When the doctor realised the patient who complained of sluggish bowel motion was a journalist, he prescribed regular meals! Ages before Piku was released, a night chief sub at the Hindustan Times, where I began as a trainee in 1984, regaled us with inventive secrets of journalist lives. “All my children are products of daylight,” he’d confide. We toiled for low wages, shared late-night taxis with printing press colleagues, and privately dreamt of achhe din.
Orwellian 1984 was a turbulent year. Terrorism had paralysed life in Punjab following the series of disastrous events post-Operation Bluestar, an ill-conceived army action at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It led to free India’s first mass army desertions, Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the carnage of thousands of innocent Sikhs. In the elections that followed, the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress returned with a record 404 seats, though elections could not be held in Punjab and Assam. The year ended with the world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal killing over 4,000 people in a gas leak and many more due to gas-related diseases later. Beginners like me were dazed by the sheer frequency of mishaps. We travelled to unsafe areas in buses and trains without any insurance, filed dispatches on clunky post office teleprinters and stayed at ordinary hotels. And yet, journalism was in high demand and scribes were among India’s most respected professionals.