When news of Sathya Sai Baba's death broke on Sunday morning, the focus of almost every national and regional channel in the country shifted to Puttaparthi where devotees began to descend by the million. While their counterparts at Puttaparathi struggled to catch up with the rapid developments there, a group of TV journalists were left to scrape the bottom of the barrel at the deserted Brindavan Ashram of the Baba at Whitefield here.

Desperate to get his 30-second bit to hit the headlines of his channel, a cameraman started gathering random passersby in front of the ashram. He told the gathering: “The Baba is no more. Show some feelings.”

While most gave it their best shot, some gawped. The cameraman boomed again: “ Guru, you want to appear on TV or not? Come on, show some feelings, feelings…”

Seemingly mesmerised by the prospect of a few seconds of fame, the crowd responded. And right on cue, the TV reporter popped into the frame, mike in hand, and said: “So, as you can see, people here in Whitefield are in shock….”

Scrum and sound bites

The large media contingent that had camped in Puttaparthi, closely following the 28-day vigil when Sathya Sai Baba was in hospital, became increasingly desperate towards the end.

With no official comments coming from the Sathya Sai Central Trust, the hospital's bulletins turned out to be the principal source of news. And anyone who walked out of the hospital was chased for a precious sound bite.

Desperation reached such fever pitch that after the death was announced, when an Andhra Pradesh Minister walked into the shamiana to address the media, the entire crew rushed in. With journalists and camerapersons fiercely jostling for space, they ended up pulling down the shamiana on the Minister, who struggled to extricate herself. In the end, she addressed the media in the middle of the highway under the scorching sun.

Praise and how!

Part of a compere's job is to gush over the sterling qualities of the guests on stage. But there are times when an overdose can make these personages blush.

A function organised by the Social Welfare Department earlier this week had the master of ceremonies launch into praise of the dignitaries before and after each speech, with the eulogies reaching a crescendo when the Principal Secretary rose to speak.

Describing the bureaucrat with a string of adjectives such as “visionary”, “creative” and the like, the emcee his charisma is visible from the glow on his face. He then urged him to deliver a “historic” keynote address for “at least one hour”. The end of the speech had him launching into an even more ecstatic string of adjectives.

Not that the compere was unkind to other speakers. He had an encouraging word for even the official who delivered the vote of thanks. He said that the lady was “well prepared” and would “do an excellent job of it.”

These words, as unrelenting as machine gun-fire, visibly left those on and off the stage somewhat numbed at the end of it all.

SUDIPTO MONDAL, SHARATH S. SRIVATSA, BAGESHREE S.

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