Thursday, August 30, 2007

Of dropped sentences and missing topics

The encounter of a journalist with his subject may result in mixed feelings for both

Shevlin Sebastian

When Ernakulam Collector A.P.M. Mohammed Hanish read an article on him a few days ago in the City Express, he had a mixed reaction. He was happy when people called and congratulated him. Yet, at the same time, there was a feeling of disappointment. There were so many things he had told the journalist which had not been published: his childhood, his early career, his mentor and anecdotes about his father, A.P.M. Makey.

Makey, who passed away on August 22, 2005, had been a municipal commissioner and spent the majority of the career in Corporation work. Hanish said he could not have imagined that, one day he would also be involved with the Corporation. "My father," he said, with eyes bulging out in pride, "would have been very proud of the job I have done [of clearing the city of piled-up garbage]."

The journalist had his reasons about why he did not use the topics that Hanish felt so intensely about. In a newspaper, there is not much of a space and, therefore, he had to make a selection. So, with regret, he had to drop a few subjects.

But what Hanish experienced is a common feeling about interviewees when they read articles about themselves. Sometimes, the sentences are twisted and altered in such a way that they cannot believe that this is what they had said. Sometimes, a sentence is taken completely out of context and the meaning is the exact opposite of what is intended. The interviewee can then vent his anger by yelling at the reporter, writing a letter to an editor or filing a defamation suit.

Ironically, journalists also go through the same experience. Sometimes, their pieces are cut by the desk, because of the ubiquitous ‘pressure of space’. Again, like in the case of Hanish, they might experience a sense of regret and dismay. If it happens too many times, they might lose their cool and go up to the desk and vent their anger. Sometimes, they might even go up to the editor.

Outsiders can be puzzled by this sort of behaviour. After all, it is only sentences: black letters strung together on a white background. But for those who earn a living by writing, sentences are their closest companions, in good times and bad, in sadness and happiness.

Meanwhile, the more passionate and intense among the journalists will carry on thinking about the cut sentences. What an impact it would have made, he thinks, if those sentences had been published, although this is usually an illusion. People read less and carelessly these days.
However, in the journalists’ defence, sometimes, they do hit a rich vein of inspiration. Then, the sentences do penetrate the rough exterior of the body and lodges itself in the reader's soul, but it is a rare occurrence.

What about the feelings of these cut sentences? Can an orphanage be set up for sentences which are unable to find a home in print? Probably, there is no need. As writers will attest, most of them are content remaining as bytes in computer files, or in actual paper files, no complaints, but yearning, like the struggling writer, to find fulfillment in print.

So, Mr. Hanish, what you have experienced is something that occurs across the board: happens with interviewee, and interviewer, writers and poets, and sentences also!

Nevertheless, sorry and all the best!

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