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’.