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Name: Rashmi Saskena

Kai Friese

Medium: Audio recordings *
Format: Audio .wav
  • Language: English/ Hindi
  • Date of the interview: 10/02/2016

Clip name/DURATION: *
RSaksena.wav/ 01:11:32

TimeCode Transcription Remarks
RS: Is this going to bother you?
00:04 KF:… No, we'll be okay. Interview with Rashmi Saksena on the Tenth of February, two thousand (sixteen) * at the IIC at Delhi. Uhm, thanks Rashmi. If you could begin by telling me a little bit about how you got into journalism in '71, you said.

* Disrupted by beep.

RS: '71, I joined formally.
- Okay. And before that?


- Well, I was doing English (Honours) from Delhi University which I graduated. And after that - you know there was a choice as to whether I should go in for my masters or I should pick a line by which I could, you know, work. The main idea was to start working because... I'm talking about the late '60s. This was – I passed out in 1969. And that was a time, you know, when women had started to look off- look at careers for themselves. And at that time, it seemed like the only option which my father sort of thought was the right one uhh, was, because he himself was a senior bureaucrat and from the civil services. So he said you take the civil service exam.
- Achha.



Now there were two reasons I didn't want to do it. One was, I thought it meant a lot of putting you nose down and, you know, really studying. The second thing was, I don't know – I would, uhh I would just like to remind you. That was the era when – there was this very- the youngsters were very left oriented. And there was this great feeling of, you know, being anti-establishment. You know? And I thought to myself that if I took the services exam and I did get through, I'd be part of this establishment. Which you don't – just didn't seem so fashionable, if I may say at that time. And also, you know, us the entire student … life was marked by taking part in protests – you know it was a very vibrant student community at that time. And very left oriented. Not only in ideology et cetera. But even the way we dressed. It was like we had said no to Western clothes... and, you know... I remember we had all decided we would wear this big bindi cause that seemed to be... you know, like a thing saying that you were actually cutting off from the colonial uhh... you know, influence. Coming into your own. Not going to listen to establishment. And, I think a lot of it also had to do with the college I went to, Lady Shri Ram. Because, I was this very free-thought uhh, you know, which was encouraged and there were lot of debates and seminars. And we were really exposed to a lot of the left ideology. So that was it. So, I said no, I didn't want to take the civil service exam... I didn't want to be a teacher. There was no way I could go into medical because I was not a science... student so I thought the options were really uhh, limited. And I did like writing. In the sense that even for my school magazine, college magazine, always been writing. And uhh, even in school I was – right from class three till I finished my higher secondary. I was the best essay writer. So, I mean, not that it had anything to do with journalism, but I mean, at that time, my concept of journalism was writing. That's all I knew. So I said, let me join this course, you know, there was a one-year course.
00:03:38 - Where?
- In Delhi. Women's Polytechnic used to run at that time, a course in journalism. There was- the other option was, which came later, I think, Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. But none of the colleges or universities except one in Chandigarh, which my parents were not too keen to send me to. So I just joined this, uhh course. And uhh, well, now that I look back it didn’t tell you so much about journalism. It told you the basics, you know, of – One thing which I'm very thankful for that course, thankful to that course is for, they- we had an entire subject called Press Laws.
- Okay.
04:21 - Which told you... you know, what you could write... in the legal sense, you know, and how you safeguarded what you wrote et cetera. Which I think is not really happening these days. Anyway, having said that, when I – I was about to finish my course in 1970, mid '70s. And I said now what do I do with myself and there's nothing I can uhh, you know, because... there was the Times of India that you had to sign a bond for five years if you join, which, again, I didn't want to do. I thought, you know, let me just see what I – this thing- And my father said, why don't you go abroad and uhh, you know, study journalism further. But I was just dying. To start working. Because, for me, that meant independence. You know? And I was not looking at it purely in the financial sense, because I knew I would still continue to be with my parents. But this whole, you know, feeling, that I was now going to be on my own, whatever it meant at that time. And I was really encouraged by my father, who, his first thing was: don't think of getting married, you know, do something. Which was rather unusual at that time. Uhh, you know, people thought you had to get married by the age of twenty/ twenty-one. Most of my friends in college had got married. But my father's main thing was you have to have something in hand which will always help you. To be financially independent and to use your mind.
05:54 - Hmm.
- Because there were many jobs going, you know. Air-hostesses were being recruited ...
- Glamourous at that time.


- Very glamourous. And I thought that was the key to seeing the world. I had been selected by Air India. And I remember coming home to tell my father, this was in the final year of college, that I'd been selected and... if I could go. And he said, ya, sure! But then, you're taking a decision for life. So I said, and what is that? He said, so, now your face is going to be your fortune. Not what you studied. And it... sort of you know, really hit me. And he sort of went back and said, look, I sent you to the best of schools, to the best of colleges and... it was a financial strain for a bureaucrat to send you to a convent in uhh on a hill station, et cetera. So if this was it. If you were really going to really rely only on what you look like I should have sent you to a fashion z... finishing institute. So they were very harsh words but, you know, it really got me. And I said, no-no-no, I have to do something. So as soon as this course finished, I went from newspaper to newspaper, with my CV to say if could do anything. And uhm, the first thing, you'll be surprised was that most officers, their answer was, but we don't take women. And uhh... I mean, I had never thought of that. You know? So I said, but why not? No-no-no, world of journalism is not for women. So... and there were some women, who were doing things like, you know, a desk job. And basically they were to look into fashion pages. We didn't have fashion pages but columns and gardening and things like that. So I said, this is really-really sad. At that time, Hindustan Times used to have an evening paper which they still have called the evening news.
07:57 - They still have it? I haven't seen it in years.
Oh, you haven't?
- It was that small, tabloid-sized –






