India-First-Global-Insights-Analysis -Sharing-PlatformIndia-First-Global-Insights-Analysis -Sharing-Platform

Some achievement at last

, October 17, 2017, 0 Comments

dr-ashok-v-desai-marketexpress-inSome achievement at last Journalism has its occasions for consternation. I have been sued for defamation. The publisher washed his hands off, and asked me to face the case on my own. Luckily, there are amongst my friends a couple of lawyers – a husband-and-wife team – they have saved me whenever I got into a soup. And then there was the minister who wrote to a newspaper editor I wrote for that I had personal animus against him. I gave the minister any number of examples when I had been nice to him. But it did not save me; eventually, I was eased out of a job I enjoyed. I was lucky. Aveek Sarkar was a well-wisher; I started writing for The Telegraph fourteen years ago, and continue to do so to this day. I must have written over 300 Tuesday columns. I also wrote in Business World for a couple of decades; it came to an end when it was taken over by a businessman whose practices I found objectionable. And then there is Business Today, where Prosenjit Datta moved from Business World; it gives me an opportunity to look at the economy. I am not new to journalism. I began writing in Commerce, a Bombay magazine, almost as soon as I finished my studies in 1963. So by now, journalism is a combination of a pastime, a sport, and a commitment. I was going to add an addiction, but I hope it has not gone that far.

A journalist would not exist without readers; while they are behind the scenes most of the time, they make their presence felt once in a while. Threats and abusive mails follow criticism of political cult leaders. I do not receive many because I try, as a matter of principle, to criticize positions and issues and not those who hold them; however profitable abusers and extremists find their forms of expression, I do not give up the hope that at some point, they will make themselves receptive to alternative opinions. It does not happen, especially in politics; once a politician succeeds and feels himself rewarded for his prejudices, he develops a vested opinion in keeping them. But politicians are an insignificant proportion of my readers. Most of them are middle-class people, making their way through a career or trying to get through the period of unemployment which goes by the more respectable term, retirement. Whilst I am always conscious of readers, they do not place any restrictions on what I write. Still, I want to be read; so I try to find an interesting beginning, to write something that will make the reader think, “Ahem! That is interesting! I hadn’t thought of that!” – something that will engage them intellectually and emotionally.

I should stop there, before I begin to attach too much rationality to what is to a considerable extent an instinctive activity. I am no good at planning; I do not think out a piece before I write. Usually, I think of some nonsense someone important has been spouting, or some thought that the ongoing debate has missed out, and start writing about it; the rest just follows as I look at my Apple Air.

That sounds a pretty chaotic way of going about what has occupied a good deal of my mind and time for a quarter century and what I was doing off and on for another quarter century before. But the last time I counted, I had written 1.2 million words between 1998 and 2012; over my journalist lifetime, I must have written something like 3 million words. That is a considerable bombardment on readers. They do not have to suffer it. They can always ignore a writer and go on to something else. It is like bowling. Suppose a bowler had a boring, predictable line. A batsman would soon work it out and hit the bowler to one boundary after another. Such a bowler would not last long in cricket. The simile does not apply perfectly in writing; there are readers who are used to some lines of argument and continue to read journalists even though they keep taking the same line. But even they look for something new, interesting or entertaining; and that is what draws new readers. So a journalist would be well advised to keep trying out new subjects and lines of approach.

This is where reading helps. If one has access to a good library – or is rich enough to keep buying books and has a huge enough house to keep shelving them – one can explore new writing, look for new ideas, and get precisely the experience one is trying to give the reader – the feeling of “Ah! I hadn’t thought of it”. Where does one look for it? The first place is review magazines; I, for instance, can easily lose myself in New York Book Review. An easy read is history magazines; World Archaeology or Journal of Economic History can keep one riveted through the afternoon. Recently, I have got interested in geoengineering. That sounds obscure, but is highly relevant. As my readers might have noticed, I am now convinced that the earth is warming up, and that the consequences for India are likely to be dire. So it is time for us to get interested in how to reverse or decelerate global warming, and to act nationally or, if we can get other countries to cooperate, internationally. In any case, what we do now is likely to have little effect in the next few years, and we should work out what is going to happen to us and how we can adapt ourselves to us. That took me to geoengineering – a subject I hardly knew existed some weeks ago. That is what I am reading, and I will go wherever it takes me; my readers will get to know where.

This is one example of what goes on behind my columns. And I must be doing something right. For, to my great surprise, I have just received the Shriram Award for Financial Journalism. That has probably more to do with my writings on the economy, for I do not write on the stock market; but presumably, the judges for the award got together and looked for good writing in the area, and some of them had read me and thought highly enough of my writings to give me the award.

So, there is hope – or rather, there is manna in heaven. What exactly is that? It is the food that God rained upon starving Israelites when they left Egypt and walked to Canaan across the Sinai Peninsula. What did it taste like? No one knows, though there are various theories – for instance, that manna was bdellium. What is that? One could go looking for it in Egypt and Israel; but it is difficult given my age and resources. It is easier to find fascinating new knowledge. It is less exhausting, and more fun. So I am going to go looking for it. If I find it, my readers will no doubt hear about it. Meanwhile, though, do not hold your breath; even my next column is a fortnight away.