I am the Political Editor with the Hindu BusinessLine.

Poornima Joshi

Let us start at the beginning

Poornima Joshi | Updated on April 16, 2020

Surviving Self-Distancing - Day 20

There’s a blood bath in the media; friends, colleagues losing jobs and salary cuts. I watch it with dread and brace myself for what lies ahead by holding on to my lifelong love for newspapers. I’ll start where hope, joy, effervescence began – on the third floor of Link House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg where Vinod Mehta had relaunched The Pioneer. And where I found my first job as a junior reporter in the city section. In the big bad city where I had trouble crossing the road and find my way around, I had truly come home. This was where characters, madness, late night duties, romances everything merged with absolutely bloody great journalism.

There was Pravin Jain, Manish Swaroop and Yadavji and the photographers and the dark room assistant whom Vinod suspected of smoking pot in the dark room and the bathroom. And there was Paranjoy Guha Thakurta who headed the business section, sported a ponytail and actually did smoke pot with Ganesh Swaminathan in the staircase. And there was Sudhir Dhar the cartoonist with whom Pravin fought week after week over the front page displays. “I need at least six columns on the front page for this,” he insisted, about a picture of a comely Hyderabadi girl who was rescued from being sold off to an Arab Sheikh. This was the pre-digital era when they still developed black and white prints and the picture was indeed classic. Dharsaab of course didn’t want his cartoon space taken away and Vinod sat, semi-somnolent, waiting for the arguments to begin which they did. “Why so much space? We’re not into art or anything yaar,” said Raminder Singh, the Executive Editor at which Pravin flung the picture across on to long table around which everyone in the news meeting sat, pushed his chair back and stormed out. The picture did appear on the front page but not six columns as I remembered. This was in the early 1990s and I can say without any hesitation that Pravin continues to have the same passion for a good story and is among the best photo-journalists in the country; he’s the only one I know who has been tracking the Corona lockdown all over the country since the day it began. He is in Jaipur right now, having travelled along migrants who walked back to UP and their quarantines. Today, when whatsapp groups are imploding with reports of job losses and salary cuts in media organisations, Pravin has a story of a Hindu cancer patient who died on the street in Jaipur and the Muslims who collected money and cremated him with all the rituals. He has pictures and stories and that’s what we do. Jobs come and go but journalism is what remains, alive and throbbing. There’s History unfolding around us and we’re here to document it in its granular detail.

So, it’s with affection and humility that I look back at the people with whom I learnt my craft and learnt to live my life. And they were and still are, among the best and that made them create so much joy in everyday life and work. Because what is life if it isn’t for the joy of what we do. I was a later entrant in The Pioneer so I didn’t have the fortune to meet the legendary Ram Kankanala who would finish an edit early in the morning on his typewriter while still nursing a colourless drink which he thought that everybody thought was water but everybody knew was alcohol. “So, what is it, vodka or gin?” Vinod finally enquired. “It’s white rum,” he mumbled. He had tipped a bottle into the office coffee machine once. And there would be empty quarter bottles stuffed in his cupboard while he had taken six months’ salary in advance and managed to borrow money even from Vinod. Vinod, by the way, could never be accused of sparing an extra penny and never believed in paying good salaries to journalists. When I joined, I was promised Rs 3500 but that was before Vijay Simha, the rake, the charmer and my boss the Chief Reporter ushered me into Vinod’s room for a final introduction. All Vinod did was to look up for two seconds and nodded his dismissal and before I was even out of the door, I heard him call Vijay back and say, “She’s straight out of college, what the fuck does she need 3500 for?” And so, the salary was suitably amended and I got Rs 3000 as befitting my station as “the new girl” which is how I got referred to till Vinod got sacked.

There was Sumer Lal, the great Sunday features head with Ajaz Ashraf and different theme page – environment, gender et al -- which The Pioneer started and later became a trend in other papers. I graduated from covering the Delhi zoo and environment to district courts, crime and water and electricity supply and municipal corporations and then after Vinod was sacked, AKB (A. K. Bhattacharya who later moved to the Business Standard) joined without Vinod’s eccentric genius but with a lot of professional ethic, values, straightforward journalism and discipline. We all moved on but what has remained is a lifelong passion for our craft and I owe a great deal of it to The Pioneer and all the people who worked there.

Published on April 16, 2020

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