‘Selfie with Ghost’ and Other Tales

Time, they say, is precious. But we Indians – middle class Indians, to be more precise – obviously have plenty of time on our hands, enough to while away in mindless, meaningless and absolutely frivolous pursuits. Two entirely unconnected incidents – one in Bhubaneswar and the second in Mumbai (Twitter actually) over the last couple of days brought home this home truth in telling fashion.

The first of these was the tale of a ghost that wasn’t. The ‘Selfie with Ghost’ ‘exclusive’ was aired on a local TV channel at a time when the whole state was in the grip of panchayat poll fever. Come to think of it. Twenty seconds is considered long and a minute is an eternity on the television screen. But this channel had no qualms about running this story about a woman in Balianta, who claimed that a ghost was caught on the camera while she took a selfie, complete with a studio interview of the woman, for close to 10 minutes! The woman wore just the right expressions and made all the right noises about her ordeal with the ghost – how it had been living with her, popping up from nowhere day and night, even tailing her to the bath room, preventing her from getting up from the bed at the night and so on – to make it appear real. She even choked with fear twice during the interview to quash any residual doubt about the veracity of her incredible story!

No wonder the ‘Selfie with the Ghost’ immediately went viral, being shared on Twitter, Facebook , WhatsApp and YouTube. It also became the talk of the town – at tea stalls, paan shops and everywhere else people assemble for their customary – and daily – fill of gossip. There were animated arguments with some doubting the authenticity of the video and others shouting them down. For a while, the channel looked like getting what it had desired while running the story.

It is not clear how much TRP this particular ‘exclusive’ brought for the channel. What one does know, however, is that it has ended up with egg on its face after a rival channel ripped the ‘mystery’ off l’affaire ghost and revealed how one can conjure up a ghost and place it anywhere on a picture one wants to by merely using a mobile App!

Why on earth would a responsible television channel that has otherwise been doing rather well think of airing something like this – and that too at the height of the panchayat elections – without taking the elementary journalistic precaution of cross-checking things is incomprehensible to this columnist. It cannot get away by putting the blame on the lady either. She could well be a victim of hallucination or faking the whole thing for her 15 minutes of fame. But a media house enjoys no such luxury. It has a duty to enlighten the viewer, dispel myths rather than reinforce them and uphold scientific temper. The short term gain in the form of TRP would ultimately end up in lasting damage to the credibility and falling TRP of the channel in the long run. All the good work done by a channel goes down the drain with just one act of indiscretion.

The second incident refers to a rather mischievous tweet by the irrepressible Shobhaa De, who posted a picture of a rotund, pot bellied and grossly overweight cop perched on a plastic chair with the tongue-in-cheek comment “Heavy police bandobast in Mumbai today” yesterday. De may be just trying to be funny or having a dig at the Mumbai police, but she obviously did not realize that it was a picture of a Madhya Pradesh policeman that has been doing the rounds on WhatsApp for a year or more now. Predictably enough, all hell broke loose with indignant Mumbaikars and De haters all over the country pouncing on her indiscretion with gusto. With De refusing to oblige those who asked for an apology, the trolling has not stopped even now.

Shobhaa De obviously has time on her hands. But going through the Twitter chain started by Mumbai Police, which repudiated De’s mischievous tweet with a touch of humour and sarcasm, this author was struck by how much time Indians have to spend on what was certainly a frivolous matter worth nothing more than a good laugh.

It is true that life would become rather dull without a bit of fun on the side while we go about doing our mundane and more serious business of living. But does fun have to necessarily include cock and bull stories or body shaming of a poor cop?