M.L. Kak calls this personal account of his 40-plus years in journalism, much of it spent in Jammu and Kashmir by a quirk of fate, an "untold story of Emergency". The subtitle is somewhat misleading. But the book is readable and informative and at times even racy.
Although coming from a family of journalists, Kak was an unwilling entrant into the profession. But once he chose it, he embraced it with passion.
Kak was no political activist. But Haryana's then powerful chief minister Bansi Lal, who had become a Man Friday of Sanjay Gandhi, hated him. So when Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in June 1975, Kak found himself in prison, spending weeks with political leaders he used to interview for a living. By the time Indira Gandhi, following appeals by Kak's friends, ordered the innocent man's release, he too had begun to hate Bansi Lal.
But this is more than a saga of the Emergency. It is a cocktail of all that Kak underwent as a long-time Tribune staff writer, first in Hisar (Haryana) and then in Jammu: hard work, learning the ropes, pettiness in newsrooms, scoops and disappointments, and financial hardships.
"In the initial stages of my career I had a wrong notion that meeting ministers and bureaucrats along could provide material for good stories."
Kak, whose career ended in 1990, would go anywhere chasing a story. Once on the Haryana-Rajasthan border, a humble tea vendor revealed how police connived in the smuggling of food grain. To make up for his poor salary, Kak contributed stories on the sly for The Motherland, the erstwhile Jana Sangh paper. After a small time journalist tipped off the Tribune, Kak begged Motherland editor K.R. Malkani to issue a letter naming a Misri Lal as the Motherland's stringer in Hissar. "It was a big lie on my part. I could not afford to be truthful like Mahatma Gandhi... If I had not played the trick, I would have lost the (Tribune) job."
Kak's observations on the VIPs of Haryana and Kashmir make for great reading. Bansi Lal's undoing, he says, was his arrogance. Bhajan Lal, later a terror, would never dare to take on Bansi Lal - at one time. There was a socialist leader who would often travel over 90 km by bus to Hisar only to get his statement published in The Tribune!
There were politicians in Kashmir who regularly sought Kak's opinions on various issues. He speaks glowingly of Moulvi Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone, both of whom were assassinated. In response to The Tribune's request, Kak asked Union Minister Farooq Abdullah if he planned to marry Bollywood's sultry Rekha. Pat came the reply: "If at all I have to marry, why wouldn't I go for a younger actress like Sridevi?" Kak promptly filed the story but The Tribune junked it.
The book's biggest drawback is sloppy editing.