Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Finally on Track !

Having written hardcore business stories for months together, it was very awkward to start writing on crime, legal cases and civic issues for first few weeks. I used to be at loss of words while writing stories for my newspaper. Sometimes I kept thinking about the intro or text for hours and hours. I somehow managed to write few Tsunami stories with the help of some media friends.

But, it was tough handling crime and court stories with no one around to guide me. Things were all the more tough but very exciting as I had to cover one of the most prestigious legal cases related to a royal family. Two brothers were at loggerheads over property worth thousands of crores and it was a two-decade old legal battle that had dragged on and on. The elder sibling had won the case in the apex court in 2005.

I spent hours with the advocates just to know every minute detail about the case before writing about it. I still possess a thick file comprising of legal papers and documents of the battle with me till date. The efforts I put in were worth it as I got several national by-lines for the royal property battle stories.

It was as if everything was falling in place for me. Weeks within my joining the newspaper, the southern Gujarat districts had suddenly become too much happening. Suicides, accidents, court cases, crime incidents and political programmes! My hands were full with stories and I had options to choose the best… :) While rising crime incidents is a bad sign for the society, it gives such a pleasure to journos. Strange na? I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and started delivering the goods.

My first national story was about a strange accident in Surat wherein an entire family died inside a pit dug outside their house. While first it had appeared to be a murder, later it turned out to be death owing to asphyxiation. The family had stored lots of chillies and preservation powder inside the pit for preparing pickles. The younger son of the family entered inside the pit to see whether the chillies were ready for making pickle. He fell unconscious on the spot.

He was followed by his elder brother, father and mother, who all fell unconscious owing to the gases emanated from the chillies. It made an interesting story to read. I followed the story for about a week, before moving over to my next subject. Here, I would like to mention that I had great support of the local Gujarati journos who sat just few metres away from me. Our English newspaper had tie-up with this Gujarati paper for news and office space.

It was fun sitting in my small cabin till late in the night and joking around in the office. After 7 pm everyday, it was a male bastion as all females used to leave by evening. The Gujju journos used to shout at the top of their voices and even used choicest of abuses. Strangely, I loved the buzz around and sometimes I used to join them for fun. I used to rely on them and few friends of mine in Surat for the news from southern districts.

Mincing on the bhajiyas and vada-pav late in the night and sipping on hot cuppa of tea was something I enjoyed. Slowly but surely, I had started settling in the exciting world of news where every day is a new day. However big story you break and gather appreciation from all quarters, the next day you are as good as a fresh journo scouting for new story. I would now share some of my experiences in on-field reporting and how they changed me as a person…

Friday, November 7, 2008

Home Coming !

I left the business newspaper midway after I learnt that my fate was hanging in balance there. Having handed over a short term contract of just few months initially, I was promised that it would be extended up to a year later. I believed in it and signed the papers.

However, later I learnt that they were going to continue extending my contract for 2 or 3 months for next one year. Reason? Even I didn’t know. I tried to find out through my sources and learnt that it was their administrative decision.

I decided to put in my papers and move on instead of working in such ambiguity. It was a tough decision but I didn’t want to continue at a place where I was not enjoying my work. Phew! You might think that his stupid boy has some problem. Where ever he works, some or other trouble is waiting to happen! Even I had started thinking the same way that I am a Problem Child!

Having packed my bags from the alien city I never managed to fall in love with, I landed back in my cosy and warm town. Aahaa… the same old roads, banyan trees sprinkled over paths at every few kilometres, my favourite M S University, the Kala Ghoda Circle, the Dairy Den Circle tea stall, Raj Mahal Road and the green little garden in backyard of my house.

It was such a nostalgic feeling that I cannot explain. Whoever said that we don’t realise the true value of things and people around us till the time they go away was very true. I never bothered to look around at these trees, the sky above, Laxmi Vilas Palace, the Vishwamitri River and as a matter of fact, even my neighbour! But, months after staying away from home, I suddenly was in love with all of it again!

