Archive for the ‘WPrightnow’ Category

Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chander Pahar

Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chander Pahar

As a child Chandrani Kar would read the great Bengali adventure novel Chander Pahar (The Mountain of the Moon) and fantasize about protagonist Shankar’s journey across Africa. But as she grew up in a conservative Bengali family in the suburban town of Chakdah near Kolkata, studied political science at Kalyani University and then moved to Kolkata post marriage, mundane life took over. And one fine day without realizing, she had forgotten about Shankar, about Africa.

But destiny had other plans for her. In 2000, her husband Sankha Kar, an award-winning photographer, got a job offer in a Dubai newspaper. “Anyone else would have jumped at the opportunity of living in Dubai, but I burst into tears. The thought of leaving my family and staying alone in a foreign land was harrowing to me,” said Chandrani.

Living in Dubai did not change her outlook much. “My husband worked long hours while I was holed up in our apartment. We went out only on his off days, because I used to get scared crossing the road or using the escalator on my own. I never hailed a taxi alone. I was scared if the driver went the wrong way, I would not be aware. I had hardly gone out alone in Chakdah or Kolkata,” said Chandrani.

The Balloon Safari changed it all

There was a surprise in store for her when her husband Sankha expressed his desire to go to Africa. “He wanted to go because he is interested in wildlife photography. At that point I was elated at the prospect of seeing the land of Chander Pahar, but as our travel date neared I started developing cold feet. Finally in 2008 when we flew to Tanzania, I got my first glimpse of Chander Pahar – Mount Kilimanjaro. I could feel the goose bumps.”

Chandrani and Sankha inside the balloon basket prior to take off in Tanzania

Chandrani and Sankha inside the balloon basket in Tanzania

Their first stop was the Kirurumu Tented Camp which had only zippers for door latches and every kind of animal sound for company. “I was so scared I could not sleep the entire night. The next day we had the balloon safari over Serengeti. Thankfully, I had not read up anything on the experience. If I had, I would have been petrified. After a 45-minute balloon ride, landing in the middle of the dense jungle should have been a very scary experience. But for the first time in my life I did not feel any fear.”

The balloon ride proved to be the turning point for Chandrani. “I realized I had overcome all my fears in Africa and emerged a more confident person.”

Chandrani in front of a cottage with a zipped door in Tanzania

Chandrani in front of a cottage with a zipped door in Tanzania

Adventure takes over

After that, Chandrani was willing to go anywhere and do anything and she quickly developed a keen interest in photography. “I could feel I had completely changed inside. My husband always encouraged me to pick up the camera but like always, I was not too sure. But in Africa, I felt I was wasting all the opportunities God was giving me. In my first trip I had a Sony handycam and a 5-megapixel Panasonic digicam. In the next trip, Sankha bought me a Canon with a 16X Zoom, and in the following, a Canon with a 30X Zoom and now I have a DSLR.”

Chandrani found herself exploring the African Savanna between 2010 and 2013, taking up challenges, courting danger and escaping perils on the way – holding on to her camera firmly all the while. I personally believe her adventures are worth going down in a book, but till she sits down to write it, here is a glimpse of her exploits in her own words along with some photographs taken by her on each trip.

Lioness at Ndutu, Tanzania

Lionesses at Ndutu, Tanzania

Tanzania, 2010

  • Ndutu lodge had no fencing or boundary:  This time our destination was Nogorongoro and Ndutu. As soon as we stepped into Ndutu lodge, I realized there was no boundary wall, only a single signboard that said DO NOT ENTER BEYOND THIS POINT. We humans could read it but what about the animals? I was shocked when I was informed this was the rule in Tanzania so that the Big 5 – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard could find free roaming space. It took me some time to digest this information.
  • There was no electricity or telephone: The rangers with AK-47 first ensured we had locked the door of our cottage and only then left at night. If there had been any emergency we could have alerted them by a torchlight and a whistle. There was no electricity or telephone in the lodge.

    Ndutu Lodge in Tanzania had no fencing

    Ndutu Lodge in Tanzania had no fencing

  • In the middle of the night a strange sound woke me up: I was so scared that I couldn’t open my eyes. But I finally overcame my fear and woke up Sankha. Then we looked out of the window and saw two giraffes chomping on leaves next to the window. There were days when we couldn’t enter our room because of a line of giraffes blocking our path.
  • Our car broke down: The sun was just going down and our car broke down one day right in the middle of nowhere. While the driver tried to fix it and Sankha helped him out, I kept a watch. Now when I think back, I wonder what I would have done if I had spotted a lion in the bush.
  • We went on the trail of 15 lionesses: We spotted this group and started following them. At one point few of them were just a couple of feet away from the open jeep. My eyes met with a lioness and I could feel cold sweat when I realized she was just a jumping distance away from me. My head was jutting out of the jeep and I quietly sat down. I can never forget those eyes.
    Giraffe in Tanzania

