Thank you, Indrani Mukerjea. Or Bora. Or Khanna. Or Das. Please don't feel compelled to clarify. If not a nation, a newsroom undeniably tips its hat to you this week. For anyone who describes cricket, with mist in their eyes, as a game of glorious uncertainties, I invite them to step forward and cover the Indrani-Sheena story. For four days now, this compulsively meandering story has seen to it that newsrooms are helplessly pitched about like corks on a rough sea. Beguiled them into believing they're near the truth, only to backhand them across the face with some new unspeakable surprise. You know what? Indrani’s father must be Sheena's father. That is the only plausible explanation.
Surprise. That caviar of these vigourless, jaded times. Sure, a story comes by every now and then that prods newsrooms and journalists to squeak with genuine wonder. Most times though, it's the cozy armchair of salaciousness that widens the eyes. Voyeurism, nobody needs to tell you, is passé. If you aren't waking up wanting to pry open the dirt of another's life, go back to sleep. The Indrani-Sheena story, for 96 hours now, has proudly surfed the tides of both surprise and raw suggestiveness. Arre, who knows how many husbands Indrani Mukerjea has?
You don't need me to tell you that newsrooms usually have their loins girded for the worst. There's little you can throw at a newsroom that it hasn't already heard or dealt with. The Indrani-Sheena story is managing not just to do that, but something else that's tending to happen more and more these days: it's shining a blinding light right back.
The beauty of the story though, and let this be an admission, is that it isn't leaving time for anything other than the relentless chase. The howling background score cheering us on down the path of pursuit, peppered with sumptuous nuggets about a murdered girl and her impenetrable family. This family tree is a forest. And it is. Over 96 hours, as our reporters harvested more details about the extended family of Indrani, an inverted hydra-headed image had to be altered, edited, corrected. With Indrani as the nucleus radiating her crime outward, it mustn't matter that fathers and sisters, mothers and husbands were being thrust into little flow-charts.
Statistically, there's a good chance someone Indrani Mukerjea dated, slept with or married is in this newsroom. As Indrani Mukerjea was taken out of the Khar Police station after a six-hour interrogation, newsrooms crackled with quips as men and women partook of a gloriously unifying sexism.
As we slam-dunked the story with each passing minute, the gaps could only be filled by nervous prejudice. I bet that Pakistani terrorist the Army captured turns out to be a hidden husband of Indrani's.
That the telling of a story can be unkind must be a manifestation of the reality. The news, right? In the bare minutes one has had to contemplate the effect the Indrani-Sheena story has had on newsrooms, I cannot but submit the overwhelming emotion is one of unfeeling.
So morbid, so stony-hearted is this story you see, how dare it expect respectfulness or empathy from us? So rich, so well-connected is this brigade of crooks, we have no choice but to sandpaper out the inconveniences, while magnifying those that amplify what's truly dark. This story is telling itself. All the Mukerjeas, Khannas etc will be jointly interrogated in the same room. Hope the cops don't leave them alone, they might pop out another kid. Secret families, siphoned crores, masked identities, rumours of pregnancies. Two telegenic protagonists: one in jail, and the other divided bone-wise between Mumbai's JJ Hospital and some forest three hours outside the city. A debris trail of divorces and custody battles, forged documents and paternity wars. And that butterchicken of journalistic pursuit: teenage abortions.
And then there were the questions. Is it true that Indrani was raped by her father, a young TV producer asks me earnestly. Ah, that lovely word: ‘True’. But my fleeting side-step into a state of meditation on the meaning of truth is summarily interrupted by the newest in a chorus line of "insiders". Some guy who knows Indrani better than all the other insiders standing in front of him in the endless queue.
But this guy has some real dope! "Indrani tells us she was molested by her step-father". Thanks for allowing us to fire off your shoulders!
But is a mother truly capable of such butchery, screamed one channel. You could hear nothing else. Not that you wanted to.
But let me say right here. And straight. Like thousands of others in newsrooms across India, I've been a willing part of all of this. And I still am. I've laughed along. Even said some of the things in this column. I've helped in the amplification of the absurdities in the Indrani-Sheena story by passing along the most astonishing nuggets and hearsay to friends and colleagues. If the telling of the story is shorn of prejudice and infused only with facts, why must anyone worry about the newsroom? The truth is, no newsroom has had a moment to breathe, far less consider and contemplate.
It is perhaps instructive that the only thing we know with any real certainty about the last 72 hours is that Indrani was allowed to eat a sandwich while in police custody. Frustratingly, we are yet to confirm what kind. So far at least.