Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Emperor's New Clothes


Kidex got over. Yahoo. Kidex is an exhibition for children organized by CII and so on and so forth. We had a stall there and apart from this, we also had 'young journalists' covering the 3-day event. Every time the bossman called me in to talk about Kidex, I'd think about JEDDIX and would want to laugh very badly. It's good to carry forward a giggly juvenile strain into adult life. If there had been CCTV in office, I'd probably lose my job for being mentally unstable since I tend to laugh hysterically all by myself in the bathroom or in the pantry for no apparent reason.

These 'young journalists' were a bunch of 8th/9th standard kids from 3 city schools- 2 English medium and 1 Tamil medium. Their job was to bring out a newspaper each day, covering the previous day's events. We did a 3-hour workshop for them on journalism a week before the exhibition kicked off. How to interview people who won't talk, how to interview people who won't stop talking, how to interview boring people and make them interesting, how to use your Press card to get past Security, how to appear knowledgeable when you have no clue as to what's happening etc etc. I've never had a job as a journalist as such, but journalism had been a part of my profile when I was in the development field.

I've done interviews of all sorts of people- brusque cops who are nervous about their English, doctors in remote areas who write their medical records under the streetlights, oily government officials who'll try to charm you with gallons of tea, children on ART medication who don't know why they have to miss school for hospital, men who cry because they passed on the virus to their wives and kids, transgender women who are more interested in my nose ring than in my questions, sex workers who are tired of being pushed into rehab- it's been a busy life, alright. More often than not, people will talk to you if you show them that you aren't going to pass judgment on their stories. That you won't cringe and run away in embarrassment if they tell you about their lives. And though they're scared, ashamed, and beaten, they'll talk to a stranger who comes to them with the promise that s/he will write their stories for the world to know. Many of the interviews I did were for government clients. Projects funded by UN agencies. Has the state of the poor improved. Have the disabled become happy. Has discrimination ended. Has harassment reduced. Have balloons made up for sexual abuse. So on and so forth. And often, I'd have to make my reports sound optimistic because I was writing this for clients who wanted to create change without doing much. Give a man with no legs a goat. Let him feed the goat and sell its meat when it grows big enough. Yippie- we've emancipated one man with no legs. "The differently abled man thanks the _____ Project for its timely intervention in providing him with a goat." My clients loved my vocabulary.

And so, under my experienced and pep-it-up brand of journalism, the kids did a great job in covering the exhibition. They made Surjit Singh Barnala, the Honourable Governor, who cut the ribbon and inaugurated the exhibition, appear terribly dynamic. The man went around in a golf car surrounded by several safari-suited men who were doing a Jaragandi-Jaragandi with the crowd. One child, barely five or six, excitedly declared, “That’s Manmohan Singh!” Another shook his head at this ignorance and gently broke the news that this was actually Abdul Kalam. One lady told our journalist team that children were not allowed to take pictures of the Governor and would they please put their cameras away? I wonder if this is really a law etched somewhere. I had to intervene and explain as to why these children wanted to take pictures of the Governor. Normal children don’t care about the Governor, really, but these were journalists. The lady relented grumpily and said they could take photographs, but no autographs. That broke the children’s hearts obviously, since they’d learnt the man’s name only that morning.

This was a children’s exhibition, so the Governor was cordoned away from children. He was the exhibit of the moment. When this hullabaloo which lasted for approximately three minutes ended, the kids went off to cover the stalls which were marginally more interesting than a turbaned man who mumbled something in between smiles.

When the newsletter came out the next day, one officious young man from the organizing committee asked us why we’d put the Governor on Page 2. I told him that this was because Page 1 had the Editorial. But the officious young man informed me that this was a heinous crime because the Governor was Page 1 news. Apparently, this would lead to several complications. I wished him all the very best with the complications and continued eating my Nissin Cup Noodles with great relish. This was supposed to be a newsletter about a children’s exhibition written by children. If they didn’t think the Governor was interesting, he wasn’t. None of us adults find the Governor and these tremendously boring ceremonies interesting either. We tolerate them because nobody will be amused if I suddenly roll on the ground and yell saying I’d rather watch Pogo than this man in a golf car. But if we had a choice, if we could just walk away, if we could spill juice all over the floor and make flower patterns with it, if we could loudly command- MAKE IT STOPPPP- many of us would.

