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Student voices: The exhilaration of breaking news

This is part of a recurring series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant during the winter session.

Click here to read more reports from students.

Shaiba Rather, Harvard College ‘17
Internship with NDTV in India

This winter break, I was as up to date on the news as I ever have been and probably ever will be. As a research intern for New Delhi Television (NDTV), I read every Indian national paper, Kashmiri local papers, and even top US headlines. NDTV demanded that I constantly be informed of India’s happenings; it was challenging but surely rewarding. NDTV put me in an environment where my team members urged be to desire to know more.

The command center from which the editing staff would piece together the final show layout

The command center from which the editing staff would piece together the final show layout

I spent my month working behind Barkha Dutt, not only one of NDTV’s lead anchors but also one of the program’s editors. Ms. Dutt is best known for her coverage of the Kargil War and her frequent shows on Kashmir. Ms. Dutt has not only received numerous accolades as the Best Talk Show host but also earned a civilian honor from the government of India. To even start to work on her show, “The Buck Stops Here,” was intimidating to say the least.

To my relief, Ms. Dutt greeted me with a smile and a hug, transforming a TV legend into a friend. We shared our achievements and ambitions and then it was off to work. My primary role was as a research assistant. My job was to always make sure Ms. Dutt could do her job. After reading any and every newspaper I could get my hands on for the day, I would prep Ms. Dutt with the days happenings. We would quickly determine what the show’s focus for the evening would be, and then everything was a blur from there. People would carry two phones at a time and call whomever they could, trying to find the perfect panelists. We’d brainstorm clever show titles and impactful sub-titles. It was a crazed last second dash but by 9pm every Tuesday and Thursday, we’d have a show.

During my time at NDTV, Indian geopolitics were as lively as they had ever been. I covered Arvind Kejriwal’s fight against BJP in conversations on corruption. I followed the Pathankot terrorists attack that compromised the state of Indo-Pak relations. And of course, I lived and breathed Delhi’s alarming pollution levels only to witness the city’s historic Odd-Even vehicular regulation.

The most exciting part of my internship was easily the moments when we were forced to handle breaking news. In an instant, all of our former plans for the evening would be erased to deal with the newest Indian drama. The most salient example of this came when Prime Minister Modi-Ji made a surprise visit to Pakistan on Christmas day. After a few phone calls here and there confirming the news, frustration was clear. Things were not going as planned; suddenly, we were subject to the politics of surprise.

Prime Minister Modi-ji had decided on a “whim” to visit Pakistan on his way back from Afghanistan, a trip that would be the first trip by an Indian PM to Pakistani soil since the days of Vajpay-ji. History was being made, and to our bad luck, it was happening on Christmas. We slaved away, jokingly thanked Modi-ji for his Christmas present, and laughed together. It wasn’t the most ideal of timings but it felt spontaneous and exhilarating. When the show went live, I had never felt more proud. I thought on my feet and with the mentorship of my team members, I watched Ms. Dutt host a show that I, along with the rest of India, was enthralled by.

I had never felt as close to a city as I had while working with NDTV. I wasn’t just reading the headlines; I was experiencing the problems and fortunes of the people of Delhi in real time. In that way, I am extremely thankful to the South Asia Institute for providing me with the resources for such a formative and enriching experience.

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