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Friday, October 31, 2008

Bidding farewell to the Times

Yesterday, an ex-colleague and friend asked me whether I would write something on my association with The Times of India in Mumbai. I turned him down saying there's just too much to write on. But then I thought of giving it a shot:
Today, is my last day at Mumbai Mirror. Four years ago, I had stepped into this building as a gawky little intern. All I had with me was the faith that I could write publicly. That's it. I was just a student of journalism. My friend and I wanted to take up media internships. This was before DNA and Hindustan Times came into Mumbai. We'd called everywhere - from Afternoon to BBC, but were turned down. Some said, "We have too many interns already. We don't need any more." Others just clamped the phone down, without having us utter a word.

Bombay Times
Then one afternoon, my friend got a call from Bombay Times for an interview. And since I had nothing better to do, I accompanied him. That was July 2004. Sitting in the reception area of the monumental Times of India Building opposite CST, I pledged to myself that one day - I didn't know when that would happen or how long that would take - I would have my byline in every publication of that was produced by this publishing house.
My friend was called to the fifth floor office of Bombay Times. I went with him for 'moral support'. We met the city editor. My friend responded to her questions and I simply nodded to those queries. Suddenly, my friend whispered into my ear: "Shit, I haven't carried my resume." I was aghast. He then asked me if I had carried mine. I removed an envelope from my bag. He plucked it out of my hand and gave it to the city editor. "This is Eisha's resume. I'll send mine via email. Is that alright?" She agreed. That's how Himanshu and I got our opportunity to work at Bombay Times.
Having cleared a three-tier interview, we were finally allowed in as interns. We wouldn't be paid. But that didn't matter. We knew we'd meet some of the most influential and glamourous people in Mumbai and so we did. We also realised that celebs were, after all, human. They were as shy as ordinary people are when they meet new people at parties. But the two things BT helped me get over and I shall be ever-grateful for that, are my shyness and phone-phobia.

I remember how the city editor trashed my story because I couldn't get decent quotes out of a bimbette VJ over the phone. Two days later, she sent me to do an interview, which till date, has remained my most amazing interview experience. I had to interview a woman who could hardly speak. But she refused to communicate through her parents. Vipasha Mehta is my source of inspiration. She suffers from cerebral palsy but that didn't stop her from pursuing her PhD thesis. She literally banged her head against the laptop to type her thesis over a period of eight years. If she could face the odds, so could I, I thought. I wrote 750 words on her. The city editor was impressed. The sub editor wasn't - he had to cut it down to 400.

That was the start. I learnt how to interview people. I learnt how to reproduce quotes. A senior sub had told me, "They needn't be verbatim because not everyone can express in words what they really want to say." People may trash Bombay Times and Page 3...but that is where I learnt some of the best journalism tips. It's difficult to get gossip, but if you do and if it's good, it really sells well.
Downtown Plus
I flourished as a writer with Downtown Plus, the south Mumbai supplement of The Times of India. Most people may look at the four-pager as just a 'rag', but those four pages gave me a chance to explore every inch of south Mumbai - from graveyards to dingy theatres, from temples and synagogues to burkha sellers and quaint chai joints in the forgotten bylanes of Bhendi Bazaar and Bhuleshwar, from sailing clubs to fishing villages. It helped me know people from various communities - religious, social, political, artist, expat etc. DTP gave me a chance to do something very different from the celebrity journalism in Bombay Times. If there were a term as explorative journalism, I would have described my stint at DTP as that. And believe it or not, it also gave me international recognition. Not many people know that even the smallest of newspapers can attract wide readership. Besides, at DTP I got a chance to interact with readers - a feat not many journalists can boast of. I got a chance to work with many seniors and even teach a few 'tricks of the trade' to young interns.
My two years in DTP turned me into a very confident journalist. I also realised that though features were my forte, I had a nose for investigative news too. I must thank my mentor Ashish, colleagues Swati an Sanaya and editor Sridhar for honing my skills and giving me the opportunity to write on what I really wanted to write.

Mumbai Mirror
When I got the offer from Mirror for a senior copy editor at the Newsdesk, I wasn't too sure. For one, I had never been a deskie. Secondly, I didn't know how to make pages on Quark Xpress. I must say I was handicapped as my astigmatism made it very difficult for me to gauge two-dimensional space and area. Still, I tried and tried and tried...till a point I realised that there was a very mathematical formula for pages. Once, I cracked it...pagemaking was as easy as rocket science (most would beg to differ...but I find it easier to calculate the escape velocity of a rocket than make a Quark page at deadline time). I started with the Mumbai Talking and Views Pages and graduated to doing the international and city pages. I did the stylish Hollywood pages and even the detailed listings pages (which most consider a waste of time). Sometimes I would make up to eight pages a day and sometimes, two.
Adhering to deadlines became daily challenges which were both stressful and emotionally overwhelming. I would get yelled at for making small mistakes and for not coming up with fresh ideas. Still, the adrenalin rush was something not many could do away with. Mirror has been an experience. It has helped me grow as a journalist and writer. Though people regretfully say that I should have got more opportunities to write at Mirror, I am glad I managed to pack in a few stories (mainly on classical music and dance events) even with the hectic schedule. They also helped me accomplish my dream of seeing my byline in all TOI publications.
What the Times has given me is an awesome support system of colleagues, bosses, acquaintances and friends. It has also introduced me to some great friends - Ashish, Waleed, Shraddha and Vishwas.

It's been just four years but it looks like a lifetime. Then again, I look back and say..."It all happened yesterday." With those thoughts I bid everyone adieu.


Unknown said...

Thank you Eisha for the memories that I have at TOI. Thank you for teaching me to write a feature, introducing me to a whole new side of Mumbai, giving me my first interview and above all, brightening my day with your cheerful voice, wacky sense of humor and your curls. It was great working with you for the eight months I was there.

Win that Nobel Prize girl!

Anonymous said...

Omigosh..four years in as many paras...great feat and well done!

You were the first acquintance I made in this grand old TOI building..The bong connection or call it what you may, I think we struck a cord on that very day.

I wish you have all that is good in life and all that you want in life! Keep in touch friend! Miss you!

Tanishk said...

So sad that you're no more for the Times. Recently I'd been to the building to meet shreedee and co. and I was in shock when I learnt about it. Loved this post. Too good a description of the four years. And yea, thank u sooooo much, if u remember my first story where u had done 98% of the task...But that story proved to be a learning experience for me and today in my latest story I see and realize the maturity and difference in my writing. Thank u so much and do keep in touch.

Sujit On web said...

Some tech-free celebs are recovering tech addicts. Tyra Banks told New York Times Magazine that her BlackBerry habit caused her physical pain. She has since gone low-tech and jots her thoughts in a notebook.
Technophobia, of course, extends far beyond cell phones.
Christopher Walken and David Sedaris don’t use cell phones or e-mail. Simon Cowell says he doesn’t know how to work a computer.