By Sanjay Pinto


Few from my generation would have grown up without watching a bearded gentleman on ‘The World This Week’. It was a part of any English teacher’s prescription for those who wanted to hone their communication skills and general knowledge. In Don Bosco, Egmore, the Library period involved a trip to the Audio Visual Hall where a recording of The World This Week would be screened. After graduating from Loyola college, I vividly recall a close friend and my school and college senior – Nirmal Sanjeevi telling me to “write to Prannoy Roy and join his team.” I must confess that it felt quite daunting. Dr.Roy had just started The News Tonight on Doordarshan. It was only after passing out of Law School that I shot off a letter to NDTV in classic prose. In hindsight, it came across as puerile.

“ Nurtured on your inimitable news culture that projects the truth test  ‘seeing is believing’, I spread my ware before you in the enclosed CV so you can see and believe that I possess the right mettle for a slot in your band of livewire journalists. If my credentials catch your fancy, do give me a shout.”

Alright, not just puerile but also audacious!

Jennifer Arul, a family friend for decades and the mother of my classmate David, called to ask me to drop in at her Pantheon Road bungalow with a revised and simple application. That was perhaps the first learning curve in television – simple and short sentences. Farah Sayeed, the Chennai Correspondent, had put in her papers as she was going to the US to join her husband. I was shortlisted to fill that vacancy.  Jennifer was keen to have someone with a legal background, what with the slew of court battles that had to be covered. And of course, the known devil factor!

It was around 10 am on the  27th of December, 1997 at the Taj Connemara. My interview was with the then General Manager and one of the co-founders of NDTV – K.V.L. Narayan Rao, son of Gen.K.V.Krishna Rao, former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir. I reached the hotel well on time. I wasn’t wearing a tie or a suit or even clad in what you’d call formal attire. It was a maroon full sleeved shirt and a khakhi trouser with a slightly fancy belt! Much later, I came to know about red being NDTV’s almost official colour.

I called from the lobby. “Good Morning, Mr.Rao. I’m Sanjay Pinto. I’d like to meet you.”

“Hi, Sanjay. Please give me 5 minutes.”

I waited for a while and soon the front office informed me that I could go up to Mr.Rao’s suite.  I had seen him earlier so unlike many others, I was not intimidated by his height and build. Mr.Rao ‘cut to the chase’ (one of his favourite expressions) with a simple poser: “Sanjay, why television? You’ve studied law, you’ve written the Civil Services Exam, is this your last resort?” With my years of debating, I was taken aback but regained my composure quickly.

“This is not my last resort. This is my best bet.”

It seemed to have passed muster with Mr.Rao. The interview went on for about 10 minutes.

 “Sanjay, we will let you know in a few days. Thank you for coming.”

As I left the suite, several thoughts came flashing across my mind. Did I dress appropriately? Did I come across as over confident? Did I answer to the point? Did he size me up well? Did I play my natural game?

The New Year came. January passed. Mid February went by. Not a squeak from NDTV. Those days we had no mobile phones. I remember sitting next to the telephone all day, intermittently checking if it was working!  On the 16th of February, 1998, my phone went dead. The telephone exchange came up with a  stock reply: “Cable fault, Sir.” Murphy’s Law in operation. The next day, it sprang back to life with a call. Jennifer Arul was on the line.

“Sanjay, was your phone out of order? The Head Office was trying to reach you. Mr.Rao wants to have a word with you. Can you please call him at 11 am?”

“Yes, Aunty. It was down yesterday. I didn’t know it was back untill you called. I will call Mr.Rao at 11. Thank you, Aunty.”

“Sanjay, no more Aunty. Just call me ‘Jennifer’ or ‘Jen’, ok?”

“Sure, Jen.”

Was that a clue that I was selected? The next couple of hours seemed like decades.

At 11, with bated breath, I called Mr.Rao’s office. His secretary K.Basker answered and put him on the line.

“Sanjay, are you still very keen about that job?”

I took a deep breath.

“Not very keen, Mr.Rao. I’m hell bent!”

“In that case, you can have it! Welcome to NDTV.”

I was asked to join by the 20th of February. It was right after the serial bomb blasts that rocked Coimbatore. In a few months the election season was upon us. And there was no looking back. I had my baptism by fire. As everyone was so caught up with poll fever, the mandatory last round with the Roys was dispensed with in my case. I was determined to have my darshan!

I sought an appointment with Prannoy & Radhika Roy through their trusted lieutenant Hannah Isaac. When I got a confirmation, I applied for leave and travelled to Delhi. I was too much of a rookie at the time to fly  so I took the Tamil Nadu Express. It was an arduous 36 hour journey. Fortunately, I had company. My close friend Albert Rao who was still preparing for the Civil Services Examination, accompanied me. We stayed at the YMCA Guest House.

When I entered the NDTV Headquarters in Archana Complex, I felt like the character Apple Singh at Lord’s! From a small bureau in Cison’s Complex in Egmore, Chennai to a sprawling set up in Greater Kailash in Delhi, it was quite a change. It was about 9 am. Rajdeep Sardesai was among the few people in the newsroom. The Political Editor of Star News, Rajdeep led by example, chairing morning meetings, not over the telephone. He saw me and shouted; “Hi Sanjay! Welcome.” Rajdeep assigned a producer Arjun Hardas to give me a guided tour of the office. I met many of my colleagues with whom I had only interacted on the phone or email.

It was about 11 am. The Roys had their office at the end of the newsroom. The door was ajar. Arjun walked right in with me in tow. Prannoy Roy was standing inside looking at a big plasma screen. Arjun whispered something to him. Prannoy turned to me and with his trademark smile told me something that I still cannot get over. “Oh Sanjay. Hello. I see you all the time on TV!” For the first time in my life I was speechless. Here was a man I had grown up watching and admiring on TV and this is how he greets a cub reporter of his channel? The warmth he exuded is worth a separate chapter. I had a more formal sit down meeting with Dr.Roy and Mrs.Roy in a few minutes. “We value your energy”, was what Mrs. Roy said, patting me on my back, as I left their office.

I also remember disagreeing with him on a group email over what was viewed as a commercial plug for a windshield manufacturer. I stuck to my guns. After a lot of back and forth, Dr.Roy replied All : “Ok. If you’re convinced, I am. Full faith.” How often can one argue with the owner of the channel and have him publicly accept your point of view?  That’s how genuine the Roys truly are.

Fourteen years later. 2012.

I had decided to move on and plunge into law practice.

This is what Prannoy texted me on the 13th September, 2012 at 5.20 pm minutes before I was to cut a farewell cake in the bureau.

“Dear Sanjay, I am so sad to get your message. Especially sad for Radhika and me. We shall treat this as our child discovering himself and going off on a break – to return soon one day. Follow your dreams. It’s the only way to live. God bless you Sanjay. Lots of love from Radhika and me to your wonderful wife and babies.”

The Roys were never bosses. Only role models. What amazing grace.

(Excerpt from ‘My NDTV Days’ by Sanjay Pinto published by Pan Macmillan) Copyright © Sanjay Pinto 2018

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author of 4 Books and Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7. His 4th book ‘High & Law’ published by Thomson Reuters is also available on amazon)



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