Yesterday morning, dreading another long weekend with not much to do, I wearily and despairingly left for the Toastmasters meeting. After the meeting got over and everybody was leaving, I hung around for few minutes, more to kill time than anything else. I could see few people conversing and seeing me around one of them remarked “take him along if he is free”. I did not know what they were talking and upon asking was told they had spare passes to NDTV ‘We The People’ show with Barkha Dutt tonight. Voila! I jumped in excitement and confirmed my participation there and then.
Back home I was feeling all pumped up. I cancelled all pending things-to-do for evening and was ready bang on time, arriving on dot in front of my friend’s apartment gate. He took some time to get ready and in few minutes we were cruising towards Greater Kailash. Thankfully the traffic was not much and my friend had some interesting things to talk that kept me engaged for most of the way. We arrived at the venue a few minutes late, and to my surprise NDTV studio is not what I had thought it to be. It is non-descript by all standards, hidden behind a glamorous shopping complex in Greater Kailash I, and its entrance is eerie to say the least. We were welcomed by a young girl near car parking, who took us towards the rear of the complex, which was dark and narrow, and from where we ascended a long flight of stairs leading to another long and narrow passage, finally ending up in the studio venue.
The studio, astonishingly, is much smaller than what it appears on TV. Also it was too crowded with all college kids and youngsters lurking around, though most of the available seats were already taken. My friend was fortunate to be accommodated in a good and visible spot, which could be easily captured by the cameras while I had to make do with an extra chair in a desolate, hidden corner. Although the spot boys were doing their best to adjust everyone, there were many extras still to be fixed somewhere. I overheard one spot boy remarking ‘abey zyaada kone main mat daal, warna Barkha chutiya kaat degi’
All the invited panel members marched in almost together, from whom I could identify only a few. Later when show began I could recognize and recall a few of them, prominent being Ashok Vajpayee, the literary czar; Mukul Kesavan, academic and NDTV regular; Khushboo, the South Indian actress and Sudhir Mishra, the film maker. Sudhir Mishra actually looks like a pimp with stained teeth, eyes mapping everyone and white hair. Khushboo, who was clearly visible from my seat, looked really graceful in a silk sari and it was difficult to believe this was the same female who had voiced those stunning views on pre-marital sex some years back.
Ten minutes to 8 PM and in walked Barkha Dutt, dressed neatly in a black salwar kameez and with a lot of make-up on. Perhaps the make-up is not so visible on TV but she is not clear faced by any stretch. Barkha greeted everyone and then laid bare the rules of the game, asking audience not to interrupt in between, and to speak only into the mike. Guess the panel members must have been briefed beforehand only, for I don’t think NDTV can risk a live show uninstructed. As clock started inching towards 8 PM, Barkha started coordinating with the back-end technical team and I could spot on her traces of nervousness, as the music started dying down and our air time approached. This actually shows that seasoned practitioners of any art, let it be TV speaking only, are nervous before any performance, irrespective of previous accomplishments.
Soon the show started and we were live on air. Barkha set the ball rolling with a few brisk lines and went around the panel, initiating a heated debate. The topic for the evening was the controversial HRD Ministry proposal to use Hindi language for school education. During the first twenty minutes, panel members argued with their beliefs and arguments, where I again admired Khushboo for her diction and presentability. One of the panel members happened to be a Dalit leader who had his own foolish set of arguments, which promoted English as a uniting factor for Dalits and downtrodden. During the first break I told Barkha that I had a question to ask, but I was left cursing my location as it was too behind and hidden for cameras to capture. Sadly the only time during the show that I came on TV was when the guy in front of me asked a question and I started monkeying behind him, my hour of glory albeit a brief one.
What was remarkable during the entire show was the way Barkha carried it through. It certainly is not easy to go live on air, with an unfamiliar group and anybody could have easily disrupted the show from the audience. Also the panel members had their own agendas on the show, which Barkha neatly managed to balance. When the camera was not on her, I could observe Barkha narrow her eyes and target the uneasy panel members, so as to lend balance and add teeth to the debate. Also she rotated her places amongst all the four podiums, thus giving different visual views all the time. Barkha’s shrewdness and boldness is beyond doubt, something which cannot be hidden even if you have been a witness to her performance only for a small hour.
After the show got over, my friend drove me back, safely dropping me at my apartment gates. I had not eaten till late night but to my surprise, I did not feel any hunger at all