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About The Newsroom Mafia

When Supercop, Donald Fernandez declares an all-out war against the invincible Don, Narayan Swamy, he fights back with a formidable Mafia — a private army of armed thugs and a motley gang of corrupt police officers, backed by powerful politicians. What follows is a battle of raw power, sleaze, wits and dirty tactics by both the law breakers and the law enforcers blurring boundaries between good and evil. To save his skin, the Don fires his most lethal weapon, The Newsroom Mafia.

In this novel, veteran-journalist-turned-novelist, Oswald Pereira provides an insider's view of the growing culture of planted news and reveals the fine line between fact and fiction in the newsroom. A racy, compelling crime thriller, The Newsroom Mafia captures the unholy alliance between the fourth estate, the underworld and the government.

About the Author

Oswald Pereira has over 30 years of experience as a journalist. Oswald teaches journalism to post-graduate students and has taught at the Times of India-owned Times School of Journalism. He is also an English language trainer for corporates. The Newsroom Mafia is Oswald’s debut novel. He lives with his wife and son in Noida.

Praise for The Newsroom Mafia

“This book is a film crying to be made. A racy read, it is also a roman à clef of sorts that lifts the lid on the murky goings-on in the world of newspapers, the police, the underworld and politics … a scathing indictment of corruption in newspapers … details the way articles are planned and stymied and even planted.”
- Daily News & Analysis (DNA)

“A very good read: To use a journalists' cliché, this book is a 'scoop'; the 'real' deal about the unholy nexus between the underworld, the government and the Fourth Estate. A fast-paced, no- nonsense novel, it explains in surprising detail, the intertwined fellowship between the system and the 'unsystematic' underworld.”
- Times of India’s Westside Plus

“Through this work of fiction, journalist Oswald Pereira manages to bring out the bitter truth of what goes behind the news. The harsh truths tumbling out are severe indictments of a noble profession debauched by unscrupulous scribes. Pereira's expose on the dirty deeds of some black sheep is a timely reminder when the Indian media scene is witnessing a churning process.”
- Deccan Herald

“A hard-hitting book, it scrapes the depths of the infamous media-government-underworld nexus. Although it’s fiction, many situations leave you guessing, wondering which reality the author is hinting at!” -
Times of India’s What’s Hot

Excerpt from The Newsroom Mafia

Chapter 1

The Front Page

Most of Bombay had gone to bed. Among those who were still awake were workers on the third shift; streetwalkers looking for late, drunken customers and various newspaper offices in the city, churning out the daily morning editions.

In one such office, Sreedhar Shastri, editor-in-chief of The Newsroom, was busy putting to bed India’s most respected and largest English language newspaper. It was rare that the editor-in-chief himself was present to close the edition. But on that black, rainy morning at 1.15 on July 10, 1986, Sreedhar chose to. Because the 150-year-old newspaper, dubbed the Grand Old Dame of journalism by its rivals, was breaking new ground. For the first time in the history of the newspaper industry the world over, The Newsroom was publishing a news story written even before the event had occurred.

In the newspaper world, only obituaries of famous people are written in advance. These are kept at hand just in case a luminary passes away inconveniently when it’s deadline time.

But the reason for which my editor-in-chief was up at such an awkward time was a breaking news story written in advance by me. The story was to be rolled out at 12.30 a.m. after the event was confirmed. The content, wording and the slot for it had been planned and fixed earlier in the day.

In a way, the story was like an obituary: it was meant to signify the end of Bombay’s most notorious Don. That indeed was the impact that supercop Donald Fernandez and I had expected from his most heroic deed till date and the best news scoop of my life.

The closely guarded pact between Donald and me, supported by my indulgent editor-in-chief, seemed to have worked beautifully.

Underworld Don Narayan Swamy Arrested from Home in Predawn Swoop, screamed the front page, lead story of the late city and metro editions of The Newsroom.

Bombay’s Police Commissioner Donald Fernandez had struck a deal with Sreedhar and me that I was to have an ‘advance’ exclusive on the Don’s arrest if my editor-in-chief agreed to carry it on the front page. The beneficiaries of the deal were the police commissioner, The Newsroom and me, the newspaper’s crime reporter. Front-page coverage in India’s largest English newspaper would give a boost to the image of the Police Commissioner, already labelled ‘supercop’ by his admirers. By establishing an international record of printing this red-hot, early morning news, barely a few hours after its occurrence,

The Newsroom would silence its critics and turn around its conservative image. The Newsroom would score over its rivals and I would be crowned with journalistic glory for the coveted scoop.

Narayan Swamy was Bombay’s most dreaded and revered Don. He was dreaded by traders, businessmen and rivals but revered by the poor, and a generous sprinkling of journalists and police officers on his payroll. With his arrest, the supercop hoped to put an end to the three-decade-long crime-ridden reign of the Don — referred to as the Godfather both by those who detested and respected him.

Had I alerted the Don of his impending arrest, I could have pocketed a cool two million rupees. That was what M. Ragunathan, one of the Don’s close aides, had offered me to reveal the plan.

