How a slumdweller became a Newsweek reporter

25 February 2009

The demographic profile of journalists worldwide has undergone a radical transformation in recent years.

Whether it has actually made journalism better is a question readers, viewers and listeners answer every day and night with their remote controls and subscription renewals.

Once the lowliest of low professions—the last hope for lazy bums, the dregs of society with “no real knowledge or skill set” who could get into no other profession—journalism is now populated by sharply sculpted careerists with deep pockets and heavy accents, whose reputations are preceded and defined by those of their parents, spouses and their alma mater, usually Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, St. Stephen’s or Presidency.

Rare is a “Slumdog Millionaire” kind of story of a poor boy or girl, who rose from the margins to the top of the pile.

Rarer still is the journalist with the humility to remember, or the courage to tell the world where he or she came from.

Take a bow, Sudip Mazumdar.

Mazumdar has done a first-person piece in the March 2 issue of the magazine on his progress from the slums of Tangra in Calcutta where “scrawny men sat outside shacks, chewing tobacco and spitting into the dirt. Naked children defecated in the open,” to eventually become the India correspondent of Newsweek magazine.

Mazumdar writes with admirable candour about his sister being born in a rat-infested hut in Patna; about a family of eight living in a  single rented room; about running with a local gang in the teens; about stealing from shopkeepers and farmers, and extorting money from truckers before fleeing to Ranchi.

So, how did Mazumdar end up becoming the correspondent of a major American newsmagazine in India?

“I started hanging around the offices of an English weekly newspaper in Ranchi. Its publisher and editor, an idealistic lawyer-cum-journalist named N. N. Sengupta, hired me as a copy boy and proofreader for the equivalent of about $4 a month.

“It was there that I met Dilip Ganguly, a dogged and ambitious reporter who was visiting from New Delhi. He came to know that I was living in a slum, suffering from duodenal ulcers. One night he dropped by the office after work and found me visibly ill. He invited me to New Delhi.

“I said goodbye to my slum friends the next day and headed for the city with him.

“In New Delhi I practiced my English on anyone who would listen. I eventually landed an unpaid internship at a small English-language daily. I was delirious with joy. I spent all my waking hours at the paper, and after six months I got a paying job. I moved up from there to bigger newspapers and better assignments. While touring America on a fellowship, I dropped in at NEWSWEEK and soon was hired. That was 25 years ago.”

Mazumdar now lives in a “modest rented apartment in a gated community in Delhi”.

“I try to keep in touch with friends from the past. Some are dead; others are alcoholics, and a few have even made good lives for themselves. Still, most slumdwellers never escape, But no one wants to watch a movie about that.”

Read the full article: Man bites ‘ Slumdog’

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2 Responses to “How a slumdweller became a Newsweek reporter”

  1. Debby Says:

    St. Stephen’s… That was a good one. I have seen quite a lot from that college. Happy to know people out there can see through them.

  2. santosh singh Says:

    how can i get in touch with sudip ….any contacts ?


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