Byline to headline: an emotionally overtaken sardar reveals his hurt
|How the shoe flew past Chidambaram|
New Delhi, April 7: When the shoe flew past Union home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram and the camera showed two men packing off the sardar from the Congress Party venue, I knew it — the face was turned away from the cameras but that gait had to belong to my friend Jarnail.
Jarnail Singh, who hates getting out on zero, who tonks the tennis ball a long way during winter weekends of cricket and chucks the ball a long way from the fence, too, had thrown — and missed — a target two metres from where he was sitting.
But he had made the transition from byline to headline.
He is repentant hours after the incident. “As a journalist I realise now that I should not have done it,” he says this evening.
“I should not have chucked my shoe but I was emotionally overtaken. But do try and understand that in the last 25 years every party has got an opportunity to give justice (to the Sikhs) but no one has.”
Jarnail is still emotionally surcharged. But he does not forget to mention a story The Telegraph broke last week. He says he wants to follow it up.
He says he is not going to take up politics as a career now that Sikh parties are queuing up at his door. He is still unsure about his job, though.
The condoning of Jagdish Tytler by the CBI and Chidambaram saying that he is happy about it is something that Jarnail says he feels “very strongly about”.
In our many chats and conversations, I never once asked Jarnail about his personal travails in 1984. Like he has never asked about mine. We have assumed that we have both travelled painful roads. He is a few years younger than me.
In 1984, at the time of the carnage that killed thousands of Sikhs, Jarnail would have been in his teens, his formative years. Someone in his family, or extended family, would have been lost to him. But today I break that barrier and ask if he was personally affected. “No,” he says. “No one in my immediate family.” But he knows of many who have.
Reporters on the beat like him do not cross that fine line between journalism and activism easily. For six years and more, Jarnail has been a regular on the defence beat. He and I and others from almost every major newspaper, television channel and magazine have been visiting the armed forces headquarters nearly every working day, taking most trips on the air force’s turbo-prop transport planes from Delhi to Kochi to Jammu to Dimapur.
For hours, the drone of the aircraft has stymied conversation inside but Jarnail has this enviable quality to sleep through the flights. It means he reaches the destination fully rested. As soon as the aircraft — usually the noisy AN-32 with benches (instead of the comfy seats you usually have on commercial aircraft) — take off, Jarnail stretches out and snores, his loose beard splayed on his chest also rising and falling.
Sometimes he carries a portable CD player, too, and listens to Gurbani and very often he carries a miniature Guru Granth Sahib.
In the evenings, after deadline time, with the reports for the day filed, he interjects in discussions when the talk is about Palestine and on the Irish question or, of course, on Kashmir and on the Indian Army, and on Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and the militaries of the world. That is what it is like on the defence beat.
He jokes often enough. An army major once told him the entire force had only one “General” — distorting Jarnail’s name to make it sound like “General” — and that too was a rank achieved after decades. Jarnail shot back: “Arre, you haven’t even met my brother, he is born a Colonel (Karnail).”
Jarnail is incorruptible. At cocktail parties he has fruit juice. I have never once seen him accepting gifts offered by armament companies.
It’s funny that the Shiromani Akali Dal (Delhi chapter) has today offered him a reward of Rs 2 lakh for chucking his shoe at Chidambaram.
In news conferences, Jarnail is dogged. His questions are sharp and he wants to follow them up with supplementaries. He takes his religion seriously but he is no preacher. More a live and let live type.
In the last six months, he’s put himself through a strict regimen of diet and exercise and is now fitter than at any time since I have known him. He’s also become a father for the second time recently.
Jarnail used to be rotund, rather sweetly roly-poly. Now he is lean. He never tucks his shirt in and always wears sneakers. The puppy fat on his face isn’t quite hidden by his flowing beard.
Jarnail is mild-mannered. He has lost his temper while playing cricket. That cannot apply to his general approach to life. I can imagine him getting angry over a particular event if someone were to deliberately, personally humiliate him.
To feel hurt enough and act in the way Jarnail did this morning, and to make the transition from byline to headline, must take something special for a journalist on the beat.