The kids had a blast. I was shocked by the number of parents who took the trouble of dragging their progeny to such a crowded place when it was raining cats and dogs outside. The place was full of kids eating candy, popcorn, and noodles. When I went to the bathroom, there was a Malayali lady who was loudly berating her child for eating so much. She kept asking this three year old who had just finished puking and was calmly regarding her with a mild interest, why it had to do this in every exhibition it went to. I was deeply moved by this lady’s relentless courage in bringing this child to exhibitions year after year.

There was a drawing competition going on and several middle-aged, graying fathers were seriously completing the artwork of their impatient children. The kids had decided they’d had enough after making a few crayon marks on the paper. But the daddies plodded on to finish the paintings, braving the punches and head knocks that their kids gifted them with.

The young journalists team also got a chance to go for a Press Meet with Vishy Anand and they were totally kicked. They even asked him five or six questions- more than any reporter from any other channel did! The team brought out two reasonably good newspapers on the exhibition and went home feeling highly accomplished. I went home thoroughly exhausted by 3 days of non-stop noise, yelling (at DTP people, Production people, Printing people, Delivery people), and responsibility.

Today is my compensatory day off. And I’m going to watch Vaaranam Aayiram tonight…at last.


hamsini said...

I read a report in the Express about the vishy Anand event and it had a line or two about the "young journalists" from chandamama! your work sounds awfully fun!!

and i was so able to relate to the paragraph about writing about HIV affected people- as part of my course I'm interning with an NGO and thats what i've been doing..

vishesh said...

ha you seem to be leading the good life :) Here i am wondering what will convince my wonderful accounts and BS teacher that i actually read BS and give me more than the 89 he gave me last time.Well all i can think of writing is blogging is the best of form of communication and there is a particular aunty who happens to write using the pseudo brownie... :P you visit here blog and you can improve your vocabulary and shout something new in class instead of bloody nonsense,rubbish fellow,good for nothing,that sowcarpettai(at those marwaris)

See aunty we do need education :)

Neo said...

sounds like u had fun..but how was V1000...


Neo said...

[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]-->

wats that...programing...codein Gender majors blog...

Visitor said...


Visitor said...

@vishesh - LOL :D

GB said...

@Hamsini- HIV is where all the money is. I got so tired of HIV...every goddamn project we got was on HIV.

@Vishesh- Which school do you go to?

@Neo- Vaaranam is a three hour item number performed by Surya. Not complaining because am badly in need of some eye candy, but I wish the film had a plot. And what programming code?

@Visitor- Don't encourage people auntying me!!

Anika said...

i hate people who tell you how to do your job when they are in no way involved in your field. it's irritating more than anything. i have sources who tell me what angle to take for my story and how to shoot. do i tell them how to write a book or drive a car or govern the nation? no! then they should all just shut up. including the governor and his men. bleddy idiots. okay sorry, i am totally numb. what is happening to our country?!

. said...

The crown! What about the crown that Anand had to wear?! Vote for Anand-Anju bobby George 09.

GB said...

@Anika- Yeah, there were some fools offering advice to the commandos also. Like they know how to hide and shoot better. All CR variety, wanting to own every single human thought.

@.- Haha...that was an exclusive news report I gave you! I got tired of writing and stopped :D

vishesh said...

Chinmaya Vidyalaya,taylors road,kilpauk,chennai-10 :)

GB said...

@Vishesh- Ah yes, it is a rather Sowcarpettai school :D If you want to learn to abuse in style, you should join a government office. I spent most of my time writing long, stylish, stinging letters of abuse to my colleagues there inside my head. It develops one's character.