We are living in an age where our access to gaining knowledge is nearly as immense as the flight of our dreams and ambitions. In such times- constantly undergoing sifting changes- as seen from the prism of technology, one cannot simply afford to undermine the importance of information itself. At the same time, one is got to regard and importantly value information consumed using one’s own intellect and the filters, that come with an invisible tag bearing the word ‘bias’. Anyone is judged an intellectual and just about anyone can be un-remarkably downed. The public awareness to the potency behind an idea that can be held intellectual or deep as they say, is often either misconstrued or marked by a hollowness that presents itself in the way we analyze and present judgement’ in our lives.
In today’s day and age, regardless of your endeavor behind collecting and using information, one cannot downsize the role information providers play, even if we notice several “citizen activist” or” journalists” arising from the folds of technology driven initiatives, that have less to do with the sanctity and personality of ‘Journalism’.
The purists or classicists therefore, have got to play a bigger hand in this era to serve information and its dissemination whilst serving journalism from a fair and an unbiased lens. Under such circumstances, the role of a Journalist, a figure that is often chastised, labeled ‘unfair’ and yet mimicked when it comes to gaining insights toward the art of writing becomes more important than it has ever been.
What’s Up Life, in its verve of finding interesting individuals driven by a purpose, daring and some guile met with Moinuddin Ahmed, a Delhi based journalist. We explored the mind of this curious thinker and a passionate youngster who helped us succeed in our quest of finding interesting and divergent answers to an eclectic range of fields.
We bring you insights from Moinuddin’s mind, one that seems constantly engulfed in deciphering the vagaries of life and in attempting to understand life from a curious perspective.
He isn’t just another journalist that you meet these days. A man humble and modest to the chore despite being a really well read individual, in an age that promotes digitization and commercialization of literature and thus, books. He lives, breathes and strives for journalistic excellence in an age that promotes instant gratification over the need for intellectual component, a reality that is sadly depriving us of its eminence in our lives.
Extracts from the Q&A:
Q.Tell us a bit about Moin the person and Moinuddin Ahmed the experienced journalist who’s spent a decade in Mainstream Indian Journalism?
Moin stays Moin; at home, in office, on playground as well as in conference hall. If somebody tries to make a graph of the way I live my life, I am sure it will turn out to be a straight line. I do not think that I can be more serious when I work, than I am, when I spend time with my family. Similarly, you wont find me any less funny at office than times when I stay with my friends. Working as a journalist for almost ten years has actually diminished the line of distinction, if there was any, between private and the professional life.
Q. Can you tell us about your academic background and also what all you did to get toward Journalism?
This question reminds me of school when I would shy away from telling my percentage to anyone, except for my friends, with whom I would make fun of myself. I was not a promising student at school. I studied Journalism at Delhi University. Later, I moved to Jamia Millia Islamia for doing my Masters in Comparative Religions, while still being at DU studying Conflict resolution and Peace Building, part time. After finishing my masters, I applied for Mphil in West Asian Studies and by the time I finished my course, I felt further need to engage myself with academics and hence the Ph.D., which I submitted recently.
Q.Why Journalism of all careers? It’s exciting and I understand it gets you to be part of live action all the time on all intellectual fronts. But, at the same time it’s taxing and doesn’t pay well as other professions. What keeps you going?
It was not planned. I did not prepare myself for it. I think my interest in current affairs dragged me to what I do now. I am poor at clearing competitive exams. I couldn’t even clear the test for driving license that has multiple-choice questions. I remember in the Journalism entrance test, one of the questions was about David Beckham moving from Manchester United to Real Madrid. I wrote that answer, with some others that I don’t remember and submitted my sheets. I think the examiner was a football fan. The rest is history. I thoroughly enjoy my work as a journalist, I have reported event, I have edited news, conceptualized page layouts, made pages, done cutting/pasting, helped the printers and done everything one can associate with a newspaper office. As far as money is concerned, my story is not that of a jilted lover. I realized very early in my career that you don’t always get desired returns for your passion and commitment. I only have to say that I love this profession.
Q.Which are the Print dailies and other newspapers you have been associated with and could you talk us through which have been the most promising stints in your career and what is the DNA of each paper in your mind – say a TOI, HT, The Indian Express and the Statesman?
I began with working for Delhi Mid Day, a tabloid, as a sports reporter. But soon, I was pushed to crime reporting there. In 2005, I started working for a production house, as an assistant director. There I also learned television production, video camera and editing. Since 2007, I am working with The Statesman. I don’t think that I have the capacity to comment of the contents of other newspapers; they are our contemporaries. They have their own editorial policies and are unique in their own rights.
Q. India is a wonderful paradox between economic, political, socio-cultural and academic wonders. What excites you the most about covering any thing in particular?
I won’t call it a paradox. It’s a blend of various realities as any other country as big as India may be. Even smaller countries have diversity. In fact, I do not call any country big or small, except when I refer to their geographical reach. Talking about India, I would say, India is a remarkable place if it is approached anthropologically, which I try to do. Diversity excites me the most about this country of 1.2 billion people. You have so many cultures, customs and practices to write about.
