch much news on television nowadays. In fact, for the last year or so, I have been getting all my news the old fashioned way -- mostly from the morning newspaper, and sometimes, from Sitamma, the flower lady, Laxman the fruit seller, or Nagaraj, the greengrocer. And, (although I don't feel very good when I say it), the quality of news-reporting is much better, when I get it from the people, who do something else for a living.

Something seems to be terribly wrong with Indian journalism.

A few weeks ago, I woke up to find that all the major newspapers were printing front-page stories about a famous "sting-journalist", who in turn, had been stung by one of his interns -- on sexual harassment charges. I had never heard of Mr. Tarun Tejpal from Tehelka before, and other than the fact that I saw a small alliteration hiding in his identity, I was not amused much with the news. But Indian television channels, when I flipped though them for a minute, seemed to be having a field day. I was glad that I did not watch news on television any more.

Last week, I finally summed up enough courage to switch on the news on TV once again. We just had elections in five states in India, and the results are supposed to be very critical for the national elections that lie ahead. I have always considered election coverage to be a good test of competence, for the various television "anchors", who call themselves journalists. Newspapers simply don't have it in them, to compete with news that streams in, up to the minute, and hot off the teleprinter, when election results are on. On such occasions, I always like to compare three news channels in India -- each with its own "face" of so called television journalism.

Times-now, a television "tabloid" channel, has a gentleman called Arnab Goswami at the helm. I have never seen a more perfect example of what psychiatrists like to call multiple personality disorder. After Mr. Goswami asks a question, and before someone can answer, one of the many voices in his head takes over and interrupts the conversation. Between his own personality and the six or seven others in his sub-conscious, Mr. Goswami, can run an entire news show by himself. I pity the others who have to be on his show, but then, I have a feeling that he probably compensates them well for their time. It goes without saying that I did briefly enjoy the election coverage that was made by Mr. Goswami and the voices in his head.

A study in contrast is Mr. Prannoy Roy, one of the veterans of Television news in India. We don't get to see him much on TV nowadays, as a younger and more brash crowd has taken over his channel, NDTV. But, come election time, one can see Indian television journalism at its best, when Mr. Roy takes the helm. With a calm demeanor, and an old-school style of journalism, that encourages the speaker to finish a line of thought, Mr. Roy is a delight to watch. It's a pity that we get to watch him doing what he does best, only when we go to the polls.

But the third channel that I accidentally flipped to, when I was trying to get a taste of Indian TV journalism, was CNN's Indian avatar, CNN-IBN. And the program I stumbled upon, was a post election analysis of why the Congress party in India is going through its last throes. But before I tell you what I felt about the journalist, Ms. Sagarika Ghose, I have to tell you about Flora Aunty.

During our long exile away from Des, when we used to live in the land of the free, I used to miss the warm and bright colors that define India.  The western world has a very different idea of what colors should look like, which is why, travelers to India are dumbstruck, when they see the bright colors for the first time. If you are a Desi living in the west, you almost go through withdrawal symptoms, when you first see the widespread chromatic reticence which seems to draw from similar levels of reserve in social conduct, that people seem to prefer.

Imagine my surprise then, that after we moved back to India, I saw that the old Indian colors had disappeared, perhaps, because people preferred less exuberance in the clothes they wore, or perhaps, because the "high-end" clothes, made in China, had no way of appealing to the visual palette of Desis.

And then, came Flora Aunty.

Manorama, the "original" Flora Aunty.

Dhanno Ki Amma used to watch a late night serial, called "Is Pyar ko Kya Naam Doon? (What shall I call this love?)" Although she never managed to convince me to watch the serial, I was taken aback, when I watched one of the supporting characters called Mrs. Manorama, for the first time. Florescent in her bright colors, and resplendent in her jewelry, Manorama, was the epitome of what an Indian color palette could achieve. For the first time in decades, I felt that Indian civilization, along with all the bright colors that it had to offer, had not surrendered to the Chinese. My Desi pride was back. 

Since all good things have to come to an end, the unnamed love of "Is Pyar ko Kya Naam Doon", evenually ended as well. And Mrs. Manorama, who we used to refer to as Flora Aunty, disappeared off the airwaves. Our lives were dark and bland again, with all the colors gone -- taken away, by Flora Aunty.

When I saw Ms. Ghose on CNN-IBN for the first time, I gave off a cry of delight. As Dhanno ki Amma joined me, I gleefully pointed to the television, and shouted, "Flora Aunty is back!". The large LCD screen was florescent with the colors Ms. Ghose was wearing. The same colors, that Mrs. Manorama had taken away from us, when she left us in pain.
Ms. Ghose, the "new" Flora Aunty.

Ms. Ghose is actually a delight to listen to, because she seems to combine the pointedness that the new generation of Indian TV journalists seem to use, with the patience and decency of Mr. Prannoy Roy. I was quite impressed with the way she conducted the entire show, asking questions that I would have liked her to ask on my behalf, as a viewer. But her choice of colors had me bowled over, since both Dhanno ki Amma and I, were sorely missing Flora Aunty.

I can tell you that we are going to watch a lot more news on television, now that we have rediscovered our Flora Aunty, albeit, in a completely new Avatar. And in spite of all the brashness and the frequent use of simian projectiles, by the new crop of Indian journalists, I am glad that Flora Aunty is here to stay, as an alternative to them.

And of course, I pray to Shiva, that she does not ever change the person, who is in charge of her wardrobe.  


  1. 'Flora Aunty'..... loved the name :D

  2. You want tacky colours?

  3. Among the TV journalists I have watched(which include all the names above, except Roy), I think Ravish Kumar (NDTV Hindi) beats the competition hands down. Your description of Prannoy Roy seems to match quite well with his approach.