|Between the Railway Budget and Tendulkar's double hundred, Indo-Pak talks and the General Budget, suggesting a story on a protest march in Guwahati by landless farmers is bit of an audacity. Obviously it had no takers and no one even responded to my mail. I forgot to mention that in this decisive week there was also a glitzy Indian of the Year show. Really, it's almost becoming inappropriate to come up with story ideas unless it is endorsed by a celebrity or has a hint of jihadi terror conspiracy. In my case the former is out of question and the latter is futuristic.
I generally start the week with the most brilliant ideas and as the weekend draws nearer my faith on my abilities drops a few notches. This week my list was rich and exclusive. It had investigative stories, wildlife crime, peace talks, truth behind a multi crore scam and price rise. The investigative story went on air but ran twice and even the editorial doesn't remember watching it. But believe me, it was a good story. Visually it was weak but the content was meaty. I propose to repackage it and wait for a lean news-day when they are hungry for anything. Every time a story like this is 'run down' I feel a sense of personal loss! The effort in penetrating a story, networking with people to get the facts and acquiring written evidence to back my report is a rather tedious and risky proposition. A story like the one I am creating a mystery around is based on sources - official sources and ground information. The only reason they open up is for an impact which will help them in taking the investigation further. Ground sources often do it to settle personal scores. But either way my only payback is that the information will be on a national hookup. So when I fail to convince them that the story was used, though not appropriately, there are chances that I lose the source forever.
The wildlife crime story right at the beginning of the week was visible only because the vanishing tiger is now a trophy news item. Even in its endangered state, the tiger has ensured its place right at the top. In the last rhino slaughter, someone managed to sneak in a camera inside a National Park (in recent times the authorities have been unkind to cameras) and passed on to me the most gruesome shots which had to be blurred. The combing of the tall grass on an elephant's back made for interesting footage. But how will a poor hacked rhino fit into the scheme of things when an emotional Railway Minister had only completed a popular budget announcement? So the rhino was laid to rest without honours.
In fact Twenty Ten has been a bit of a wildlife nightmare. Each time an animal was killed we managed some pictures. Four elephants run over by train, another one killed and eaten. A bleeding rhino walking around with horn gouged till he fell to his death. A tiger killed, eaten and sold. More rhinos killed. One eaten as well. Two more tigers found dead. Crime in National Parks was repeating itself in quick succession. In most cases we had all the information. For visuals we depended on local sources and they delivered. We travelled through the forests and accompanied pre dawn raids to nab poachers. But suddenly I feel we had too much of wildlife crime and maybe the rundown yawns every time I say, another rhino has been poached. So this category is hot only if it's about the stripes.
Two ULFA 'leaders' granted bail. One released and the other is about to be released. On the eve of the rail budget, I am asked for a tiny little story.
ULFA is again not very hot. They have been in the business for more than thirty years but they haven't learnt how to conduct themselves for a national viewership. They don't give good soundbytes. They never faced the modern day television from their camps or hideouts. They can only get eyeballs when they kill in large numbers. Now that they are in a mood for peace (only a section of them in jail) their USP has further eroded. The North East militant fatigue is no longer an attractive television visual. Unless of course there is that link to some Jihadi terror group. ULFA's Bangladeshi lineage and ISI collaboration hasn't helped its image. It's not a prime time subject. But peace talks are primetime particularly after Kishenji conveyed a ceasefire and the nation reopened the peace talk debate. Currently the Government of India is engaged in some sort of peace process with at least eight groups in the North East. That has probably been an overkill. The novelty has gone.
Scams were the staple diet of television once upon a time and not too long ago. A thousand crore scam investigated and left halfway has picked up some steam again. Digging into it revealed shocking details. But the scam was located in a remote district of North Cachar Hills which is in India only on paper. Its bearings are still vague for the rest of the country and its revelation is not prime time material. So even though the amount of money pilfered by 'public servants' is quite significant, its significance is localised.
Finally it's the eve of the General Budget and two thousand strong landless farmers took to the streets of Guwahati against the ever rising prices of essential commodities. It made for good television. The slogans were strong. The pictures and language were dangerously familiar to 'peasant uprisings' across the country. But it fell short of the fashionable M word. Akhil Gogoi, the RTI man of India is not Kishenji, yet. So his protest did not conform to the red corridor threat. Gogoi was ignored.
The weekend is on us. My story list has evaporated in the din of high profile newsmakers. But the spin in this entire story is to learn to reinvent the art of staying alive. To get to the story is not enough. How does one tell it?