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December 16, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Krishna Prasad

Editor the Great

The Young Correspondent checked in at the airport for the early morning flight back home, walked past security, picked up a cup of coffee and was about to plonk herself in a seat, to wait for the boarding call, when she saw him -- HIM! -- reading the local edition of his own newspaper. Was it really Editor the Great? Or was it not? He certainly looked like he looked in the photographs, only older and greyer. She wondered if it would be all right for her to disturb him. The man was known to have a fiery temper. What if he flared at her in the full view of waiting passengers? But in journalism school they had taught her that the one thing to be never afraid of was to ask if she didn't know for sure. So The Young Correspondent mustered the courage and walked up to the man who till just moments ago was just a "Byline" in her life, and asked: "Sir, are you Mr Editor the Great?" The big man looked up from his multi-edition, multi-colour paper and said, "yes".

And after The Young Correspondent had introduced herself, he asked her to sit in the vacant seat next to his. And they got talking. She said it was an absolute delight to meet one of the titans of Indian journalism. He said he had never read the publication she worked for, and didn't want to. It was pure trash, he said. Soon, they were announcing "boarding" for her flight on the PA system. She got up to go, but he commanded her to sit down. He too was on the same flight, he said; they could go together.

"But they want us to board the plane, Sir," she pointed out. "Don't worry, they can't leave us without us; we have taken our boarding passes, haven't we?" he chuckled. Editor the Great finally got up when the "last call" was announced. He was travelling executive class; she was flying economy. "Join me for a cup of coffee later," he said: "You've nice sparkling eyes." They boarded the plane.

The Young Correspondent was dizzy at the pace with which matters had moved. Here was a paragon of her profession, a man whose writings even her parents admired and whom she had never met in her life and about whom she knew nothing, asking her to join him for a cup of coffee.

MPs have demanded an "explanation" from the civil aviation minister after a little girl was crushed to death by an escalator in Delhi's "international" airport. Would they have been satisfied with an "explanation" if the granddaughter of one of their colleagues had met her end this way?
Prime Minister Vajpayee claims the UP chief minister was misquoted when he said that a Ram temple at Ayodhya was still on the BJP agenda. Could the entire press battalion -- including friends of the BJP -- have misquoted R P Gupta?
The Supreme Court has cleared the way for Cogentrix by quashing a Karnataka high court ruling four days after the power company said it was pulling out out of the venture. Would an Indian company have got such red-carpet treatment?
In the light of the controversial umpiring decisions involving Sachin, Shoaib and Muralitharan, does it stand to logic that Australia, which so uniformly produces such outstanding cricketers, could so uniformly produce such poor umpires?
Kamala Das has converted to Islam because she found that the freedom offered by Hinduism had become a burden on her. Should Salman Rushdie return the favour because he finds Islam's lack of freedom too stifling?
But she had heard of what strange animals men were with strange women, and decided to be careful. Very careful. She finished the inflight breakfast in her seat and walked into the business class to meet him. She had had her coffee, thank you, she said, she was going back to catch a few winks because she hadn't slept all night. "Is there a vacant seat near yours?" he asked. Before she could answer, they were walking back to her seat. For the remainder of the journey, Editor the Great sat uncomfortably in the middle seat, between The Young Correspondent and another co-passenger, and talked and talked and talked.

"Where are you headed after we land?" he asked. "Office," she said, innocently. "I'll give you a lift then. I'm going that way," he said. Oh God, she told herself. "But I've an interview to do before I head into town," she said. "I'll wait," said Editor the Great. "It'll take a while," she explained. "How long?" "One hour, possibly more." "Oh, I can't wait that long. But call me. Let's get to know each other better," he said. He took her business card and left as the plane landed. She took an autorickshaw into the suburbs, went for her interview, and returned to her office a couple of hours later.

Editor the Great had called four times, said the office secretary; wants you to call back at his hotel. The Young Correspondent told the receptionist to keep all calls on hold while she finished her story. It was 6 pm by the time she was finished. Editor the Great had called her six more times since she had walked in. So she phoned him at his hotel. "Come over," he said. "No," she explained, "I can't till the story has been cleared." "Don't worry, they will take care of it," he said. "Sir, you know how head offices are," she said. "Okay, then call me when you're through," he said.

She didn't call, and went home after she was through. By the time she returned to work the next day, Editor the Great had called her several times more. The Young Correspondent told the office secretary to keep out all incoming calls, except calls from the head office, and got down to work.

