My experiments with truth…. in the citadel of Arnab Goswami

A dictator on and off the camera, but a gentle warm being outside the TRP driven corridors of Times Now

arnub

All good things comes to an end, but reigns are often reduced to dust. Hitler, Mussolini, Gaddafi, Osama, Saddam Hussein. The list would be endless. But this isn’t an eulogy for the evil dictators, but my impression of a man who terrorized people in all together different way. He’s no evil nor a messiah, but a man who changed the game of TV news in India. Arnab Goswami, who for ten years had become the (proclaimed) voice of the nation, has resigned from Times Now, the undisputed, unconquered, numero uno English News channel in India for the last eight years.

Now, there are much more experienced people than me, some who have been with him since the channel was born. I merely spent two years and three months at the network. Unlike a news anchor or a news desk person, thankfully I never had much time to spend with him. Save for one-odd occasion, I was never required to attend those ‘yes boss’ editorial meetings. (Well, that was the popular perception). So, in short, as a page 3 reporter, I was too insignificant in the eyes of Mr.Goswami. Trust me, being insignificant is far better better than having the sight of the man hovering around you like a ghost through the 12 hours spent each day at work.

Despite my low-profile status, I was like a fly on the wall, a fiddler on the roof, a voyeur at times, often privy to the chaos that occurred from Monday to Friday. (He only showed up on weekends during the big news coverage – elections, high profile deaths and sensational stories). Despite my short stint, there were quite  few endearing anecdotes. I call them ‘my experiments with truth… in the citadel of Arnab Goswami.’

FLASHBACK 2011 – (The dreaded job interview)

Having remained jobless for a year, I wasn’t bullish of my chances. I was quietly confident of my first round interview with entertainment in- charge – who is four years younger to me. My written test wasn’t bad, but truth be told, I wasn’t too keen to get into this channel. For leave alone a broadcast network, I’d never even studied the broadcast medium. My joblessness would go against me, I was prepared for the worst. However, I least expected Mr.Goswami fire this bouncer first –

“Ok, Mayur, why is that you haven’t been able to get any job for over a year?”

Now, in the past people would ask me why I was sitting idle and not taking any job, but this bouncer from Mr.Goswami had me stumped. There was no option of ducking it. After a long pause, I said what I’d manufactured in my mind. My professional defence was weak but it was a candid hearty conversation that landed me the job – a fact that was disclosed to me only during my farewell.

The early days – Thank God for Gaddafi

Few weeks into my job, and I already started wondering where the hell have I landed? I remained a persona non grata, questioning my very existence in this company. Things though would change as I gained more experience.

I was too shy to face the camera, too weary to speak in front of a new team full of girls. I was like a kid paying a maiden visit to a playground of maidens. Just know your role and shut your mouth! Ah, now I finally discovered the true meaning of what The Rock Dwayne Johnson said in his glory days in the World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly known as World Wrestling Federation.

Having joined in August 2011, it was only in October that I truly made a noteworthy contribution. No, it didn’t happen in my entertainment beat, but it took one African dictator to be killed for me to make my first impression. On 20th October, 2011. Muammar Gaddafi was killed by rebels in Libya. In a surprise editorial call, Mr.Goswami decided to run few special shows on the controversial but the colorful Libyan dictator. Though, not a fan, I was intrigued by the former Libyan dictator’s personality. He was surrounded by female (virgin) body guards, stayed in royal cottages as he feared staying in hotel when traveling abroad. Mr.Goswami asked  us all, “What was Gaddafi called as? There was a stunned silence in and around the news desk. I gingerly mumbled to myself ,’king of kings’ but didn’t have the courage to speak out clearly. Mr.Goswami mocked us all.

Apparently, the sports and entertainment desk was asked to chip in too. I proposed a package on the colorful life of Mr.Gaddafi, and to my surprise it was accepted. I did what I had to. Few days later, my head of department (HOD) informed me that the boss liked the package. He asked me who did it? Well, he didn’t remember my name so my HOD told him, “the lone boy from entertainment’. Well, going ahead this would become my identity in the eyes of Mr.Goswami.

