Category Archives: internet

A journalist…what it means to be one

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Photo by brotiN biswaS on Pexels.com

(The youngest member in our newsroom is 22 years old. I have given more years of my life to journalism. Most of the world outside sees journalism as a glamorous profession. Not many are aware of the grime, the sweat and not to talk about long working hours and less holidays. But it is definitely one profession that gives you an ability, a perspective to look at your own life like an outsider)

I am a story-teller but I am not the story. That’s why every day, I wake up with a sense of deep gratitude. It’s humbling to be a journalist. It’s the story that is much much larger than me. It’s the story that matters, it’s the face behind the story that counts. I am just the narrator bringing the story to the world. People trust me with stories which define them as individuals. Not for anything else but for the fact that I am a journalist. People bare their vulnerable souls to me and share with me stories of love, loss, success, failure, aspirations .. all in the hope that their story reaches to the world. As much as you need the stories, you need the story-teller too.

Let me take you on a retro ride. It’s March, 2002. I am walking along with my colleagues in the riot affected areas of Ahmedabad — amidst burnt houses, smoke billowing from the roofs of  houses, textbooks of young children lying here and there in tattered condition, once shiny utensils now all black and beyond any shape and most importantly charred dreams. The loss is immense and palpable.  Grief stricken women and men open up their hearts to us i.e strangers armed with little yellow notebooks and ball-point pens. The world calls us ‘journalists’. A woman in her early 40s wearing a pink salwar kameez and a green dupatta holds my hand and tells with tears in her eyes, “Go and tell the world what you have seen here and what I have told you. Tell the world.” I hold her hands  gently and say, “I will. We will.”  I am the outsider in her world. Her loss has given me an entry into her intimate world. I have a comfortable home in the western part of Ahmedabad to go back to in the night.

But here in the midst of devastation — I am the narrator, I can’t be the story. Yet, I have to be there with them without losing my sense of self.  I have to bring back the story as it is to the world outside. I have to draw the boundary of not losing my self and stealing the story from them.

On another day during the same period, my senior colleague and I go on the field to do a story on relief camps. From there, committee members of the relief camp take us to a graveyard nearby. They say the smallest graves are the ones that hurt the most. Standing there among wailing men, I actually counted the number of graves of little kids who had fallen prey to mindless violence earlier in the day. There were nine of them. In moments like that, a part of  me feels like an intruder and I want to move away from that deeply private moment of those grieving intensely.

But the story is the winner here and it holds me back. There’s no moral dilemma here. I have to tell to all of you  who are sitting in their homes, or working in offices and who are not privy to what’s happening there. I have to be detached at that moment to tell you what I saw there — without any colour, any filter. I can’t jump into the frame, I can’t be the frame. I need to be there among the people to bring you back the story no matter how gruesome is the story or how heart-breaking it is. I believe, if you don’t have it in you to come to face to face with death, violence, loss and grief then you can’t be a  journalist. You got to be somewhere else.

My best friend who worked with Sebastin D Souza ( in Mumbai Mirror), famous all over the world for his photograph of Kasab in action in CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) station in the Mumbai terror attack, which eventually led to Kasab’s conviction, asked him once, “Sebastin, didn’t you feel scared while you were clicking photographs of Kasab?” He said non-chalantly, “What was there to feel scared? I was just doing my job — shooting him with my camera.”  He didn’t glorify his moment of truth, how brave he was or how put his life into risk.

Years later in an interview, Sebastian said to a leading news channel , “After all that hype of 26/11, nothing has changed. I don’t feel anything. I try to erase it from my mind. It does not seem such a big event now. Photo-wise, yes, it was a very big thing. My pictures were used across the world and helped convict (Mohammed Ajmal) Kasab (the lone attacker captured alive and hanged in November 2012).”  As matter of fact as it can be.

On a slightly chilly winter evening, I met Kalpana Gupta, a woman who had lost her husband, two kids and home in the 2001 killer Gujarat earthquake. I was meeting her five years after the earthquake had consumed her once picture-perfect life.  Like a phoenix, she had risen from the ashes of pain, loss and longing. She had remarried and she came to meet me with her two year old daughter. She took me to the same apartment where she lived before the earthquake took away everything she had nurtured lovingly. She offered flowers on the door and we sat down on the ground floor of her apartment on two plastic chairs facing each other. She was living in another part of the city then and had just taken the possession of her newly built flat.

