Friday Review

The way of the news, in her words

Anubhavasancharangal: Vanitha Madhyama Pravarthakarude Ormakal   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Beads of trenchant and vibrant memoirs strung on a common thread, Anubhavasancharangal: Vanitha Madhyama Pravarthakarude Ormakal is a collection of essays all written by women media persons who had won the Chameli Devi Jain Award. This award was instituted in 1982 at a time when India’s media skies were opening up to new horizons, even while women were struggling to make their presence felt there in what was largely a male dominated domain.

However it continues to be relevant in a context where women have become indelible markers in our media saturated worlds. Malayalam translations of select essays from the original book in English becomes interesting given women’s increasing visibility in Kerala society as journalists and producers of news, both in print and broadcast media.

This book offers a thoughtful and thought provoking insight into how women in Indian media have worked inside mainstream media organisations to create pathbreaking news.

The stories in this collection are rooted in specific women’s experiences, historically situated within India’s burgeoning media industry. From working on tumble down Olivetti typewriters and carbon copies to sending news from post offices, these memoirs also chart the evolution and growth of Indian media and women’s attempts to write themselves into its history.

Personal, honest and brave narratives, an array of Indian media women, many of them nationally and internationally acclaimed, share their joys, triumphs, insecurities and anxieties in the course of the journey to the heights of their profession.

As these women write their personal histories into the socio-historic fabric of Indian media, they simultaneously contribute to the broadening of its scope and responsibilities.

Anita Pratap, journalist, author and documentary maker who challenged media’s invisible glass ceilings to become CNN’s South Asia bureau chief, confidently asserts that power, perks or privileges, though she had them in plenty, were never of interest to her. In a memorable piece poignantly titled ‘The Answer Will Find Me’ she says the sole question she grappled with in her career was how her professional expertise and unique personal experiences could help her in bringing about a social transformation in India.

Sunita Narain’s experiences of confronting corporate power in an age where environmental activism had not yet gained currency offers vital clues on making sense of many of the issues that confront media activism even today.

Usha Rai’s delightful vignettes of the travails of a woman journalist in a man’s world of print journalism in the 1960s make one of the most entertaining reads in the collection. She writes of male editors who ruled the roost, special correspondents, reporters, all male ‘desks’, misogynist jokes, rooms filled with cigarette smoke, male biases that considered women incapable of intellectual conversations and serious reportage, among numerous other things that served to make women shudder and think twice before entering the male dens of print medium. Teesta Setelvad’s ‘Reporting a Genocide’ on the Godhra riots is a spine chilling read on the numerous compromises society and media are often forced to effect, exposing the fault lines on how media covers genocides and pogroms in India.

Neerja Choudhary, in a very insightful essay on ‘Changing Times, Changing Media’, speaks of the 1990s when women began arriving in large numbers in mainline journalistic organizations.

Sucheta Jalal’s piece on the rise of business journalism in India, Vasavi Kiro’s ‘Tribal Women’s Struggles in Jharkhand’, Shalini Joshi and Disha Mullick’s story of a local language newspaper brought out by a collective of rural women journalists, Madhu Kishwar’s plea to de-ghettoise women’s politics, Nirupama Subramanian’s anxieties of donning the label ‘woman’ journalist – all offer an interesting read across time and region. Tavleen Singh’s ‘Reporting from a Man’s World’ is satirical take on the challenges and ‘friendly’ advice women face while pitting themselves against the well hidden gender barriers in our media worlds which are nevertheless thronging with women.

Kalpana Sharma’s essay is a fervent plea on the need to see women while reporting and in the process make them visible. Sevanthi Ninan begins with the opinion that journalists are privileged because they lead interesting lives and goes on to ruminate upon her own tryst with India’s media trajectories.

In a refreshingly radical detour at the end she turns the tables upon the very logic of the book by saying that though women lead the charge in a new media age, the journalism it sought to encourage has changed irrevocably and therefore it’s time we think about giving such awards to bloggers.

The last essay, a tribute to Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first woman photojournalist, was a much needed attempt to honour a pioneering genius.

This is an important book that unveils the complicated relationship between media culture and gender politics. In a world where glass ceilings have become more subtle and complicated than meets the fair eye, here’s a book that will, while conversing with the common reader, be of help to young and aspiring women journalists by offering a rich tapestry of women’s experiences that have successfully breached gender barriers. Sometimes provocative, often spell binding these essays are engagingly written and meticulously translated.

Anubhavasancharangal: Vanitha Madhyama Pravarthakarude Ormakal

Kerala Press Academy

Rs. 150

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 9:35:20 PM |

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