Why this kolaver di.. not applicable on the ground

Rajinikant’s son-in-law Dhanush turned into overnight star with the Kolaveri di song. Soon it became the anthem for flash mobs. There was one little Dhanush fan in the Goswami household too. So, Goswami jr expressed a desire to meet his new idol. I found myself lumbering around VT station where the flash mob was set to perform along with Dhanush. Later, Dhanush was to visit the Oval maidan (ground). As I was on my way to Oval maidan, I was told that the boss and his son will be coming to watch Dhanush. Uff, I had a lump in my throat, just make sure you don’t do anything wrong. Luckily, it was group bytes, so there was nothing for me to do. However, I was still worrying over having the boss around. If my memory serves me well, the Times Now Editor-in-chief was dressed casually, (t-shirt and 3-4th pant) and a cap. Before Goswami jr had his fanfare moment, Arnab came up to our cameraman and said in the most gentle way “Please make sure I don’t come in the camera”. For a second I wondered, oh did I really hear him speak in such a warm and gentle tone? This is not the man that we all know in love. He was purely there to fulfill his son’s wish. He didn’t throw his weight around to get a quick meet with the star but waited his turn. It also showed that the only time that man liked being in front of the camera is during The News Hour.

A standing ovation for raping Abhijeet Mukherjee

Feisty debates with Goswami dominating was a daily affair. Be it the guests, or the people working behind the scenes, one got used to the methodology of The News Hour. Pick a raging issue, get guests, debate, scream, shout, cut unwanted opinions from guests and Arnab always had the last word. Business as usual. However, there was something different about the man on this day. The topic of discussion was the insensitive sexist comments by President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijeet. The insignificant Mukherjee had agreed to speak exclusively to Times Now first. Few minutes before The News Hour began, I peeped into the opening anchor link. It was a long, really long one. So, I didn’t read it. Before he walked into the studio, I could sense that there’s some real angst in him tonight. There was air of arrogance around him. You could see in his eyes that he meant business today. Uff,God save Abhijeet Mukherjee.

The long anchor read was largely filled with hard hitting direct queries that would expose the chauvinist mindset of Abhijeet Mukherjee. Goswami fired one salvo after another. Even before he could speak a word, poor Mukherjee knew he had come into the lion’s den today. Beyond apology there was nothing that Mukherjee had to offer in his defence. In his his chauvinist terminology, Abhijeet Mukherjee was brutally raped and exposed by Goswami. We were cheering for him whilst the show was on. Once it was over, Goswami walked out to a rapturous applause from everyone around the news desk. It was like a soldier had returned after conquering the enemy, a great cricketer walking back to the pavilion after playing the innings of his life. I only witnessed this phenomenon only once during my stint at Times Now.

Even the lion obeyed the ringmaster

As powerful as he was, Arnab Goswami was still an employee of the company. Working for the biggest media conglomerate in the country had its own pros and few cons. I could be wrong, but perhaps these cons came in the form of requests from the ‘top’, Often these requests were to be catered by the entertainment team. And on a quite a few occasions, the responsibility fell on my shoulders. I never asked for it, but never did I have a choice. I remember before these requests came to us, I’d find boss talking on phone – the most words emanating from the receiver’s end would be ‘ok sir, yes sir, yes sir. I’ll look into it. Ok, sir.. yes sir”

It was no fear but more a frustrated look on the boss’ face. He would come to our desk and say, “Arey, who is this x? I’ve never heard of her? Do something on her?”

Somethings are best left unspoken.

My three-days at the news desk and Sunny Leone saving me

It was well etched into our contract that though we may be assigned to one particular beat, everyone has to contribute to news as and when required. So, one fine day, I do the cardinal sin of looking into AG’s eyes. For the record, such act meant that you have no work and all you are doing is screen gazing. So, within the blink of an eye, the boss comes up to me and shoots, “Sorry, I forgot your name” I remind him who I am and then he shoots again, “Alright Mayur, do you realise that you work for a news channel? You think entertainment is real news.. Blah blah. You know, I think you have it in you,” He then looks to my HOD and tell her, “I’m taking this boy out of your team”

The ground beneath my feet shook as I feared I was sacked. A moment later, he kept a hand around arm and said, “From tomorrow you are reporting to the news desk”

Oh my God, jumping from the frying pan and straight into the fire. After he left, I was hyperventilating telling my HOD that there’s no way I’ll survive at news desk. It’s worse than Kala Paani. (a dreaded hellish jail during the British Raj).

I turned up at 10 am. I went up to the input head, explained him my plight, They all laughed at my misery. But an hour has now gone by and I have nothing to do. The boss comes in, as hard as I could try I couldn’t evade him. He looks at me and says, “Are you gazing at the computer screen?” I’m thinking in my head (oh boy, not that again).

