My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll



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4 April 2006

In defense of my job


Features reporting is not the hectic fast-paced journalism you'll see on television. As a features journo, I can, more often than not, take my time about things. I don't have to charge up to some brandishing a dictaphone, because the people I meet want to talk to the media and if I miss something, they'll repeat it, so I can take notes in my little notebook. I can sit down once I've gotten my quotes, perhaps get something to eat or drink. When I'm interviewing someone, I can chat for a good couple of hours while they give me information and I get coffee. Hell, the longer I talk to them, the better my interview is.

Okay, so it may not be reporting just after the tsunami, with homeless people and the high stress of dealing with a population that has lost everything. It's not war reporting either, when you know your own life is in danger as well. It's not political reporting, figuring out the coups and the shifts of day-to-day politics, or being present at a George Bush press con. That's what my job is NOT. What it is is entertainment. I entertain. Think of a newspaper office like a kings court, beginning with the most important stuff, then filtering in the inside pages news about the citizens, then finally the news about the immediate kingdom, what's going on there and then there is us, the features reporter, with our authority to play around with words--to make our copies look fabulous, to have good-looking well laid out pages with fancy punny headlines. We're the ones who tell you whether you should be wearing brocade this season, or whether that new restaurant is a good place to eat, or what the latest gossip is with that movie star and her on-again off-again boyfriend. Since we're still talking metaphors, think of us as the popular girls (or boys, but I really haven't met that many male features journalists. It seems to be a predominantly female domain) in a classroom, the ones who never ran, but strolled gently, the ones who weren't the prefects or anything, but always looked good and spoke well. We weren't the prefects, but we were the dramatic society, and when someone important visited, we were the ones who did the flower arrangements and hung the fancy posters.

I happen to enjoy my job. Oh sure, every now and then I have pangs about how I'm not doing anything meaningful and how the world will not collapse if no one knows that Aamir Khan was in town or whatever, but for the most part I enjoy it. What's not to like? I'm generally a people person, so interviews and profiles are my strong point, as opposed to a more people quote story. When I'm doing a one-on-one, I usually meet them at a coffee shop, or sometimes, in their homes, where we sit and I begin the careful process of being their new best friend. It's an art, really, when you can make the person sitting with you so comfortable, they forget to say, "Off the record" as they tell you everything and you smile, occasionally scribble and then leave, armed with a perfect story.

Anyway, the point is, that a lot of people, especially the ones in the media field themselves, give us condescending smiles when they learn what we do. Sometimes, us, the people in my department are called on to file the story the same day as the event, so we come into office around tennish, by which time most of the people in our department have gone home, but there's still bustling activity as the news reporters file their day's work. That's a moment that always makes me pause as I enter the room. The only noise comes from the clicking of several fingers on several keyboards, and no one looks up as I enter, sidle to my computer and file my story quickly, before either going home to Small or joining friends on a night out. It's not life changing, the event that I'm reporting, but its an event nonetheless. I may not be talking about "Three dead in a bus accident near Jamshedpur" but I will be speaking of a book launch perhaps, who was there and what they did and said, which, c'mon is waaaaaaay more interesting than the bus accident, not that I'm trivialising that either, before you jump down my throat!

Comments like "Oh you're like that chick in Page 3" is something I have taken into my stride by now. I've been a journalist for, oh, going on three years now. And I've met new people, and sometimes the same people, for those three years. I can't tell you about onion prices and the stock market, but I can tell you who those people are, sitting at the next table, being photographed. And what their story is. Chances are, I can also introduce you to them, tell you a little bit about their lives, what they did to be photographed in the first place and even fish out their cellphone numbers, if you needed them. I can tell you what wine goes with what food, where the newest nightclub is and what the cover charges there are, what advance the writer of that book you're looking at got and how it's doing in the market and all sorts of information like that. Which is still information. No mean feat that, eh?

39 comments:

  1. boy do you have job satisfation or what!

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  2. hi,
    We share the same job!
    Thanks for making it feel awesome.
    I'm done with people telling me "Hah! so you are like that chick in page three?"
    Damn!

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  3. In my job, I get to meet a lot of women consumers. And they all start by reading Page 3 and then (if they have the time), move onto the main newspaper. Tell that to the serious journos...

