Friday, September 2, 2016

The colorful tale of yellow elephant and flying whale

An inspiring story of Fathima Hakkim, the self-taught artist from Kerala

Student life had always been strainful…  Mugging up lengthy paragraphs and formulas were very difficult... Friends and relatives considered her as a stupid girl… Family doctor termed her quirky behaviors as the symptoms of dyslexia... If it was somebody else they would have gave up and reduced themselves to become one among the crowd... But, Fathima Hakkim belongs to a different breed. She decided to challenge her limitations. Her journey so far has not been that easy. She pushed the boundaries and carved out an identity for herself. This is a story of a girl with a fighting spirit that instills inspiration in us.

With an innocent smile, Fathima started narrating her story, "My mother is a teacher and father is a doctor. I have two brothers and one sister. All my siblings are brilliant in studies. I’m the only exception. I can remember a lot of things. If you tell me 100 names, I can repeat those names. But, it is difficult for me to memorize the multiplication tables. I'm also very bad in directions. If I go somewhere, I would forget the direction from where I came from and where am I supposed to go next. It was even difficult for me to identify colors, in school, if the teacher asks me to color the elephant black; I would choose some other color.”

 “My teachers and parents had a tough time teaching me. Getting punished by teachers and standing outside the class were the only two things that I remember from my school days as it was part of my daily routine," Fathima continued.

"As my aversion towards studies continued, my parents took me to the family doctor.  The doctor told us that these are the symptoms of Dyslexia. After that, my parents became very much concerned about my studies and future. After a long battle with studies, I finished my schooling and managed to join the Architecture course. Within a few months’ time, my professors in college understood my "brilliance" in studies. They called my mother to the college and asked her to discontinue my studies, as they strongly believed that I'm not capable enough to clear the exams. My mother requested the professors to allow me to continue the studies and she also promised that I would work hard and clears all the exams. Even though I tried really hard, I couldn't clear all my exams. I took me multiple attempts,” said Fathima.

Painting: Where dreams get a new glow

It was really surprising for us to believe that how Fathima became a talented painter even after having challenges in identifying the colors. She pushed herself really hard and expanded her horizons to the universe of colors.

"At the age of 5, I took the brush in my hand. As I was neither a bright student nor an active person, I had very limited friends. So, I spent my time alone painting in my room. Initially, when my parents saw my indulgence in painting they were afraid that it would distract my attention from studies. After a point, when they saw me winning prices in school and state level drawing competitions, they slowly allowed me to paint,” smiled Fathima. 

“Gradually, painting has become the language I use to express my thoughts. Just by seeing my painting one could guess my thought process. I didn’t take any formal training in painting. Whatever I’m drawing today are the result of my continued effort to improve myself.  I have my unique way of painting. Instead of a brush, I use my fingers to draw my paintings. I like to draw on wide canvases fixed to the wall or spread on the floor. All my paintings are the extensions of my dream. You can see giant blue whales flutter their wings and birds swim deep inside the blue ocean,” Fathima took us deep into her world of colors.

“When I gained confidence in painting, I started a Facebook page and published pictures of my new art works. After seeing my painting photos on my Facebook page, my fan base increased. One of the art enthusiasts from Thrissur contacted me after seeing by Facebook page and asked me whether I’m willing to sell my paintings. Till that time, I never thought about selling my paintings. I never thought that somebody would show interest in buying my paintings. I started selling my paintings. Six of my paintings are decorating the walls of the new house of Ujala company’s MD Ramachandran. Art enthusiasts from Dubai have contacted me and bought many of my paintings. Out of surprise, I asked them what is special in my painting. They told me that, when compared to other painters in India, my painting style is unique because of my self-training. That’s when I realized that my limitations are my strength.  For the first time, I thanked my dyslexia symptoms,” Fathima continued.

“By being a dull student in the class I have not given any proud moment to my parents. Now, they are proud of me, mainly because of my painting skills,” said Fathima in an emotional tone.

A precious gift from god

Marriage was another big challenge for Fathima and she was afraid of that commitment. When her parents started looking for alliances for her, she was very concerned about whether her life partner would be liberal enough to accept her in her originality and allow her to cherish her passion for painting. The families that came up with the alliances were happy to see Fathima’s expertise in painting. But, after they were clear enough to say that they don’t want her to continue painting after marriage.

After initial disappointments, Fathima found the right match for her. Last year, Fathima got married to Sameer, who works in Canada. Sameer first saw Fathima from her Facebook page. He liked her paintings and Sameer’s family contacted Fathima’s family.  During the conversation with Sameer, Fathima listed down all the negative things about her dyslexia symptoms. With a lot of patience, Sameer listened to her. Fathima expected that he would walk back. But, Sameer smiled at her and with a smile he asked her “Okay. Let us stop talking about negative things. Shall we talk about the positive things,” that is where their relationship started.

When commenting about Sameer, Fathima said, “I consider Sameer as God’s gift to me. Our combination is unique. I’m a dreamy person. Sameer is very practical. Once we both were standing on a bridge. I felt like flying and I even told him, “Shall fly down together all the way from this bridge,” he didn’t consider that as a crazy thought. He replied saying, “’It will be even more interesting if we fit in a parachute and then fly from this bridge’. After marriage, he went back to Canada. Once I told Sameer that, I love to look at the shiny stars glittering on a moon-lit night for hours. On my first birthday after marriage, he sent me a surprise gift – a telescope.”

When we spoke to Sameer, we realized that Sameer is undoubtedly an encouraging husband. “Fathima is a real motivation for people with Dyslexia. She didn’t get painting skills by birth. She has rigorously practiced and developed her skill in painting. Now she has created an identity for herself. It is a laudable achievement. I’m doing all that I can do to motivate her to realize all her dreams.”

Fathima wants her painting to help the society. In collaboration with other artists, Fathima has conducted a painting exhibition to help blood cancer patients in Kerala. She celebrates her birthdays in orphanage and old age homes.

As part of Architecture course, Fathima had to submit a thesis. While her classmates were very keen on submitting commercial projects, Fathima selected a project that focused on creating a self-sustainable village for abandoned people. In her concept village, each house will have an elderly person from old age home, an orphan from the orphanage and a member of women self-help group to support them.

Each house will function like a family with a perfect combination of an elder and young person. This would give each person a great relief as they will be part of a family. The women self-help group would help the village to become self-sustainable. The long-term vision of this project and the moral boost it brings to those abandoned people were well appreciated by the government authorities and the external examiners. Fathima's self-sustainable village project was considered as the best project.

Fathima would like the government to take this idea further and make it a reality for the benefit of those abandoned people who are leading painful lives. Fathima wants her painting to help the society. In collaboration with other artists, Fathima has conducted a painting exhibition to help blood cancer patients in Kerala. She celebrates her birthdays in orphanage and old age homes.

Fathima has a big dream. She wants to draw more paintings. She wants to conduct more exhibitions. She wants to sell her paintings all across the global. With all that money she wants to buy a big house facing the sea. It would be a bright house facing the sea with a lot of windows. Elderly people from old age homes and kids from orphanages would stay together as a big family in that house.  Early morning and in moonlit night Fathima and her husband with all those extended family members would go for a long walk on the wet seashore. Their laughter should be louder than those rumbling waves.

We have seen artists do painting for a living. But, Fathima is making her life a beautiful painting with an everlasting impression. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

10-rupee auto ride in Bangalore & a surprising marketing strategy

I'm living in Bangalore for over eight years now.

Taking an auto ride remains as my last option till date because of unregulated fares and rude behaviors of auto drivers.

In spite of all that, last week I was really surprised to hear an auto driver charging just 10 rupees to cover an almost 2-kilometer distance, while the minimum fare is over 20 rupees.

Last weekend, I went for a metro train ride with three other family members. After enjoying the underground metro ride we got down at MG Road. The next plan was to do shopping at Commercial Street.

