Archive for June, 2012

This is not just the perfect wtf moment. It’s the ‘jumping-off-a-bridge-moment. I should have read the warning signs, should have realised that the light at the end of the tunnel was in reality an oncoming train. To say that I am speechless is an understatement – stupefied is the more likely word.

During one of my lectures to media students, I had said that during an internship, if your seniors ask you to run down to the local tapri and order tea and samosas, don’t feel offended. It’s all part of your learning curve, and very often seniors do that to see whether you can be a team player. And I didn’t make that up on a whim. This had been told to me by a former student who interned at a well-known newspaper.

Then a few weeks ago while correcting answer sheets of some media students I came across a definition which said: The job of a trainee reporter is to get tea and samosas for the editor. I was horrified to see that all my efforts to stir up the passion for journalism had been wasted. The thought also occurred to me that if this is what people understood after my having spent so many man hours with them maybe, just maybe, I had failed and should call it quits. I should have read the signs, but, unfortunately, I didn’t.

If that wasn’t enough, just a while back I got to know that some of the students didn’t want to pursue journalism in the second year of their course because I had told them it was a crappy profession and that there was no future in it You could have knocked me down with a feather. I have NEVER said that in any of my classes. Had it been so, I would never have been it for over two decades.

I had also told them often enough that for me journalism was an obsession. That I am the kind who wakes up at 3 am in a cold sweat because even in my sleep I dream that I made a mistake in a headline. Didn’t you remember that fellows?

What I have also always said and will continue to say is that journalism is a profession like none other. It’s not an option for people who want to make a quick buck, because it entails long working hours, average working conditions and poor salaries – and where everything else in life takes a backseat. I have also said it’s a profession for those who have a fire in their bellies and not for the pen pushers. And I’m not going to lie about that. In return what you get is an exhilarating high – a high that can’t be described.

Nothing beats the feeling of seeing your name on the front page of a newspaper right at the top of the report. The glamour will follow but first there’s a lot of hard work. For that to happen, you need to be interested in the NEWS, to know what’s happening around you and react to it. And that interest can be nurtured and developed, if you have the passion for it.

Which is why I am appalled at the way students, to hide their own shortcomings and confused state of mind, have coolly pinned their refusal to continue in journalism or PR on me and other faculty. I am fine with the fact that students don’t want to do journalism for their own million reasons. Just don’t make me one of them. I refuse to live with that on my conscience. So for all the things I have said about journalism, NEVER have I said that it’s a bad profession.

And some of my young friends also broke the cardinal rule in journalism – never take anything at face value – even if it comes from me. I’ve also told them explore, dig deeper, before they draw any conclusions. Obviously, that never occurred to them.

Milinda Natu, another faculty had this to say when I told her about the latest incident – “I know artistes who tell newcomers to pick up a broom and sweep their studio clean every day for an entire month, and then see if they’re interested in art!” Now, how many of you want to take up AV?

So to all those impressionable kids who still believe they have the passion for journalism, I say, don’t give up so easily, always explore, find out the truth for yourself before jumping to conclusions. And if you’ve chickened out without exploring the options, just don’t end up feeling sorry for yourselves.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward would never have investigated Watergate if they had accepted the fact that it was just a simple break-in. Or that it was quite normal for burglars to hire high-priced lawyers. Or worried about how much money they were making or how many hours they were putting in. Had they done that they might have launched an advertising agency and called it W&B!

Closer to home, Rajdeep Sardesai, Arnab Goswami and Barkha Dutt didn’t just become celebrity anchors overnight. Nothing in life comes easy, fellows. We’ve all had to work for it – sometimes 24X7. Why?

It is also a profession where you wont be certain of a pay-cheque just a week after you graduate. It’s a profession where you’ll have to intern at that coveted media house for months together to prove your mettle. And when you finally do make it through and read your first byline – the feeling will be unparalleled, indescribable. I guess you have to be in there to experience it – if you really want to.

It’s like falling in love!

And that day you can tell your junior to order the tea and samosas!


Was Rajat Gupta the fall guy? The right man in the wrong place whose inherent, helpful nature got him into trouble? Or was he a (not-so) smart operator who thought he could get away with it? If you went by the manner in which the American justice system has treated him, it would seem he was the latter.

I’ve been following the case with interest, much for the same reasons as everyone else – the rags-to-riches-to-jail tale of an Indian who made it big in the US. It’s the stuff of Bollywood potboilers – orphaned child who came to the US on a scholarship and went on to make a name for himself – family man, business icon, philanthropist etc etc. From hero to zero.

