Media gets up, close and too personal – again

That same question of space again. From Sania-Shoaib to Shashi-Sunanda, it has been a seamless transition for the gossip hungry reader being fed by large sections of the media that have once again decided to go up, close and too personal, in the reporting of what should actually be nothing but a minister and his alleged involvement in a multi-million-dollar cricket franchise.

It is admittedly a delicious cocktail. First an Indian tennis ace romancing a Pakistani cricket star with all the excitement of subcontinental rivalry and the hint of betrayal that saw breathless headlines and even more breathless stories and which has ended with Sania Mirza finally getting married to Shoaib Malik.

And now another heady mix with Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor and his alleged links with the Indian Premier League’s Kochi team, partly owned by a woman friend, Sunanda Pushkar, who is part of the Rendezvous Sports World consortium.

Politics and cricket, a dapper former UN diplomat-turned-first time MP and another goof-up, the na�ve politician swimming in muddied waters, an attractive businesswoman and the barest hint of romance and even reports of a death threat… It’s a heady mix and we just can’t have enough of it.

It should be about his impropriety as a minister. Instead, what we have got in abundance is endless reports about rumours that he was getting ready to marry Dubai-based Pushkar, his third wedding and hers too, lots of photographs of the two of them seen in public events, details of her life and her parents too, and headlines such as “The minister’s external affair” – clever but oh so insulting.

Also, of course, in case you wanted to know and didn’t know where to ask – Tharoor’s first wife, what she did and what she does, ditto with his second wife. And, to go with it, Pushkar’s first husband and second.

She was the appendage to the celebrity minister, a “beautician” with Kashmiri origins who had moved far from her middle class upbringing in Jammu as the daughter of a retired army officer.

Prowling paparazzi landed at her father’s doorstep in Jammu – what juicy soundbite, I wonder, could the father have offered.

He, in fact, was forced to say: “My daughter and he are just good friends”.

A 54-year-old man and a woman in her 40s and a father being compelled to comment!

It would be laughable if it were not so tragic.

As Pushkar put it in a statement made available to IANS, she had been reduced to a caricature, “portrayed with inaccuracies and falsehoods”.

In a stinging criticism of the Indian media, she slammed it for dwelling “obsessively on my personal life as if a woman cannot be capable of professional or financial success.

“My own business interests and assets are substantial and efforts to besmirch Tharoor by presenting me as a proxy for him are personally insulting for me as a woman and as a friend.”

In the ultimate truism, Pushkar was forced to come out to say that her personal life was nobody’s business. “…and if I have a marriage to announce, I will do it myself, rather than leave it to strangers. I would request the media to respect my privacy.”

Would the impassioned appeal dent an increasingly voyeuristic media? Doubtful.

And what of Tharoor, who seems to be lurching from one controversy to another? Sometimes for tweeting his opinion on the cattle class, other times for speaking his mind on India’s foreign policy or visa guidelines.

Let’s face it. With a high-profile UN career behind him and as a bestselling author, not to mention extremely articulate and good looking too, he is just not the run-of-the-mill politician. This is not a homegrown MP as we have known them, he’s not a second generation politico or even one groomed into activism…

He’s different. And it seems we just can’t stomach it. While it would be difficult to defend his political naivete, we can certainly fight for the fact that this is a man who doesn’t bother with hypocrisy. He is in public life, but his personal life is what it is, take it or leave it.

We can take an aged governor’s peccadilloes in our stride, but it seems we just can’t deal with a younger, not-in-the-usual-mould man trying to make a go of a difficult career.

Looks like he’ll be out of job soon. What then will that say of the Indian establishment, the Indian media and of Indians themselves.

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