Story of an Intern – Part Five

October 26, 2017 India , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Olu Eletu photo

 

By

Ratnesh Dwivedi

 

Flag March and Ram Shila Pujan on the Streets of Ayodhya

 

We spent that night at our respective places while I kept worrying about Ami as the town grew dark. Security was tight across the Faizabad district and Article 144 had been imposed over the whole state of Uttar Pradesh. We were not sure how the day was set to begin, so kept our mobile devices phones on, charged and ready to be received throughout the night.

Media personnel occupied all the lodges, hotels and guest-houses as only a couple of days were left for the event ‘Ram Shila Pujan’. I had no authority to enter the town as only government officials, police, security personnel and the media were allowed to roam around freely. So the entire night I was busy discovering the route through which I could reach the hotel where Ami was staying. Finally, and successfully I discovered a route through an isolated, rough road, crossing through many villages and that connected at the end with the Faizabad route, to the hotel where Ami was staying.

I took my old bicycle that I rode when I was in class 12th standard and reached the Hotel Shan-E-Awadh to see Ami and assist her. Ami was all awake and waiting for me. She was tense as she got to know that the army and police were going to conduct a Flag March across the entire town in order to build the confidence level of the town residents who were already frightened, tense and disturbed.

Ami was not sure if I would be able to cope with the situation. She deliberately asked me if I was ready. I nodded that I was determined to accompany her through the tight security and in the tense town.

We drove a small red car and headed towards Ayodhya. We could see police and paramilitary forces all around and sailed past the chowk and noticed that each shop was closed and not a single person was on the streets. Only security vehicles were moving in Faizabad towards Ayodhya. We reached Ayodhya and positioned ourselves at a crossroad which connected the highway with the temple bylane – the same road that stretched towards Hanuman Garhi. We were among our fellows with cameras, both still and TV video, media personnel representing Indian and the western media. Some of them had come from Delhi, while some had landed directly from their respective countries. The Sky News team had landed from Beijing to see how the city of Ayodhya, and the entire nation was going to react on to one of the biggest gatherings after 1992.

It was 07:00 am and not a single person was on the streets, houses and shops were closed. Security personnel were deployed on the streets, in bylanes and above rooftops of houses.

We waited for the Flag March to start. And then we saw a police vehicle announcing the route for the March. Ami and I had just finished our conversation as to which place would be suitable to cover the March, and managed to get inside the patrolling vehicles, paramilitary forces and the horses which were part of the convoy.

I must admit that Ami and I were both working like soldiers deployed in a war zone, all ready with our arsenals.

Just then the Flag March headed from the extreme northern part of the town towards the place where we were positioned – a ‘Paidal’ battalion first, then followed by a motorcade, a horse battalion, another motorcade and then again another Paidal battalion towards the end. Ami was already equipped with her camera and sat down on the road and snapped a couple of hundred photographs in less than fifteen minutes. She was moving faster with her camera than we can type on our keyboards. And then I saw her expertise when she entered like a hurricane, got inside the convoy and began taking photographs. I waited for her as she waved towards me to get on to the rooftops of nearby houses so we may get some excellent photographs. Within a blink of an eye we were on the rooftop of a house, from where we took hundreds of photographs of the Flag March. While we were negotiating the stairs we saw a lonely child crying without anyone around to take care of him. I took him, knocked at a door and handed him over to a neighbour who knew the parents and then rushed to accompany Ami down a bylane. The Flag March headed towards the workshops where the stones for temple construction were shaped.

The moment the Flag March ended, we found that all the media people were rushing to their workstations to file their reports and grab their breakfast which they had avoided due to the March. There was also a press conference by Ramchandra Paramhans at 11:00am. Ami and I soon found that we were left alone at the crossroad which intersected towards Hanuman Garhi.

Ami put her right hand on my shoulder, and I in turn looked into her eyes. Both of us felt that we were hungry and went to grab breakfast together. Ami then managed to tell me the problem and very politely asked if I had a press ID card. All of sudden I realized what she was talking about. The next day was the event of Ram Shila Pujan and it would be quite difficult for anybody to watch or assist the event without a valid press ID.

