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Everyone, be it the man for whom an astrologer is predicting or he himself, the predictor, has his spells of fortune and misfortune. The astrologer himself cannot escape the inscrutable grip of his own fate. How many people know it ? The astrologer who claims to do shanti for all and sundry to make a fortune, cannot avert his own or his family members’ misfortunes.

On 21 June all television channels were showing only the return of Atlantis, which had to be postponed and, speculated about the fate of Sunita Williams who has been raised to a super celebrity status suddenly.

Earlier, Kalpana Chawla had died in such a space flight. So the occasion was sensational enough and another Indian tragedy in space seemed imminent.

Sunita hails from Gujarat and there are many so called relations of Sunita who will not miss this opportunity to claim this relationship and show their worries about her safety. This gives them a chance to make a television appearance which is deemed to be a privilege by many. In fact anyone who claims to be a relation of Sunita Williams can make a television appearance right now (21 June)

Simultaneously they were showing a court case against Amitabh Bachchan who has not been getting a favourable coverage ever since his son Abhishek got married to Aishawya Rai.

The obsession of the Indian television channels, the Hindi ones particularly, is with Amitabh Bachchan. He is shown as a great Bhakta of India when he visits the temples with his family. When visits the Siddhi Vinayak temple of Bombay it becomes the biggest news of the day. When he goes to Tirupati along with Amar Singh and Anil Ambani it is the biggest news repeated sickeningly for nearly six hours a day. He is shown as a national hero who deserves to become the president of India. He is shown in a television advertisement of the government of Mulayam Singh telling people that the state of UP did not have a bad crime rate and he would like to be reborn there on the banks of the Ganga.

In the last few weeks, Amitabh Bachchan has been shown as a villain and some television channels show clips from his films where he appears to be a fierce and uncompromising idealist and his land cases are shown to portray him as a dishonest man in actual life. But the obsession with Amitabh must continue and he must not be allowed to rest.

Though the television had come to India nearly thirty five years ago, it is only after 1990, that I was forced to have one at my place. It was a gift. I found it useful then because the BBC, CNN and some Indian channels were showing hard news with graphic visuals.

Soon came the menace of the twenty four hour channels, I am told, introduced by CNN during the Gulf War. That war is over but 24x7 channels have come to stay and in India they do not give hard news anymore.

It has to be Amitab Bachchan, now as a great Bhakta of India and now as a villain who has court cases against him. He is a hero in one moment on a certain day, and a villain another day.

I now understand why the TV is called an idiot box. I also ask myself : if I had to run a channel like it for twenty hours a day what would I do. You need eight hours of garbage everyday to run it. That is what Amitabh should know. He and his family has been the chief supplier of this commodity for more than six years now.

I will describe running a television channel as my fate and continue perhaps in the same vein as is happening, ignoring the pejorative expression “the idiot box”. But I will not miss the opportunity to suggest that there should be three spells of two hours only through a legislation to make the television less idiotic. But I know that this will never happen. The trend is now irreversible. And the TV channels will be constantly in search for glamour, sex, crime, superstition, astrology and garbage. That is the new definition of news now.

Tabloidization has come to stay.

( 22 June 2007)

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