When I was a mass communication student in the '90s, I'd listen in rapt attention when journalists would come to our department to deliver a talk. It wouldn't take me long to slip into a daydream as I'd imagine myself as the messiah scribe out to give journalism a new lease of life. Often I'd picture myself as the hotshot reporter who would come up with exclusives on Kashmir and Punjab.
I'd imagine how I'd prod the conscience of readers with reports about life in remote India. How I'd dig out scoop after scoop of scalding, burning truth!
With the naivety that afflicts most rookies, I landed into journalism with gusto. Full of excitement, I chose to intern in a national daily in New Delhi.
I reported for training at sharp 9am but had to cool my heels till 11am when the senior journalist (SJ), under whose supervision I was assigned to work, sauntered in. He welcomed me with a bored yawn. I gushed about how privileged I was to undergo training under such a distinguished journalist and how I aimed to make a difference in the world. He smiled tolerantly, ordered tea for both of us and settled down with a sheaf of papers.
Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I asked, "Shall we go?" He looked amused and asked, "Where?" "To the field," I replied, a trifle taken aback. "I cover medical colleges. We will go to a seminar soon." A seminar? That too a medical one? I used to think there was no reporting as hallowed as political reporting.
I had been hoping of political conferences. Around noon, SJ reared up, picked up his car keys and said, "Let's go". We reached the seminar venue and slid into our seats in pin drop silence. The slow drone of the speaker went on uninterrupted. It was something about appendicitis. "Take down the notes, I'll be back," SJ said, patting his pocket for his cigarette case. Notes? What notes? I wondered. Yet I struggled for it was my first assignment.
SJ returned seconds before the session broke for lunch. I almost fell asleep taking down notes during the post-lunch session. Most medicos around were in various states of repose.
In office, I toiled with the article but to no avail. I didn't know where to begin, forget how to end the report. It was the moment of truth. I needed to learn and fast as the deadline was nearing. SJ seemed unaffected. Finally, when I was at my wits end, he guided me through the exercise.
As I was leaving, one of my seniors accosted me, "Who did you get?" "SJ", I replied irritably. He laughed," Did you cover a seminar?" What was so funny about that, I hissed. "Nothing, except the fact that he covers Parliament but reserves the seminar treatment for over-the-top greenhorns!"