Just a few hours ago, I deleted the oldest bookmark that I had in my web browser, one that I’ve had since October 1997. Sixteen years old, older than many Indians who will never be able to see it in its full glory.
This is the result of years of pent up frustration and it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been resolving to do it for quite some time now and its finally time. The time has come to say the final prayers for the soul of the Times of India.
Dear Jaideep Bose, I’m sure that you have a fancy degree and also see a nice number of Gandhi’s added to your bank account at the end of every working month. What you do during that month is what I’m particularly miffed about. See, I’m from the urban middle class of Bombay and I grew up in the Arabian Gulf, like scores of other children of working parents from the sub continent. I grew up in the 90’s, when the internet was something that was yet to reach the shores of our desert Kingdom. We had precious few sources of information, just the print and the televised media. Two things were treated as the truth in our household, one the Bible and two was the content of the Times of India. This was the only connection I had to the land of my birth. I still remember reading stories about whose content or implications I had no idea, set in a land far away.
The Times was also what teachers in my school would recommend, to improve the standard of my English. I do acknowledge that several things have shaped the way I use the English language today and among these were the content of the Times and also the BBC, the news channel of our former colonial masters and in whose language I am now writing this. The Times back then was filled with content that I loved to read. I had precious little idea about the background of what I was reading, but this was where a 10 year old learned about Bofors, the impact of the economic reforms of ’91, Kargil, the Air India hijacking of 1999 and the elections of 1996.
This was also where I read about the massacre in Godhra, the issue of Ayodhya, the Ram Setu and also the exposition of the remains of St Francis Xavier in Goa. This newspaper made me want to understand what India really was, in all her glory. This newspaper made me want to understand the workings of our economy, as told by Swaminathan Iyer every Sunday. This newspaper made we want to understand people and their emotions and the complexities of human life, as touched upon by Carol Andrade. This newspaper made me want to experience the fun of life in India as presented by Jug Suraiya. This newspaper provided the facts and the ideas for debates at school, debates not concerning the content of the latest Bollywood film but rather issues like education reform in India and racial abuse.
This newspaper introduced me to facets of life and news stories in faraway lands. I learned that the capital of Canada was not Toronto or Ontario just as the capital of Austraila is not Sydney. I learned how many stars were on the flag of the United States of America and what the three colours and the Chakra on our own meant. I learnt about the Nobel Prize in Sweden and of the Cliffs of Dover. I learned about the existence of marvels of nature such as the Amazon and the Victoria Falls. I read about the Tokyo Sarin attacks and of the perils when science and nature meet with the latter winning. I saw pictures of the Exxon Valdez, I read about Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar.
And I can pen all this today just from memory, without having to use Wikipedia or the internet, two things that the Times of India introduced me to. I remember scoffing at those who read the ‘glamour’ magazines, with their attractive covers but flimsy content. I remember holding onto my Sunday copy of the Times just to do the crossword, something I never managed to do. I remember standing up for the Times when others contended that the content of newspapers such as the Hindu was more politically neutral and often better. I was often criticized for reading a heavily ‘Westernised’ newspaper, but no, I countered that the Times represented the best of the West and the best of free India. The content of the Times was what relatives and friends discussed. They disagreed with the editorials. They took apart the cricket analyses. They rose and fell with the Rupee. They loved it, as did I.
The most lasting discovery that the times introduced me to was the Internet. The first page I opened with my copy of Netscape Navigator was the TOI website. Ever since the TOI website began, I’ve had it as one of my bookmarks. Today I deleted that bookmark in disgust.
Times have changed and so has the Times.
It seems that you, Jaideep, and your bosses are more interested in making money than in informing the nation. We are not a nation of vain and petty fools but it seems that that is exactly what you and your lot are hell bent on turning us into. Check the Times website. Sleaze. Hot photos of women I don’t care about. Parties, whose knowledge the Indian Republic could do without. Bollywood. Pointless news. Poor language. Glaring mistakes in grammar. Spelling mistakes. Political stories that scream bias instead of rational analysis.
Bennett Coleman and Co.? #fail, to quote the internet.
I really wonder about the quality of the journalists and the management who run this newspaper. Can they even put together a coherent sentence in English? Or, do they mentally translate from one of our numerous languages? I do not value the English language over any Indian language but it must be said that the global success of the majority of Indians is our ability to communicate in the lingua franca of the modern world. More the result of circumstance than choice, it is nevertheless something we should take pride in. What is the point of and English language daily if it is going to be filled with what can be best described as pathetic material? I don’t have to cite examples here. Take a look at the content of the day’s Times when you read this. You’ll find them like mosquitoes after the monsoon. If you’ve ever watched the newspaper headlines scan on BBC World News in the mornings, you’ll see there, among the best newspapers in the world, the masthead of the Times of India. Proudly claiming ‘Established 1838’. Yes, the world knows about the Times. Not only are the youth of India watching, so is the world. Yet, you persist with presenting me with an advertisement when I visit your website. You fill it with information that a party hopping socialite would love. You combine the worst of the West with the worst of India. Their vanity with our penchant for wanting to know about disasters. Rape has become the latest word that garners eyeballs. And , that sadly, is what it has come down to.
Eyeballs. TRP’s. Readership.
What happened to the newspaper that wanted to make informed citizens of its readers? What happened to the newspaper that put the Nation above the escapades of Deepika Padulone? What happened to the newspaper that considered the Parliament’s budget session more important than who Kangana Ranaut has a tiff with? What happened to the newspaper that put news that mattered on the front page instead of the news of who could pay the most for the front page? There are times when I cringe at work while reading the Times of India’s home page. It’s nothing short of a cheap porn site.
Readership matters. Sales matter. Profits matter.
So does the nation. So do the people. So does quality.
Do you accept the fact that something that reads ‘Made in the EU’ should cost thrice as much as it would if it read ‘Made in India’. I don’t accept that. Maybe you could take the first step to changing that perception by giving people the news they need, not the news they want. Sleaze and shock can turn heads and get you eyeballs. But for how long? In the age of attention spans shorter than a pigeon and of instant news, I can being to see the point of the majority of your content, but is that what you want to give to Indians? Is this what you want to feed the world’s largest democracy?
When will you change, dear Times of India? Will I live to see a newspaper that flies the Indian Tricolour high? Will I ever be able to display proudly to foreigners, ‘The Best Newspaper in India’ or will they continue to remark that the visuals are too racy for this to possible be a newspaper of substance.
Or will you end up as the ‘most widely circulated’ but least respected?
That bookmark is not coming back any time soon.