Who We Are?

The First Gulf War in 1991 was the first time war became a show on TV. Soon thereafter India underwent revolutionary changes. Liberalisation and privatisation opened up the economy in so many unimaginable ways. What cable TV did to Doordarshan and what private airlines did to Indian Airlines were interesting economic phenomena that had many other parallels. Meanwhile the 40 something year old independent nation that was India had produced a whole generation of well heeled entrepreneurs who were dying to get a break from the license regimes of before and there was also a whole new generation of professionally trained smart professionals who could churn out the most competitive of products. This was the hidden potential of the nascent liberalized Indian economy.

Cable TV gave the print media a run for its money. In response the Print Media diversified its content and design.  Things took time to mature and severe competition not only left only a few players at the top in every walk of life, but also heralded a pathetic fall in standards. Even today there is a crying need for certification and standardisation, especially in the Media. It is part of the evolutionary process of a nascent and proud Democracy.

Malini was quite literally a baby of the liberalisation process. Having graduated in 1991, she started working as a cub reporter in Bangalore Eveninger; on that day there was the coup in Moscow which overthrew Mikhail Gorbochow. As events overtook her ambitious career, her ‘worldview’ evolved and shaped her thinking and vision significantly. Professional exposure and diverse experiences only cemented her firm belief that there was a wide market for well researched media content.


Its nice to meet you…

Humble Beginnings

As I set out to take the first tentative steps of establishing Weltanschauung Media Centre or “Worldview Media Centre” today, I recall fondly with gratitude and emotion filled eyes, the rock solid support I have got from my parents Smt Uma Shankar and Shri S.P. Shankar. They are the ones indeed who have seen me through times of joy and despair, all kinds of battle fronts and winsome horizons. To them I owe whatever success I have achieved after 15 years of being a freelance journalist. Mathrudevo Bhava: Pitrudevo Bhava:

At the age of 14 I wrote a novella taking off on a fantasy of living abroad for a whole year. But never did I for a moment think that my fantasy would turn true 14 years later! The one year I spent in Germany was indeed a turning point in my whole career, a threshold of a whole new world opening itself within the non linear parameters of my skull. Such wide horizons are indeed the staple diet of a career in writing, Shri M. R. Pai, well known economist had told me when I was 21.

It was the author of the Rise and fall of The Third Reich, The Nightmare Years and Berlin Diary, William Shirer who inspired me to take up journalism. At the grand age of eighteen years of age I had made up my mind to specialise in environmental journalism and to remain in India reporting as a foreign correspondent for the German Media. Nothing else could have been more audacious, more impertinent, more ambitious and more unrealistic. But I was comfortably numb in my ivory tower castle in my mind. The day and age that I am talking of did not even have concepts like facsimile transmission much less was there a means to indulge in such technological fantasies. Computers were the mainstay of companies like IBM, which did not even have a presence in India in my student days. Internet was only a creative concept with promise and potential!

Barely 5 years later, I had finished my Masters in Political Science, and Diploma in Creative Writing in English, had finished writing my first serious novel, had worked as a cub reporter in Bangalore Eveninger, got disgusted with reporting, got acquainted with the powers that be in big editorial offices and had completed my ZMP exams in German language and got the certificate from the Munich University. Later that year when I asked my father to get me a computer he was shocked till his jaws dropped: computers were for engineers, technical people he said. He got me an electronic type writer but in a matter of weeks dad did get me one and I started stumbling and fumbling with the complex inanities of the PC World … learnt the power of a click and mortar economy. By then I had managed to scrape through my teeth a smile to reflect my first national byline for an article that was printed on colour page. I was in Hyderabad writing my Masters exams. I had to call my friend in Bangalore from Hyderabad to find out if my article had been published in the colour supplement! As a freelancer, my recognition, my visibility lay only in by lines for my articles. I did not get the monetary compensation I thought I deserved… in years to come my auditor still tells me that my expenses are not matching my income levels.