- I think they probably merged, maybe they don't have it now. I'm not so sure. So I went there and uhh, I went to the editor. The evening news editor. Mr Gyan Singh. And I walked in and uhh, there was a stunned silence when I walked into this room. Those days we didn't have these cubicles and things. Everything used to be in one big hall, you know. So there was a – Not a sound, when I walked in. So I thought, god, what had I done, you know. And I walked in and I was very nervous and I told Mr Gyan Singh, Mr Gyan Singh, I've come to see you without appointment. Somebody said you can walk in and meet editors anytime. So he just put his hand out. Okay, what's the hand out? So I said, no, I have a CV. So he said what for? I said I want a job. He said, no-no-no I don't have a job and I can't give you a job but uhm, we need people who do some freelance work for us, would you want to do that? So I said yes but what will you make me... write? So he said, whatever you want. I said, no, I can tell you what I don't want. And I don't want to write on fashion and I don't want to write on flower shows. So he said, and what makes you think you can write on anything else? So I said, ya, but what makes you think this is only what I can write on? And there was about – Must have been fifty-sixty people sitting in that hall? And I was like, dying, I said, you know, what am I going to do, he's going to throw me out... or something. He said, okay, I'll give you a fair trial. In twenty minutes, can you go to... uhh, this hostel? Uhh, which is uhh working women's hostel? And there's some trouble going on there, can you go there and come back and uhh... Write a report. So I just didn't want to say no. I said okay. I didn't even know where this place was. So... I said okay. So, as I was going d- getting out the room, you know, whole lot of guys sitting and they sort of looked at me and said, young girl, do you know where you're going? So I sort of just turned around and said I'll find out. (laughs) I went down. And these guys followed me down for some reason. And they said, Oh! So you have a chauffeur-driven car, you're never going to make it as a journalist. So I said, no, this belongs to my father. And, I'll ask the driver where the hostel is. He said, you're not going to make it! You're not going to make it! You know? Anyway, so I asked this guy I said can you help me and tell me where this is? He said, come I – you give me a lift and I'll tell you. And then I realised he wanted to go that hostel. And he was a reporter with the Hindustan Times. I remember his name Najmul Hasan, he's no more. So... on the way, I asked Najmul, I said look, I have to do this and I really want to make a go of it. So he said, ya ya! He said, do you know what writing a report is? I said, ya, I've done journalism and I know. So, I'll you because my girlfriend lives in this hostel, what the problem is, I'll introduce you to people. And that was it. So in about two hours time, I'd come back, Gathered all the information and I sat and I told Mr Gyan Singh, should I bring this tomorrow morning? He said, do you know you're working? If you want to write, you write today. And you have to write it now because my... paper goes to bed at two o'clock. So, I said okay. So I sat down and I... typed whatever I knew and I wrote the story. He had one look at it and he said. 'ow', very good. Can you order some... biscuits and tea? So I said, why? Your first by-line is going to appear. (laughs) So that's how I started.
12:06 - Sweet story. Hmm.
- But uhh, what I wanted to tell you by this whole thing was, though there was a resistance, to having women in the newsroom, I think there was also this great recognition of talent. If they spotted talent – I'm not trying to blow my trumpet. But what I'm trying to say is, there were willing to give you a chance – but you had to prove yourself. And they were not going to make a concession because you were a woman. You know? So that was what I felt. And the moment my first by-line appeared, all these people in the room who had been sniggering and frittering* and everything. They were so nice. They all came and congratulated me. I mean, I had gone there in the morning at ten, and by five, I was already in print. And I really felt that I'd been accepted by everybody and... -

* (Best I can make out.)

12:55 - Have you kept that first... piece?
You know, unfortunately, I don't have it. I don't have clippings, you know? Just so sad. Tsk. Anyway. So... and then I think because evening news was very short-staffed, he started to say you come everyday and come and do some assignments for me. But I will pay you -
- As a freelancer.
- As a freelancer. So I did that for almost eight to nine months. You know?
13:22 - And what- and what were they paying you... for those articles?
Uhh, something like twenty-five rupees, per piece? And after some time they said, that, you know, we can't pay you per piece so we'll pay you hundred rupees a month. Or some – something like that. It really didn't matter to me because this whole excitement of being part of the news room, was, you know... - and look at the amount of exerience I was able to gain. Because I was listening to what was going around, you know – it was like a full, regular office. I used to come in at ten and leave only after the paper was out. So I really felt that I was part of the reporting team without really, you know, being part of it in that sense. And uhm, I mean, I used to attend the editorial meetings... and everything because, you know, we were only three reporters or something – we had to bring out... -
14:15 - This was in the same HT building that was on Baba – uhh... on-on Curzon Road?
- This was the same HT building that – no-no, this was in the LIC building in Connaught Place.
- Meaning sc-sc- haan, Scindia House mey?
- No-no, just where Barakham- uhh... Where...
- Where LIC is now, you mean?
- No. Where the building is now?
As you go towards Connaught Place? Right there. Where they have that restaurant, milk bar and all that. Just as soon as that road ends.
- You mean if you're coming from Janpath? Or on-on Curzon Road – Kasturbha Gandhi?
- Yes. Kasturbha Gandhi road, the moment you hit Connaught Place, that outer circle- was right there.
- Okay.



- So it was one of those LIC - I think it was one of those LIC building, and the entire Hindustan Times was housed there. And this huge hall, where we were sitting, had also the morning reporter. That is, uhh, the people who were working for the HT main paper. So I really interacted with everybody and learnt and sometimes, these boys would also take me on their assignments, you know? The ones who were doing the daily reporting and say, come-come. You know, it'll be a good experience... So, in those six-eight months, I had virtually learnt to cover whatever there was. Those days cub reporters didn't do national politics. You know, so, our coverage of politics was uhh, confined to the... We had the municipal corporation, the... New Delhi Municipal Coporation, and then we had... Uhh, the uhh... assembly. The Delhi assembly. So, I got to know all that. And then I remember, our editor, the Hindustan Times editor-in-chief was B. G. Verghese. And uhh, I mean, I used to see him around, … … I sometimes used to get two to three by-lines in the same paper every evening so everybody knew me. So one day he just called me to his room and said uhh, you know, you've been working and you've been working as a freelancer. Don't you want a permanent job? I mean, I thought to myself: please! (laughs) You're asking. I said, of course. So, he said, you know, Hindustan Times has this programme where we take people every year. For our training programme. So, why don't you apply for that? And we'll see. ANd there's a written test and all that and uhh, so he said but there's one condition. So I said what. He says, if you don't make it, you know, you have to continue like this. You can't say, now my status should change, you know. I should become part of evening news. Evening news didn't have a separate staff. It was the same, staff. So I said okay. So, I applied. And after about a month, there was to be this interview. And since I knew everybody, I found out, you know, from the … uhh, clerk and everybody as to how many people applied and he said, hundred people had applied –
17:25 - Hmm.
- for this training programme.
- And how many seats?



