Here we were, the four of us let loose on the city for a month supposedly on an internship. While some of our journalism batchmates chose newspapers in their hometowns or one of the four Indian metro cities, the four of us slunk into the Bengaluru offices of a newspaper that was fast becoming known for being cosmopolitan, fearless and rather racy compared to the more staid papers that had been on the block for much of our two-decade-old lives.
The first week or so ‘swung by’ in swivel chairs. While the two most enterprising in our foursome were given a few paragraphs to edit or proof-read, I do not recall doing anything productive as I tried my best to meld with the furniture. The enterprising two would bring scraps of information and gossip, buried in which would be a word or two about newspaper workflow and so forth.
We would see staff — mostly women (we were told the editor was fond of a female workforce) — coming in bleary-eyed mid-morning to peruse that day’s edition, have lunch and then set to work on the next day’s edition.
As we inched towards the mid-mark of our one-month stint of work experience, it began to dawn on the staff that these four must be put to some sort of work. So an assignment or two was thrown our way and we trooped out to do the leg-work. It can be revealed these many decades later, that on one such stint, the four of us were so ‘weary’ that we retired to our little flat, cooked us some food and took a nap, reporting back around tea-time to sit in front of computers to clickety-clack our story.
It was nearing the end of our tenure and as yet we had not met, or even had a glimpse of our famed editor, who through innuendo and suggestion came across as thoroughly wicked and roguish and as well known for the sharpness of his intellect as for being a ladies’ man.
And then one day we heard that he had indeed arrived in the city to check on operations here. Shadowy sightings here and there were all we got, as we tried our best to stay out of the way. We seemed to be doing really well at this, as besides everything else we had also heard of his razor-sharp tongue and whiplash wrath.
And here I come to the crux of my anecdote... bear with me. So there I was clickety-clacking a report on a city event. As is usually the case a smart, punchy intro line is always the hardest to achieve. ‘You must hook the reader in,’ I could hear our professor drone in my mind.
A few words, and then scythe-like the delete key would gobble them up. This went on for a few minutes ... when all of a sudden I became aware of a tall presence behind me. Instantly I remembered a joke my grandfather loved to tell, and my mother would often recount. A man, upon discovering the village bumpkin standing behind him reading a letter he was writing, scribbled on: ‘A fool is standing behind me and reading my letter,’ to which the other replied: ‘Of course not, I am not reading your letter’!
Of course, I was not brave enough to write anything of that sort, for I had “spied through the corner of my little eye” that it was indeed the big man, the head honcho himself who loomed behind. As nonchalantly as possible, I tried to continue my report, hoping the presence would move off. Instead came the words loud and authoritarian: “You are writing for a real newspaper. We don’t want any of your school magazine writing here!”
Ouch! That still hurts!
Maria Elizabeth Kallukaren is a freelance journalist based in Dubai.