It was as if I had been away for years. At that moment I realised how sensitive person I am. The feeling remained for next couple of weeks until the realties of this cruel world dawned upon me! Naukri ka kya? “Ghar par baithkar kya chidiya aur kabootar dekhta rahega,” chirped my mom. She was always worried about me as any normal mom would.

My elder bro, who was working for a multinational company, too would take me to task sometimes for leaving the Ahmedabad job. But, somewhere within I was sure that I would find a job that would help me realise my true potential.

And, here I would like to mention a famous dialogue that came out from the mouth of King Khan ala Shahrukh in his blockbuster movie Om Shanti Om. “Jab kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho to saari kaaynat tumhe usse milaane mein jut jaati hain” (When you wish for something from your heart, the whole world conspires to get you that thing).

It literally happened with me when a post for south Gujarat correspondent sprung up in a national newspaper and I was quick enough to grab it with both my hands. It wasn’t a very big achievement but had a very significant impact in my life.

I was bit worried, though, about my new venture as national newspaper had very negligible presence in Gujarat. I didn’t have much expectation from this paper owing to my prior experiences I joined there as I was getting good job profile.

Two months after opting out from Ahmedabad I had managed to land in a small but my very own cabin at my new workplace. I was given a computer equipped with internet, a telephone and file of newspapers. I didn’t have to even go through any interview as the editor just considered my prior experience and let me in!

I was supposed to cover entire south and central Gujarat for the newspaper and it was quite a responsibility for a person of my experience. I wasn’t sure how I would handle it but was confident enough to give it a try. So I took over the small cabin in December 2004 and dialled the first number to one of my good source for a Tsunami story.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ahmedabad blues!

Despite absence of much excitement during my days at the business newspaper in Ahmedabad, some moments were very eventful. Everything was so new for me. The city, the roads, the culture, alien faces and sleeping on a sofa in a two BHK flat on second floor of an apartment.

A person, who had never slept before watching television for nearly two decades, had to close his eyes listening to FM Radio. I just couldn’t sleep properly for first few days. But, things started improving when I started finding good stories and developed confidence that I can deliver.

My first few visits to some banks and companies were completely unproductive as I couldn’t extract any information worth writing. However, my single visit to Gujarat Industrial Development Board (GIDB), one fine day, was enough to boost my morale. I got an exciting story on a public transport project that was to be implemented in Ahmedabad. The project was in planning stage and I got the privilege to break the story.

There was a disadvantage though that the newspaper I worked for didn’t have any Gujarat edition. So, my stories were read in Mumbai and Delhi…

The first good story, which I thought was worthy enough, was on co-operative banks sector. I worked on a story related to Madhavpura Bank that had gone bust. The Centre had decided to infuse hundreds of crores of rupees in this and other co-operative banks to revive it. I had hard time getting information as no one was ready to divulge any detail. But, I persisted and got good results in the end. The story was published and my boss, who seldom appreciated our work, smiled at me and said ‘Good Work’.

It was so nice listening such words from a person who rarely said encouraging things. Boss even gave me free passes for a Bollywood movie whose premiere was to be screened in Ahmedabad. I was on the moon that day.

But, as luck would have it, there was a huge showdown between the journalists and event managers of the premiere show in a five-star hotel and our community decided to boycott the screening. I was so upset, but couldn’t do anything except return home and listen to the same stupid FM songs. But, after that day I started delivering stories on commodities market, co-operative sector and infrastructure.

However, the evening torture of almost half-an-hour every day continued. Our boss never left a single opportunity to blast us and even swear at us sometimes. Whenever I used to visit boss’s cabin I used to feel like a soldier who marches towards battlefield with very few hopes of returning back!

Amidst all these rush however, there was one place that used to serve as a stress-buster for me. A tea-kitli opposite, well, world-famous management institute IIM-Ahmedabad! What better place to munch on bread and samosas than this kitli.

Sitting on that small iron boxes by roadside and surrounded by some intellectual management students was something that gave me a high. A maska-bun loaded with butter and a cup of hot tea was my daily breakfast for months together. There was hardly any day when I didn’t visit that place.

