My first tryst with India was years ago when I came here to continue my university education in Political Science and got all my degrees here. And it won’t be an exaggeration to say that since that day, India has become my second address and in many ways, even the first. It has been 11 years since then and the country seems reluctant to let go off the rather tight embrace it has held me in. Lady luck has been conspiring to keep me here as well. For all the years that I have been working for Zaman Media Group, I have been transferred quite a few times but have not managed to leave this country. Only lately, I was re – posted to Washington DC but my stay here has been extended again.
India has shown great generosity to me since the days I was posted first as a reporter, then correspondent and then the bureau chief for Zaman Media Group of Turkey. There have been some glitches but I have managed to iron them out. I have also learnt to deal with some of the not-so-good attitudes of the citizens towards expatriates. But that comes out only when you look like an expatriate. The local language has lots of Turkish, Persian and Arabic words and hence it did not take much for me to pick it up in a short time. In appearance too, I can be passed off as a North Indian. Life is not as easy for Anglo-Saxons, Africans and other races. If somebody mistakes me for an Indian, I play along.
Another great part of my stay here has been, of course, food. I have no problem with the spicy preparations here and I relish them. Also, many of the Kebabs that you see here have their genesis in my country, so it also evokes a sense of déjà vu, so to say. In fact, the word Mughlai itself is a misnomer. Mughal was used derogatorily for the dynasty of Babur by some historians. The right word would have been Turkic dynasty. Thus, the Mughlai food, for all practical purposes is Turkic food.
The professional experience I gathered here in India is unparalleled. I could have never had this kind of exposure had I been posted at my headquarters in Istanbul or Ankara. There, being a citizen, I would have had easy access to bureaucrats and diplomats. The same is not true here. For foreign correspondents here, it is rather tough to get access inside the bureaucracy. That is in spite of some of the friendliest and most sympathetic staffs in the Ministry of External Affairs.
As for the people working in the media here, it is always wonderful to interact and bond with the Indian media. The only complain I have about my colleagues is that they concentrate mostly on domestic affairs and it is extremely difficult to talk to them about international developments.
During my stay here, there have been several incidents that I may say have proved to be personal milestones. The first one was the unfortunate terror attacks in 2008 in Mumbai. It was a horrible thing to happen but the incident proved as a coming of age for me as a journalist. There is no incident that tested my professional strengths to such a level. I remember my cell phone would not stop ringing throughout those horrendous 72 hours. I have lost count of how many live appearances I have made on TV channels or how many piece-to-cameras I gave.
It now completely escapes me how I managed to gather information and broadcast it simultaneously for so long. It appears as if I was operating in some sort of trance. Reporting that horrendous incident was indeed a big deal for me then and I think I managed to do my duty in a professional manner. I was selected the reporter of the month by my organisation for the coverage. Being selected for the honour in such a huge organisation was humbling.
I still remember my mom calling to warn me not to go anyway near to the place where the attack took place. I kept reassuring her till she saw me going live from the ground zero with guns blazing in the background.
Another exhilarating experience in my journalistic career has been the state visits of President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These visits exposed me to a different level of diplomacy and international partnership and taught me a lot about how things operate on such high levels. The intricacies of diplomacy and the deliberations that follow are not easy to decipher unless you are into the thick of it. These two visits trained me for that.
I have been posted here for another year but I will not say no to another year. And even if I leave, I am sure I will miss all the difficulties I faced here – the dust, filth, noise, hot summers, humidity – all of it. And of course, I will never forget its warm people and delicious food.