The sun was still bright and I was lucky enough to leave my workplace early that day. Streets were devoid of the usual chaos. Just a few vehicles running amok were a sight to behold. Motorists in Bangalore don't get to enjoy this kind of luxury often. I walked a bit at times right in the middle of the road (empty roads have always seduced me) and soaked myself in the glory of autumn. Voluptuous trees in various hues were glowing bright, green was prominent though. And among all that a faint smell of winter. I realised, winter was around.
As the traffic signal turned red, I saw a bus coming to a halt lazily and waiting for the light to turn green. I embarked on it, almost like a princess, as the empty seats welcomed me with great benevolence. The ticket collector, too, was in a jovial mood. I bought myself a ticket to the Majestic Bus stop.
"Hope we get more passengers. Afternoon business is always slow," the ticket collector giggled as he returned me the change.
His wish was quickly answered. Men, women and children filled up the empty spaces of the huge bus, which till a few minutes ago was emanating petrol odour. All of a sudden I could smell human presence. An elderly gentleman sat next to me. He was gentle enough to seek my permission before taking the empty seat.
Taken aback, I ended up saying, "You are most welcome."
He was carrying a bunch of reading materials in his jhola (bag) and rummaging through it to take out a magazine, perhaps. I smiled at him as he went on with his struggle to find out his favourite one or at least that's what I thought since he kept looking hard enough. Finally, he gave up and blurted out, "Forget it! Not going to read today."
"Why? What happened? Tired of the search?" I questioned.
"Not tired. Just disappointed," he replied.
"Yes....Don't you know, there isn't enough news to read, a deficit in trust value everywhere? Even media has lost its credibility. It is not something new. A few journalists have belittled the profession," he sighed.
"What is the point in devouring magazine and newspaper articles? We never know whether the writer has been paid a hefty amount of money to write it or to hide the truth," he laughed out loudly, drawing the attention of almost everyone else in the bus.
I was slightly alarmed and requested him to lower his voice to avoid unwanted attention.
"Muzzling voices of dissent are not the answers. Media needs to speak up and speak the truth, nothing more and nothing less. But sadly that is not happening. Journalists and editors are now being caught in cameras asking money like pimps. And all these dishearten me," his whole composure took a beating as he animatedly expressed himself.
I queried further, "But, why?"
"Because 40 years ago when I joined the same profession, its essence used to be different. It was not a profession then, but an idea, a mission to fight all odds and bring out the truth. But today, journalism is a business, media is a booming industry. Page 3 is Page 1, even Op-Ed and columns are supposed to spin money for media houses. Of course, advertisements are the most important piece of news. Whichever journal gets the biggest ad is the best one. That's news, isn't it?" he said, shrugging his shoulders.
I could not stop expressing my delight at meeting a veteran journalist.
"So, Sir, you are a journalist! Glad to meet you. So, where did you work? May I know your name, please?"
"What will you do knowing my name? Call me a fossil. I spent almost 25 years working as a journalist in New Delhi. I quit after having a nasty fight with my proprietor. He wanted me to write a story which I never believed in. I stood my ground and they took away the roof above my head. I remained jobless for years and was branded a rebel. Nobody was willing to offer a job to a rebel. This rebel turned old and was forced to leave his karma bhumi for matra bhumi. I stay here with my cousin now," he forced a smile.
I reached my desired destination. He, too, disembarked from the bus before I could have asked for his contact details and disappeared in the crowd.
I spent that entire evening pondering on the video tapes recently released by Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal. The tapes apparently were Jindal's sting operation on editors of Zee TV. I was not surprised to see those videos on news channels. Tapes were just full-proof evidence, what is a well kept secret of media industry and its protectors.
But, I was worried if this profession, once revered as a vocation with idealism, will ever go back to its glorious days when journalism used to be nothing but a medium to reach the truth and journalists the only fountainhead.
(The above piece of the column is a first hand account of meeting a veteran and honest journalist, who is disappointed at current scenario of media industry in the country.)