The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 10, 2003

A slice of journalist’s life
Jaswant Kaur

Mother Teresa: Saint of the Indian Crossroads and Other Vignettes
by R.K. Raju. Shipra Publications, New Delhi. Pages 123. Rs 225.

Mother Teresa: Saint of the Indian Crossroads and Other VignettesFOR some it is a passion, for some a jumble of deadlines and for some others a mere cut-and-a-paste job for adding a few bucks to their take-home salary. But for Raju, journalism is a way of life, full of challenges, twists and turns.

A veteran of The Statesman, he has all the skills for turning an ordinary of life into an extraordinary story, keeping in tact the truth, denouncing what is called "yellow journalism." As a reporter he is always on the move, tasting and testing all that is described as news. And at the end of it there are quaint memories of the past, with a unique freshness and timelessness.

The book under review presents a slice of Raju’s journalistic life. And as one goes through it one finds two Rajus. One who is impish, sensitive to his surroundings, fine-tuned to the feelings of others, and the other—the journalist. Forever inquisitive, observing, happy to learn and absorb new ideas, confident, at peace with himself, one with the people but still detached enough to be impartial.

His subjects vary from the saintly Mother Teresa to the agnostic Jawahar Lal Nehru, from the polished writer Ruskin Bond to the rustic film star Shivaji Ganeshan. Be it the crowed streets of Delhi, an isolated village in the jungle or the ever-dangerous airstrip of Leh, his bag is replete with incisive and mind-boggling stories. Take for instance, the story of Mr and Mrs Robert, an American couple, of East Nizammudin, New Delhi, who have an unusual but a treasured possession—Sundari—a "friendly" leopard. Then we have a study revealing a whopping 50 per cent drop in wife-beating cases in Israel during the Football World Cup. Men finding solace in a football game! Sounds amusing. Isn’t? And what about women? Well, they owe a great "debt of gratitude to the World Cup."


Then there is world’s only bird hospital in Old Delhi, which is an important site on the tourist map and a place of pilgrimage for bird lovers who need not visit Trafalgar Square, London, to feed pigeons. Here birds are brought for treatment but are never returned to their owners. Rather, they are set free as soon as they get well.

A writer of substance, Raju does not fail in criticising the shortfalls of those whom he admires. Commenting on the rampant corruption, he says: "If only Nehru had kept his promise before independence to hang the first black marketeer, it would have had a salutary effect by now." In the end he remarks: "In spite of the undoubted influence of religion on our lives, we remain, objectively one of the most corrupt countries in the world".

While we in India present a rather gloomy picture as far as the status of women is concerned, Shirley MacLaine, a Western actress, has something different to say. Looking at the West, including her country, she wonders: "Why the West which boasts so much of women’s emancipation could not produce a single women President or Prime Minister!" Something which should come as an eye opener to those who carry "ugly forebodings" about the country.

Raju has a strong liking for Manohar Malgonkar. He reminiscences his first meeting with the famous historian whom he calls Mr "Time Off." And the way he had tried to find his address and waded through a jungle to reach his cottage shows his desperation for his favourite columnist. In the end he says: "My visit was brief but meeting the man whose column I have relished for years was a privilege and a blessing."

Even in the worst of circumstances the journalist in him never dies. He is fully alive 24 hours a day that is bliss and his tonic. And what adds to the magical appeal of this man of words is his simple and lucid style, shorn of all the pride and grandiosity. His words flow like a mountain stream—sometimes violent like a torrent, sometimes silent like a river.

One last disappointment relates to Raju himself. That this is his last book is at once a loss to succeeding generations and us. He is an excellent raconteur; if only he reverses his decision, his contribution to the first draft of history will help lit many a dim corner of Indian politics.