Building a TV career on someone else’s shoulders

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With the possible exception of Seth McFarlane, no one could have imagined a scenario where a television reporter mounts on the shoulders of a flood victim to report how bad that flood is. Of course, McFarlane’s would have been a fictional scenario in ‘Family Guy’. The one above is real.

An Indian television news reporter, Narayan Pargaein is getting buffeted by criticism for using the shoulders of a flood victim to present his report to the camera about the the devastating flood in the Indian state of Uttarakhand which has killed close to a 1000 people so far.

The cruel hilarity of the moment is undeniable but that wears off rather quickly as its cruel absurdity takes over. In an interview with the website www.newslaundry.com, Pargaein (pronounced pur as in a cat purring, ga as in Lady Gaga and in, well, as in in) seeks to blame the cameraman. They both work for a news channel called News Express based in Dehradun.

“This was entirely the cameraman’s fault, who, it seems, almost tried to sabotage my career by shooting from that distance and angle and releasing the video mocking this whole incident, and making me the villain,” he has been quoted as saying by Birbal on this site.

It seems Pargaein expected the cameraman to take a much tighter shot that would not have exposed how he had managed to to elevate himself. I have demonstrated below what Pargaein would have thought the shot would have looked like. But then, as you can see, keeping the shot that tight would not have shown the flood water and defeated the whole purpose of the story about how apathetic the local government has been about the hardships caused by the very flood. So there is some defense to be made in favor of the cameraman.

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The easiest thing would have been for Pargaein to stand in the water himself and report. Going by the Newslaundry report there is a back story to why he did not stand in the water himself. The man on whose shoulders he is sitting was so overcome with gratitude after Pargaein helped him with some money and food that he insisted that he carry the reporter to return the favor.

“We helped him with some food and some money and he was grateful to us and wanted to show me some respect, as it was the first time someone of my level had visited his house. So while crossing the river he offered to help by carrying me on his shoulder, between which, I thought of reporting the flood. We offered Rs 50 as well for the help he gave me,” Pargaein has been quoted as saying.

The idea that someone of the reporter’s “level” had visited the poor man’s house is so bizarrely telling of India’s often rigidly stratified societal structure. What Pargaein means by “level” is rather nebulous. It could mean any number of things. It could mean that someone who is possibly a minor local celebrity because of his appearances on television had the humility to ride a poor man’s shoulders. It could mean that someone who possibly hails from a higher caste than the man on whose shoulders he is riding chose to do so to establish social equity. It could mean that he is wealthier than the man below him. It could also mean all three and more. The point is that Pargaein feels he is of a “level” which is elevated enough as it is for him not to feel strange riding roughshod on another man’s shoulders. Pargaein’s ground is where the poor man’s shoulders are.

I am willing to give Pargaein the benefit of the doubt when he says the man in the vest was so grateful that he insisted on carrying the reporter. A gesture of gratitude like that is far more common in India than you might think. However, it does not obligate one to yield to that show of gratitude. Pargaein could have politely declined the offer. I cannot second-guess Pargaein’s motivations but they may have been far less sinister than what they seem in the video. That is precisely the problem—that he thought nothing of taking a ride on someone else’s shoulders.

The irony of the whole situation is that the spot where the man in the vest is standing seems barely ankle deep, a depth that even a celebrity television reporter could have fathomed without diluting his prestige. Hasn’t this guy been watching CNN and Wolf Blitzer’s ‘The Situation Room’?

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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