Ragunathan, a hotelier by profession, had made me this offer at the Bombay Press Club. He had managed to get the associate membership to the club by the virtue of his position as the public relations officer of the Hoteliers’ Association of Bombay; PROs were allowed to become associate members of the club where many deals were struck with journalists. It had taken me two days to convince Sreedhar that Narayan’s imminent arrest could be a front-page scoop. He gave in only when Fernandez himself phoned in to say that this was the story of a lifetime for The Newsroom and that I could be trusted with the advance information. Donald vouched that I would not leak the plan to the underworld; he’d had his sleuths secretly investigate my credentials. True to his word, Donald phoned Sreedhar at 12.30 a.m. confirming the Don’s arrest. Sreedhar swung into action and released my pre-written report as a lead, front-page story.

However, as the first copies of The Newsroom started rolling out of the giant printers, Narayan was safely ensconced in an early morning Air India hop-over flight to Madras, having apparently slipped through a 400-strong police cordon around his sprawling three-storey house in Matunga.

Narayan’s strategy to break through such a dense police vigil was so simple that it was astounding. One of his close partners-in-crime, Muliya, came to the Don’s house in a black-and-yellow public taxi. The Don was driven out to the airport in the same taxi, wearing a mask of Muliya’s face that had been crafted by Sunder, a make-up artiste from Bollywood.

II

It was four a.m. I was still groggy from a binge at the Press Club.

The telephone rang: a jarring sound of an old, black, dusty instrument. The dreadful thing wouldn’t stop ringing. ‘We’re screwed,’ shouted Donald when I picked up. ‘Someone leaked the information to Narayan! He escaped before he could be arrested,’ he almost screamed. ‘I’m going to catch the leak, hang him upside down and ram his backside,’ he exploded. ‘What leak? Who has escaped?’ I asked, my mind still foggy with the booze.‘Narayan Swamy has escaped!’ Donald answered.

‘What do you mean?’

‘The person we arrested is not Narayan Swamy but Muliya.’

‘Oh God! My career is ruined! What do I tell my editor?’ I wailed hysterically.‘

I have many more to answer to: the Director General of Police, the Home Secretary, the Home Minister, the Chief Minister…’

‘You’re a big shot and can wriggle out of it by blaming me or some police officer. Whom do I blame?’

‘Let’s meet at ten tomorrow and see how we can protect ourselves. I’ll save your skin, you save mine.’

‘Done.’

‘It’s a deal,’ Donald said and disconnected.

I cursed my fate. I felt I was a step closer to insanity. The alcohol that was still coursing through my veins added to my misery. Yet I longed for a drink.

I must have dozed off. Once again, I was rudely woken up by the phone’s shrill ring. Instinctively, I put it off the hook. I knew who the caller might be: my angry editor.

‘What the fuck, let’s face it,’ I muttered under my breath and replaced the receiver on the hook after a couple of minutes. It rang again instantly, louder than the first time, or so I thought. I picked up the receiver. ‘Congratulations on your most excellent scoop.’ It was Ragunathan, the hotelier. He laughed raucously and hung up. Despite his humiliating taunt, I was relieved that it was only Narayan’s pimp who had called and not my editor.

The black thing rang again. ‘Good story,’ my colleague from The Newsroom, S. Manian, whispered and hung up. It was rumoured that he was on Narayan’s payroll, but I had no proof to back the allegation. Narayan paid in hard cash, not through traceable bank cheques.

Now there was a deathly silence in my rented two-room Central Government Housing Colony flat in Antop Hill.

I tried to catch up with my sleep and recover from the hangover.

But that dark, sadistic thing near my bedside screamed for attention again, leaving me with no option but to pick her up and utter a polite hello.

The person at the other end, though, was distinctly rude. He had enough reason to be so.

‘I want you in for the noon edit meeting,’ shouted Sreedhar.

Under any other circumstances, I would have jumped at the invitation to a meeting that only the privileged few attended.

I replied weakly, ‘I’ll be there positively, Sreedhar.’

‘Huh,’ he grunted.

III

The Police Commissioner and I shared a special relationship. We had made many a deal in the past. The deals did not involve money but the so-called ‘news scoops’. They helped boost Donald’s image and my career. He gave me ‘exclusives’ and I gave him fame, thanks to my big splashes about his brave acts. Known for his crackdown against Bombay’s notorious underworld, he was a hero of the common man as well as of the upwardly mobile and the rich.

But the crime crusader was not popular with politicians and the bureaucracy. The bureaucrat who hated him the most was the Maharashtra Home Secretary, A K Godbole. Corrupt to the core, he was known to hobnob with the underworld. At their behest, Godbole had made several attempts to boot Donald from the office of Commissioner.
However, each time he tried, I came to Donald’s rescue and pre-empted his transfer order: The Newsroom would carry a short, front-page report, Supercop to be Transferred, written by me but without my by-line.

The supercop had a mole in the State Home Department who would leak out the information the moment Godbole even attempted a transfer move. The story would appear before Godbole actually got the transfer order signed. By then, The Newsroom would be swamped with letters and telephone calls, demanding that Donald not be touched.
The irate Home Secretary, on one occasion, phoned me and called me Donald’s stooge. I replied dryly, ‘At least I am not the underworld’s pimp.’ The thick-skinned Godbole ignored the remark and said, ‘Thanks to you, he has a life membership as the Bombay Police Commissioner.’

Godbole really had no choice but to rescind every move to transfer Donald. So, over time, Donald and I got bolder. We thought that Narayan’s arrest scoop would be our crowning glory. But it had turned out to be a big fiasco that now threatened both our careers.