I’ve also been reading about the reaction of people to his conviction for insider trading. Some Indians (both here and in the USA) believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye. That he didn’t deserve the punishment – he only helped a friend who unfortunately misused that friendship. That he was just being Indian. After all, Indians love to ‘help’ a friend in need with a few tips on the business, don’t they? Unfortunately in the US and elsewhere, such things go under the term ‘insider trading’ and instead of being invited home for dinner and drinks, you could end up spending a decade or more behind bars – and it’s not the kind you can drink in.

A report in the Washington Post quotes one of the jurors Ronnie Sesso saying: “What did Mr. Gupta get out of this by giving Mr. Rajaratnam the information? Was it the future, was it cash?” Ultimately, she pointed to Gupta’s “need for greed: ‘I could get away with it once and I’ll do it again.’”

He had lived in the US long enough to know the meaning of insider trading so didn’t he know that what he was doing could invite a jail term? He must have been privy to info on Raj Rajaratnam who has been referred to as a “snake in the grass” so why did he get onboard with someone like that? If he had no clue about Rajaratnam’s antecedents I can understand, but one finds it hard to believe that a person like him didn’t know.

It’s like when we break a traffic signal, get caught by a cop and then try to bluster our way through by justifying our actions, looking reasonably hurt by the cop’s accusations! Only this is not a traffic offence which involves a few measly hundred rupees but millions of dollars worth of fraudulent deals. And, one presumes, one can’t get away by greasing a few palms, at least not that easily!

Compare that to our legal system. After over 25 years we still haven’t convicted one person for bribes paid in a gun deal! That’s why I admire the US justice system and the way they have nailed people like Rajat Gupta and others. Sure they let people like Madoff get away till the shit hit the fan and a lot of people lost their savings. But then people who invested their savings with Madoff did so at their own risk because the guy was a crook. When the law caught up with him it sent him away for a long time. When did you last hear of a politician or businessman in India getting a life term for cheating the tax-payer?

Messers Kalmadi, Kanimozhi and Raja, were taken in a procession and garlanded after having served some time in jail! Just the other day there was a report about a politician who had 190 companies in his son’s name and thousands of acres of land. Doesn’t the income tax department notice a guy’s changing lifestyle? I am sure they would notice mine or yours and send us a notice. So how come they don’t notice a politician, who didn’t own a two-wheeler a decade ago, now has a fleet of cars and a dozen homes?

If I feel really sorry for anyone, it’s for Gupta’s wife and daughters. They were probably completely in the dark and may not have even known what he was up to. I mean if someone became a millionaire in a space of a few years his family was bound to ask questions about the source of his wealth. In Gupta’s case, he already had an affluent lifestyle. What is worse is that they have to live with the humiliation for the rest of their lives. To discover that their father was being labelled a crook must have been a bigger shock. However much they defend him publicly, they also probably realise that their ‘daddy’ was caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

I guess the weirdest thing about the whole issue is that while Gupta may get 10-20 years in jail, Goldman Sachs and Proctor & Gamble will pick up most of the tab which is around $30 million. Here’s some more dirt, according to a newspaper.

I had an interesting interaction with a gentleman who is involved with one of the numerous NGOs that take up civic issues for the city. The NGO, he is part of, I am aware, does a lot of work for Pune – raking up and taking up numerous issues that concern us as citizens. And as he himself said, they have a 0.5 % success rate which is pretty good when it comes to taking on the government and winning.

His one grouse was that media, specifically newspapers, don’t take up the issues highlighted by the NGO often enough. I knew what was coming next. “Why don’t you people highlight these issues some more?”

I told him that a newspaper’s job was to report not to indulge in activism. A journalist can become an activist on his personal time, but he cannot and should not use the pages of his publications to propagate that activism. It’s one thing to carry out a campaign about issues that are of concern to us, but it’s another to keep plugging our personal viewpoint through the newspaper, because we have an exe to grind with someone or some organisation. I know that a lot of my friends in the media who do the above mentioned would disagree with me, and they’re free to do so, but that’s the way I feel.

His next grouse was that we don’t publicise the work done by NGOs who work for the good of the city. Again, I said, if the news was worth the publicity it demanded we do give it. As a matter of fact, quote often, a lot of small-time publicity hungry lunatic groups also get publicity, simply because they make news, even for all the wrong reasons. And there are a lot of NGOs who do NOTHING, but still want publicity.

