Some issues do not show signs of abating. The reason’s simple: because they are A) not meant to abate, B) the protagonist does not want them to abate, or C) it’s heck of a huge issue to die down so soon.
I say, add a ‘D’ when the media is involved, an ‘E’ when specifically Indian media is involved and, finally, an ‘F’ when purported Indian icons are involved. Let’s face it, so few icons we have in this huge country with a huger population that even an insinuation on any one of them seems like a nuclear attack to us. Result: we immediately un-holster our guns and start spraying bullets, our eyes instinctively closed, like a child lighting a cracker.
Now, before you gentle folks ask me to mind my own business and tell me Diwali is still far off, let me say I am talking here about Shoaib Akhtar’s controversial autobiography Controversially Yours. The first time I read about it, I almost fell off the couch — an ‘autobiography’, and that too by Shoaib? Something just doesn’t sound correct. The man can barely express himself decently in English; notwithstanding his twang, which sounds anything between the twang of those good folks in Suffolk to the cool souls of Sydney. So how can he pen an ‘autobiography’, which the good ol’ Oxford dictionary describes as “an account of a person’s life written by that person”?
But all that jazz were an aside, just to rev up the tempo, as Shoaib did with one or two deliveries before sending a toe-crusher. We are discussing the latest protagonist in the ‘Sachin was scared of Shoaib’ debate, and the protagonist is none other than that other bigmouth and big talent-that-didn’t-bloom-to-full in Pakistan cricket — Shahid Afridi.
Now what exactly did Afridi say on Friday, September 30, which appeared in the papers on October 1, and that has the Indian media (TV, more than anything else) drawing out their guns from the holster in unison? Tendulkar was afraid of Shoaib. Mind you, I am just paraphrasing what Afridi purportedly to0ld the Pakistan media; I am not using the quotation marks.
But how did Indian media play it up? ‘Sachin quaked in his boots while facing Shoaib’, roared the Hindustan Times in a page-1 anchor story . Quote from the report: Afridi, who retired after revolting against the Pakistan Cricket Board, told reporters: “He (Tendulkar) was scared of Shoaib. I have seen it myself. I was fielding at square leg and saw his legs trembling when Shoaib came on to bowl.”
That’s huge, that’s big, and that deserves page one.
“Quaked”, said the headline; “trembling” said the quote underneath the header. Maybe we should let that go.
The Times of India headlined the same news the same day (October 1): “Yes, Sachin was scared of Akhtar’s pace: Afridi” .
Here’s the quote in question (report by PTI) from TOI: “I was fielding at square leg and saw his legs trembling when Shoaib came on to bowl,” Afridi told reporters without elaborating on which match he was referring to.
Scared versus quaked? Maybe we should let that go.
Here’s DNA, Mumbai: “Sachin Tendulkar was afraid of Shoaib Akhtar: Shahid Afridi”
Pretty inoffensive, that headline from the ANI report. So how does the paper quote Afridi? Here: “Shoaib is telling the truth. Tendulkar was afraid of him, and while fielding, I saw Tendulkar’s legs shivering while facing his bowling,” The Express Tribune quoted Afridi, as saying.
“Trembling” in TOI’s full quote versus “shivering” in the same quote in DNA? Maybe we should let that go.
“I saw Tendulkar’s legs shivering while facing Akhtar’s bowling: Afridi”, reported The Indian Express. And I quote the quote verbatim: “Shoaib is telling the truth. Tendulkar was afraid of him, and while fielding, I saw Tendulkar’s legs shivering while facing his bowling,” The Express Tribune quoted Afridi, as saying.
True to Express’s style, the headline said exactly what the quote says.
Without biting the bait for punning, MID-DAY, too, had as simple a headline: Afridi supports Shoaib’s take on Tendulkar.
The main quote? “Shoaib is telling the truth. Tendulkar was afraid of him and I saw Tendulkar’s legs trembling while facing his bowling.”
Again, trembling versus shivering.
While the HT report was by its own correspondent, with PTI “inputs”, (does HT have a correspondent in Karachi, as the dateline in the story goes?), the ANI report carried in both ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘DNA’ quoted ‘Express Tribune’ a Karachi-based paper.
So what does the Pakistani paper say? Under the headline ‘Tendulkar did shiver facing Akhtar: Afridi’, it stated: “Shoaib is telling the truth,” said Afridi. “Tendulkar was afraid of him and while fielding, I saw Tendulkar’s legs shivering while facing his bowling.”
Shiver, said the headline. Shiver said the quote in the copy.
So how did we end up like this, to paraphrase the Godfather when he meets all the other Dons to make a deal and get Michael Corleone back home to NY?
The same man (Afridi) talking about the same man (Shoaib) and the same book (Controversially Yours) but saying different things even in quotes put within the quotation marks in different newspapers?
The answer could be, A) one of the agencies botched up, B) none of the papers checked what exactly Afridi said (forget about double-checking or cross-checking), C) the copy editor in some of the papers took quotes a jot too casually, or D) the headline writer thought a synonym is a synonym, and to hell with the quote.
All of it is partly correct; in journalism, you can paraphrase — so shivering can turn trembling in the headline (but quaking? Well, I guess even HT took it a jot too far down the line!). But you cannot, just CANNOT, change the quotes without quotation marks with a word you thought/hoped/expected the speaker to utter. That’s taught in every journalism school.
I quote the Reuters handbook (verbatim, if I may add withy the obligatory pinch of salt, from the website!): “Quotes are sacrosanct. They must never be altered other than to delete a redundant word or clause, and then only if the deletion does not alter the sense of the quote in any way. Selective use of quotes can be unbalanced.”
So, if Afridi said Sachin “shivered” (as must be the case, because all the reports must have been sourced from the Karachi-based ‘Express Tribune’), it should be left at shivered. Quaking, trembling, “was afraid of him” (TOI; takes the quote to a completely different tangent, minus all shivers and quakes) would not do. It CANNOT do. Because quotes are sacrosanct, as the Reuters handbook puts it so poignantly.
No wonder Indian papers get it so wrong, so often.
And, equally unsurprisingly, little wonder that Afridi was crying foul within hours, as the next day’s reports quoted him being quoted out of context.
I am not even getting into the fact whether Sachin really did shiver in that Eden Gardens Test match in 1999 (like the initial Shoaib comment in his memoirs, the Indian media made no mistake in making Afridi’s comment sound as if he was deriding Tendulkar the batsman all through his career, and not just the Eden Gardens Test match that he claims he was talking about).
Anyone interested in Indian cricket would know Tendulkar has the habit of bending his knees and touching what looks like his private parts while taking stance. Is that shivering/trembling/quaking? We don’t know. All we ask of the media is, write a straight report in the news pages. Let the opinion pages be the carriers of all spins, opinion and children begotten by the two.
Instead, the question raised by the media, if at all they wanted to raise one (personally I don’t think anyone needs to go jingoistic or Pak-bashing in defending Sachin, because he does not need any defence), should have been about the discrepancy in the two pakistani cricketer’s line about Sachin. Was he afraid of Shoaib in Faislabad Test match in 2004 (as Akhtar purportedly claims in his memoirs) or at Eden Gardens in 1999 (as Afridi now claims).