There was no question to ask her. She had to tell her story in her own words. Till now, I have not seen someone crying throughout an interview. She had no control over her tears. The poignancy of her story overwhelmed me. Yet I had to sit stoically throughout the interview and listen to her attentively. I distinctly remember walking back on the neon-lit streets of Ahmedabad with a heavy heart. But the narrator’s job begins with that.

No matter how heavy is your heart or how dark is the night, your qwerty key board is your place to go to. In the stillness of the night, you have to detach from the world around you.  Then it’s just you and the story. That’s the ethereal moment when writing feels like prayer. That’s why, it’s intoxicating to be in the newsroom day after day, week after week and actually year after year. The high of holding the story within you and then letting it travel to the world. Once you let it go, you have no control over it.  And it’s that juxtaposition of brutality and tenderness that has fascinated me all these years. The brutality of telling a story as it is and the tenderness of the story becoming a part of your life.

We are living in strange times. An overdose of information, fake news, issues of ethics plaguing the media, the list is endless. It’s not easy to be a journalist in today’s time. But then it’s almost impossible to resist a story. And letting it travel through the world.

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A digital flirt. Not a nice feeling

I feel like a digital flirt. I don’t enjoy the feeling anymore. I joined instagram few days back. Having the app on my smartphone gives me the freedom to post a photo and note from anywhere and anytime. I see the world through words. Even photographs speak to me through words.

I have an aversion of putting my own photographs. Most of my family members are intensely private people. So I don’t want to be the intruder. Selfies don’t excite me. To be honest, I don’t have the body of  Kim Kardashian.

But I have been flirting here and there in the digital world. And the destinations vary from Facebook, Twitter to Instagram.

As much as all of them allow me to express myself, there’s no greater joy than sitting in front of my computer and expressing my thoughts filling up the screen. The sound of the keyboard makes me feel alive. connected and joyful.

As I write this, I feel this space of mine gives me the feeling of home (Aah.. the Gypsy talking of having a home. But life is all about having possibilities or imagining possibilities).

I have had enough of being a digital flirt. Let me enjoy this solid feeling of being in a meaningful relationship.

And a little note of ‘Thank you’ to all those wonderful souls who have stopped by this space and encouraged me with their generosity of appreciation and heart-warming comments.

The Gypsy hopes to meet more generous souls on the road ahead.

Of love Notes, samosas and jalebis

It’s a sudden realization. For the last three weeks, I have been only talking or listening about money. I am also reading quite a lot about money.

I am tired. Don’t get me wrong. I love money. For all the temporary possibilities money offers.

Late last night, I listened to Ravish Kumar’s wonderful talk titled ‘Love in the time of Note Bandi’ in Timeslitfest, New Delhi. The house was deep in slumber. I was the only one sitting in front of a flickering laptop, enjoying the words of Ravish Kumar.

Delhi suddenly felt near, intimate. Geography seemed irrelevant. Airports felt meaningless. Memory and desire felt warm in the heart and veins too. So also the huge, dark gulab jamuns of Aggarwal Sweets in Munrika. The piping hot jalebis of Moonlight. The jalebis felt complete with samosas, they made a happy couple with their sweet-salty combination. Life’s XL pleasures. Managed with little money.

Why do I still remember the taste of those jalebis, gulab jamuns and samosas? Why is it so difficult to let go of young, delicious memories?

jalebi             samosa.jpg

I am thinking of love. Young love. Adult love. Aching love, smiling love, happy love, teary love.

Some loves are so intense and organic that they actually don’t need much money to survive, to flourish. These love stories are wrapped in richness. They don’t need pumping of money to look or feel rich.

These love stories don’t need diamonds, birthday celebrations in swanky five star hotels, Louis Phillipe shirts or LV handbags. They are just rich by their very nature.

On November 9, 2016 morning, some love felt like Rs 100.  And some felt like Rs 1000.

Who knows what lies ahead?

Bur I feel like sitting down one Sunday and counting the chillar (coins) in my little piggy bank. I have a feeling we can still buy a nice meal for both of us with that money.