We headed to our hotel, as we had to return soon for the press conference. While I was thinking how I could manage to get hold of any local press ID, Ami started transmitting the photographs to the Getty Images office in Delhi. At 10:30 am we were in the same red Maruti 800 car, but now something had changed. There was an absence of talk as silence occupied the place between us.

As we reached the workshop (where the stones were being constructed and where the press conference was to take place), we found that the scene was already set. TV and print media personnel had occupied their places and Ramchandra Paramhans was sitting on a ‘Takht’ (wooden bed), all waiting for the press conference to start. As Ami and I were adjusting to the unbroken silence between us, a cluster of people started cheering up, they said, “Phone aa gaya….phone aa gaya.” And Ramchandra Paramhans rushed to an inner room where a phone was kept. Somebody uttered the words, “Advani ji hain,” and then two to three cars came into the premises carrying one of the most prominent Hindu hardliner leaders and general secretary of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), – Mr Ashok Singhal.

All of sudden I realized the urgent need for a press ID, but it was at this moment that Ami needed me and I was determined to help her. Soon Ramchandra Paramhans emerged from the room and shouted a slogan “Jai Shri Ram…Karyakram kal hoga.”

And with this the press conference started during which both the leaders showed their determination to carry out the Ram Shila Pujan, and subsequently to build a magnificent temple at the disputed site.

As soon as the press conference ended we headed back to our hotel. Ami showed me some of the remarkable photographs she had clicked on the banks of the Saryu, in the bylane and the press conference. I was finding it difficult to react as I was busy thinking about the next day’s problem.

 

The day had ended with not so many speculations, but as the sun dropped in the western sky rumours and news both came around, hand in hand. Some Indian TV channels were broadcasting that thousands of ‘Kar Sevaks‘ were entering the twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad from nearby villages. Some took this one step further and claimed that the VHP may start the foundation stone ceremony the next day, and that top BJP leaders may join in.

As a sharp photojournalist Ami asked me to remain in touch with the Indian lobby of journalists, and insisted that I not go to my village that night. However, both the good hotels ‘Shan-E-Awadh’ and ‘Krishna’ were occupied by national and international media teams and I was unable to find a room for myself.

We were both puzzled and sat in the cafetaria of the hotel until late while chalking out a plan for the next day. Ami was joined by a Spanish photographer friend, Ima Garmendia, who had come from Madrid to cover the event. She stayed in Ami’s room at the hotel.

However, the problem of a valid Press ID card was still there. Late at night I contacted a freelance photographer and asked him if he could give me an ID card. He agreed but asked me to pay Rs 500 but within two hours I had a press ID of a two-page tabloid. However, Ami was not satisfied with this.

There was no place in the hotel for me and I felt that it was not needed as most TV journalists of Indian TV channels were awake because of the information that thousands of Kar Sevaks were trying to get into town.

While I was sitting in the reception area, at around 01:00 am, I saw Ami’s driver coming towards me. Someone must have told him about my problem, Ami perhaps.

He said that I could stay in his room in the hotel dormitory, and then went to sleep in the car parked car outside the hotel. I was so tired that I could not refuse his humble request and soon fell asleep.

Around 02:30 am I woke again and was feeling the need to see Ami, as was in constant fear of her not being in a good state of mind. I knocked at the room’s door, Ima opened it and allowed me to see Ami and then I returned back to my dormitory after asking her to lock the door and then fell asleep again.

I woke around 10:30 am, only to find that all of them had left to cover the event – Ami, Ima and all the print and TV journalists. There was no one in the hotel. I was astonished as to why Ami had not called me, only to find later that she was more worried about my safety. Her driver told me this later.

I came down to the cafeteria and found Mr Ramakant Awasthi, the local Bureau Chief of Dainik Jagran there. He had not left as he was filing a breaking news report to his HQ. I told him about my problem and he then asked me to accompany him to the place where the ‘Ram Shila Pujan’ was scheduled to take place.