As it was raining, instead of a cab, we decided to take an auto rickshaw. We walked towards the MG Road auto stand. On seeing us, one of the auto drivers asked us, "Sir, Commercial Street?"

I said, "Yes".

To avoid conflict at a later stage, I asked the auto driver, "How much is the auto fare?"

He said, "10 rupees".

I thought I heard it wrong, I asked him once again.

He said, "Only 10 rupees, Sir."

Still, I was not convinced. My next thought was it might be a share auto. "Is it 10 rupees per person?"

"No sir. It is for four people. This is a marketing initiative. I will drop you at Roopam Textiles Showroom near Commercial Street. They have all kind of dress materials. You just have to visit the showroom. Even if you don't buy anything, no problem. We are employees of Roopam. You get the best quality dresses at a nominal price ," he explained.

We were very hungry. So, we wanted to eat first before shopping. We skipped that auto and decided to take another one.

But, all the available autos were from Roopam. We were left with no other option other than to visit Roopam Textiles Showroom.

Just by paying 10 rupees, we reached Roopam Textiles. The showroom guys were so clever. There were no separate entry and exit doors other than the lift that connects the parking basement to the other floors of the showroom. They make sure that you enter the Showroom.

We were dropped at the parking basement and one lift in-charge guy kept the lift doors open for us. One other clueless family was also there in the lift.

Though we had no plan to buy anything from that textile showroom, we ended up buying a dress.
Most of the customers in that showroom were families and seven to eight autos were fleeing to and fro Commercial Street and MG Road.

Even though it is an attempt to increase sales by persuading people, the innovation in attracting customers with the cheapest auto fare is really impressive.

Footnote: Dress materials are slightly overpriced.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Nightmarish Ooty Trip & 3 Encounters with Police

Going out to new places gives tonnes of excitement and loads of new experiences. But, when we are accompanied by close friends, even a trip to the familiar place would become interesting and memorable. If those friends are crazy, it would even become adventurous than what one could ever imagine.

All the fun ended here...

The Beginning

This incident happened when my college friends and I were at the early stages of our professional lives. There was some common dissatisfaction among us regarding the stress we go through while working as journalists. We started thinking about a productive alternative. At that time, one of my friends, Syam, came up with the idea that mushroom cultivation is profitable and we could easily do it in our home town without much investment.

That thought caught the interest of two of us, Sainu and me. After doing initial research, we found that there are many profitable mushroom farms in Ooty. So, we decided to visit those farms in Ooty, which is just four-hour drive from my home town, Palakkad.

At that time, I was in Bangalore, Syam was in Mumbai and Sainu was in Cochin. All of us decided to meet at my house in Palakkad. One fine afternoon, Sainu, Syam and one of Syam’s friends, Shajahan, who was working in Merchant Navy, came to my house on two bikes.

The initial idea was to travel by bike. But, my father advised us to go by car instead of two different bikes. My cousin’s car was kept at my house and my father asked us to take that car, which turned out as the bad decision. That car, a Hyundai Santro, has an important role in this adventurous story. Syam and Shajahan are proficient drivers. So, we decided to take the car. Right next to the gate of my house, the car stopped, giving us the hint that it won’t be a pleasant trip.

 Hairpin bends and scary ride

By the time we passed Mettupalayam and started taking the elevated curves and sharp bends that head towards Ooty, it was dark. Our car was moving on an average speed and four of us were busy in funny conversations and were pulling each other’s legs.

At one point, after several attempts, Syam overtook a lorry. When we were 50-100 meters ahead of the lorry, we heard a thudding sound and it took us several seconds to realize what has happened. We slowed the vehicle and turned back. That lorry with heavy load tilted towards the left side of the road and fell down on the flat place adjoining the road. As we found people from vehicles that came behind the lorry helping the lorry guys, we decided to move ahead.

After crossing 7-8 hairpin bends, we were moving towards the next one. It was dark with a slight mist. Other than car head lights there were no other lights. As we were approaching the hairpin bend, a Tata Sumo was screeching towards us from the opposite direction. Syam’s reflex breaking action stopped our vehicle instantly with a hard jerk. Just before the barricade, the Sumo stopped.

It was a lucky day for that driver and for us. A fraction of a second here and there would have let the vehicle either to cross the barricade and topple several feet down or hit our vehicle. The Sumo driver paused for a few seconds, took a reverse and turned towards the right route with a sigh of relief. At around 9.30PM we reached my uncle’s house in Coonoor. After having dinner we slept.

Waking up to a dreadful day

We woke up, got ready and started the journey towards the outskirts of Ooty where the Mushroom farms are located. My two little cousins also joined us. Between farm hopping, we met a land broker who got into our car and he started showing interior places that are ideal for a mushroom farm. After visiting three mushroom farms, we realized that starting a mushroom farm is not easy and it requires a lot of investment that we can’t afford at that time.

The land broker continued to show us more places.  After a point, we managed to get rid of that land broker. We dropped my cousins at their house and headed towards Ooty. We decided to drop our business plan and enjoy the rest of the day roaming around Ooty. After visiting some interior places, we reached Ooty Botanical garden at around 3PM. The plan was to start our journey to Palakkad at 6.30PM. We entered the botanical garden. Many school children were following their teachers and here and there we could see family crowds and honeymoon couples.

Gaining the energy for the non-stop adventure...

Globetrotter's Mexican stories

Shajahan has traveled around the world and he has stayed in many countries. Throughout our journey, he used to boast about his foreign trips and the party life in different countries.

He kept on telling those stories while we were entering the garden. We were eating fresh carrots and to avoid Shajahan's self-promotion we decided to play with the carrot pieces. We divided ourselves into two teams with two members each and we stood away. One team would throw the carrot piece high up in the air and any of the members of the other team should catch it. We started playing. Within no time it became interesting. Carrot started flying higher and higher and catchers started running further and further.

Tourists, who were sitting around, started looking at us. A big group of school kids from a boarding school were eager to join us. Then it became a huge crowd on the both sides. The cheering became louder and we started rolling on the grass to catch the carrot piece. All of us started sweating. We continued playing till all the carrot pieces were broken into tiny pieces. Then we introduced Shajahan to those kids as the one who roam around the world.

Shajahan started sharing his travel experiences. All the kids were excited to hear that and they eagerly asked questions. The kids became friendly to the extent that one guy asked Shajahan, "Which country girls are prettier?" After asking the question that boy started blushing. With much authority, Shajahan told them that, Mexican girls look so pretty. No other girls look prettier than them.

Shajahan became a celebrity with all those boys becoming his fans. When the boys were about to leave we took a group photo. After 6PM the garden workers started informing visitors that it is closing time. We started walking towards the gate. We came out of the botanical garden and walked towards our car parked on the inner road away from the gate. Shajahan was searching for the car key. He missed the car key. All of us became tensed and we started scolding Shajahan.

The day light was going down and the main garden gate is getting closed. All the visitors were asked to move out. We ran towards the security guards and told them the situation and requested them to let us in. They asked us to search quickly. We ran all the way inside to the place where we were playing with carrot pieces. It was a huge vacant area. We ran around and searched all the corners till it was fully dark.

Drunken goons & daring efforts

We were totally disappointed and we came out of the gate and reached the place where our car was parked. With a torch light we looked around the car. Shajahan apologized for this goof up. After sometime, we realized that one of the back door windows is not locked. There was a gap between the door frame and the top glass edge. We managed to pull down the glass and opened the car doors. We got into the car. Now the next challenge was to start the car. We tried all the tricks without any use.

As it was getting late, we decided to contact nearby mechanic shops. Sainu and I went in different directions to find a mechanic. There was no mechanic shop nearby. I spoke to a tea shop owner and got the number of a mechanic. I spoke to him and request him for immediate help. He agreed to reach the place in half an hour. With a great relief, I walked towards the car, where Syam and Shajahan were arguing with three drunken localites.