First Series, Enormous Responsibility

In 1996 I undertook a series of investigative articles on anthropogenic environmental conflict in the Western Ghats, - a topic, which has since become my specialised focus. To date that series remains a record. I was the first freelance – environmental journalist, physically challenged at that - who undertook investigative articles about anthropogenic environmental conflict in the Biodiversity Hotspot. I went, without funding, without anyone accompanying me to 17 different forest divisions, spread over 21 days writing 13 exclusive articles – all never before published / investigated before, writing and publishing them in 5 different publications.

I went night patrol, I interviewed mine workers who had been laid off, I met officials who refused to grant interviews I met tribals who were fed up with the hardships they faced to live from dawn to dusk in the midst of forests. During my interactions with NGOs and activists I learnt the meaning of vested interests, the power of funding and the lengths to which the activists will exaggerate to justify funding… I learnt that it was biologically not possible for inter species copulation and that it was a blatant lie that a sloth bear had raped a young girl living inside the deep recesses of the forests. I learnt that I was the first and till then the only journalist who accompanied the ‘hunters’ on their night patrol to trap and shoot the man eating panther in the plains of Kadur in Chikmaglur district.

Frisky experiences indeed, but I learnt with great humility the power and impact of the Press. The responsibility of the Press was kind of reinstated to me. … I realized that the power and credibility of the Press lies in accurate reporting without exaggerating any aspect; to reflect the ‘field reality’ objectively was the greatest responsibility of the Fourth estate.

Four weeks later a French journalist approached me and commissioned me to be a production controller, researcher and coordinator for a TV assignment. It fell upon me to give the assignment a concept and storyboard… and to facilitate smooth functioning for the entire team. I was paid @ $ 100 per day and I learnt the intricacies of television production… well and truly before I ventured into the medium of Television.

Touring foreign Shores

6 months later I was selected from a group of 800 applications to represent Rotary District 3190 (Bangalore and surrounding districts) in the Rotary District of 6380 (Michigan and Ontario in USA and Canada respectively) as part of a 4 member Group Study Exchange Programme of the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. It was one swell trip!

The mainstay of our exchange programme was delivering slide demo lectures and learning different aspects of life in the host country.

Everything had been arranged for us including the minutest detail of visiting a food processing plant, training school for leader dogs, a veterinary hospital, school, Neuro sciences hospital … ports, super markets, casinos, banks… the group study exchange programme serves as a fantastic exposure to every aspect of their life in a foreign country.
We got a taste of their culture, their hospitality, their worldview, the way they manage incomes to food reserves, resources and civic matters, marriages and relationships, … finances to politics, public conveniences to public transport, we learnt all aspects of their way of life.
It was an amazing orientation for me. In the years to come I have integrated into western living in foreign countries like a duckling takes to water. After coming back from USA / Canada – within 7 weeks I left for a one year stay in Germany.
In 1997 I took off for a one year stay in Germany as part of the International Cultural Youth Exchange Programme of the ICYE.

Living in Germany was for me a dream come true. I had studied German for 10 years before that – I used to chide myself as being older than the furniture in the Goethe Institute in Bangalore.


I sought and gained exposure about soil conservation techniques in Germany, I worked as an intern in a restoration Project which sought to offer employment opportunities in transitionary Germany,
I worked in the environment group of the Consumer Protection Forum and in the South Asian Office of the Asian Foundation… the exposure and experience I gained in Germany gave me a head start over many aspects of life, where I could confidently beware of my own stature in comparison to people from many other walks of life.
It is another story that I had to battle at my wits’ end with the emergency services to insist and avail of their ambulatory services when I found myself shaking with stomach pain, all alone at my new home in Germany. I had to convince the duty officer that I was not an asylum seeker, that I had insurance to pay for my medical bills, and that I had a valid work permit visa and had registered myself as a resident in that small town - Marl, - where I was to live for that year. To convince such hair brained officers while facing a medical emergency in a foreign language made me realize later, that I needed dexterous knowledge of international laws, human rights, presence of mind and an intimate knowledge of the ways - rules and laws work in foreign countries. I found myself smiling with pride at my conduct only after returning to India!!! In the next few weeks I survived an attempt to burglary, I lost a pair of golden earrings, I learnt to my eternal shock that my grandmother passed away in India. That year in Germany toughened me like never before…