Midway through the drive he told me that the state government has not allowed Ramchandra Paramhans and other hardliners to cross the intersection which led towards the disputed site. Rather, it ordered them to perform the Ram Shila Pujan at the residence of Ramchandra Paramhans in the Digambar Akhara.

I have already described the tight security in and around town. Now it was doubled up on the day. Ramakant Awasthi and I headed towards the workshop from where the convoy was supposed to proceed to Digamabar Akhara to perform the Ram Shila Pujan.

 

 

Sky News Team and Ami’s Departure

 

The distance between the workshop place and Digambar Akhara was roughly two and half kilometres. But as was we predicted, the streets, bylanes, intersections and rooftops of temples and houses were occupied by more than 5,000 people in this two and half kilometres stretch. Most of them were local residents and a little over a thousand and a half would be the people who had come in from the nearby villages, and who were referred to as ‘Kar Sevaks’. Ramakant Awasthi and I reached the workplace which was located by an isolated route road and as we reached there we found there was no place in and around where we could stand or view the ‘Havan’ (a pre-ritual before the Ram Shila Pujan). We stood and waited outside.

TV media persons, both (domestic and international) had stationed themselves in the places they found most suitable to cover, but mostly they were all ready to accompany the procession. Some of them on hand climbed onto rooftops to get a clearer view of the whole event.

It was almost impossible for me to look out for Ami in this ocean of men, women and Sadhus. I realized that I had lost her. This worried me. Just then I looked towards Ramakant Awasthi who had moved towards the entrance gate and as I followed him I saw a fat man in his forties coming towards me.

Richard, a British media person, had landed from Beijing, along with his small crew representing Sky News. Richard himself was the editor, while Peter, a rather young man was the correspondent, German born Inka Kretchmer being the producer of the team representing Sky News. I must mention that Sky News is a sister company of the media empire created by Rupert Murdoch, of News Corporation. Sky News primarily broadcasts in Europe and its other sister company Fox News broadcasts on the American continent.

The small Sky News team was confused as what to cover and what not to, so Richard asked for a helping hand which I could not refuse. Knowing that maybe I would not be able to meet Ami and that it would be a great learning experience, I agreed. The Sky News team was using the best technology available – a satellite phone, a link with the Beijing studio, as well as a smart and beautiful producer. We all just walked around and searched for a place where we could station our camera. Finally, Richard suggested that we should occupy a rooftop. Since all the temple structures were in a bad shape we decided to get onto a rather good building.

Now we were on the rooftop of an old structure, just across the road and directly in front of the workshop place we could see all that was going on inside but I still could not see Ami and Ima. Richard asked me to explain what was going on inside the workshop place and I explained that the VHP leaders, Ramchandra Paramh Hans and his 500 followers were performing ‘Rudra Ashtadhyayai’  – a worship offered to Lord Shiva. Thereafter a procession was supposed to move towards the Digamabar Akhara.

Richard started his PTC on the satellite link, “Hail to Shri Ram…,”…….that this is what we could hear across the holy town of Ayodhya’. He completed this in three minutes and soon we saw that the procession had started moving. We wrapped up our equipment and thanked God that all had gone well but all of a sudden we heard a loud bang and a huge hole appeared in the rooftop. The building was collapsing and all we could see was a man who was reporting for an Indian channel, collapsing into a side hole along with the debris. The hole was aone meter in diameter. We helped the Indian reporter come out and landed safely onto the floor of the building and joined the procession.

The VHP members, the Kar Sevaks and many people joined the procession, while the residents of the town occupied the streets and rooftops.

As I joined the procession I could see that an elderly and rigid monk who had challenged the entire government over his commitment to perform Ram Shila Pujan, had a great fan following. The Ram Shila was kept on a wooden chariot, while the VHP leaders like Ashok Singhal and Ramchandra Pramhans were walking barefoot behind the chariot. The atmosphere was filled with chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and we were soon crawling amidst a heavy crowd.

