Igor Ovsyannykov photo
My story as an intern is still focused in Lucknow. As I said, the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at Lucknow University had nothing much to offer but the people in and around were interesting in many ways and must get a place in this story….
Dr R C Tripathi, HOD as he likes to be refered to, is a man who cultivated his father’s legacy, to hold the flagship post. He was a typical Hindi man surrounded with only ‘likeminded people’. He was the sole man to run the department and his strength was the veteran man who nourished all of us. We all were dependent on our guest faculty.
Girish Mishra, a journalist with the number one Hindi daily, and who perhaps has never compromised his principles, put forward an insightful view of reporting. Then there was Akhilesh Mishra, another veteran in ‘Gerua Kurta-Dhoti’ who taught us ‘Press Law’. Most of the laws, of press, supreme court rulings, the Constitution of India and political systemwere at his fingertips.
But as I said, I rather used my time after the classes to search for a freelance job, which I got in due course. The department had some amazing students, one an aged Muslim friend, Hassan Ejaz from Aligarh. I have never seen such an enthusiastic and eager to learn fellow with a mastery over the Islam religion.
Pradeep Nair, who later stuck around the department, was another bookworm, who was seldom humiliated by another friend of mine, Ashvini Bishnoi. Ashivini to whom I referred as ‘Ashvini Albela, Lakhon Mein Akela’ was a staunch Hindi supporter who possessed a dominating attitude. He was smart and popular and despite his keen interest in girls, had a cutting edge with his presence of mind.
Mukul Srivastava, who later became a Ph.D holder under Dr Tripathi and is now the only permanent faculty in the department, had a witty and sharp tounge, always pinning me down with his jokes that were crafted only for me.
Bhavna and Sarika were lady attractions in our batch. Yogesh Dixit was our senior, and is now serving with the Hindustan Times group at a senior level. Anwar was the only office assistant-cum-photographer in the department.
And with this powerful team the department was running with all its might. And amidst all this, there was me who was desperately looking to make it in the media, in the politically warm city of Delhi, my efforts resulting in getting published in several newspaper’s feature pages and a couple of jobs offered on a part-time basis.
In addition there were also our late sittings in Lekhraj Towers to have ‘parathas’ and our point of focus on girls at Ashvini’s house, our search for news and current affairs magazines, Manorma year book and literature books. Ashvini’s preference was the Civil Service and now I hope he has made it.
‘Ganzing’ (roaming in Hazrat Ganj–Lucknow’s Heart) was also a daily routine. And there was my attempt to overshadow all of it, for which I seemed to have had ‘Obsessive-Neurosis-Disorder’.
But I was hungrier and was often dreaming of Delhi.
So, I got my way by securing a place in the Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism Program of Delhi University, though I never finished it and returned to the University of Lucknow program.
I remeber when Ashvini came to my rented room three hours in advance and even came to Charbagh Railway Station to help me board the Lucknow mail. And as the train caught speed and made me move faster towards the Media City, Delhi, Lucknow, the city by that time, had left a lifetime imprint, never to be forgotten on me. The year was 1997, the month September.
My first impression I had of Delhi was of a city of ‘Jats’ with a tough tounge in their mouth and a lathi in their hand. But it was also an impression of a city which is the best at imparting education. The first impression though was overshadowing the last. Hence I decided to break my journey in Ghaziabad and landed in a small apartment of my relatives.
The very next day I had to submit my fees to the South Campus of Delhi University and took a DTC bus from ALT to Shiva Ji Stadium, Cannaught Place. I thought that after one hour long journey I would have reached DU, but I was still only in the middle of my journey as confirmed by a DU girl sitting on the adjacent seat. I was in the heart of the capital of India and was required to change the bus, so again took bus no. 620 which penetrated the Ring Road at Moti Bagh passing through India Gate, Chankya Puri and Shanti Path. Here I was able to visit some pictursque monuments and places of Delhi.
Anyhow I changed the bus again and took a Mudrika Ring Road sewa to Dhaula Kuan and entered the South Campus of Delhi University.
The department was and still is in bad shape. Much to my shock it was the poorest department in all the universities running Mass Communication courses and since it was attached to the Hindi Department, the administration hardly cared about it. There was no permanent faculty and with just an office assistant, Pradeep Budhiraja, and a vetearn academician and HOD of DU’s Hindi Department ,Prof Nityanad Tiwari, was administered.
The very same moment I introduced myself to Mr Budhiraja, I decided that I was not going to finish the course and would certainly go back to Lucknow University. But I had to save my back. I found myself unable to tell my father, where I was actually stuck, so I decided to face the challenge.