Luckily, the boss tells the output desk to ensure that work is assigned to me. I worked three days, did few packages most notably on the Nirbhaya tragedy. On the fourth day as I arrived, I find no seat for me at the news desk. The few people who were vacationing had resumed service. Oh God, I can’t be strolling around the news desk. That would be an invitation to hell. Upon consulting a wise old head, I’m told just disappear and make sure you’re not visible to him. After an hour or so, I’m bored. So, I gate crash into my entertainment bay, tell my colleague ro give me some work. I start cutting few bytes from Sunny Leone. Barely few minutes into my act, Arnab Goswami walks into the entertainment bay. He asks the entertainment producer about my HOD, then turns his eyes towards me?

“Hey you,what are you doing?

(My heart is in my mouth, and I’m about to hyper ventilate)

“Ahhh.. Sir… I’m cutting Sunny Leone bytes”, said I

“SUNNY LEONE.. SUNNY LEONE, “ Goswami sighs

(oh boy, I’m gone for good here. He’s going to screw me now. But then to hell with it I’m ready to face the music)

Next I hear, “Sunny Leone, are you doing a package on her? “

I say yes and all he says,”Ok, carry on”

Good god almighty, did he really say that? Has he forgotten that I was supposed to be on the news desk?

The stories of amnesia that I heard come true, I’m quickly out of the room and for the next 6 hours, I hid in the basement, chatting with the studio room guys. This was one place where he seldom came. It was tough to kill time, but given the mood he was in that day, it was best not to come in the eye of the storm. Phew, thanks Sunny Leone. You had a famous admirer in Times Now. If these rumours weren’t true before, they sure were now.

 

An ill-timed error

After managing to bite the bullet several times, my luck ran out one evening. In a rare occasion, I was leaving the office after nine hours of service. Usually, I chipped in with 10-11 hours of work every day. But I’d done my part and was set to leave. I waited for the painstakingly slow lift to arrive. Awaiting it was also the boss, moving to and fro like a Tiger. I overestimated my confidence and stood my ground. It wasn’t long before he asked me, “Hey, where you going? Is there some shoot?”

The idiot honest guy got the better of me as I said that I was going home. It didn’t amuse him wee bit. I was ordered to go back. An hour and half later, I was called by him, and to my surprise he gently said, “Hey boy, I’m sorry. But you see there are no shifts in journalism. The only thing sure in our field is in the in-time.”

I agree with him but casually bring to his notice that I usually work 10–11 hours a day. I’d seem him rap people before, but never before had I witnessed him gently justify his words later.

In my final few months at Times Now, I was subject to a nasty verbal hiding from the boss. My fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong point of time. Ironically, I always reminded my colleagues about the perils of misplacing a tape, and here it was me who faced the music for an error committed by someone else.
The human touch

I personally never witnessed this side to him, but there have been few odd occasions where the boss showed his gentle side in the office. A boy from the sports team was down with malaria/dengue. Once the boss heard of it, he immediately asked the HR and the admin department to ensure that the boy gets the best medical care.

I once spoke to the chauffeur who was entrusted with the task of picking and dropping the boss home. He’s a Muslim. That gentleman told me how the boss never really behaved like one when being driven around. The boss would always be cordial to him, asked about his family, their needs, their problems, if any.

Mr.Goswami expressed his similar concerns with the humble people from the admin and studio department. It amazed me as to a man who is so stern as the Editor-in-chief, would also have this gentle side to him.

As a journalist, opinions are divided among scholars, media pros but perhaps, one thing most of his critics may not be aware of is this humane touch.

Good, bad or ugly, that’s never how I looked at the man. But to me the most important thing that struck about him was his saying that in this country, if you don’t scream, no one will hear your voice.

Many great journalists would perhaps disagree with it, but truth be told, most of us are meek and too afraid to let speak our mind. In the past, I’ve paid the price for being a mute spectator, but Arnab Goswami showed me that why it’s very important to speak your mind, and speak it clearly and loudly. We work in an industry, where the biggest competitors exist within your team. So, unless, I speak my mind and demand my right, there’s no way I can progress in this field.

Today, Arnab Goswami leaves his citadel, not annexed. He leaves as a giant in the hunt for for his next destination. The reign at Times Now has ended, but there is more glory to follow. Never know what lies ahead, perhaps this insignificant journalist might get an chance to be the spider on the wall, a voyeur, or the the fiddler on the roof again.

 

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