At the end of the one year stay, my parents came visiting and we hit the road traveling through west European countries. My parents came to Germany, stayed with me for a week in my hostess’s house and then we met up in London to start a 19 days trip through Western Europe. It took us from London through the channel train to the continent, driving through the length of France we touched Paris, Lyon, Avignon, Marseille, Nice, Monte Carlo in Monaco, then we entered Italy touching Genoa, Florence, (Firenze) Pisa, Rome, (Roma) Venice … then on towards Austria – Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Tyrol, then Switzerland, Lichtenstein – Vayuz, Lucerne, Geneva, Zurich, Lake Konstanz,and then we entered Germany - Friederichshafen, Freiburg, Black Forest, Heidelberg, Mainz, Koblenz, Bonn, Essen Düsseldorf, then we entered Holland towards Amsterdam, drove through Flemish countryside towards Brussels, reached Calais in France and back on ship to London.

It was an amazing journey through history. The trip brought alive to me the significance of all that I had studied in History in University,… the meaning and significance of concepts like freedom, egality, socialism, revolution, … I understood why nationalism is so much hated in European countries; I understood the pain and shame that ordinary Germans felt for their history… it threw a whole new light on the way I looked at my own country. I realized that Mahatma Gandhi gave independence to an ungrateful nation on a silver platter… who know not the significance of the moral victory India gained over the colonial power. Stop to think for a moment the moral authority most Indians have lost by preferring to bend the rules and instead bribe the officials. It is such an insult to the spirit of freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi gave freedom on a silver platter to us Indians. It is such a shame.

I also learnt the loopholes in European Union laws and it gave me a wholly cynical perspective of administration in Post IInd World War Europe. These are aspects that have enriched my worldview… a significant factor in coining my dream project of setting up the multi media content production company as Worldview Media Centre.

Detour into radio journalism

Back from Europe, I plunged headlong into radio journalism; I did two radio series for All India Radio; the first one “All Things Considered” was a 13 episodes series on environmental conflicts in Bangalore. The second one WTO – Pact and Impact was a very challenging 13 episodes series on the impact of World Trade Organisation on India’s society and economy. Radio as a medium teaches one a great deal. From voice modulation, to in depth research, picturising the text, to simplifying complex issues like agreement on agriculture to the lay audience, to getting experts to comment on diverse issues such as TRIPS and multilateral agreement on investment… taught me enormously how to tread as a journalist. I grew enormously too. The other one medium which has taught me enormously is photography.

Ecstatic experiences at the World Summit

Getting United Nations accreditation to report about the “World Summit on Sustainable Development” and reporting for the Deccan herald from Johannesburg was to me one of my greatest achievements, nay stepping stones to a whole new future. I discovered to my surprise that I was one of the 14 Indian freelancers who were lucky enough to get UN accreditation for a world summit. What I also discovered at the UN summit was a deeper understanding of how poverty impacts developmental horizons… let me admit honestly, that till I attended the innumerable plenaries at the summit I was a skeptic refusing to accept that poverty was the riding montage for the rabid spread of HIV, that environmental conservation was crucially interwoven with development paradigm. Water as an issue of developmental polemics reinvented itself after attending the summit.

The World Summit was also another high water mark in terms of the stupendous impact of technology. South African Broadcasting Corporation had done a marvelous job in arranging for simultaneous live broadcasts from 3 different venues of more than 12 different plenaries / events / seminars, discussions and press conferences - all fed into a stunning 16 channel display, where all participants from the Media Centre could tune into any of the UN’s official languages. The western journalists were ofcourse really slick.