    Giraffe in Tanzania

    Zebras in Tanzania

    Zebras in Tanzania

    Kenya and Tanzania, 2011

  • We went by road from Kenya to Tanzania: The driver we went with told us that in his 20 years in the profession he had not taken a single tourist across the border. He also went on the 12-hour journey for the first time from Masai Mara to the Kenya-Tanzania border.
  •  We saw a lion kill: Usually the lioness does the hard work of hunting. But we were lucky to see a lion at it. We were admiring the zebras and wildebeest when suddenly a lion emerged from a bush next to us and went at them. In a moment the peaceful atmosphere was shattered by terror.
  • We were the only two people in Ndutu Lodge this time: It was off season there when we had gone. So we were the only occupants staying in the lodge, with no boundaries. Imagine the scenario.
    Lion with prey at Ndutu, Tanzania

    Lion with prey at Ndutu, Tanzania

    Leopard with prey

    Leopard with prey

    Wildebeest migration at Serengeti, Tanzania

    Wildebeest migration at Serengeti, Tanzania

    Botswana, 2012

  • We flew in a six-seater bush plane: From Kasane airport we boarded this small plane to reach Xugana Island Lodge at the heart of Okavango Delta. This is most often the only way to travel in Botswana. The small, light plane rattling in the wind made my stomach churn. We landed safely, but the next time we took the flight, the landing was delayed because of elephants in the runway.
  • There was a mosquito net for a door with no lock: Our room was on a platform in the delta but I was shocked to see a mosquito net for a door. Apparently that was their way of giving you a feel of the jungle but it took me some time to recover from the shock.

    Chandrani in front of a 6-seater bush plane in Botswana

    Chandrani in front of a 6-seater bush plane in Botswana

  • There was a hippo under our room: The entire night we could not sleep because of a sound below our room. The manger told us in the morning that a hippo had his home below our room and he was making the sound. That’s why he had asked us not to get out of our room at night.
  •  We were in a small boat in a crocodile infested delta: They call it the Mokoro. It is a long boat, just a foot in width, and if you move too much there is a chance of tipping over. I was so engrossed with my camera I didn’t realize what I was into. Even when I saw the crocodiles all around and below the boat in the crystal clear water I didn’t flinch. Not to mention the bobbing heads of the hippos everywhere.
Chandrani rides a Mokoro in crocodile and hippo infested waters in Botswana

Chandrani on a Mokoro ride in crocodile and hippo infested waters in Botswana

Up close with a hippo in Botswana

Up close with a hippo in Botswana

  • We escaped being chased by elephants: The elephants in Botswana are extremely aggressive because poaching and hunting is still rampant there. As such, there would be at least 35 elephants standing right next to our dining room every day. But this incident happened when we were in a marshy area on our tours. The guide sensed something was wrong and was sensible enough to move the car in the nick of time otherwise the herd would have trampled over us.
  • We could have touched the leopard or it could have been the other way round: Our safari jeep in Savuti had a roof and was open on all sides. We saw a leopard which vanished into the jungle. We kept waiting for it only to realize that it had crept right next to the jeep tyres without us noticing. As it walked around we could not even breathe, let alone take photographs.
An elephant taking a mud bath in Botswana

An elephant taking a mud bath in Botswana

Bee-eater birds captured in Botswana

Bee-eater birds captured in Botswana

 Kenya, 2013

  • We escaped a storm: This time we were in Masai Mara in winter when it does not usually rain. But we saw a cloud gathering in the horizon. We were far away from the main road and our guide said that we would get stuck in the mud if it rained and since the sun was setting no one would come looking for us till next morning. He drove the car like a maniac and the rain came pouring down only when we hit the main road. It was a narrow escape once again.
Storm clouds gathering in Kenya

Storm clouds gathering in Kenya

A road less travelled. In Kenya

A road less travelled. In Kenya

Sunset at Masai Mara

Sunset at Masai Mara

Lions in Kenya

Lions in Kenya

When we went back to our room in Ashnil Mara camp we were greeted by a group of hippos lazing on the banks of Mara River just a few yards away from our balcony. Seeing them in the moonlight I forgot our narrow escape from the storm and once again got sucked into the magic of Africa. 

Chandrani is right now an amateur photographer. She says she is completely content winning competitions in Facebook Groups and planning her sixth trip to Africa by the end of this year. You can check out her photographs on her facebook page Chandrani Clicks

Samah Hamza Junaid donated her kidney when she was 22

Samah Hamza Junaid donated her kidney when she was 24

I have known Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly, a media consultant based in Kolkata, for years and I have met Samah Hamza Junaid, a marketing and PR professional working in the hospitality industry in Dubai, through blogging. Both have done something in their life which many of us would laud but when it comes to doing it ourselves we might end up having second thoughts about it.

Samah, the daughter of a Bangladeshi mother and Palestinian father, donated her kidney to her ailing father when she was just 24. It’s been three years since then and Samah says: “Organ donation is beautiful and people need to do away with misconceptions and fear associated with it.” Samah has written about her entire experience in her blog A Day In The Life Of ME.

Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly has pledged all his organs

Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly has pledged all his organs

Shubhojit, on the other hand, has an altogether different reason for acquiring his donor card and says, “I wasn’t sure people were taking my after-death wish seriously, so I went ahead and made it clear that I am serious.”

Some cynics might say what is the big deal about donating your organs when you are dead? But I would say it is. Because when you are doing that, you are surmounting age-old superstitions and religious beliefs, not something everyone can easily do. That’s why Aishwarya Rai’s failed eye donation campaign in India is a sure pointer to how most people think and that is why so many people die every year waiting for a donor.

In my entire life Samah and Shubhojit are the only two people I know who have done something like this so I thought it would be inspiring to share their reasons and experiences…

“I still work out six times a week and my father has regained his health” -Samah

How did your father react when you told him you would give him your kidney?

His initial reaction was silence. I convinced him that I will be okay by showing him websites that educate people on the beauty and simplicity of organ donation and explain how it does not impair your lifestyle. But he was still worried. Then I asked him, ‘What would you do if you were in my place?’ He answered in a heartbeat that he wouldn’t think twice, given the same circumstances and he would give all he had if required. 

And people around you…what was their reaction?

People around me were shocked, some by the thought of a young girl putting her life at risk and some by the generosity and extent of my courage. Some people even made my parents feel guilty by asking them how they could accept my donation. I politely smiled at everyone, who volunteered to find a good donor so that I would not have to donate. They couldn’t find anyone. Today the same people (family/friends) praise me for my ‘courage’. Now that they see the normal and active lifestyle I am leading, I am pretty sure they are gradually putting all organ donation myths to rest.

Did you have to make any lifestyle changes after the donation?

There have been no lifestyle changes at all. I have always been very cautious about my health, eating the right kind of food and exercising six times a week. Having one kidney to do the job of both, I would say I am extra cautious now in terms of not slipping on my fitness goals. I still have my cheat days and over-indulge, but most days I maintain the same healthy lifestyle that I did, prior to the surgery. The only possible change would be getting annual health check-ups done to keep a tab on my numbers.

Samah with her father Faeq Hamza

Samah with her father Faeq Hamza

Thankfully I have not. Rather people say that I have earned a place in Heaven. However, I really think there is a lot more to achieve, correct and repent for in this world to make it there.

What is the greatest satisfaction you have got out of your donation?

The greatest satisfaction out of my donation would be my father’s smile, his energy and him brimming with health and guarding it as though he has something precious. Also, I have come out as a stronger person, nothing scares me anymore – needles, pins, tattoo, cuts, bleeding, pain. Also, it has taught me to be more compassionate. Initially what I did was just out of love for my father, but now the act has opened my eyes. If you can add years to someone’s life and God has given you that power, then why not? I admire, salute and respect people who go out of their way and donate to non-related patients.

Would you encourage others to donate?

Others should do it only if they are completely sure they can, have acquired enough knowledge about the process and are not scared about it. We can get over our fears at times and at times we can’t. That’s normal. But if you really want to contribute, don’t let anything hold you back, listen to your heart. What transpires is a beautiful miracle – a gift of life.

Would you pledge your organs for use after death?

I want to pledge my eyes. I would love to bring light into one person’s life.

“Apart from my organs, I have donated my body to medical science” – Shubhojit

What does it mean to have a donor card?

Having a donor card helps in making people aware of my wish to donate. It will also hopefully help in resolving any issues that people have after I die. I have also asked that my body be donated for medical science. That would help in reducing pollution and carbon footprint as there would be no need for cremation.

Many people talk about organ donation but never manage to take the step. What was your push?

I was worried that people might not realise the seriousness of my wish.

Shubhojit's donor card

Shubhojit’s donor card

What procedure did you have to go through in order to donate?

I have not donated as yet so I don’t know the procedure. For registering as a donor, I did it online.

So you are okay with donating your kidney if someone needs it now…

Absolutely. If someone really needs my kidney and I am a match I will not think twice before donating.

After your death how will one ensure that your organs reach the right people?

There are no right people or wrong people. I just hope that young people get it. My job is to donate and who gets it does not make me anxious because hopefully I will be happily dead then.

Why do you think people have a mind block about organ donation?

I think religion and the greed to go to Heaven are the two main reasons for which people do not donate. This is also one of the main reasons why most of the criminals and corrupt people are highly religious.

Do you know anyone who has done the same like you?

No. But, I hear of a lot of people looking forward to doing so, especially after they are a few pegs down. It is perhaps because we become nobler then than when sober.

What satisfaction did you get out of donating your organs?

I haven’t thought about this actually. I will be dead, remember!

Picture taken from internet

Picture taken from internet

At a time when Indian men are making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this story comes as a breath of fresh air – reinforcing the fact that there are more good men in this world than bad. This story is about four men, who went out of their way to make a difference in a woman’s life.

