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Silence please, we’re now on air

Illustration: Satwik Gade

Illustration: Satwik Gade   | Photo Credit: Satwik Gade

Amid the frenetic pace in a broadcast newsroom, a few moments of reflection and rumination

If you work in a newsroom — as the facility with a construction site-like situation in a broadcast news channel is known — you might agree that it’s a scene of bedlam. People shout, there’s constant gesticulation happening, and the privileged few get to swear a lot. But all in good faith, though, because at the end of the day putting out the broadcast on time is paramount. Time is of the essence here.

Yet, it’s worth wondering how a person standing in a sound-proof room might consider the proceedings: to him or her, the scenario might seem like a mime performed by artists who have overdosed on adrenaline, given the frantic pace of comings and goings.

Some news channels show a sanitised version of this manic activity. While a fetching anchor runs through the day’s happenings, in the background, and behind a glass wall of sorts, is the view of producers and editors docilely typing away on their computers or ambling around aimlessly as though they are on Prozac. The slightly honest ones don’t stoop to this farce. Instead, they show the globe or some exoplanet orbiting the channel’s logo. The fetching anchor is retained, who epitomises courage under fire, handling the odd, petulant beings who usually appear on TV debates. It is another thing that these debates are like fights for seats in the Metro, or people about to shoot each other over parking issues in Greater Kailash, New Delhi. And it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to suggest that if these panelists meet on the street, there would be bloodbath, or at the least some heads and limbs are sure to be broken.

In short, there’s no peace and quiet to be had inside the newsroom. But this is a natural consequence of the size of newsrooms, which are large areas filled with equipment and people. It is impractical for editors and reporters to walk over to each other and discuss what’s on air, or will be shortly. If this is done, there’s always the clear and present danger of a rival channel getting one up on you and broadcasting live important issues, such as Somnath Bharti’s dog, Don, being respectfully acquitted by the Delhi Police, or some anti-nationals remixing the National Anthem.

I was resigned to the chaotic state of affairs in office, until by a stroke of luck our channel managed to interview the new Chief of the Army Staff, and that too on his first day in office. No, I didn’t get to interview the man chosen to give the Pakistanis a taste of their own medicine. Instead, I was assigned the slightly less glorious and even less glamorous job of transcribing the interview.

But since when have beggars been choosers? Or so I thought.

Like some machine-age Dante, I descended into the cavernous basement of our office, and negotiating the labyrinthine and empty corridors, dulled by light and chilled by the absence of humans, I reached the transcription room, where the transcription machine waited for me, blinking and wheezing gently.

The silence was unearthly as though silence existed only as a concept that I had read about till now. I felt like the last human being, whom the rescuers had forgotten while clearing the city afflicted by the plague or a nuclear attack.

But the silence also seemed like the largesse to a poor man who had suddenly become heir to untold riches. Entombed in this silence, I felt like a king of the unreal. And as kings must have thrones, I too settled myself in the half-worn chair and nudged the transcription machine to action.

The interview itself was a mini-disaster. The interviewer had asked sham, anodyne questions, paragraphs-long. And the General obliged with even longer answers. He seemed fit for the job, sitting ramrod straight and speaking as though he knew the perfect answer to “don’t you know who my father is”.

Given the rambling pace of the interview, I felt the first stages of a stupor and decided to doze off for a while. But a lady rushed in and asked me if I would take long. I noticed her long, well-kept nails and figured out she was somewhere near the top of the hierarchy; so I replied sheepishly and hopelessly: almost done. Naturally, she gave me a contemptuous look reserved for those Palika Bazar vendors and the autorickshaw-wallahs and walked out as if she were a false alarm.

Thus shaken out of my reverie, I finished the job and figured that I had 20 minutes to spare. Considering that the lady wouldn’t return soon, I sank into a much-needed slumber, as though the peace of the years in the long green grass was finally upon me. When I woke up, I was a new man, and with false hopes and much optimism I walked out to face the daily slaughter again.

santana.gogoi@rediffmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 11:13:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/Silence-please-we%E2%80%99re-now-on-air/article17083363.ece

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