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The power of the pen then…

Kamla Mankekar at the launch event in IIC, New Delhi.

Kamla Mankekar at the launch event in IIC, New Delhi.  

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Senior woman journalist Kamla Mankekar launches her book “Breaking News” in New Delhi

“It was quite a different era then, when one could just walk into the Prime Minister’s office, with no security to stop you, and ask to talk to him.”

The recounting of such bygone times — in the midst of an audience to whom it largely sounded unthinkable and somewhat bordering on the absurd — was made by Kamla Mankekar, while talking to those gathered at New Delhi’s India International Centre the other day at the launch of her book, “Breaking News”.

Mankekar was one of the first women journalists of the country, having started her career at a time when journalism was an exclusively male profession.

“When I first applied for a job, in many newspapers I was told, “We don’t take women,” she recalled.

The launch of her book was preceded by a conversation between Mankekar and a panel comprising leading female media personalities across different generations. There was Suhasini Haider, foreign correspondent with The Hindu, Usha Rai, senior journalist formerly associated with The Hindustan Times, Coomi Kapoor, a senior member of The Indian Express, and Bhasha Singh from Hindi Outlook.

The conversation managed to get the author into a reminiscent mood. Mankekar dredged up some fascinating vignettes from her long journalistic career. Talking about her early days, she recalled meeting a young Che Guevara who had come as a part of a Cuban delegation seeking to establish diplomatic relations with India. “He was such a handsome young man, looked so young. I was shocked that this boy was taking on such work,” she said.

Talking about the power of journalism, she related how she realised it first hand. “I met the Marathi vocalist and stage actor Bal Gandharva when he was paralysed. He had been one of our finest singers and then he was completely forgotten. I wrote a few articles about his heydays which generated such enthusiasm that the Maharashtra Government doubled his pension.”

The panel also discussed the various entry barriers in the profession over the years. The situation went from “no women in the papers” from the days of Kamla Mankekar to “one woman per paper” for the likes of Coomi Kapoor to freer entry of women journalists for the generation of Suhasini Haider. The difference of societal attitude in different eras pretty much answers the question whether gender has had any effect on their careers. While a patronising attitude still persists, they said, it has been severely diluted from the early days when women were denied entry to the profession.

The book promises to be a recollection of some captivating anecdotes from such Mankekar’s long career in journalism, and purports to offer a view, as the author put it, of “journalism, then and now.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 4:04:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/kamla-mankekar-launches-her-book-breaking-news/article6334995.ece

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