This story takes off when a few months back my close friend from South Point School, Joydeep Sengupta, who works at CESC and lives in Kolkata, was running his last check on Facebook before he retired to bed. A status update drew his attention.

Joydeep Sengupta didn't have Samrajni's address. He just knew he had to stop her.

Joydeep Sengupta didn’t have Samrajni’s address. He just knew he had to stop her from committing suicide

From here I am penning the story in Joydeep’s own words:

“Her message on FB said she wanted to end her life that night”

10.30pm

I had joined a group of like-minded people on FB. Few I knew in this group, most I didn’t and some I had met at a get-together organised by the group. Now the status that was in front of me was written by a lady named Samrajni Sengupta, who belonged to the same group. The update on her Timeline said she wanted to end her life that night because she didn’t find life worth living. I was in shock. I had met her just once at the get-together and knew from a common friend that she was having some issues in her marriage. Beyond that I didn’t know anything.

Within seconds other people had seen the message too and we started talking in the group wall, although there was no way of reaching out to her because she had logged out.

“I didn’t know where she lived but I left home to find her”

11pm

Once I recovered from my shock, I decided that I could not sit back at home and do nothing about it. I had to try and stop her. People in our group could tell vaguely that she lived in Garia, located in the southern fringes of Kolkata, but beyond that no information was available. Another member of our group, Sourav Sarkar, who works as a crew member in Air India International and lives in Behala like me, wanted to join me too. We managed to hail a cab and left for Garia.

Sourav Sarkar joined Joydeep in his mission to find Samrajni

Sourav Sarkar joined Joydeep in his mission to find Samrajni

“We wandered aimlessly on the streets as the minutes ticked by

12am

Let alone an address, we didn’t even know a proper landmark near her house. We just had the belief that we had to stop her, somehow. Standing in the middle of the road in the middle of the night, we were not willing to give up hope. Nor were at least 30 people from our group, not only from Kolkata, but even the US and other parts of India, who were all logged in and were desperately trying to use their networks to find someone, who could give her address. Finally, Somnath Chowdhury, a law graduate, who lives in Baranagar, and belongs to our group, said that one day he was travelling with Samrajni in the bus and she pointed at an apartment building and told him it was her home. He vaguely remembered where it was and could guide us.

“Monali Sengupta woke up her husband and told him to help us out

1am

While Somnath was on the phone describing landmarks to us and we were trying to follow his directions, the exasperation was building up. We were really worried that we might have lost all the time in our search and wouldn’t be successful in our mission. On top of that there was nobody on the road to ask for directions and all the gates of the apartment buildings were locked.

Meanwhile, Monali Sengupta, mother of a one-year-old, who lives in the same area, was awake and was just browsing through FB when she chanced upon our exchanges on the wall. She didn’t know any of us, just saw a connection through a common friend, but she woke up her husband Sayan Sengupta and told him to call me. My number was on the wall by then. She felt that since her husband knew the area well, he might be able to help in the search. At 1am Sayan came down from his apartment and joined us but we failed to find the building despite his help and Somnath’s directions.

Sayan Sengupta did not know any of them but joined them in the search

Sayan Sengupta did not know any of them but joined them in the search

“Somnath travelled an hour to join us”

2am

After trying so hard I wasn’t ready to live with the fact that I wasn’t successful in reaching Samrajni. Both Saurav and Somnath agreed with me. That is why Somnath decided to come down from Baranagar – which is located in north Kolkata and is more than an hour’s journey from Garia – to join us. He was sure if he was in the area he would be able to recognize the apartment building.

“At 2am Sayan took two unknown men home”

2.30am

Sayan didn’t want us to stand on the road and wait for Somnath, so he took us home. The fact that he did not know us at all, and that it was 2am, did not make any difference to him or his wife Monali. Sitting in their house, we all hoped and prayed together that we would be able to save Samrajni.

“We jumped over the wall of the apartment building to reach the watchman’s room”

3.30am

Somnath came and he managed to point out the building to us. We had no option but to jump over the wall in order to reach the watchman’s room. We woke him up and asked him if Samrajni Sengupta lived in the building. Initially he wasn’t sure who we were, but sensing our urgency and proper intent said he would take us to her apartment.

Somnath Chowdhury travelled for an hour in the middle of the night to ensure Samrajni was safe

Somnath Chowdhury travelled for an hour in the middle of the night to ensure Samrajni was safe

“We were not sure if we were too late”

4am

Samrajni’s father opened the door and was shocked to see the three of us – Saurav, Somnath and I standing there. We told him to call Samrajni without asking any further questions. He said she was sleeping with her door closed. I felt a knot in my stomach and a cold sweat. Were we too late? He knocked on her door and our heart was racing. She finally opened. We were almost jumping with joy seeing her alive. When we told her why we had come she just couldn’t believe it.

