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      Volume 11 |Issue 29| July 20, 2012 |


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The Compulsive Newsman

Aasha Mehreen Amin

The origins of news-making can be traced back to that incorrigible human trait of gossip mongering. In the old days neighbours were good enough to spread all kinds of rumours about you, some of it with a bit of the truth, the rest embellished and garnished for the consumption of the nosey and the bored. The first news bulletin came in the form of a daily hollering in the village or town centre. Later this transformed into a sheet or two of paper with little bits of gossip based on the prejudices of the times. With modern civilisation we are now blessed with hundreds of kinds of media – newspapers, radio, TV, online versions – offering both the facts as well as subjective versions of it.

Which brings us to the inherent human need to know things. There are also many in the human race who take it a little further by getting all the news they can from every possible source and retelling it to friends, acquaintances, even bosses. Sometimes people just like to brag about the news as if it were their personal property.

Muhammad Abbas works as a chauffeur for the last twenty-something years. Apart from being an ace driver and perfect handy man, despite never having been to school but managing to acquire some reading skills, he is one of those characters who just loves to talk. Broadcast news being his most favourite he feels it is his religious duty to educate people about what's going on here and everywhere else. In the old days he would have been the Chief Hollering Officer of the Oral News Service.

Employed by none other than a journalist, Abbas's daily news update has become a moral obligation. His favourite form of entertainment is listening to BBC Bangla service during the day and later catching up with late night news on television. This means he knows just about everything that can be construed as news along with his own spin on it.

Not surprisingly, he is quite shocked when his employer, a late riser who often has to read the headlines after 12pm and is always running against time, has no clue about the earth-shattering events going on around her while she was in deep slumber or trying to find something decent to wear from the debris in the closet.

“Madam kalker newj to janen?” (Madam you do know about yesterday's news right?) he will begin after his employer has just settled into the car and ready with her sunglasses, for a long, long nap while the car is stuck for the next hour or so in gridlock. With teeth clenched she mutters: “Na jani na” (No I don't know).

This is the cue for a torrent of information along with news analysis to come in. Usually, Abbas will start with some horrible accident that has resulted in severed heads and limbs or a grisly murder, described in gory detail until his passenger is ready to throw up right inside the car. Assuming the dead silence for lack of comprehension, he will repeat the incident at least three times in a row in his rather guttural voice until his passenger is about to pass out. Satisfied that his point has been made, he will move on to the second best subjects: politics and the economy. This will include his personal take on the country's politics and the versions of the scandal he thinks is closest to the truth. But he also refers to the opinion of others. A common refrain is : Bisheshoggyora koy… (Experts have said…).

World news is of course the last segment of his commentary, since the destination has almost been reached plus he knows that sports news will not fare well in this particular audience of one. From the Arab Springs to the discovery of the God Particle, everything is covered. News on migrant workers is always a special feature, probably because he himself worked in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for over ten years and considers 'Rajtontro' (monarchy) to be the best form of government.

One cannot help but be impressed by his thirst for knowledge, his philosophical ruminations and coinage of words: “Ashole madam, jobottori (Abbas lingo meaning 'until') poshashon (without the 'ra') tight na hoy tobottori (till then) ey deshtar kono unnoti hoibo na” (Until the State is strict and efficient, this country will never progress). One cannot argue with such nuggets of wisdom.

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