I asked Syam what happened. "They are drunk and simply troubling us." The drunken guys were raising their voice and creating a scene. "I want to know how you guys move out of this place. You people from Kerala have a lot of attitude. Last week a few guys came and showed similar attitude we smashed the front glasses of their Bolero, after which they went away without uttering a word."

I asked Syam and Shajahan to keep quiet and looked at the guy who looked like the gang leader. The guy next to that gang leader started blabbering, "Do you know who his father is? He is the Sub-Inspector of the local police station and he lives in police quarters nearby. Nobody messes with him. Nobody asks him any question."

Now, it is very clear who the gang leader is. I smiled at him and initiated the conversation in Tamil. "I know Tamil. And I'm a Senior Report of a leading Tamil magazine. We are here in your place. We should only take back good memories. We lost the car key and we are struggling. We have to go back today and it is dark. That tension led to this argument."

After a pause, the gang leader smiled and said, "Look how you speak. One should not show attitude in a new place. If you show attitude your car will also be smashed like that Bolero."

I told him that "It happened because of the tension. Leave it."

In a sudden shift, the gang became so friendly, "Do you need any mechanic to repair the car? Our friends are there."

"No. Thanks. I have called a mechanic. He promised to come here in half an hour," I told him.

"We will be here only. Call us if you need any help. If you guys want to drink, join us till the mechanic comes," said that guy in a friendly tone.

"No. That’s fine. Thank you," I skipped.

When keyless entry goes haywire

Soon after the gang left, the mechanic came on a motorbike. We were curious to know how the mechanic would resolve the issue. He tried all the tricks and told us that, "In cars with center locking it is difficult to unlock without a key."

After several attempts, the mechanic started removing plastic coverings fitted below the steering wheel. My blood pressure started increasing as it is my cousin's car. After some time, all the wires connected to the steering wheel were protruding out. After doing all these, the mechanic managed to unlock the steering wheel. Then he said, he needs more tools to do further work. So, he asked us to push the car till his mechanical workshop, which is 2Kms away.

While the mechanic slowly drove his bike, Shajahan took control of the car steering. Syam, Sainu and me pushed the car. When we started moving, the local gang came out and asked, "Is it working. Where are you taking it?"

"To the mechanical workshop. Thanks for your help. See you next time," I quipped.

"You guys didn't have drinks with me. Have a drink and go," the gang leader insisted.

"We will have it next time. See you." We moved out.

It was 9PM. All the shops were closed by that time. We were really tired. The breeze was cold as the mist sweeping in. With great difficulty, we pushed the car all the way till the workshop. The mechanic took another hour to give us a solution. He called all four of us inside his workshop and gave us the instructions. "To completely resolve this, I need one full day. The key slot has to be replaced completely. It is very complicated. Another option is, I will show you how to operate the vehicle in the current scenario. Once you reach home, get it sorted at your place."

We looked at each other; the second option looked fine for all of us. We wanted to reach home as early as possible. All of us were dead tired and starving. We told our decision to the mechanic. He started showing us the wires. "Earlier all the controls were on the steering wheel. Without the key it is not possible to operate it. So, I have removed all the wires. One guy, who is sitting next to the driver, should take control of these tasks. To start the car, you have to connect these two wires and push the car. For controlling head lights these are the wires. This is for horn and that is for the indicator."

That mechanical workshop looked like a practical laboratory and four of us were listening to the mechanic like electronics students.

Encounter 1: A lift to mufti police till CBI office

After clearing the mechanic's bill, we push started the car and got in. Syam was driving the car, I took the co-driver seat. We decided to drive slowly as we have to drive down the hill. Below the steering all the wires were projecting out so we covered it with a small towel. We were very hungry and we cursed that day.

"Sorry guys. All these happened because of my mistake," Shajahan apologized.

He expected sympathy from us. But, we all started abusing him. We started cracking jokes on the incidents that happened. We started laughing.

But, that was not all. Just before leaving Ooty town, a group of police stopped us on the road.
We stopped the car. Before the police came near our car, Syam adjusted the towel covering the wires and whispered that he is not going to switch on the light.

Two senior police officers came near the driver seat. Syam lowered the car window glass.

“Where are you coming from?” one police officer asked and looked inside the car.

“Ooty,” Syam said.

“It is so late. What were you guys doing till this time? Where are you going?” he refined the question further.

“Our vehicle broke down. We got it repaired and it took time. We have to reach Palakkad and we are thinking of staying here tonight as it is so late,” I replied with hesitation.

The police officer introduced us to another police officer in the group, who was in mufti. “He is our staff. He has to handover an important file to a CBI office in Mettupalayam. It is little urgent. So, give him a lift till Mettupalayam. He will help you find accommodation in Mettupalayam.”

We tried to avoid that by saying, “No sir, we are very tired. We would like to stay here.”

“It is urgent. That’s why. Help him,” the police officer took the liberty of opening the back door and the mufti police got into our car.

The police officers outside the car started waving their hands. Syam, Sainu and I fiercely looked at Shajahan and he started looking outside. For some time, there was dead silent in the car. After which, as a precaution, I told the police officer that we lost the key and we are driving the car without key. He said, “That is okay. I can understand.” During the journey he became friendly and started sharing his personal and professional experience.

At around midnight, we reached Mettupallayam. We dropped the police officer in the town where he requested us to stop. Before leaving, he asked us whether we need his help in getting an accommodation in Mettupalayam. We told him that, “Anyways, it is midnight. In 2-3 hours journey we will reach Palakkad. So, we prefer driving towards Palakkad.”

Encounter 2: Highway police on advice mode
From Syam, Shajahan took the driver seat. We felt relieved after dropping the police officer. All of us were very tired. Sainu started sleeping even when the police officer was sitting next to him. In minutes even Syam and I also started dozing off. Shajahan was also sleepy. So, we decided to take a nap. We parked the car on the left side of the highway under a tree. As it was humid, Shajahan removed his shirt and pushed his seat back and we slept in no time.

I woke up hearing the tapping sound from the driver’s window. It was a stick. Somebody was trying to wake us up. There was a jeep parked next to our car. It took me a few minutes to realize that it is a Police Jeep.

Shajahan and Syam also woke up. Shajahan was surprised to see the police guys once again. Shajahan pulled down the window glass and was trying to find his shirt. There were three police officers, one of them asked us to switch on the light inside the car and come out. Shajahan switched on the light. The steering wheel with the wires was covered with the towel. One of the assistant police officers peeked into the window and removed the towel. And the senior police officer also looked in.

“Where are you coming from?” the police officer asked us while looking at the all-wired steering wheel.

“Ooty,” replied Shajahan in low voice.

“From where did you guys lift this car?” the officer asked us to come out of the car.

Sainu was not at all disturbed by all these conversations. He was still sleeping comfortably balancing his head on half-opened window glass. Three of us got down from the car and went near the police jeep.

“Where did you lift this car?” the police officer asked us once again.

“We went for an Ooty trip. There we missed the car key. A mechanic there took all the wires out to help us start the car without key. While driving towards Palakkad, we felt sleepy. So, we thought of taking a nap,” we explained him the situation.

He was not fully convinced. What are you guys doing?

I introduced myself as Assistant Editor of XYZ magazine, Shajahan introduced him as merchant navy officer and Syam introduced him as Senior Reporter of XYZ newspaper in Mumbai.

“What about the guy sleeping in the car?” the assistant police officer was curious.

He went near the door and tried to wake Sainu up. Despite being thick friend of Sainu, even Syam and I don’t dare to disturb him while he is sleeping. After 2-3 attempts, the police officer managed to succeed in his attempt. With great difficulty Sainu opened his eyes. He looked at both the police officers. Without any change in facial reaction, he asked “What?”

Taking by surprise with Sainu’s reaction, the officer asked him, “What is your name and profession?”

