Jug Suraiya’s memoir is a witty and charming look into his life as a journalist. Suraiya began his writing career at the JS, a new publication by The Statesman. It is a lucky coincidence that his initials and those of his first journalistic employer match. That publication (although very popular and path breaking) had a short shelf life and Suraiya moved on to the parent publication,The Statesman, before shifting to the Times of India, where he has been a fixture for over quarter of a century.
The book takes us through Suraiya’s adventures as he goes from accidental journalist (he had tried other careers before – spray painting machine operator, a tendu (beedi) leaf dealer) to becoming one of the country’s favourite writers.
Along with Suraiya’s own growth as a writer, the book also follows the stories of the two publications and the newsroom gossip that goes with it. The stories are many and are a treat to read whether you are a journalist or not.
The book is also interesting for its peek into the lives of other writers – MJ Akbar in short pants wanting to publish his first short story, a teenage Shashi Tharoor discussing Jung, Dileep Padgaonkar , the perfect “Manditor” (Manager + Editor). Suraiya’s bosses are not spared either – Desmond Doig, Girilal Jain, Samar Jain – all make an appearance. Dozens of other well-known names pop up between the pages – Mother Teresa, Germaine Greer, Vir Sanghvi, Amitabh Bachchan, even Harshad Mehta.
I enjoyed the book for its insight into the running of a newspaper – how stories are assigned, conjured up, edited and killed. The book is another reminder of the power of details. Suraiya admits right at the start that a lot of this is not exactly as it happened – he didn’t keep notes or record the sequence of events. Yet, it is the little details that are mesmerising, as if he was referring to old journals with intricate notes, scraps of dialogue scribbled in the margins.
The book also clarifies something that has confused me for a while – the inclusion of the lower case ‘i’ on the TOI edit page as opposed to the traditional upper case one.
The photographs in the book are a treat, too. Young Jagdish may have morphed into Jug, but the smile and the twinkle in the eye remain the same.
For forty-three years, India has been reading Suraiya. He continues to write the “old-fashioned” way, by hand and freely admits his ignorance of technology. His readers don’t really care about that, though.
This is a book you can dip into every now and then. Read a chapter here or there and you’ll still come away with a coherent tale. What more can a writer (or reader) ask for?
For someone who never set out to be a journalist, Jug Suraiya has come a long way. More power (and hopefully, money) to him.
Title: JS & The Times of my life: A worm’s-eye view of Indian journalism
Author: Jug Suraiya
Publisher: Tranquebar | Hardcover| Pages 340