Let them talk about cashless India, debit cards, credit cards, netbanking, paytm, this and that.

My India is still safe in my little piggy bank.

I want my fingers to be messy with the syrup of jalebis. I love my fingers, I love his fingers. I love it more when our fingers are intertwined. There’s certain mellowness about lovers and their fingers.

I want to run my fingers through his hair. Like I used to do when I was 22.

Neither of us need to be rich to do that.

America. Too far

Even in 2016 that comes with near perfect internet connection, viber, skype, whatsapp, Gchat, I find America too far. I find it difficult to embrace two different time zones.

“America is far. When will you be back?” I asked him. “Distance is not an issue these days. By your logic, even Ahmedabad is far from Delhi,” he told. “No, America is very far,” I answered back. He told, “But your sister lives there.” I replied, “How will anyone understand the pangs of separation?”

My younger sister has been living in America since last 20 years. During the initial years, I hoped that she would come back to India. To Bangalore, Pune or may be Hyderabad. We often talked of her coming back to India.  Possibilities of walking into each other’s homes  without ever having to go through the visa, immigration procedures.

Times have changed. Years have brought in different realities.  We don’t indulge in such talks now. Our wrinkles on the face are becoming more visible.We know the reality. Her coming back to India looks as remote as Virendra Sehwag once again playing international cricket.

I have always hated the hours between my sister boarding a flight from Newark and arriving at Mumbai. These hours always make me  cranky, anxious. I  somehow make a listless attempt to sail through the day. I keep myself occupied by  cleaning wardrobes that look organized. I perk up when she arrives in Mumbai. Suddenly the anxiety just melts away.

It’s not even 20 hours since he left for America. I have started feeling the pangs of anxiety. I am writing this piece to sooth me, to calm me. I know, it’s not about him. He has gone there on a short visit. He travels frequently. So, it’s no big deal.

So, what exactly is it? It’s about my primary emotions. It’s about my sister living in America. It’s about my sister and me not being able to mourn together the loss of our parents. We could never hug each other when our wounds were raw and bleeding. We were too desolate in two distant lands. Yet we could find a meeting ground.

Life is strange, actually. Sometimes we don’t know whom we are missing. But we feel the ache deep within our heart. We feel the pain in our veins. Same is true of ‘being far’ too. Even in the midst all the internet trapping, I feel America is really far. The silicon valley guys will laugh at me. For talking about distance in 2016.

 

 

Mobile India err Smart India

A group of youngsters in cool cafes and swanky restaurants sitting with their frothy cups of cappuccino and nachos. But their eyes are lowered and their fingers are in a ‘fast and furious mode.’ You might think that they are the future Einsteins and Newtons all set to unravel the mysteries of the universe. They are all together but not a single word is exchanged. Their silence is intriguing. But their silence has a reason. They are all hooked to their smartphones. You wonder why did they all come out in a group? They could have actually stayed at home and done the same (alone). Welcome to the new age Mobile India. Phubbing is the buzzword of urban India vocabulary.

 