But, is there any better than your home? At least not for me. I missed my home and homemade food terribly. The horrible kind of food dished out by some restaurants in Bodakdev area made me miss homemade roti and subzi all the more… And, who would forget those exciting Fridays. When I used to pack my small bag and head for Baroda. My city… Small and beautiful.

The 8.30 pm Lokshakti Express used to take me to my city by about midnight and the next day – Saturday – used to be completely mine. Lots of ‘lazy lamhe’ and talkative evenings with friends. I am in love with Saturdays since then and it continues till this day when I am in Times of India.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Topsy Turvy Days...

After going through a horrendous experience during my first job in a newspaper, I was very sceptical about taking up another job in journalism. Several thoughts crossed my mind including the one to change my field. Corporate Communications was on the top of my mind after journalism and I started thinking strongly on that line.

But, may be there was something within me which stopped me from joining the corporate world. An unseen force pushed me again towards journalism and I applied for an English newspaper that was yet to be launched. The newspaper was to be launched by a leading Gujarati newspaper and I was offered the post of news correspondent in Ahmedabad.

I was glad, but bit hesitant as the memories of my first job were still fresh in my mind. But, I shored up all the courage and went ahead, only to face yet another disappointment. A senior media person informed me that the newspaper I was supposed to join wouldn’t get launched as the plans have been shelved! Yet another setback and more confusion.

Why is God doing this to me? What have I done wrong? Shall I quit journalism and pick up a nice, cushy job in some company? And, if this was not enough, some faculty people hurled taunts at me instead of being helpful. They always thought that I wasn’t talented enough and couldn’t make a good career in journalism. And why? Just because I couldn’t score well in the stupid subjects with the most outdated curriculum they taught. As if I cared to score!

But, I never paid attention to them. I took up a part-time job in an NGO that used to work for differently-able children. I used to write for their magazines and brochures. Though the job wasn’t exciting, I continued with it as I learnt a lot about how NGOs work. How they manage funds and what is the real face of those urbane middle-aged ladies who run such NGOs!

Despite two setbacks, I continued looking for some opening in journalism which finally came my way in the winter of 2004. I joined a business newspaper in Ahmedabad with a decent salary. Phew! It was a topsy-turvy ride for a rookie like me. And, here I faced another fiery boss who loved to shout at me and my colleague every other evening.

God! What is this? Have you decided to make me work under such hot-headed journos for whom ‘humanity’ is an alien word, I questioned the Almighty. Me and my colleague used to face her blazing eyes and furious words everyday. Whenever we asked for some help, our boss used to say ‘You should create your own contacts as you are journos.’

Wow! I was in an alien city with hardly any friends around. Didn’t know where to look for stories until, one fine day I drove to Gandhinagar, our state’s capital. It proved to be heaven for me. Having number of government and ministers’ offices including the state assembly, the small and sleepy town was loaded with stories.

I started driving down the clean and green road from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar dotted with few high-rises and shopping malls. It was a 30-kilometre drive, but very pleasant and refreshing. I also made few friends at the Udhyog Bhavan including a special one at Gujarat Industrial Development Board (GIDB). Also, I attended few sessions in the assembly wherein I saw how our elected representatives actually function.

The centrally air-conditioned assembly hall had a separate section for journalists. And, the best facility that this government building provided was of tea and nashta. If you don’t find a journo in press box during assembly, then he surely must be sipping tea in the canteen.

I never returned disappointed from Gandhinagar, which was a special place for me for some other reason too. It was exciting work but the ‘boss factor’ was dancing like devil on my mind. I wasn’t learning anything from my workplace. I spent few months at the newspaper before getting break in another national newspaper The Asian Age. Finally, I had latched on to the tag of a JOURNALIST!

