January 21, 2007

Confusing chronology

London-based lawyer, promising author and a new-found e-contact, Vinod G Joseph, wrote to me, on reading my earlier post, that the chronology of my UK employment had him confused. "I guess you worked for the Northern Echo after your stint with the Afro-Asian Echo",he said, "And how long did you work for India Weekly?"

You are right, Mr Joseph.One could get confused over chronology. The Afro-Asian Echo turned out to be a six-month interlude. India Weekly was a kind of safety net for me. I went back to the Weekly after Afro-Echo. Its Nigerian publisher ran out of funds (read the loot) he had brought as he fled Lagos following a coup and the assassination of the then premier, Tafewa Balewa.

Our Nigerian publisher (can't remember his name now)didn't have money to pay us. India Weekly had its door open for us, if we did not fuss over their payment. I could have got as much as they paid, as unemployment allowance. But then, you don't wish to be seen by your friends and neighbours, going to the employment office, twice weekly, to sign up for the dole. Slaving for the Weekly at subsistance wages was a more dignified option.

Mercifully,within weeks of returning to the Weekly, I got the offer from The Northern Echo, Darlington, as sub-editor on their news desk...Before all this, I had done stints (for a few weeks at a time) on the dole queue(where you run into folks with Jade Goody mentality), as proof reader in a North London printing outfit (from where I got sacked), and as a packer with a garments wholesaler off Oxford Street.

I was the only packer who carried The Guardian to work, to be read in tea, and lunch breaks. The Mirror and The Daily Sketch were more visible at the workers canteen. During this period I did freelancing for a Calcutta film weekly, Cine Advance. This was how I got to meet quite a few visiting Bollywood people - Sunil Dutt, Sadhana, Dev Anand, Ramanand Sagar, Raaj Kumar and numerous other lesser knowns in Bombay film industry.

Cine Advance used to give me an impressive byline as 'Our London Correspondent', but no hard currency. The paltry payment they made on per-piece basis was sent to me in rupees after I returned to India. The film weekly was also generous enough to offer a job at their Calcutta office, on a monthly salary of Rs.600 (which wasn't bad in 1969)

Incidentally, London-based journalists representing some Indian newspapers used to get paid in rupees, deposited in banks back home.It came in handy when they visited India once in a couple of years. A significant chunk of my three year-stay in England was spent at Nrothern Echo (over an year), after which I chose to return to New Delhi (home sick), to join the National Herald, which opened its Delhi edition in 1969. Before leaving India I approached some dailies that didn't have a staffer in New Delhi. Most that didn't have their own correspondent were not interested. The Daily Sketch , London, condescened to have me as their New Delhi stringer. I was paid six pounds sterling for every piece they carried. And they didn't publish many of despatches.

But then the government recognised me as an accredited correspondent, invited to press conferences and media briefings at the external affairs ministry. So, there I was, a junior reporter at National Herald, and, at the same time, a foreign correspondent for The Daily Sketch in New Delhi. The arrangement continued till the Sketch merged into the Daily Mail.

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