Of think tanks and fish bowls

Maverick: Give me a think tank, I want to think

By Farzana Versey

Covert April 16-30

For as long as I can recall, I have wanted to be a thinker. There was also the added advantage that in my naïveté I believed if you were a thinker you did not have to do much.

Now I realise that only thinkers are doers; the rest are takers. We are being spoon-fed.

There are a few ways in which you may qualify as a thinker.

You could belong to a think tank. I looked up the origins and all of them are deathly serious about it. For me, it shall remain one of these fish-tank like show pieces where you see goldfish puckering their mouths to kiss some bubble or swallow a worm. The idea being that you belong to an enclosed space with people like you where you get noticed just for being there.

The second option is to be an expert. No, you don’t become an expert; you’ve got to be born one. It is quite easy – it is in the demeanour. You may know nothing about the subject but nature has somehow endowed you with an eye for one particular aspect of social discourse. You are the chosen one and no television channel can ignore you. Therefore, it is likely that you are an expert on military affairs though you have never held a gun or an Indologist even if you have never lived in India. In fact, these embellish you with an adjective: the objective expert.

You are a commentator. All of us plebeians comment and some of us have the misfortune of having to struggle into the tight jeans space editors allot to lesser mortals. But if you are a real commentator, then you can shoot your mouth off. Unlike the expert, you are not pigeonholed. You have a free run and can hold forth on many subjects, not because you know much about most of those but because you are capable of commenting. As a CoC type you quite naturally fit into the league of angels; you can flutter about and will be termed eclectic.

Readers of this magazine will be sorely disappointed to know that this columnist belongs to none of these categories. To save face, I spent a week keeping a hawk’s eye vigil on the august gentlemen and women.

Some simple discoveries I made:

Anchors of news shows address their guests by their first names. This has a deep psychological impact on the viewer. It means that we are an egalitarian society and anchors are important people who could belong to a think tank, be experts or commentators themselves. They will also argue by casting surreptitious glances at their laptop monitors. They will quote from one SMS message received by viewers and palm off the rest as their original probing queries.

The guests usually fall into two categories – those who wear suits or western attire and those who wear ethnic clothes. The former are usually on panels that discuss advertising, foreign affairs, the armed forces, alternate sexuality. The latter discuss gender disparity, ragging, rape, murders.

Where elections, politics, polls are concerned these emperors and empresses swap clothes quite comfortably.

The style is either ponderous or shrill depending on what point is sought to be made. If you are from a think tank you might be shrill because this is your moment under the arc lights, whereas an expert could decide to go into deep thought to convey a charming humility.

The accents vary from the clipped Jaswant Singh has just taken a bite of parfait to Mayawati ate all the malai. The blanket group of fundamentalists talk straight from the heart – all pumping arteries and bursting veins.

Activists speak like they have just discovered the world is flat and they have walked the whole distance.

In fact, television has brought the humble village Panchayati Raj right into our homes. The sarpanch, the anchor, starts conducting the proceedings on an important issue of national or international importance. The rest of the jury comprising the panellists then decide the fate of that issue.

If it is of human interest involving a person, then be certain that the poor subject will not be given the choice to have her/his say. The verdict is pronounced after the mandatory, “We are running out of time”.

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