Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, which separates Shah Jahan’s Delhi from Lutyens’ Delhi, is often referred to as India’s Fleet Street — the original Fleet Street being a street in London where all British news organisations had their offices until the 1980s.
Unlike the one in London, India’s Fleet Street is still dotted with newspaper offices: some papers have shut shop, some have moved out, some others have moved in. The Delhi office of the Chennai-headquartered The Hindu also happens to be on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg at present.
Almost every senior journalist who has been associated with an English-language newspaper will have memories of the road, either as an employee, or as a job hunter, or as a visitor calling upon a fellow journalist working in one of the papers there.
I first visited Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg as a 23-year-old. I nervously walked into the offices of Indian Express , armed with a one-page CV and a recommendation letter from someone who knew someone at the Express . I was, at the time, a sub-editor with The Pioneer in Kanpur, my hometown, and was eager for a break in Delhi, the Mecca of journalism. Mr. Someone at Express was kind enough to let me have a seat while he went through my CV and then he handed me his card and said he would get back. The card identified him as ‘Principal Correspondent’; I kept it in my pocket like a prized document.
Later that morning, I also visited the offices of the Times of India , carrying yet another letter from someone who knew someone at the Times . Mr. Someone at Times was also kind enough to let me have a seat while he glanced through my CV and he too handed me his card — ‘Special Correspondent’ — and he said he would get back if there was a vacancy.
I never heard from the gentlemen. It was quite obvious that nobody wanted a boy who had grown up in Kanpur, studied in Kanpur, and was now working in a newspaper in Kanpur. A few months later I returned to Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg again, this time to apply for a job at the Patriot . Desperation!
The news editor at Patriot looked at my CV and asked me to see Mr. Someone from Link , a sister publication. That Mr. Someone, unfortunately, was on leave that day and I returned the next morning, when he handed me five foolscap sheets of handwritten fiction and asked me to edit it. I tried my best, but left many awkwardly-constructed sentences untouched, believing that the writer was taking literary liberties. Mr. Someone picked on those very sentences and was livid with my overall performance — so livid that he did not even look at me. I walked out of Link House, my face red with humiliation.
A couple of months later, I happened to write a written test for the Press Trust of India and was selected. Overnight, I became a Delhi-based journalist, and remained over the next seven years, until I chose to move to Chennai. During those seven years, I would visit Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg often, not as a job-hunter but as a visitor: my girlfriend worked there and we would often meet for lunch at an Udupi restaurant. But regret remained that I never walked the road as an employee of a paper located there.
This morning, God alone knows after how many years, I visited the road again — finally as an employee. Even though my visit was brief — attending a meeting that lasted about three hours — I felt proud as I surveyed Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg after the meeting and that’s when memories came gushing.