Yesterday, as half of India was about to sit down to dinner (the other half has only one meal a day and goes to bed hungry), my friend, M.J. Akbar, became Indian television’s first anchorman.
So we pushed our dinner back and with the rest of India (though half of India has TV sets to view national propaganda) and sat down to watch Akbar’s debut.
I have watched many debuts of Akbar. When he entered The Times assigned to the Illustrated Weekly and became Khushwant Singh’s second favourite. The first was always Bachi Karkaria.
Even then Akbar was a young and ambitious man. In the beginning he used to write in character, his first cover for The Illustrated was on some leftist party, either the CPI or the CPM. But he had too much energy to remain the The Illustrated, where energy is either suffocated or expended in hunger strikes at Flora Fountain.
So Akbar moved on to the Free Press to a project with Nari Hira that Mrs. Gandhi’s Emegency interrupted and killed and finally to the Sarkars of Anand Bazar very definitely the best newspaper employers in the country at least to their top journalists.
Sunday was a success, as The Week is now, and Akbar came to be known as “boy editor” and “boy wonder” titles that I thought were slightly embarrassing. When he visited Bombay, which he did frequently, not only was a room booked for him at the Taj but it was ensured that it had a Tv set for Akbar to watch Chhaya Geet.
And now, last night we watched him finally on TV. Akbar in suit and a green tie, akbar in T-shirt in the studio, on the field, as with all the classic news-magazine programmers, the anchorman was emerging as more important than the news itself.
And we sat there and made our judgements. He had a TV presence, no doubt, he continued to look young, the grey fringes on the sides could almost be TV make up, the items chosen were rather identical too many human interest stories though that could be because television is still very much a government owned media, the debate on the Muslim personal law in Isalam, it is difficult to make out) was dramatic, but too long for a subject of limited interest, the war in Sri Lanka was more than Tamil fishermen repairing their fishing nets, Vimal as sponsors were out, Garden was here.
And M.J. Akbar was here. In the weeks to come, he is going to be Doordarshan’s biggest star, bigger than Ms. Priya Tendulkar. And he is still a young man with ambition.