Happy to be on my own



Some years ago, when I did not know Suresh Kalmadi at all but was invited to a party he was throwing at a five-star hotel in Bombay, I was not too sure if I would make it – or if I would be comfortable in case I did.

But then I decided to attend, for it would have been churlish to refuse. I went on my own, however, – rather tentatively, without an ‘accompaniment’ as some would say — for I could not but help remember the two occasions when I invited someone to similar parties by politicians and shuddered at what had transpired.

The first was sometime in the Nineties, when Sunil Dutt invited me to dinner at his home and I decided to ask a single friend, out of the many in our gang, to accompany me to the do.

Dutt Sa’ab was hosting some Canadian film makers and this guy (let’s call him Sudama) was one, too. But more significant, I thought, was that he had made a film on Rajiv Gandhi and, I believed, the pain of having to put up with me through the evening would be much reduced by the pleasure of meeting some of his own kind – from both the world of politics and films that Dutt Sa’ab epitomised.

I lived to regret that evening. Sudama was – and is – a selfless individual with a golden heart, still ever willing to help out friends in distress. But quite unmindful of the manners and etiquette of tinsel town (though he might have got away with it had it been just the more boorish world of politics). So, in an argument with one of the Canadians, he spoke with a full mouth. And then he laughed. Food went flying into the faces of the people standing opposite and into their plates. I quietly turned my back on the group and pretended I was not with him.

I thought no one had noticed. But the next time I was invited to one of Dutt Sa’ab’s dos, he did me the favour of asking, “That man you came with the other time – is he your boyfriend or fiancé or what?”

I knew what was coming and was utterly mortified. “No,” I said in a small voice. “He’s just a single man in our group whom I asked out to that dinner.”

“Well, you don’t have to go through such trouble at my parties,” said Mr Dutt. “When you come to my home, you will always be driven back in my car. We’ll make sure you get back home safe.”

It took me a decade to ask another friend out again – to Murli Deora’s ball dance in aid of the Indian Red Cross society. It was at the Taj Gateway. I asked him to meet me in the lobby – and I waited for over an hour (he carried no mobile at the time) before I flounced upstairs in frustration, ready to apologise to Murlibhai that I had come alone while his invitation was for a “couple”.

Imagine my horror when I discovered my friend was already at the ball, beaming over the heads of everybody – he had decided not to wait for me after all, never mind that Murli Deora’s invitation was to me and not him. Mr Deora’s unending graciousness is what saved his bacon that day as the old ladies with the Red Cross were insistent he couldn’t get in without an invite.

“You could have come alone and it would not have mattered,” Mr Deora told me later “We are all your friends here.”

Friends. Well, over the years I did begin to count both Sunil Dutt and Murli Deora among my friends, notwithstanding the fact that they were much older and that `friend’ was not a word that I could easily use while referring to them. But it is politicians like these who have made life comfortable and risk-free for women reporters on the political trail.

There are some lesser-known ones, too – like Digvijay Khanvilkar, a descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji and a former minister. And he took chivalry to another level to ensure that women journalists in no way lagged behind the men. If he had a story, he would give a party – to which only the men were invited.

The women were, instead, treated to lunch the same day during which he would share details of the story, and we would get the chance to ask questions. “The men will be drinking all evening and dinner might be late. That would make it difficult for the girls to get back,” he would say, apologetically.

We first thought this was discrimination. Then we realised we, the ‘girls’, had the advantage – tired after a hard day’s work (and even harder drinking), the ‘boys’ would be content with press notes and no questions. But our stories would be filed and our newspapers rolling even before they had got home and crawled into bed. None of the boys noticed for a long time that they continued to be scooped out by women reporters. The reverse discrimination stopped only when they did – and we had to begin partying all over again.

But by then it was no big deal. When I first started out as a political reporter, doomsayers had predicted that as a woman I would not be able to hold my own among men because drinking and partying were absolute essentials to building rapport and nurturing sources.

But when early this week, I received a sms message inviting ‘both of you’ to a private dinner (non-alcoholic and all vegetarian —  am both and so had no problem) in honor of the BJP Maharashtra president Nitin Gadkari (one of the persons tipped to replace LK Advani at the Centre), I did not turn a single hair. The host did not even look over my shoulder for a companion and, while other women at that party formed a pool in a corner of the room, I had no problem wading through all the gentlemen (mostly businessmen) and plonking myself beside Gadkari to get a fix on what was happening in his party (no pun intended!).

So, while I have known this for a while now, that latest dinner only reinforced the fact that single women journalists have arrived. And gentlemen like these have not a little to do with it!