Monday, October 20, 2008

My First Tryst with Journalism

It was my first job and I was full of apprehensions. Will I be able to deliver? What if my boss doesn’t like my work? Can I write a good copy or would I turn out to be a lousy writer? An army of questions surrounded me and I surrendered just like an inexperienced and unarmed soldier. The day finally came…

I was afraid, but bit confident. And my first assignment was to look for some good story! I didn’t know what to do and whom to ask. I was working in Baroda as a stringer for a newspaper. I was expecting that my boss would give me some ideas and ask me to work on them. But, all he said was ‘give me some good ideas’.

I was baffled. But, later decided to ask some friends for some ideas. They did suggest few things but not impressive enough. I was praying profusely and, then there was a divine intervention. A telecom company had organised a press conference and I got invitation for it. Here is my story… I attended the conference and gave two stories on the second day of work. I moved around with my head held high and collars bit upped as if I had conquered Everest. That day I was reassured that GOD does exist.

But, who knew that what was lying ahead for me. Within few days, my boss started shouting, yelling and what not at me. He wouldn’t explain me anything about digging stories or writing them. Instead, he expected me to deliver good stories everyday. As if, I was some experienced journo. I was bit depressed and bewildered. A senior media person (not a journo) helped me a lot during those days.

A day came when I wasn’t able to contact mayor for story. My boss needed a quote of him, but the mayor was in Delhi for some official work. I couldn’t contact him and explained it to boss. But, he simply shouted at me and said that I am useless. That was a shock for me. I always thought that media world is friendly and enough time is given to a green horse like me.

But, he never understood it and kept yelling at me everyday. Gradually, I started growing nervy and the morning sun literally gave me jitters! What story would I give today? What if my boss doesn’t like it? Would he shout at me or suggest some story? But, the soothing words never came from his side.

Finally, two months within joining the newspaper, I decided to quit. I was confused as I didn’t have any offer on hand. So I took few days to decide and wrote a mail to him. It was my resignation letter. I never thought that I would face all this in my first job. But, as luck would have it, I walked out. That was my first tryst with Journalism – the field I was so excited to join…

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Journalism: The Turning Point

The title might sound too dramatic, n a bit cliched, but it is very much true. The turning point of my life was indeed Journalism. I had never thought that i would ever work for a leading English newspaper of India and write articles on, well, everything right from sports to crime... But my life had started taking a sharp turn long back, when i decided to opt for Masters of Communication Studies instead of huh, MBA. It was a tough but instant decision for a guy like me who always dreamt of an exciting job with decent pay.

Wanted to join Navy - just like any other young patriot yearning to serve country - but soon changed my mind to hotel management by the time I passed 12th std. Got admission forms for hotel management, but didn't opt for it too ! One fine day, I just came across a piece of article in TOI that had a mention of Mass Communication Studies and its scope. I found it interesting and decided to appear for entrance exams.

It all happened too fast and before i could realise, I had passed the entrance exams at journalism faculty in M S University. Couldn't make it that year. But, it only pushed me to appear again the next year, and here i was. On the first floor of an old and rickety building located on north-end of the university campus. Though the rooms within weren't exactly that i had thought of, the lush green trees and chirping sound of birds soothed my nerves on the first day.

Being packed with a bundle of 19 youngsters - all from distinctive fields - in the faculty, I moved around like a bamboozled character for first few days. But, gradually things got better as we all jelled well with each other and became a group of 20 pals.

The next two years were a mixed bag of fun, excitement, studies, lot of writing and some flirting. What I enjoyed most in the faculty was the continous flow of new ideas and curriculum that demands creativity. Our batch was, though i wouldn't say the best, very enthusiastic and full of curiousity. There were a couple of intelligent characters, few confused and others like me - average guys with a bit of creative touch.

We even used to fight with our faculties, who more often discouraged creativity. I personally faced some bias behaviour that continues till date. But, in the end, it was all about self determination. And, we all passed out. Armed with a masters degree and high ambitions, we walked out of the faculty with a dream of changing the World... :-)

Well, that was the end of my academic mis-adventure. Or may be begining of a new life, full of doubts as well as excitement! When i took up my first job under a rash and rude Boss, only God knows how insecured and afraid I was.......