- And I said, and how many are they going to take? He said, woh toh only the editor knows. So I went to the editor's PA. Who I – I knew everyone. And I asked him, I said, Satish, how many people are they going to take? He said, I don't know, formally what it is, but I know on an average they take two to three people. I said oh my god! What's going to happen and – B. G. Verghese had already told me that whatever your work with evening news has been, that's not going to influence this. You're not going to... I mean, gain any marks for that. This will just be an independent thing. Okay, so we had a written test, hundred in one hall we all had a written test and... then we were told that now we will screen and find out, you know, so after another ten days, there was the interview call. And we had roll numbers, you know, like a proper exam. And I remember appearing – coming. I mean, I just walked from the evening news room to where the interview was because I was still doing my work there. And I saw a news editor. The news editor of – of the daily paper. Who was raving and ranting and, you know, screaming at the top of his voice. So I sort of just stood there. And then, you know, he looked at me and he said, You … You shouldn't be here! So I was so petrified, you know? Anyway, everybody was very petrified of him. His name was Mr Hariharan. And uhh, I sort of – I was almost speechless. So I just took off this slip which had my roll number, and he said – he just took it from me, tore it up, you know? And he said, this means nothing to me. I didn't know why he was angry. I had no idea. So I sort of looked around and somebody just said, you know, waved to me and said, come away-come away. So I went and he said, you know why he's angry? I said, why? He says there are only three seats. And the people who've maxed in the written exam are two girls and a boy. So he says he's- there's no way he's going to take two women.
- Oh!


So, I said, but that's so unfair. So this guy who I was with who was telling me all this said, so? If you have the guts, go and tell him. That it's unfair. You know, they were just having fun. But I think I really was so mad at the situation, that I just went up to him and I said, Mr Hariharan, why are you so angry at me? Are you angry because I've done well in this exam? So he sort of looked at me, and said... no! So I said, then, why did you tear up my slip? Ah, so, he said, no-no anyway! Come for the interview. You know. And he wouldn't tell me what it was all about. And I went into this room where Mr B. G. Verghese was sitting. Mr Ajit Bhattacharya also used to be a … editor. And Mr Hariharan. So I refused to look at Mr Hariharan, you know. I just looked at Ajit, who was, a very... you know, very sober, gentleman and sort of, very kind. And Mr Verghese, was really... a person who never – never lost his cool, you know, or did anything. So I just looked at them. And I think I must have had tears in my eyes, you know. And uhh, Mr Ajit Bhattacharya said, are you nervous? So, I said, no, I'm not nervous, Mr Bhattacharya. But I am very upset. So, he said why? I said, I think Mr Hariharan knows why I am upset. And uhh, I don't think it's fair, to be angry because I've done well and I'm a woman. So... Mr Hariharan said, just sit down. I'll offer you another job. I thought he said I'll offer you a job! So, I said, no, I want to go through the interview... He said, no-no, and he picked up the phone and, I'm going to speak to somebody in Air India, I know the, very well. You can go and work for them.
21:28 - My god.


- By then, I think, you know it was the last straw and I really thought I had nothing to lose. So I just got up. I said, uhh, I looked at everybody. I said I'm sorry if the interview is going like this, I haven't come begging for a job somewhere else. I want to qualify and take this job. However, if it's not available to me because of my gender, then, I'll continue to work as a freelance. But I want to tell you, Mr Hariharan, that this is against the constitution of India. You know? The moment I said this, he sort of really calmed down. And he said, at least she knows about the constitution of India. (laughs). Then Mr Verghese and Mr Bhattacharya started off, you know, asking me questions... you know, whatever, the interview... And uhm, so I looked up, and as I was leaving, I said, Mr Hariharan, I hope, you will not use my gender against me, you know. And I left. You'll be surprised, they took three people and they took the two of us, the two women.
- Who was the other one?


The- her name is Shalini Dewan. She left journalism and then retired as – she went away to America. Then she retired as the... the information office- information... head for India. For the UN. That was her last assignment but then she worked in America with the UN all along. So, anyway, having said that, I want to say, what a good guy Mr Hariharan finally turned out to be. Once he knew that I was in, I – I think he was my best teacher. In journalism. I mean, he had a very harsh way of speaking, but I think journalists those days thought that was the style, you know? To be –
- Brusque.


- sort of – very brusque... and, uhh... I remember him coming and saying... the moment we got selected. We were very happy and you know, we turned up the next day. And we had to meet Mr Hariharan. And the only thing he said to Shalini and me was, all this dress will not do! You know? So we said, what? You have to wear a saree from tomorrow. So... my first – can you believe it, man? My first reaction to this was, I don't have money to buy sarees. And my mother's not going to let me wear hers. So he said, no-no-no, I can have you people come like this and distract my boys here. Uhh... … I said, Shalini said, can we get an advance to buy a saree. I still remember all this stupid conversation going on. But we were then put through... a very rigourous one-year training programme. And our salary was two hundred and fifty rupees, as, a stipend which they called. And uhh, we went through every department, and we were the first lot who also went to work down in the press. Those were days of the Linotype machines and you had to make the headlines with the molten lead and … we did all that. And, I really want to tell you -
- The press was in the same building then, or where was it?


- the press. Basement. Ya. In the LIC building. And it was- those were the days of the union, you know. The union was very strong. And uhh, so... … so, we went down to the press and Mr Hariharan told me, look, you have to manage once you're in the press. That don't say these guys are drunk... you know? This is the staff there... and all that. We were a bit nervous because we had to be there at night, you know, when the paper was going to bed. And, it was a very... unionised uhh... Staff. And, well, they weren't uhh... People who were journalists, they were just workers in the... They were not used to seeing women down in the press, which they thought was their territory and all that. So... the proofreader, who was the chief proofreader. They made us stand in the middle of this press and, told us all the do's and don'ts, you know. Saree pehen kar aana hai. Cigarette nahi peena hai, sharaab nahi peena hai, you know?
- Gosh, you'd think a saree's actually dangerous around those machines.
- I know! It was! Because of those machines, you know. And uhm... Idhar-udhar ghoomna nahi hai, I don't know what he meant by that. Anyway. But, again I have to say that, once you had crossed that initial hurdle, they were all very nice. And they wanted to teach you everything. And we also learnt to sit and have tea with them, joke with them and the whole attitude at that time was, in a way, patronising. To say that – but also they were very protective of you, you know? And they all used to say, Oh, we are very proud. Poore Delhi mey, in all the newspapers, we are the ones who have these two women who are being trained because, the others didn't. So we did our night shift, we did everything and after one year, we were asked, you know, whether we wanted to work at the desk or... we chose reporting.
26:49 - In the main paper, now?


