Amrita Tripathi is young, attractive and confident, and she has something to say.
More than just something, in fact. On stage at the recent Jaipur Literary Festival, the words tumble out of her like a whirlwind, her voice struggling to keep up with the breakneck pace of her thoughts. She’s a perfect symbol of modern Indian metropolitan youth – well-dressed, opinionated and very self-aware.
The difference between Tripathi and most of her contemporaries, however, is that she is a newsreader and reporter for IBNLive. While most twentysomethings in India would have their thoughts confined to friends or family, with perhaps a few blog or Twitter followers, Tripathi is on TV every day and in the business of verbal communication. Her career has given her the freedom to articulate countless thoughts and hone an appetite for speaking. One wonders whether her holidays involve speaking as little as possible.
That’s the case for M, the protagonist in Tripathi’s novel ‘Broken News’. Yes, Tripathi is not only a pretty face on TV; she’s a published author, too. Her M takes a few days off in the middle of the book and spends them passed out in bed, her brain fried after months of thinking and talking at a mile a minute. It makes you wonder how much of the plot, and the central character, are autobiographical. However much M may seem like an avatar for her creator, Tripathi remains adamant that ‘Broken News’ – published in 2010 – is a work of fiction.
Whether autobiographical or not, ‘Broken News’ rings true right from its title, a fitting play on ‘BREAKING NEWS’, that most ubiquitous of television news phrases. Crucially, especially for a cynical observer such as myself, Tripathi’s portrayal of her profession feels very believable. The intense neuroticism of its starlets and up-and-comers, complete with stabs in the back and the precedence of careers above friendships, is allied with the underlying earnestness of most people involved. They may sit on the verge of paranoia as they sleep or cheat their way to the top, sensationalising the most trivial of issues, but the initial attraction of the job – the excitement and responsibility of keeping a wide audience informed – is repeatedly mentioned over the course of the novel.
The events of the novel are very easy to picture, because we witness them constantly, albeit from an audience perspective. If you turn on IBNLive, NDTV or Times Now, or one of India’s hundreds of local language news channels, you can see all of this. Right now. Every day brings a new live feed, whether it’s the PM’s half-hour visit to Kashmir or a petty official’s sentencing on corruption charges. Both will be reported, along with build-up and aftermath, by a correspondent on the ground or at the scene. If you’ve ever wondered how these correspondents feel about what they do, ‘Broken News’ takes you inside their heads, at least from one reporter’s apparently broad perspective.
What surprised me most about Tripathi is that she had both the time and the inclination to write a novel. I can’t imagine a TV reporter in New Zealand making room for either. ‘Broken News’ isn’t perfect – it ends rather abruptly, and its narrative arc is more a single, long run-on sentence than a carefully orchestrated series of highs and lows – but it shows plenty of promise. Anyway, the key thing is that it appears to reflect the business accurately, as well as the attitude of the author herself. If her on-camera appearances are anything to go by, we’ll be hearing plenty more from Amrita Tripathi in due course.