“I’m Sainul Abudheen. I’m the Legal Correspondent of XYZ newspaper in Cochin,” he was brimming with irritation and his voice was loud. After replying he immediately went back to sleep. Three of us were shocked after seeing Sainu’s blind boldness.

The police officer checked our ID cards for confirmation. After realizing that three of us are Journalists and one from Navy, the senior officer mellowed down his voice and became friendly.

“You should not park your car on highways. It is risky. What if a vehicle comes out of control and bangs your vehicle. If you are sleepy, park your car in any of the petrol pumps and sleep. That is safer. Don’t park your car here. Have a safe trip,” they shook hands with three of us before leaving while Sainu was sleeping comfortably.

We push started the car and started moving. We made fun of Sainu’s boldness. “Even if Commissioner disturbs my sleep, my response would be like that,” Sainu responded.

Encounter 3: The strict police officer of Walayar

We couldn’t control our sleep not even for half an hour. Once again we parked the car. This time it was a little away from the highway, in front of a closed shop. That area was full of mosquitoes. Because of mosquito bites, we couldn’t even sleep for 10 minutes. We cursed all the gods and push started the car. Syam took the driver seat. All of us decided that nobody is going to sleep. Shajahan started sharing Mexican stories. Once again we started pulling each other’s legs.

With great struggle to control our sleep, we crossed the Walayar check post and entered Kerala. It takes another 30 minutes to reach my house. It was 2.30 AM. Shajahan, Sainu and Syam felt that it is an odd time to reach my home and they felt that it would affect my parents sleep. So, for the third time, we parked the car in an isolated place next to the highway and started sleeping.

In my deep sleep, I heard the tapping sound on the driver’s window glass. Initially I thought it was a dream. When tried hard to open my eyes. I couldn’t believe, once again police! All of us woke up and looked at each other.

A senior police officer was sitting in the jeep and a young assistant police officer was standing near our car. We opened the window and switched on the light. We were asked to handover the car key. We looked at each other. The assistant officer looked inside the car and removed the towel from the steering wheel. He saw all the wires and the key slot was empty. He informed what he saw to the senior officer. Four of us were asked to come out of the car.

“Four young guys, odd time, car parked on highway, no keys, all wires disconnected… What should I conclude?” The senior police officer asked us in strict tone.

Once again we explained the whole story.  With little hesitation, the senior officer said, “Ok. Show me the papers.”

Before we started from Palakkad, my father showed me where the car-related documents are kept.
I went inside the car and took those documents and gave it to the senior officer sitting inside the jeep.
While looking at the documents, he asked me, “Who is the owner of the car?”

This is my cousin’s car. “What is the owner’s name?” he asked.

I told my cousin sister’s name. “No. That’s not matching the name in the document,” he raised his voice.

“Then it would be in her husband’s name,” I told my brother-in-law’s name.

“No. That’s not the name. You guys don’t even know who the owner is?” he further raised his voice.

“Sir, it is a second hand car. I’m not sure whether they have transferred the name or not,” I tried to explain.

“How can I believe you guys? There is no key. You don’t even know the owner’s name. Then how can I believe,” he ridiculed us.

“Sir, I’m a magazine Editor, he is a senior Reporter, the third guy is working in navy and the last guy is also a Reporter. We have ID proofs,” I replied.

 “We didn’t do any offence. We just lost the key.  We can understand your version of things. We ca show you the ID cards to prove our genuineness,” Syam replied.

“Should I be afraid of journalists? Being a Reporter or Editor doesn’t mean that you can escape from anything. I’m not afraid of any journalists and they don’t have any special privilege” the police officer was trying to dominate us.

“Sir, do whatever you feel like! We have seen many police officers like this,” once again Sainu raised his voice.

“If I register a complaint, it attracts a maximum punishment of six-month imprisonment.” The police officer thought for a second and said, “This time, I’m leaving you guys. Leave immediately from this place.” After handing over the documents, the officer asked the assistant to start the jeep.

Before we push started our vehicle, the police jeep moved far away from our sight. Wondering about all that happened in a night, we reached my house. We explained the whole story to my father and we showed him the car. He regretted for his decision to allow us to take the car and he ended up fixing it by spending a huge amount from his pocket.

After that trip, I never met Shajahan. That one adventurous trip was more than enough to remember him for a life time.

Some memories are like this. Even if it is nightmarish, the people who were part of it make it so special.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The man who converts old sarees into beautiful bed spreads

For Bangaloreans, Commercial Street is undoubtedly one of the favorite shopping spots. More than guys, the bustling lanes of Commercial Street spread out loads of delightful options for all those pretty girls.

During one of those lazy strolls devoid of any purpose, my wife and I noticed that narrow path between two shops. Only one person can comfortably walk on that narrow path that leads to what seems to be a house. What caught our attention was, both the sides of the wall were beautifully decorated by the unique and colorful quilts/bedspreads. By the time we reached that house, we got to see all the varieties available in that place.

An aged guy (Fazal) wearing white vest and trouser welcomed us. “Come Sir... Come in… I have more options inside.” We entered his work place, which is a room with a sewing machine surrounded by a huge bunch of sarees and quilts/ bedspreads.

“Here are more options. All stitched using old sarees. You just give me old sarees, within a week I will give you a beautiful long-lasting bedspread made out of Recron Fiber Fill. In shops they would easily charge over Rs. 1500/. I give you good quality stuff which is washable like your normal bedsheet.” He spoke to us in fluent English which is unusual among other shop owners in Commercial Street.

“I’m not doing it for money. This is not my profession. It is my passion. I’m staying upstairs and this is my work area. It is just a time pass for me.” He was very open and friendly.

We took his business card and decided to give it a try. When we visited him the next time, we took an old saree and gave it to him. What we got it return, though after a week’s delay, was amazing.

I was impressed with his idea of using old sarees to stitch bedspread. I liked his unique selling proposition (USP) as it gives a personal touch to the customers and they would be excited to use those old sareers which otherwise would be of no use. When it comes to quality, it is far better than those quilts/bedspreads that we get in super markets.

Just to appreciate his innovative thinking and talent, I thought of sharing this :)

M Fazal
Comfort Bedding
No. 91, Jumma Masjid Road (OPH Road)
Shivajinagar, Bangalore
Mobile: 8105073730        

Comfort Bedding @ Commercial Street

Work place...

More Options...

Mr Fazal helping us pack the bedspread

Bedspread that we got :)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Designer’s Date with Destiny

Friends and friendship always go beyond the scope of its definitions. During the course of our life we befriend many people. Some of them leave without any trace and some of them leave indelible marks in your memory that stay forever.

Mohan, for me, belongs to the second category. There were several contradictions between Mohan and me. But, there was something that kept us together.

Story Begins

I was introduced to Mohan by my ex-boss on my first day in office as Assistant Editor of a leading business magazine. My boss said, "You both have to work together. You both know Tamil. That will help in simplifying the communication process."

After introduction to all other team members, in a small cubicle that could accommodate four desktops, I was given a corner seat facing the wall. Mohan was sitting behind me. Mohan was very senior to me and had over 20 years of experience in advertisement companies as a Designer. So, he carried that pride and had the rigid nature of rejecting the design suggestions from senior Editors. So, my primary responsibility was to take the concepts from senior Editors and make Mohan replicate the same in colorful printed pages of the magazine. I got this tough task as my prime responsibility.


Steep Learning Curve

In the very next issue of the magazine was a special issue and we were asked to change the overall layout of the magazine. For me, that was my first print media desk experience. As a novice, getting this tough task as my first assignment was nothing less than a nightmare.  

During my magazine journalism classes in college, I have come across magazine editorial jargons. Even we had magazine design as a topic. There we randomly got one magazine each from our professor and were asked to design cover page and conceptualize content pages. The challenge was, we were not given computer or any other software to do this task. We have to draw and show how a cover page looks and where we place the image and the text.