I don’t think any newspaper is just going to incessantly plug some group or organisation unless it or someone in it has some vested interest. But even there, it would be at extended intervals. The gentleman believed that as media, we should keep on writing about the work by the NGOs because it would help them grow and get more recognition.

In all fairness to the gentleman I referred to earlier, the NGO he is secretary of meets in his office, where they sit in a small room and are served tea and biscuits like everyone else. They do a lot of good work and I am sure they mean well. But not everyone’s like them. There are numerous so called ‘social service’ organisations who meet every fortnight at some five-star hotel or club, over drinks & dinner, which probably costs more than the bicycle or sewing machine they donate to some poor soul. I refer to it as “work worth ten bucks and publicity worth a hundred.” I was part of one such outfit when I was in my teens and saw how they worked. I hope things have improved since then.

I had the opportunity to work for an auto magazine for eight months where plugs were not quite frequent but neither was the criticism. You drove a car or a bike which you knew wasn’t the money’s worth, but one rarely saw a critical article that trashed the vehicle. One would “break the news gently” or not at all, because (as we were told), it could affect the advertising revenue, or because the people working there were driving the cars or bikes owned by X company. It feels nice to be seen in a car which we can’t afford to ever buy anyway, doesn’t it? So how can we write it’s a ‘dabba’?

Take even the newspapers. Some of them won’t criticise the ruling party because it could affect their business interests, so editors are told to go easy on anti-government stories. But as individuals and journalists we can still be a little honest to ourselves. Or is that too much to ask of us?

I just finished four days of GDPIs at a well-known media school and it was an eye-opener – some of the moments for their sheer inanity, others for their intelligence and yet others for their brazenness and refreshing honesty.

I’ve been a part of the panel for the past couple of years and each year some of the kids I meet reinforce my faith in the profession while others make me wonder why they even bother to show up.

Out of the thousands who apply to such institutes only a hundred plus actually make it. It’s only those who seem really interested and passionate about the profession they intend to embark upon who make that impression – at least on me. I am okay with thinking out of the box.

I love it actually when a candidate says “I can sing well, can I sing you a song?” or “I do the Bharat Natyam, would you like me to show you?”. It shows that work is not all they care about. Last year one of the kids walked in with his guitar and played and sang for the faculty! Today he’s playing at the city’s hot spots making money on the side while he goes through his classes during the day.

These are the kids who leave a lasting impression. Every year there are those special ones who make you sit up for their sheer talent, honesty or audacity. This year too there were a few.

Some kids stood out for all the right reasons from the 50-odd students we encountered in the four days I was there.

The first was an 18-year-old from Jaipur, who walked in, supremely confident about her abilities and her talent. She placed her portfolio on the desk in front of us and showed us what she had written for some of the national newspapers. With a journalist mother, writing was obviously in her genes. But she was firm – NO print for her, even though she had the talent. She was more interested in broadcast and was even more determined to make a success of it.

Whether she gets in or not will depend on how she fares in everything else the college had lined up for her. But, wherever she goes she’s sure to make a success of her career – if she follows her heart.

The other was a young lady with a passion for photography. Here was a talent that made my colleague and I sit up. Still only 18, her pictures were amazing. She was focused. She was firm that she would study all the subjects but at the end of the day, all she ever wanted to do was photography. A lot of the kids who came in, said that as well, but it’s the way this girl put it across that was different and refreshing.

Then there was this young man who chucked up an academic career at Delhi’s most prestigious college and wanted to enter the world of media because he loved writing and music – and as he said, “Didn’t know what the hell was going in Economics class, and couldn’t take it anymore. And it wasn’t because of the girls here, there were plenty of those where I come from.”

These are the kids, you hope, who will make it someday in their profession.

Another good looking young man stood out for all the wrong reasons. He walked in today, smug in the belief that his looks and charm would win the day, even if his dismal academic record didn’t. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way always. I asked him if he knew who Rajdeep Sardesai or Barkha Dutt were and he looked completely zapped — “Nope.” I stood up and shook hands with him for his sheer audacity and honesty!

And I am okay with that too, because as a friend commented on my Facebook page, not even adults know who these media personalities are. But when the guy believes his father’s loaded and he isn’t too keen on doing anything except “making out” with the girls and generally splurging on his father’s wealth, it rubs me the wrong way.

I just think that an average kid who comes in through a student loan deserves a chance rather than some rich spoilt brat with spiked hair and low waist trousers, even if he is refreshingly honest. Even if he or she doesn’t know who Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai are.