Also there was a charm to being in Delhi and its powerful media circle, which was my priority. So to get an excuse to remain in Delhi and meet its media people, I joined the course.
The second big challenge was to find a cheap and good room in a nearby location. Hence I started weighing my options and running around to find the right accommodation…
I spent the initial two months with a military family in Delhi Cantt. It was nice seeing India’s defense forces and its amazing people walking around. But my hunt for an independent shelter continued. While on the way to South Campus from Delhi Cantt one day, a person told me about localities in Palam Vihar and Mahipalpur. So after the classes I searched out this place near IGI airport on NH-8. The place, a ‘Jat’ village, metamorphoses into a rich village with a five star hotel Radison in its surroundings and the IGI airport two kms away; unique in many a sense.
I landed up in one house asking for a cheap room room at a cheaper rate. The fat lady asked for Rs.1000 Rs/month but I finally negotiated it for on Rs. 750 per month. The most attractive thing were the tiny dhabas just outside the village (let’s not call it a village as it had the above features in its surroundings) and awesome people in it. The first time I saw the Jat culture I instantly liked it. I firmly believe that this community can never be changed whatsoever. They are born to dominate.
The room was shared by one of my fellow classmates who later left as he got another cheaper room.
This is the place which changed my perception towards life and really cultivated an attitude which was never liked by others. However I regained my ‘sophisticated behavior’, which is my weak defeating point to date.
I still miss Mahipalpur and its people, a lot.
Manoj Dubey was the man who phoned me first about my selection in the DU course and he was the first man to make me feel stuck about the student lobby in DU. A man in his early thirties and a civil services aspirant, he joined the course to leave an option in case he did not get selected in IAS. However he never succeeded in his goal and I do not know where he is and how far he has travelled in the media.
Brajesh Mishra, a young boy from Patna with a humorous personality and a relaxed approach towards the media, was the second person who caught my attention. He was my fellow traveller in the journey through the media and even interned with me in ZEE news. He is a tall man, always liked by the girls, and he made me laugh whenever I found it hard to make it in the media. I never saw such an energetic fellow who achieved success at an early stage. He is now working as Bureau Chief of Patna bureau of Zee News.
Next is the story of Manish Kumar Jha, a man who never gave up whatsoever no matter what kind of difficulties he faced. He was staying in Munirka village in a tiny room, almost half of which was occupied by tons of books, all paperbacks and published by Raj Kamal. Name a Hindi book and it was there in his room.
And then there was Vikram Sharma, a man who was from the lot of goalless creatures in south campus where he roamed around without even bothering to enrol in any course. A staunch RSS supporter, I saw him arguing within each and every corner of south campus on any issue which involved even a tiny mention of RSS. I admired his cynicism.
And then there was a lobby of civil service aspirants which was very regular to south campus just for the sake of the library. The head of this lobby was Suresh Vashistha, a bald man who always looked like he was in his late thirties and never like a civil service aspirant. He later made it to the top 20 list of IAS, who went the way of LBS in Mussoorie.
Sarvada Nand, how I can forget a man who was always trying to impress you without any reason, always intorducing himself with a soft voice; (however he never succeeded in it). Sarvada was in the Cold War era with Suresh Vashishtha but as I said, he never succeeded as Suresh had a long fan following in the South Campus.
Amidst all this, there was me, a rather young boy who, in whatever way was always busy making dozens of calls to media persons, editors and correspondents to meet him in order to get a foothold in the media.
The cynicism and persistence of making phone calls, sooner, was going to give him results…
Very soon, we all turned the South Campus into our second home. It became our shelter for the day and sometimes even for the night (an unofficial residence for some of us). It was only here we discovered what we had to choose to decide our destiny.
As for me, I converted it into a mini office for myself, especially the yellow phone booth inside the arts faculty building and the PCO just close to its gate.
The first phone call I made was to Mr Madhukar Upadhyaya. As soon as I rang him on his BBC number, a soft voice transfered the call to him. Many of us across the listenership of the BBC Hindi Service might agree about the magical pitch, intensity and volume (we studied all the characters on voice modulation of his voice. “Hello” he uttered. I held my breath and asked him for his permission to give me an appointment to meet him in his office.
And as promised some eight odd years back, he agreed and called me at 3pm the very next day. This might turn into a decisive moment, I thought. I collected all my paper clipings which I had published in Lucknow, my certificates (this was a common practice for me whenever I got a chance to meet any significant person to show my ‘might’ through certificates – I don’t know if I ever succeeded in my attempt) and reached at 3:15, late by a full fifteen minutes.
