Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Journalism teaches you to look at realities objectively. From death to war to song and dance, it is like being a witness to what could have or might have happened in your own life. It is not disconnectedness from humanity, just another kind of connectedness. As far as I can remember, I always wanted to be a journalist. I wasn’t a writer back then, but was fascinated with the ability of a person to be present at a place where change is happening. News is change and journalists learn to live with it.
I grew up in government colonies in Delhi and studied sociology from the Delhi School of Economics. Less than a month after graduating, I started writing for the India Today group’s lifestyle supplements at their office in Connaught Place.
What did you study?
I did my Bachelors and Masters degree in Sociology and Anthropology.
Tell us about your career path
“Easy to write on tragedy. Happy stories are harder to master.”
I started out as a lifestyle journalist not out of choice. In fact, I resented writing on anything non-academic. It’s harder to conjure happy images about food, fashion and the good life. Writing on strife is easier because there are many dense emotions attached to it and the writer holds onto them. For instance, a piece on the courage and victory of underdogs will excite people because they relate to failure and loss much more than they do to good times. In my first job, I was working as an international correspondent. I travelled across Asia, the Far East and Europe to write on fashion, food and luxury.
One week, I turned in a feature story on India’s top golfers, the other week, I found myself in the heart of Switzerland’s watch-making hubs. From chasing Michelin-stars to interviewing celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan, Tom Ford and India’s top Olympians, I spent the first half of my twenties dishing out fun feature stories. Tracking trends like the Formula One’s entry into India or a peek into the backstage of a rare Moulin Rouge performance in India, my job was to convert glamour into literature.
I see power in everything. When an editor comes and asks you to write on hair, you have to find a way to fill depth into it. No piece is smaller in purpose than the other.
To connect to the subject I am writing on, I begin reading about it aggressively. Aside from the research and interviews, listen to music and podcasts that fit the mood of the story.
It’s a process that each writer internalises. I briefly forget who I am and what I want. For some time, I am nothing more than the story I am working on. So, if I have to write about death, I distance myself from happiness for some time. There’s no one way of doing it.
Music and caffeine keep me disconnected from the world, while my subconscious secretly dives deep into it.
Briefly, I worked with Forbes in Dubai, but came back because India has a freer, more critical space for print. In the summer of 2014, I did a course in prose from Yale University in 2014. “That’s where the first drafts of my book were assessed by a fine bunch of American novelists and essayists. The book is about life stories told by the objective voice of a bench and should hit the stands soon.
What do you love about your job?
As a sociologist, human-interest stories attract me. Journalism should ask key questions, so policy solutions can be framed around them. India’s great people are actually leading ordinary lives, bringing them into the limelight is a necessity for theirs are the real tales of inspiration.
Some of my recent work took me to the homes of Syrian refugees struggling for legal identification in the capital, to monuments embedded in Delhi’s urban squalor, ignored even by those who live around them. From exposing Delhi’s drug de-addiction problem to doing undercover operations in state-run old age homes and mortuaries, just trying to do my bit for the country.
Journalism trains you to write, but thinking is more important. Thinking can’t be taught and so a degree in journalism is not mandatory in my opinion. If you can think, you can write.