Story of a lost journalist

December 2, 2015

Reality Check and Email Lady

Filed under: Journalism — Cris @ 22:29

I never thought I will have to use words like reality check. But those things are real. They have got to be. It’s like when good times become the norm, they suddenly wake up and remember they have to show up so someone could say, ‘Ah reality check’. Which is what I am going to do. Ah, reality check. It came with an email. Now, when I receive an email from someone I wrote about, my hands usually twitch a bit. Is this going to be good? It has been for a couple of days and I have just about stopped twitching when this unexpected email comes. From a name I did not know. This was not the person I wrote about. This was the person’s mother.

Mother starts it with Dear Cris. But the dearness ends there. Here is an absolute stranger telling me I am an irresponsible young journalist (that’s the silver lining here, the word young), that I have taken advantage of her child’s casual talk and made a story out of it. The story itself is not the problem. Certain lines of it are. And the child here is an adult, about to get married. But I panic of course. I call the person. Person says person is absolutely happy with the story, it is just that the mater is upset by it. But the panic doesn’t die. I write an apology first, but tell person’s mother that nothing has been written without person’s consent. That in fact the lines she objected to were the ones person had specifically asked me to write.

But the email exchange goes on. I forward the first to my boss and as usual, I had not gotten the insults thrown at me. I did not see the irresponsible part, I did not understand the take-advantage part. But that’s the story of my life, I never get insults till it is too late. I am sure the insulters find it embarrassing to insult me anymore. They have to insult me and then take pains of explaining it to me. Much like those who crack poor jokes and then explain them.

All this email exchange is not merely typing sharp words out to each other. It takes something out of you and puts something inside you. No, no this is no drama. Really, I am telling you, this thing called heaviness in your heart is real. I am sure if you go on a weighing machine every time you are upset, you are going to see 10 pounds more. That is the weight of your heaviness, no less.

I twist and twirl in the bed that night, not able to sleep, still composing lines in my head for the email lady. I am told to stop writing, to ignore. I am asked why take these small things to heart. Well, possibly because you can’t tell the small things that they are small and have no business hurting me, so please go away. They don’t really wait for permission to get inside your heart in the first place. And they can’t be thrown out, unless you are one of those yogi types who are said to meditate these guys out and stay detached. I am also glad I wrote to her, because if I didn’t, I would keep composing lines for the rest of my life. That’s what I do. I still go to an eighth standard day to that near-the-toilet classroom we had and tell lines that I think I should have said then, when a group of 13 year old girls stood and mimicked my funny dance steps and I walked in on them. I laugh at it now, laugh at my own non danciness. But my 13 year old self still hurts, and wants to tell things.

Sad, yes, but people are people with their strange little hangovers. I don’t know how many hours I must have wasted telling lines that I should have said and couldn’t say in the far far past. It is a good thing email lady chose email. If she had stood face to face I probably would have done what I did in eighth grade and 20 years later, said things I should have said today.

Mom says these things happen to journalists. Friend says block her. Me, I say, reality check.

November 4, 2014

Being a feature writer

Filed under: Journalism — Cris @ 23:55

Back when i thought i should try journalism, i thought it may not be right for me, cause shurely you had to know a bit about everything, or everything about some bits. And i did not know what happened outside the cubicle i sat in, heck even what happened inside it. i have that gift to be unaware, uninformed, to be everything un. All i knew was i loved to write. My teacher at the journalism class asked me, you want to be a reporter cause you want to be a writer? There, it was spelled out for me, what i want to be and what i was trying to be. Two different things.

It was then i knew about this breed of people called feature-writers. Seemed to me you didn’t need to know all about all, you just had to know about what you wrote and write it well. But my features-writer teacher (Saraswathy Nagarajan) said please students, at least go through the headlines of all the papers and keep yourself informed.

So i tried to do that, and when the first line sounded interesting, that’d lead me to the second and the third. And i thought, maybe here is where writing meets journalism. Here’s why the writeups you write are called stories. Your first line should throw a hook around the reader and keep him tied till your last. i found fun in turning what appeared really boring to me into stories that i liked to read. Yes, it was important i liked it (at least) if another should so much as touch it.

