I can write a book on Work From Home. But, I am emotionally and physically exhausted after more than 120 days of working from home. So, I am putting this tweet right now.
I can write a book on Work From Home. But, I am emotionally and physically exhausted after more than 120 days of working from home. So, I am putting this tweet right now.
Looking at celebrity wedding pictures on instagram can be quite exhausting (after the initial euphoria)– emotionally and physically. And more so when you are a journalist even though you are far away from Lake Como and it’s unlikely that in your lifetime you will ever be there. Deepika-Ranveer, Priyanka-Nick have been the flavour of the wedding season. I think, funny man (though I really find it difficult to laugh at his jokes) Kapil Sharma’s wedding coverage is little low on publicity quotient. Never mind, it’s all part of showbiz. Some will get more than others.
But Priyanka-Nick’s wedding has unleashed the inner energy of some frustrated, negative souls in this country. And unfortunately, this breed includes some journalists too (my fraternity). What do you do to people who give comments like the following?
And then another moronic question: ‘Why didn’t Ranbir Kapoor go for Deepika-Ranveer’s reception?”
The list goes on. These are the people who have an opinion on anything and everything — right from politics, economy, cricket, cinema to food. They are the ones who give lengthy monologues on what should be Virat Kohli’s strategy in Australia. Never mind, they have never picked up a cricket bat in their life.
The more I hear these kind of conversations, the more I feel the need for grace. You can buy anything in today’s world but you can’t buy grace, empathy and elegance.
#MeToo has consumed my life for last one week. The more I read about it, the more I angry I feel. And in moments of solitude and self-reflection, many painful memories of hurt and abuse have resurfaced. And the story is both personal and universal. It’s a fact that most women in India have their #metoo experiences both in public and private space. Since the #metoo narratives have been shared on the social media, many of us are talking to each other to share our experiences. The common thread is that we all have gone through harrowing experiences of verbal, physical and emotional abuse at different level. In our workplaces. And that’s a reality even if it is difficult to swallow. The time has come to listen to women who are speaking, who are sharing raw emotions which they have been holding within themselves for years together. It’s not easy to come out and speak about your experience of being violated of basic human dignity. By doing that, you are laying your life in front of strangers. You are making yourself vulnerable.
In recent years, the process of communication has definitely become democratized. And one can’t suppress collective and individual voices for too long. Somewhere, like a tree, the voices will find a way to have a place under the sun.
Let us be clear on one thing. This is not a battle against men. This is not men bashing. This is about people who have abused their power, their authority, their superiority in whatever form. This is about not respecting a woman’s boundary. This is about some people having a sense of entitlement based on their power, position and gender. This is about commodification of women. At work place, at intimate spaces, at parties.
It’s nice to see stories are coming out from the entertainment industry, from media, advertising industry, corporate sector and more. Let it all come — from different walks of life, from urban India, small town India, rural India. The narrative of pain, hurt and abuse suffered by women from all walks of life must now be a part of our mainstream narrative. We can no longer push these stories under the carpet. It’s time to listen to our women.
Our streets are not for our women. Otherwise, many of us will not think twice before taking a night flight/cab. And at that time it doesn’t matter whether we women are
journalists/engineers/nurses/academicians. If our streets are not ours, if we don’t have the freedom to move without any fear in our India then what are we really talking about? These are basic fundamental rights of any citizen. This is our constitutional right to move freely without any fear in our own country. A nation can not be a global player if its women are not feeling safe in their own country. Our offices are now telling horrible stories of sexual abuse. Men at work must realise that women are not sex toys. It’s not cool to crack sexist, misogynistic jokes. It’s not cool to comment on a woman’s colleague’s body parts. It’s not cool to be a skirt chaser.
The time has come for all of us to be sensitive about gender identity, gender empathy, gender fluidity and look at life and people beyond gender binary. Empathy and compassion is the only way to move forward. Let us teach our children to look at life beyond stereotypes of gender and role play. It’s absolutely fine if your father is a fabulous cook. It’s absolutely wonderful if your mother loves solving mathematics puzzles instead of cooking rajma-chawal for you on a Sunday.
We need to break down barriers and question our own mindsets. Talking to LGBTQ community members in the last few weeks (post Supreme Court verdict on Section 377) as part of writing stories have made me understand their deep lonely struggles in life. And all their stories have common thread of bullying at school, isolation at home and the innate pressure to be ‘normal’ (which just means being straight).