All of sudden I saw Ami and could easily judge that she was more than a little tense as she kept herself busy clicking photographs. Inka Kretchmer, who by now was well versed in communicating with me, whispered in my ear, “Oh that American photographer…she is awesome!”

Ramchandra Paramhans by then had trembled and fallen down twice and was sweating while shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Ashok Singhal was holding his hand but insisted on being on his own. And somehow by the time we reached the Digamabar Akhara it was a huge mess. Thousands of people covered every inch of the ground. Inka and I stood in the crowd, while Richard and Peter went inside the Akhara to cover the Ram Shila Pujan. Inka offered me a bottle of water as was all we had at that time.

The Ram Shila Pujan lasted for two and half hours amidst a constant fear of a possible lathi charge, yet we somehow had managed to remain static. The moment it finished we heard the Kar Sevaks shouting, “Jai Shri Ram, Ho Gaya Kaam.” I saw Richard and Peter coming out and hired a taxi to the Krishna Palace hotel, from where he was supposed to go live for Sky News. I said farewell to the Sky News team at the Krishna Hotel and then rushed to the Shan-E-Awadh to see if I would be able to meet Ami. As soon as I reached “Shan-E-Awadh” I realized, and to my astonishment, Ami and Ima had both left to catch a flight from Lucknow to Delhi.

I was nervous, pained and emotional at this. I had thought that perhaps when I knocked at her hotel room door and Ima opened I would get one last chance to see Ami. I was determined to see her at least once in Delhi, so did not bother to go back to my village, as I had my luggage with me. An Associated Press journalist gave me a ride up to Lucknow and from there I reached Charbaagh Railway Station at 10:00 pm to catch the Lucknow mail.

The next day, early in the morning, I knocked at my brother’s residence in Noida.

Ami had left her Delhi address in my uncle’s diary, which I had copied into mine. I told my brother that I was going to consult a library in the South Campus, but was actually determined to go to Defense Colony to the address that Ami had left. Perhaps it was just a coincidental meeting with her in Ayodhya, which should not have been prolonged to Delhi, I thought. Ami was staying on the second floor of a beautifully built house. I held my breath as I spoke to the guard. He asked me several questions before finally reflecting my name on a mirror which he showed to Ami over a camera.

I was not sure how Ami would react, but waited for her to come out. The next moment I saw the lady whom I had helped to the best of my efforts. She came out on to the terrace and said, “Go away, leave me alone.”

Sometimes you meet people and develop a bond with them, and then all of sudden when the thread of that bonding is broken you feel nothing but start acting like a fool. That was my state of mind when I was coming out onto the main road. I felt as if I had lost all my money and savings in a gamble.

My next destination was the one place that was not untouchable to every single student who had no money to get enrolled into an academic program, but wanted to enjoy a campus life – my own South Campus.

I entered like a hero and felt like a star when someone told me, “Oh I saw you on TV, you were standing behind a monk.” I realized that perhaps this was the reward which Ami had saved for me.

 

 

Sardesai Syndrome

 

As I was trying to understand Ami’s behaviour I was also busy talking to my friends about what I did in Ayodhya. Murthi served me a good south Indian lunch and Nagesh, who was the cigarette supplier for South Campus, was there to give me a packet of cigarettes. I somehow overcame the ‘Ami factor’ and tried to enjoy the atmosphere of South Campus. But I knew that once again I was going to face the same challenges and the same amount of struggles in this new phase where I had to indulge myself in the search for a job.

So I rested in South Campus for a whole day, and then again took the number 323 bus to Noida. My mind was mapping all the possible avenues I could explore for a job in the media industry. This time I was a little confident that my experiences in Ayodhya would help me in finding a place in this industry. My mind explored all possible TV Channels, and also this time as well as, international media organizations I was intending to explore.

