I MAJORED in Statistics. I ended up an average journalist.
Do you see a connection? If not, ask Churchill.
“There are three kinds of lies – lies, damn lies and statistics,” was the first lesson our statistics teacher Jishnu Dutta taught us. He was quick to add: “I didn’t invent this quote, Winston Churchill did.”
Dutta was one of the finest teachers in the centurion Cotton College, arguably the best education institute in Northeast India comprising eight states. And I was possibly one of his worst students.
Maybe I chose statistics because the probability of comprehending any other subject was slim. Was so-so in mathematics while struggled with economics – Adams, I felt, was about juggling assets for an army of Eves and laissez-faire a Rio-like carnival of lasses in thongs.
Studying a load of lies was more like it. Here was a subject that taught you to be mean-minded. Take the median path. And be on fifty-fifty mode.
The odds on my opening a Ladbrokes-like agency were heavy, particularly with teer (archery-based betting legal only in the adjoining Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya) counters all around. But mobile phones were futuristic gadgets then (to provide inside info), and cricket was more about chancing an arm and batting away the blues.
I wasn’t good in business – couldn’t wager my life on it. So, armed with a Pentax K-1000, I dreamt of becoming the next Raghu Rai, Eddie Adams or Man Ray (wasn’t bad at Rayograph, the camera-less photography technique he discovered).
A chance meeting with the allegedly pro-ULFA Parag Kumar Das massaged my ego. A few photographic assignments for his anti-establishment Assamese weekly Boodhbaar (it died after ex-rebels killed Das over a decade ago) and my dream was shuttered (or is it shattered?).
But there was a silver lining. Das said my captions were better than my photographs. “You should try writing,” he advised. I capped the lens, uncapped a pen, and thought of Siméon-Denis Poisson. Did his theory cover the probability of a substandard statistician becoming a joker of a journalist?
Political poison soon erased Poisson from my thought process. Churchill took his place after a contradiction from a motor-mouth MLA to a story on his diatribe against another legislator. His denial was a lie I couldn’t prove, which implied I had lied while reporting.
The era of reporting on insurrection followed. It was orgasmic until I felt stories on militants and militancy were 60 per cent plant (equally by those on either side of the law), 30 per cent creativity (fresh, ‘innovative’ angles kept old stories going) and 10 per cent fact (You can’t take liberty with names, places and time of incidents, can you?).
Maybe I graduated in the right subject to be in the right profession. Unlike my friend who passed out as a civil engineer to be in an insurance company – the domain of statistics-soaked actuaries.
But statistics is not only about lying. It is also about the probability of arriving at the truth. Of underscoring the odds hope has against despair, love against hate, peace against violence, and good against evil. And about weighing issues that matter more to people.
Much like journalism.
If you think my views are skewed, you know what to blame – STATISTICS.