History repeats itself at K C College

My wife, daughter Sara and I braved the heavy downpour last week to reach Kishinchand Chellaram College, commonly known as K C College, at Churchgate, Mumbai.

We were there for Sara’s admission to FYB.COM (First Year Bachelor in Commerce). As Sara queued up, along with a bevy of other young, enthusiastic students seeking admission to the same course, outside a room where documents were verified, my wife and I were made to wait in the adjoining conference hall. While my daughter stood in a long queue awaiting her turn, I went down memory lane.

Twenty-six years ago

It was exactly 26 years ago, in June-July of 1997, when I had joined the PG Diploma in Journalism Course at K C College. How time flies. And how much things have changed in last two decades. My daughter’s admission to a full-time undergraduate course went off smoothly. Mine to an evening, PG Diploma course was not so easy as it might appear to others. Thereby hangs a tale and it must be told.

MS Education Academy

After I uprooted myself from Delhi in 1995 and moved to Mumbai in September the same year, I initially tried to find a foothold in the film world. Since I know Hindi and Urdu, I overestimated myself and had deluded that I would get a break into script writing easily. I knocked at a few doors and soon realised how wrong notions I had about the Tinsel town. Here, dreams do get realized, but many dreams end up in disasters, leaving the dreamers scarred forever. Fortunately I was not a day dreamer and I quickly realized that I would remain an also-ran in Bollywood parlance it is called struggler, if I continued to chase the chimera.

Left unpredictable world of films

I decided to get out of the messy, highly uncertain, unpredictable, unreliable world the film industry had become. Journalism was what I had heaped hopes on and I bit the first bait thrown my way. I joined a small monthly magazine in Chembur.

While I was at this tiny, innocuous journal, one day I saw an advertisement for the journalism course at K C College in The Times of India. See, I have been a reader of TOI ever since I began reading newspapers that is quite late, when I went to Aligarh Muslim University from the backwaters of Bihar. I think this addiction of reading TOI first in the morning will end only when I say goodbye to this world.

So, the ad for the journalism course drew my attention. I discussed it with my good friend, a pillar of support for an anchor-less lad in this big, strange city, Muzaffar Kalimullah (Mumtaz Bhai). Mumtaz Bhai and I shared a room with six other Bihari bachelor boys at Mahim.  I asked Mumtaz Bhai if I should go for this course.

“I think you are stuck. Join this course. It will put you in proper ecosystem and open windows for you,” suggested Mumtaz Bhai. Encouraged, I decided to join this course. I had already committed a mistake, and wasted my school teacher father’s hard earned money by leaving a journalism course midway at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Delhi. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.

Now the next question was: where to get Rs 8000 to pay the fees for this one-year course at KC from? I couldn’t have asked my father for the money as I had rebelled and, disobeyed his command, had refused to take the Prelims exam for the UPSC. He wanted me to become an IAS officer. But bureaucracy didn’t hold much appeal to me. My father died a sad man as, to his deep dismay I didn’t fulfill his dream and never took that exam to enter the so-called coveted Civil Service. What have our politicians reduced bureaucrats to in our country? Well, that is another issue and let us leave it for another day.

While thinking about how to manage Rs 8000, I remembered that my elder brother had handed me Rs 10,000 at the airport while leaving for Saudi Arabia for a job with this instruction: “Use it when you desperately need it.” There couldn’t have been a more desperate situation for a young man in his 20s standing at a crossroads. My career was not moving. It was a precarious situation. I couldn’t have returned to Delhi or my home as I had burnt bridges. I had already burnt fingers trying to be Salim-Javed in Indian cinema. I had to take a plunge. For better or worse. Marta bunda kya nahin karta.

My brother had given me money

I withdrew Rs 8000 from my account and reached K C College, filled the form and, in a few days, was admitted to the Bombay College of Journalism run from the College premises.  The paved, leafy lane seemed so alluring. Full of promises and possibilities!

Founded in 1954, K C College is a highly reputed educational institution in Mumbai. It is one of several institutions the Sindhis, rendered homeless and dispossessed, established post-Independence. Joining the journalism course benefited me in many ways. I made some wonderful friends here and had the privilege to be taught by some of famous Indian journalists, including V Gangadhar, M V Kamath, P Sethi and Lata Jagtiani. The chirpy, livewire Dilnavaz Shroff was our course coordinator and G T Balani was the principal.

