Chills and Thrills, Literally

by Uzra Khan:

I was absolutely thrilled when, in my groggy state on Saturday morning, my mom told me that my article had made the paper. “I want a story on Bombay and traffic and rain. The city is yours today,” my boss had told me the day before. It wasn’t crime, but I was excited to write it. I left the office with my pen, notebook, and camera, and started talking to traffic police officials, passersby and taxi drivers. The monsoon season has begun here, and each year it turns the city upside down. Malaria, threats of floods, and traffic jams abound while even the trains go haywire, and for these few months Bombay is at the mercy of the rain gods. When I thanked my boss on Saturday morning on my way to work via BBM, he replied, “Congratulations! Your first byline.”

Monsoon clouds darken the sky above Mumbai. (Courtesy Sachin Suresh Jadhav/Flickr Creative Commons)

Each day at work at the newspaper brings thrills — but it brings chills as well. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, the office was emptier and quieter than usual, and I was humming to myself and still glowing about my name on page two, when suddenly a wave of shocked whispers rippled through the office. “He’s been shot!” The TV was switched on, and I started to listen.

As it turned out, a veteran crime reporter who worked for another daily paper in Mumbai and had previously worked on the crime team in my office had just been shot point blank in the middle of the afternoon outside his home. Frantic phone calls were being made delivering the news. The rest of the day, I was glued to the TV screen.

“Who killed him?”

“No leads…”

“This type of murder hasn’t been seen since gangs had their hold in the city!”

“What does this mean for crime journalism?”

“Will journalism in India change after this?”

You know how, when you learn about or get involved in something you start to see it everywhere? That is exactly what I thought was happening. I was in disbelief. I had just joined the crime team a few days earlier, and now here crime journalism was being splashed over the news. The comments made on TV highlighted some of the big differences between journalism in India and America. “Journalism is becoming a very high profile job in this country,” said someone who was interviewed. Not the case in America, I thought to myself. Journalism in India is still very much anchored in print media. Newspapers are a part of culture, with more and more coming out in different languages, as there are more and more people who can — and have the desire to — read.

At this point, it is suspected that the journalist was killed by elements of the underworld, perhaps even in conjunction with police officials as he had access to incriminating documents and phone conversations. After being a crime journalist for about two decades in this city, I have no doubt that there were multiple people who may have held a grudge against him.

So far, this summer is showing me the courage of journalists worldwide. From my experience in Turkey, where I learned that there is the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world (ahead of even China and Iran), to this incident this weekend that shook the core of crime reporting, I have come to see that it takes resilience to want to bring the truth to the forefront. My boss personifies these characteristics. To say he is knowledgeable is an understatement — and he is extremely intimidating. But most of all, he wants to share his passion, and is taking an active interest in my writing by making me write pieces and reports, and even doing academic journalistic exercises with me while engaging me in discussion.