Black and White Television

Unaccustomed as Manish Tewari is to hearing Manmohan Singh speak in public, he had neglected to switch on the PM's mike at his press conference. Singh began his address on mute, but it wasn't a serious lapse because he had little to offer apart from his usual candour. His New Year address was a post mortem, not a curtain-raiser for 2014.

But would someone please mute Arvind Kejriwal's mike whenever the spirit moves him to sing? The interlude last Saturday, when Delhi's new chief minister-turned-aesthetic terrorist at his swearing-in ceremony, made president's rule sound attractive. Yehi paigaam hamara may not be iconic like Pyaar hua ikrar hua, but the nerve-grating, pineal-quivering rendering left listeners feeling ambivalent about Manna Dey. Chief ministers ought to be more careful. There is a law against damaging cultural heritage, and they are not above it.

Meanwhile, Times Now's 2013 round-up, a potted pickle of slanging matches, raised intriguing questions. What moves Times Now? Since the channel is out to move the nation, the nation demands to know. It's actually a feedback loop, since Times Now frequently poses as the nation itself. So the question is, what is the nation willingly learning to be moved by, in the echo chamber of the modern drawing room dominated by a huge TV screen?

It appears that Times Now is moved most powerfully by the fear of smallness, a reasonable anxiety in a nation that hopes to be a near-future superpower. This translates into the belligerent fear of being disrespected or, worse, ignored. And its best rants are triggered by people wrong-footed by history.

"Ladies and gentlemen, have you heard of Honey Singh? I have not heard of Honey Singh." Though Honey Singh had been around for so long that he had been awarded the honorific of Yo Yo, Arnab had not heard of him. Arnab did not seem to be aware, either, that rap has a strongly misogynistic streak, and that the chorus "I am a rapist" is not altogether startling. Arnab did not ask why society had accepted so much misogyny already before Yo Yo Singh came along. In which case, was he accusing Singh of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a nation freshly sensitised to the ancient crime of rape?

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