Thursday, August 12, 2010

Journalism --- Association with Fear?

But over all your mother accepted the reality of her life. Thus most often we – as husband-wife – are a team, compromising with ourselves and learning to carry out a peculiar job routine.
Often mosquito nets would be hung and she would embrace my half-naked body – but I would go through some books or scribble down few lines as you - my little daughter - would dutifully sleep.

At the end of the day, now about 20 years in the profession, I should say the struggles associated with it made journalism exciting and challenging.

My love for journalism developed primarily due to my fascination for Politics. Political choice for a youngster like me kept on changing. I was a pro-left in the initial years – seeing a hero in Jyoti Basu and hating the Congress. Then I grew up with a soft corner for Nagaland and Assam regional parties like the Nagaland People’s Council and Asom Gana Parishad.
Then BJP came in next - as in the far-flung northeast we thought the “party with a difference” would bring in the necessary drastic changes in our social and political life.

The illusion, however, soon got over. Gujarat 2002 was perhaps also responsible; thanks to PTI and the confidence vested in me by PTI’s general manager (now CEO) M K Razdan, who deputed me from Mumbai office to Ahmedabad for five months – starting from the morning after the train burnt in Godhra on February 27, 2002.

But the arrogance of BJP leaders was a more dominant factor. At times, they seemed turning more Congressmen than most Congressmen.
The communism was nevertheless not yet a dirty word in my paradigm. But slowly it became with Nandigram and Singur.
In theory, I could soon be convinced that if communism was great; why it had to be imposed by force. Why it had to show its ugly face in 2006-07?

The communism as I understood inspired loyalty. Your nana, whom you also called ‘bhai dadu), my father-in-law in the backyards of Tripura was a loyal leftist definitely. But, may his soul rest in peace; I thought he was not a thinking communist. He was more a comrade even in his private life.
Is it without good reason that H Y Sharada Prasad, one time media advisor to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and later her son Rajiv, once wrote that communism succeeds only if it is Chinese.

For your information, I should say having chosen the career in insurgency-hit Nagaland, Journalism for me also got associated with fear. To plunge into a profession like this in insurgency-stricken state of Nagaland was itself risky in its own enterprise.
From the very beginning of my work there in Nagaland, I realized the fear of antagonizing sensitive Naga sentiments was a constant companion.
But I learned to live with it and not many people would also know about it. Least – my home front and parents as that would signal the end of my obsession with the vocation or the profession of journalism.
Amidst all these situation in 1991 winter months I received an anonymous letter cautioning me against “interfering in Naga affairs”. The unsigned letter was good enough to spoil my sleep for few weeks. I would avoid active work and run to my seniors in the profession with the plea not to report anything about the missive. On one occasion, I ran to a local editor of ‘The Nagaland Observer’ Charles Chaisie’s house and in his absence so much desperate I was that I jotted down a few lines requesting him not to report on that threat letter as my parents would then force me give up trying anything silly with my life.
Probably till date neither my parents nor brother Nirmal or my sister Rinki (Mahua) knows about the letter.
Thanks to the late colleague, Lelie Legissie, who personally consoled me and tried to convince me that the anonymous letter writer had probably done it only in jealousy!

But the fear stuck. It was like a dull ache – amid all the local help I got and the excitement of covering Nagaland state politics was.
Honestly, that feeling of stress and the fear never left me.

But there was a change as I started working for the Press Trust of India (PTI), country’s premier news agency. In effect, the fear and stress multiplied. The agony was more as no body would understand my situation, nor could I explain. Working for PTI and stationed at Kohima was such a risky proposition that for every violent story one filed, one would fear adverse reactions.
PTI would expect prompt and good copy on insurgency-related incidents, while in Nagaland no top civil or police official would divulge details of any incidents nor would even confirm.

In his memorable work, Max Hastings wrote, soldiers and journalists make uneasy bedfellows. Well in Nagaland of 1990s – when insurgency killings had suddenly revived after a decade long lull, a non-Naga scribe and the Naga guerillas, otherwise brave, also made very strange bedfellows.
I started getting into trouble more than once primarily for PTI dispatches on incidents of violence or covering some particular stories.

One such episode related to ambush on former Congress leader Rajesh Pilot’s convoy when he was returning to Delhi from Kohima. The Late Rajesh Pilot called me up at PTI office from Dimapur saying he was ambushed. I had the sensational piece of information but struggled for a while to get confirmation from the police sources. Ultimately, the state DGP said he also got a call from Pilot about the incident. The story went on the ticker …..

Next day, a local daily reported about ‘hoax shoot out incident’ and suddenly entire Kohima looked like an unknown patch of land for me. I could be shot any time, warned some friends and also non-journalist staff at the agency’s fledgling office. This is just one example.

I survived. I also survived two other such incidents more direct one in 1993 when Dimapur railway platform was blasted and another when the jeep we were traveling reached the incident of exchange of fire between Naga guerillas and security forces little late as the driver had to meet his family members mid-way!

But amidst all these, there were some lovely occasions too. Friendship with elegant and enlightened Chipeni Merry was one such sweet experience.

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