Saturday, May 06, 2006

No ideas, please, we’re Mysoreans

As someone who hasn't been in Mysore long enough to take it in our cynical stride, I was envious of Mangalore when I read in The Hindu about the success of their Jana Mana TV serial. The Mangalore city channel programme had completed 250 weekly episodes and we haven't emulated it? Never mind that Mysore hadn't thought of it first. Can't we copy a good idea when we see one? We have a Mysore city channel; we don't lack people with creative resources or talent to produce a TV programme. With some lobbying in the right quarters, we could even find sponsors with a charitable disposition. Why, then, can't we have a Jana Mana in Mysore? Why... WHY?

I gave vent to my feelings in And there wasn't a spate of e-mail by way of reaction. Three persons wrote back, though I alerted 30, seeking feedback to my website message. An excellent idea, wrote Bapu Satyanarayana, an articulate senior citizen who takes active interest in civic issues.I phoned friends and acquaintances. Got a sympathetic hearing and many reasons why they thought the idea wouldn't work. A commonly heard line was: ‘Mysore is no Mangalore’. It was as plain and simple as that. I was being such a ‘tube light’, not to have thought of it.

For those who might be unfamiliar with Jana Mana, it is a community-driven TV programme that is informative, educative, entertaining and interactive. The weekly TV programme, devised by a group of public spirited individuals, addresses everyday concerns of people. They get people with hands-on expertise to answer FAQs phoned-in by viewers. They tell you how old one's neighbourhood church is, or where one can take a course in nanotechnology, the recipe for Kori Sukka, or how to crack CET.

Among the three respondents to my website lament was Anil Thagadur, a spirited Mysorean located in Dulles. He offered to contribute his bit and also his time to mobilise Mysoreans in the US, if only someone at our end took the initiative to put together a TV programme. He spoke of PBS TV and the National Public Radio in the US that are known for exceptional programmes on community development. Anil said, even in the US it was a struggle to find adequate support to start a not-for-profit venture, but once it got going it could really become the voice of the people, for the people. He suggested we collaborate with those running Jana Mana in Mangalore.

Bhamy Shenoy, a social activist, would like to see Jana Mana do more than address civic issues. “We need programmes that debate issues, expose shenanigans in public life, bureaucratic hassles, and expose frauds played on consumers by traders”. Don't we see a touch of Ralph Nadar here? Shenoy's prescription could keep away potential sponsors and prove to be the proverbial red rag to the establishment.

But then Bhamy Shenoy isn't frightfully optimistic about making a go of Jana Mana in Mysore. “I wonder how many Mysoreans would take interest in such things”, he says. He reckons that the main challenge here is motivating people to get involved in civic affairs.The educated and the social elite don't usually get involved, in the belief that they make little impact on civic affairs. The gullible are easily mobilised by political netas for bandhs and street protests.

To protest is our birthright, but it takes a nattering neta to turn it into vandalism. A recent street protest in front of the DC's office turned violent. There was slogan-shouting that went with some window-smashing. The DC's office furniture got thrown about, as in a John Wayne movie. I don't recall who the protesters were or what they were protesting. The thing that has stuck in the public mind is the ransacking of the DC's office.

Trouble is our netas who choreograph political stunt scenes with the vote bank in mind are not usually imaginative. Same old slogans and tiresome attacks on familiar targets. In Mysore, the other day, some so-called Kannada activists went around prime commercial areas blacking out hoardings with messages in English. I believe it was a Sunday morning, when the high streets were deserted and shops closed.

In such unguarded urban settings it wasn't a daring thing to do, going about with a can of paint and a spray gun to disfigure hoardings. It pales in comparison to the ransacking of the DC's office during working hours, in full public glare. The English-baiters with paint cans were led by an MLA. While the protesters with spray paint were at it in Shivrampet, someone drew their attention to vehicle number plates. The MLA is reported to have promptly picked up a can and brush to work on a number plate that carried the registration number in universally understood English format!

Maybe Shenoy has a point. How do you motivate the spray paint brigade to see that a Jana Mana programme, rather than disfiguring vehicle number plates, might have a better chance of promoting the Kannada cause? You have got to have civic sense for this, a certain spirit of inquiry, openness to ideas; in other words, you have to be Mangalorean.

A message posted in the context of some other issue in the Mysore website evoked a cryptic response from Mahadev, another non-resident Mysorean:”We see a lot of ideas on the Net, but the net result is minimal”. Mysore's answer to the Jana Mana idea is: “No ideas, please; we're Mysoreans”.

(When this piece was written in May, 2005, there was response from three persons to the ‘Jana Mana’ idea. There has been no addition to the number in the past year. Post on ‘Jana Mana’ is still there on the web along with several others waiting to be noticed.)

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