It will be 20 years on Tuesday since Mother Teresa died. August 31 was the 20th death anniversary of Princess Diana. I am yet to see anything on the Mother’s death anniversary, but I can’t help but read about Diana no matter where I turn. Britain’s Daily Express alone has run over 30 stories. But forget the UK press (their obsession with their ‘Princess of People’s Hearts’ can perhaps be forgiven, given that a recent poll of Brits reveals that Diana is the dead person they most want to meet, after Jesus Christ).
But what of the gushing in Europe and America? Both Radio Vienna and the government -owned France 2 TV channel dedicated their entire programming on August 31 to the princess. In Poland, women’s magazine Wysokie Obcasy has put her on its cover. While Time bombards readers with never-say-Di stories, broadcasters ABC, CBS and NBC are airing specials on her life and death. HBO has secured the US rights to a new Diana documentary.
If that’s not enough, the Isle of Man, Romania, Gibraltar, Grenada, Burkina Faso and Papua New Guinea, and Tuvalu have issued stamps to commemorate the occasion. Our Indian publications have done their bit to mark the event too but, happily, no one has gone overboard. It was much the same when the two ladies died. There was saturation coverage of Diana’s death in the global media. Both BBC and CNN gave it 24-hour coverage for a week.
India, without 24X7 TV at the time, was spared the blitz. Not that the Indian media gave much importance to the death of its homegrown celebrity, either. All the TV channels, even Doordarshan, just went on with their regular shows despite hearing of her death. India Today actually split its cover between the Nobel Prize-winner and the ex-royal. Only DD Bangla stopped its regular programmes and beamed classical music as a mark of respect to the famous nun. The cold-shouldering continued through the next day, which was the day of Diana’s funeral.
It was only after the UK hoopla had ended and it was announced that the Mother would be given a state funeral, to be attended by then-Prime Minister I K Gujral, that media attention fi nally turned to India’s most-famous social worker. You can say it’s understandable. The death of an ailing old woman who worked with the destitute and the dying can’t compare with the tragic death of a young, charismatic princess. Diana was always an attention magnet. Some 750 million people tuned in to watch her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981.
Later, within the royal family and out of it, she remained the darling of the people. She cussed the media but exploited it beautifully. The media didn’t complain; they fed the hype and made money off it. Today, in a time of extreme media fragmentation, it’s rare for anyone person to be able to hold the world’s interest like the glamorous Diana did. Which is why, I guess, 20 years after her passing, the media still can’t afford to lay her to rest. But the question is this, as the public, do we have to choose style over substance, glamour over goodness? And what does that choice say about us?