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.
A local journalist, with well known English daily, a man-mountain, Rajan (name changed) owned a coal shop and was a contractor in his earlier avatars. A small-time tough, this son of a bureaucrat had positive karma. Sheer good luck, the connections of his father and the smartness of his intelligent wife – theirs was a love marriage – helped him paw his way to power and prestige.
He began as a proof reader with another English newspaper. “Armed with fat dictionaries, he would be very pleased with himself,” said a journalist of that newspaper.
When a prominent daily planned to start a bureau, he made the right moves. Along with friends and friends of friends, he met a political fixer, who had a say in that newspaper. He managed to wangle his way into reporting. Gifts and appeasements helped him become a bureau chief, after few years.
He would walk with the air of a feudal lord and strut around like a fan-tailed dove that has the delusion of a peacock. Needless to add, those who had known him in all his earlier avatars, would snigger and scorn. One might say that they were terribly jealous of his meteoric rise. An upstart, his strength was street smartness.
A journalist friend had an interesting tale to recount. He had gone to meet Rajan in his new office. Swanky desktops had been installed in all cubicles, including his. But, his desktop was the only one that was not on. He saw Rajan walk into the office. He turned the screen of the monitor towards himself, brought out a comb from his back pocket, and started combing his hair. He checked his face and dress too. His desktop doubled as his dressing table!
He was extra sweet and syrupy with his seniors and bosses. But, he treated his juniors with utter disdain. There was constant tiffs and bickering. Like most people, Rajan needed victims to be a victor.
His adversaries said that he ‘bought’ news. He would ‘entertain’ select reporters of Hindi dailies and ask them to ‘give news’. Needless to add, most sponged off him. They would eat and make merry for week or ten days, before obliging him with some meaningful news.
His father’s connections helped him, some say.
But, there were others who would oblige him for he was in an important position. He could hardly gauge that he was used by the crafty and the cunning, who praised him sky high and got their work done.
It would be unfair to not mention his amicable qualities too. His survival instinct allowed him to play into the hands of few. It was, thus, a symbiotic relationship. News gathering process is not fair and above board. Not always.
A journalist friend, who has known him for years, said, amidst laughter, “Once a contractor, always a contractor. Rajan collects news like winning tenders.”
A razor in the hands of a monkey (Bandar k hath mey ustara), as the Hindi adage tells us, is a dangerous thing. Rajan, who managed to get kicked upstairs, was no different. The good-natured upstart had his fair share of troubles too.
It takes all kinds to make the world. Rajan is a product of the corrupt system, where sycophancy counts more than talent. People like him are the symptoms of a social disease that is deep rooted. It would be unfair to condemn Rajan. We must empathise with his ilk!
Rajan was known more for his brawn. Once a group of journalists were have chai with him at a wayside tea stall. There was hue and cry. A small crowd was yelling, “Chor, chor, pakro, pakro! (Catch the thief),” and chasing a thin, wiry man, running for his life.
Rajan’s friends suggested that he help catch the culprit. They sang hosannas of his heroic deeds. Filled with immense pride, he more than obliged. He joined the chase and had almost caught the thief, when the culprit entered a public toilet. Rajan vanished from sight too for a while.
Next thing people saw was that the thief was chasing Rajan. And he was running for his life, yelling, “Nahi, nahi” (Oh no!). The thief had smeared shit on his hands and body – he had kept it in a polythene bag in that toilet – and was chasing the heroic journalist.
This incident has now become a folk-lore among the scribes in this city. Honestly, I am not sure if this is true. But, it is not unlikely!
The picture from the Net is merely 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.