Q. Speaking of Media, over the past 5 or maybe 7 years, Print has had it really tough as compared to Digital media. How according to you, has this sifting change of our times impacted mainstream journalism especially in India?
Print is doing pretty fine in India. There is no doubt that the digital media is expanding exponentially. Some really good news sources have come up over the years. Even newspapers and news channels have their online editions. Nobody can imagine the future without having online presence. However, there is a catch. The good thing is that everyone can write and publish; the bad thing is that anyone can write and publish. Digital media, while providing a platform indiscriminately, is becoming a breeding ground for rumormongers, grapevine distributors and gossip hoodlums. People are publishing anything without fact checks and journalistic ethics. With this I do not wish to denounce the utility of the medium. I just want to say that people still revert to print, seeking trustworthy content.
Q. I believe you are a very wide traveler right? Tell us about your different experiences of pursuing academics and doing professional stints in Europe and elsewhere please.
Yes, I have traveled some countries in Europe since 2009 for academic purpose. My main area of study in Europe has been interfaith dialogue and engagement of the European countries with the minorities, particularly Muslims. My stays in Europe have been fairly short, therefore, I would not say that I have lived there. Nevertheless, I have learnt a lot from the academics and journalists working in Germany, France, Austria, Hungary, Spain and Turkey. I have some very good friends there, who remain in constant touch.
Q.I believe you are an Expert on the Middle East region. Could you talk us through a bit about your journey of studying easily the world’s most volatile region? Also, to put it apolitically correct, since What’s Up Life isn’t here to stir up intellectual fights among Jews and the Arab Nations, I really got to ask you- who do you think is actually responsible for the nastiness happening in the Israel- Palestine conflict?
I am not an expert. I am only a student of West Asia or Middle East whatever you call it. I owe a lot to the senior academics for whatever I have written and published concerning the region. I have a persistent engagement with the subject. I wrote my M.Phil. Thesis of Haredim (ultraorthodox Jews) and their politics in Israel, and then I chose Muslims in Israel as the subject of my Ph.D. It has been a very enriching experience. Some myths have been shattered while some loyalties have been shifted. As far as Israel-Palestine is concerned, in my humble opinion ~ occupation, injustice, and dishonest leadership are responsible for the current situation. Palestinians have been frustrated for years; the international community, including the Arab States, has betrayed them. There are various other factors as well, volumes of literature about that is available.
Q Do you think there would be other sides to the story which readers and say commoners like me aren’t a witness to? Talk us through the intensely fought Geo-political divide that has marred two beautiful nation states and done no good to the magnificent region we all read mostly ill about; The Middle East.
Sadly, there are no two nations. The Palestinians are still seeking a state in a land that was occupied by the European Jews. For me there is only one side of the story, that is, the absence of a state where Jews, Christians, Muslims and others can coexist with peace and prosperity. There is no second opinion about it.
Q.Who are the authors, journo’, writers and activists you look up to and who in your view is a thought leader in his right?
I really look up to Faisal Devji, Mark LeVine, Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy. Of course when it comes to my area of research I can’t ignore Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Illan Pappe, Normal Finkelstine and Talal Asad to name a few. Then there is the trinity from Columbia University ~ Rashid Khalidi, Hamid Dabashi and Akeel Bilgirami. They are authors, journos and activists, all in one.
Q.This is going be slightly nervy. Have you ever felt discriminated whilst being this ever dedicated professional and committed person you are -being a Non-Hindu in India and elsewhere in your professional career?
This is a good question. Honestly, I have never ever felt discrimination at work, among friends or even in the queue at the railways reservation counters. My closest friend is a Hindu, who, by the way, calls me his alter ego. There are many Hindu families, who treat me as their son. My parents never told who should be made a friend. They have welcomed my friends at home. I studied in a Catholic School, where I made Christian and Dalit friends. With this, I don’t want to sound like Shah Rukh Khan, however, this is a reality for many of the Muslims born and brought up in most parts of India, particularly in metropolitan cities. At the same time there is a word of caution: All are not as lucky as some of us. There is discrimination at various levels of the society on the basis of religion and caste. India is yet to see the end of it.
Q.What do you read, watch when you aren’t at work? Who are your friends and do you often take the pilgrimage to multiplexes, bookshops, et cetera.
When I am not at work, I usually take out time to sit alone and think about what is happening around. Apart from authors whom I have mentioned above I read philosophy. People, who know me, often find me with a play of GB Shaw in my hands. Cricket of any era makes me stop my work and check the scores. I follow Football, Hockey, and Tennis. I still begin the newspaper reading the sports page first. I am not a big fan of modern Indian cinema, my friends buy ticket for me and I just accompany them.
Moinuddin Ahmed with John L Esposito, renowned American expert on International Affairs and Islamic Studies, Georgetown University, D.C.