Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two decades, sea change (TOI scene)

The Fourth Estate has witnessed a sea change in less than three decades. How? Well, I can speak about my experience with The Times of India (TOI), Mumbai, where I joined as a sub-editor in the early eighties. Noisy teleprinters, dusty files, torn newsprints, fuming chief-subs, ruffled reporters were the order of the day. Editors made VIP appearance. The chief-subs carried pencils, erasers and scales to measure the size of photographs and prepare dummies for page-making. No computers. Four typed lines made an inch as per our calculation.
The ground floor of the six-storey TOI building stood like a museum where passers by peeped through windows to have a glimpse of giant printing machines.
A little past midnight, at the printing press (2nd floor), chief subs hurling four-letter invectives at innocent and scared subs, was a common sight.
At those times, two veteran page-makers, Miranda and Anton, were a great source of consolation for the juniors. “Come on, take it easy, let’s make an “English page,” they would say, smiling. Until today, I haven’t been able to comprehend what they meant by “English page.”
And, I never realized then that those abuses from seniors were actually blessings.
After night duty, when the newspaper had been safely “put to bed,” (The GenNext may not know this term), some subs would be lucky to catch the last train from VT station and head back home. In my case, Mr Murphy, whose law is famous, saw to it that the train invariably puffed out of the station the moment I dashed in… panting.
And so was it that a group of subs will settle for a cup of tea (sold at 50 paise) at the 24-hour VT canteen or a “Pav baaji” from the roadside vendors, and return to office for a short sleep until the first train rolled out. And where did we sleep? Just clear the tables where we worked, put a few old newspapers or newsprints, and bingo, the bed’s ready. The teleprinter and fan noise would try to disrupt sleep, but fail miserably as the subs would have been so exhausted by that time. While chief sub CSPP had a splendid knack of dozing off in seconds, good-spirited chief sub SS could never get sleep before finding a listener for his sermon.
Telegram delivery guys used to wake us up in the wee hours but I mischievously redirected them towards other subs. In the morning, I would pick up my bag to move on, only to see a telegram or two strewn on the face of one colleague or the other.
I have actually seen bandicoots, not rats, crawling above the bundles of newspapers strewn around.
BTW, do I sound like an elderly man? Mind you, I am just in my forties. Does not life begin at 40? Quite a few pretty girls wink at me and I return the gesture (But let’s keep it a secret, buddy).
Pranks? Wow, do not remind me about them. TOI editorial staff in the eighties had a great sense of humour. Will talk about it in the next posting.

R.Ramesh/ Sept 27, 2008

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