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  4. so if the reporter (news) is the town crier you're the aunt who gossips

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  5. grt blog...intreseting read ..keep it up :)

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  6. You know that one ... if you can get paid to do what you enjoy, you never need to work again. You seem to have made it.

    Now for the version in hardcover. Go for it, young 'un.

    J.A.P.

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  7. neither of the two jobs is more or less important by themselves. the way (and choice of issues) some people cover politics and current affairs makes it meaningful and important, similarly with features. where would we be without a Dickens or the Bard or Hemingway. its all important babe, the way YOU do it decides how much.

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  8. Ah.. your blog could have attracted those half a million page hits types if you were in Manhattan, and you were writing more gossip...

    But hey, i don't think you ever have to write lies ...

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  9. Hi,

    you know what i m a plus two student and have been a voluntary writer with The Statesman Voices and now i actually aim to be a journo and a feature writer at that!
    So it was quite inetersting to go through your write up...and yeah abt the newspaper reading Lycra as i read in the comments box is quite right!- women do read page 3 first!!!
    But more imporatntly thses days the gap between page 1 and page 3 also seems to be merging..so we have photos of top celebs 'dating each other' or wotever on that corner of page one with an arrow turn to page x to read more...
    Nuts!

    -Torsa

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  10. Don't ever be ashamed of yer job, eM. I do believe you had the luck of meeting a Software Engineer, who met your criteria for men, because of it. :-P

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  11. Pretty interesting. And quite right too. Many features people I know are easy going, comfortable to be around (unless they are gorgeous-that makes things a bit difficult) females. I think I wouldn't mind marrying one...preferably the gorgeous type ;-)

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  12. if it wasnt for people like you then people like us would get mighty bored - so thank you for all that makes news spicy and fo rall those shots of role "models"

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  13. I wonder bout that too sometimes, the meaningful tag.
    Even when I made the decision to study law further, and my friends were solving complex physics problems and discussing the anatomy.
    I felt like mine was less important.
    But that's not true, moreover, it's what makes you happy.

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  14. There's no page 3 or page 1. Perception, is life. :-) Enjoy, EM!

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  15. Yea well, it SHOULD be fun. There's no stress. You get to be in the 'in-zone'. You get to enjoy the little things. Things that make people go 'Oh! So cool!'.

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  16. love reading your blogs, especially since i'm in the same industry, i can relate to them really well. im the news reporter you have referred to and hey, we so love to bitch about features reporters and how useless they are. but this is an amazing defensive piece, my colleagues in the features dept might just pin it up on their softboards ;) kudos!

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  17. Is this a pre-emptive act of self-defense or are you under attack for being a features reporter? I think doing the kind of features beat you're talking about is good for a bit while you're still young and have the energy, but a few more years and you'll be one of those journalists in the 30-40 age range who STILL cover book launches and do the food stories and cover the same A-list and page 3 crowd (who have also gotten 10 years older and flabbier, but continue to party like it's 1999). Then, people - your readers, mainly - begin to forget you, and you sort of blend into the general morass of has-been reporters. I can think of several such reporters in the rank and file of HT City, not to mention Delhi Times and even dear old "Talk," and god knows what happened to them.
    It's striking how similar our trajectories are - LSR, features journalism for a Delhi-based paper, same mad party crowd and the heady deluge of wine, perfume and song. I remember the feeling of coming into the office late evening to file a features event for the next day's paper - when all the reporters and subs are busy at work, and there is enough smoke to kill Godzilla... I got out at 24, now I'm 28. I had different journalism plans, which I'm now following, but the features pages were a great pit stop.

    On a last word - it's great to enjoy what you do! But darling girl, don't ever think yourself to BECOME the party person you currently report on. Those journos are the worst (designer Raghu outfit bought with two months' salary, slinking back to a little Maruti 800...)

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  18. Meh. I wrote video games for 4 years, during the height of the internet boom, while my classmates were changing the world (and making millions). More than one person told me I was wasting my Ivy League degree.