SAMRAJNI SENGUPTA tells her story:

“These guys came as messiahs and taught me to think anew”

I was in severe depression due to the situation I was in and had developed a suicidal tendency. I started feeling that if I ended my life all my problems would come to an end. After writing on FB that I would end my life that night I had started making the preparations for doing so. My mother, who had been keeping a close watch on me, sensed my intent and insisted on sleeping with me that night. I remember I kept crying and my mother consoled me and tried to put sense into my head. She stroked my forehead till I fell asleep at around 4am. Then father woke us up.

I was so groggy I couldn’t understand why Joydeep, Sourav and Somnath had come. When they told me I felt like they had come like a new morning in my life. I had reached the lowest point of my self confidence and felt the world was full of horrible people and bad things kept happening to me all the time. Their efforts and those of all the people, who stayed glued to FB to make sure that I was safe, made me believe that there is good in this world.

I am a 38-year-old divorcee with a 12-year-old son, who studies in a good boarding school in Kolkata. I did not take any alimony from my husband because it hurt my pride. I met this other gentleman on Facebook, who is in his early 50s and he wanted to marry me. We had a registration marriage and soon he took me to Dubai, where he works and lives, on a resident visa. There my nightmare started. He lived in a 10X10 single room, expected me to do all the housework and he turned into a pervert and sadist the moment he came home from work. He beat me up at the slightest opportunity. Once he even broke my arm and took me to a doctor a month later when I was screaming in pain. He constantly threatened to kill me and if I raised my voice, his brutality increased. I didn’t know anyone in Dubai and I couldn’t figure out where I could go for help. I just wanted to escape from his clutches. So when he agreed to buy me tickets to see my parents I found my escape. When I did not return he kept calling me and harassing me over the phone and he even told my parents that they were actually doing “business” through me.

I was also facing acute financial woes and did not have enough money to file a divorce suit against him. I thought death would rescue me from this mess.

But these guys came as messiahs and taught me to think anew. I have never thought of suicide after that night. I know no matter what, I will have to live for my son. Now I know these wonderful people are there to support me if I need them. I am not alone in my fight anymore.

sexual harassment3To give an insight into sexual harassment in the Indian media I got in touch with a number of my ex-colleagues, who are all currently well-placed in the industry to come forth with their views and personal experiences. Many said that they have never faced any kind of sexual harassment in the workplace, but have witnessed others facing it. Some men said that they have helped their female colleagues deal with harassment from the department boss and many said that they have faced harassment themselves. Some even said that certain senior people have tried to take advantage of their earlier professional relationship, long after they had stopped working together. Two ex-colleagues, one male and one female, said they have been harassed by their female bosses. A very senior male editor I was talking to yesterday told me in his entire career spanning almost 20 years, he has seen how men got transformed as they moved up the ladder and thought their higher posts also gave them the license to take their chances with women.

And while not everyone in this post has given their name, here it is then, all in their own words:

I told him he should not dare touch me again”- NUZHAT AZIZ 

In my 14 years of work experience as a journalist in Kolkata, Mumbai and now Pune, there have been several experiences which have left me disgusted and annoyed. And in most of the cases, I have managed to put an end to the harassment by putting my foot down; by putting it across very bluntly, that I do not like the advances and am uncomfortable with what is being said or done.

During my stint with a leading daily, I had to work closely with a journalist who was hired to head a business supplement. The journalist in question had a habit of touching me whenever we spoke. Whether we discussed stories or it was a casual chat, his hand would either touch mine, or he would put his arm over my shoulder or around my waist. I did feel uncomfortable on several occasions and I discussed it with my female colleague. 

One day we finished work and he asked me if I wanted to go to the club for some snacks. I agreed to go with him because I wanted to bring up this issue. While we waited for the drinks and snacks to arrive, he casually placed his hand over mine. I removed it and very sternly told him that I did not like anyone touching me. He was shocked and tried to defend himself. I repeated myself and took a cab home. The next day, he refused to talk to me and needless to add, he stopped assigning stories to me. I was perfectly fine with that.

There have been so many instances, where a male colleague has made a pass, cracked a sexist joke and commented on my vital statistics. All this is harassment. So if I were to write all of that, it would have to be compiled into a book. But I would definitely want to mention another incident, where this senior colleague would often send me text messages saying how hot he found me and later laugh it off as a joke. He would often tell us how he was in an open relationship with his wife.

He went on to hold a senior position with a foreign-based organisation. He continued messaging me with polite enquiries about my life and family and once in a while we would discuss about the media industry. In one such conversation he suggested I could get a senior position easily by sleeping around, because it was acceptable and everyone did pretty much the same. I was disgusted and offended and stopped responding to him. I unfriended him on Facebook. Sensing that I was upset, he later texted me saying that he did not mean such a thing and I was stupid enough to deduce something like that. I told him in as many words that I understood exactly what he meant and I was not keen to keep in touch.

My approach has always been take the bull by the horn, there are no two ways about it.

