By Gaurav Dikshit
I never wished to be a journalist, but at the age of 25 misfortune struck: I walked into the trap of The Indian Express in Delhi and for a whole year I was stuck there. In that slick, air-conditioned office was a chair, a computer, and some people, the likes of whom I had not seen anywhere. I tried to become one with the furniture; all the buzz and bluster of the newsroom had no effect on me, whatsoever. For ten years I tried to give a slip to this hound of journalism that was always snapping at my heels, wounding and wearying me down, but I found ways — time and again — to elude its grasp. I stayed unemployed for years, I took up scholarships and went away, I tried my hand at other professions, but as if I was going around in a vicious circle, I found myself returning again and again to this work, this job, for it provided a livelihood, the only one that could be for me. And yet, how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this journalism! Fie on’t! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature/ Possess it merely. Thus did Hamlet’s words speak of my own predicament.
Then, in May this year, I came to Kashmir to live, and to work for Kashmir Reader. I needed a job; I was hoping to get married; but the true reason why I came to Kashmir was the same as drives some men to literature, to monasteries, to ways of living or thinking that are considered odd, heretic, incongruous. In the crowd of journalists I had always felt like an outsider; in the growing din of an attention-grabbing, less-thoughtful and more-garrulous media industry, I distinctly felt ill at ease. Whether to escape the hurly-burly or to seek a greater sense of belonging to this earth, I set out for the one place in India that was farthest removed from the Indian pell-mell: in Kashmir, I believed, lay a culture of resistance to the domineering and demeaning ways of Indian society, of its bulk, that is, the great populous nation that has scant regard for its poor, its downtrodden, its critics.
Coming to Kashmir was an adventure, but living in Kashmir was no less. The three months of unrelenting curfew, the snapping of the internet, the stone-throwing on the streets, the ban – unexpected, unprecedented – on the newspaper, and the daily reports I edited of killings, of blindings, mayhem and grief and repression most extreme, were both distressing and frustrating. But for the first time, I was finding some value in the work I was doing. There was a commitment to truth, a concern for truth, platitudes I had frequently heard of in India’s journalism offices but rarely encountered. At Kashmir Reader, journalism was not just a job; it was craft, it was passion, it was a thing of nobility and truth that we all, as a team, were learning to build.
The ban interrupted this endeavour but did not end it. The two-and-a-half months of idleness I have fruitfully utilised in getting married, seeing more of this beautiful valley along with my wife, and generally admiring the humanist values that keep Kashmir from unraveling into destructive rage even in the face of a violent and ruthless repression. It is not for me to judge the merits and demerits of Kashmir’s politics, but I owe to both Kashmiris and Kashmir a debt of gratitude which I can best repay by continuing to work for the most truthful Kashmiri newspaper.
December 17, 2016