Above all, in the class, in front of all the batch mates, our professor would ask which color we used for the masthead? We would be saying teacher etc. Our professor would then correct it with her feedback. That's the only experience I had as a Designer.

I had one other experience related to design. I did a Graphics Design course with two of my crazy friends in college. The computer training center was located in a colorful and famous college in Kottayam, Kerala. 'Bird watching' was the main motto. We stretched that two months long course to four months and ended up learning nothing. We spent time roaming around the college campus. We chit chatted with fellow students in computer class. We also played computer games when the tutor was not around.


Catapulting Challenges

To start the editorial process, I have to understand what the existing layout of the magazine was. Mohan and I didn't face issues in breaking the ice. He helped me find previous issues of the magazines. I went through all the magazines and got a good idea of the design standard of the magazine. I had detailed discussions with Mohan. We went out to buy old magazines for design reference and took inspiration from those magazines.

For each section of the magazine, we started creating different layouts. In the next one week, after several rounds of approvals and disapprovals we finalized the layouts for the whole magazine. When the magazine came out, it got mixed responses. But, undoubtedly, it gave me a lot of learning.

By nature, I'm a calm and composed person. That came in handy when I worked with Mohan. I understood his nature of work and adjusted myself to that. He didn't like people commanding him. He works at his own pace. During magazine closing time, I had a tough time working with him. Boss would set unrealistic deadline and Mohan would say "That's not possible. I won't do it". Every magazine issue closing was like real crazy time for me.


Sleepless Nights in Office

During most of the issue closing work. For Mohan and me, office becomes our home, as we would stay in office during weekends. The work starts on Friday morning and it continues till Friday night and  after midnight we would sleep on any of the tables with newspapers as our blanket and a bunch of old magazines as a pillow.

We wake up early in the morning and continue the work till noon or evening depending upon the volume of work. I would edit the articles and attach relevant pictures and send it to Mohan and brief him about the number of pages and overview of the layout. By the time he finishes the first article, I would send him the second one. Finally, chopping the articles and tweaking the layout happen to adjust the space.

The advertisement would be placed in order and as per the last minute change content would be shifted. All kinds of permutation and combination happen while creating the final pages of the magazine.


Shaky, Shivery Brandy Walker

At around 6 PM, all the employees would leave office. During issue closing Mohan, the senior security guy and I would be the only people in the office. In between my editing works, I keep on reminding Mohan about the need for finishing things faster.

After 8.30 PM, Mohan's pace of work declines drastically. That's when we send the security guy to buy brandy and side dish for Mohan and food for me. Mohan was addicted to drinking alcohol. Many a times I have seen his hands shivering and he struggles to keep the mouse in control. As soon as the security guy brings food and drinks, Mohan takes his quota of drinks and snacks and set the drinking table very next to his keyboard. In a glass, he mixes high proportion of brandy in little water and gulp the whole glass full of brandy in a few seconds time.

Most of the time, he used to drink like this in empty stomach. I tried my luck several times advising him against this unhealthy drinking habit. Every time he would smile and say, "Pradeep we have to enjoy each and every moment in life. I’m well over 45 years of age. I’m not married. But, I have experienced all good things a married man would. Enjoy life till the last minute. Lead a life without any regrets. Live as if there is no tomorrow." I felt too young to advise a senior person like him.

To keep him active, I ask him questions. In between gulps, he would share his interesting and eventful life experiences. The security guy and I would have our food listening to Mohan's narration. After drinks, at the most, Mohan would finish two to three pages of work. Then, he starts giving excuses. I won't compel him after that. I would give him the plan for the next day morning. After 10.30 PM, I would go to the other end of the office with a bunch of newspaper and magazines. Mohan would watch some videos on his desktop and sleep near his desk.

The next day, most of the time, a Saturday, I wake up at around 6 AM and refresh myself in the office rest room. By that time, Mohan would be ready in front of his desktop. This is the time, I found him more efficient. We both speed up the work. Mohan creates new pages. I would send final pages in PDF format to my senior Editor by mail. The senior Editor would send the corrections by mail or phone.

By the time all the changes are carried out, time would be 4 PM. Well before winding up, we take print-outs of all the pages and on Mohan's bike, we both reach the Chief Editor's apartment entrance and hand over the print outs to him. With that, our responsibilities are over for the day. Mohan would drop me in the bus stand and he goes his way.


Sherif, the Ganja Guy

Our office was located on the 4th floor, which is the top floor of that building. It had a wonderful terrace with trees shadowing both the corners. As I used to stay beyond office time, the terrace and the beautiful city view from that terrace were my only reliefs when I was in office. From the terrace, I have watched the sun set behind far away high rise buildings and rain showers on the city landscape. A bunch of my office colleagues and I used the terrace for friendly conversations after long busy days at work.

Mohan had a good friend named Sherif, who frequently visited the terrace. Along with drinks Mohan smokes cigarette a lot. Whenever Mohan goes out to terrace to smoke, Sherif would accompany him. In fact, Sherif is one of the owners of that office building. Like Mohan Sherif was also unmarried. And both of them were of the same age.

Sherif was working abroad and he was an Engineering graduate. After a great start, he didn’t utilize the opportunities that came his way.  He became a failure in both his life and career. He went through a depression phase and got addicted to ganja and liquor. All his brothers and other family members ditched him. Our office building was his father's property. All three sons, including Sherif, shared the rent amount they got from that building. In that too, Sherif got a minor share.

With stained teeth, faded dress and shabby look, Sherif was a fun element for all others in the office. But, Mohan treated him like a brother. Sherif shared his painful experiences with Mohan. He advised Sherif and injected confidence in him. These conversations happened in the shady corner of the terrace. While Mohan smokes cigarettes, Sherif would smoke Ganja.


Terrace Intruder

After a few months, when Sherif became loud and excited on the terrace, somebody escalated it to Sherif's brothers. After that, the terrace door was closed to avoid his intrusion. After two such escalations, Sherif went missing. Nobody had any clue. After several months, Mohan told me that Sherif was admitted to Nimhans hospital by his brothers for mental treatment.

After a month or so, when the terrace was open to all, one fine day, Sherif came back. He looked very tired. Same old ganja and cigarette smoking session happened. Sherif asked Mohan "Am I looking like a mad fellow Mohan? Everybody is treating me like a mad guy." Sherif was very emotional that day.

Somebody once again reported Sherif's presence on the terrace to his brother. That was the last time I saw Sherif.  Not sure whether he went back to treatment or left Bangalore to escape from his brothers. Even Mohan didn't get any update about Sherif after that.


Mohan Decided to Quit

As work pressure started mounting month after month, Mohan became restless. He started losing his temper. From drinking at night time, he started drinking after noon as well. At lunch time, he would go to a nearby bar to finish his quota and come back to the office. Slowly, people started noticing this.

At one point, the rift between him and the senior management widened and one fine day, Mohan busted out and quitted his job. As a friend, I asked him, "Why did you do this?" He said, "I don't need this job." He left his job just like that without any regret. Within no time another Designer replaced his position. Mohan got his final settlement amount and he had many plans to spend that amount.

After Mohan left the company, work timing became a little bit disciplined. But, the company lost a senior employee, who was part of the magazine right from its initial stages.

After quitting the job, for one or two months Mohan contacted me. After that, there was a long gap. When I tried to contact him, he was not picking the call or the phone was out of coverage area.


Mohan Returns

One fine evening, when I was working late in the office, I got a call from Mohan.  After customary interaction, I asked Mohan “What are you doing now?”

