3.30 AM. The cursor is blinking on the white page of the word document that has been getting filled at a snail’s pace for the past 4 hours. Perhaps it is the jinxed laptop, perhaps it is my sleepless mind playing games but somehow the blinking of the cursor seems to be a mockery dance… a dance in mockery of my plight; a plight that I often bring on to myself called deadline battle.
‘Gandhi Park in need of a face lift‘ – goes the headline. With my sleepless ghost beaten face, I wonder who is in a more pressing need for a face lift – me or the Gandhi Park. Suddenly, everything seems to be moving about in a blurred merry-go-round before the eyes – the park, the manager, the watchman, the children and memories of yet another adventurous reporting trip. A reporter has to, above everything else, be a shameless salesman – my first reporting assignment had taught this lesson and taught it well. A salesman has to pursue people and push them to buy. Well, a reporter does the same, only he pushes them to talk.
Born with a recessive salesman gene, I had wandered about the park, hoping…hoping what? That the citizens of the town would queue up to talk to me? I entered and stood…and waited…. and waited. The children dint care. Well, they wouldn’t have cared even if Gandhi himself had come to the park. By the time I had doted on the kids, the defensive instinct of the mother birds had already marked me suspicious and made no effort to conceal it in their looks. I zoomed in on one lady, who was busy swaying the swing that her kid was in. She was standing alone; worked in my favour (for self-defence reasons). Corner of her eye, she had already caught me approaching. By the time I neared her, she was half poised for attack.
“Hi! I am a journalism student. I am doing a story on this park and its popularity. What do you feel about the maintenance of this park?
It’s okay? Hello Woman, I waste such a big well rehearsed introduction on you and you say okay? What is okay? This is NOT okay! Your sense of courtesy is not okay. Your observation about the park is not okay and most importantly, your boy shrieking there at the top of his lungs is definitely not okay!”
I nod and give a polite smile. “I see but what about the haywire drainage and water leaking all around the place?”
“That is ok”
And so it continues. By the time I was done with one woman who dint like wasting words, it was daunting to go and start the process all over again with another. Interaction with the ‘masses’ was supposed to be fun. I learnt that interaction and interrogation were two different things. The latter was not all rosy and exciting, especially when you don’t have the authority to interrogate. I am not the head of CBI. Who are we kidding? I am a student who is literally begging for favours from strangers to finish my report.
4.50 AM. “Gandhi Park remains an undisputed winner in people’s minds despite its blemishes” – I wind up the report with the closing sentence. Tomorrow, to many of its readers, this report is authority. Words look powerful and larger than life. The people quoted in it are smart, wise and know it all. The writer was a brave, intelligent journalist who was bright enough to uncover the misery of Gandhi Park, having spoken to hundreds of courteous citizens.
In a town of 500, 5 people take part in a singing contest. The winner is declared ‘The best singer of the Town’. And the media lived happily ever after.