Norwegian Wood, The Beatles

Hello, I am Patralekha.

Welcome to my  blog, a new year and a new decade.  This is my cyber-home. Feel free to drop  by, share words, images, music and thoughts  or  hurl brickbats.

A bit  about me —  I am a journalist, author and amateur photographer following international affairs. I have a special interest  in covering issues that impact India and the developing world.  I also  focus on  public  health  and human development in other emerging economies.

I have been shaped by many people and places around the world and believe that ‘change’ is the only constant in life.Here are some snippets of an ordinary life in an extraordinary world . I left  home at 19, braving the wrath of  Bengali middle class, archetypally ‘bhadralok’  neighbours and relatives in Calcutta. My parents  were  supportive but nervous.  I arrived in Delhi with a few thousand rupees in my bank ( savings from my first job in Bangalore as a space seller for Business Standard,  then part of the Ananda Bazar Patrika  Group) , no contacts and no mentors.  The only thing I had going for me was a craving  to be a journalist. I was glamour-struck, but not in the conventional sense. Coming from a relatively privileged  background, I had been sheltered from the knocks and jabs that make up the lives of most people in the  country.  I was curious to know what it was like to be “out there” — the other India.  I didnot have a  burning desire to change the world but believed that going through life meeting people who were more or less like me would be immensely dull.  I was afraid that if I didnot intervene actively in my life, I would follow the path of  ‘good’ Bengali, middle class girls who do well in studies, aspire for higher education, marry/are married to eligible bachelors their parents approve , and settle down in  cosy domesticity and  work  which doesnot rock the boat.  I didnot know what I wanted in the early days but I was quite sure what I didnot want: the comfort zone.  I  didnot want to “settle down”. Journalism offered exciting possibilities to explore the world beyond the one I had grown up with and I plunged into it with passion.  I stayed in a working womens’ hostel run by nuns while studying at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, located those days in South Extension (Part II).  I must have been  convincing when I said I was a “trainee” and suitably demure — the nuns let me in.  The atmosphere was pious, the food was awful , the nuns were fierce ( except a Spanish  nun who had been a ballet dancer in her earlier life), my room mates were a bunch of aspiring secretaries but IIMC was down the road  and I saved money on transport.  I was  dirt-poor, supporting myself, didnot know where the money for the next meal would come from, or if it would come. Soon, the ‘glamour’ of the other  India from which I had been insulated all these  years  began to wear off.  But I liked my freedom, my newly acquired skills to navigate  the wild, wicked world all on my own, and the leafy environs of  South Delhi.  The best part was I didnot have meddlesome relatives in the city. I stayed  put.

The IIMC days were marvelous –  cups  of tea in the canteen with other dirt-poor aspiring journalists and  the occasional  night-out with another scruffily dressed classmate at the Taj Machan ( coffee for Rs 5 those days and you could sit there as long as you wanted).  At IIMC,  I  confess I learnt less about journalism and more about Africa, thanks to exchange students.  I passed out in 1984,  starry-eyed about joining the ranks of the intrepid news gatherers.   Remember reading Robert Fisk and notable  senior colleagues in the Indian media ( some of whom are now my Facebook friends)  for inspiration.

The late Nikhil Chaktravarty (Nikhilda to everyone) was kind enough to give me a job as a reporter-editor.  The  salary was a princely  Rs 500 per month. None of the major newspapers  were interested in people like me — we  looked shabby, we did not know anyone that mattered in Lutyens’  Delhi and no one wanted to put in a good word for us before we knocked on the door of an editor.  Surviving on Rs 500 was not exotic.  I  joined Patriot — the legendary newspaper of Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg that served as a haven for  Marxists, mavericks and  nowhere people like me.  The salary was meagre but the two years I spent at Patriot were among my happiest. Patriot was very good for budding journalists. Few reporters stayed there for  long. The good ones were invariably snapped up by better-paying newspapers and magazines within a couple of years.  That threw up immense opportunities for cub reporters  like me who were just starting out.

One of my earliest assignments was the chaos that followed the assassination of  Mrs Indira  Gandhi. I  happened to be inside the All India Institute of Medical Science, talking to a junior doctor for a story on medical education, when she was brought in. There was chaos outside and I was trapped inside the doctor’s room, not allowed to step out, because an ‘injured’ Mrs G was there ( so I was told, though I could not get anywhere close to where she was). The doctor told me she was ‘dead’ but the news was not going to be put out immediately.   When I came back to office, I was put on the job of following up the aftermath because I was one of the local ‘crime reporters’. The horrors  that  my colleagues  and I lived  through and wrote about,  toughened me forever. Those early years of struggle and rejection steeled me, taught me stuff that   are at the core of my survival kit today.

More than 20 years down the line,  the memories remain. I have moved on. I have explored remote corners of  India, travelled the world;  lived in France and the United  Kingdom, thanks in great measure to scholarships, awards and assignments, worked for the best in the international and national media, penned a few books,   directed a documentary — in brief,  done some of the things I wanted to do. And mostly on my own terms.  Much more remains.   I still believe “only sediment settles down”.  The journey never ends.

There are new goals, interests, people and places. The allure of   “out there”, beyond the world I know is as strong as ever.

I see myself primarily as a story teller,  and enjoy communicating the reality of one world to another. I believe there will always be a reader/listener for a good story, though journalism, my trade, has changed so much since I started out. I speak English, Bengali, Hindi and French and am happy to interact in any of these languages.

Hope to keep the conversation flowing. Enjoy the Beatles classic. Apart from its melody and lyrics, what makes Norwegian Wood so special is the introduction of the Indian sitar. This was in fact the first time that a sitar was used on a Western pop record.



3 thoughts on ““There is no such thing as job satisfaction. Either you have the job or the satisfaction.” My late father, Basudeb Chatterjee

  1. loved your inspiring a from nothing you emerged ,the grit the determination..very different the way you did not want the “comfort zone..thats the begining of bravery!

  2. Really nice. I look forward to reading more of your comments and perspectives. I see even more similarities then ever reading your “story” in one sitting. Keep it up. I’ll be checking in. Best….

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