Taking Count

India TV loves to play the numbers. Its fastest game is a news programme faster than blackjack. It delivers 100 stories in 10 minutes. That's six seconds per story, on average. Even the Times of India, which invented speed news, would probably find that hair-raising. Then there's 'Top 20 Reporter', which is rather like 'Top of the Pops'. It gives the viewer a sense of what's going on, but the music is always dreadful.

100/10 has stories which elude the snootier channels. Wednesday's focus was the national bandh called by 11 trade unions. The channel reported that rail passengers in Bhubaneshwar were distressed and that the Mokamah Arrah passenger train had been stopped in its tracks. And, this is India TV, so there was special mention of Mahakumbh yatris who were pareshan, stranded at bus stands. Everyone was pareshan, but yatris especially so. In contrast, market leader Times Now had no time for moffusil trivialities, so overawed were they by the chopper scam.

India TV played that by the numbers, too: pehla, doosra, teesra. The screen split into three frames, each populated by a Ravi Shankar Prasad. The first Prasad railed against terrorism. Then that frame froze, though not as artistically as the closing scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Immediately, the second Ravi Shankar Prasad sprang to life, ranted about helicopters and froze, yielding the screen to the third Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was going to do something about beheadings on the border. He had kicked off this sequence with an eerie statement: "Hum teenon yahan khade hain..." He seemed to stand alone but India TV's edit had cut away the context, so we'll never know what he meant.

Unaccountably, the Prasad trinity was silent on the big nationalistic story, according to India TV: Asif Zardari awarding the contract for operating Gwadar Port to the China Overseas Port Holding Company. "Pearls of string poora ho gaya hai," its reporter announced dramatically. His anchor referred to China's project to surround India as a "ring of fire" which, unfortunately, suggests that our country is a scorpion about to sting itself.

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