Azadi’s Daughter: A Memoir

By Seema Mustafa

Click here to buy Azadi’s Daughter: A Memoir.

I recall my first, and perhaps only, real interaction with the indomitable Ramnath Goenka who owned The Indian Express. I was particularly incensed about the fact that the Indian government had set a new precedent by giving financial help for the movie Gandhi to a foreigner; what my naïve mind saw as a ‘sell out’ to foreign movie companies at the expense of the Indian film industry. I spent long hours chasing the story and such was the clout of the newspaper that the regular reports started to hurt both the producers of the movie and the government. I started getting telephone calls from the movie’s Indian representative, a rather belligerent lady with whom I exchanged many a hot word. On one occasion she threatened to meet her ‘friend,’ Ramnath Goenka to which I shouted, ‘do what you want.’ I repeated the conversation to Shourie who listened quietly. The next morning he entered the reporters’ room, looking rather grim, and said that Goenka had summoned me and the lady was sitting with him. There was silence in the reporters’ room as such a summons was rare, and usually meant the end of a reporter’s journey in The Indian Express. Clearly Shourie thought so, as he told me to remain quiet, and let him speak for me.

We went into this tiny room where Goenka was sitting with the Gandhi film woman. He looked at me and said, ‘you are a very mischievous lady.’ Arun Shourie started speaking, but Goenka said, ‘no let me talk to her.’ He asked me to sit down and for a good twenty minutes regaled me with stories about my grand-uncle, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, who he said would always steal his cigars. He clearly knew everything about my background and said that he himself was the last living ‘Rafi-an’. Then he asked us to leave merely saying that I should get the Gandhi producer’s viewpoint and that the lady should make herself available to me. The fuming woman walked out with us and was even more incensed when Goenka called us back to say, ‘in your life you will meet many people who will drop names. If you are sure of the facts do not be afraid, just go ahead.’ After that, I was floating in the high heavens, with Arun Shourie looking particularly relieved.

There was nothing in those days that made me conscious of my cultural/religious identity. I was a journalist—neither a man nor a woman, a Hindu or a Muslim, a Dalit or a Brahmin, just a communicator—there to give the facts without bias, and always, always keep the Constitution of India and the people of India as the yardstick for reporting. The editors at that time taught us to question governments, to be irreverent, and to delight in the power of the printed word. Those were indeed heady times, as the proprietors stayed in the back room and allowed professional journalists and, in the process, good and committed editors to run the newspapers. There were no calculations in the newsroom based on a reporter’s religion or caste; everyone was a journalist as good as the other. As a result, coverage was honest, with most Delhi newspapers reporting communal violence and caste outbreaks with a sense of responsibility and justice.

I remember being told when I went out into the field for the first time, ‘don’t look just for the bureaucratic compliance, but look for the political conspiracy behind the riots as well. The real story will lie there.’ That stayed with me through the years, and helped me to give the correct deeper perspective on communal violence in the country.

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