- Yes, then we moved... ya! Because, this is where to had to be. And uhh – But in that one year we worked, in the evening news, we worked in uhh... They had a … paper which used to be sent abroad. So we worked in that department – we worked in all the departments, as I told you, including the press. And uhh, I think after that one year, it was such a thorough training, I think we were so confident that we would be able to handle anything, anything. And the test was when they put you on night shift. Because then you were, you know, on your own. Whether it was at the desk or it was in reporting, or working in proofreading. Proofreading was quite something you had to work down in the press, proof was downstairs, and this great pressure of, you know, doing everything on time. And I remember the one of uhh, very senior guys in the press, after about a month, he said, what's the point of you people working here if you've never sat on a pile of newspapers which was still hot from the press! And I remember he lay down this pile and Shalini and I jumped on it, sat on it, lay down on it, you know. I saying all this to tell you the sort of environment there was. And... the pride, in being part of this. For a man, to say, if you hadn't sat on a newspaper which is still hot from the press, what sort of a journalist are you? So that excitement of seeing the line, the headline which you had made, appear as the … you know, main headline. All that excitement was fantastic. So that's how I got into journalism and I stayed in HT for... thirteen-fourteen years. So that is it.
28:44 - So this, now you started, I mean, they took you on as a full-time employee then around '72 - '73?


Uhh... No-no-no, I was full-time by... seventy... sixty-nine, seventy...? '72. I remember, second October was the day I joined. In 1972, and I told myself, why am I being given a letter on second October? It's a holiday. They said, no, there's no such thing as a holiday on second October. That's you know, I still remember that date. So, that's how I got into journalism. And once I was in the reporting team... then it was this battle to prove – You know the, first, choice of the chief reporter used to be to give you a soft... assignment. But, they were willing, to let you do any other assignment if you had proved once you can do it. Toh, there was this constant approach we had, as in Shalini and me, to prove that we were better than the boys. It was not good enough to be equal. You had to be better. And because the question always was, why should I give this assignment to you, so XYZ can do it, why you? While the boys didn't have to... face all that. But it was all in a very competitive manner and I think they were also trying to make us … uhh, sort of prepare us for everything. I remember those were the days of the Remington typewriter, you know? Those huge heavy things. And uhh, the first outstation assignment I was given, I think that must have been after a year – two years, was the Kumbh mela - was the Kumbh mela. It was in Haridwar, not
30:30 - Allahabad.
- So, uhh... I had a... news editor, Mr Subramaniam, so I went to him and I told him, look, I want to cover this. So, he said, why? I said, there are two reasons. One, the chief engineer and the person who's really in-charge of the Kumbh mela is my uncle, so I hope I'll get a lot of information from him and all that. And I've never seen the Kumbh mela, so I want to go. He said okay, but do you know how to send stories from there? Those days we used to get this telegraph card. You had to go to the P and T department and those days, the telics stand in a queue and then, uhh... So I said, ya, I know all that. So he said, and who's going to lug the typewriter for you? I hadn't thought of that. So I said, it doesn't matter, I'll... you know, do something. He said, okay, I'm going to make an exception in your case, and in your bill, when you come back, you can write the amount you've paid for the coolie to lug the typewriter. (laughs) So those were sort of things they would also do but they were very happy to -
31:41 - But you did, you lugged around... the big typewriter from...?
- We all – we all used to do it, those days. There weren't any other typewriters. And everybody had to lug it. So even the guys used to hire a coolie, it's not that I was going to do it.
- And the portables were...



- there were no portables those days. Not only that, you had to carry your entire bundle of papers you were going to type on – those uhh, 4A. Plus the carbon copy because those were days of carbon copies, you know, and uhh... you had to jostle for space to be able to... keep your typewriter in a place like that, because – they used to have a media centre, which was always in a tent! Or a – five tables or something. And the biggest challenge was to be able to get your story through from that P and T outfits. There used to be only a makeshift guy with one machine sitting there. So you had to stand in a queue. And if you're story got delayed, I mean, you were late for the paper. So I remember, I went and I – I went to this guy who was a clerk at the P and T department and I told him, I said, see, I'm the only woman here, and these guys, you know, they always outrun and come here. Just because you sit and have chai with them and they offer you cigarettes, and things like that, I get left behind. So he said no-no-no, what you should – and they had this system, you kept your paper or copy on the pile, so it went according to – what? But these guys, guys as you know, used to make friends with them. Cigarettes, drink... all that used to go. Which we weren't able to do. So then, he said, no. What you do is, you write one para and give it to me. So that it becomes first. And then you just keep giving it to me, and I'll just say this is a continuation. So this is how I learnt how to uhh, you know, get along my way and do everything. But, there were good times … and finally, got to a stage where I was given assignments which the guys didn't want to do. You know, for example, there was the first dacoit surrender. In Bateshwar. I think it was nineteen … uhm, seventy-four, if I'm not mistaken. I – I, I don't really remember. And I remember the news editor calling one of the male reporters, and saying that uhh, to go there. And I heard him say that, he didn't want to go. He had some engagement or something. I ran into the news editor's room saying, I want to go – I want to go! You know? Those were days of the of the little partition so you could hear everything that was going on. And he said, ya. But, can you believe in my enthusiasm, I landed up four days before the … -
34:28 - The event.



