In love with black-and-white

Last weekend I found myself at the Alumni Association meet of the Department of Journalism at Nagpur University. They asked us to recall some of the memorable moments of our year and while I largely remembered the fun — I thought we had the most fun of all batches – and frolic of those days (including a meeting with the Prime Minister of India in New Delhi), what came back vividly to me was both the ignominy and triumph of a University-wide quiz contest that we had entered that year.

Ignominy, because as budding journalists four of the best minds in that batch did not know what, despite the Janet Cooke controversy, a Pulitzer Prize was awarded for. Triumph, because despite that ignorance we lifted the trophy that year, salvaging our pride and our futures.

Somehow, I was almost unfairly thrilled when students of the current batch, despite the knowledge explosion of recent years, did not know what the Pulitzer prize was all about, either. But like I told them then they need not worry. For two of the four of us who had attended that quiz have become reasonably successful journalists, one chose to become a scientist and is doing pretty well in his chosen field; sadly, though, the last of us (who had stood first) has simply disappeared.

But at the alumni meet and at the institute where I taught journalism a couple of years ago, I was glad to note the generational change in the pursuit of journalism. I recall how, whenever we were visited by eminent journalists, the one (and often the only) question we had for them was, “What is the scope in this country for women journalists?” And I am not surprised at our obsession. For in a class of 35, there were only six women students and none of our visiting lecturers were women, either. Which, decoded, simply meant that no woman had yet got to be a journalist worth her name until then!

I was given my first job almost reluctantly by my first editor who was also then the Head of the Department of Journalism at Nagpur University — and that, too, to stop the rival newspaper from publishing me, even as a free-lancer.  But in the quarter century since then, I am glad to see that there are more girls than boys at almost every institute I have lectured at (and there were more of them at the institute where I taught, as well).

I think much of it has to do with the explosion of television journalism and the safety of women at work in the field of newsgathering. While I was told by my first editor that I would be disappointed if I thought journalism would bring me fame and glamour rather than the drudgery, hard work and long nights it really involved, the changing face of India has ensured that all that is a thing of the past. Communication technology has cut the drudgery; long nights are a thing of the past except if you are on the desk; hard work, of course, is still mandatory but that is compensated by the instant fame and glamour of journalism today.

Most of my students at the institute where I taught a couple of years ago wanted to become television journalists and when I offered internships to them at The Hindustan Times, they wanted to intern with HT Cafe rather than the Metro section of the main newspaper. I remember one of them being turned down because, as the HT Cafe editor then told me, “She’s more interested in meeting Shahrukh Khan than writing for the newspaper. Journalism is a means, not an end, for her to get into Bollywood. ” And that was, by and large, representative of most of the students I have interacted with, girls or even boys.

What a far cry, I thought; from my own mentors who had stressed that the only kind of journalism worthy of its name was `development journalism’ (which meant reporting on what I called the OSD – the oppressed, the suppressed and the depressed!)  and that  a journalist should be more read than seen or heard. That was, of course, before the era of television journalism (there was only Doordarshan at the time, with just one news bulletin a day and only Chhaya Geet for entertainment). But what they then told me has somehow stayed with me and I am very glad, even today, to let my writing speak for me and itself.

When my students asked me if I never wanted to be a television journalist even now, I found it difficult to convince them about the intensity of the feeling I get when I see the words move on my computer screen and the excitement I still feel as I wait for my newspaper the next morning, to actually see it all in bold print; that just to see my byline on a story moves me more than to see my face on the television screen. Though I have taken to enjoy that as well of late — from the little I get to be an ‘expert commentator’ when the Shiv Sena or Raj Thackeray beat up people or Sharad Pawar plays cat-and-mouse with the Congress in his desire to be Prime Minister!

I guess it is a thing of the times and, caught between two generations as I am, one must surely change with the times or else one would be in danger of stagnation. But much as my bookish sister is eagerly awaiting the launch of Kindle in India and my students believe I am stupid to be so much in love with print, I continue to be excited by black and white. Always have. Always will.

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