K. Lakshmi on life as a woman reporter
When I was asked to write this piece on my life as a woman journalist, I was reluctant. It is not always easy to look back. Having passed out of a women’s college, a course in journalism was a whole world apart. A year and a post graduate diploma later, when it came to actual work in a newspaper office, my world turned upside down. The timid me had to undergo a metamorphosis the profession demanded.
One of my first assignments was to visit the mortuary at the Government General Hospital and watch an autopsy being performed on a 19-year-old who had slipped off a train. Being an enthusiastic fresher, I agreed to do what I was told. My courage failed when I stepped into the mortuary, gingerly weaving my way through bodies. The assistant began to conduct the autopsy and I turned away, focussing on the forensic medicine expert who explained the process.
I still don’t understand the relevance of watching an autopsy to cover city hospitals. But it gave me the courage to approach policemen in the Government Hospital outpost. I was probably one of the first women reporters in many years to be tipped off about the inadequacies in hospitals. From having to start the day sometimes as early as 6 a.m. to cover assignments to travelling late hours in dark stretches of highways in share-autorickshaws to reach home in the suburbs, it has been an eventful journey. Once, I waited on the street in the middle of the night for an interview with the grieving relatives of a CRPF jawan killed in Chhattisgarh.
Sometimes I got preferential treatment. Sometimes not. At a press meet in 2006, I was asked to sit in the last row and told not to ask questions to the ‘sadhus’ of an organisation as they respected women but did not want to interact with them. While the male reporters interacted directly with the sadhus, I was told to put forth my questions through intermediaries.
Covering assignments and meeting people from various organisations meant having to confront probing questions on personal life. I have learnt to ignore them with a polite smile. It is an exciting profession that requires me doing different things daily, but it also means I never know when I will return home to my child.