….From… What more can I say?
So. What I really want is to be a decent person.
Discovery. In an article by a Texas University professor about what a visit from P. Sainath did to his students, this line – what young people are looking for are role models… (to) help them find their own place in a complex world where it is difficult to be a decent person.
I know. Clichéd. Young people looking for their ‘own place’ in a ‘complex world’. Tired words. Yet the decent part rings true. Truly difficult to be decent. It’s bad manners to eat without offering the food around. It’s impolite not to share, bad behavior to be clothed among rag-pickers and squeaky clean among the unwashed. To dance among the disabled. It’s downright rude.
Rudeness, an upper class quality. Ever seen an impolite beggar?
I know something of indecency. Besides, I work in a newspaper.
Listen, then, to the tragedy of the newsroom. I have not understood it myself; I am too new a player. But I will try. Anecdotally.
About six-thirty in the evening. Keyboards click. There are occasional consultations about headlines, sometimes there’s laughter, commentary. At frequent intervals, the door opens and the office-boy comes in, bearing the day’s news. The coordinator shuffles though the copy, distributes it, issues instructions. The suicides he hands to me, with a smile. Another farmer has died. Consumed pesticide in his fields. Hung himself from his own withered tree. On Sunday one electrocuted himself. A 21-year-old boy-farmer.
I thought that was a novel way to do it. Power and powerlessness. Two live wires.
For the past month I have been editing reports about farmers killing themselves. Also reports on relief packages, review meetings, promises by ministers, collectors, banks. The Chief Minister’s visits. The Prime Minister’s ministrations. All that.
The first time I was handed a farmer suicide copy, I was told to keep the file open. There will be other reports, the coordinator said. We will have to wait. So everyday we wait, the file open, ready. And everyday there’s reason to wait. Sometimes Anantapur comes first, then Rajahmundry and Karimnagar. Sometimes Tirupati, sometimes Kurnool, Nalgonda, Nizamabad. Even the east and west Godavaris, despite the river. Sometimes seven, sometimes two, never zero. Somewhere a farmer is always dying, or planning to die. Somewhere a farmer is very alone.
Farmer suicide copies must be edited tightly. No one has time or space for details. So the farmer’s name, age, village, mandal, district, debt taken, number of acres of land owned, borewells dug and children left behind are noted, in that order, in three or four short sentences. The details – he had taken loans to educate his children, he had been suffering from tuberculosis, his third child was born last month, his wife had become a migrant labourer in the city, he had borrowed money to buy the pesticide he swallowed, he had been in a physical fight with a moneylender, he had lost the money obtained from selling his land at the bus-stand – these are reduced to single sentences and retained. Interesting tit-bits. They make the farmer real.
Fifty words make a suicide story.
Everyday these suicides are strangely normalised by language, ordered into beginnings, middles, ends. This happened. These were the reasons. Everyday I try to get the tired words to yield some freshness.
Once a farmer attempted to kill himself and landed in a hospital. I edited the copy. Two hours later, a new report – the farmer had died. Died in those two hours. I’d touched his name with the keys of the keyboard, and then he died.
The tragedy of the newsroom. The headline. ‘Ryots’ if ‘farmers’ doesn’t fit. ‘End lives’ if ‘commit suicide’ doesn’t fit. A single column story… no, wait – there’s more space today – double column, then. Any details you’ve omitted? Put them back in. Got to fill this space.
The tragedy of the newsroom. A survey in Anantapur found that humiliation – dishonour, the reporter called it – drives the suicides. A ‘special story’, long, detailed. I called it ‘dishonour, distress and death in Anantapur’. An old love, alliteration. Good headline, the coordinator said. We’ll put the story in a box, okay?
Yesterday I received my first full pay check.
That’s personal, you say? A newspaper has to have news. If you feel like a parasite it’s your problem.
If I feel like a parasite that’s my problem.
Another word for indecency is obscenity. Vulgarity too.
An old love, the synonym.