"I'm working in a magazine Pradeep. Affected by Jaundice, I was bed ridden for the last one month. I have spent my entire final settlement amount. Now, I don’t have money. Even for my daily expense, I have to ask my relatives. That's when I got this opportunity. This is a new magazine they are going to start. The owner is a famous Advocate and they have allotted one full room for this magazine work. That Advocate's son is taking care of the magazine work. They don't have any idea about how to start. I need your help to create editorial calendar and overall content plan for that magazine. This is the only help I need. Let me know when you are free. We will meet and talk in detail."

Mohan's voice sounded exhausted. I met him after a few days. Mohan looked tired and his face looked dull. He said his body is weak and the Doctor asked him to strictly avoid alcohol.

"Take care of your health Mohan," I told him and asked him, "Do you need any financial support".

"Thanks Pradeep. Just support me in this magazine work. That is enough." I agreed to help him. On his bike, Mohan took me to that Advocate's office, where he got the job. With a lot of enthusiasm Mohan introduced me to that senior Advocate and his son. And showed me where he work and the designs he created for the new magazine. I felt good seeing him in action. We had a lengthy chat with that senior Advocate. In between conversations, Mohan was expressing good things about my work.

Their intention was to convert an existing tabloid sized newspaper to a monthly magazine format. The whole content and formatting has to be changed. I told them what needs to be done. And they were happy about my views, as they got more clarity in terms of content and packaging it for the magazine.

After that conversation, Mohan, Advocate's son- Naveen, and I came down and had lemon tea in the nearby tea stall. Mohan and Naveen told me about the content they are planning to create for the launch issue of the magazine. While departing, I told Mohan, "Whenever you need help let me know. This office is far away from my place. Moreover, I don’t have a vehicle. So, call me whenever you need my help."


Mystery Continues

Mohan kept mailing me the pages he had created. I suggested changes and he finalized it. Twice or thrice I met him in that office. After that, Naveen kept on contacting me, as Mohan was in and out of hospital. After two weeks, Mohan stopped using his mobile phone. Naveen was the only point of contact for me to know about Mohan's health. Naveen once told me that Mohan’s health is deteriorating. 

I have never been to Mohan's house. So, meeting him in person was getting delayed. At one point, Mohan stopped coming to Naveen's office. Naveen told me that, one fine day, Mohan called him and said that he will not come to the office any more. That was the last message Naveen got from Mohan.

I accepted that magazine work as an attempt to help Mohan. But, when Mohan left the job, I felt pointless in continuing that work. I once again met that senior Advocate and told him that I won't help him any longer. He was not happy. We had some heated arguments and I finally said goodbye.


Harsh Realities

After two to three weeks, when I was busy with my routine editorial works, I got a message from Naveen saying that, Mohan's health was critical for the last few days and he passed away. That message shook me. Mohan's smiling face appeared in my mind. I could hear him calling me ‘P..r..a..d..e..e..p’.

I informed this news to all my colleagues. That topic became a big discussion point and almost everybody in the office agreed to visit Mohan’s house that evening after office hours. But, when I reached Mohan's house, only two other colleagues were there. I worked with Mohan for just one-and-a-half year, but most of the senior colleagues worked with him for over four years. They were supposed to have better connect with Mohan than what I had.

When I entered that small house, I could see Naveen. I stood near Mohan's body that was kept in the freezer. I spoke to Naveen. Except Mohan I don’t know anybody in his family. But, during our late night discussions in office, Mohan had told me about all his family members.


Haunting Memories

When a person dies, not only the connection with that person fades away, but also the relationship we share with his friends and relatives become insignificant. Mohan has introduced me to Naveen and many of his friends. Without Mohan all those relationships are insignificant. 
 I just thought, if I could inform Sherif, Mohan's dear friend, about this sad incident. But, nobody knows anything about Sherif.

While leaving Mohan's house, I could hear a lady in her emotional peak yelling, "He kept on drinking and spoiled his life. He is not even 50 years old...MohanMohan..wake up Mohan…" I thought that lady was Mohan’s elder sister. There is no point in confirming that doubt.

That whole night, Mohan occupied my thoughts. The next day, when I reached the office, the security guy, who used to get liquor for Mohan looked very sad and asked me about Mohan and his last days. After hearing what I said, he said "Mohan sir was a very good person. He spoiled himself. He drank too much."

Inside office, those who skipped the funeral the previous day came to me to get the updates. Then they also commented, "Poor Mohan. He spoiled himself…"

When all the enquiries got over, everybody went back to their normal self. Within no time, it became a regular office day for all of us.

From my seat, I turned back. The new Designer was sitting on Mohan's seat. That's the harsh reality of life. We move on and in that process, we conveniently forget many things.

New people, new places, new expectations... Only a very few things linger in our mind.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Man to Mahatma: Satyan’s stint with newspaper and our great escape

3 Musketeers: Pradeep, Shyam and Sainu
It was the time when I was about to complete my post-graduation in Journalism and Mass Communication, I got a call from two of my classmates, who were in Trivandrum for a secret-cum-sacred mission!

I was looking for a full-time job at that time. Routine classes were almost over and we were focusing on completing our project works. With my studies, I was also doing part-time work as Special Correspondent for a leading regional magazine group. I thought it was the right time to try my luck in English media. There were a few more like-minded friends who were willing to give me company.

Stop Flirting, Start Focusing

We were looking for a hard-hitting break. That break came in the form of a telephone call from Trivandrum. The message that resembled a telegraph note was conveyed by Shyam and Sainu, two of the vibrant buddies from my batch.

The core message that ignited my mind read like this, “Rush to Trivandrum. We got a job in yet-to-be-launched newspaper. The editor is looking for one more promising chap. Appointment is like first-come, first-served basis. We strongly recommended you. Initially he will pay Rs 3500 per month. After 3 months, the salary will propel like a rocket. Don’t waste your time flirting with girls at our university campus! Take the first train to Trivandrum. We will inform the Editor about your arrival.” The message ended in a chorus voice.

My eyes started twinkling, my heart began to pump up more blood to left side of my brain, the so-called haven of creativity (grey cells).

My Bad Habit

I have this bad habit of visualizing things well in advance. When it comes to reality, 99% of the visualized scenes undergo a dramatic shift. Anticipation on the tremendous scope of working in a start-up newspaper boosted me to the extent that the very next day evening, from Kottayam, I reached Trivandrum. As those two vibrant chaps who recommended me for this esteemed post were staying at our super seniors’ house, I also decided to add extra burden to those seniors.

Satyan the Great

After completing the tiresome first day in office, my friends came with all praise for the owner of the newspaper, Mr Satyan, who is the prime focus of this article.

During dinner session at a hotel, Shyam told me that Satyan is a very nice guy and he gives full freedom to express our views. “He gave me the responsibility of creating the content/page split for the newspaper. Could you imagine the significance of this responsibility? Even editors with over 15 years of experience never get this opportunity. You can give all your ideas. This is the best place. In start-ups like this we can learn a lot of things as we are allowed to do end-to-end works.”

Shyam played the right card. He knew my aversion towards monotonous works and my quest for challenges. Once again my eyes twinkled, heart pumped up and grey cells got activated.

Strategic Meeting

Soon after reaching the room, we three sat on the floor, brimmed with excitement, I told Shyam and Sainu, “Let’s come up with a solid plan for page and content split.” I took a white paper and pen from my travel bag and munching the snacks kept by seniors for their drinking session, I started the brainstorming session. I jotted down the number of pages needed for the newspaper, column-split for each page covering national, regional, international, culture, religion, sports, business, entertainment etc. etc.

Like an army officer, who is bestowed with the responsibility of calking out strategy to block enemy attack from the line of control, I led this strategy meeting for an hour. During our serious discussion, two super seniors, who were already placed in regional media, were gulping one peg after another and in between those pegs they gave us their creative thoughts.

All Set for the Big Day

After this strategic meet, I got the gut feel that I’m all set for the big day. Next day, with a lot of interest, we headed towards Satyan’s house. His house was located in the suburb of Trivandrum. At first sight, he looked like a 40-year old guy. He was wearing traditional Kerala dhoti and full-sleeve white shirt that is tucked in till elbow. Boasting four-day mustache and beard, he welcomed us with a whole-hearted smile.

