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Leaders and mere emperors

Publication Date : 19-06-2012

 

Of all the names the one that hurt most last week was when I was called an “amused spectator”.

The complainant was the producer of a television channel looking for a journalist to speak on the "way forward" for the profession for an evening discussion show.

The not-so-amusing spectator bit was in response to excuses mumbled on telephone. The producer said he would come knocking again, there obviously being no escape from the freedoms that the media is hell-bent on using and bestowing on everyone around.

In cricket I often find my escape from all the madness around. That could not be, in a week which was replete with offerings by all kind of emperors, including a cricketing one.

It was the week when shahanshah-i-ghazal Mehdi Hasan took his final bow, real estate king Malik Riaz sought to play a leader of some sort and in contrast, the bar associations acted as monarchs in banishing unwanted lawyers from their domain and our on-screen opinion leaders acted not just as political parties or political leaders, but as kings who were often bigger than their kingdoms.

Cricket this time did not offer solace or refuge but an explanation in sync with the trends. King Richards summed up the situation, aptly, even if more by default than design. He was angered by the indolence shown to him by a prodder of unfulfilled promise, Denesh Ramdin his name.

Sir Richards had trashed Ramdin, but it so happened the West Indies wicket-keeper went on to score a Test century, of whatever little significance, not long after. And while Ramdin was so overwhelmed by the moment that he flashed a naughty sign at Richards, the emperor hit back, against his own tradition.

Did he have to really? Why did he have to? The answer: Sir Viv is a television commentator.

For long years, Sir Viv went around with the rather unflattering title of the butcher. He expressed with the ferocity of a storm but seldom had to fall back on words to do the talking for him.

Personally, the image that stands out most vividly is the one that captured Richards’ reaction to a defeat by Pakistan in a World Cup game in Lahore in 1987.

Abdul Qadir (sorry folks no pregnant pause followed by Gilani here) had just performed the most incredible, last-over heist on West Indies.

I recall the great man lying on the ground, his maroon cap covering his gaze. Then he got up swiftly, dusted his cap and walked away — with a swagger that did not appear to have been acquired and which could not be taken away by a momentary defeat. This was king-like, really.

Sir Richards had his bad moments. In the most critical of these, he chose to maintain an imperial silence when his captaincy was under attack and he was dubbed as a king who couldn’t quite lead.

It just doesn’t appear right to see the king embrace controversy where he could have communicated better by ignoring the emotional outburst of an ordinary mortal.

This is not all. Through his own sporting parallels Sir Richards deprived an avid admirer of the little comparisons the admirer was working on.

Resorting to football, he talked about how Ramdin’s century amounted to a solitary goal by a team which had already allowed their opponents to score five.

Somewhat similar would be an analogy between some of our television anchors and the haggard and defeated pace bowler who chooses to celebrate his first wicket after going for over 200 runs in an innings.

They have been taken for runs by this government over the last four years and few months. They would be well advised to not over-celebrate when their moment finally comes.

The last week these media moguls spent in offering their own answers to their own invisible Ramdin. Just as a list carrying a score of names of television anchors did the rounds, each and everyone on the list right down to the difficult-to-excite Suhail Warraich considered it proper to answer back.

Not only did they do this, and lent the "fake" list some credibility by doing so, they used their own grand shows built in their own small kingdoms — the channels they work with — to plead their innocence.

This exchange left little room for the timid to join a TV talk show which is a derivation of the stage play where the applause and brickbats come instantly and it is a foregone conclusion as to what will get the claps and what the bricks.

Imagine the ordeal a discussant would subject himself to if he were to, God forbid, state that fake lists and fixed interviews were things not new to Pakistani journalism. Particularly someone as positioned as our real state king would only agree to an interview on certain conditions and the channel would give him the opportunity in pursuance of its own interests.

Aren’t Internet archives full of such interviews where the subject has been asked a series of soft questions in an effort to clear his name? Okay there are some juicy off-the -record bits that have been discovered, but primarily, these reconfirm the already known. The most remarkable clue they offer is when the name Abdul Qadir, this time followed by the Gilani surname, is mentioned.

Was it a loosener? A simple leg-break? Or could it have been a googly that turns the other way, the way of the most corrupt species on the face of the earth, the politician?

Saying this may not be impossible but it is certainly a cross that is becoming rather too heavy to bear before television cameras that work by their own preferences and ethics and demands. What they communicate is painful enough as a spectacle. Wonder what it is like to be in the middle.

The writer is Dawn’s s resident editor in Lahore.

 

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