Not a single dawn sees its dusk in the social media age without the honourable members of the media inserting themselves into a story and putting up a cringe-worthy sideshow, perfect for a future newspaper called The Daily Tamasha.
And so, in the year of the lord 2019, it is ISRO’s failed mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2, which did not quite provide the desired opportunity for self-promotion for those who had flown down to its headquarters i.e. prime minister Narendra Modi.
As PMO speech writers tore up their chest-thumping drafts, and image managers had to quickly come up with a replacement photo-op (like the PM patting the ISRO chairman on the back 59 times), Aaj Tak‘s original hopes lay dashed.
There is so much certitude in #NewIndia, so much certainty that the space programme began in 2014, that it seemed Rahul Kanwal of Aaj Tak hadn’t heard of the Challenger coming down.
Hours before the Chandrayaan cock-up, Deepak Chaurasia of News Nation was asking if India would be the first country to colonise moon….
…little realising the TV9 Telugu had already reached there and even lined up a panel discussion, which of course had to be cancelled due to technical reasons.
Unaware of fate’s unseen hand, Deepak Chaurasia had earlier in the night bravely revealed how he had prepared for the great day.
The Indian Express had to quick make changes to its front page, revealed its city editor Rahul Sabharwal.
Which was certainly better than the Malayala Manorama two months ago, whose desk heads, so sure of black space just as they are of white, announced that Chandrayaan had taken off, locked their elaborately designed front page and gone home, only to realise that it was still on ground in Sriharikota and it was too late to shout “Stop, Press”.
But, of course, the day belonged to Pallava Bagla, the veteran science writer, who knows more about ISRO than most journalists put together.
Bagla did what political reporters have forgotten to do for the last 64 months: demand answers from the man at the top of the hill if things go wrong.
Thankfully, hours before the moon lander was to land, Bagla had taken his insurance certificate on Twitter, with a patriotic ‘cc’ to @PMOIndia.
But at the press conference following the Chandrayaan disaster, Bagla did something that is not kosher in #NewIndia: ask a question and demand accountability.
It was loud, over the top, the tone a little too sharp, and perhaps the wrong moment, but only people who haven’t seen or heard Pallava Bagla would say that.
Then again, who knew there was suddenly a market for soft, civilised language and nuance in the age of brain-dead TV channels?
Bagla, a former India correspondent for Science magazine, apologised later through two tweets.
So did NDTV founder Prannoy Roy.
But that wasn’t enough for the burgeoning fauj of desk bhakts in the media, especially those whose covert and overt target is the battered and beleaguered NDTV.
A few jumped in to support Bagla but in vain
For one, it was time to rake up an old ghost.
But it is the response of journalists to Narendra Modi hugging the ISRO chief that got many teary-eyed.
It took a couple of them to point out the sheer irony of the hug and the humbug.
Since institutional memory in Indian journalism is not quite at its strongest, Rasheed Kidwai linked to a 1987 India Today story to show how Rajiv Gandhi, who too was at ISRO headquarters when the ASLV mission failed, reacted.
And Mrinal Pande, the former editor of Hindustan, pulled out a picture from the archives, on the ground with India’s first man in space: Rakesh Sharma.
Indrani Bagchi of The Times of India wished the studio warriors of the commando comic channels god bless and god speed.
And back on earth, and back to earth, Aaj Tak had lunar advice for motorists driving in fear of the new traffic penalties.