25 November 2009. Mumbai.
Barkha Dutt looks into the calm sea at Marine Drive, her eyes welling up with memories of a day she launched into the biggest shrill-assault on the unsuspecting Indian viewers across the nation. “I won’t take full credit for it. It was an accumulated skill, a ‘being at right ground-zero, at the right time, with the right hoarseness’ moment”, she says modestly while still avoiding a direct eye-contact.
Arnab Goswami, Barkha’s counterpart at Times Now, is more forthcoming. “I was in the studio and my job was tougher. We already had a few reporters on the streets – screaming, babbling, showing ‘exclusive’ footage in a loop, and my job was to tie the loose ends with an equally incomprehensible narration. It was a watershed moment. And as I said, we had ‘exclusive’ footage. I mean ‘exclusive footage’.”
It’s courageous stories like Arnab’s and Barkha’s that make 26th November 2009, the first anniversary of Mumbai attacks, a day to commemorate the spirit of Indian News TV. Never before a wholly complex system of (Papua New Guinea launched) satellites, OB vans, confused mike-holders, and wide-eyed studio presenters was put in such a grave danger of being toppled by the bigness of an event.
“It was BIG. INDIA was ATTACKED”, reveals Rajdeep Sardesai, wearing his trademark silk kurta and white pajamas to show his solidarity with the nation.”We were being tested,” he continues in his calculated style, “and we had to show that we are no flukes, or derivatives of some other channel. Let’s be frank – it was a shrill event, and we were forced to shout. But we are proud of the way we did it.”
Amidst all these candid recounts, one man still remains guarded. Rajat Sharma, whose niche channel India TV was the only one to get an exclusive interview with one of the terrorists of 26/11, maintains his dignity a year later too. “We have the blessings of Sri Sri Bhabhoot Baba – our in-house future teller as well as health show host,” starts Sharma, almost in a trance. “He helped us get a ‘spiritual connection’ to one of the terrorists. But I am sorry, I can’t reveal more. Journalistic integrity doesn’t allow me”, Sharma trails off. But just when one thinks that he is done, he adds, with a rare smile – “We were different that day.”