My First day on the crime beat
I can vividly recall my first day on the crime beat. I was a young reporter in the National Herald (where I worked for five and a half months) and was suddenly informed by my chief reporter, D.K. Issar on April 13th evening in 1980 that I had been assigned the crime beat.
Padma Rao who was doing the beat parted company with the paper on that day and Issar who used to fondly call me as “Flint’’ (the main character in the movie, Our man Flint) told me that he expected good work and I shall do this beat in addition to the University beat which I was covering.
I was always fascinated by the cops but had little inkling that I will be covering them so early on in my career. On April 14, 1980, I arrived at the office in the morning and left for Police Headquarters to acquaint myself with some officials. I had hardly gone a few meters when Ravi Bhatia ( from Times of India who later became my colleague in TOI) was running towards his office. I asked him what had happened and was told that there had been an attempt on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s life. I too raced back and told Issar what had happened. I learnt that one man had been detained and was taken to the Parliament Street police station soon after he had thrown a knife at the PM when she had minutes earlier garlanded the statue of Dr B.R.Ambedkar.
I was very nervous as I proceeded towards the Parliament Street police station. I hardly knew anyone and the story was going to be my baby. On reaching the police station, I discovered at least 100 media persons were already present there. They were all hanging outside waiting for senior officials to provide some density of details of what had happened. While everyone was outside the PS, I out of curiosity decided to have a look at the police station and its premises. I walked in and wandered towards the back of the Thana where a petrol pump (for refueling police vehicles) was located.
There were some rooms nearby and I peeped into one of them. To my utter surprise and disbelief, I found a man with longish hair sitting on one side of the table where a knife was placed. Two sub inspectors were apparently interrogating him from the other side. I managed to read the name of one SI from his nametag and rushed back to the front of the police station. Issar who used to ride a Vespa scooter with registration number 80 had already arrived there also. I informed him of what I had seen and told him the name of the Sub Inspector. He instructed me not to scurry around and remain planted with the rest of the media persons in front of the Thana. He left after that but returned at around 4.30 p.m. Issar asked me to come to the Taxi stand near the UNI office at Rafi Marg at 6 p.m. after ensuring that no one was with me.
I did as I was told and at sharp 6, Issar also reached there. We were shortly joined by the Sub Inspector who I recognized as the person who was interrogating the man with the knife. I took out my writing pad and the SI shared all the information he had about the suspect identified by then as Lalwani, a resident of Baroda. From the amount of money in his pocket to the bus number (20), which he took from Red Fort to reach Central Secretariat or Patel Chowk, all the details were furnished to us by the police official, a very close contact of my chief reporter. He further told us about the suspect’s family in Baroda and how the deputy Mayor of that city also seemed to know the suspect. Many other details, minor and major, significant and insignficant were provided to us.
Issar and I were busy taking down notes and by the time our meeting ended, the entire story was in our pocket. We thanked the SI and rushed to our office where my other colleagues—Rakesh Joshi, Prakash Patra and Amit Mittal were waiting for us. We told them all what we had got and everyone joined in to churn out reports. It is no exaggeration but the body of details we had gathered (thanks to Issar) on that day were extra ordinary.
There was little scope for follow-ups for anyone. The next day papers made it even clearer. National Herald was a small paper but it had outdone all the major papers and news agencies, which also had full-fledged bureaus in Baroda and Ahmedabad. It was most satisfying to know how everyone else had been licked. Rakesh, Patra, Amit and I all knew it was Dad’s (that how we called Issar) victory. But it was a terrific learning experience. Many of the things in the Herald continued to be reproduced as “exclusive’’ follow ups for days after that in many other papers and agencies.
That day was also the beginning of my affair with crime reporting. I got on to serious job of reporting and shortly after that covered the assassination of the Nirankari Chief, Baba Gurbachan Singh on April 24, 1980. It was during this coverage, I met my friend and my present colleague, Vinod Sharma who was also given the crime beat by his chief T.R.Ramachandran in the UNI after PTI had licked everyone on the first day of the assassination. More on that some day.