- actual … event. Which was very good. Because I was able to get to this place, which had been declared a no-police zone. But these dacoits were coming at that time for negotiations. And they were negotiating with the Sarvodaya workers. They were the go-between. I remember, I went there. And there was another girl in Statesman, you must be knowing her, Tavleen Singh. So Tavleen and – back then the other rep – women had joined, you know. I mean, a few of them in newspapers. So I rang up Tavleen, I said, look, this assignment is going, you ask your office also to send you. And, she managed that and we were so excited, we just didn't get the date right. So both of us, pushed off there. I had a staff car and as we arrived at this place, Bateshwar, the police stopped us and said, you can't go any further. I said, why? We are going for this. He said, abhi toh date bhi nahi decide hua hai, ki kab surrender hona hai, aap kaise aa gaye yahan par? So, we told the driver, okay, you just wait here and I asked the guy, how far is Bateshwar, and he said, pchh, about fifteen-twenty kilometers. And we trudged it. And we trudged it and by the time we got there in the evening, it was such a lonely spot. You know, it was a river bank, and it had these seventy, one-roomed temples. Like a chain. Across. And there was pin-drop silence. It was about six/ six-thirty that we landed up there. And we walked in and I remember this Sarvodaya guy, worker he just looked at us and said, what are you doing here? So we, you know, flashed our identity cards. He said, you realise, now you can't leave this place. Because this is a protected area now. Anybody who comes in, can't go out till the day of the surrender. So Tavleen says, but when is the surrender? He says, that's exactly what we are negotiating. So I said, what to do? So I said, okay, we won't go back. But we need to send a message to out driver, who's waiting twenty kilometers away. So he gave us a cycle. So Tavleen and I rode that cycle, went to the... driver, gave him a chit, and said, you call the office and tell them, this is what has happened. But, you come back and stand here. You know, we didn't even have STD at those days. So – I think STD had just about started. So... (?)*, we made the most of it. We were filing everyday so we used to, talk to people, meet this dacoits get human interest stories, whatever. Go to the driver with our copy, who would take it to the hotel in Agra. You know, we were staying in Agra. Where we had, sent a letter to the manager, that, can you then have this faxed?

*(Indiscernible word.)

37:35 - Fax bhi nahi tha uss... -
- I don't think there was a fax. There was some other way. No! You know what he used to do, he used to call the office, the news editor. Who would then ask his stenographer, to call him back. And he would read the story. That guy would take it in shorthand and uhh... You know, that was how... we worked. So, we were there for five days. And when the surrender took place, the entire media landed up and they said, what have you people been doing, writing two-three stories everyday, front-page. We had no idea. That it was appearing front-page and all that. So it's not that they didn't give you opportunities, in spite of the resistance – gave you that opportunity. But. The pressure on us women was always prove that you could do a job better than what the boys were doing. Well, that's... how it was. … You wanted to ask something else?
38:33 Haan. Uhm, did you get into political reporting, at all?
Not when I was a cub reporter. The only political we did was the local politics. And uhh, see, junior most, we were given the crime beat. Again, there were no women doing crime beat, but I had to do it to prove that I could. So then you moved on and then you did – and finally, you started to cover either the Delhi administration, which was the assembly, or the corporation.
39:05 - How long did you do crime for?
For about a year? … Which I thoroughly enjoyed. (laugh) You know? I was, I think responsible – the police headquarter building was coming up – the new one.
- The one near uhh...
- Ya. And we used to go to the old one and uhh, I wrote to the head of the – they didn't have a commissioner at that time, I don't know who what was. Police commissioner. To say that I come here everyday, and you don't have a washroom for women. There was no washroom for women. So when your new building comes up, you must make a washroom for women. So that's how they made a media room and a washroom, which everybody was... Having said that, Hindustan Times, in the old days, didn't have a washroom for women when we joined. But we had the privilege of using the editor's uhh... Washroom. And the chaprasi used to – we had go and to tell the chaprasi to, then, tell everybody to clear out and they would stand outside and whatever. But it was fun time.
40:08 Can we cut to the Emergency? Where were you when that uhh –
I was a reporter then, still with the Hindustan Times.
- you were still with Hindustan Times?
- with, still with Hindustan Times. And, uhh, we were part of the reporting team. And it really came as such a shock to us. One was the excitement of that this had happened. But there was such a feeling of numbness, let's put it like that. We just didn't know what had hit us. And, since we were cub reporters and, sort of, junior, we just waited for directions from the editor and from whomever, what we were supposed to do.
40:48 - The editor was now... who?
- Mr Verghese. And -
- He was still there.


- That was, you know, in I think, in nineteen... seventy six, Mr Hiranmay Karlekar came, so it was still the... Emergency. And I remember, we all used to sit at the reporters' room, not wanting to go home. Because, we didn't know... what was happening – the first two days. And we kept asking each other, now what – what are we supposed to do? The first day, the press censorship hadn't come in. You know, that we were all supposed to do this and... We would keep discussing, now what, what are we going to – and I remember my Chief Reporter saying, you all keep filing what you have to file, and the carbon copies used to be kept there. What is going to be used or not used, let that decision be, at the desk. But we all wanted our stories in, you know, that is how we had been, you know, trained to work. I remember when we used to do stories, we used to hover around the desk, give it a good display, do that – so you know, we wanted our story there. The first two days it was – everybody was just stunned. And I have to say, at that time, that for people like me, who were cub reporters, who were junior, we really felt that the seniors had let us down. In the sense that – on two counts. One: there was no direction, as to what we were supposed to do. And when it finally came, it was to say, lie low. Where we had actually expected a person like B. G. Verghese -
- To stand up.
- to stand up and fight. You know – And we were all ready to join him. We had done it on other occasions, you know. That came as a great shock. And psychologically, psychologically we felt that, you know, the end had come.
42:45 - And were you aware, did you feel that things were different in other papers – the Express and Statesman …?


- the Express. We always thought – but then, you know, but then what was told to us at that time was, oh, Express was anti-establishment. You know. And we thought that to be anti-establishment was the right of a journalist. It would hardly be seen as – I mean, this what we've been trained and taught by people like B G Verghese, that you write what you see. And that's it – that's your job. And you're not the conscience-keeper of the government, this is what we were always told. And here was this person who was telling us that, you know –
- So how was this conveyed to you – to lie low or... as you put it, was there a meeting held or was something passed around or what?
- It was like, the chief reporter would tell you, then we would walk – then we would come down. We would walk over to B G Verghese, it was, you know, those days, there was no editor sitting in a … ivory tower or something. You know, you were interacting all the time. And he would say, you know – like, I remember going to Mr Verghese and saying, now what, are we never going to write? And he said, you know, it's better to get few lines into print, than to have the paper shut down. So that was an argument which was always given to us. I remember the first day when they came out with a blank editorial,
44:01 - Did HT also do that? Statesman did, Express did, I know.
- I don't remember whether HT did -
- I don't think HT did.
- But there was this conversation that it was going to happen, I remember. We were discussing it, we knew it was happening. And we thought, you know, oh good, we are taking a stand. And next morning, nothing. What a disappointment, we didn't know what to do. By then the press censorship thing had come in the thing, and we were told that every copy has to be sent there and all that. Till then it was fine. But then it came down to saying, that if you were doing copy, which was being constantly rejected by the censor, That itself, was a big no-no.
44:44 - Achha.
See, the problem at that time was, there was actually no resistance. At least in HT. There was no resistance. And – which is what everybody say that they were asked to bend and –
44:57 - And downstairs, in – in the presses, in the unions, was there any – any rumblings or... they also stayed out of it? Or was it a Congress union?
- No. No. Not at all in the unions, you know, simply because uhh, you know they had come down under this essential, ESMER –
- ESER. Hmm.