    "Meer" entertainment is the reason people don't kill themselves after 10 years in this ultimately boring fucking world. We don't have any challenges anymore to keep life interesting. We're all wealthy and bored. Every trivial story you file is anti-suicide medication for adults.

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  19. And what was the need for going on the defensive??

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  20. ..though no job is better than another. the fact remains that you work for some one else, make a lot of money for them and get only a fraction of it back. though all is well as long as one enjoys what he/she is doing. Having said that i like ur job, coz it lets u go out of ur office, meet with so many supposedly interesting ppl (from opposite sex - to be precise). how many of them are actually interesting is another thing..

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  21. hey eM,
    i read your blog often, and enjoy the frank, upfront posts. to me, you represent the young, professional, indian woman who is comfortable with her lifestyle and herself. and her job! so kudos.
    i will keep coming back.

    i've been writing a blog for a couple of months now- on gender and everyday experiences of being gendered. hope you visit sometime (what shameless marketing!).

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  22. Don't worry about a thing :-)

    Did my stint as a business journo, but envied and liked you guys

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  23. Hamen maloom hai jannat ki haqiqat lekin,
    dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib yeh khayal accha hai....

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  24. Hey eM. Bored at office and ended up reading some of your older posts. And guess what! I went to the same boarding school as you. I was there for three years and I loved it so much that I had to be dragged out of there kicking and screaming by my parents after class 10!

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  25. nice ... and very nostalgic ... how i miss the sound of the clattering keyboards at 9 pm ... wish I could be that trainee again ...

    i think you should take what Anon2 has said quite seriously ... very valid ...

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  26. Ditto as Bonatellis. Your post has made me very very nostalgic. Have been a features writer in a Pink Paper for long enough to really miss it now. Meeting people from NRN to SRK to talk about anything but business and then write about them as well...cool or what? I want those years back...

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  27. I see that you are in the same boat as I am. Welcome comrade. I love my job too and I like being in charge of stories that I write down. Imagine, hundreds and thousands read the piece next day. Sometimes they might even be worth a coffee table discussion.
    It's a heady feeling, but then it is also a demanding job, all the way. While you may have writers block one fine day, the ability to fight that off and get going on assignements is entertaining in itself.

    PJ

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  28. I think features writers can do a lot. Some features in india are good, but you just have to read the guardian or nyt for GREAT features.

    I think the difference between news reporters' and feature writers' attitudes comes from the way our sources treat us.

    Our sources, i think, at some level, are a little afraid of us. They don't want us to ask the right questions.

    Your sources on the other hand, know you need them, and they need you. But i dont know if they're afraid of you any.

    I dont know if this is coming out right, but do you know what i mean?

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  29. Being sort of a features journalist myself, I must say you've put up a very good defence of us 'Page 3' types.

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  30. gee whiz, a feature on feature writers! just kidding. now, that's an idea.

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  31. very few people really love their jobs. you are lucky!

    a few of my dream jobs :-

    1.PhD in music, playing & teaching the guitar
    2.wine taster
    3.freelance writer, programmer, photographer...

    not a dream job but i love bookshops and would like to have one of my own!

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  32. Way to go...girl :)

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  33. cecuk

    Oh Dear. Mate, I am afraid I have to disagree with you on at least some of this.
    Yes, feature writers are incredibly valuable and the skilled ones are brilliant and great writers with brilliant understanding, depth and perception.
    However, I have been in this game 25 years and in several different countries, and I find the rise of soft lifestyle features more than a little alarming. Especially in Western countries.
    We do, of course, need plenty of them, but I think we have reached the point where we are losing other valuable features for the sake of another story on boutique coffee.
    We need to balance the soft features with the hard ones on poverty, child abuse, unemployment, corruption and so on.
    That said, the trend is sadly the same in the so-called news pages. Too many stories masquerading as "hard news" are either complete drivel or ill-informed comment.
    I am quite worried by Josh's comment -- perception is life? The company I work for has turned perception into everything and now all our good people are leaving and the drones are taking over.
    It's too easy to give in to perception instead of digging deeper to what lies beneath.
    I am glad you enjoy your job, and this is not meant to say it is worthless or any less valuable than the so-called hard news.
    I have a feeling, given the tone of all the other comments, that this one will not be popular. such is life.

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