As we entered the house, I auspiciously kept my right foot forward! The hall of the house was converted into a temporary office by placing a cupboard, table with a rolling chair for Satyan and four plastic chairs for the expected guests. On the left side of the hall, there was a room that resembles a prayer room. In place of idols of deities a clap board was kept there. 

Satyan’s Ignited Mind

When the conversation started, I raised this question, Satyan told me that right from childhood, he cherished the dream of becoming a film director, later, after several years of hardships, he directed a movie, the shooting of which was halted mid-way because of some financial crisis. In a bid to rekindle that long cherished dream, he started worshiping the clap board with the hope of directing a film sometime in future.

After going through some bitter experiences, he shifted his ambition from becoming a movie maker to a media baron. Diverting the topic towards the upcoming newspaper, Satyam told us that, as of now, this is a small team. As we joined even before the launch of the newspaper, our future in this new, yet-to-be-named organization would be bright, brighter and brightest.

He added that he has applied for title registration at Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), New Delhi, which would get the approval any time soon. He also claimed that he enjoys the close company of the then senior Union Minister from Kerala. Clarifying the financial source for running the newspaper, he said that he is in the process of selling his ancestral property to fund this prestigious newspaper project.

Out of curiosity, I asked Satyan “What will be the name of our newspaper?” He said, “Man to Mahatma!”

I mumbled the name once again “Man to Mahatma?!!” that too for a newspaper?!!

With a little confusion and in order to get more clarity, I asked him, “I hope, we are planning to launch a newspaper. Do you think this title is apt for a newspaper?”

With eyes wide open, Satyan once again went back to the memory lane, “A few years ago, I had a plan to launch a magazine with this name. It didn’t materialize. So, this time around, with you guys, I’m going to make it happen.”

I looked at Shyam and Sainu who were sitting next to me. They also had this confused look with weird smile. Without even realizing our concern, Satyan continued, “We need to prepare ourselves for the launch. Write and edit as many back-up articles as possible!”

I interrupted him, “But what about reporters and designers?” “We will appoint them soon. Initially, I don’t want to spend too much. So let me know if you have friends who can work as designers and reporters,“ he gave us an instant reply.

Stumbled by one surprise after another, I took a voluntary retirement from asking anymore questions. Meanwhile, Satyan continued with the same thrill and tempo, “As I told you earlier, I have applied for RNI registration. I know a central minister. I can take his help if there is any delay in approval. For finance, I’m going to sell my ancestral property. Once it is sold out, we will get enough funds to run this newspaper for a year or two. Within that time, we will be in a position to make profit from the newspaper revenue. We need sales person in each district, tell me if you have any friends with MBA background. We will provide a motorbike and mobile to these people. The prospective candidate should be vibrant and reliable. Recommend your friends and give them this great opportunity to grow with us!”

The focus of further discussions was entirely on deciding the page split of the newspaper. We listed down all our suggestions; he took some, neglected a few and set aside some suggestions for future.  We continued the brainstorming session till 5 PM and Satyan asked us to leave for the day and also asked us to come early tomorrow.

Day 2: Surprises Continue

More shock awaited us when we entered Satyan’s house the second day. He welcomed us with a bundle of old newspapers and innumerable newspaper cuttings.  In an earnest bid to clear the air, he said, “For a long-time I’m stockpiling a collection of interesting news stories in the hope of using it for the newspaper when I start one. Don’t underestimate these as published articles. We are targeting unique readers who read only our newspaper. All other newspapers have their own set of unique readers. So rewrite these stories, change the story angle, give a catchy heading then the story is ours.”

At this point, we three realized that something is really going wrong. Satyam asked us to pull our chairs closer to him. He started assigning us work by distributing paper cuttings to each one of us. “This is for national page. This news item is for international page. This one suits well for the third page, which is for regional news. Edit and rewrite it. I will have a final look.” He gave us whitepapers and told us, “Use both sides. Don’t combine two different stories. If you find any two stories worth combining, do let me know.”

He started cutting stories from newspapers while we were sorting and prioritizing the newspaper cuttings handed over by our esteemed editor!

Blame Game

I and Shyam skillfully brought out our acting skills to pretend as if we were deeply dedicated, at times, we showed more dedication than Satyam himself. But Sainu, because of his candid nature, started showing aversion right from his day three at office. When Satyan went out to fetch the latest newspapers, Sainu threw one of his newspaper cuttings somewhere to the corner of the room.

As Satyan already scattered paper cuttings with unimportant news all over the hall. Sainu’s newspaper cutting vanished among those papers. As Sainu and Shyam started abusing Satyan, I started abusing them for pulling me into this. While Satyan was away, we went out of the house to have some fresh air. After a few minutes when we noticed Satyam coming back with another bunch of newspapers, we rushed into the house and started working.

Satyan entered the room with the same old smile, sat on his chair, we passed cold smile targeting Satyan, he asked, “How far have you done with rewriting?” As an attempt to confuse him, Shyam said, “Initially it takes more time for rewriting, second and third rewrites take lesser time that the first one!”

When Satyan went out and came back the second time, he saw Sainu stretching on the chair by resting his two legs on Satyan’s table. Satyan’s smile vanished and he became little serious, but to our benefit, he didn’t comment anything about that.

Satyan asked us to complete 10 rewrites per person. When we were indulging in rewriting, Satyan was churning the newspaper cutting given to us. He noticed that one story on Christian societies in Kottayam missing. That’s the same story, the paper cutting of which was thrown by Sainu to the extreme corner of the room.

My eyes started looking at the corner of the room where the paper was thrown.  We unanimously said that we didn’t get that particular paper cutting. Satyan was very sure about his memory skills. “That was an important story. You should learn to identify news values in a story. Mugging up journalism theories and vomiting those theories in exams and getting marks will not make you a real journalist. I know the importance of that missing story, it attracts Christian population. You people from this generation are very much careless, ” he said in an irritated tone.

Satyan’s Savitri

In the evening, a short lady in sari came to the place and introduced herself as Satyan’s wife. A few minutes after her arrival, Satyam went out leaving the responsibility to his better half. After finishing the rewrites for the day, we handed over the copies to Satyan’s wife.

She spoke with a lot care and compassion. From her conversation, we understood that the couple has no children and Satyan has no job or any regular source of income other than his ancestral property. He made several attempts to direct a movie but the failure of which affected him a lot. Satyan’s wife has a job in Regional Cancer Center, Trivandrum. She financially supports the family and takes care of Satyan's needs. 

 “Even though he failed to find any perfect profession for himself, like other jobless people, he didn’t spoil himself by getting addicted to any bad habits. I’m happy for that and I’m more eager to make this newspaper venture a success,” she shared this with a Monalisa smile.

She compelled us to have dinner with them. When Satyan came, she served us Idlies and tasty Coconut chutney with motherly care.

Sainu’s Day Out

Soon after dinner, we left Satyan’s place. On the way to our room, Sainu said, “I’m not going to come tomorrow. I’m going home. I spoke with my father, he said that ‘this is not the right way to start my career and this will not add any value to my qualification. It’s completely a waste of time!”

I and Shyam were shocked. Shyam tried to convince Sainu, “You heard everything Satyan’s wife said. Both of them have high hopes on us. If we leave now, it will be a great disappointment for them.” 

“In this case, I’m confident that there is no long-term career for us. So, it is better to leave early than leaving later at a crucial point in time,” Sainu was firm on his decision.

The very next day morning, Sainu took the first train to Malapuram. Before leaving he said, “Just tell Satyan that I left because of some family emergency. After 2 or 3 days I will call him and inform that I’m not coming.”

When we entered Satyan’s place, he asked us that expected question. “Where is Sainu?” “Because of some family emergency he went to his home town,” Shyam replied.

