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Mumbai on the move

November 28, 2008

One look at my diary this morning – it’s only recently I’ve got in to the habit of using my Outlook calendar – and the prospect of four meetings in the space of five hours made it almost a guarantee I’d find it difficult to keep on top of what was going on in Mumbai.

I wanted to know more. I wanted to follow everything. It was almost as though I wanted someone standing next to me the whole day giving me an update on what was going on each and every moment.

What was my motivation exactly? I kept asking myself the same question all day long. Twelve hours later I’m still not entirely sure why.

Was it a mawkish fascination with the emerging story coming out of India ? Was it a genuine interest in news – one which has surfaced over the past couple of days as a result of work ? Was I really a news junkie who was coming to terms with what had formerly seemed like an underlying interest in news ? Or was I, in fact, feeling the effects of the social networking tools such as Twitter or Facebook, getting the news from the web and responding to events on a minute by minute basis?

Shortly after my first meeting just off Shepherds Bush, I retrieved my mobile from my coat pocket. Compared to the difficulties I’d experienced connecting to the internet with my laptop, my mobile was considerably more reliable.

I stumbled on a live update page on the BBC website. I bookmarked it. I was hooked the entire afternoon.

There are obvious caveats which need to be spelled out here. I work there and on that basis I’m biassed. I’m bound to go to the employer for the news. But, for the rest of the day I wanted to keep checking in, checking to see what had happened, what had developed, if the death count had risen, if things had subsided. I wanted things to wind down. I wanted it to be over. I wanted people to be safe.

What transpired – as a consumer of news – was that this particular event was expanding. This made it an unsual experience. Far away in what feels like a distant land, we weren’t learning about what had occurred, but through minute by minute updates we read about a constantly unfolding series of events. It felt like I was there. It felt like this was a battle, or a war. It felt like it has happening just down the road. It felt real.

Looking back on today I can say with certainty that this bizarre method of retrieving news on events shifted focus. Today was about Mumbai, about India, about innocence gunned down, about anger and pain.

As the fast train from London Charing Cross pulled into Hither Green station, I switched on the six o’clock bulletin on the radio, keen to get some kind of summary of events.

I got the snapshot I was looking for and a bit more. British eyewitnesses were returning home.

One man explained how he had barricaded himself in his hotel room, switched off the lights and kept quiet until the worst of it was over. What had begun as a brisk walk from platform six to the ticket hall slowed to a sombre pace.

Here was someone from the UK – completely unknown to me – recalling the experiences he had in a country that felt like it was far, far away in such a way that I felt immediately protective and defensive for him and all those who had suffered like him.

It was an incredible day for an outsider like me and, no doubt, something a whole lot worse for those who experienced it first hand.

If I truly am a news junkie then I hold my hands up in shame. Don’t – please – feel bad of me if that is the case.

Personally, I prefer to think of myself of a normal human being, horrified by what feels like totally unexpected and at times surreal events.

But if there’s one thing I’m certain of after the past couple of days it’s this: my susceptibility to such harrowing events precludes me from ever being a journalist.

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2 Comments
  1. A really thought-provoking post. I don’t thing your susceptibility to harrowing events precludes you from being a journalist. Actually, I think this whole piece proves that it would make you a very good journalist.

    I learned more about the facts of what happened in Mumbai this week from Twitter and other citizen journalism sources than from anyone calling themselves a journalist. To some extent, “news” (in the sense of hard facts and data) can (and will) become automated. But what computers can’t provide is the colour: the human interest, the psychology, the people, the emotions. Things like this and this can’t be written by people who don’t find the scenes they’re describing harrowing.

    I can completely understand the sentiments you’ve written about, because I also found myself inexplicably preoccupied with Mumbai this week and unable to switch off live feeds of information. Even when I did, I couldn’t get the images out of my head. It did cross my mind that perhaps journalism is the wrong career for me if events thousands of miles away can affect me so deeply. But, on reflection, I hope it just means I’m better placed to write something that will make other people care, too.

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