Tongue Firmly in Cheek

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JS & the Times of My Life: A Worm's-Eye View of Indian Journalism by Jug Suraiya, book reviewThe title stops you with its combination of two logos. You look at it and, if you’re a person in the know about Jagdish Suraiya’s life you wince at the puniness of it all. Perhaps if the logos had not been force-fed, it could have been accepted as a subtle tribute. But those are among the rare things to cavil about in this book.

Jug Suraiya is one of India’s best known journalists, with a name insightful tongue in cheek pieces. And, for taking digs at himself. The opening chapter sets the tone – the journalist who rarely watched television missed the news about Diana’s death and so ran an opinion piece a day late. But then, he goes on to say, he became a journalist quite by accident, preferring to try odd business ventures like marketing paint spraying devices or selling tendu leaves.

As you turn the pages you come across stories like being shot at by Bengalis madly devoted to rabindrasangeet, or a futile attempt to get Mother Teresa’s weight for a Time Magazine writer. Jug’s career began in Calcutta, where he joined that pathbreaking publication, the Junior Statesman or JS. He cockily said the initials could stand for Jug Suraiya. Brought out in the 60’s, the JS was a magazine so unique that it galvanized a generation of youngsters with its unconventional take on life, politics and coolness.

Run by the legendary Desmond Doig, the publication set a standard which has yet to be matched. Special ads were created for the Junior Statesman, even a special language since innovativeness of all kinds was encouraged. Unfortunately the magazine was discontinued after a decade and life was never to be the same for anyone who had worked there.

As Jug’s career moves on, the stories suddenly start to become more serious. The middle of the book in fact deals with issues like poaching at Kaziranga, a delving into communal riots and the Hindu Muslim riots to name a few. And this seriousness coming side by side with tongue in cheek stories creates a jarring note, especially when you take it in the context of the title. Agreed that when he worked for The Times of India he moved from third edits and whimsy to serious journalism and that there was likely to be change, but you don’t expect it until it hits you.

Jug has important advice to give those who want to be journalist, snippets like the importance of writing for money and the use of ‘Hindlish’ which now as Hinglish is rampant in the Indian media and which he felt led to the decline of the language of journalism. In this context he also criticizes Shobhaa De’s contribution and parodied her style, which later led to problems when he wanted an interview with her.

Jug’s career brought him into contact with a number of important people and as he talks about his life, he talks about his encounters with these people. There is, for example, a hilarious episode in which his wife gets locked into starlet Pooja Bedi’s bathroom and whiles away her time testing out Bedi’s expensive imported perfumes before she is finally released.

There are several reasons why the book is important but the main reason you should read it is because of Jug’s witty irreverent style and the stories he has to tell. In his case the ‘worm’ certainly turned.

JS and the Times of my Life, A worm’s eye view of Indian journalism
by Jug Suraiya
Published by Tranquebar in India, June 2011


Buy book online
Buy book online Buy book online
JS and the Times of my Life, A worm’s eye view of Indian journalism
by Jug Suraiya

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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