Monday, December 1, 2008

Gross National Happiness

Everyone is entitled to two minor vices. My second is attending seminars to listen and learn. A seminar is the end product of a group of people who have a subject and a series of ideas around that subject. They pay out serious money to invite specialists in the field who know what they are talking about. The speakers are flown in settled in five-star comfort for three nights and four days wined and dined in return for three working days of sharing knowledge with their peers and people such as I.

The trouble with seminars in Goa is that the invitees generally come here on a junket. The seminar is held over the weekend, wound up early on the last day and everyone is very happy. The boarding and lodging is five-star and free. You can tell within the first five minutes of their presentation who is here on a picnic and who has come with the sole purpose of putting forward their point of view.

The South-Asia Media Summit 2008 at the Hermitage Aguada had representation from Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India. It dealt with globalization and commercialization of the media in South Asia and about how it was time for a reality check.

The stripping down of the role of the media today was brutal. They condemned the sensationalism of news that was unimportant for the greater good of the greater number. They spoke of TV channels that gave more importance to the state of Amitabh Bachchan’s intestinal problems than to the sewerage problems of the cities of Delhi and Mumbai. There was one TV channel that spent the better part of the day featuring hundreds of people queueing up to see a housewife’s purchase of a tomato that looked like a deity. A man announced that he was going to die at 3 pm and a battery of TV cameras was trained on him and left when he was hale and hearty at 3.05 pm.

Others spoke of how issues of national, regional and local importance were being treated differently according to the allegiance of the owners of the newspapers and channels. How news had to be “sexed-up” or “dumbed-down” because of TRP (Television Rating Points) and because that is what the readers, viewers and listeners wanted. Vinod Dua of NDTV India tut-tutted the suggestion that news was dumbed down because the staff of the media house were ill-informed and occasionally took the wrong call about a lead story. It’s what the viewers want was the general thread of his remarks. I found that was a convenient excuse for mediocrity and said so. Not only are we disrespecting ourselves, we are disrespecting the readers, viewers and listeners too, I said and what do you know, they all applauded.

The foreign delegates were more particular about their priorities. Bhutan for instance is going through the same opening up process that Goa finds itself in. An agrarian and highly cultured people feeling the full might of globalization as it joins the democratic process for the first time in its existence. What was interesting was the Bhutanese index of life which they call their Gross National Happiness index. Everything they do is geared towards raising their GNH. Their King Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined this index in 1972 in the firm belief that people’s contentment comes first based on Bhutan’s unique culture of Buddhist morals and values. All else follows and the index of Gross National Happiness is built on four pillars of promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.

As if to prove King Wangchuck knew what he was talking about, the following day two media persons a Kashmiri Muslim man and a Kashmiri Pandit woman, joined me at lunch. They got acquainted, spoke in Kashmiri apologized to me for doing so and when I asked them what was the ground reality in Kashmir they both explained that the ordinary Kashmiri just wanted to get on with his life and that a large number of Kashmiri Muslims were wrung with guilt over the ethnic cleansing resulting in Pandits being forced out of their homes and into camps in New Delhi. The Kashmiri Muslim began weeping bitterly when he spoke of his visit to the camps and the Kashmiri Pandit wept too while trying to comfort him. It should have been the other way around. But to me that was hope – two supposed enemies weeping together before a very surprised Goan. In tears they told me that before militancy in Kashmir, everyone was a Kashmiri; not a Muslim, not a Pandit. Much like Goa before the rest of the world poured in – where we were all Goans, not Goan Hindus or Goan Christians, or bhailo.

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