I reached my brother’s residence and without discussing anything with my parents, (who had already arrived from Ayodhya to join the rest of us) and my brother I went to sleep. I started writing down all the addresses and contact numbers which I was planning to try the next day in a diary and as I was addicted, first rang up the BBC office around 11:00 clock the next day. Just to remind all of you and I do not know why but I had started writing e-mail dispatches, the inspiration for which I had got from Anita Pratap, about whatever I had observed in Ayodhya. I filed e-mail reports to big shots in the media industry, like Rajdeep Sardesai and also to people in the BBC. I do not know whether it was the pressure of joblessness or my cynical desire to be a journalist, but I dispatched all my e-mails to the BBC HQ in London, addressed to Mr Nik Gowing, their prime time presenter and editor.

To verify my contributions I rang up the BBC’s Delhi office and again the lady who answered was Seema Chishti. She was very polite this time and asked if I made a documentary in Ayodhya, to which I explained what I had done there. She suggested that I speak to the ‘bosses’. I do not know what was wrong with me, but I had never dared to speak to the white bosses in the BBC’s India office. Perhaps the hurt of my discontinuation from the internship was there in my mind. Also, somewhere I thought that my little experiences in Ayodhya were not sufficient to enable me to speak to such senior people in such a big organization. But what I continued to do was make phone calls, which were sometimes attended to, and sometimes ignored. Most of the time they were considered spam calls.

I had met some Associated Press journalists in Ayodhya, like the person who had given gave me a ride to Lucknow. There was also fresh news there for me. The head of Zee News, (who was earlier the team leader of English bulletins, and about whom I have mentioned in previous chapters, had joined the Associated Press). She was married now. This link was sufficient for me to approach the AP so one fine morning I landed in the AP office in Zorbagh, in central Delhi.  I never realized that I might be imposing myself before such a big organization and such a nice lady. A very civilized lady she is and was warm and helpful to my problems. She attended me and I congratulated her on her marriage and then put forward my problem that I was in need of a job. Maybe, I think it was not the right time to ask such silly questions but to share my feelings on her marriage. So, as I was doing before asking all the individuals in the media circles, I requested if she could do anything for me. She listened very carefully and where everybody had rejected me, she consoled and assured me, but did not promise anything as she was also new in AP. It was enough for me that someone had heard me and given me a full fifteen minutes to express my feelings. There was life and motivation in her words and when I returned home I was more determined.

 

My next destination was to meet the magnet of media, Rajdeep Sardesai, the then political editor of NDTV, a busy man.

He was a man who was born and brought up in a truly western culture. He was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, to a Goan father, the former Indian Test cricketer Dilip Sardesai, and a Gujarati mother, Nandini Sardesai, a Mumbai based activist in Mumbai and former head of the Department of Sociology at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Rajdeep Sardesai attained his schooling up to ICSE at the Campion School in Mumbai, did two years of ISC in the Cathedral School, also in Mumbai, and then completed a bachelor’s course in Economics from St. Xavier’s College. And as I said, he was more inclined towards higher studies in a British atmosphere, so then he went to University College, Oxford, getting degrees in Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Bachelor of Civil Law. Following his father’s footsteps he represented Oxford University Cricket Club in county cricket and played seven matches for them as a batsman in the English summer of 1987. Rajdeep Sardesai switched from print media to television journalism in 1994 when he joined as Political Editor of New Delhi Television (NDTV).

Rajdeep Sardesai is a man who understood the strength of television and also the needs of Indian news viewers. He realized the need for an international television channel with an Indian flavor, and to nourish this dream he quit NDTV to start his own company, Global Broadcast News (GBN), in collaboration with the American giant CNN and Raghav Bahl‘s TV18.

The latter broadcasts the Indian Edition of CNBC called CNBC-TV18, the Hindi consumer channel, CNBC Awaaz and an international channel, SAW. The news channel with Sardesai as the Editor-in-Chief has been named CNN-IBN which went on air on 17 December, 2005. Sardesai has won several national and international awards for his journalism and is the former President of the Editors Guild of India. He is also a member of the Population Council, funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which has its roots in the discredited Eugenics movement. He writes columns for leading English dailies like the Hindustan Times. The Urdu Press Club of India awarded Rajdeep with the Jasarat Award in 2003 for the coverage ofing the Gujarat riots. He has been conferred the honourable “Padmashri” award by the Government of India in 2008, for his excellence in journalism. Under Rajdeep’s leadership CNN IBN has also won Asian Television Awards which recognizes excellence in production, programming and performance.

