I was a touch disappointed. For, the railway station was not even close to what can be termed magnificent (it must be magnificent — I thought to myself before boarding the train). Another ‘downmarket’ city? But before I could conclude, I was out in the hustle-bustle of a modern city — a series of multiplexes, star hotels, flyovers and shopping malls.
I was in Ahmedabad, or ‘Amdavad’— the largest city in Gujarat and the industrial capital. It was November 2007. I was to join DNA.
With culture varying from traditional to cosmo, residences varying from ‘pols’ to societies, buildings ranging from 3-storeys to skyscrapers, cuisine available from street food to luxury, it was the first real big city I was to work in. The driver told me much of this development happened since 2000, and the city looked back. He attributed it all to Modi. Some other colleagues from Patna were joining DNA. We were all supposed to stay in guest houses — good ones at that — for a good one month before we could find a place to live.
At the guesthouse, I met Rakesh Roshan — a man who tried to look stylish but had a simple heart (he worked with ToI Patna before coming to join DNA). He stayed in a room right next to me. He had already joined the paper.
I freshened up, had a good lunch and went to office. Shyam Parekh (the editor) had sent a text message asking me to wait for him and meet up Jumana in the meantime. I reached office — it looked magnificent too with a grand building and beautiful females around. I wore a lot of stuff, unmindful of the fact that the city was hotter that the place I came from.
With sweat on my face, I sat in a corner of the editorial section. A girl was talking on her phone nearby. I thought she must be a trainee. I was wrong. She came up to me and asked, “Are you Darpan?” I nodded. She said, “Hi! I’m Jumana.” She introduced me to the people present there. I met another girl called Tina. She was the chief reporter. In a nervous voice, I asked her, “Has RE come?” She did not get me and asked, “Who?” I said, “RE.” She smiled, “Shyam? He’s one way to office.” For the first time in my small career did I hear an editor being referred to by his name by a relatively young staff.
I checked mails, using one of the computers, read newspapers, trying to kill time, waiting for the editor to come. After sometime, I got to know that he was in his cabin. When I went inside, I was surprised. He went past me when I was waiting for him. I could not recognise him because I never thought he would be that young. I returned to the guest house as there was nothing much to do. I fell asleep.
Soon, Roshan, SS and MS joined too. It was fun. We were taken to another, and a smaller, guesthouse. I shared my room with SS. MS and Roshan stayed together, while RR got his partner in Utpal, an illustrator who came from Kolkata. We began having the best days of our life as we worked, eat, drank and laughed a lot. We left for office together, made pages, edited copies, smoked, snacked and came back late. Later, SS shifted to his brother’s place and I, RR and Mayank took a bungalow on rent. Roshan was posted in Surat. We three had a blast. We cooked at home. At times we ate out. We watched movies, read books. It was a welcome change.
I initially looked after a centerspread (poll special). RE looked happy with my work and I made page one too. The main focus was on design, layout and colour schemes. Work culture was good as there was a sense of purpose. People were very nice and informal and RE and other seniors are more like friedns, calling each other by name and cracking jokes most of the time. People said I gave page two (I looked after its production) a whole new identity with neat, ‘wow effect’ packaging. Battling all odds and constraints, experimented a lot, with big, catchy headlines, different kinds of layout using more and visual. I was also involved in coverage of international cricket in the city.
The work I did pleased everyone. I remained honest to my job. I was honest even in my stupidity — I chose to quit without any potential offer in sight over a trivial issue. My family and friends were so worried. I thank Shyam for not accepting my resignation then.
But I did not take up reporting assignments given to me from time to time. Well, I wanted to be a full-time reporter. I never loved reporting business, trends, etc. Not knowing Gujarati was another hurdle. I wanted to report things which interested me and directly affected people. Issues like crime, corruption, poverty, politics and life in villages. This was not possible in Gujarat, a state which is pretty much organised, laid back and devoid of such issues.
When RR shifted to Nagpur, I shifted to Sumit’s flat. In six months, I too left DNA. I got back to Hindustan Times as its Agra bureau. I was to cover Aligarh, Mathura and several other districts of western UP. Though my salary was to be a little less than what I was getting, that hardly mattered.
It’s been a great experience working at DNA for six months. I learnt a lot, especially from Shyam Sir, when it came to design, layout, planning and all that. I will forever be indebted to Narayan Sir too for tolerating me, getting the best out of me.