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   For more years I can remember, my job... (July 24, 1991)

For more years I can remember, my job on budget days was to collect the reactions of the common man. Not for me the main job of actually covering the budget; going to parliament, making notes of the finance minister's speech, collecting the budget papers (book, I should say, volumes and volumes of them, each with their own appendix, growing in volume and weight each year), then making sense out of them and writing a report. That job was beyond me. That was the job of the commercial reporter.

I have always admired the commercial reporter. His is a highly specialised job, the subject spedific, the language technical, and his knowledge of financial matter is immense. You can see this knowledge at press conferences. Say, a World Bank director comes along, youg commercial repoters is armed with facts and figures and he probes him deeply, as agains the general reporter, whose only question is: "So, how do you like India?"

General reporting is the easiest thing in the world, you report what somebody else says. Sports reporting is a little more difficult, but not too much. You report what you see, not what you hear.

But to come back to the budget… I was invatiably put in a panel of three or four reporters whose job it was to find out how the common man felt about the budget. A list was made of the things that the common man used, whose prices would go up because of the budget. This was not difficult, since the prices of the same list of things went up every year.

Then we divided the items among us: cigarette prices (they always went up), cooking oil, soap and other toiletry articles, aluminium goods, meaning pots and pans, tea, petrol, textiles and synthentic materials, meaning the clothes the common man wore.

Then we would sail out to get the reactions, or that is what we were supposed to do. The maximum we would do is ring up the ITC to find out how much they were going to raise the prices of their more ppopular brands of cigarettes. Invariably the reply would be that they were still studying what impact the fresh tax on tobacco would have on their cigarettes and till this was done they could give no indication.

The rest of the story would be made up in the office. A housewife in Sion mourned that she would not able to feed her family after the way the cooking oil prices had shot up; a bachelor at Prabhadevi said he was giving up smoking, not because of fear of cancer, but because he could not afford it any more; an officer resideing at Mahim and working in the Fort said that he would not be taking his car to office any more, because of petrol prices, and travel by train; no more cotton for us, said a South Indian in Matunga.

There would be more reactions from common men (and women) staying at Wadala, Dadar, Parel, King's Circle, Elphinstone Road, Kala Chowki, etc.

By now you may have noticed that most of the common man (women) interviewed have been staying on the outer fringes of the city. There was a reason for that. The following day taxi vouchers would be made to recover the money spent on going to these places to interview these people. Then, you may ask, why were addresses not given of the people staying beyond the city limits. Because, according to office rules, up to Mahim and Sion, you were entitled to taxi fare, beyond that you travelled by train. And train fare was not worth the voucher it was written on.

And the moral of the story is: No matter whether the budget was good or bad, we made money.

 
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