If I had not refused to get into the car with him he would have done something to me”- LM

There was this very senior editor, who was not only very talented, but also good looking and the no- nonsense types. We respected him immensely. When he handpicked me for a transfer to Mumbai I felt very proud and grateful. But after coming to Mumbai I lost touch with him. A few years later I bumped into him in my Mumbai office, we got talking and when he said he had nothing to do in Mumbai, I offered to take him out for dinner. We agreed to meet at a restaurant. He asked me to meet him at his hotel first. When I reached he asked me to go up his room. I wasn’t sure what to do but I went. We chatted in his room for sometime then left for the restaurant. It was a pleasant evening.

The next day he called me and asked me if I was free for dinner since he had another night in town. I didn’t think much of it especially since the previous night was really enjoyable, and hence agreed. He again asked me to meet him at his room when I reached the hotel. Once again I hesitated, but frankly, I was confused and went with the flow. This time I didn’t enjoy his company too much as he seemed to be a little tipsy. We had a light dinner and I said I had to leave because it was getting late. Very ‘casually’ he said, “you can stay back if you want.” I ignored this and just left after saying a polite goodbye.

A few months later he was in town again and called me, this time to his guest house. I was in two minds, but my gratitude for him made me decide to go. But when I reached, my instincts took over. He was already stark drunk and I refused to get inside his room. I told him we had to hurry to the restaurant because we had a reservation. Thankfully he listened. He had his chauffeur-driven company car. As soon as we entered the car, he grabbed my hand. My stomach did a somersault but I didn’t want to create a scene. My mind stopped working and I simply tried to make random conversation. All this while he was holding my hand and I was trying to withdraw it unsuccessfully. It might sound silly, but I just couldn’t think straight.  Thankfully we reached the restaurant quickly. By then he was a mess and was even unable to stand. I just managed to finish dinner and he did the most bizarre thing – he started rocking the table and in between looked at me with stoned and lustful eyes. I don’t know how I managed to get out of there without creating a scene.

I insisted I had to leave and finally walked out of the restaurant with him following me. Outside, he crossed all limits. As I called the driver to get the car, he tried to embrace me. I quickly wriggled out and stepped aside (once again trying not to create a scene). Thankfully, the driver arrived on time, and with his help, I practically shoved him inside the car.  I didn’t get in myself and I jumped into an auto rickshaw instead telling him I had to rush to another venue.

The way he was going I don’t know what would have happened if I had entered the car that night. I was actually his fan – as a junior reporter – but his behaviour was appalling. Probably, you may say I was at fault for going out with him thrice. But it did take me some time to realise that the Dr Jekyll I had known at work would turn into Mr Hyde after getting drunk.

It is possible to create a non-sexual atmosphere where predatory men are intimidated into decorum”- SURANJANA ROY BHATTACHARYA

I don’t recall a single instance of harassment, personally, between 1994-2008, the time I worked in India.

The only obnoxious person I have encountered was this person who was not my boss, but the editor of another department. Since in a newspaper office we mostly sit in an open office, you can see what’s going on in other departments. He would openly hit on the girls in that department. What struck me as brilliant was the way these women dealt with him. From a distance, it seemed to me that these young girls were capable of puncturing his ego, they patronised him and talked him down and kept him in line. I don’t know the actual dynamics, but that is what I perceived and sub consciously rejoiced.

What I am trying to say is that women can and do have ways to deal with men. I was 23 when I joined Indian Express, Bombay as a trainee. I worked night shifts with men who used to drink every night. Yet, not for a single night did I feel any discomfort. I have often thought why that was so, and the only explanation I found is – women can ‘de sex’ themselves and their environment. When you don’t recognise a man as the male of the species, when you don’t recognise his ‘aura’, that man will not have any power over you. I think it is possible for men and women to create a professional, non-sexual atmosphere where predatory men are intimidated into decorum.

My female editor would measure my derriere with her palm”- NAME WITHELD

Sexual harassment need not be physical or coming from a man. Women too can sometimes indulge in it. For example, my female editor would pass lewd comments on my derriere and offer to measure it with her palm to see if I have “put on weight”. In front of male colleagues, this would be thoroughly embarrassing. One night, on a team trip to a nearby resort, she dragged everyone out of their rooms to have a chill-out session. Then she announced to everyone: “X is not wearing a bra!” Her joke was so humiliating. Also, when I needed to take leave for a day because my then boyfriend was returning after a 4-month long trip from Europe, she said, in front of the whole department, “You can postpone your f****** by a day. I need you here at work.” Maybe it was my age that prompted her to say such stuff, thinking I was ‘too young to mind’ or it could be because she believed in the culture of ‘ragging juniors’, with or without realising she was crossing the line and humiliating me. But I mustered the courage to tell her one day that I felt insulted this way.

