Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Daily News

Reading a newspaper in another country is a challenging task, if you are concerned with comprehension.  If it’s in another language, you assume you won’t get it all, or any, but if it’s in English, it always comes as a surprise that comprehension alludes you.
Such is the case with our daily reading of newspapers in India.  Last year we read the Jaipur edition of The Times of India.  Journalistically, it was not the pinnacle, to say the least.  However, now we are in the south, and the paper of choice is The Hindu, which is also highly regarded as the premier newspaper of the country by more discerning readers.  When we read the newspaper, we struggle with comprehension, many times just with the headline, mind you.  Let us take today’s edition of The Hindu.  One headline read “Bharat Ratna for Sachin, C.N.R. Rao”.  Clues?  The capital letters, except it’s a title, so who knows if those are proper nouns or not. Then I remember the Bharat Ratna mentioned in an Indian novel I read, it’s a prestigious award akin to the U.S.  Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Ok, someone is getting an award….. Now for a little cultural information.  Sachin is a first name, I think, so who is this guy/gal?  Any Indian would ask me if I’d been underground the last week, because it’s the first name of the cricketer extraordinaire who retired this week.  S. figured out that piece.  Ok, I should have known the sports news would be on the first page, having lived in a Big 10 community for so long, but I forgot sports reign supreme.
On to C.N.R. Rao.  I hypothesized it was a radio station, for some reason, then thought it was just another political party that is part of the alphabet soup of this country’s politics.  I decided to dive into the article and see if I could find out.  Turns out this Rao fellow is a big-time scientist.  Woops, sorry!  Who would have thought a man of science would be given the same award as a man of athletic prowess?  The U.S. has more in common with this country than I thought.
This constant deciphering of the news is part of the reason I am an infrequent imbiber of the daily news.  However, there are other interesting aspects to journalism here.  First, there is a familiarity with certain public figures that is, well, interesting.  In the same newspaper, another headline read “Sonia to look into Kerala’s Concern”.  Sonia Gandhi is the current head of the Congress Party, but let’s dispense with formalities.  Here I disgress to put in a feminist outcry of media being way too familiar with the females (Hillary, Sonia, etc. but interestingly, not Angela for the stern Merkel) but not with their male counterparts, but I digress.
Sometimes the word choice is very comical in newspaper articles, at least to us outside the culture.  When describing a riot earlier this week, the Hindu says “A group of miscreants set fire to a forest section…”.  Now I’m not pro-torching, but would you like your misguided child to be labeled a miscreant?  Perhaps there should be more of that, come to think of it. Forget unbiased reporting, start calling out the trouble makers with some serious name calling.  If it worked, I might be for it.  Another headline provided more bemusement with “Do we really need these big fat Indian weddings?” I hope it was a play on the film by the similar name showing the glories of a Greek wedding, but am not so sure.
Finally, when reading this headline I realized it takes a lot of cultural information to translate a simple sentence: “Tipplers Get High in Season’s Spirit”.   I figured out this article is about some hotels selling illegal hootch, although what season it is will remain a secret to me.

All that to say that cultural insider information is paramount when reading the daily news, especially when it’s in your same mother tongue, because without it you can make some stunningly inaccurate assumptions.  I leave you with a quote in a side bar that neither of us could grasp: “…But people consider a royal candidate as stable, because they are not corrupt and their writ runs.”  It’s that last part that has me scrunching up my forehead in wonder.  If you get it, let us know, but be warned, they are NOT talking about a royal family, I don’t think….or is it? We can’t tell.

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