Photo Credit: Don Emmert/AFP
Till last year, these friends and acquaintances could at best be described as admirers of Narendra Modi. In our conversations, Modi never cropped up immediately. We had so many other things to talk about: school girlfriends, solitary travels, lost homes, the precipice of equal monthly instalments, or whether cycling is more effective than running in reducing abdominal fat. Sometimes, only sometimes, an odd remark would veer the conversation towards the nation’s state of affairs.
At times like these, my friends would crack a joke about Rahul Gandhi at which we would laugh together. They would say Modi had the spirit to change India. I would argue otherwise, they would listen patiently and offer their counterarguments. In the end they would say something like “Modi deserves a chance”, after which we would return to school girlfriends.
But this is no longer possible with most of them. No sooner do we meet than the first question is thrown like a Molotov cocktail: why are you guys only interested in reporting negative things against Modi?
Learning the drill
By this time, you have already ignored a few things. On Facebook, you have noticed that your friend is increasingly using “Presstitute” to refer to your fraternity. You have also noticed other changes in his Facebook feed, some of which are spookily common to the Facebook timelines of such friends.
The Facebook wall of these friends will invariably have the following links (apart from their DPs in Digital India colours):
1. “He tied a slice of onion to his sole overnight. When he woke up, he witnessed a miracle.”
2. Subramanian Swamy exposes Sonia Gandhi.
3. Brave Kurdish women guerrillas fighting against ISIS.
4. Ayaan Hirsi Ali on why Islam needs reformation.
5. The result of at least one online IQ test in which the friend’s IQ levels would have been found equal to that of Einstein.
Now back to “why are you guys”. It does not stop at that question. Right afterwards, the scuffle last year between the journalist Rajdeep Sardesai and Modi supporters in New York gets used as a litmus test to determine whether they have done the right thing in inviting you to their house for dinner. “He deliberately instigated the crowd,” they vociferously say.
They indulge in their favourite pastime of abusing Nehru, which makes you wonder whether they have begun to believe in PN Oak’s theories on Taj Mahal. They also speak a lot about Israel and its prowess and it seems as if they almost did a stint with the Israel Defense Forces.
By this time, you have learnt your lesson, you know the drill. You just nod and make some non-committal noises. You don’t tell them you were there when Rajdeep Sardesai was abused. You eat your food, nod at everything and get the hell out of there.
The PR machinery
But then, you wonder what just happened. You know your friends are successful professionals – doctors, software engineers, sales honchos. They live in Delhi, New York, London. They like to think of themselves as liberals, and as virtue signalling they say the right things about gay rights and even pick up their wives’ dinner plates. It is hard to believe that they derive pleasure out of a journalist getting heckled by a bunch of people like themselves in New York.
I hope my friends read this. Because I want to tell them that the job of a journalist is not to “merge pictures”. That is not even the job of the Press Information Bureau, but let us not go there. A journalist is morally obliged to show the cesspool beneath selfies and other glitzy PR drives. Unless the journalist is selfie-struck himself or his aim is to be part of a politician’s informal secretariat, he should be constantly aiming at dissecting the State’s cadaver. As Albert Camus said in his Nobel Prize speech in 1957: “By definition he [the writer] cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it.”
Camus further elucidates this in his Letters to a German friend, which he called a document emerging from the struggle against violence: “I cannot believe that everything must be subordinated to a single end…I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. I don’t want any greatness for it, particularly a greatness born of blood and falsehood.”
Even if we, for a moment, forget the intellectual argument, how do my friends see journalism as a profession? How is it different from the professionalism they have to display in their respective fields? Say, you are a doctor in Houston and one of your patients has been diagnosed with tumour. Do you not tell him and start his treatment because he has recently come from India and you think it will show your country in bad light? Even if you are a lousy medical practitioner and would rather be on Facebook than in an acute care centre, you are duty-bound to inform your patient.
Say, you are a software engineer in Hong Kong and there is a malevolent virus emanating from India that is threatening your client’s interests. Would you rather keep it under wraps than report it and take steps to counter it? Say, you are a company’s CEO in Hoshangabad and want to buy computers for your staff – would you buy it from a person who offers you a good deal or from someone who has an orange tick on his Twitter DP? If you will deal with all these situations as is becoming of a professional, why would you expect a journalist to do otherwise? Unless you think journalism is about singing paeans to a particular man or government.
Disservice to the profession
In another lecture titled Create Dangerously, Camus makes a powerful pitch against turning art into a deceptive luxury: “On the poop deck of slave galleys it is possible, at any time and place, as we know, to sing of the constellations while the convicts bend over the oars and exhaust themselves in the hold.” In the face of circumstances in a country like India (and these circumstances have existed much before Modi), if artists (or writers or journalists) insist on painting a rosy picture where none exists, it will be a lie and a disservice to their craft, to their profession.
And some of us are committed to look into the hold and write about the sweat and the blood and the flesh that the oars extract.
So stop calling us Presstitutes. Because we are much more creative than you when it comes to coining terms.
Rahul Pandita is a 2015 Yale World Fellow and the author, most recently, of Our Moon has Blood Clots: A Memoir of a Lost Home in Kashmir. His Twitter handle is @rahulpandita.