Saturday, April 18, 2009

Exaggeration in Indian Reporting

Watch an Indian news channel for twenty minutes, especially in the regional languages like Hindi or Telugu, and you will think that the world is at the brink of a major disaster. Every news item is ‘breaking news’. It is flashed innumerable times with all kinds of jazzy fonts and colors accompanied with blaring and ominous music. Young anchors have their own take on each issue; their prejudice doesn’t come as insinuation but is directly embedded within report. Then there are chest-beating and table-thumping young reporters who make every news item an imminent cause for World War III. Indian way of stressing the importance of an issue is to shout aloud and repeat the same sentence over and over again.

Most Indian news channels are downright crappy. Their crappiness can be measured by the number of tickers that keeps floating around on the TV screen. Some of them have 5 lines of horizontal tickers at the bottom taking up nearly 40% of the viewing area. Some texts scroll across faster while some move slow – don’t know why. The text in the tickers has nothing to with the news item being discussed. There are additional boxes displaying ads and irrelevant messages, making the TV screen resemble an Indian road, where everything and anything goes- cars, lorries, mopeds, cycles, pedestrians, cats, dogs, cows, meandering through construction material, pot holes, garbage, and loads of shit. Trying to make way out of it is a painful task– same holds true for Indian news channels. Making sense out of them is an onerous task – you feel exhausted after few minutes of watching.

One accident flip of remote, sometimes I land on such Indian news channels. If I linger for more than five minutes, my blood pressure starts to rise and I feel restless. I suddenly realize that I am doing something really dangerous, take immediate action and flip the channel to a saner channel and take a deep breath and vow never to tread into those troubled waters again.

According to me maturity of a news channel can be directly measured by the number of tickers floating on the TV screen. The less the tickers more mature the news channel. Take BBC or CNN for example. The news is delivered in a calm tone, even when it is the gravest of the issues. The tickers are minimal. They are one or two of them, relevant to the news item discussed – not very different from the roads in the West.

Indian news channels report an event in lofty words, making it poetic, using outlandish analogies right from Indian Cinema and Mythology. The news report is no longer a report, it is a piece of art, an epic, a saga, where a hero has to save a princess in distress from fiery dragons, slaying elephantine serpents, while scaling huge castles, and so on.

Indians are quite comfortable with such exaggerated, fictitious and flowery language. In fact, they encourage it. When I was a kid in a school, teachers used to praise the student who used bombastic language to describe something. If you used ordinary language, it was not appreciated. Ostentation is a virtue. When writing a speech for an event in my college, a girl used thesaurus to make it look sophisticated. So, she took a sentence which goes like, ‘with a vision to make our college more competitive…’, and substituted the word ‘vision’ with something that sounded more pedantic. The result came out as, ‘with a clairvoyance to make our college more competitive…’ thereby making the sentence meaningless and complete nonsense.

When I participated in college debates in my fourth year of college, I had to face a bunch of students who were quite well versed in the art of debating, some of them winning awards from President of India. I was new to debating. I had never done it before in an organized way, and it was my first time ever (though we had extensive and lengthy debates in college hostels). To my utter surprise, these veterans of debating carried Roget’s Thesaurus with them all the time. We had few minutes to prepare the speech, and during this time, these guys would consult this tome and embellish every sentence substituting ordinary and easy-to-understand words with sophisticated but hard-to-understand words, sometimes resulting in loss of the purported meaning. They were so caught up in making their speeches bombastic that they did not concentrate on the essence of the topic. [Thankfully, the judges of the college were not impressed by the flowery language.]

Poetry or fiction writing in India is always a challenge. Many young writers get caught up in trying to use unnecessary and out-of-place metaphors, analogies, phrases and hard-to-understand words making the writing incomprehensible. What is the point of communication, I asked myself many a times? Is it to impress the other person, or is it to be well understood?

This fascination with such pompous language is not something new to Indians. Here’s a snapshot of an Indian chronicler of history from Harsha times (500-700AD) [1]:

Instantly on hearing this [the news of his brother’s murder] his fiery spirit blazed forth in a storm of sorrow augmented by flaming flashes of furious wrath. His aspect became terrible in the extreme. As he fiercely shook his head, the loosened jewels from his crest looked like live coals of the angry fire which he vomited forth. Quivering without cessation, his wrathful curling lip seemed to drink the lives of all kings. His reddening eyes with their rolling gleam put forth, at it were, conflagrations in the heavenly spaces. Even the fire of anger, as though itself burned by the scorching power of his inborn valour’s unbearable heat, spread over him a rainy shower of sweat. His limbs trembled as if in fright at such unexampled fury…

He represented the first revelation of valour, the frenzy of insolence, the delirious of pride, the youthful avatar of fury, the supreme effort of hauteur, the new age of manhood’s fire, the regal consecration of warlike passion, the camp-lustration of day of reckoning.

No historian can take such documents seriously. It’s very hard to figure out what is fiction and what is a fact. A historian trying to reconstruct Indian history finds a report on war sheer fantastical [1]:

[Meanwhile his] enemies were best by all manner ill omens: jackals, swarming bees, and swooping vultures terrorized their cities; their soldiers fell out with their mistresses while some, looking in the mirror, saw themselves headless; a naked woman wandered through the parks ‘shaking the forefinger as if to count the dead’.

Indian politicians, news reporters, and Indian speakers tend to use such language all the time. Maybe Indians find reality too discomforting, and hence find solace in such grandiose and fantastic world made up by their imagination and grandiloquence.


[1]. A History of India, John Keay. Harper Collins.


  1. I completely agree with you on this one. It's not just TV. Take the print media and especially Telugu "news"papers. Where's the plain good and old news there? The opinions and facts are so intertwined even the front page articles are nothing but opiniond prices parading as news.

    They even add rhyming words in the headlines for the good measure. It's just irritating and funny at the same time.

    -- AV

  2. "Maybe Indians find reality too discomforting, and hence find solace in such grandiose and fantastic world made up by their imagination and grandiloquence."

    Maybe that's why some Indians get into the illusion that acting "holier than thou" will somehow catapult them into the league of "white men".


  3. "Maybe Indians find reality too discomforting, and hence find solace in such grandiose and fantastic world made up by their imagination and grandiloquence."

    I like the parody here.

    ~ Vinod


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