- ...whatever it was called. So, the union was very scared that, you know, everything would be considered banned or out of – they were a – that was a different thing. But as journalists, I think, our seniors never told us to push the boundary as much as we could. Instead, it was, fall in line! Be more cautious. That was the approach. And later on, I realised, it was happening – the Express was doing what it was doing because the Goenkas wanted it so. That was not so with the Birlas. The Birlas, too, were falling in line, you know. So I feel it must have percolated from there... -
- From the top.
- from the to whatever.
- Statesman aslo, it was Irani who wanted to... –


- you know... So, I mean, which we realise at that time. That this was not because the journalists in Express, were willing to stick their necks out but it was because the proprietor, the ownership was... – it was something we didn't realise. But after a few days, we started saying, yaar, Birla toh bara chamcha nikla...and you know. But, by then we had all learnt to say all this in a very hushed tones. Because you didn't know, who was carrying tales. That atmosphere had already creeped into Hindustan Times. Which was, as I had explained to you earlier was not there. Everything was so professional, everybody was friendly. They wanted to you to do good work. People would help you do good work. That changed. And slowly we started to say, that the people who were – if not pro-emergency but had taken kindly to it, were benefitting. You see, that is when we saw this happening.
- Benefiting professionally you mean, in the paper –
- professionally, they were being given more responsibility, better designations, that was the time when B G Verghese was out and Mr Hiranmay Karlekar came. And uhh...
47:02 Where did he come from? Or was he already in the hierarchy somewhere?
- No-no. He was a complete outsider. Hiranmay Karlekar. He was Siddharth Shankar Ray's uhh, nephew or cousin or something.
- Okay. Alright.
- And, uhh, you see those days of being able to sit in the uhh... Reporters' room. Snigger at the establishment, say what you felt like. Have discussions on – heated discussions which we often used to do and lead to people throwing things at each other. All that vanished. You know, it was like we were almost, dead. You know. And no interest in what we were doing. But what I think bothered me later. Everybody seems to have even lost their sense of humour.
47:51 - Hmm.


- because I remember, I was on night shift. And the person who was on night shift in the reporters' - there used to be only one reporter doing the night duty. That was from seven in the evening to... twelve-thirty at midnight. Past midnight. You had to do the weather report because that used to cover – and I was so irritated with what had happened, so I wrote out the weather report and sent it to the censor. You know. I thought that was my way of telling them that, look, things have come to this that whether the censor has to see the weather report. Much to my dismay, it came back with a stamp saying, approved. I mean... I just thought to myself, what's happened? You know everybody's just lost this. And uhh, at the editorial meeting, the next day, when the copy was this thing – Mr Verghese looked at me and said, - uhh, no Mr Hiranmay Karlekar was there. He said, Oh, I'm so glad, everybody's being so cautious, and you sent the weather report.
- Wow.
- I said, god, is this what we've come to? That nobody wants to even see the sarcasm in what I have done? Or doesn't want to recognise it. It was a question of not recognising, because after the meeting was over, he called me and said, don't be too smart.
- Oh.
- So, he had understood. But he didn't want me to repeat that so that whoever was the censor sitting there, would understand what was happening. I mean I remember saying, he said, you know, you people are too young. And uhh, you should know, you know, how to... take things as they come. And that for me was a big disappointment. You know, I mean – already I'd spent so many years in journalism and I thought I was this great reporter who could do whatever felt like and … But the worst was, after that, when we had to start covering Sanjay Gandhi.
49:50 - How was that – okay.
- You know. Because even when earlier, nobody had thought much of Sanjay Gandhi. And I remember... –
- Hmm. Now you were directed in terms of actually...


- No, we had to assignments like he's – some corner meeting he's addressing. Please go and cover it. And I remember – it was not only me, there were other people who also asked in the meeting, that, why are we covering Sanjay Gandhi? In the terms of, what is his official designation? What is he. There was no answer. And we all had to do it. So our rumblings stayed within this group of reporters. But none of the people who were in a position of uhh, well, I guess they couldn't have taken a decision also. But at least we expected them to share our discomfort. Which they didn't. They had just clamped up. You know, people who had encouraged us to be anti-establishment to write what we tought- thought was the truth. As we saw it. Without fear. Were people who had just clamped up. You know. I remember going to my news editor, Mr Kala, one of the news editors, I said, I don't want to cover Sanjay Gandhi. And he said, as a reporter, you cover whatever you're assigned. I mean I expected him at least to say that I – you know, it's so uncomfortable, the guy is a goon. Nothing. That would have made things less humiliating, let's put it like this. And then we used to go to these functions, this Sanjay Gandhi was such an arrogant guy. Things had completely changed. In the sense, the media the way they were treated before and after … you know, this was pre-emergency. And it was like, we were some sort of riff-raff. We weren't even offered chairs at his function – he was like, telling us that you don't mean anything to me. That arrogance and that uhh.. –
51:54 - And yet you were being forced to come.
- And yet we were, you know, it was extremely humiliating. Extremely humiliating. And suffocating –
52:04 - Was there a lot of distrust of Mr Karlekar then given that – you said that he was related to Siddharth Shankar Ray.
- No, it didn't – see, this is another thing, there was no protest. They just sniggered and laughed. And said, arey – yeh to uska... woh hai. Arey, ab toh yeh karna hi padega. It was like we had no other option. And we admired what was going on in Indian Express. But then, they were seen as a rebel group. You see? Because everybody –
- Did Verghese tell you anything before... leaving, I mean...?
- No. Not really. Not really. It was a very sad parting. It was a very sad parting. And he looked a man who was very sad at what was happening. But, I think for us, what we were really expecting, was not a total revolt, but at least somebody to say. To us, that, look, we share with you, what you feel and what is happening. And we are part of you. That was not happening. Because there was so much of mistrust. Nobody knew who was tale-tattling. That was the atmosphere.
53:08 - I mean, you thought … journalists, editors, were...
- No, we didn't know who was doing it, you see, that was it. Because, it could be just anybody but there was this fear psychosis going on.
- But one from HT group got picked up in the end.
- No. But I remember, that you know, when Virender Kapoor was arrested, a petition came and we all signed. Saying that this should not have happened. But we didn't have anybody senior to come and put their signature there. Cause it was left to the reporters to do it. And there were some reporters who didn't do it. So that divide had already started, you see. So you started – earlier, as I told you the atmosphere in room used to be so friendly and so nice. All that had changed. You know you – people who were so friendly with suddenly, you say, my god, this person didn't sign, what does it mean? And you couldn't even have those good, old arguments which we used to have. They used to throw paper balls at each other – paper weights if the person disagreed.
54:17 - Was the Press Club an institution by that time, or not yet - it was?
- Ya, Press Club was very much there. But –
- What was the mood there?


