Braking News: 1 Bus, 2 Girls, 15 Thousand Kilometers, 715 Million Votes
Sunetra Choudhury’s Braking News takes the reader on a trip across India to find the elusive Indian voter in both cities and villages. As an anchor and TV news reporter, Choudhury was asked to cover the elections for NDTV on a bus. The election bus planned to travel fifty kilometers each day for sixty days covering 3,000 kilometers. Two teams aboard the bus were scheduled to produce a half-hour show every weekday prior to the May 2009 elections. Though the bus did not travel as planned, the stories and people that come to the surface are worth the adventure. The bus drove to places on and off the map. For locations neglected for years by politicians, just the fact that NDTV decided to bring a bright red bus to their constituency was a powerful symbol.
While the story is entertaining and the writing is clear, Braking News is less about the places and people Choudhury meets on the way, and more about her own journey. As a result, it is easy to become annoyed with the author and her desire for modern comforts, such as a clean toilet. Nonetheless, some chapters are more descriptive than others and reveal the heart of contrasts amidst the Indian subcontinent. The women of Gujjarland insist that Choudhury cut wheat before agreeing to do an interview. At one point Choudhury stops a man on a motorcycle who she believes to be a dacoit (thief) to ask him about the gun he is carrying, and in another segment she interviews people in the village of Shivgarh who have cell phones and DVD players despite having no electricity.
Choudhury touches occasionally on gender and the vast differences that exist for women between the cities and villages of India. For example, in the state of Haryana, she interviews young women who do not vote until they are married. But near the end she speaks to a woman who is living a privileged, single lifestyle. As a woman, Choudhury is allowed into private kitchen spaces where she meets village women on a level that would not be accessible to male reporters. And instead of seeing them all as exploited, she begins to see that they too have power and agency, albeit in a different manner than she experiences.
Choudhury concludes Braking News by arguing that if journalists truly want to report on what is occurring around them, they must go out and see the world. They must be willing to risk being dirty, hot, and tired, which on some level (despite the posh hotels) is exactly what the NDTV election bus did.