Indrajit Hazra is Editor Views, Economic Times. His attempt to comment on everything under the sun has made him a social menace in certain social media circles.
My mother reads the newspapers quite thoroughly. Solving the daily crossword is non-negotiable. As is reading anything I write in print. But it was the Pegasus snoopwhoop story that made her call me this time. ‘How come your name isn’t there?’
‘I’m not a reporter,’ I replied meekly, making the mystery of what exactly I do as a print mediaperson even more mysterious for her.
‘I mean, why aren’t you being tapped?’
I reminded her that she had asked the same question during the Niira Radia scandal in 2010, as well as after the WikiLeaks exposé in 2018. ‘WikiLeaks had a mention of me, remember?’ It actually mentioned me twice about my November 2004 visit to Pakistan as part of a group of Indian journalists to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
‘Yes, where the classified telegram referred to you as a ‘she’.
The tone was unmistakable: You’re a journalist, you’ve been working in the biggest newspaper houses in the capital for more than 20 years now, and your name is not on the list? What type of journalist are you?
I had to intervene. I knew that she was big on right and wrong, good and bad. I told her that among the names ‘outed’ there was one chap who had once got into a soup with his risqué messages to a female ex-colleague; another was what a friend described as a ‘spy [for successive governments] being spied upon’; yet another who had allegedly conducted an interview of a minister that was later found to have been imaginary; one more was so deep into a party’s media strategy that for her steady supply of plugs to ever be unplugged would require much more than WiFi.
All this was, of course, not good enough for all-seeing, all-knowing mother. What made the situation worse was the fact that both of us knew that being under state surveillance, even though not really shocking in a country where national security concerns can get your tickets to an Arijit Singh concert cancelled, was a matter of pride (mixed with much nervousness, of course, since it could mean <never> being able to go to an Arijit Singh concert.)
The fact that your phone was being tapped, that too via a spyware named after a Greek mythological creature created by an Israeli firm named NSO – not standing for ‘National Security Odvisor’, but Niv, Shalev and Omri, the Old Testament-ish names of the three founders of the company – lent the whole affair a frisson you don’t get when your building society guards catch you on CCTV smoking behind the children’s play area. Simply put, being Pegasus-tapped meant you were worth being Pegasus-tapped.
Clearly, I was not. And my panopticon ma was disappointed with me. To change the subject by a few degrees, I told her that not just journalists, but also some politicians and businessmen were on the Pegasus list.
‘Are you a politician?’ she responded.
‘Are you a businessman?’ And this she didn’t bother to wait for my response, ‘No. Then why are you bringing them up?’
Having no wriggle room left, I mumbled something about more names to be ‘exposed’ in the coming days. She pounced on that single word – ‘You make it sound as if these journalists, <real> journalists, have done something wrong. I don’t care about who or what listens in on these people for whatever reason. Everyone listens in on everyone these days. You don’t have to watch any Bigg Boss episode to know that. But being tapped means… well, it’s certainly far better than being on the president’s guest list for some dinner in honour of a visiting American president.’
That was a low blow. She very well knew that I didn’t even manage to wrangle an invite when Kovind hosted POTUS in February 2020.
‘Never mind. Better luck next time. Now tell me, 4 letters, last letter G. The clue is: When you can’t report, you do this.’
‘Blog!’ I replied almost instantly.
‘Exactly. So keep doing that, beta. Talk soon.’
Views expressed above are the author’s own.