- I told you... – No. Same. You know. You see, suddenly the ones who were … pro-emergency, had suddenly become so important. You know. As if this lot was now the dominant voice. And everybody else just kept quiet instead of questioning anyone. Nobody wanted to question anybody because you didn't know what was going to happen. And for us, we thought, the questioning should come from the seniors, who we would support. That was not happening. We were not in a position, we thought, at that time to take the lead into anything. And especially after Virender was arrested. Virender Kapoor. This fear that even a well-known journalist – I mean, Kuldip Nayar had been sent to jail. We had seen editors and people like him – Who were we? If Kuldip Nayar could be sent to jail, what was Rashmi Sahay as a reporter in HT, I mean it didn't mean anything. But I still remember, all of us felt extremely ashamed of what all of us were being made to do. And the worst used to be covering Sanjay Gandhi. That was the worst. Because you had to come back and literally... –
- And you couldn't say anything nasty.
- … invent! And write – no, we had to invent these wise words coming from this guy who was a total – anyway, he's not a fool. He had his own agenda. But you know, we had to think. We used to sit for hours saying, oh my god, what is going to be the opening line? Because he hasn't said anything. And then, we couldn't write about things we saw, you know. The way he had all these women all over him... and his glamourous lot. You know, son of Sultan – in the streets of Old Delhi... with her... chiffon sarees and, whatever. I mean, that's not the sort of people we had interacted with earlier. We had interacted with hardcore... politicians, you know. Even if they were women. And I remember Ambika Soni was-had become a terror by then. You know. I remember I went to the Delhi University for this meeting with Jain Prakash Narayan*, just before. And the mood was so upbeat and everything was - and the very next day. The mood changed. You know. So... it was a terrible, terrible time.

* Jayprakash Narayan?

56:51 - Ambika Soni being a terror in what way – I mean, to journalists or...?


- Yes. Because, you see everybody had taken on – all these people had taken on the arrogance of uhh, Sanjay Gandhi. And they had started to treat us like, you know, as if we were just some... something the cat had brought in, you know. Which we were not used to. Not... – We were not looking for being pampered but to be given the due importance and uhh, respect to do our work with dignity. And I think that stemmed from the fact that they knew – that you were actually powerless. Your pen didn't mean anything now.
- You weren't independent anymore. Yeah –
- So they were treating us like they would treat any old bureaucrat or whoever and whoever. And especially of you were from Hindustan Times. Because Hindustan Times had literally... –
- Caved.
- ...caved in, you know. So, there was such a drastic change because I remember, earlier, Hindustan Times was the largest circulated daily. So we used to walk in with great... uhh, you know, feeling of self-importance and pride. Oh, I'm from Hindustan Times and everybody would get up and offer you... whatever. And now we hardly wanted to utter the word that, look, I'm from Hindustan Times. And some of us were recognised in the … local this thing, beats we were doing. And we saw this now this whole importance now been given to people from Indian Express, uhh, you know. But we all used to meet and laugh and talk about it. Shed tears. But we just felt that there was... no way out. No way out.
58:29 - But then, when it turned – when it … it was announced that elections were uhh... emergency would be suspended and elections would be coming, did things change quickly...? In those last months.
- Overnight. Overnight. Overnight.
- Haan, tell me.
- As I'm saying, you know, the way things changed overnight, when emergency was imposed and the day that – I mean, the mood was so upbeat, you know. It was like, okay... fellows, now we are going to show you. You know, it was that feeling. That, you know, okay, you've done this to us, now watch. And we were more than enthusiastic - then. In going about our work and... –
59:12 - But how did that work with – Karlekar was still there?


- Karlekar also changed. I have to tell you. Which is where, I think... I'm not naming just a person but – that is the time, I was so disillusioned with the profession I had taken. Because when I'd joined HT, I almost thought that, here I was, you know, a person who was... this fighter... and we were going to set society right. And my pen was going to be so strong. And my job was to expose what was happening. I almost thought I had taken this very uhm, what should I say? Sort of a profession which was for martyrs. You know. And that changed overnight. When the emergency came. What were we? Stenographers? We were made to feel suddenly that this is what we were, and nothing else. And yes, I do remember, some of us used to say, let's resign. But the point was, then go where. Where would you go. There was no other newspaper, so where would you go? Many of us did think, oh, let's leave all this and just – I remember somebody saying, oh, we can open a shop, we can do something, all these things were discussed, you know, over coffee. So, that was it but the day … elections were announced, it was like, you know, uhh... Sort of, wilting plant had been given water and we all sort of spring up again and – Things changed. But that is when I also learnt, not to see my editor with awe and respect. Things changed forever after that.
- Forever?