Gangadhar Sir began liking me from day one. It so happened that on the first day of his class, after our introduction, he began to introduce himself.

Since I was a voracious reader and would read half a dozen newspapers and magazines even then, I was familiar with his byline. As he began telling us which publications he wrote for, I intervened, telling him: “Sir, you write for Sunday magazine, Outlook, Sunday Observer, sometimes for Indian Express and TOI too.” “How do you know?” he asked.  “I read all these magazines and papers,” I said. There was nothing more to tell him about myself. A few months into my course, he told me: “Don’t waste your time here. Join a newspaper. You will learn more on the job.”

I must say a few things about M V Kamath. Kamath had a long inning with Times Group, including as TOI’s foreign correspondent at Washington, and editor  of The Sunday Times and editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India. After retirement, he also headed Prasar Bharati during A B Vajpayee’s regime. Apart from writing columns, he would also teach at journalism schools. If India is fast turning in to a majoritarian state, he was among many pen pushers who aided and enabled it.

Kamath wore saffron on his sleeves

One day he began discussing Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute and, throwing caution, morality, restraint, discipline and decorum a teacher must maintain, outside the window, Kamath Sir began his rant. Addressing the class, he said: “This is the time you Hindus should assert.” The class fell silent. I initially tried to stomach it, brush it aside from my mind. But then I thought I should not let it go without registering my protest. It was a class of aspiring journos and a veteran journalist who had seen the world had said something that was not expected of him. It is something that we heard and hear from sadak chhap netas.

“Sir, this is a secular country and we will preserve its pluralism, multicultural ethos at every cost. And you should not speak like this to your students. We have great regard for you,” I protested testily.

Stunned, the class heard me in silence. None of my classmates had imagined that I would gather courage to respond to nonsense uttered by a senior teacher. “Can anyone reply to him? ” asked Kamath. The class remained silent. My classmates’ silence proved the professor needed to be contested. To this day I have many good friends whom I met in that journalism class at K C College. Maya Bhushan, Vinay Vairale immediately come to mind.

We were a bunch of boisterous boys and girls who immensely enjoyed our fellowship and bond that we created inside the classroom and outside it. After the class, we would often sit at an Iranian family-owned Stadium Restaurant near Churchgate station for chai and, over cups of piping hot tea we discussed almost everything under the sun. We were idealists and thought we would change the world.

We had bankers, a navy officer (Atul, where are you?), artists, an umpire who had participated in a few international cricket matches, as fellow students at the journalism class. Sadly, just a few of 30 or so students joined mainstream journalism later.

Gangadhar Sir’s words haunted me endlessly. I began scouting for newspapers which I could join as a trainee reporter. The  Asian Age, founded by hero of my adolescent days M J  Akbar, was a new kid on the block. Since the paper was in infancy, joining its team of reporters and feature writers was relatively easy.

One day I met my principal G T Balani at his office with a request for a letter to the Resident Editor of The Asian Age, requesting him to give a chance to intern with it. Next day I was before the young, dashing Aakar Patel, the then Asian Age RE in Mumbai. Giving a cursory look at my CV, Aakar said: “Join from tomorrow. Meet Kaniza, our chief reporter,” said Aakar. Kaniza Lokhandwala who later became Kaniza Garari after marriage was a bespectacled, chubby-cheeked gentle girl who did her best to make me confident.

The initial days were really uncertain, but I didn’t want the world, especially my father, to see me as a failure. Ek hara hua sipahi. I put in hard work, kept the patience, worked for months without getting a penny and hoped that tomorrow never dies. Har raat ki subah hoti hai.

I did not pull strings for my daughter

As my daughter joins K C College and embarks on a journey, I must say with pride that she got in on her own merits. I didn’t have to pull strings. And I will never need to in future too. My father inadvertently had put a challenge to me. He wanted to test me if I would perform and excel or perish in pursuit of a goal he, brought up as he was with humble means in the rural set up, thought was unachievable for me. I had studied in Hindi medium till matriculation and my father had valid reasons to fear that I could get roasted in the tough rat race.

I never became what my father wanted me to become. But, thanks to the hand holding K C College did to me, I could cross some major hurdles during this exciting journey. Thanks God, for giving me courage to believe in myself.

Hopefully, as history repeats itself, K C College will similarly become a launch pad for my daughter’s exciting journey ahead.

Mohammed Wajihuddin is a senior journalist with the Times of India,  Mumbai.

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