Tina Sharma Tiwari On Conquering Journalism, Writing & Food

Sports Journalist, Novelist, Painter – She may call herself a jack of all trades, but there’s no denying that she’s a master of all. Meet Tina Sharma Tiwari, the lady you’ve encountered in your dailies, your television, and your late night reads. As she switches between her many hats with dexterity, she pairs it up with enthusing zeal and dynamism into each project, aka, the Tina Touch. #DSSCSecretConversations decided to get the lowdown on this ace lady, and we’re currently running on full on insights & banter.

You started out as a Sports Reporter in 2001. What prompted you to work in this genre of journalism?

Starting out, I was absolutely clear I wanted to be a sports journalist. It was that or nothing. It’s embarrassing now, but back then I had zero interest in other genres – including politics and mainstream news. I remember telling Vir Sanghvi – then Editor of the Hindustan Times – that I’d rather be a coffee server on the sports desk than a reporter on any other beat. Apparently that’s also why I got the job! There were very few of us women in the field back then, but whoever was around, was there purely for the love of sport. Those were fun times.

What were the major challenges faced by you when carving out an identity for yourself in this field?

Sometimes it was difficult to be taken seriously. Once during a job interview I was asked whether I wanted to cover sports only to meet Leander Paes. Don’t think a guy applying for the same job would have been asked such an inane question. We had to work twice as hard as the men to prove ourselves. It took tons of well written Ranji Trophy match reports before I got a chance to cover Test cricket. In fact, no one believed me when I said I wanted to cover Test cricket!

What went behind the shift from covering sports to politics?

Two words: Arnab Goswami. He felt I was cut out for prime time news and pushed me into the deep end. I was terrified initially, and had to learn the ropes like a rookie. I read extensively and worked really hard for a few years before I began to feel genuinely comfortable and inspired covering politics and other hard news. Suddenly I was like ‘Hey there’s a whole other world out there! And it’s not half bad!’ I now count politics among my top three areas of interest. Never would’ve thought!

In a career spanning 16 years, according to you how has the industry evolved?

There’s a lot more opportunity for freshers, I see reporters with 2 – 3 years experience covering major national political parties. One good story can make you a name to reckon with. There are so many channels that everyone has multiple options. So, career-wise journalism has become a more lucrative profession, but at the same time quality is spread thin. There are a few outstanding professionals in every channel but I’m afraid there is also a whole lot of mediocrity.

In the age of social media, do you believe the power scales have tipped in favour of the viewers? How does that affect the overall environment of journalism?

The viewer was always supreme, social media or not. Even 10 years ago when a crime show like ‘Sansani’ was a TRP chartbuster – it didn’t tick all the boxes for a ‘proper’ news show, but worked phenomenally well. Today, while we have the responsibility of bringing truth and justice to our viewers (yes, we’re all hopeless idealists) every single network plans content according to its viewers. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. What social media has done is given us a ready reckoner of what people are talking about, what topics are generating opinion and debate. It’s become easier to gauge public sentiment.

How did the book ‘Running On Full’ happen? The storyline draws heavily from your own life, would you say it’s an autobiography of sorts?

Oh yes, it is! The only reason I pitched it as fiction to my first publisher was because who the hell would be interested in my life?! No, seriously, Running On Full, does draw very heavily from my life. I was expecting my first child and was on a sabbatical, that’s when I decided to pen down all the funny, poignant, and exciting chapters from my life. I thought my daughter might want to read it someday. I’m afraid though, I have two sons who have not shown the slightest interest in reading it.

Image: bollywoodmantra.com; Launch of ‘Who, Me?’

Six years post your first book you came out with ‘Who, Me?’ What was the inspiration behind your second outing as an author?

I consider Who, Me? my first proper book as a writer, as it really is fiction – imagined, planned, plotted, and executed from start to finish. I always knew I would write more books after Running On Full, because I love writing. I just wasn’t sure when. Soon after Running On Full, my kids came along and by the time I surfaced for some air, it had been five years! So I decided to write novel no. 2 and belted it out in a few months.

From Sports Commentator to covering politics to penning two novels. How’s the journey been for you?

Such a fun ride! I’m a Jack-of-all-trades kind of person, I love doing multiple things at the same time. I have a hundred different interests which I pursue with varying degrees of intensity every now and then. So while it may seem strange to some, it has felt very natural to me – to write fiction and present news and remain totally immersed in sports.

You & your family share a deep connection with food, tell us more about this special love.

We have amazing cooks in the family and all gatherings are centered around food. My husband is from a non-foodie family and sometimes wonders if we are all insane! Ours being a multicultural family, I have grown up eating different types of cuisines. Kayasth cuisine has been perfected to an art in one side of the family, with my Bua being an exceptional cook. But my deepest relationship is with Kashmiri cuisine because my mother is Kashmiri. Mutton yakhni and rice is my comfort food, and I can live on ‘haak’ (Kashmiri saag) everyday, for the rest of my life.  

On screen or in print – where, when, and how will we experience the Tina Sharma Tiwari magic next?

Lots of things in the pipeline, novel no.3 is nearly done so that will be out soon. Also, a friend is helping initiate me into exhibiting my artwork, as I haven’t been able to give it much time in the past years. So, perhaps a painting exhibition in a year from now. And of course, you’ll see me back on news television soon. I absolutely love what I do and there’s no keeping me away from it. I’m on a sabbatical right now, but I’ll be back!

 

Before we say sayonara to the lady with a smile that turns every frown upside down, we volley our trademark #DSSCRapidFire.

 

Which would you rather cover – India v/s Pakistan World Cup finals or final vote count for RaGa and Mayawati in the race for becoming PM?

Tina: World Cup finals, any day, even if its Kenya v/s Zimbabwe. Because if a situation arises when the race for PM has come down to these two, there is no hope left for this country.

One up & coming TV journalist we must look out for?

Tina: Ashish Singh on NewsX. An outstanding reporter who repeatedly manages to beat the so-called ‘biggies’ to the major scoops and elusive interviews. Keep an eye on him.

What’s the one trick that keeps you going while juggling careers as a TV anchor, author, artist, and four kids (dogs are children, period)?

Tina: I think the trick lies in being a bit silly, remaining a kid at heart and never taking yourself too seriously. We get one shot at life, might as well do everything you want to do.

Favourite bar in Delhi?

Tina: Monkey Bar.

One book you can read 7,93,508+ times?

Tina: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Last day on earth – what would be your last meal?

Tina: I’d want a tub of Beluga caviar and the most fancy lobster on the planet. And half a bottle of Grey Goose to numb the (inevitable) panic.

If DSSC were to offer you a billion bucks, what will you do with those funds?

Tina: Start a sports academy with world class infrastructure.

 

This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace industry disruptors who map its course one masterstroke at a time.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of DSSC & its affiliates.

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