But for me, I was going to meet a humble man who had inspired me many times, received my phone calls, and gave me the time to meet. This time again he called me up into his office at 11:00 am. I had courage and confidence which had been generated by the lady at AP and also what I had learnt about TV journalism in Ayodhya with me, but above all I had a feeling of greatness, a feeling that one feels when he is meeting a great person. Enlightened, I entered NDTV’s Archana Complex in Greater Kailash and realized it was difficult for me to control my heartbeat.

I was made to wait, relaxed at the reception and walked around before finally I saw the big man himself coming out. With warmness in his gestures, he smiled, shook my hand and sat down with me on a sofa. I told him that I was looking forward to a chance to assist him and work with him. He very humbly asked me to come the next day and to e-mail my resume to him.

This was something which was enough for me, enough for me to start dreaming and flying in the sky. I was on cloud nine when I entered my house. Soon I dispatched my resume to Mr Sardesai on his NDTV e-mail and waited.

The next morning I collected all my certificates and reached the NDTV office just to find that a fresh lot of students from Kamla Nehru College were also invited to be interviewed. I found that these freshly passed students were very excited, not because they were getting an opportunity to work in NDTV, but due to the fact that they had got an opportunity to meet the charismatic Mr Sardesai. Soon we all were all invited to the first floor of the office and from where I could see that some of the interns who had worked with me in Zee News, (the Symbiosis lot who were with me in the Campaign Trail team), had already started working at NDTV.

We all were all asked to wait, and I could see through the glass partition what was going on inside the cabin in which Rajdeep was sitting with another prominent member of NDTV, and anchor Sonia Verma. We were being called in one by one, and were all eagerly asking many questions from the candidate who had just come out to get to know what was asked. I had a looked over my resume and was finding it difficult to control my breath and when finally my turn came, I was feeling that my heart will would jump out of my mouth when I entered the cabin. Rajdeep Sardesai was busy tracking news on his monitor and it was Sonia Verma who asked me to sit. She went over my resume and then Rajdeep turned towards me and said, “We will get back to you.”

I was literally sweating when I came out of the NDTV office and caught a bus to return home. Two days later I called Rajdeep to ask what had happened about my case and he said, ”We have not shortlisted you.” And that was the end to my efforts to gain a second entry into TV news. Somehow I tried to accept the truth that I was perhaps not fit for my dreams which now I dared not to nurture.

This was a debacle for me, but rigid and determined I kept writing reports and dispatching them to Rajdeep Sardesai and Nik Gowing, without realizing that they were all considered as spam mails, and most of the time were deleted by the recipients. I also extended this habit to Anita Pratap, the Associated Press lady, the 43rd president of USA, George W Bush (on his official e-mail id), and several other top notch media giants, until the end of 2010.

 

 

 

Read the next instalment of Story of an Intern in Tuck Magazine

 

 

Ratnesh Dwivedi

Ratnesh Dwivedi is a seasoned Academician, Author, Journalist, NASA Certified Educator and Consultant with 15 plus years in teaching and corporate. He has seen the changing face of global politics and has written extensively on International Affairs.

He serves on board of a dozen global firms ranging from Mining, Oil & Gas, Electricity, Energy, Cyber Security, Intelligence, Defence and Counter Terrorism having the finest people from the corporate world and Goverment onboard.

He holds memberships with global organizations such as ECREA-Brussels, Mission Essential-Virginia, Global Ethics Network-Washington, American Astronomical Society-Washington, Internet Society-Virginia, CSIS-PONI-Washington, RTDNA-Washington, NSTA-Virginia, EIN News Desk, Bush Presidential Center, Texas, etc.

He has authored five books. The Story of an Intern is a Reportage, The Cosmic Mask is a Space Fiction, Third and fourth are awarded academic books. His fifth book, US Intelligence and Cost of War talks about USA Military engagements in the Middle East.

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