So here we are then. The last week of a rotten year and I’m wishing that there are more such days scattered over the year that is to come. Why? Well, because I’m on leave that smells like a year-long leave, tastes like a year-long leave, even talks like a year-long leave, but is actually a 10-day-no-questions-asked-except-‘Are you filing your column?’-long leave. And where could I have re-degenerated for a new year battery recharge than in degeneration-friendly Calcutta, that hopelessly limbs akimbo-in-limbo city where buildings peel their skins and structures grow grime right in front of you even as you try to romanticise decay.
The most luscious aspect of my holiday is that I haven’t come near anything that resembles a news delivery system — whether it’s a newspaper or a news channel or a particularly opinionated coffee-slurping person who might have a view on the global financial meltdown or the nature of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami or both. But ironically, as I keep my distance from matters that form an integral part of my day job — information about events as they happen — my mind turns to two famous journalists who have made their reputations not by being good journalists at all.
The first is Tintin, the perennial boy reporter whose far-flung adventures make him a mix of New York Times super-Zen master-dude Tommy Friedman and a de-sexed James Bond with a dog and a tuft. Even as I stroke the sweat off my beer bottle at the dungeon-like interiors of the Olympia Bar and Restaurant (only Calcutta would see this place fit to be considered ‘an institution’), what leaves me puzzled is: who picks up Tintin’s bills? Here’s this reporter — star reporter, to be sure — of the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, travelling to the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, the Middle East, America,
India, South America, Tibet, er, the Moon, having an unlimited expense account. Talk about a walking, talking sub-prime crisis.
And considering he’s such a fine reporter, why haven’t I ever seen him file a story? He came close in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets where he mentions that he’ll be sending a report later.
Instead, he appears as a hero in other peoples’ news reports. Now, that’s the kind of journalistic job I wouldn’t mind having: running around the globe for a scoop that I never have to write or send and still be considered a star journalist.
Then there’s the other famous hack whose work skills I, at least, have never had the pleasure of knowing: Clark Kent a.k.a. Superman. I realise that he doesn’t really need the job and is on the rolls of the Daily Planet simply to keep up the appearance of being a regular guy with a regular job. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t it have been easier for Kal-El alias Superman to maintain the persona of Clark Kent if he was a tax collector or a pharmacist or a keyboardist in a guitar band? And what does he do at the Daily Planet anyway? His crypto-girlfriend Lois Lane may have won a Pulitzer for an op-ed piece or two on Superman. But ever remember seeing Clark’s byline? Does he rewrite copy? Does he make pages? Whatever does he do?
And here’s where my puzzlement triples in intensity to the point of me asking for a beer-chaser: how does the Daily Planet’s chief editor Perry White, an otherwise no-nonsense man, put up with a staff member who vanishes from the office without even a post-it message from time to time? Considering that Clark has to do Superman service every day, that’s a lot of unaccounted-for out-of-office time that the HRD department should take a long look at.
This is not a complaint. I love my job as a journo, especially in these meltdown times. But as I mull over my delightfully vacant, legitimate 10-day leave, I wonder what would have happened if I never sent this column you’re about to finish reading. And how can I keep disappearing once in a while without anyone else noticing.
Ah, but these are theoretical questions. No time to finish my guzzling at Olympia. Gotta run to bust a crime syndicate on Chowringhee. Or, as is more likely the case, save the world even on a perfectly lazy Sunday.