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November 3, 1997


Farzana Versey

Familiar bedfellows

Dominic Xavier's illustration It's probably hate at first sight, but the deeper you look, the greater the pull. Journalists know how to keep politicians on their toes and vice-versa.

And it is the hacks, seemingly unknowing of the maze, who just may have their hands on the pulse.

These people are qualified. They are denizens of our national press, the conscience-keepers to the nation. From what I understand of the symbiosis, politicians deserve them. And what Katherine Whitehorn's husband said -- it was a pity that more politicians are not bastards by birth instead of by profession -- could apply to journalists as well. The bonding force is illegitimacy, and the press room is the place for the clandestine shenanigans, where one knows who is being had. Or taken.

Since I am a member of the fourth estate, I know that dealing with matters of the state is no joke. Whether it is the unity of the Opposition unity or the Outside Hand; the politically-motivated murder or the sharp rise in prices; resignations, defections, or defecations, all the world is bowel movement for the investigative snooper to flush out. The politician, on the other hand, has his own garbage to clean.

In their relationship, there are natural favourites. The penpushers who are willing to keep things off the record and are workaholics and alcoholics; they have telephones that work and pens that don't. These are the ones that gather the sweepstakes. Political guys who are approachable after five phone calls and then very apologetic, who criticise pressmen but laud the power of the press, and insist on keeping you informed about further developments, are eminently eligible to rule the country.

Can journalists be bought? Do their private political stands intervene in the process of just and fair reportage? Do the standards differ for those higher up in the echelons? Are Scotch-level diplomatic coups reserved for the seniors while the juniors receive country daru asides, appropriately about the sugar lobby, before they meet their sugar daddies? Is it the business of the press to topple governments or to present facts? Only people in the know have the answers to these questions.

Talking about the heavy areas regarding who the journalist owes responsibility to is difficult.

Let's face it; we, as readers, can't change polices or politics. We'd rather lap up human interest insights. So we remember Abe Lincoln's bread, Chamberlain's umbrella, Gandhi's celibacy, Nehru's roses and Edwinas, Kennedy's Monore (pigs can bay as long as they wish).

Some of us get cynical. We start wondering why a political stalwart meets us (if she/he did not, we would, of course, sit and do armchair profiles tearing the blokes to bits). We overestimate ourselves. What can we offer? Can the press make people in the slums vote for or against a certain candidate? No.

During the elections, when I was in Dharavi, I don't know why I asked the people (I was doing a feature) to vote for the independent candidate. He lost.

That's the way it goes. Essentially the politician and the hack are familiar bedfellows, for unlike Camus, they are both capable of wishing for and accepting the death of their adversaries.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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Farzana Versey