My friend was asked to perform oral sex”- SARAH SALVADORE

A friend of mine decided to leave journalism for good because of sexual harassment. As a young intern, when she approached her so-called ‘mentor’ to inquire about jobs, she was asked to perform an oral sexual act on him. She walked out immediately and decided to never step into any media house again. Today she is happily working in the literary field, “minus the creeps,” as she puts it.

The editor lost his job due to charges of sexual misdemeanor”- NAME WITHELD

I was working in a newspaper in Delhi and there was an editor and his entire team, who were extremely foul- mouthed in front of women.  I was just on “hi” and “hello” terms with him but still he tried to touch me on many occasions. I had left the organization by then but I heard he eventually lost his job due to charges of sexual misdemeanor.

Many editors have got away with their antics because they were smart, Tejpal acted foolishly”- MOHUA FERNANDES

This kind of sexual harassment is not new in media circles. But it is important to highlight this issue because these editors – who think nobody can touch them and that they can even get away with murder – need to realise that they cannot get away with it every time. They need to practice what they preach, not just support an issue because it makes good copy. Look at their double standards: they cry hoarse when a photojournalist is gangraped by criminals, but when a respected editor violates his employee’s body against her wish, they call it consensual. Many editors have got away with their antics because they were smart. Tejpal acted foolishly, so he got caught. Personally, I have never faced any such harassment. But it is common knowledge that women in the media – like in other fields too – use their sexuality to climb the career ladder. That’s why very often mediocre employees get phenomenal promotions and perks. Of course, everybody else in office knows why.

I couldn’t muster the courage to report my senior colleague”- NAME WITHELD

I had started out as a trainee some nine years back with a leading Kolkata-based media house. The first time it happened was when I was asked out for coffee, to which I went ahead willingly as just another evening out with a colleague I knew well and interacted freely, not realising that was only the beginning of the mental harassment I was to face for months to come.

Five minutes into the conversation, I realised there was something wrong in the way the conversation was going. When I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in anything that he wanted out of me, and that he was just another male colleague, he said, ‘But women don’t come out for coffee with just any male friend. If she does she is plain available and has been asking for it’.

All of 22, I did not know how to react, what to say. All I knew was I walked out on him in the next five minutes. From there on began the stream of messages, morning, day and night, all of which threatened to malign me in public, full of cuss words, etc…if I opened my mouth or dared say a word. I could see a change in attitude in some other colleagues too, a smirk here, a snigger there. On one or two occasions, I did think of having a heart-to-heart chat with the boss and ask him for help, but a mere 8-month-old trainee’s account would perhaps stand no chance against the hoity toity. No, I couldn’t muster enough courage and kept mum sharing my shattered frame of mind with only a set of very close friends.

I was victimised in every possible way, dubbed incapable, inefficient, my copies not good enough, as it had to be passed through that one ‘male colleague’s’ coterie of people. I realised the root of the problem stemmed from that coffee at Flury’s.

I got a better job and moved on. But therein died a chirpy, easy-going 22-year-old, and emerged from the ashes a no-nonsense girl.

Tejpal incident would shake up a lot of people”- MOYNA SEN

Initially I did feel that maybe the Tejpal thing was being blown out of proportions for reasons best known to the people involved, simply because this was nothing new to the media world. But I guess the harassment issue had become so rampant, it needed to be addressed as well. More often than not these skirmishes are brushed under the carpet as run-of-the-mill incidents. Therefore this would hopefully nudge people out of their complacency, given that both Tejpal and his Tehelka are in serious trouble. Talking of myself, I cannot recall of very serious harassment issues. There have been insinuations, but nothing that I could not control by putting up an intolerant front. But I have seen some of my colleagues facing it, snide comments about their physical assets or even being propositioned directly. Some have been shocked, others have retorted and some have actually responded positively.

I went to meet him in his hotel room many times”- NAME WITHELD

He was an editor I had idolized all my life. I was just 21 when I met him at an office party and was over the moon for all the attention he showered me. Finally when he asked me to meet him in his hotel room the next day I said yes. From then on I went to meet him many times and he gifted me books and ordered champagne and we had romantic chats sitting in the balcony. But one thing is for sure. I never used my proximity to him to get a better position at work.

However, I soon realised I was falling in love with him and he was married. I thought if I could not dissociate myself I would be heading for disaster. I told him so and he did not force me to continue, neither did he victimize me in the workplace for not continuing. I soon moved abroad and we never met after that. At that point I thought I was the only woman he really liked but later on I came to know I was just one of the many.

This is a follow up of my earlier post Sexual harassment in Indian media: The inside story (PART I)

 

 
 
 

sexual harassment

Our Editor-In-Chief was in town from Mumbai and he had thrown a party at a city disco in Kolkata, something he always did when he was down and something we all looked forward to. I was in a bit of a hurry to leave because of some pressing responsibility back home and when I went to say bye to him, he said, “Why are you leaving so early?” I gave my reasons. Then he said, “But there will be transfer.”

I froze. I thought now it’s happening to me too, another whimsical editor threatening me with transfer if I did not stay on and dance with him.

