Irony or destiny?

Posted: December 14, 2009 in newspaper, O.M. Dalaya
Tags: , , ,

We run into so many situations in life that seem ironical, don’t they?

Take my situation for example – Over a decade ago, I loved eating sweets, especially Bengali sweets. I could polish off a dozen rosogallos, by myself; devour chocolates, cakes, pastries…heck the entire bakery; I could feast all alone on an entire family pack of ice cream; I was delighted when I met my wife-to-be and discovered that she baked the most delicious pastries. What more could I have asked for? Soon after that I was diagnosed with diabetes. A cruel twist of fate or just irony?

Many years ago, unemployed and generally wasting my life away, I was having coffee at Vaishali, a popular haunt on Fergusson College Road with babu kalyanpur, a friend who then worked at the Maharashtra Herald, the only local English daily in Pune.

I had given him a letter for use in the mailbag column of the newspaper. It must have been really bad because the sub-desk at the MH never used it. But he asked me if I would like to work in a newspaper, since “I liked to write.”

I didn’t know whether he was being serious or sarcastic, but a job is a job and I jumped at it. At least, I wouldn’t have to ask my folks for any money for my next cigarette.

Well, I got the job and grew into it and I had babu to thank for it. From a trainee, I became a sub-editor six months later, and slowly and steadily climbed the ladder. When I quit the MH thirteen years later I was an Assistant Editor. I guess I didn’t do badly for someone who’s first attempt at letter writing found its way to a trash bin. It was ironic, because I had initially looked at it only as something that would keep me suitably employed and give me some money. But from an ordinary job, journalism became a passion that still keeps me going.

The initial years really made me wonder whether I was really cut out for such a job. and I remember an incident that occurred a few years after I joined that proved the proverbial turning point. I’ve narrated this incident to the students in my class, but my friend Joe Pinto believes I should document it. So here goes, just for the record…

Sometime in the morning of October 19, 1988, there was a ‘flash’ on the teleprinter that an Indian Airlines flight to Ahmedabad had crashed near there. I was alone in the office, when I got a call from a woman who asked me if a captain O.M. Dalaya was on the flight. I checked the list and replied that he was.

“Are there any survivors?” the voice asked.

“No ma’am,” I replied, and then out of curiosity asked “Please, may I know who’s speaking?”

“I’m his mother,” was the reply.

I felt a shiver run through me, and was numb as I put the phone down. My head was reeling because for me what could be worse that telling a mother that her son had died in an air crash?

When the chief reporter Harry David came in, I told him what had occurred. Harry is a gentle soul, never given to anger or a temper. Ironically, I was thinking he would pat me on the shoulder and sympathise with me for what I had just experienced.

He asked me if I had taken her number down. I replied in the negative, and the ‘gentle’ Harry suddenly became Dirty Harry aka Clint Eastwood. And like Dirty Harry, he didn’t yell or scream. In a cold, measured tone Harry told me that I had screwed up – big time.

This was worse than a shouting. He was basically telling me in his own way that I was a bloody duffer and should be banished from the newspaper office – forever.

I still thought I was right and tried to justify it, by telling him that I could not possibly have asked a woman who had just lost her son for her phone number. That only made it worse.

He raised his voice ever so slightly and said, “When my brother Abel died (Abel was the secretary of the Indian Hockey Federation and also the Founder Editor of the then Poona Herald)), I sat next to his body and typed the copy for the news agencies. You just missed the story of your life. NEVER let it happen again.”

Harry didn’t shout, didn’t go ballistic or froth in the mouth when he imparted that very important lesson in journalism and it’s something I’ve never forgotten. It hit home that for a journalist there is no such thing as good news or bad news – IT’S JUST NEWS and it has to be reported, at any cost.

  1. Sumeet says:

    A Party Pack of ice cream…not a Family Pack!And Butterscotch at that….:-)

  2. Jay Niner says:

    a post reminiscent of Graham Greene's Quiet American.

  3. Naman Saraiya says:

    And hence, upon us. You , Sir, have imparted the wisdom required in the job of journalism.

  4. Ruchika says:

    wow.!!! tat sure makes sense..heard it a lot of times..never a personal account..!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    and perhaps it is that very incident which makes this profession the most inhumane and insensitive profession there exists….God forgive the journalists….because if He doesn't, then I doubt anyone will…

  6. Joe Pinto says:

    My dear Sinha,Thank you for sharing this incident and documenting it. I will include it on my blog as part of the 20-part series on the old MH.As for Anonymous, here's something more inhumane and insensitive: have a look at and go to the Pulitzer Prize-winner Diana Sugg – Angels and Ghosts: Anatomy of a Story.A lesson well learnt, Sinha.Peace and love,- Joe.

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