mobile

India has been seized by a mobile revolution. Believe it or not, the mobile phone users in India are pegged at one billion. We might not have access to safe drinking water and toilets but there will be more than one mobile phones per family.
In the beginning, when mobile phones came to India in the late 90s (actually those days the mobile phones looked like those boxes you need for your geometry classes, some even looked like tiffin boxes), it was like caviar. Very few had it and the majority only mastered the art of ogling at the caviar from a distance. Today, mobile phones are as common as idli, vada pav or even paani puri.
Before you think that I am ‘immobile’ or anti-mobile, I must say that I love the way mobile phones have changed the way we communicate. In times of a crisis or emergency, mobile phones come as a great blessing. I love the way mobile phones act as a great democratic agent of change. I love it when the young girl who helps me at home comes, plug in her mobile phone and attaches it to the speakers and put on Rihana’s ‘Monster’ or Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’  and then goes on the cleaning spree. Well, I find it cool when she uses the bluetooth for ‘transferring’ songs from my playlist. She loves it when I play my age-old favourite ‘Katra Katra’ song from Izzazat. Today she told me, “My sister doesn’t like this song. But I think, she doesn’t have emotions.” She says with a smile, “Didi, accha lagta hai yeh gaana sun ke. (It feels nice to hear this song).” When she decides to take it easy, she sends me a message on whatsapp, “Didi, not coming.” Quick communication at its best. On my birthday, she changed her DP to a photo taken with me. Her ‘smart’ way of celebrating my birthday.
But there’s another side to this ‘mobile’ story. India is hooked to the world of touch. Everybody is in a rush to upload their holiday photographs, nuggets about their love life. From your break-up to make-up, everything you can upload in the virtual world by just the touch of your mobile. The art of conversation in India today is on life support system. India which was famous for its oral traditions may soon have to mourn its death.
WhatsApp has become the cool word. Everybody is on a ‘mobile’ high. You are smart only if you have a smartphone. The buck stops there.
India is hooked to its mobile phones but the users have very little or no knowledge of mobile manners or etiquette. So, in the darkness of movie theaters when you are lost in the magical world of celluloid fantasy, you will be ruthlessly pulled back to this not so pleasant real world with a loud voice telling, “haan bolo (Yes, tell me).” I have actually heard people yelling at their top voices and telling, “Woh share bech do (Sell that share), dusra kharid lo (Buy the other one).” You see, I live Ahmedabad, the city of bulls and bears.  Sensex is orgasmic in this part of the country. Where does the celluloid magic figure, actually?
Even as the sound of people munching their caramel popcorns from their paper buckets   slows down and you breathe in a sense of relief, you suddenly hear a woman telling, “Haan, dinner mein roti aur aloo gobi bana dena. (Make dinner for us).” You don’t curse your destiny, you curse that little smartphone and the hands holding that sans any etiquette.
Mobile phones have become a status symbol. You got to flaunt it. Your cool quotient is directly linked to that little one. The ones owning these little ones are on a rampage. They have seized urban India (including real and virtual world). Thanks to mobile phones, in India every Tom, Dick, Harry (or to be fair, say Sunny, Bunty, Pintoo, Chintoo or Jayesh, Jignesh) is a reincarnation of Henri Cartier Bresson. And not to talk about selfies, welfies and the never ending vocabulary of all ‘fies’ coming together. All the while, you are seeing somebody or the other pouting like Kim Kardashian and clicking a picture of their own or a group. It has become a menace, if you can allow me to say that.
Every other guy aspires to be a Salman Rushdie or should I say Chetan Bhagat (he mints a hell lot of money). And you actually thought, writing or photography is an art? You gotta be joking.

Just grab your smartphone and take a walk. Welcome to Mobile India..

INDIA, A COUNTRY OF EXPERTS

India is a country of experts. Everybody is an expert on anything and everything. Everybody has an opinion on everything.

So, people who can’t even spell badminton properly now have an opinion on why P V Sindhu missed getting the gold medal. People who have never played a game in their butter-laced life dismiss our Rio Olympics participants as lazy, completely devoid of any grit and determination. In their cocooned existence, they can’t understand what it means to be a sportsperson in India. Unless, you are playing cricket..What all our non-cricket sports persons  have to go through to arrive where they have arrived. On the international level. How many parents from privileged background encourage their children to take up a sports?

People can talk about wrestling, boxing, badminton and hockey like they have spent years and years sweating over the games. I am curious to know which sportsperson plays to lose in a game? Who doesn’t love to win an Olympic medal?

And then Mark Zuckerberg has gifted Indians a lethal weapon called Facebook. So, the expert comments need to be shared, liked and gloated over.

Now, these experts can do a great service to mankind only if they keep quiet and take a chill pill.

(In the midst of all this, there are some who also searched about P V Sindhu’s caste on the internet. Only God can save us)

 

Digital India

Friend: deepikaaaaaaaaaa. you wont believe this. i saw a familiar face on facebook, common friend with someone. i asked aap chankayawala panditji ho na? He replied nahi ITO walla. aap kaise ho.. turns out it is my paanwala from ITO (Delhi).. We are facebook friends now..this is epic na
(Friend now lives in Melbourne and she used to live and work as a journalist in New Delhi. And needless to say, she loved her share of pan and pan masala. Hence this unique bonding with paanwalla(s))
Me: HA HA HA HA,,,,
Friend: His name is Birbal Chaurasia
Me:  Tu kab sudhergi
                  Welcome to Digital India.