The very rare times i attempted writing hard news, i was told, do not write it like features, here facts are what you need. Not the once-upon-a-time beginnings. It doesn’t still come easy to me and i consider it nothing but luck that someone had invented this art of feature-writing for the ‘Un’s like me. Trying to remove the ‘un’s in me. Trying, as i could, for i am still very limited in my becoming-aware-capabilities. And yet, the moment you spill out the word feature-writer, there is that sag of the eye that looks at you, and you can guess the line of thought. The mere, the lowly, the not-to-be-taken-seriously of journalism. The jobless, the 9-to-5ers, the page 3 yellow news makers of journalism.

And i wonder, really, was it really worth getting my very tiny mind out of my very limited world and putting it out there, to see, to hear, and to be put down so?

February 21, 2014

Season of Offence

Filed under: Journalism,Mishaps — Cris @ 03:21

This season, I proudly declare as the season of offence for Miss Clumsy.

It all started with a comment to a friend who was going to take part in a music festival. Clumsy as usual had no idea about the terms used in the music scene, and called the prestigious festival a ‘competition’. The friend was hurt. How could she say that? It is a derogatory term, a lowly word. Only beginners took part in competitions, not the established. Lesson learnt. Competition is a bad word. Taboo.

Second and a more serious one was on a professional scene. Clumsy asked for the interview of a musician, a veteran. She met him once and exchanged jokes with him and decided he is now a friend. So when he emailed if the interview could be at 8am, she replied happily ‘oh i never wake up at 8, how about 11?’ The man, the veteran was offended. Senior journalists came at 7:30 but little Miss Clumsy over here had a bad attitude. He wrote a sensible but offended mail. She explained, she wrote ‘she is ok with any time, only asked a friendly question’, but too late for amends. Lesson learnt, do not be friendly in a professional scene.

Third is the most innocent situation. Poor Clumsy interviewed a man, let’s call him ‘Abc’ and remembered a song with that name. She asked if everyone sang that to him. And he got offended. He thought she made up that song to mock at him. Lesson learnt again. Never mention songs. In fact no words at all would be a good idea.

It never ends. There are more, but better know when to stop. What if my blog now offends me?

December 30, 2013

A teasy interview

Filed under: Journalism — Cris @ 23:17

There is one of Amma’s famous statements about not having eaten enough iron when she was pregnant with me, and which has made me a really dumb person. She has said this to every friend of mine and, and I have noticed not a flicker in her eye, no sign of a joke. She says it very seriously and my friends nod very seriously. There is a strange unanimity among all when it comes to the topic of my dumbness. So when I tell this story of how a new director teased me, few are surprised.

It was at the time of the film festival earlier this month. I had to call this new director S for a quote.

Cris: This is your first time at the fest, how was it?

S: Good

Cris: Err, can you be a little more elaborate?

S: Ok… Trivandrum looked a lot different this time, than from my previous visits and I thought ‘Aha what a beautiful Trivandrum’. I then went to the delegate cell, and thought, ‘Aha what a beautiful delegate cell’. I parked my car outside in second gear, in case it may fall downhill. I spent some time inside and then went back to my car and listened to some FM Radio. I then drove to the hotel I was to stay. They gave me some papers to sign. And took me to my room. I looked at the room. There was a big window, a double cot, a chair…

Cris (I was busy writing down every word all this while, but suddenly realise something): S, I don’t think I have space to write all that. Can you just give me a shorter comment? (I sound apologetic at having to cut him short)

S (laughs): You can write anything you want kutty, I don’t have a problem.

I narrate the story to Amma later. She says “Ayeee, he teased you”. And yes, it finally strikes me too. “That’s what he did, isn’t it?”
Amma says, “I told you it is that iron. Only you would not understand these things.”

I wonder if my reaction would have been any different if I understood it earlier. I would probably have felt a tad insulted. But that would have been worse, as another episode with a musician B recently revealed. I am not going into that story now. Maybe this is better, to not understand things. And take everything one says to you at its face value, not dig for their hidden meanings. If someone wants to tease me, they have to give me a warning, a very clear subtext. “PS: Cris, I am teasing you”. Would help.