Let us share our stories and from there will only emerge lesson of empathy and compassion. As a beginning step, let us just start listening.
(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.
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.
It’s a special day for me. Today I celebrate 20 years of being in the world’s second oldest profession i.e journalism. I came into this exciting, ever-evolving world by my sheer love for news, a desire to tell a story. And after 20 years, I am still madly in love with the art of telling a story. Today, I look back and ruminate about the lessons I have picked up from this journey :
Life is uncertain and that is why it’s so seductive, so intoxicating. Everyday, we journalists come to work without having an idea about how the day will evolve in the end. What will be the big story at the end of the day? I remember one mild November evening in 1996. Our editor-in-chief was telling about it being a very dull day (news wise) and we were all discussing what would be the next day newspaper’s headline. And exactly after 30 minutes, we got a panic call in the news room. And then came the horrible news of the mid-air collision at Chakhri Dadri which killed 351 people on board. We all stayed at the office till the wee hours. And for quite some weeks, the editor-in-chief did not even utter the word ‘boring day.’
Life lies in details. A wonderfully written story will lose its charm even if there’s a ‘small’ spelling mistake. Some years back, I did an interview with a leading theatre personality and director. My editor praised me for a ‘well-written interview’ and I went home happy that night. The next day, I woke up to horror. The reason: the desk person did not pay attention while doing a spell-check in the copy I had written. And the theatre personality’s name Rita Mafei was published as Rita MAFIA. And to top it all, she was an Italian (So ‘Mafia’ became more deadly in this case) I wanted to go underground that day. However, Rita was gracious enough to say ‘Even prominent international newspapers have done similar mistakes.’ And she had a hearty laugh too.
There’s no greater virtue than compassion. You can’t be a good journalist if you are not compassionate. If somebody will ask me about that one quality of mine which I am proud of as a journalist, I would say: I can talk about anything to anybody with dignity and compassion. So, whether it’s a riot victim, a cancer survivor or somebody who lost her entire family to the killer Gujarat earthquake of 2001, people have opened their hearts and shared their story with me. They did so because I was just listening to their story with compassion. Not judging them.
What you have is yours. Having less is fine but hold on to your ethics. When I started my career in 1995, it was a meager salary. Money wise, it has never been a luxurious journey. But the thrill of chasing a story, meeting deadlines, coming up with new ideas, conversations with new people almost everyday is so fulfilling that the lure of making big money doesn’t really look appealing. Living in big cities, working for premier publications bring in lot of temptations but to stand there with your head held high and not falling prey to temptations gives you a high. I have never ever had a free meal in a restaurant in the last 20 years and I am happy that way.
Cut the excess. I am passionate about editing. My friends tease me by telling that I can even edit dry cleaning bills. Editing has taught me the art of ‘saying more using less.’ It has also taught me to look beyond a life of excess. Less can be more. There’s an elegance in telling a story in a concise way. Most importantly, it has taught me to be dispassionate. Whether it’s my story, my favourite colleague’s story or my husband’s travel article, the craft of editing rules over love, affection. Emotions are relegated to the background. The ‘scissor’ is the ultimate winner.
Be in sync with change: When I first started my career, we had no idea that one day the internet will be so overwhelming in its presence. It has changed the way we read, write or gather news. The times have changed. Today, we look at both print and web stories as part of our profession. So, as life unfolds, always be open to embrace change.
Look beyond the tag: I often remember that ‘nameless’ person (from a small place in Haryana) who made a phone call to PTI office in New Delhi to tell us about the mid-air collision. He kept on saying, “saab maine dekha…maine dekha (I saw it, I saw it).” For a journalist, every source is sacred. Don’t dismiss a person just because he/she can’t speak English or wear branded clothes. Be open to embrace stories from anybody and everybody. The same goes for in life. Don’t live in your cocooned world. Take a step forward and ‘feel’ people.
Knowledge is power: The world might say anything but knowledge is powerful. Senior colleagues of mine read five to seven newspapers in a day. Everyday they add something to their knowledge. There is no limit to knowledge. I talk a lot to my younger colleagues about music, tech trends, college campuses, cafes and dating. That keeps me clued in. So, when somebody plays ‘It’s yellow’, I know it’s Coldplay. Well, on a lighter vein, that makes me ‘thanda thanda cool cool’.