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     Volume 4 Issue 1 | June 25, 2004 | 8th Anniversary Issue


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A Partial View of Interview


Personally I have a weakness for taking interviews. It gives you an opportunity to meet the kind of people, read stars, you could never meet without the excuse of taking interviews. You can talk to them face to face, and even ask bizarre and offensive questions. Moreover, you can brag to your friends, making up stories such as how you mercilessly attacked the Home Minister with a barrage of questions, or how your cleverly contrived supplementary questions made a particular snob filmstar look like a fool, and how one of your unfailing questions left a particular famous novelist racking his brains for an answer, which he certainly never found out.

It isn't all fun though. Usually people are quite co-operative when requested for an interview. Sometimes some people are so helpful that you begin to feel helpless. I recall interviewing a professor of psychology for a story on the ever-growing terrorism in society. We had a session of two and a half hours on one morning. The interview went well and I returned home happy and satisfied. Towards the evening on the same day he called me on the phone, asked me to add another 'extremely important point' and correct a particular incorrect piece of information. I felt surprised and even grateful. When I received his second call the next night I was almost done, but he kept on insisting that I cut off a particular line, which, he feared, might annoy 'certain quarters'. His third call came the following morning – he phoned again and asked if it was too late to insert 'a very crucial point' in the second paragraph. I never found out when he made the fourth call as I took shelter at a friend's place on an emergency basis.

Not everybody is that friendly. In fact, some people, who have a track record of giving two interviews every week, don't have a very high opinion about journalists. When asked for an interview they will just reject you point blank, but, on a second thought, reverse the decision with great reluctance. They hate to be seen as discourteous. But, when they do agree, it is on one condition: 'You must allow me to edit it before it goes for printing'. A very objectionable condition, but you just cannot help it. Then there are those who, after giving an interview, look forward to seeing it in print anxiously. They sit with a magnifying glass to find out every itsy bitsy mistake. If there isn't any mistake, a rare thing in newspapers or magazines, they feel very upset and jump up in joy even if they can spot a couple of typos. Then they call the editor and humbly ask him why he doesn't fire illiterate people who don't know the difference between a colon and a semicolon, let alone that between a dash and a hyphen.

I, however, strongly believe that interviewing really old people is the most challenging, if not dangerous. People in their advanced ages already have a great fondness for talking, so when you ask for their interview, it is like opening a floodgate. I can remember the hardship I went through when I interviewed a poet, in his early sixties. He seemed to be possessed by an inescapable impulse to incessantly talk. Though I sorted it out regarding how I wanted to go about the interview, in reality I just couldn't contain him within that scheme. When I asked him about the source of his inspiration regarding a particular poem he started on the right track, but soon slipped into a completely different path -- "I don't know how you people could tolerate such crap X (read any renowned poets) has been producing in the name of poetry" or "how could you expect great works in a country where the real geniuses remain neglected?" You certainly know who the neglected genius is. When he paused after 20 or 30 minutes neither of us could recall what the original question was and how on earth we had managed to come to an issue not even distantly related to our real concern.

Things got worse when I was assigned to interview an octogenarian singer. By then he had long stopped singing and the sound he most frequently produced those days resembled more like a coughing fit than music. But he seemed to be absolutely oblivious to the fact and kept on indulging into singing a few lines here and a few lines there every now and then. His aging memory had also started to fail him and he had to struggle to remember names or dates necessary for a certain question/s. Fortunately, his wife arrived on the scene and played the perfect interpreter. After a certain point I noticed that his wife was answering all the questions and the only task he was doing was endorsing each of her answers nodding his head. I, of course, didn't tell my boss who I had really interviewed.


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