About ten months before India got independence, a farmer of modest means in a nondescript village near Panipat (in Haryana), was celebrating the birth of his first son this day, 75 years ago. He had waited for several years and through his four marriages for this moment. His three wives, all ‘balikavadhus’ (Child-brides), had died due to one or other ailments. The fourth one, about 20 years younger to him, delivered a male child two years after she had delivered a daughter as her first child. Later, she was to deliver three more sons and as many daughters.
A favourable court verdict of a long-drawn case after a bloody fight over a piece of land, came around the day the son was born. The farmer was of the view the victory came mainly through direct use of force rather than legal niceties, and so he named his son as Baljeet, one who would win life battles by sheer physical strength.
That was not to be but strength he did acquire. The strength of education, which was not very common those days in rural areas. His friends called him Jeeta endearingly, and the school teacher in a neighbouring village enrolled him as Ajeet Singh. He was blessed to be the first graduate from the village that had no electricity, piped water supply or even pucca streets. Most houses were kutcha mud houses.
As was the common practice those days and coupled with the anxiety of an asthmatic father, he married before he completed his matriculation. His beautiful balikavadhu wife too proved a blessing for him as she stood steadfast with him throughout his life through thick and thin.
Soon after his graduation from the Kurukshetra University, he was fortunate to clear the Union Public Service Examination for the Central Information Service in 1970 which was later renamed as the Indian Information Service.
He got his first posting in Shimla (then spelt as Simla), as a Sub-editor in All India Radio that proved to be an excellent grooming ground in active journalism for a village boy. He got on-the-job training in journalism – both in reporting and editing. Not only that, but he also learnt to identify potential news-stories under the guidance of his seniors, and developed what is known as ‘news sense’ in journalistic parleys.
He started being witness to historical events from there, the first being the Simla Summit (post 1971 war with Pakistan) where he got an opportunity to interact with Benazir Bhutto who accompanied her father to the Summit. This opportunity came his way as his seniors were busy with reporting on the main events involving Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. You can read more about this meeting here.
This was to continue for the next about 35 years as he reported extensively on the important events which took place in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Haryana. He was witness to the high militancy period in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s. He reported the Hazratbal shrine seizure and later the Kargil war. A stint of about four years at the News Services Division of All India Radio in New Delhi added to his more profound understanding of the radio journalism. Srinagar posting was a real challenge, but it was also highly rewarding as he was conferred the top honour of the Akashvani Award for the ‘Correspondent of the Year’, just in the second year of its establishment in 1990.
Last posting at newly opened Doordarshan Kendra at Hisar exposed him to television journalism and culminated his career to the post of the Director of News. What a blessing it was!
The retirement period of the last 15 years too has been a blessing, and that too in greater measure. As a founding member of a voluntary organisation of senior citizens, the Vanprastha, helped bloom his writing career. But what will he write on when nobody invited him to news events or sent him press notes? He overcame the dilemma by choosing to report the common man, someone who wasn’t reported in the media. Going by the axiom that everyone has a story to tell, he listened to common man’s stories, wrote those with a style of his own and local media and social groups of friends lapped up his stories. Ironically, the Covid-19 period proved very productive for his writing venture.
Well, I was that boy who rose to be the Director of News in a career of his choice – isn’t it a blessing that you earn a living out of a job which you love to do?
Technology helped me a lot. Smartphone is a gadget with confluence of technologies. I use it as a typewriter and even as my stenographer, typing whatever I dictate through speech. Google is like the jinn with magical powers who would find quick any information that I ask for. And WhatsApp is a beautiful messenger that carries messages to and from friends. Wish they were available earlier in service. But it is never too late. It is a great blessing.
Sometimes, I feel journalism doesn’t count blessings adequately. It generally talks of miseries and conflicts, usually enhancing those rather than minimizing. After my retirement, when I am free from routine ‘must do’ news-stories, I am now perhaps atoning for my sins to an extent possible and now writing about events and people who inspire the society. It is a great pleasure reporting a common man who has so many interesting stories to tell.
I seek blessings of all my friends once again on this my 76th birthday, the 5th of November.
It was a blessing to be born into the dawn of India’s freedom. It is still a blessing to continue to be enjoying life for the last 75 years. Conflicts and tensions did come, but all melted away in due course of time. Why count tensions and conflicts when blessings are plenty? Right since my first birthday, my blessings have been overwhelming! I feel myself to be blessed and exceptionally lucky to live this way!
*Writer Ajeet Singh was AIR’s correspondent in Jammu and Kashmir for over 19 years. He retired as Director of News, Doordarshan, Hisar.
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