Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Meeting a Stalwart

It wasn’t chatter, it wasn’t banter…it was superbly presented matter.

I attended a talk by developmental journalist, P Sainath the other day. Before you think that I’ll head off on a wild rant about how perfect the man was until this space begins to resemble a literary shrine, let me assure you that I intend to do no such thing. But it’s important to know why I chose to write about him at all.

I didn’t know much about P Sainath before I attended this talk, largely because rural reporting and all related doesn’t really interest me. I am a much more materialistic person and the simple life doesn’t fascinate me. That’s just who I am and I’m OK being honest about it. So when the man walked in through the doors of Senate Hall, Central College on a sultry afternoon dressed in a khadi brown waistcoat on a white kurta pyjama, I thought to myself, “Oh no, not another intellectual who’s going to try and convert me to numb my fashion sensibilities and don a similar brown garb in an effort to become a better journalist.” Boy, was I wrong.

From the moment P Sainath began speaking, he had an audience, an entire room filled with people, who were keenly hanging on to every last word that he uttered, simply because it made so much sense. The man who spends close to over 300 days in a year in interior India began by saying that the biggest problem today was the divide between mass media and mass reality – the media wasn’t reflecting pertinent issues that the public needed to know. And one such issue was the crisis plaguing Indian farmers. The community that puts food on the plates of the rest of the nation, goes to bed hungry every night. Scores of them have committed suicide in a very short span leaving their families subject to financial and sexual harassment. Where does the injustice end?

Another glaring disparity is between the recently released Forbes billionaire list that boasts of a substantial Indian presence versus India’s position as one of the highest on the World Hunger Index. Who’s about to explain that?

What really struck a chord with me was that he repeatedly addressed the young journalists and student journalists in the room. It felt wonderful to be given that kind of importance when we’re usually the lowest rung of an educated gathering. He gave some important advice as well. Not the empty nonsense that fades away after the applause dies down. It's advice that’s likely to ring in my ears for as long as I choose to be a journalist. Those words were that, the success of a journalist depends on how relevant they make themselves to the great processes of their time. If you’re out of sync with that vital component, you can’t expect to serve much of a purpose.

Finally, three points stuck with me at the end of the talk. The first was P Sainath’s tip that journalists should never lose their sense of questioning, their skepticism. But he clarified that point by saying that there was a fine difference between skepticism and cynicism. Skepticism breeds questioning but cynicism breeds negativity. The second point was his statement, “What the heart cannot feel, they eye cannot see”, which is so true. If you don’t really connect with a topic don't try and be passionate about it. There’s no bigger turn off and it’s the easiest deception to spot. Finally, he ended with Don Maclean’s lyrics from the song, Homeless Brother…”Where wealth has no beginning and poverty has no end”. That’s one of the most haunting lines I’ve come across in a long time. And it was so relevant to the topic of discussion.

Great going Mr. Sainath. By the way, you actually look really good in that khadi brown waistcoat. That’s because I get why you’re wearing it. You’ve convinced me. Obviously, your heart and deeds are perfectly in sync.


sandhya said...

well said, Ayesha. Before it started, I whispered in someone's ear that I don want to be subjected to yet another rant against globalisation. But this man made me a fan..and how..btw, i m sold on waistcoats..

Gayathri said...

Ayesha, Sainath totally convinced me the other day and your post has reminded me of his words. I remember he asked us to connect with the masses and it was then that I realized that there had been a disconnection. A truly amazing man.