The murky world of Indian journalism is out for all to see. I am amused if not surprised at the fellow journalists who worked with Tarun Tejpal in Indian Express and India Today and Outlook, now venting their anger at him by providing inside information on his ‘shady’ ways, for stories about his rise and fall. The huge story about him in Pune Mirror’s, 24th November 2013 Edition, I find to be more of a gossip piece than anything else. I am also wondering how these gossip pieces never came out when Tarun was unmasking murky deals of Indian democracy? I will tell you why, the counterparts are now feeling happy that the phenomenal man has fallen and their inability to rise vindicated. At that time they were jealous and in awe of him. I am neither on his side nor on the side of other journalists. I will tell you why.
Many years ago as an intern in Delhi edition of an English Daily that is predominantly Kolkata based, I was privy to the world of men of journalism. Men who came in all shapes, sizes, dialects, educational background, appetite for alcohol, leching and ambition for power. I was working as a cub-copy-editor in the Newsroom. And due to the newspaper’s financial handicap at paying well, reporters and sub-editors mostly used this place as a training school for journalism. The turnover was high and talent was young. Mostly young men and women from good colleges and high ideals, wanting to make the pen mightier than the sword joined the work force. I was one of them. But I soon found that it was dominated by pot-bellied, pan chewing, chaste Hindi speaking, men, who repeatedly came drunk to work for night duties. Patriarchal men, who gossiped openly about which woman journalist was sleeping with the editor to rise up the ladder, were sitting in position of News editors, Deputy news editors and copy chiefs. It was a world were English-speaking journalists from top colleges of New Delhi, were scoffed at for their language skills. The women who smoked and used cuss words abundantly, were considered hard and one among the boys. I wondered often did these women take to smoking and swearing just to protect themselves from the sneers of the masculine with bloated egos?
I was soon moved to the national desk from the obscure business desk, to work along with other hard-working, willing to prove and learn young interns. I was told it was because I was good at my work and edited well and gave catchy headlines. I knew better of course. The national desk also handled the front page and all top stories of the day. And the national desk staffers also got to be on election and budget duties. I was good, of that I have no doubts. I once made the mistake of editing the anchor piece of the Resident Editor’s column and got away with it. Only the chief sub told me to “never do it again.”:) But the truth also was that the senior chiefs on night duties, whose work was supervising and signing off the late editions were always too inebriated, after having partied on free booze at press conferences during the day, to which they had no business going to. They could not stand steady on their two feet and hold the pen to sign off the page. In the pasting room we had men working alongside us young women till the late hours of 2 am sometimes. We had to stayed alert to the smell of local (desi) alcohol from the press room workers who worked side by side with us as we made the pages and there was no respite from the white-collar editors who were equally drunk on imported booze.
The senior editors often put that friendly hand on the back to smile and imply, “I am the father figure.” Call me thick skin or a woman of the world, I knew what was going on. I have traveled home at 3 am in the night after night duty in the office jeep, with other men, some reeking of alcohol. It is crazy but I personally never felt unsafe or threatened. I always felt a strange sense of safety within myself. May be I am made that way. My ex-husband, then a colleague, fellow journalist and boyfriend, called me ‘a man trapped in a woman’s body’. He was wiser than me to have left mainstream journalism to join environmental activism. I did not have a boyfriend to lean on.
Once we were all invited to a wedding of a colleague. When such invitations came, the entire staff took turns to drop by at the wedding in office jeeps to wish the couple. We went quickly, had food, wished the couple and quickly came back to do our pages. On one such trip, during the one hour that we were at the wedding party, were there was free booze, one of our colleagues and senior got so drunk, that the driver and another colleague had to lift him by hand and feet and lunge him into the boot of the jeep. He slept all the way back and then at office too.
Sexist jokes on women were common laughing themes. Jokes like, “Taposhi, are you coming or going?” And if the woman journalist was smart and intelligent, then she was gossiped about, as being the Managing Editor’s pet. If the red light outside his office was switched on, everyone passing the corridor would make snide remarks, “The boss has the pet in.”
And the women in this field, well I am sorry to say, but were equally opportunistic and bitchy about female colleagues. I have never seen another band of women who can be so cruel, competitive to the core, nasty and lacking in empathy in this profession, than I have in any other.
Women threw their weight around for being the boss’s favorite or for being ‘good’ with connections in politics or in the business world. As much as the men did. The men hated the women colleagues for being better at their work or for bagging better assignments.
It was a world from The Great Gatsby, murky, dark and demonic. Nothing moralistic and of higher principles.
The scene changed a lot with the launching of NDTV by Pronoy Roy. Many of my younger colleagues left for NDTV and did well for themselves. Many moved to other TV channels later.
I moved far away from all this to work as a staffer for Minhaaz Merchant’s magazine Business Barons. I worked from home very early in my career. I did many good interviews and stories for that magazine and was happy in a way to be away from the dirty world of real journalism. I met many industrialists and policy makers and visionaries, including Brij Mohan Munjal of Hero Group, Dr Manmohan Singh, Bill Gates and many others. I had my days of so-called “glory of having met VVIPs”. As a corporate journalist, I found the people in corporate world more respectable and descent than in journalism. Then I lost my job as I was unable to churn out more corporate stories as I didn’t have the drive or belly of a journalist, who could fetch sponsorship with feel-good stories of corporate house for the magazine I was working for, as deep down I was also a leftist, but didn’t have the nose for dirt and scams as they say. And I had ran out of interviewing all Delhi Corporate biggies. Can’t do the same feel-good success stories over and over again can you? So I moved on to other things.
I watched the rise of Tarun Tejpal and Tehelka as an outsider. His sting operation with hidden cameras, I always found unethical. Today I watch his fall. I have known some of these honchos of journalism closely as an observer when I was in that world. I am wondering why is every one calling this a FALL…I always felt the world of modern Indian journalism was already FALLEN. I always felt constricted and unhappy to be in that world.
I am happy to be out in the world were I am making some real difference to the lives of men, women and children and not feeding my own inflated ego of being the change maker or the men/women who claim to have the power to shake and shape democracies.