Thursday afternoon last week - May 2015. The file had gone to press. Production was over in a day and half. It felt strange. Kavita and Meera were discussing other issues - hiring new reporters, stringers, assigining duties to the marketing team....Flash back to May 2002.
As a feminist editorial team, we believed that process was as important as the product itself. There were six people in the Khabar Lahariya team - all six with different skill sets and varied levels of literacy. All six were present for the editorial meeting on the first day of production. Each person shared the stories she had gathered that week; each person was meant to give feedback on each story that was shared.
‘How can we have two stories from Manikpur block on the same page?' a young Kavita dared to raise this question in one editorial meeting. Sonia and Shanti, the two middle-aged reporters from Manikpur jumped down her throat – ‘We have been bringing stories from Manikpur even before you came into this world.' Before a rattled Kavita could reply, Meera’s wise reminder about not having two similar stories on the same page calmed people down.
|A scene from the Banda office in 2005 (Photo Credit: Ami Vitale)|
We spent the entire day arguing, eating our elaborate Bundelkhand meals and then at night, the same newsroom turned into a common bedroom! Everyone was happy to share the same space, the same plate and at times, the same quilt - including Kavita and Sonia! There were times when I felt like it was more than I could take in a day or maybe a lifetime, but there was no getting away. Process was sacred and how I felt really did not matter!
Back in the edit room, armed with drafts. Each person read her story, got feedback from everyone else, and then – some stoic, some stormy - began to rewrite. We respected diversity, but sometimes skill sets and life experiences would start competing, ‘You are padhi-likhi, college pass. Don’t you know that this scheme is only for families that are below the poverty line’?
Shanti’s story about a woman giving birth to a snake was questioned and dropped. She refused to eat. ‘How will I return to the village and explain how you all dropped this story that the entire village was witness to? This is the problem with young, kasba type people; you don’t understand what people in villages go through.' Several hours and conversations later I dragged Shanti to the doctor’s clinic in town. The quack turned doctor was in a tight spot. Here was an urban, educated person questioning his knowledge of science and medicine, but with her was a rural, potential client who he was likely to encounter again. He asked Shanti for a few insignificant details - which village was this, what time was ‘it’ born, who all were present there. Finally, after flipping through a few pages of some book he said, ‘I think it could have been a tapeworm.' Shanti looked aghast. I felt victorious. We returned and resumed the process, after Shanti had had her meal!
The stories finally took some shape on day three. The illustrations were as rigorously debated as the stories. All six reporters – literate or semi literate - sat in the same room, leaning over computer operator and editors, ensuring not a word was edited without their approval. Power failures, technical problems, angry husbands at the gate: ‘Humein to kaam hi nahin karvaana hai... We don’t want our women to work, we know what’s going on here; which office requires its staff to stay four nights?’ This went on forever.
For the longest time I didn’t book a train ticket back to Delhi, not knowing when production would finally be over. It could be four days or five. Finally when Krishna boarded the bus to the press in Allahabad with the print outs and the floppy disk, I would go to the station, book my ticket and swear to myself that this ‘process’ had to change!
Thirteen years later, we’re as feminist as ever, but we are more efficient, our roles more defined and our offices more equipped with technology and power backups. Meera and Kavita have passed on the baton of editing drafts and I am certainly not present in Karwi during production. In body atleast.