Looking at my anxious face he looked puzzled. “Why are you looking so worried? There will be transport to take you home.”

I heaved a sigh of relief – he meant transport then and not transfer. He was trying to be genuinely nice but I think I can’t be blamed for presuming what he said. From the day I joined the Indian media as a trainee journalist I have been fed stories of brilliant editors who were equally talented womanizers. Editors who would unleash their libido in the company corridors, on the office couch, in the lifts, at parties and on working tours. Some accounts sounded realistic, some grossly exaggerated, and some figments of imagination, but like mothers tell children fairy tales and tell them to be scared of the demons and the monsters, our seniors told us tales of predatory editors and our imagination went astray.

So much so that when I was a trainee journalist, all of us would huddle into one room and avoid the Editor-In- Chief, like the plague, every time he dropped into town. Why? Because he had a reputation with women, that walked into a room long before he did. We would even discuss what we would do if he asked one of us to visit him in his hotel room. (Apparently that was his way of making a pass at women journalists and that’s what once again our seniors had told us.) At that point our unanimous decision was: we would obviously leave the job immediately.

Nothing like that ever happened. He didn’t even give us a second look when he rebuked us at the department meetings for all the wrong headlines. Then he walked off in a huff to lunch with our immediate boss, the prettiest woman I have ever met.

So were the stories we heard about him true? I don’t know. Or was our pretty boss the buffer that kept him from turning his attention to us? I don’t know either. But this much I know that we quickly put aside our unwarranted fears. Years later I met a journalist, much senior to me, and I was telling her this story with a laugh, she startled me with her confession. She said she had actually gone to meet him in his hotel room while working as a trainee journalist. (Her account is in my post tomorrow.)

As I gained experience in journalism I realised editors do hit on women, more precisely take their chances with them. It is the most common thing in the newsroom. Some women reciprocate, often looking at it as a good opportunity to go up the ladder, some don’t. But what is incredible is the shockwaves that Tarun Tejpal is sending down the spine of the media people. Isn’t this something we have always known? What has Tejpal suddenly done that has shaken us all? Aren’t we used to discussing stories like this over coffee right there in the office cafeteria? Is it shocking now because this story has spilled over from the cafeteria to the common man’s sitting room?

There is a pattern to the whole thing. Most often the relationships are consensual and when it is not, the woman journalist handles it in her own way. When she can’t, she leaves the job. But sometimes she does complain. It is always dealt with “amicably” and yes, Vishakha (Judgement) is kept out of the door consciously. After it has been dealt with, the woman journalist inevitably finds it tough to carry on in the job and resigns. But I have also heard of editors losing their jobs because there had been too many complaints against them. Also, as a male ex-colleague said, he has seen a couple of cases of false charges. Whatever the situation, it is always an “internal issue”. The only person to have had the guts to move court and fight a case for 10 long years is journalist Rina Mukherji.

Journalist Rina Mukherji moved court against her employer and fought her case for 10 long years

Journalist Rina Mukherji moved court against her employer and fought her case for 10 long years

Personally I have faced harassment too. I have to admit that no one has ever made any overt suggestion but the subtle hints were enough and in one job I have even lost a promotion because I failed to keep the boss “happy”. I never complained to higher authorities because I always felt, apart from making the gossip mills go on an overdrive, it would do nothing for me. There was also the chance of being labeled “the girl who sc***** her boss’ happiness” and my chances of finding another job would have been remote, in an industry where “news” travels fast.

And what would I have complained about, that my boss asks me out for a drink every day? What’s wrong with that? Because I didn’t go, I didn’t get a promotion. Come on, you are not good enough. My boss wants to walk into every party with me. Why, can’t a boss go to a party with a colleague? He often insists on having dinner from my plate at the party. Umm…what does that have to do with sexual harassment?

So in the end I have handled it my own way by sometimes wriggling out of a situation, by putting my foot down or by taking the help of supportive colleagues. In this regard I have to admit that it’s because of sensitive colleagues and some nice, caring, supportive senior people and editors (both men and women) women journalists are thriving in the industry. I remember there was an editor who was not even my boss but whenever I travelled with him in the office car, late in the night, he would step out of the car when I reached home. He stood in front of the gate till I had stepped in and locked it behind me. He got back to the car only after ensuring I was safe.

Sadly these amazing people will never make the headlines for all the good reasons, the Tejpals will. But instead of resorting to Tejpal-bashing (that his closest friends from the circuit are doing and behaving as if they never knew this side of him) and expressing well-rehearsed “shock” and “disbelief” at a fellow journalist’s folly, shouldn’t they be taking a closer look at their own lifts? You never know what’s lurking there.

(I have spoken to 10 journalists, all of whom are currently holding senior positions in different organizations. They have jotted down their personal experiences of sexual harassment which I have published in Part II.)

Check another post about Indian media:

At 23 when I joined journalism no one told me…