Death is just another story in a newsroom. However, the death of Bal Thackeray meant an edition – a 13 page-long obituary. In my office, the planning had begun a good four-five days before his death. On Thursday, when news channels went all out and the road outside Matoshree was filled with well-wishers of the former Sena chief, we were called two hours before our usual reporting time.
This meant that a plan was in place for an edition in the event of his death. A plan that looked great on paper. Now it was our (the ‘desk’ies – the guys who actually correct and rewrite what reporters file and bring out the edition). We were handed a plan with the kind of articles that would go on to fill each page. Thursday was crucial. Everyone had assumed he would die that day. This meant that we had to make two editions- one, in the event of his death and the other, in case he survives.
We were to work on the first edition till 7pm and then switch to a regular edition post 7. There was one issue though. As there was no other significant ‘newsworthy’ happening in the city, all the journalists had no other story but variations of the ‘Bal Thackeray package’. This meant that the first edition would have fewer advertisement pages and the regular edition would be filled with it.
We were assigned pages and off we went. We got our set of stories and therein started my fascination with this man and his story. I was the co-assigned, which meant I would hardly have a story or two to edit which left me with enough time to read about him and for some reason Suu Kyi too.
We worked on our stories and our page was somewhat ready by 7.15pm. Page 6 on the ‘Bal Thackeray Special’ edition. Later, it went on to become page 9 in the main edition. However, it was almost time for the changeover and there was no sign of an announcement from Sena’s spokesperson. I had seen episodes of Master Chef where the chefs would take out a dish for the tiniest flaw and start afresh. From scratch. Add ten times more drama, and that’s what it felt like to start a whole new edition at 7pm.
Then, the usual madness ensued at the desk. Receiving the metro pages list, praying for an ad-heavy page, getting word-counts from reporters, pushing them for some graphic text or some background text, pestering designers to fit in all the stories- in time, getting the rough layouts approved by the bosses, asking for some filler stories, calling for the library for photos, rushing the photographers to ‘release’ the photos, scanning the ‘storypool’ for stories, editing the stories, hacking away to make the stories fit in the designated columns, checking on the designers’ progress of the graphic elements, send photos for scanning, getting the pages redesigned in case of some changes, some more editing and then it’s already 10.30pm. Post-10.30 tempers flare, printers spew out almost-done pages, everyone’s on edge and there is an insane fight against deadlines. On a bad day, someone gets yelled at, a last-minute story breaks and there comes about a major design makeover. On a good day, everyone is just hurrying about and running around to get prints and going through the far more scary process of getting pages approved. Then, a final check to see if all photos have been scanned, a close reading of captions and graphic text, spell check and done. Phew!
However, gods weren’t too kind because Thursday was no ordinary day. Correctly at 11pm, Uddhav Thackeray comes on to the street to make an announcement. Wait a minute, din’t our sources tell us he was on his deathbed? You mentally curse them and after surviving a minor heartache, stare at the television set- praying that he is alive. Not necessarily because you care a lot about this man but more so because the Thackeray package is just half complete and the edition has to be sent for production latest by 12.
As luck would have it, all we could make out from the television coverage were Shiv Sainiks screaming but nothing about his speech. Just then, somebody screams “Look! He is smiling”. The desk (the set of deskies) that was frozen for a few minutes celebrates and gets on with the regular edition. That was Thursday.
After the edition has gone, Boss tells the plan for tomorrow. Come early again and finish the Bal Thackeray package. You groan loudly (Inside your head of course).
Come Friday, you wake up and feverishly scramble for the remote hoping for him to die today. (Don’t get dramatic, it’s a newsroom. We stop being human beings with emotion. All we care about is getting the best story, not missing stories and getting the goddamn edition on time, just hoping there were no glaring mistakes.) My reason for wishing for his death on Friday was simpler. Saturday is my weekly off (yes, just one day.) If he doesn’t die today, there is a possibility they will announce his death on Saturday.
Anyway, we reached early and got on with the special edition. There, of course, was no announcement and we managed another regular edition. The Boss was kind enough to inform us that we were all on standby on Saturday because they were likely to make an announcement on a Saturday.
Then came Saturday. I was of course excited about my day off and hoping against hope for Thackeray’s health to improve. I almost wished he would get up and wave to the growing crowd outside his house- something the party’s spokesperson said would happen if people prayed hard enough for his good health. So there I was happily biting into a succulent piece of chicken when my colleague called up. BAD NEWS. Not that Thackeray died but that he died on my day off and I had to get to work as soon as possible. ARGGGGGG!
Well, the craziness called the newsroom chaos started at 5 that day and ended close to 1am. Crazier- far more crazier than usual. By the time I reached home it was well past 2am.
I opened my eyes the next morning and my eyes fell on Hindustan Times headline. It read: TIGER WILL ROAR NO MORE - in no less than 110 point size. Yes, I know. All HIS roaring happened in the newsroom last night. Sigh!