I saw one Spanish freelance radio journalist holding the mouthpiece of a cell phone to record and transmit ‘live’ the bytes of his interviewee… the bytes were being transmitted live from something as simple as a cell phone directly into the radio server in Madrid. It was simply amazing in 2002. Later that day I tried valiantly but in vain to help an Iranian woman journalist. She was struggling to cope with her new Arabic version of MS Windows XP with Arabic keys on her laptop!

I also learnt to negotiate with hard nosed super cynical rip off taxi drivers in Johannesburg … and, hold on! I lived to tell the tale!

African game is a spiritual calling

The visit to the Kruger National Park was a spiritual reward… sighting 3 of the big 5 of African Game in a stunning display all within a span of 11 hours flat was much more than one can ever hope for. And to note with disappointment that tourists were blaring their vehicle horns utterly insensate to the amorous moods of two golden African lions which were copulating regardless of the presence of onlookers was shocking. The tourists’ behaviour did surprise me but the wildlife in Africa were so used to human presence that it made no difference even to their most intimate of moments … that was a shattering, yet spiritual experience.

The summit served all journalists’ purpose of effective networking. To me it opened new vistas of international radio broadcasting. I started contributing to the German Public Radio’s world service broadcasts and to an international radio content syndicate based in London. This was another whole new challenge. Having to write about mundane / complex but typically Indian topics like NGOs’ experiments, watershed management, wildlife veterinary issues, lacuna in forest administration all in a simple way for foreigners to understand a foreign language was such an enormous challenge… I enjoyed every ounce of it!

This radio experience left me understanding and appreciating the deep impact of the radio as a medium. Like I said, it taught me a lot. I realized that environment as an issue can have very effective reach and impact in an effective medium like TV, provided care is taken not to abuse the sensitivity of the media. Considering the enormity of the environmental issues I write about, I decided to branch out into TV. I was lucky enough to get admission in the New York school of the New York Film Academy. But the visa officer in the US Consulate had his own stinking views. I have just been legally educated that my passport or for that matter yours, is the property of the federal government and the blessed visa officer’s arrogant stamp acknowledging receipt of my visa application on my passport is a gross federal offence for which I can drag him to a court of Indian law on his toe nails!

3 weeks later I applied for the US visa again, and got it! Having to live in New York can be one of the greatest challenges … it defies the human soul itself… yet the magic of mad hatters paradise – Manhattan leaves you asking for more. I did find myself tumbling from one challenge to the next, actually somersaulting from one to the next is a better description. So much so that I ended up getting stress induced diabetes. I have since learnt how to cope with stress and manage that blessed disorder. Like I had promised that visa officer, I came back to India without bothering to seek employment in US of A.

The reality hit me so hard in a quaint little town in India. I approached a government of India media institution. In my enthusiasm to offer to ‘direct’ films I lost copyright of quite a few concepts and scripts.

 

Disillusioned for a few months, I kept seeking breaks with NGOs, and other institutions.
Eventually I applied for an internship in Young Asia Television in Colombo in Sri Lanka and they were kind enough to accept me immediately; they were even kind enough to find me accommodation and placed me as an intern in an interesting series highlighting the impact of the conflict on women in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka did my soul enormous good.

The humid weather reduced the strain of the atrophy in my left hand shoulder, the food grains and vegetables and my independent life style virtually cured my diabetes, and the hill country offered such a soothing balm to a soul in turmoil.

It was too good to be true and the likes of the Tamil Tigers shattered my dream. War loomed imminent and I realized that I would be an even greater liability in a place like Iraq. Assassination attempts, suicide bombers, curfew, passport checks and restrictions drove me crazy… crazy enough to decide to leave a full 6 months before my extended internship was to end.

It is with these wide ranging experiences that I wish to consolidate and found a multi media content production company… I seek to institutionalise a new vista in environmental / alternate journalism, hoping to harness young and fresh talent, utilise latest technology and to extrapolate the complex issues of the Indian theatre to inspire activism and change in a clichéd and cynical environment. I seek all your support encouragement and blessings to tread on this new path… please join me in this long road to freedom of a new kind.

Sincerely,
Malini Shankar
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