Ward Girl not Award Girl #WomensDay


Today, I present a story of a woman Patralekha, whose achievements appealed Richa Mishra working with BusinessLine to jot down paying tribute to Women on the eve of Women’s Day Month.

A guest post series, “A tribute to the women, by the woman and for the woman”


“And the award for best news story goes to Patralekha…”  And a thud!

“Patralekha wake up, its 9 a. m. and you don’t have a story to list,” the mind said. But, the heart said, “It is ok to sleep for another few minutes.”

Reality bites, and who would know it better than Patralekha. It would be second consecutive day when she would not be having a story to list and she could well imagine her bureau chief, an English Bengali Babu, making a wise crack.

Patralekha’s life was no different than any other reporter who aspired to be a top editor one day. But, what was different here was she had more brains than some of her male counterparts, and she was willing to slog her backside off.

And in all this Patrelakha had forgotten that it was a Sunday, her off day. Damn! These dreams can be scary. Promising to make her Monday more exciting she decided to pamper herself with a lazy stretch and a few extra minutes in Bed.

But Alas! Her mobile went –

It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log…

Yes, Beatles number. “Oh no, who can that be?” cursing she rolled to the other side of the bed where the phone was charging – the screen flashed – “Editor Calling!”

No alarm can work better than the name of the Editor flashing on the screen. “Sunday, Editor calling, what have I missed?”  She muttered to herself and clearing up her throat – to avoid sounding like just got up from sleep – “Yes Vinayak.”

A gentle and firm voice, true Vinayak style, said “Patralekha, India has just signed an LNG (liquefied natural gas) contract with Iran. But, someone has told me Iran doesn’t have liquefaction technology. Check and spin a quick story for Monday…”

“Liquefaction technology arrrrr, yes, fine, ok hmmm, but its Sunday, and I am just a week old in the beat” she fumbled, mumbled but the phone was already disconnected.

Now what? Think, think. Laziness and sleep was the last thing on her mind. And it being a Sunday, half the people whom she knew were not up and about. The people in the government, the Ministry for Petroleum & Natural Gas all were in Iran and were returning Sunday night. So, the timing of the story mattered.

 Left with little option, she called Arun, a former colleague, who covered the oil and gas sector for the paper prior to her. “Dude what is liquefaction technology?”, she got straight to the point.

“Buddy, I am standing upside down. Give me sometime,” Arun the yoga freak was doing headstand and answering Patralekha’s call. Aware that the Patralekha is not so high on patience, Arun called back within a second.  

“The liquefaction process is the critical segment of the LNG value chain. Liquefaction train is the core of the liquefaction process. Call the guys in gas business and you will get your answers,” he snapped back. He cannot be blamed after all he had to stop his yoga in between to talk about GAS!

With this bit of information and some calls, yes a 300 odd word story was ready. Monday morning lead in the paper was “LNG from Iran: Deal depends on access to liquefaction technology.”

“Patralekha, this is Shankar, Information Officer, Petroleum Ministry, the Minister will be holding a press conference at noon,” was message from Shankar ji. Patralekha reached Shastri Bhavan, the place which houses Petroleum Ministry, and the conference room was packed.

“What is the press conference about? Hasn’t the team come back only last night from Tehran?,” Patralekha couldn’t resist asking a fellow reporter. “I think he is going to deny your story,” was the prompt reply.

Suddenly Patralekha felt arrived as a journalist. “Wow! A press conference over my story…” She could feel a Halo around her head.

In trooped the Minister with his entourage, following them was the entire team of officials from the Ministry – Secretary, Additional Secretary, Joint Secretary and the concerned Director, Chiefs of public sector giants – ONGC, IndianOil, GAIL (India). 

There was no ‘namaste’, no ‘hello’, no pleasantries shared. Clearly the Minister was upset about something. After all the Iran trip was a much hyped trip – where two deals were signed – who cared about the fate of these deals. A slight nod of his head was his way of acknowledging everyone’s presence.

“Some of you believe that the gas from Iran will never come…Let me tell you we will get it,” so said the Minister a pointed look at Patralekha. But, how was not for anyone to ask.

Rookie, Patralekha, with nothing to lose, decided to ask – “Iran doesn’t have liquefaction technology and companies which have technology have business with the US. And there is American sanctions threat on Iran…”  

“There are ways to deal with it Miss…,” was the reply. Ahem! No more questions were asked, and the press conference headed as abruptly as it started.

But, now that Patralekha had tasted success the appetite was insatiable. There were stories from her which did see government reacting to them or big corporate houses giving subtle threats.