December 21, 2012

Harmville

Filed under: Journalism — Cris @ 02:45

Some madness caught me at midnight to clean my room, last attempted two years ago, when we moved in. There was a lot of dust and a lot of memories. Funnily, both had me sneezing. I came across the bit of paper I used the day I joined Deccan Chronicle on March 7, 2011. I had come without a book or pen and stared blankly, as others, already a week there, seemed to know what they were doing. I was suddenly given an assignment and a lot of contact numbers. I had it all scribbled down on someone else’s paper with someone else’s pen. It was a scary day with new people in a new place. (Long sigh).

I took a break from sneezing to login to Facebook and saw a message from a friend. A friend I had quoted for a write-up more than a year ago. He had seen my last blog post and told me how he and his wife were unhappy with the way I quoted a casual comment he passed. The lovely first day memories and thoughts of ‘creating stories out of everyday life’ suddenly turned ugly. It was now a tirade of ‘I have to quit’s – my immediate reaction to anything bad in the job. I had of course resorted to justify my act, making speeches about never misquoting people till he reminded me what happened. He was busy at the time and since I was chasing a deadline I used a comment he had made earlier on the subject in another email. That comment was of course meant only for a friend, not a newspaper.

A few days ago, another incident had triggered my quitting thoughts. I had blamed then the newspaper system of selfishly putting stories in the name of deadlines and competitions, not caring about people’s feelings. To this friend, I was that system. I don’t think I’d even wondered if it would be a problem to him. That was bad. Real bad.

Maybe I should be a peon, or do my dream-job – waitressing in a faraway land. That way I can never mess with people’s life. The worst I do may spoil someone’s dinner or clothes (spilling curries for instance), which can of course be replaced. Maybe I got off on the wrong foot. I should have become a waitress and kept journalism as my dream job. That way I’d only dream of meeting people and writing their stories. And in dreams, you never bring any harm to anyone.

November 25, 2012

Flip sides of journo life

Filed under: Journalism — Cris @ 14:36

I don’t write here much about the profession, though I have named the blog ‘Lost Journalist’. Think I will narrate a couple of scenarios that says the unpleasant side of being a journo.

1. Annoying people: this is not intentional, but it seems to happen sometimes. Especially when you need to get comments for, well, ‘unpopular’ events. Say, like calling a music director accused of plagiarism to ask his comments… or any individual to take his stand on a controversial piece of news. The incident I am going to narrate however has none of these elements. It was a house to be featured in the paper and when I called the owner for his comments I used his first name. I soon get a message: “Would like a little more respect when u call. We are not on first name terms. Always add a Mr. when u refer me. Call now.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this. When I first joined as a newspaper reporter, I took to calling everyone ‘Sir’ or ’Madam’ cause you never know what they expect. But somehow, with time, this habit faded away. Everyone was calling everyone else by first names. When it was someone senior, we still used Sir. This particular owner, being a young corporate person, I didn’t think much before the controversial first name addressing. Moreover, he was introduced by a friend, as a friend. But I don’t wish to justify. People are different, they have different ideas about respect. And I totally accept his argument. I replied ‘Sorry Mr. (name), seems the corporate culture has spoiled us all. Will spare you from commenting on the house. Thanks.”
Another time was when I called a theatre owner to ask about movie changes. He seemed quite annoyed. “Who gave you my number! Call the theatre!” He kept saying this a few times to make sure I got the message. I did. Whew! Who knew a theatre owner could be so sensitive about naming the movies in his theatre!

2. Wrong news: oh this happens a lot. Knowingly or unknowingly. Some take it well with their ‘it happens’ and ‘we all do it’s. Some of course become very upset and that’s when a journo comes across that most feared three letter word: Sue. I have lost friends from giving wrong last names, for using photos they didn’t approve of, and won stranger enemies swearing to sue me. I took to offering the idea myself after a few bad episodes. Once a photographer was upset we didn’t give him credit after using his photo and I suggested suing me. Nailbitingly I calculated the thousands he’d ask for. Fortunately they all had a heart somewhere and let me off the hook. Well, so far. Any day now I expect to see the insides of the gates from where we buy our chapathis and curries for lunch: the Poojappura central prison. Well if we get the same lunch inside, maybe it won’t be so bad.

