Sing Raag Basant, then interview

Weird, incisive, witty, temperamental — a journalist meets people with these qualities and more. It’s a different world out there. The mind must be ready to explore, question and appreciate, Sumati Mehrishi, a journalist with The Pioneer tells.

Pehle Raag Basant suna, phir sochunga interview dena hai ki nahin.” How many journalists have been lucky, at all, to have undergone an audition test before putting the first question to a legend like Ustad Bismillah Khan? Asking me to prove my worth, Khan sahib drove home the point that views on art aren’t meant to be given away casually. At a dingy hotel room in Paharganj, where he would stay during his visits to the Capital, I sang a bandish. He broke into his own improvisations, obliged me with answers and laughed at his eccentricities.

“Do you know what child birth is about? We haven’t been provided with the precautionary material to deal with an AIDS patient’s delivery. I couldn’t have put my staff to risk.” In the early 2000s, there were instances of Government hospitals turning away AIDS patients, especially pregnant women. A senior doctor at a New Delhi Government hospital compelled me to check the ill-equipped labour room. “Sensitisation”, I learnt, is a double-edged weapon.

“The Gadaria is fat and happy. The soldiers still pamper him.” In a response to my question at an informal interaction held at a newspaper office I have previously worked at, retired General VP Malik remembered the Sherpa Gadaria (shepherd) who had broken the news of infiltrators to the Army intelligence, with huge fondness. Lesson — you cannot forget the soldier at the bottom, even when you have won the war. Answering another question from me, Gen Malik had said that having Mr LK Advani in the Government did help during the Kargil war. Having the BJP in power helped. The questions and answers did not make it to the printed version. They are on tape. Lesson — Ask your question. If not a war, you win half the battle.

“Vagina, Vagina Vagina.” It is world renowned activist and artiste Eve Ensler’s idea of women empowerment. She made me repeat it while I was interviewing her and made the audience repeat it several times during the staging of her play Vagina Monologues. The mantra does not help at all. Sexual atrocities on women continue. And well, recently, a Vagina whitening cream was introduced in the market.

“We have been luckier than the Biharis in Maharashtra.” People from the Kashmiri community living in Tamil Nadu say they feel very much at home. Ironically, their claims of living peacefully were quashed on the day the story came out in print. During a spat that turned violent in the mall they worked at, the Kashmiris flung flaming stoves at the locals. Lesson — A story begins from where you or your editor thought it ended.

“I have been ill for two years now. Hope I do justice to you all.” Humility, stature and years co-exist in a true artiste. Pandit Ravi Shankar or God, I fail to decide.

“Ask him to share their cola with you. Be calm and then strike. Bite the driver’s flesh out. Still, if assaulted, don’t hang yourself. Get them hanged.” It’s a tip on woman safety from a woman cop in Nanakpura, Delhi. Need I say anything?

“I know why they are here. They are here for a dual purpose. Get out, get out all of you.” Justice GT Nanavati was invited to a conference on women’s rights. Owing to the controversy on his reports on the 1984 riots, the electronic media hounded him to the FICCI chamber.

I had jumped over the assignment thinking he would be compelled to speak on the Godhra violence as well. Mikes went rolling down the staircase. Mr Nanavati escaped and no one squeaked. Lesson — Don’t misjudge a septuagenarian.

“People think we are like tribal horses killing and fighting each other. The leaders don’t stand for Naga, Meiti, Muslim Tanghkul. All they do is please the Congress leaders in Delhi …” An interview of a Naga and a Meiti, both research scholars at JNU, strengthened the view that their problems make them very much ‘Indian’.

“I haven’t said half the things printed in that report. But tell me why I wasn’t selected…” When an ace hockey player fails to make it to the Olympics squad, he involuntarily becomes slightly less heroic. Warn him against the ‘friends’ in the Press who misquote him. Be a sportsman when you are listening to a defeated sportsman.

“Where are the ethics and oath of Hippocrates? How can the doctor give out so much of information about the donors to the Press?” In 2005, Kolkata-based Amit Banerjee became the father of the first IVF surrogate baby. Supreme Court lawyer Seita Vaidialingam, whom I was talking to on the legal intricacies of such cases, was baffled at the amount of details I had on a Delhi-based donor. Keep the details, but know the ethics.

“For about an hour people thought I was dead owing to a body of a sardar next to mine. They removed the cloth and found me alive…” In the 2005 Delhi serial blasts, Gurvinder Singh was mistaken dead at the Chhehtooti Chowk in Paharganj. Unlike others around him who had lost their lives, limbs, sight and sense of hearing, Singh escaped miraculously. A hawker, he returned to work in a couple of days. Life means labour.

From 10th July 2012 edition of The Pioneer.

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