A ‘phoreigner’ stood perplexed and evidently tense at my door early one morning in February, last. Rubbing my eyes and still yawning, I tried figuring out if this creature was a Chinese, a Korean, a Japanese or none of these! He was a Korean, a South Korean, accompanying a team of journalists from his country’s state-run TV channel. Their purpose: A documentary on the dying farmers.
After the customary exchange of pleasantries, the Koreans were firing a volley of questions at me – from credit issue to input prices to cotton imports to subsidies. As I spoke, the Korean translator explained it to his friends and vice a versa.
The taxi driver, the same Ram who has driven me to tens of villages for the past six years or so, had brought them to my home straight from the airport. That’s how they had discovered me, and I discovered them, bang at my doorstep.
But the week they spent in the region was indeed a hard work. They had done a thorough homework of the issue. They knew the composition of districts, people who were in trouble, factors at play, features of state politics and much more.
Reflecting their sensitivity, the Korean journalists did a fabulous job in the end.
Tens of foreign correspondents have been flocking to Vidarbha to do stories on continuing farmers’ suicides in this past year or so. The region had never seen so many ‘esteemed’ visitors in its history ever. Many of them though discovered Nagpur for the first time and some even had difficulty in pronouncing Amravati. Worse still, Buldhana. A majority of them knew Wardha, thanks to ‘Bapu’.
Yet they came. They were sent, so they came. Many had left their hearts at home. Still they wrote; pieces after pieces, exploring new angles. Some are still trying to “discover” what’s new in the story, and what all could they cover afresh. Alas suicide is too sombre a story to be written about; and farmer, not very “hot”.
Then there was one, who wrote to me she wanted a “fixer” not realizing that the connotation is a ‘slang’ in India, even if it means genuine money in the west.
Soon after, a scribe from a US newspaper followed another from his rival paper to “find the truth.” No, not the truth behind the farm suicides per se, but his rival’s tour itinerary in the region! Did he at all visit the villages in Vidarbha? As this guy discovered, he did. His search for truth ended in Yavatmal, where he himself encountered a family, which had lost its headman and was starving.
Post PM’s visit – since July 2006 – there were two such high-profile journalists coming in and heading for the suicide country almost every month. We needed translators from Italian to English to Italian; from French to English to French. Sadly, there was not one! To that extent, we missed this “opportunity.” Isn’t that the word used for professional excellence? “Opportunity.” There’s lot of it here in farm suicides, I am slowly discovering from many of those esteemed guests.
To be fair to our own “national patrakars”, 2005-06 and 06-07 would surely go down in the history of journalism for a much better coverage of this issue.
Conversely some local journalists are in a sense of disbelief. Some of them have actually begun to question their own volition. By saying that not all suicides are genuine! Geek! Farmers are genuinely dying, but reasons are not genuine. May be, they are dying due to unbearable stomachache or too much of alcoholism, or domestic quarrels, but not due to indebtedness. Some of them are dying, as some journalists argue, due to newspapers’ reporting of suicide, or because the state government pays Rs 1 lakh compensation to their families post their death.
Actually, there were – and are – three streams of tourists coming in: One, the bureaucrats and researchers, the scientists and the politicians (I’ve clubbed them all into one group), the other, of course, the journalists, and the third one, (guess who?), the spiritual gurus, the ‘Babalog’. The third one is here to stay forever.
But the most bizarre query of all was (and this one was from a TV crew): “Is there a fresh suicide, the freshest the better. Great, if it happened moments ago. We will simply go live!” Oops! A dead farmer, live on the TV! “It would make the story hit the conscience of our audiences.” To their luck, they indeed got one!