May 27, 2012

My first celebrity interview – Anjali Menon

Filed under: Journalism — Cris @ 15:15

My first celebrity interview was in December 2008 – Anjali Menon. It was also my first film fest – well, the first I see. Seeing Manjadikkuru at Kalabhavan back then, I remember running down in my red and white salwar – I remember that cause it matched with her title – little red seeds. I saw Prithvi Raj there, swarmed as usual by a number of fans. I dug out Anjali Menon from the crowd and asked for an interview. The next day I wore my best clothes (well at the time I considered a gypsy red skirt my best) and went, feeling all inexperienced and nervous. I did not have a recorder (still don’t) and I was too scared to note down points when she talked. So I had to write it from memory! But Anjali was an absolute dear :-).

And now as I read it, I can remember vivid details like the floor of her Vazhuthacaud office being washed and fearing if I’d slip and embarrass myself.  I had sent the interview to Saraswathy Nagarajan of Metro Plus who I consider my first journalism guru. Who let me write on the paper before anyone else. (This interview was for another site. )

She said: “The question why she didnt make Vicky a girl is a good one.” I was on cloud 9. I know now this is a really naive first attempt, but it is still mine. Finding this nowhere on the net, I feel free to put it here again, when the film has finally released. Wonder if Anjali remembers this.

The interview

I walked into Little Films India Pvt Ltd and Anjali Menon was already there. She is a debutant director having done a Malayalam movie Manjadikuru which was screened at the 13th international film festival of Kerala. Manjadikuru tells a beautiful story and what makes it special and dear are the people who tell it – children.

I start.
“You are an entirely new face, both to the movie-goers and the general public. How would you like to introduce yourself to the people of Kerala?”

Anjali smiles before she answers.
“I wouldn’t want to talk about myself, I’d rather talk about my movie. And I hope to be known through my movie.”

She is full of excitement and life when talking about her new venture, Manjadikuru. She describes what it meant for children living outside to visit their homeland for vacations. She was a Gulf kid herself and has a thousand things to say about her short vacations to Kerala.
“I have grown up in a number of places. But when someone asks me where I am from, I have my answer all ready. I am from Kerala”

And you find glimpses of herself in the child Vicky who plays the central character and narrator in her movie.
“Yes it’s a lot from my personal life. The experiences I have had and felt when I used to come down.”

But the story was born entirely in her imagination.
“I got this fiction bug somewhere along the line and just had to do a feature film”.

So how did the whole idea come to her? Was she always keen on movies?
“I was actually planning to join the business our family was doing but then I
got interested in dance and music and movies”. She has gone on to do her mass
communication and film school studies thereafter.

And then I ask the unavoidable question. “Did being a woman bring any hurdles in this journey?”
She smiles. “That question has to be there right? Let me ask you, how is it being a woman reporter? How do you feel?”
I was taken aback. “Why, just as usual as anyone else”
“Exactly” she made her point. “Its really about perception. I may say I feel quite at ease as a woman director, but someone else may not feel that way.” There have been instances, she said, when her being a woman had made people ask questions that doubted her ability to do a movie all by herself.

How did she feel about these things? “Are you a feminist?” I ask.
“No, no I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. I don’t want to say that I should be as good as a man in this or that. We are pretty good the way we are and I really enjoy being a woman”

But I press on. “Yes but do you have the freedom to do things the way you want?”
“Yes, I would say so. That’s the way I have been brought up. Mind you, ours is a traditional family in every way and my parents were skeptical when I expressed my desire to enter the film world. But then they let me be. I am quite privileged that way. I haven’t been told ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’”

She goes on. “And women play a big part in bringing up the future generation. She raises her kids, she teaches them values so she is responsible in what kind of an individual they grow up to be.”
Anjali adds thoughtfully “A woman has to be sensitive to everything around her.”

But she agrees that a kind of support was crucial. “That’s the way it works in our cultural setup. As a woman we may have a set of things to take care of. And you don’t want to give up that either. Its really great to actually take on both roles, not giving up either.”

“And if there was someone who says ‘no she is a woman I won’t listen to her?’”
“I would rather avoid having to work with such people, if that’s the attitude they have!”

