Open letter to Barkha dutt
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Dear Barkha,

It is 9 pm. The date is 05/04. I am in a small village, almost totally isolated from the city, and trying my best to ensure that my family and I are safe. As I type this my neighbours are lighting candles. Strains of a song that goes ‘Go Corona, Go Corona’ fills the air. The song is catchy except when my neighbours try to sing it in chorus. Barkha, I am quite safe here and I appreciate the symbolism of our Prime Minister’s call to switch off the electricity and light lamps tonight. I have not switched off lights at home. My laptop is plugged in and I’m writing this small and silly letter to you. This letter to you, Barkha, is my lamp. 

You are a woman in a hurry. So I will try not take too much of your time. I also have a deadline. Nine minutes to finish this letter. Nine minutes before I uncork a pint of Corona.

In these past few weeks of social distancing I have spent a lot of time on social media. Even a few months before this pandemic hit us, I have been active on social media doing something that I was advised against doing for the past few years. I commented on the state of our country, its politics, its politicians, its media, and its people, amongst so many other things. As I continue to condemn, criticize, praise, laud, retweet, like, and share, one person has stood out for doing a job that had long been forgotten – reporting. In a time where the fourth estate is subject to more, if not as much mistrust as our politicians, I feel both guilt and comfort to see you do such a stellar and fearless job of reporting on the pandemic straight from where it is unfolding. Whether it is drawing our attention to our grossly under-equipped health workers or the totally neglected migrants or the criminally ridiculous tableeghis or even questioning those in power, it is because of your reporting that citizens like me feel both a sense of comfort and guilt.

But I feel terribly guilty about my comfort. I see you out on the streets while I am comfortably ensconced in my village cooking for the family and feeling quite protected from infection.

I feel comforted because I know that there is somebody braving the heat (literally and figuratively) to ask uncomfortable questions. I feel comforted because in this time of extraordinary darkness you shine as a beacon of hope. This is a time of despair. Reporters/journalists have become ‘anchors’ and reporting is based on their obvious servitude to their political masters. Lies are peddled in the name of news. Sycophancy is valued over integrity. In such an environment I see you go about fearlessly asking uncomfortable questions, away from the comfort of a studio, covered like a character from a cheap science fiction movie. Your fearlessness in this environment is comforting. Barkha, your uncomfortable questions are comforting. 

But I feel terribly guilty about my comfort. I see you out on the streets while I am comfortably ensconced in my village cooking for the family and feeling quite protected from infection. I feel guilt that while I direct my sarcasm at the quackery promoted by the government and its sycophants in the name of corona remedies, here is somebody who is asking tough questions and drawing our attention to the real challenges ahead of our highly fragile public healthcare system. 

I feel guilty about commenting on the charity of my colleagues or the open bigotry displayed by some of them and questioning them from the comfort of home and family. Every time I see you out on the streets I know you risk infection and I know how that feels. But that does not deter you. Your reporting is perhaps the only shred of conscience that binds a tragically divided nation and its search for a semblance of truth. 

Barkha, thank you for being you. To my mind you are not an activist. Nor are you a crusader. And I am thankful for that. Your reporting is unbiased and free of any political leanings.
As somebody whose leanings are very clear I respect and appreciate your journalism. It informs me and helps me form my opinions. It does not shove an opinion or ideology down my throat. Your work represents a free press that is fast heading towards extinction in this very delicate phase that our alleged democracy is going through.

Barkha, I end this gushing note with an ardent prayer that your lamp continues to shine bright. My prayer is for a new dawn. A new dawn that places truth and reason above sycophancy and lies. A dawn without the virus of hatred, a dawn with freedom, a dawn filled with empathy, a dawn enveloped in love, a dawn without poverty and a dawn without bigotry. 

I hear firecrackers in the background. There are sounds of celebration. It is now 9.10pm. My neighbours are rejoicing. I wonder why. Actually, I don’t. I have just opened my last pint of Corona. I’ve just logged onto Twitter where in the clutter of darkness and hate lies the truth – the truth that you seek. 

With regards,

Hansal.

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