He was busy writing his script (news story) and with his magical smile, very politely reminded me that I was late. With all my courage and softness I asked him to give me a chance for an internship at the BBC. I am still not sure to this day what he had said, but when I came out of the office the beautifully crafted receptionist smiled at me. And it was then I realized I was going to spend a couple of months in the magical realm of the BBC and its marvelous people.
This was the beginning of my cynicism in making phone calls, collecting phone numbers and asking the media giants to give me an opportunity, which I now feel has developed into my weak point as I felt that I was begging for something. There is a saying ‘beggars can’t be choosers have no choice.’
I am sure that as far as people in the media are concerned there are only two male exceptions where this ‘beggar’ phenomenon did not appy, these being Mr. Madhukar Upadhyaya and Mr Rajdeep Sardesai.
Yes, the ladies in the media were always my inspiration, whosoever came my way.
The next call I made was to Mr Rahul Dev (a man with whom I opted to meet thirteen times, and at every time he agreed) and to Nalini Singh’s office.
Not to say the South Indian man and his beautiful canteen inside the South Campus had been feeding me and even intentionally still asking me whether or not I had got my lunch. Murthy’s canteen had been a place from where I bought my lunch everyday, and sometimes dinner too. I do not know the reason. Was it good food or Murthy’s affection? I do not know if I still owe a debt of at least a thousand to him!…
Rahul Dev, at that time, was heading a program which by then had created waves in Indian media circles, and every journalist was willing to take a chance during that half hour of charisma in the Indian Television News industry.
Aaj Tak, conceptualised and designed by the late Mr Surendra Pratap Singh, was a half an hour current affairs and news show on DD Metro that had become a destination point for many of today’s achievers in the media. Surendra Pratap Singh was a man who had created history as the editor of the Nav Bharat Times and Anand Bazar Patrika Ravivar at a very early stage of his life as a journalist. A man without any bias, he was an articulate journalist, and moreover a good human being. He died of a brain heomopharage in 1997. I never got a chance to meet him sadly.
Rahul Dev was his successor at TV Today. I called him one Sunday seeking an appointment, and without realizing his busy schedule, started telling him about myself and my reasons for wanting to meet him. Without taking any interest in my story he asked me to meet him at 4pm on Wednesday.
As I have narrated earlier, I prepared all my documents and rushed a full hour early to the Aaj Takoffice, at that time in the Inner Circle in Connaught Place. Monika was the receptionist at TV Today. I waited for quite some time, and then his secretary Shashi directed me to a huge office where a bearded man was sitting, speaking on the phone with a relative, perhaps his Mama. I took a seat and raised my hands to rub my sweating face.
His shrewd eyes instantly noticed and captured my wristwatch. “Ghadi Badi Mehangi Hai,” he said.
“Sir, gift me mili hai,” was all that I could reply, without revealing the fact that it was worth a mere hundred rupees, purchased from the Connaught Place market.
We conversed for twenty minutes and then he directed me to Mr Waheed Naqvi, his deputy at Aaj Tak. Midway through talking to Mr Naqvi, I noticed Deepak Chaurasia shouting at one of his copywriters. Waheed Naqvi did not take more than a minute to reject me – I was quite unexperienced and was still to finish my study course, which he had already understood.
I had no words to describe my psychological state. The earth and sky were spinning before my eyes. I took a round of the Inner Circle in that state of mind and bought a cold drink to relax my mind. This was normal practice for me for the series of rejections I faced in the media industry.
After that, I must have made about two dozen phone calls to Rahul Dev. One time he came to the phone and agreed to give me an appointment. But I never disclosed why I could not join him, or what Mr Waheed Naqvi had said to me.
I have no regrets or complaints for either, Rahul Dev or Waheed Naqvi. Three to four years later when Sanjaya Pugalia took over from Rahul Dev, I met him also, but then he was moving to Mumbai to start a new venture.
South Campus had been my shelter and headquarters upon returning from each interview. I came back to the nice surroundings to meet my friends and to have lunch at Murthy’s canteen. That is how we all – Sarvada, Vikram, Brajesh, Manish,Vashistha and CK spent our days in South Campus.
Those were hard days for all of us, and we will never forget South Campus, and how it sheltered us all.
My journey, which began in Lucknow, was taking a tough turn, but I was determined like a rock that I would make it – whatever it took.
And destiny was awaiting me at the BBC, and Mr. Madhukar Upadhyaya finally promised me an internship there.
This was the time when India was experiencing the satellite television revolution. There were only couple of channels; Zee, NDTV-Star, Jain and TVI. The BBC by that time had shut down its half an hour show on Home TV.
The journey was tough, but so was the traveller.
This was the summer of 1998. The story was unfolding and so were the wings of time for the Indian news industry.