Chindu Sreedharan


Among the various faults that disqualify me from being a scribe of merit, there's one that sticks out all the way to Fleet Street: My abhorrence for news political.

Now that's nothing to kill yourself over, I know. And I do manage to cover up my, well, non-knowledge on that front pretty well. Mainly by means of a superior smirk and get-away comments like "All politicians are chors, yaar" and "Look what they have done to our country!"

But occasionally I find myself in the spot that my betes noires frequent -- neck-down in scalding soup -- courtesy my editor. A gentleman with an insatiable appetite for news and Good Day biscuits, he dangled me over the high seas of Election '99 and, cold-heartedly, dropped me into Rajasthan.

Before we progress, I should say that my knowledge of Rajasthan politics, though freshly acquired by painstakingly poring over the heap of newspaper clippings that our helpful librarian dumped on my table, was, even if I say so myself, near-passable.

What proved my undoing was that I omitted to read up on Maharashtra politics. Let me present, without too much exaggeration, what awaits non-political chaps like me during elections.

My ordeal started in Jodhpur when I pleaded guilty to a fellow passenger that I was a journo. "Ah, from Bombay, is it?" he said. "How's the situation in Maharashtra? What do you think of Sharad Pawar's chances?"

Pawar, I told him gravely, was a great guy. His chances were as good as before, if not better.

"Do you think his party will come to power in the state?"

I couldn't say, I told him, the situation was so fluid that anything could happen.

"But still," he persisted, "how many seats will he win?"

"Well, you have to take the Shiv Sena into account," I threw over my shoulder hurrying away. "Bal Thackeray is a very powerful man in Maharashtra, you know."

The second attack came the next day while I was seated in the BJP's election office. I fended off the queries about Thackeray's doings and Pawar's undoing my usual way.

"So, do you think it will be another coalition at the Centre again?"

"This is the age of coalitions," I informed him. And added for good measure, "Tell me, which party is strong enough to come to power on its own, huh?"

"You think Atalji will be prime minister again?"

"Possible, quite possible." I nodded my head sagely, scratched my chin thoughtfully. "He has got a lot of good will. You know, people really feel that he did a good job on Kargil."

Luckily for my audience, the man I was waiting to meet made his appearance, and I turned my attention on him.

The third and by far the most embarrassing incident occurred in Barmer. I was with a senior district official, trying to wrangle from him permission to visit the Indo-Pak border areas that came under him. With us were a few local journalists who showed an unhealthy interest -- unhealthy for me, that is -- about Bombay politics. It was after I disposed of Pramod Mahajan, Thackeray and a couple of others that the district official came up with a point-blank salvo.

"Incidentally, how many Lok Sabha seats are there in Bombay?"

I thought of informing him that it was more than one and less than 10, but what if that wasn't quite true?

"I don't cover Maharashtra," I told him haughtily. "Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir are my responsibilities... In JK the situation is very different. There are six seats there, you know, but the polling there will be..."

Well, to cut a long story short I managed to escape with my ego not-too-badly bruised. The next few days tortured me with similar situations but, like the true scribe of fortune I am, I set my jaw, scratched my chin and majestically threw around a few sparkling pearls of political wisdom.

These days I never tell anyone that I am a journalist. Or that I am from Bombay.

Chindu Sreedharan doesn't believe in hiding his ignorance under a bushel