In his over three-decade journey as a journalist, Arindam shows us the many faces of newsrooms in India, at the turn of the Millennium. He calls this series, ‘The Life of a Reporter’. Insightful, humorous, serious or sad, there are many shades and hues in the lives of reporters that never see the light of the day. Here’s a firsthand account from an insider.
This is an incident, I had witnessed, on an evening in January 1999. Narayan (name changed) was tall, dark and damaging.
A reporter with a small-time local Hindi newspaper, Narayan, with a disarming smile, was crafty. He was a split personality.
I bumped into him that evening in a wayside chai shop. Full of himself, he had a delusional sense of power, he would often boom, “Hum patrakaar hai” (I am a journalist), implying that he was doing everyone a great favour as a scribe. A beat constable, the lowest in the police hierarchy, was cycling home, with a lauki (bottle gourd).
Narayan hollered at him, “Abey idhar aa” (Hey, come here). The constable obliged. The scribe bamboozled the ordinary policeman. He was blamed for the entire corruption in the police department. Narayan pushed him roughly and frisked him thoroughly, in full view of the public. The wily reporter emptied the pockets of the policeman. He found a modest pen, a fancy key ring and small changes. All this was ‘looted’.
Narayan then checked a pocket in his innerwear. He found Rs 512/ and the entire amount was confiscated. I protested. He explained to me, “Dada, don’t have mercy on this lout. He loots the ordinary people, the meek and the helpless. He takes bribes from the truck drivers. He will earn twice this amount soon. May be three or four times…”
All pleas of the constable fell on deaf ears. He was soon joined by three others, each a greater lampoon than the other. I left. The policeman was still cringing. Narayan and party were laughing aloud.
A few days later, I recounted this incident to few other journalist friends of mine. One of them said, “Dada, Narayan is a self-appointed righteous man. He says he loots the thieves – a petty avatar of Bandit Man Singh – bringing some kind of a social equality.”
I was thinking of the hunter-hunted pyramid in the animal kingdom. Hunting is survival for them, the ‘prey’ is food. For Narayan, it was asserting his identity. He, a scribe, risked so much. His newspaper did not pay properly. How was he to survive in this big bad world? Why shouldn’t he have a share in the looted pie!
Some equality in the dirty underbelly of the largest democracy!
Some ten days later, Narayan was again a hot topic among many scribes, in the wee hours – in between the graveyard shift and early morning, when last shift journalists returned home. Prakash (name changed) had an interesting account of what had happened earlier the afternoon before.
He told us, over cups of extra sweet chai and samosas that Narayan was boasting about his new blue-green scooter. He had gone to the mortuary, like all crime beat reporters, riding his new scooter. Full of himself, he left the group and drove to the medical college attached hospital on his new chariot. He was chased by a group of junior doctors. One of junior doctors clung to the scooter and yelled, ‘Chor! Chor!’ (Thief). He was hysteric, “Mera scooter, mera scooter” (My scooter).
Before Narayan could react, he was slapped and kicked. He clambered down from his new scooter and proclaimed that he was a journalist of a Hindi paper. And that he had all the papers at home. He was on the way to the garage for servicing his new scooter. One of the doctors stopped others. Amidst the pandemonium it was decided that Narayan would get the papers from home in an hour. He asked the junior doctor to do likewise. The rightful owner shall take the scooter home.
Needless to add, Narayan never ever went back to that hospital. Never again did he go to the mortuary.
The scribe had pestered the SHO of a particular police station to give him a scooter. That policeman gifted him a stolen scooter. He was chastened after this incident.
He lost his self worth and the spark with it. A few years later, he breathed his last. He had been very ill, we were told.
Though wily, Narayan was likeable to most.
Don’t judge Narayan too harshly. The system creates many imps and monsters.
There are many shades of grey. His was a hue too!
Caricature from Net is indicative
Arindam Roy has 37 years experience in various newsrooms. He was the Managing Editor of a reputed Gurgaon-based Citizen Journalist portal and has held senior positions in several publications. As Correspondent and Bureau Chief, he has written extensively for Associated Press, Times of India, Hindustan Times and multiple news outlets. He has contributed 13 chapters to various publications. Of these, seven chapters were published in two Coffee Table Books, published by the Times Group. He is a co-author of a novel, Rivers Run Back that he penned with Joyce Yarrow. The novel was launched at the American Centre, New Delhi, on January 2015. He lives in Allahabad.