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Grim incidents from a journalist’s life

mumbai Updated: May 01, 2011 01:31 IST
Sumana Ramanan
Sumana Ramanan
Hindustan Times
Sumana Ramanan

In the nearly three years that I have been Readers’ Editor and have been writing this column, I have tried to be a fair intermediary between HT’s readers and its journalists. Along the way, I have also tried to provide glimpses into the daily pressures and dilemmas that confront journalists, again in the hope of strengthening the bond between the newspaper and its readers.

But this fortnight, for the first time in these three years, I don’t have a strong reader’s letter to address in this space, so I am being self-indulgent and writing about two incidents from my own experience as a journalist. One, a recent incident, illustrates how journalists frequently confront the unexpected while the other is a tragi-comedy of errors.

In early April, I learnt that the 80-year-old Madhav Gudi, one of the late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s senior students, was to perform in Mumbai, at the Karnatak Sangh in Matunga (W) on the 24th of the month.

Gudi, who lives in Dharwad, was coming to Mumbai after a long time, so I decided to write a brief preview of the concert for HT’s Saturday features page called ‘Your Weekend Fix’, which was to appear the day before the concert, on April 23.

Two days before that, I called Gudi’s home in Dharwad to talk to him and find out what ragas and compositions he was thinking of singing. His daughter Anupama picked up the phone and asked me to call her at noon the next day because she wanted to check with the organisers at the Karantak Sangh before talking to the media.

When I did call the next day, she haltingly told me that her father had passed away early in the morning. Although I was more than a little stunned, I continued talking to her mechanically. He had been diagnosed with bladder cancer just two weeks earlier and had been shifted to the hospital, she said. He seemed to be recovering, and had even sung raga Miyan ki Todi in the morning and bhajans in the evening, she said. “It was horrible,” she said. “We can’t believe it.”

I listened, interjecting with a few questions here and there, said I was very saddened and then hung up. I then went on to make alternative arrangements for the slot we had set aside for the preview.

The other incident harks back to 1997. I had written a story on the challenges facing Marathi films after the unexpected success of one called Sarkarnama. After being vetted by two other editors, the story duly appeared in the magazine I was then working for. Two days later, a man called me and asked me, “Madam, what do you mean by ‘the late Dada Kondke’?”, referring to the maker of raunchy Marathi films whom I had mentioned in the article.

Puzzled, I replied, “That he is no longer alive.” “But he very much is alive,” the man said. Stunned, I stuttered, “Oh, um, well, we’ll issue a correction” and quickly hung up.

I sheepishly explained to the editor what had happened. I had just returned from 18 months abroad, so perhaps I got him mixed up with someone else, I suggested.

“We’ll have to apologise to his family,” replied the editor, not as sternly as he might have because he had also vetted the story.

So we sent off the apology. After the magazine went to print, I again received a phone call from the same man, “Do you know what happened?” he asked. “No,” I replied, hastily adding, “We have issued an apology. It will appear this week.”

“But Dada Kondke has passed away,” the man replied.

It was true. As I went home in the evening, I saw a headline in the Marathi evening papers announcing the bleak news.

We at the magazine decided not to issue a correction to the apology, which ended with “…Kondke is very much alive.