But the people she worked with, the entire crew was as excited about the movie as she was. They all were eager to be part of the movie as soon as they read the script. And such veteran actors at that – Thilakan, Kavyoor Ponnamma, Jagathy Sreekumar, Urvashi, Murali and so many more.
“That was a list I chose at the very beginning, and it miraculously almost worked out just the way I have wanted it.”

Has she felt the movie went a little unnoticed? “No not at all. Infact for the screening, the Cinema was house full and people were actually sitting on the floor when the seats were filled. I was told that it does not usually happen much for Malayalam movies at the IFFK. Cause you can watch it even otherwise”

She asks me if I watched the movie. Yes I did. “And what did you feel about it?”
I go on to say how brilliant it was. But what I really wanted to appreciate was that she did not use any dubbing artists, she let all the actors speak for themselves. “How come you did that?” I ask.
“Cause that makes it real. It was not all that easy. There were the kids who were not professionally trained in any way. The only way was to put them in their characters and ask them to do it.”

And her ways worked fine. The characters were as real as the people you might see in your life or dig out from your memories. And in this case, Anjali had dug out a lot from her memories. “So why didn’t you make Vicky a girl?” I ask.
“Well no one has asked me that before. But I think it’s because it was really important that Roja was a girl. And Vicky was the coil around her. Their emotions and feelings reflect upon each other.”

She proceeds to talk knowledgeably and passionately about the movie and I think “She is born to be a moviemaker”

But Anjali is modest “This movie is not an Anjali Menon movie – its everybody’s movie. Everyone had a part to play in it. It’s a joint venture”

And if the movie failed?
“Then I am the one who should get the blame. Yes they were all there, but they were working towards reaching the vision I had”

I ask her hopefully “Would you continue in this role?”
“Why not? I am really enjoying myself”, she answers cheerfully

“And what would like to hear about your movie from the people who watch it?”
“Their honest opinion of course. But I should hope that it touches them, that they are able to carry home something from the movie.”

I have a lot more to ask. But the young director was busy and I am thankful she gave so much of her time to me.

More details about the movie and its making is there in her blog http://
luckyredseeds.blogspot.com/

May 1, 2010

Journalistic Troubles – Part 1

Filed under: Journalism — Cris @ 18:23

Since I have proclaimed myself a journalist – a lost one at that – maybe it is time I got around to writing about my journalistic experiences. Not a lot since I am still new in the field and the actual job of reporting started less than 3 months ago.

One of the biggest problems I face now is explaining that I work for a web portal – “it is a newspaper, only it opens in a computer”. They are not happy with my credentials. If it is a paper they could see. One time, I talked to a vegetable vendor to ask her opinion about Tharoor’s resignation. She asked if this would come on “your website”. Yes. Will she be able to get a copy? Sure, come to my office (right opposite her shop). I published my article that day. Next evening my boss called and asked if I promised a certain lady some print-out? Err yes, could you get a print out of the Tharoor opinion piece?

One thing that happens to me a lot – and I want to know if it happens to other new journos – I am asked a lot of questions – some of it personal and having no relevance to the subject in hand. I start with the questions and they answer thankfully, not with a lot of reluctance. When I am done, they start the questions. So are you basically from Trivandrum? Where in Trivandrum? You studied journalism? From where?

Coupla days back I talked to a fruit vendor about hartal and without any hint, he suddenly asked my age. “You are what, 18?”
“No I am above 20.”
“20 what?”
“Not telling you (I surprise myself here).”
“Oh yea, you shouldn’t ask girls their age, but that is really an old theory and it is pretty cheap.”
“Yea maybe but I don’t have to tell my age to each and everyone I talk to.”
“Well, I suppose that is true.”
Hmm, have I started becoming age-conscious? Who am I kidding? I have ever since I crossed 17!

And then there are the little insults. Not exactly insults but being rebuked in public. I took a snap of a drama I went to, to write a review about it. A security guard came and told me not to do that. Suddenly I feel all eyes are on me instead of being on the play. Another time, I click a picture of a temple I pass. A man comes out of the temple and tells me in no soft terms that one is not supposed to take pictures “of any nada”. Darn.

Well I could go on and on. Maybe I will record it as and when something worth talking about happens. Hey I just realized – I am not funny anymore! I don’t like it.

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