The biggest skill a journo ought to possess is how to save his job.
Early to bed and early to rise is supposed to make us healthy, wealthy and wise. Agreed. But early to bed might also be the reason for the high birth rate and the population mess we are in today.
Sure, early to rise can lead to success in life. In fact, if you don’t rise and shine early, you stand no chance shining at vocations like milk delivery and newspaper delivery.
Too bad I have always been a late riser. But then I never cherished any ambition to deliver newspapers.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a journo when I grew up and write for newspapers.
You know there are those who can see your future by tarot cards. Well, my parents didn’t need tarot cards. One look at my school report card told them I wouldn’t amount too much in future.
“If you fail to prepare,” my parents wisely told me, “then you are preparing to fail in life.”
Sensibly I heeded that. Since journalism was my goal, I began to take a lot of interest in essay writing. But my laziness stood in the way. For instance, if I set out to write a 3-page essay on a vacation trip, it would end up a neat 3-liner: Reached station late. Missed train. Returned home.
Yes, during those school days, there used to be a lot of peer pressure. Not only were my peers (fellow students) doing far better than I was, it was awful to have my parents peering over my shoulders to see what I was writing, reading or doing.
Usually, I was spending my precious time very usefully by learning how to be a reporter and report stories in the most picturesque way — from my favourite young reporter Tintin!
I scraped through school. I scraped through college. And then began my arduous efforts to scrape up an acquaintance with editors of newspapers and magazines — at least those who were magnanimous enough to spare a few minutes to make my acquaintance.
One editor checked out my sample pieces of writing and said ‘great’. I came home depressed. Why was I in doldrums even though the editor had paid me a compliment? Because, in those days, whoever called my work ‘great’, never called me again!
In those days, I had a girlfriend who urged me: “Go get a job. I want to see a guy with money.”
And she was being so truthful, I tell you. The moment I went off to see if I could get a job, she went off to see a guy with money!
Is it any wonder then that you exude love for a girl, and then you exude lava?
Anyway, during my round of newspapers and magazines seeking a job, one publication lamented that I lacked experience. Hey, naturally, I had just got out of college.
So this is what I did. Being an immature young smart-ass, I jazzed up my resume a bit – ha, ha, if you know what I mean.
It so happened that my next visit was to a shoddy film magazine which deserved all the credit for fiction, the way they liberally embroidered their stories with imagination.
As the editor glanced through my resume, he frowned, declaring: “Well, I am reading your resume but frankly I don’t believe a word of it!”
The incorrigible smart-ass that I was, I shot back: “Same here, sir. I read your magazine but I don’t believe a word of it either!”
Needless to add, I was thrown out. Luckily for me, thrown out of the door and not out of the editor’s 3rd floor window.
Okay, to cut short my long, woeful story of rejections, I did finally manage to get a break as a trainee on a seedy tabloid, which gave every sign that it was on hold but about to fold.
There I became the editor’s pet. I mean, the way I felt I was being chained to my desk like a pet till I got all the day’s work done.
This was the editor’s favourite pep talk to me: “We have to work very hard, you know. So this paper has a long life.”
And I’d grumble to myself, “If I have to work so hard, I won’t have a very long life!”
But I have to say that at this tabloid I picked up the basics of journalism. That, in reporting a story, a good reporter asked the following questions: who, what, where, when, how and why?
In fact, I recall the first story I was hastily sent to cover. Out there I asked someone important: “Who, what, where, when, how and why?”
That person glared back scornfully at me and fumed, “Don’t you journos know anything?”
I also learnt what to go after, what made news, what people wanted to read. Art, culture, literature, intellectual and educational issues — poverty and humanitarian issues — they were all a big, stifled yawn. Who cared for them?
It was sensations that made or broke a tabloid. To give an instance of this. If a new book was launched — no big deal. But if someone launched his shoe in the direction of some VIP — hold the press! Here comes the thrill of the century! At heart I was an idealist. I believed that as a journo you took a lot of notes that made for in-depth stories. But you didn’t take notes that made for a stuffed wallet.
I believed I could change things for the better, change the world. I still believe this. Though I have to confess that these days I spend more time not changing the world but sitting before the TV set changing the channels.