Being an accidental journalist in Atlanta
By Mahadev Desai


Mahadev Desai

From an early age I have been fond of reading and writing. I grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and graduated from a boy’s high school there. Access to a library was very difficult due to distance (my family did not have a car), and it was very difficult to buy books due to financial constraints. All that changed when I went to Mumbai to study in a college. I could go to the college library, YMCA library, and a couple of other public libraries and read to my heart’s content. After college graduation, I returned to Nairobi and dabbled in writing. While a teacher, I wrote short stories and shared those with my students. Occasionally I wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers. After moving to London, I wrote a few pieces for my community’s magazine.

First Diwali celebrations at the GA State Capitol by BAPS . Pic.Courtesy BAPS

From London, I came to Atlanta. After retirement, I had ample leisure time, so I thought of trying writing for ethnic magazines: Indian American Cultural Association (IACA)’s Voice of India, and Gujarati Samaj of Atlanta’s Darpan. After a few months I had a lucky break. Around early 1994, Prashant Shah, the editor of India Tribune, a weekly newspaper published in Chicago, wanted to publish an Atlanta edition of his paper and was looking for a journalist. I met India Tribune’s Marketing and PR representative Mustafa Ajmeri who helped me get appointed as a journalist for the Atlanta edition. My first assignment was to cover the three-day spiritual discourse on Ramcharitmanas by famed Gujarati spiritual guru Morari Bapu. My report was published and when I saw my byline for the first time in a widely read newspaper, I was on cloud nine! Mustafabhai and I shared an office on Briarcliff Road, Atlanta. Mustafabhai has always been a good friend, mentor, and a motivator to me.


Global Mela at the Global Mall. Vinod Devlia

Being a journalist at that time was not easy. There were not as many Indian organizations as today but the venues were spread out and in different directions. The cars did not have GPS in those days so travelling by car at night or during rainy weather was always a challenge! Some of the events began late and ended well past midnight. At times there were parking problems. The reports had to be typed and then faxed to the Chicago office, where I am told they had to be retyped in order to print them. For photos, film had to be loaded into the camera and later taken to the photo lab for prints. And then I had to rush to the UPS or FedEx office to mail the photos to Chicago! Communication with the Chicago office was mostly by phone calls and not e-mails like now.


Shri Narayan Desai pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi

It was hard and challenging work but intellectually stimulating and immensely gratifying. As I gained confidence in covering around-town events, I extended my repertoire by writing book reviews, movie reviews, profiles of eminent personalities in Atlanta, short stories, and humor pieces.
Journalism opened a new, exciting and wondrous world for me. It afforded me a rare opportunity to meet Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hema Malini, noted singers like Kavita Krishnamurthy, Kumar Sanu, dignitaries from different walks of life in the US and from abroad, politicians, public figures, spiritual leaders, social activists, stage actors, and famed authors and poets.

Paresh Rawal

I covered some mega events or popular events like the Festival of India, Global Mela at the Global Mall,annual dance recitals,Senior citizens programs, SAI Health Fairs,celebrations of major Hindu festivals at temples in Atlanta, Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AHOHA) conventions, Charotar Patidar Convention, JAINA convention, historic installation ceremony of the Gandhi statue in Atlanta, inauguration ceremony of the BAPS landmark temple in Lilburn, Georgia, and the Jain Temple in Atlanta, to name a few. In 1996, Atlanta hosted the Olympics. Subash Razdan, a long time Atlanta resident, a well-known and respected personality, bestowed with prestigious honors and awards, and I co-wrote an article on the City of Atlanta which was published by India Today magazine.

India Ambassador Meera Shankar at the Banquet with Hon.John Lewis and other dignitaries. Bharat Kotecha

I feel honored to have covered visiting India ambassadors to USA, Ronen Sen, Meera Shankar, and Nirupama Rao, to name a few, as they paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, and his wife Mrs. Coretta Scott King at the Gandhi statue and the King Center in Atlanta—and also to have covered the historic interfaith religion program at Emory University on October 21, 2007, graced by the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory.
After five years with India Tribune, I moved to Florida with my family and had an almost five-year break from writing. I resumed writing upon my return to Atlanta. As a freelance journalist, I contribute my writings to Khabar magazine, NRI Pulse newspaper, Atlanta Dunia, Desi Express, and Rashtra Darpan publications.

Maha Ati Rudra Yagna at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta,Riverdale. Krish Photography

I am deeply thankful to all the organizations who have honored me with awards and recognitions. I dearly love my readers, and I am deeply grateful for all the support, advice, and encouragement extended to me by my family, media colleagues, editors, photographers, mentors, and friends. It has taken time, toil, tenacity, and patience to have a loyal reader base, but it is definitely worth it. I have always believed that a journalist must always strive to be impartial, fair, objective, informative, and engaging.
The digital revolution, internet, smartphones, social media, etc., are fast impacting the role of a traditional journalist in a big way. TV, radio,smartphones,digital cameras, and videos are all disseminating news and views faster and with a far wider reach. The traditional journalist must now contend with a surfeit of input (true or false) pouring in through tweets, blogs, comments, etc., and in order to survive, must accept the changing landscape and learn to adapt.
The Indian community in Atlanta is growing exponentially. There are many more Indian organizations now who are organizing varied imaginative, innovative, and bigger events. For a committed and passionate journalist, there is no limit to what he/she can contribute as a media representative.