Indian television

Channel surfing: Why ‘HARDTalk’ cannot exist on any Indian news channel

If TV chat shows are all about ‘knowing your audience’, then we certainly have a clear idea of what our viewers want.

BBC HARDTalk can come as a nice dose of culture shock if your staple diet has been news television in India. Apparently it is still fully possible to have a rigorous interview without raising your decibel level – all this, while even letting your guest speak even if you disagree with them.

It’s quite a revolutionary concept. I’m not sure it’ll catch on!

Of course, this isn’t a breaking news type of scenario and it is a controlled environment, so it’s almost a different genre of news TV. There’s something wonderful about that clean, sleek look – not for them the multiple boxes and frenetic pulses of text.

In a recent HARDTalk interview with musician and visual artist Brian Eno, who has worked with major talent such as David Bowie and U2, the anchor Stephen Sackur brings up the topic of sound landscaping, which is apparently one of the many things that Eno does. I have no idea what it entails.

Talk about knowing your audience.

“Sound landscaping – it sounds very pretentious,” Sackur says, not unkindly. To which Eno just laughs and retorts, “All good things do sound pretentious”.

This turns out to be quite interesting, without any dramatic ado. It’s all very amiable, even when Sackur is probing further about talent and genius – making music with a legend like Bowie versus doing work with U2 and Coldplay where presumably the motivation is just to sell millions of records. (To his credit, Eno isn’t snobby about this. He says all artists “want to go somewhere else” after a point.)

They discuss Eno’s work, as a visual artist, lighting up the Sydney Opera House for a few weeks during a festival, and conclude with Eno’s sense of where the most transformative and innovative art is happening. (Eno says that it’s the world of gaming.)

The show provides a fascinating peek into another world, and is an example of a really great interview. There are no frills and gimmicks, just questions, answers, a robust conversation.

Unfortunately, on domestic news television, it’s rare to see these calm, thorough and thought-provoking interviews, not even in the so-called culture space, of which the less said the better. This seems to be an increasingly shrinking space, with most stories devoted to Bollywood.

What we all seem to crave in India is some masala in our news. Friday night, I tune in after seeing a couple of fairly angry tweets from India Today’s Managing Editor Rahul Kanwal.

That’s enough to whet the appetite, wouldn’t you say? Off I go to check out what’s going on, but find that Times Now has moved on to another story (hashtag #NoProofAgainstPragya).

I’m actually rivetted for about 20 minutes by the raucous debate, with the anchor Arnab Goswami very much in the fray. While trying to counter one of his panelists, who refuses to pipe down despite several entreaties, Goswami slays with the rhetorical, “Are you going to censor me on my own programme?”

There’s a lot of yelling by everyone and the nation refuses to take this lying down. Before moving to the next guest, Goswami calls out said panelist as “a very aggressive person on our panel tonight… If you can match your aggression to him, you are free to come in.”

Later on the same show, he says, “I enjoy a good debate, as do all of you.” But then quite quickly there’s another conversation that devolves into a shouting match and then two more panelists argue and yell at each other and all of a sudden I’m getting an inkling of why gladiator matches had such huge crowds.

Goswami yells, cajoles, and criticises his guests for their use of language, for “inconsistency”, and for being “reticent” in their use of language, scoring immediate brownie points on patriotism, at one point.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to make head or tail of the actual arguments. The for and against arguments do get summed up by the nation’s voice, but the debate seems to be re-framed constantly. All the yelling gets to you after a point, and I find my attention moving to the floating text, including the tweet-o-meter on the top of the screen, which is constantly being refreshed. They track almost 200 new tweets in the space of 20 minutes.

Not for once while you’re watching will you forget that this show is a production, an orchestra. And you’re in the hands of a master-conductor, who’s clearly capable of winding people up to a fever pitch – panelists and viewers, both.

Amrita Tripathi is a recovering news junkie. She has previously worked for CNN-IBN and The Indian Express. At times, she may have a glancing familiarity or more with the news players mentioned.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.