- Forever. Because, you know, I could just never get back to just looking up at this man who was the editor. Because B G Verghse had... always set the tone for things which were upright and right. You were supposed to take pride in the fact that nobody could suppress you. And that's how we are being trained. And now we had seen people who were making compromises and adjustments, so what they had taught was either wrong or it didn't mean anything and uhh... I think, that was the time when I, let's say, stopped hero-worshipping my editor. And things never got back the same way. I'd learnt to question and uhm... Question and also to some extent even suspect my editors. And always looked into... why is he saying, what is his interest?
- Because you knew he was likely to be influenced by the proprietor or the government or both.
- Ya. And things have changed over the years, after that. Things have changed. That is the first time, which later on I realised, that it was the prorpietor who actually decided the policy. But till then... You see the editorial had been kept absolutely insulated from … uhh, the proprietors. … … it was just one floor, the management upstairs. … Jounalists never went to the management floor. Nobody from the management ever came down.
- Hmm.


- … you know. But I remember after that, the editors who came in, Hiranmay Karlekar, Khushwant Singh... were summoned by the general manager of... uhh, Hindustan Times. We had never, never seen this happen before. Then the... advertising section, became so dominant. Earlier, we used to look down on people who were in admin-uhh, advertising. We had nothing to do with them. They started to take part in editorial meetings. I'm talking about post-emergency. Which had nothing to do with the emergency. But slowly – or maybe it is because I was getting into more serious slots, the reality was now exposed. That uhh, it was a business. It was not this great profession... –
- Crusade.
- whi- crusade which, we had joined. And... now things are totally different. Now it's sheer business. I mean, people openly tell you, you editors and people who matter, that, look, uhh, this is what brings in the money. And we didn't stop to question it. Because the power doesn't lie with us, you see. And over the years – and it's not only the Congress, I must tell you. That – post-emergency is when I think the RSS and Jan Sangh decided that they had to infiltrate the newspaper and...
01:03:58 - This was their first taste of power also, na.



- You know, no. Because they realise, that the Congress had used... all these people. So, their youngsters, who were RSS people started to enter newspaper offices and I don't think anybody realised what was happening. But over the years, I have seen these very people reach positions of power and influence. And they dictate now, what is going to happen in the … … publication. So it was a very sublte way … of inflitrating newspaper establishments, you know. And uhm... I must tell you that you know, even, earlier, the Congress used to have journalists who'd use – but never as a party. It was individuals, who cultivated journalists, you know. Usually the regional setups(?) and things like that. But I think the RSS went about – and the Jan Sangh went about it in a very... uhh, what should I say, they had thought it out. And they were looking at ten-fifteen years ahead. If you start looking now and seeing the editors and their... party leanings, you see, now there was a change. Having, for a – a journalist to have a party leaning, was not considered bad. In my time, when we had started – our religion was to be objective. We didn't want to be termed as a Congress or RSS or Marxist or whatever whatever. But, now, they wear it on their sleeve. And these are the people who have reached uhh... places where uhh – they are the decision makers. So that's how it is – you don't need a government then to do your work. Okay? Now you already have these people, they get their dictate from wherever and they do it. And the owners also, the proprietors, they've learnt. They play it both ways now. Whoever is in power, they go with them. It's as simple as that. But it's become far more blatant now than it was earlier.

Unfamiliar word

01:06:12 - But do you think in that sense, the emergency was a turning point, because, both politicians of either stripe and proprietors
- and the journalists!
- … and the propreitors saw that they could do this to journalists.
- And the journalists! Who realised, that if they toed the line, they would benefit. So it works on – at three levels. That was a time that journalists also realised that being objective was not the mantra. It was to write what people wanted – and then you would reap the benefits, you know. So, that's how it, I feel – and when people ask now, that does this government do it … The BJP government doesn't need to do anything,, it already has RSS people as editors, as opinion makers, whatever. And they then get their own people and then that's how it works, you know. So... the in that case, the emergency taught a lesson to everybody, you know. And that's being used now. That's how it works. With the visual media, it’s entirely different, we didn't have visual media that time. So... that's how it is.
01:07:28 Hmm. So, with some people and in some sense, the... that brief period after the... emergency was – was a bit of a golden age. You think that is not – suddenly there was a new josh is crusading... journalism, there was a sense of righteousness, perhaps self-righteousness. Do you think that was a brief thing, a false dawn or...?



- ...no! You saw that – a revival of that. When VP Singh came to power. (cough) Sorry. You know, when, Rajiv Gandhi was thrown out, again there was this lot of journalists. Not one lot, but journalists as a whole, who thought that, you know, they could play a role and you know, start bringing about a change, which was right. You see? So that same josh you saw at that time, also. The formation of the Jan Morcha and VP Singh coming to power. But I think after that, things changed, again. Even uhh – as I told you, the journalists who had learnt their – a lesson from the emergency, and you now had journalists who could be put Iin slots. Yeh toh Congress ka admi hai, yeh toh RSS ka admi hai, yeh toh leftist hai. You had journalists now, who take a break from the profession and go and work for a particular party. And then they come back and join the organisation. You have journalists who now join parties and fight an election. All that was unheard of. I'm talking about the '70s. So I think there has been a change. And nobody's defensive about it anymore. I don't think I should take names but, you have them from all shades. And it's not only that they are from BJP and RSS, you have the guys from the Congress, the left parties as well the uhh... The BJP. They are not ashamed to say that they belong to this party, in fact the argument these days is there is no such thing as an objective journalist because every human being has a tilt towards some ideology but that's not the point. What we were told that whatever your tilt, it should not reflect in your writing. But now it reflects in the writing so that's the change. If you ...I mean, it's almost come to the stage where you just read the by-line and you know what the content will be, which was not there earlier. So that's the real change.
01:10:07 - Haan. In the early days, it was a long time before by-lines became a thing, na?
- Firstly, by-lines were very rare. You didn't get a by-line for every piece you wrote. To get a by-line in itself was an achievement. But now, everybody gets a by-line for every two lines they write. So it's changed, you know. That's also changed and uhh, Par I think now the biggest difference is that wearing your party affiliation on the sleeve is the fashion for journalists which was not there earlier. And you have arguments, you always have arguments with these people who think belong to a certain party, and their argument always is that, yes! Because I genuinely believe in this so I write. Now this distinction between reporting and editorial itself is becoming so blurred. Earlier, your viewpoint in the editorial … remain … as objective as it could be, it's not so now, I mean you have to just see the papers to know, you know. Now you know, this magazine is left, this magazine is right. This magazine is right of centre. And you know, it's like that... (buzz) Anything else?

Feedback disruption through this bit till the end.

I think I'll have to release you. Thank you so much.
- Thank you.