Tuesday, 27 March 2012

What got my goat - and made me pick up my pen

It all started with a meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences that I attended a little more than a year ago in Bangalore. The amount of walking and climbing of stairs that was involved got my always suspect temper boiling. I cribbed about it to friends, but was convinced that this cribbing must reach a wider audience. So when I went next for a visit to Bangalore, I called up Pati, my old friend and comrade-in-arms in many a battle against oppressive conditions (such as protesting about an `institute of national importance' - where we used to work together - insisting on only serving vegetarian food in its canteen), and asked him if he he would come and count some steps for me if I promised to stand him beer and lunch. Pati gladly and sweetly agreed to come and pick me up from my mother-in-law's place and drive me to the venue of the meeting that had got my dander up. I introduced myself to the watchman as a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences (which I am!) who wanted to check on the suitability of the auditorium for workshops I was planning. (Actually, `to reaffirm its unsuitability' is a more accurate description, if you want to split hairs.)

The watchman saw me hobbling out of Pati's car on my crutch, and solicitously asked me to mind the wet floors, and I answered truthfully that with the number of steps to be negotiated, he could be sure I would really be minding my step. As we went in, Pati, who had been primed to the real purpose of the visit, took off up and down innumerable steps, counting them all, and noting them all in his little note-book like a surveyor.

The upshot of all this sleuthing was an article I wrote called Stairway to Heaven or ... which I sent to many places including the Hindu and the Times of India, with none of them deigning to acknowledge my having written to them.

After a long time, I heard through the journalist friend of mine who had been playing middleman in my negotiations, that ToI `had evinced interest'. There was a further flurry of emails, all in one direction. After a few weeks of this, I sent a strongly worded email to the editor with whom I had been corresponding (almost unilaterally) saying I was not interested in having them publish my article, and that I would send it to the popular Science Journal Current Science - which was published, ironically, by the same Indian Academy of Sciences. The ToI editor sent back contrite emails but I was firm and the article did eventually appear in `Current Science' (see http://cs-test.ias.ac.in/cs/Volumes/101/05/0597.pdf).

Then things started looking up. Two days later, my letter was covered as a news item in the Bangalore edition of the Hindu (Sept. 12th) (see http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/article2445674.ece).

On the other hand, the ToI editor had come across as a decent sort on those rare occasions when he found the time and inclination to write. I wrote to him that I had been hoping to use my `Stairway ...' article to convince some sympathetic editor to give me a venue to air my attempts at increasing public sensitivity to the special needs of the differently abled.

He asked me to send some samples of the sort of things I wanted to write. I sent him my first two pieces (`Questionnaire' and `Wheels within wheels') to be eventually carried by ToI, and he promptly wrote back leaving me the choice of name and periodicity of my column, and how many words my average piece would contain! I liked the title Different Strokes for Different Folks, I was unsure of being able to churn out something readable more than twice a month; and I was off and running.

1 comment:

  1. read your article in times of india dt 7th april. i wish you would write about delhis international airport and the 10 minute walk to go to the washroom from the entry or departure gates. when i registered a complaint i was told that its good that toilets are far off as indians will make it dirty.its a torture to recieve guests at the new airport
    urvashi chopra delhi