Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Sub-Editor

Today, February 1, I complete 20 years as a journalist. One news agency, five newspapers.

I can't say if the journey has been worthwhile, or whether I would have done better in another profession, but there has never been a moment of regret. I wanted to be a journalist, I became one, and it's been a smooth ride so far.

Some of the sensations from that beautiful spring morning in 1993 are still alive. Pioneer, the Lucknow paper which had recently launched in Delhi, was now going to start in Kanpur as well. I had been hired as a trainee sub-editor (salary Rs. 2,000) and my appointment took effect from February 1. The first 15 days were to be spent at the Lucknow office, learning editing skills.

So on the morning of February 1, I took a bus from Kanpur and arrived two hours later at Charbagh in Lucknow. I remember wearing an off-white turtle-neck T-shirt with grey trousers and a navy-blue blazer. I reported at the office at 10 o' clock only to find the thick smell of newsprint and cigarette smoke hanging in the air -- hardly a soul in sight except a few peons. But I instantly fell in love with the smell: to me, it was the smell of journalism and it remains so, even though newspaper offices have long become no-smoking and shifted their printing presses in remote locations.

Back then I did not know that coming to a newspaper office at 10 o'clock is like ringing the bell at someone's home at four in the morning. I was told by one of the peons to come back at four. So I strolled down Hazratganj, inhaling the fragrant air the first day of February had to offer. I was 22, I had just got a job, that too the job of a journalist; I was now 'Press'.

I stopped at Ram Advani Booksellers and purchased -- I didn't know much about books then -- a copy of Roget's thesaurus (I still preserve it). Then I walked into a Raymond's showroom and bought myself a bottle of Park Avenue cologne. Lunch was at a plush old-fashioned restaurant (I forget the name) located right on the mouth of the road that led into Hazratganj. After which I watched Jackie Shroff's King Uncle (at the time I was a huge fan of Jackie Shroff and would even go alone to the theatres to watch his films). While walking back to the office, I opened the bottle of cologne and rubbed a few drops on my face.

At four o' clock, I met the resident editor: Sunil Saxena. I had met him during the interview but now saw him closely. With the goatee and the pipe hanging from his lips, he cut an impressive figure. He spoke only in English, even when communicating with the peons. He ordered coffee for me and said, "Have some coffee." I was too nervous to even lift the saucer in his presence but I had to. (Eight years later, in 2001, when both of us had left Pioneer way behind, I happened to spot him at the Press Club  in Delhi, where I usually had my lunch. I walked up to him and reintroduced myself. I told him that I would like to work with him again. 'But I am now in Chennai,' he said, 'are you willing to shift?' I replied, 'Of course.')

When I walked out of the resident editor's cabin that evening in 1993, the teleprinters were already screeching and typewriters rattling away. Computers, back then, were used only for the purposes of pagination. Soon I was handed a typewritten copy to edit. And then more copies. The senior who oversaw my work said, 'You see, the idea is to make a copy crisp and coherent. That is what editing is all about.'

Later that evening, a jeep took me to the Pioneer guest house, where the cook had prepared a home-like meal. When I woke up the next morning, I decided to write a letter to my girlfriend (no mobile phones or internet those days) to tell her about my new job. But each time I wrote a sentence or two, I would tear the page off the pad and crumple it into a ball and throw into the bin. I wanted to write a perfect sentence. I realised I had become a sub-editor.

10 comments:

Pradip said...

one word: BRILLIANT

Mom with a Dot said...

Lovely passage from a special memory :) Was that restaurant in Lko, Royal Cafe? Enjoyed the read.

Paresh Palicha said...

This is BG special :)

Anonymous said...

Nothing can beat the smell of a freshly printed newspaper. Intoxicating.

Anonymous said...

BG,I cant be sure what you learned / unlearned over this last 20 years,But Im sure you have learnt the art of stirring the readers hearts through your true words.Soulful writing...this piece again.
BG,Congrats!to you and your writing on your 20th career anniversary....BTW does Mr.Saxena also work at 'The Hindu'these days.Why dont you post a digital photo of his in one of your next blogs if you carry one...Quite curious as well as would like to have a good look of a true good professional saluted by his own junior-over the years who himself seems to have mastered the art of his profession well....BTW 'Ayushman Bava' to you and your wrilting....Long Live both of you....

Anonymous said...

while u relive ur memories... ... through this blog... the anonymous feels like sharing a life ... r u just a good writer or .....????
..guess...I haven’t learned how to form a perfect sentence yet....
...however ... Kudos!!! To preserve the honesty for twenty long years....
P...

Divenita said...

Thank you for sharing a page from your notebook of memories.

Anonymous said...

It's rare an editor maintains his own blog.Your some writings are a treat.
Do you think writing is much overrated in our country?

Anubhuti said...

This was my dream, my city, the hotel must have been mini mahal or Royal cafe, but my reality got me to Delhi, much later though at the same age. :)

Usha said...

Just one word...you are inspiring! Makes me want to follow you even closer ....