What If You Don't Succeed?
What are you doing? What do you want to do in life? " I am doing Master's degree in journalism and I would like to become a journalist. I want to expose corrupt and undesirable practices in society and showcase the best practices for the benefit of others." What if you don't succeed and fall by the wayside? "I haven't thought about it, I am aiming for something..,.". These were my answers to the questions posed to me by Nalini Singh, a renowned print and TV journalist and sister of Arun Shourie, one of the firebrand editors of Indian Express and also a Union Minister. She was doing a national story on the aspirations of students across the country. There were two other students who were interviewed, one from Economics and other my batch mate in journalism. They played safe. One of them said, he wanted to appear for competitive examinations (although he strayed into journalism after studies) and the other said she wanted to join Indian Navy or Air Force which she ultimately did.
Nalini Singh had carved a name for herself in journalism travelling to rural areas and highlighting the backwardness, superstitions and inequalities, unfair treatment to women of the nation through programmes in Doordarshan and articles in Indian Express. But I was indeed surprised and taken aback by the question she posed to me as much as I wondered how three PG students of the same genre were chosen to represent Kerala's aspirations. If we always think of what if we don't succeed or worry about possible setbacks as we embark on a journey or venture, many of the success stories that we see around wouldn't happen. The question of succeeding or not never came to my mind as most often when I started off on something, I didn't even know much about what I was pursuing either.
High Range Journey
When I set out to do a story on ME Meeran, one of the doyens of spices industry at his office in high ranges of Adimali, I hardly got 10 minutes of his time despite the fact that I had an appointment with him for 30 minutes starting 11 am. He was in no mood to talk and was doing his office work in between as I posed some questions. He might have thought who is this bearded guy representing an unknown web portal and who is going to read all the stuff he is going to write. I was not disappointed. I continued my journey to meet several others in spices industry including scientists at the research institute of Spices Board and Kerala Agricultural University. I stayed back at the remote Myladumpara campus of Spices Board as the scientists were kind enough to allot a room for me in the guest house. Their Director Dr Thomas was willing to meet me late at night as he was returning after a visit to Kottayam. He called me immediately on arrival and we spoke for about two hours till about 12 am. He seemed to be more of a philosopher than a scientist as he described the changes taking place in the Cardamom Hill Reserve since he came there !
I knew nothing of pepper or cardamon other than the fact that it was delicious when sprinkled in omlette and a flavouring of payasam. While interacting with scientists the name of Sebastian Joseph, a cardamom grower was referred to many times. I was hearing about him for the first time but he was the person who revolutionised cardamom plantations with the njallani variety he developed. I was determined to meet him while on my return from Idukki to Kottayam. After so many steep roads, inclines and hair pin curves on the way to Kattapana, the conductor of the private bus reminded me that it was time for me to get down.
Mr Joseph was 76 years old and he talked to me as a father would talk to his son. I realised that he was feeling dejected over not getting any recognition despite the support he had given to cardamom growers in the region and reviving the industry by even distributing saplings free. My story in Commodity Online was picked up by a leading national daily and it came to the notice of Mr Jairam Ramesh who was the then Commerce Minister. This led to Sebastian Joseph getting the Lifetime Achievement Award from Spices Board carrying a citation and Rs 8 lakh. He died the very next day after receiving the award at a public function. I felt he had lived to get this award and I was glad that I could be of help in fulfilling his wish. Ofcourse, with the very little I gathered from ME Meeran, I did a story on him which was picked up by Rediff.com and proved to be an inspiration for many from the hundreds of comments it generated.
Few years later, as I did a presentation as well as anchoring at an ICICI Agri-Wisdom seminar on making Making Kerala an Agri-Business Hub at Taj Residency in Kochi, I was addressing over 250 or 300 experts including scientists, industrialists, farmers and others. I had only the field visits to plantations in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamilnadu and some delightful people I met to give me the strength or confidence to speak. And as the program ended I was delighted when many of the delegates came forward to get introduced to me and get my visiting card.
Difficult Question for Kalam
Once when APJ Abdul Kalam visited Paravur, a rural town in Ernakulam district in 2011 to inaugurate a science popularisation programme, he interacted with school children. One boy Vishnu studying in Grade VIII stood up and said he was nervous and never asked any questions in class. He had not gained the confidence over the first 7 years at school to talk to his teachers or his friends. He felt small comparing himself with classmates who had elegant clothes. He wanted Dr Kalam to answer the question- how he can become a unique person and achieve his ambition to be a marine engineer and travel in ships all over the world. Kalam notes that it was the most difficult question posed to him by a boy from among the millions of students he had met in his life. "Vishnu, I value your question. I also think you are echoing the questions of millions of rural students," Kalam replied.
He made Vishnu recite a poem:
I am born with potential.
I am born with goodness and trust.
I am born with ideas and dreams.
I am born with greatness.
I am born with confidence.
I am born with wings.
I am not meant for crawling.
I have wings, I will fly.
I will fly and fly. (And Vishnu was in tears). Ref: My India-Ideas for the Future by APJ Abdul Kalam and Srijan Pal Singh (Puffin Books,2015)
In the same book Dr Kalam talks about his driver V Kathiresan at Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) who was not even a matriculate. But seeing his interest to learn, Dr Kalam urged him to study through distance education in his spare time and he ultimately took PhD to become an Assistant Professor in a government college in Madurai. Dr Kalam notes, " it doesn't matter who you are. If you have a mission and are determined to achieve that vision through the constant acquisition of knowledge, you will certainly realize your goals."
Once I was told to address senior secondary students of a school and they asked me this question of what my contribution was to society as a journalist. A few of them wanted to become journalists. I told them it is too early to assess my contribution. I assured them every word that I write must be creating small ripples somewhere or making people think aloud or bring a smile in their lips. A journalist is only a communication expert and succeeds only when his day to day activity leaves a foot print somewhere in the universe.