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The Chai-Biscuit Journalists

Mohammed Wajihuddin

Mohammed Wajihuddin

By Mohammed Wajihuddin

On Thursday (September 24, 2020) a group of Television journalists standing outside Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) office in Mumbai were seen exchanging blows among themselves.

Reason? Two journalists of a channel who had swooped down from Delhi derisively called the local channelwallas “Chai-Biscuit Patrakars” looking depressed and doing nothing while they (the Delhiwallas associated with a very nationalist, patriotic channel) alone were reporting.This irked the sons-of-the soil (were there some daughters too?) Patrakars who didn’t take the crassly condescending comments on their chin. As the locals flared up, fist fight began with just two constables trying desperately to stop the rival groups from showing their “muscle power” right on the road. The two sides calmed down but only after they became a spectacle for the nation. They also exchanged some choicest abuses, beeped out by the channels for the larger aam junta but viral videos of the fight did carry the ” gaalis”.

Since superstar and girl of millions of young wet dreams–Deepika Padukone–was to depose at the same NCB office next day, the journos needed to save their energy, both vocal and physical. I hope the acrimony ended over Mumbai’s own famous cutting chai with some biscuits.

As I heard the condescending remark “Chai Biscuits Patrakars” for some journalists by some other members of the tribe, it took me back to my journalism school at K C College located at the posh Churchgate area of South Mumbai in the mid-1990s.Most of our batch of 30 or so came from low strata. If a few belonged to the upper crust, they didn’t show it off. Even those came in branded clothes and wore expensive watches and shoes mixed with us who didn’t care if we had picked up our shirts from the roadside hawkers at the Flora Fountain.We were on the threshold of a career in journalism with more idealism than a hope of making money. “If some of you want to be materially rich, this is not the right profession to choose. Here integrity counts and odd working hours will demand a lot of moral courage and physical fitness,” said our teacher V Gangadhar. A product of old school of Journalism, Mr Gangadhar had cut his teeth in the profession with honour and respect. Having worked for dailies like The Times of India and The Indian Express, at one point in the mid-1990s he freelanced for half a dozen publications. Some of us swallowed his words as mantra for success in our uncharted journey.

Young professionals who enter the “media market” today may laugh when I tell them my first salary in 1998 was Rs 3500. Yet we worked with a zeal and took pride in what we did. There is no point being in a job you don’t like or don’t value. Journalism then was not a vehicle to instant stardom but a tool to fight for the underdog, a medium to give voice to the voiceless.

Unlike “conscience keepers” who show more theatrics than anchoring, we didn’t shout that “the nation wants to know”, but tried to set an agenda for better tomorrow for a nation which looked up to us. The people respected us for our honesty and integrity. We didn’t take side, seldom colluded with crafty, corrupt politicians and never stooped low to lick the boots of ministers. Journalism should work as an adversary of rulers was the line cast in gold for us. Of course there were some black sheep too but they could be counted on fingertips. Unlike today’s army of uncouth, irritable, arrogant anchors, we print journos and even the few who had joined in the yet to become such a big Television news industry, news was sacrosanct and newsmen and newswomen commanded respect. They were not butt of jokes as they are today.

The highly respected late Vinod Mehta writes in his autobiography “Lucknow Boy” that “tea is oxygen to journalists.” Very true. There was a time when seniors in the profession told you that 2Bs (Books, Booze) and 1T(Tea) described a true journalist. If reading was not your passion, you had no business to remain in this business. Back then journalists read, and they read more than their own stories. Today’s WhatsApp University has produced an army of ignoramuses, including those who masquerade as journalists. In the era of post-truth and fake news, many charlatans in the guise of journos cheat, deceive, misguide, misinform and mislead the public. Yeh public sab janti hai and it takes the news and views dished out to it with a heavy dose of salt.

Yes there are honourable exceptions. They may belong to the “Chai-Biscuit” category but they keep their heads high. They may not move in SUVs and may not afford to wine and dine at fancy restaurants but they are true to their calling. Their calling is telling the news, undiluted and unalloyed. They don’t look over their shoulders lest they get a tap from their “political” bosses. They avoid clubbing with corrupt ministers and their cronies and keep the wheelers and dealers at an arm’s length. They may not be aspiring to send their children to Ivy-League schools but value education and knowledge. They don’t care which side their bread is buttered and they don’t bite the bait easily.

So, I am not rooting for your costly “cappuccino” coffee. Give me my cheap “Chai-Biscuit” anytime.

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