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  • Anil

    So you are freinds with congress leader and do not get along so well with BJP leaders..Anyone who reads you could tell it without having to go through whole article.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Nitin Gadkari is a decades-old friend, too — in fat we hail from the same town and have been through thick and thin together

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  • Dr Alok Anand

    Sujata Ji ,kudos to you for extremely good blog.You have clearly told the untold story of a female journalist .How at start of your career a sense of insecurity prevailed ,how you needed to take a male companion,how you were forcast as failure in political journalism where partying and wine are indespensable prerequisites and most importantly how stronger you have become now that you are announcing the arrival of single woman journalist ,you have told all.
    Today i feel proud of my medical profession where there is hardly any gender biasness ,and career prospects and growth for female doctors are at par with their male counterparts.They dont have to struggle that much as you female journo do.
    IF being a female political journalist is this demanding then just imagine how tough it must be to become SUSHMA SWARAJ or KIRAN BEDI ,two luminaries without any mentors or strong political background and just see how successful their career have been even in male domains like politics and policing.It just underlies the fact that if you have guts and commitment you can scale any height irrespective of your gender.
    Sujataji you have rightly said that single woman journalists have arrived and we hope to see arrival of many single women… in many other professions too.Do you know that there is a female autorickshaw driver too in Delhi??Mothers need to motivate and educate their girl child and we males must liberlise ourselves,be descent and encouraging to females in workplaces because females are not only household managers rather an assett for nation too.
    say HURRAY for uprise of new age INDIAN WOMEN.
    Hatts off to all those women who have fought hard against all odds and emerged victorious and carved a niche for themselves.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Yes, Sushma Swaraj and Kiran Bedi are real pioneers and hats off to them. It takes a lot to get there without any Godfathers but today there are more young women reporters around than there were when I started out more than two decades ago — so it definitely is getting better!

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  • http://incorrectpolitically.wordpress.com/ Akhilesh

    Sujata,
    Indeed women political journalists have arrived. They are very prominent as frontline reporters, mid -level editors and sometimes even as senior editors. They have taken to hitherto male bastions as well, like reporting on sports ( Sharda Ugra and likes).

    Of course TV journalism is suffused with females. From the top shot editor to the rookie reporter, they are everywhere.

    There is just this one gap still to be bridged – columnists. And this has always intrigued me. There are almost no female politicial columnists in the top A + league. The space is exclusively monopolised by the likes of Vir Sanghvi, Shekhar Gupta, your friend Pankaj Vohra, Swapan Dasgupta, M.J. Akbar, Karan Thapar and likes.

    Yes, you might argue Barkha Dutt is there. But she has eanred her spurs as a TV reporter, and I guess it’s that image that has propelled her in the column writing space. But she is unlike the die-hard political columnists who have slogged their way up through print alone.

    There are others too like Seema Chistsi, Comi Kapoor etc, but I would hesitate to put them in A + league. At best they can be B +. ( of course this is my view, and thus liable to be disagreed with).

    I don’t know whether your column appears in print or not ( at least I don’t see it in HT -Delhi).

    In US for exaample, Maureen Dawod is a very respected political columnist and in the league of Thomas Friedman.

    So any thoughts, on why this void in India? And how soon even this bastion would be breached.

    Regards,

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Nitin Gadkari is a decades-old friend, too — in fact we hail from the same town and have been through thick and thin together

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Sharda, as far as I know, was the first woman sports reporter in Bombay and a fine job she has been doing all these years. Women today are breaking into news photography, too.

    But I disagree with you about women columnists –Neerja Chowdhury is a very fine one and I guess we can agree to disagree about the others you have mentioned.

    As for my column, it is called `anandan ON WEDNESDAY’, appears in print in the Bombay edition of HT (not in Delhi because I write mostly about western India). I do not know if it is A+ or B+ but I am tremendously surprised each week by the kind of responses I get — both flattering and critical. So I am happy that at least it gets read….

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    Akhilesh Reply:

    Oh absolutely you do get read. Just count the number of responses that your blog generates. So what, if many of the responders are allegedly Hindu bigots like me !!

    However, ever since I have started reading this blog page, I find that you write mostly on general topics, although you say that in print you mostly concentrate on Western India. Any particular reason for this division of labour?

    Yes women are breaking into hitherto considerded exclusive male bastions. The latest being the all women BSF battalion patrolling international border in Punjab.

    So it’s really high time that they break this glass ceiling in print journalism too ( I think they have already done that in broadcasting ).

    [Reply]

  • Indian

    Sujata,

    This was a good read. Thank you for writing!!

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