Jasvinder just finished filming a story for Metropolis and drove all night when we get to speak with him. He reports usually from Jaipur, where he lives with his wife and two children, for more than thirty years. ‘It’s starting to get warm here now, it’s about 20 degrees Celsius,’ says Jasvinder. The area around Jaipur is mainly desert, but the city itself is very divers and entertaining. ‘It’s filled with creative people and with people of all religions. I enjoy the city very much,’ says Jasvinder.
The pink city
Jaipur is the capital of the Indian western state, known as Rajasthan. The city is also called 'the pink city' because of the many pink buildings. When India was still a monarchy, there were several royal families; so-called Rajputs. They often traveled to Paris and found the French capital so beautiful that they modelled their cities in the same way, with many pink buildings.
How did you get started as a correspondent for Metropolis?
"I got into contact with Metropolis after a friend of mine – also a journalist – mentioned to me. Metropolis was looking for stories about teachers. I came up with the story about a New Delhi teacher teaching children in slums.
I worked for a lot of broadcasters, but the interesting thing about Metropolis is, it offers so many different subjects. Very different! Nowhere in the world people ask me to make a story about teachers for example, or the human body. Or about raising kids, like a story I made recently about Google-kids. The topics are so varied!
I’ve been a journalist for more than thirty years. My best report is one for Metropolis. It’s about a baby factory, commercial surrogacy. I went to a place where women were renting out their wombs. Online it received almost five million views! Metropolis was looking for stories about ‘mothers’, that’s how I came up with this story. I very much enjoy making stories on these wonderful topics. Young to old, serious to more eccentric, about humans or animals – I like everything.”
Which story will stick with you forever?
“The most recent story I made for Metropolis made a big impression on me. It’s about people who choose to raise their children to be Google-boys and Google-girls. Filming it made me so happy! The fact that these children, this younger generation, is so intelligent… But I also felt sad sometimes, reporting on a story. Like when I was filming the story of Vrindavan’s widows, that was horrible. I was filming from 9AM to 5PM with about thirty-five widows. When I finished filming, one of them died.
It's very emotional to think about what kind of lives these women have had. And they are still living tragic lives, in a way, but I’m happy I could share their story with the world through Metropolis. I first thought, Metropolis was mainly popular with a younger generation, but now I know it’s watched by every age group. When Metropolis started again in the beginning of the pandemic, I noticed around me, many different people were watching the stories. I think it’s because of the variety.”
What happens when you get a topic to pitch on from us?
“It’s very hard. Metropolis always had great ideas, but it’s hard to pitch the right story. You guys have the whole world to choose from. The other correspondents also come up with amazing proposals. So it’s important for me to get a good quality pitch. And when my story-idea is commissioned, I start to prepare the story, I talk with people around me, fellow journalists, to find out how to make the story work. And I look until I find the perfect story. When I find a good protagonist, I will talk with them beforehand, tell them about Metropolis and share with them some episodes. That’s how I work.
Recently you asked about how people prepare for death in my country. That’s really difficult. I spoke to many people, but I got a lot of blank faces. They had no answers. People here don’t really think about how they want to die or how to prepare for this. That’s why it’s very useful when you send some examples with your ideas. Like the people in Ghana who make special coffins for their deceased. In the end, I found a pension for people who want to die near the river Ganges. You can get a room for free for 21 days, under the condition that you die within this timeframe.”
How was your last report about ‘Google-boys’ en ‘Google-girls’?
“In 2000 I met the Indian ‘Google-boy’ for the first time”. He was playing in Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), the Indian-Hindi version of the game Who wants to be a Millionaire, presented famous actor Amitabh Backchan. When I had the chance to make a story about raising kids I immediately was thinking of him. And meanwhile his father started a school for intelligent kids: a Google school.
Google-boys or girls are children who know so much they look like an encyclopedia, like Google. The kids go this special school because they are different. They are the ones who want to study and learn. Parents do not push. However, competition, also between parents, is standard in India.
Children of the school are originally from the surrounding villages in Kohand, Haryana state. Their parents are illiterate and poor. Most of them are farmers. It is a very local normal school, nothing fancy. The school is located in an agricultural area. The parents’ motivation is a better future for their children. For example, they hope for them to become academics or top sporters. One of the students became a sportsman during lockdown and was breaking six records with push-ups. I really enjoyed making this report.”
Did you notice a lot of competition between the kids?
“I did not have the feeling there was strong competition. None of the kids wanted to be first or second of the class. Their main motivation is to learn. And the most important I have learned myself is that these smart kids would like to enjoy their study, and studying is not a burden for them. Parents don’t expect that, because they did not study themselves. Of course they wish for their children to shine in the future. And my impression was that those kids are inspiring each other with their eagerness to learn. Not quite the same as on your average government Indian schools…
Every parent is trying to have their offspring in a top position. A governmental job is something to pursue. The huge population of India is the biggest problem. Getting a job is difficult due to high unemployment. When you do not have connections in business it is very hard. Only the excellent pupils will get work. That is why parents will push their children to start a good career. I also want my twenty-year-old son to excel in finding a good job. Because when I die, who will take care of him?”
Do your children have journalistic ambitions as well?
"No, totally not. My daughter is 29 years old and married. Sometimes she makes short videos, so in that way she is interested she is interested in the trade, but she is not a journalist. My 20-year-old son is very well-spoken. He works in marketing and commerce. He graduated as an accountant. Me, I live and breathe for journalism, which my children not always like. They think I work too much, always, but I enjoy doing it. Driving all night to film in another city? Not a problem! I like to learn about new things and get new experiences. Journalism is not just a job for me, it doesn’t feel like work. But my children think differently, they want to get rich as quickly as possible, with the least of effort.
Being a journalist is hard work. But me, I get energized by it. It doesn’t feel like work. Last week, I was filming at a bookfestival here in Jaipur and a young journalist asked me ‘when will you retire?’. My answer: ‘About ten minutes before I breath my last breath. I will never voluntarily retire.”