JS – ‘Why should you bother to read this book?’

Posted: January 8, 2012 in Books
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve just finished reading ‘JS and The Times of my life’ by journalist Jug Suraiya. Coming close on the heels of Vinod Mehta’s ‘Lucknow Boy’ I expected a lot of interesting stuff about how the world’s largest media group functions and a lot of other insider stories. There is but not that much. As he says, “Those who seek hiss-and-tell stories, scandals and secrets exposes, skeletons in closets, should look elsewhere.”

He also says, right in the beginning, that he isn’t too sure about dates and places. How can one write one’s memoirs which are basically footnotes through one’s life and career and be foggy about dates and places? He himself says he’s never managed anything in his life so he doesn’t know what to do when he becomes editor of the Sunday Times of India. Anyway, ToI has always prided itself on the fact that it could run without an editor, so Suraiya didn’t have too many worries!

Apart from that, his account of the way Junior Statesman was born, run and abruptly shut down is touching and steeped in nostalgia. JS was a part of the Wonder Years and when it suddenly went the way it did, it left a vacuum. There hasn’t been another magazine like that in India since. Suraiya’s experiences while dealing with the owners and editors he worked with is insightful.

However, the feeling I was left with after reading the book is that he is basically someone who’s forever looking for a free ride. From a cigarette holder to a Scotch bottle, to an all expenses paid trip to get an award which he knew wasn’t worth it, to a company car – anything is welcome as long as he isn’t paying for it. Journalistic ethics are not really a high priority. I know the popular belief about journalists is that they’ll go anywhere where there is free booze and food, but to speak about it like it’s a major achievement, doesn’t say much for the profession itself or for the editor of the largest selling newspaper in the country.

A lot of people might call that being refreshingly honest, but to wrangle a ticket for his wife as well wherever he goes and be at parties because where, hopefully, Scotch is served? And this, while working for an organisation that makes a lot of noise about employees not accepting gifts – not even a box of sweets from PR guys during festivals!

Suraiya is a wonderfully humane and witty writer and his columns too are fun to read, and I’m sure all those who know him rather than know of him, think of him as the life of the party. Since I don’t know him, I have only his memoirs to go by. As he asks in the opening chapter Statutory Warning, “Why should you bother to read this book? I haven’t the faintest idea.”

I am asking myself the same question.

  1. Vaishnavi Bala says:

    I am a regular follower of Suraiya’s pieces. Although I do agree they are sprinkled with humour, they somehow miss the point all together. Sometime it comes across that he is being funny for the heck of it. But I had liked his book on Calcutta a few years ago. Very different from his usual reads.

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