After a few minutes of thought, Satyan said, “Don’t ask him to come back. Yesterday, I saw him resting his legs on the table. I’m not happy with his attitude!” We were little shocked, but we took it as a smooth way for Sainu’s exit.

Prediction & Predicament

Sainu predicted it right, our confidence drained drastically day after day. We brought in all our courage and positive attitude, but gave up within three days after Sainu’s great escape. The first half of the first day, we spent it for rewrites and the second half was for brainstorming, during which, Satyan asked us yet another Shocking question, “Do you have anyone in Delhi, who can help us in registering the title of our newspaper?”

Without expressing the underlying shockwaves, we said, “We don’t know anyone in Delhi”. 

The second day made things worse; Satyan took us for a visit to check the print cost for publishing newspaper. We followed him like a Hutch dog from one bus stop to another and to all major printers’ office in Trivandrum. Satyan’s way of bargaining and unprofessional approach irritated many printers and a few of them shouted at him saying that, “You better come up with a budget. Running newspaper is not child’s business.” On each of these situations, we felt very nervous and felt pity for Satyan. At that very point, we decided that it is not going anywhere. So, it is better to quit early that delaying the decision.

During our one-week association with Satyan, we met only one person, other than his wife, at his home. We were the only three ‘recruited’ for running a newspaper and the registration of which was also left to us! We spent all the mere savings we had in this one week. We decided that, staying in Trivandrum and tolerating all these experiments or foolishness of Satyan for getting the first month salary, is not the good idea.

The next day, with a lot of preparation, we met Satyan. With a little hesitation, Shyam started by saying that, “Satyetaa, we need one week leave. We have to submit our dissertation and attend viva.”

With an expression of apprehension, Satyan said in a low voice, “If possible finish your work in 2-3 days and come back. Or else it is okay, I have confidence in you guys. Come back as soon as your exams get over.”

Getting Cash at Cancer Center

We needed money to go back to Kottayam. So, we told Satyan our critical situation and asked him to give us the one week salary. Once again, Satyan gave us an uneasy look and started searching his pocket and took out a bunch of 10 rupee notes, and went into bedroom to start further search. Without any success, he called his wife on mobile and told her that we are leaving to attend exams so he needs money to pay us.

I and Shyam looked at each other. After the phone conversation, Satyan locked the house and asked us to follow him. We took a bus and got down at Regional Cancer Center, where Satyan’s wife was working. RCC has a big campus, we took a long walk. On the way, we found several cancer patients and their families. In 20-25 minutes we reached an office door with restricted access. Satyan asked us to stay at the reception. After a few minutes, he came with his wife. She asked us about the reason for our leave. We told her the same reason. She also said, “Come back in a week's time.”

Satyan asked his wife to arrange money. She looked at us with a smile. We got a guilty feeling in us. After 15 minutes, Satyan’s wife came with the same smile and she gave the money to Satyan. After having a secret discussion among them, they decided the amount for each one of us. Satyan gave us a few hundred rupee notes to me and Shyam. We didn’t check the amount. We smiled at both of them. They repeated, “Have a happy journey. Come back in a week's time”.

We said good bye to Satyan and family at RCC and on our way back we felt sorry for Satyan’s wife. We left Trivandrum and never went back to Satyan’s place or never got any call from him. Till date we don’t know whether the title “Man to Mahatma” was registered in RNI or not, but that title left an ever-lasting impact in our minds.

Many years have passed. Sainu with his 'attitude problem' survived several hurdles and making his mark as an IT journalist; Shyam has already gained experience working in most of the leading newspapers in North and South India; and I had a roller-coaster career that revolved around online, print and now Social Media. Even though we three took different paths later in our careers and made identities of our own, we started our journalism career in English from Man to Mahatma. 

A Few months ago, I and Shyam even thought about making a trip to Trivandrum in search of Satyan and his Man to Mahatma. Distance and time made us postpone that decision.

Satyan’s mobile number is not there in my contact list, but those memories are still there with me. Those memories help us compare our achievements, as the journey towards our dream career started from the unfulfilled dream of Satyan.

In that sense, Satyan is a Man and a Mahatma for us.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nose in Search of News

In 2003, I started my career as a Student Journalist with a leading magazine group named Vikatan. At that time, I was doing my B.Sc degree in Chemistry at Government College Chittur in Kerala. After completing my schoolings in Tamil Nadu my family got shifted to our native place in Palakkad.

After completing my higher secondary, I joined Government College Chittur. I applied for Student Journalist Training Scheme during my second year at college. There were three rounds of selection. One screening was based on the write-up sent along with the application form, second screening was on the basis of the test conducted to evaluate the news sense, writing skills and general knowledge, and the final tests were based on direct interview, group discussion and a field reporting test. After passing all these hurdles one would get to know whether he/she was selected as a Student Journalist.

Only college students who would continue their studies during their journalism training period are eligible to apply. My first attempt was during my second year, in that year, I reached the final stage but I couldn’t clear that final round. I got disappointed after that, all my expectations went wrong, at that time, I didn’t even know the basics of journalism. I waited for a year to apply for the second time, during that period, I closely observed the articles published in all the magazines published by Vikatan Group. I considered my second attempt as my final attempt as that was my final year at college and I never thought of doing a post-graduation.

Like the previous year, I cleared two rounds and made it to the final round, this time, I gained more confidence and that helped me to become one among the 42 Student Journalists who were selected from 2,460 applicants from all across India. That was the proudest moment of my life and I still consider that as a major milestone of my life. My life could be divided into two, before getting selected as Student Journalist and after that. You will also realize this soon by reading the upcoming blog posts.

I got two-day training in Chennai as part of the enrollment as Student Journalist. Experts, writers and previous year Student Journalists shared their experiences during that training session. Selected Student Journalists who successfully completed their one year training were awarded with distinction and outstanding certificates; the experience shared by them inspired me to a greater extent. I decided to be in their position to share my reporting achievements after completing my tenure as Student Journalist with Vikatan. Latter that became a reality but the path towards it was not that smooth as I was the only Student Journalist in that 42 member batch who represented Kerala and all others were from Tamil Nadu.

One of the advantages other trainees in my batch got was the guidance of the staff reporters available in all the districts of Tamil Nadu and the other advantage was that as Vikatan is a Tamil Nadu-based media group, news happening in the State gets more prominence than in other States like Kerala.

After the training sessions, I reached home with a lot of enthusiasm. There was no one to guide me and I didn’t know how to find news sources, and how to fix appointments with interviewees, as soon as I realized this some kind of fear struck me. The first thing I did was to get a camera, an auto-focus one. After loading the camera, I set out my journey to find news. My nose was not that much sensitive to identify news from non-news. Taking photographs in public places made me nervous.

I took a lot of time to take a snap of a herd of stray cows that were relaxing on the busy road near Victoria College, Palakkad, that was my first snap and the first unpublished news item as well! After seeing the print of my first snap I began to admire myself as a budding photographer. After this first news hunt, roaming on the streets of Palakkad in search of news-worthy items became my routine.

At that time, I didn’t realize the need to understand the media for which I report. Meanwhile, my fellow batch mates began to get several bylines for their news items. On the other hand, despite sending several news items, I couldn’t manage to get even a single byline for about two months. All my initial confidence vanished. Weekends and public holidays were the time for my news hunt, on other days, I attended college. Slowly, after several attempts to get a byline I found the missing factor of Tamil Nadu connection to my news items.

At last, I got a byline for a Tamil film poster-based box news item. It was the poster of 'Thulluvatho Illamai', Dhanush’s first film, with a caption quoting the film as an adult’s only movie. I felt nervous to tell my friends about my first byline, but the unexpected appreciation which I got from one of my Tamil professors boosted me and became my first dose of confidence to explore the unfamiliar terrain of journalism.