Like a pro she learned to take all in her stride.  

While success has many relatives it also attracts unnecessary baggages. Recognition outside organization was followed by recognition within the organization as well. And Patralekha’s growth up ladders was consistent till the tapering effect – race for the top job.

Happy in her own space and world Patralekha didn’t realize that she was in race to become the bureau chief. She was competing with two male colleagues. The top bosses had their own way of selecting the candidate.

“Hemant, Anand, Patralekha, the three of you will be on rotation to handle the administrative work of the Bureau,” said Sethuraman, who was Sr Associate Editor.

“Oh no!” reacted Patralekha who preferred to be on field rather than do desk job. While Hemant just took it as a fun thing. But, for Anand it seemed like he is being given importance in the organization.

Subsequently, Anand was picked up to come for a management training programme undertaken by the organisation. This, Hemant and Patralekha saw as the final signal that Anand was the chosen one to be Bureau Chief. But, wait. It wasn’t that easy after all.

Patralekha was made the Bureau Chief, Hemant was made in-charge of Opinion pages. What happened to Anand? Well only the top guys know the answer. However, Anand took upon himself that it is only because of Patralekha. She became the easy target.

Personal attacks and nasty snide remarks all were for Patralekha. Some people are just bad losers it took a while for Patralekha to understand this.

The reason being simple – how can a woman succeed and not a man. “Dude you need to be a performer and not a yes man to succeed,” what Patralekha felt like telling Anand.

After all you are not there to please people, but to do a job.  However, Patralekha’s professional life seems to have just the right ingredients of any tele-serial.  

Just when she thought All Is Well! A completely new challenge came her way of dealing with jealous woman colleague who believed in using her feminine assets as path to success. Thus, started a phase of dirty politics! Comments on Patralekha’s dressing to the way she managed her team to making attempts to crack her team all happened. 

Vinayak, who had long hung his boots, remained Patralekha’s mentor and agony uncle. After all she was groomed by him and how to smell news she learned from him. “Boss I think it is time for me to leave the organization,” Patralekha said.

True to his style, Vinayak heard her out and then said “pick your battles and hold your horses.”

Patralekha, who has spent her entire journalistic life, in this organization, heard him right.

Next three year was probably the worst years for Patralekha – where she continued to break stories, but the powers that be were so against her that her bylines were spiked. Her team members were called and asked not to do joint stories with her. When she questioned, the lamest of reasons were given to her.

But, she continued writing and breaking stories. “It keeps me sane and going,” Patralekha told Aruna, her fellow colleague.

When the change of guard happened at the top-level a new Editor took office, he also brought with him a fresh life into the system. Confidence levels were revived. It was back to Perform or peril.

And Patralekha again found her magic touch. News break were acknowledged, hard work was respected.

Patralekha has grown as a journalist, respected professionally, but awards were still far away – in her dreams!

“I am a ward girl – remember a ward boy/girl is the most important person in a hospital – not an award girl,” she would tell herself.

But, that has also changed now. She has an award under her belt.

What next? She hums Steve Wonder

Like a long lonely stream
I keep runnin’ towards a dream
Movin’ on, movin’ on
Like a branch on a tree
I keep reachin’ to be free
Movin’ on, movin’ on


Richa Mishra: nurtured by and grown with BusinessLine has spent close to two decades of her professionally career tracking energy sector. Heading the Delhi Bureau of BusinessLine, she writes on economic policies, geopolitics, and energy, but for last two years has been writing a column for [email protected] page – the HR page of the paper – called Babu Beat. Richa is currently Associate Editor.

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10 thoughts on “Ward Girl not Award Girl #WomensDay”

  1. Aarati Krishnan says:

    A wonderful and heartfelt story of a great reporters life. Do continue it! Love it as a journalist.

    1. Ila Varma says:

      Thanks for stopping by Aarti

  2. Belina says:

    Enjoyed reading the piece. I am sure it would touch a chord with many women journalists. I smiled, I giggled, I laughed, I smirked, I nodded and I shook my head at various points in the story. I would continue give awards to “Patralekha” for being the ward girl in the field.

  3. Tanuja Shankar says:

    Excellent rendition … truly inspiring !!!

  4. Twesh Mishra says:

    Always good to read a story where the hardworking triumph

    1. Ila Varma says:

      Thanks Twesh for stopping by

  5. Vandana Mallick says:

    Way to go, Very well written 👏! The story of a female journalist is inspiring for many in line I am sure and the female who leads the story is an inspiration for many.

    1. Ila Varma says:

      Thanks Vandana for stopping by.

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