When her extension number buzzed, she thought it was HO calling. But it was him. Again. The receptionist had transferred the call thinking it was HO. He was waiting, he told her. When could she pop in at his hotel? She said she couldn't and offered two excuses: a. her face was in a mess because she had been travelling all day and b. her boyfriend and she had planned to go out for the evening. The Young Correspondent thought that -- the fact that she had a boyfriend and was about to get married to him -- would put Editor the Great off her scent. She was wrong. He didn't even ask who her fiance was. Or what he did. Just drop in for a cup of tea, he insisted; she could leave early.

He had a flight to catch, he said. The Young Correspondent had no other go. Okay, she said, but I can only see you for a few minutes. Fine, he said, give me a buzz from the lobby. She put the phone down and called her boyfriend and asked what to do. Go ahead, call him, he said, but meet him only in the lobby or in one of the restaurants. She walked across to the hotel and called him from the house phone.

"Come up," he said, "I'm just finishing my weekly column." She said she would wait for him to come down. "Come, come," he said, "don't be such a spoilsport. I will just take a while. Read something while I finish. Come up" Cornered, she took the lift and knocked on his door. Editor the Great was ready. He had shaved, shampooed, and cologned. He wasn't finishing anything. He was beginning to get fresh with The Young Correspondent.

"Can I get you a drink?" he asked. "I don't drink," she said. "You must," he said. "It gives a glow to your cheeks." She resisted. But he wouldn't let go. So she ordered a fresh fruit juice. He began talking about the same things he had talked about in the airport lobby and in the plane. She, in the meantime, told him that she had been given a promotion in her job and was looking forward to her new assignment. Finally, she said, she had to leave. "Which way are you headed?" he asked. She told him. "Come I'll give you a lift," he said.

"No," she said. Her boyfriend was waiting for her. He waited for her, or she waited for him and that's how they went home. "Okay," he said, "but let's keep in touch." As he walked her gingerly to the door, he held her hand. The Young Correspondent realised this was the moment he was going to strike. She kept her head low because she thought he would kiss her on the lips. She was right: he found his path blocked, so her kissed her on the cheeks. Should I slap him, she wondered. No, that would create a scene. She let it be. She opened the door and stepped out. He called her back in.

She stood at the door, one foot in, one foot out. "Don't forget to keep in touch," said Editor The Great. "Yes," she said. "Where do you travel?" he asked. "Mostly tribal areas, places you don't travel to," she told him. "But just let me know whenever you are going out of town and travelling to a city where my newspaper has an edition," he said. "I'll join you there." The Young Correspondent was dumbstruck for words. She had made her own enquiries of the man. Apparently he had a daughter slightly older than her studying abroad. Apparently he liked giving a lift in his Mercedes to young reporters finding their feet in the city. Apparently in one of his previous ports of call, junior reporters were allowed to stay in double rooms on assignment, no questions asked.

Editor The Great left for his headquarters that evening, but the calls continued. Five-ten long distance calls a day. She ducked them all. At home, she would screen calls on the answering machine before answering them. One day, when the office secretary was away, she had to pick up the phone herself, and he was on the line. He said he was in town, at this hotel, when could he see her. "Not today," she said, she had lots of works to do. "Okay, I am coming over to your office," he said, "I've to discuss something important." "Don't," she screamed in disbelief. "I've to go to the suburbs later in the day, I'll come see you for an hour before I do."

She walked into the hotel lounge at the appointed hour. Editor The Great was in fine form. "You're looking beautiful," he said. "Thanks," she said, hoping the nightmare would pass. He had gone to see his doctor yesterday, he added. What was the diagnosis? That his heart, brain and balls were in perfect condition. "I beg your pardon," she asked. "Yes, my doctor says my heart, brain and B-A-L-L-S are in perfect condition." The Young Correspondent was flabbergasted.

"What did you want to discuss?" she asked. Are you really serious about sticking on in your current publication and taking up your new assignment, he asked. Yes, she said, she had made up her mind long ago and even given her word to her boss. "I am planning to start a new publication myself. I want you to be its editor here," he said. "No, thanks," she protested. "And anyway how can you recruit me for a top job without having seen my work since you say you don't read the publication I work for?"

Editor The Great had his answers all pat: "I can judge a person by the face," he said. "Still, it's a no," she replied. "Think it over," he said. "I know what your answer is going to be, but think it over all the same. Call me tomorrow in my headquarters." "OK," she said, she had to leave to meet her boss. "Come, I'll give you a lift," he said. She said no, she wasn't sure her boss would want him around when they were about to discuss important things. "But he's my friend, too," he claimed.

The Young Correspondent somehow put Editor The Great off her track, and left. And called him at his headquarters the next evening. "Oh, I was just thinking about you," was his opening line. "No, I can't go back on my word," she said. The phone calls continue unabated to this day, the invitations to his hotel room continue unabated to this day.

Krishna Prasad

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