India - News Flash

Loyal readers, I am presently running low on steam. We're back in Delhi and this time it's not about client meetings but rather medical conference dog-and-pony shows. Delhi seems to crush creative juices and time for blog posts. I'm going to have to phone this one in and discuss a topic that, hopefully, will mostly speak for itself: newspapers in India.

Each morning a newspaper arrives on my hotel room door all nicely wrapped up in a canvas sack that proclaims, "Good morning." Yes, indeed. I collect the Times of India (ToI ) and bring it to the breakfast table for a little light reading. No disrespect to the editor of the ToI, but this paper often conjures up thoughts of that scene from So I Married an Axe Murderer in which Mike Myers berates his mother for considering the supermarket tabloids to be of the same caliber as The Washington Post or The New York Times. She retorts that they both have “facts” in them so what's the big deal? I kind of get that vibe from the ToI. But for every bit of newspaper sensationalism there is a nugget of anthropological insight. Since we’ve already covered some of the more eye-catching headlines I’ll instead focus on the general content and format of all the news that’s kinda, sorta fit to print.

Most notable about the front page is that it is not unusual to have the entire thing covered in an advertisement. No joke, above and below the fold real estate given over to some doodad. Kind of remarkable. But on the days that there isn’t a giant advertisement for condos designed by Armani (don’t get me started), you will often see the front pages covered in stories about some new health concern and/or anything having to do with the stress about education here. Some days these topics collide and there will be a story about a new type of bellyache diagnosed as pre-exam stress or some such. Today we’re discussing how students in Maharashtra state are not meeting academic expectations. This is right next to an ad for admissions to some university. Interesting paradox.
Flip the page and on the inside cover is almost always a story about what can best (if not gauchely) be described as “rich people problems.” This is not to say that these stories debate whether that Armani-designed condo is better than jeans designed by Beyonce. Far from it. But the stories on page two often cover topics like “Kids watch too much TV” or “How should teenagers spend their allowances?” or “Good sweets for diabetics” or, like today’s article, which is about letting your child choose his food. Stories like these catch my eye because they speak to new societal problems that are symptomatic of middle class economies. I read them and feel like I’m sitting in my car and looking through my rear-view mirror.

And, um, that’s about where the learning ends and the entertainment begins.

Following other news of the world you get to whirled news. On the “Times Trends” page you can almost always read articles about insanely overstated cancer advances, humorous topics involving human reproduction, how to get a promotion by losing weight, and classic battles of the sexes.

Eventually you’ll come across an international page that provides a little bit of news about the US and other western countries. Curiously, if they’re not talking about American politics they are talking about American celebrities. I realize you can’t see the bottom of the page very well but in the “US News” section a story declares “Kate Winslet Not Worried About Career: Kate Winslet says she no longer worries about her career now that she has gotten older.” Oh, thank God. Since my 6 weeks away from the US I’ve been lying awake at night worrying about her and her job so I’m so glad the ToI has clued me in to this pressing international issue.

Also, may I point out that this “news article” is 22 words long, headline included? While that’s particularly brief it is in line with most articles in the ToI. Very rarely do I have to turn the page to finish reading the story. No, three paragraphs are usually enough to tell you all you need to know. I’ve gotten so used to this that when I got my hands on an International Herald Tribune I felt as though I needed endurance training to read a complete story.

Should you still be investing part of your morning in the paper you’ll then come across a “Sexpert” column that would cause the editors of Cosmo to blush. And this is in the regular weekday paper! “We’re married and live with my parents. How do we keep quiet during intercourse so my parents don’t hear us?” “Is it true my wife’s breasts will grow when she gets pregnant? How do I deal with that?” At the surface level the questions from young Mumbaikars are amusing in a very sixth-grade sex ed class kind of way. But then you realize these are questions reflective of societal constructs, like multigenerational families living in very tight quarters and ignorance stemming from fierce separation of the sexes.

Last but not least, I offer this fun little graphic. It’s not because the story was particularly great but rather I saw the cartoon and had one immediate thought:

Is she not the spawn of the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak and Sour Grapes?

Ya ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-tahh ta-ta-ta-ta-tah!

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