Life has been an interesting dash for Sanjay Pugalia, Editor Awaaz. An arduous yet thrilling journey in the business of news where the burnout rate is perhaps the highest. Definitely not a rollercoaster ride, but a twenty five year long career path where Pugalia was always lured by the desire to evolve and do something different.
We are sitting at the Awaaz office in Lower Parel which is abuzz with activity. We settle down in his cabin for a tête-à-tête, as his recalcitrant telephone continues to buzz and vibrate every minute. I am all prepared for a wonderful and drawn-out conversation when Pugalia tells me, "actually, I've a sore throat. Meri Awaaz thodi kharab hain." But then getting him to talk about his channel Awaaz does the trick. Though slightly shy and reluctant to talk about himself, Pugalia slowly drops his guard over a cup of steaming hot coffee and gets talking.
Reminiscing about his early years, he says, "My early years were all about living in a joint business family. My father used to deal in jute, textiles and food grains. But somehow, I was very sure that I didn't want to be in business. I always wanted to do something different that would directly deal with people and their lives. There were other options like being in the IAS/IPS, but I was never serious about my studies. In fact, while in school I used to question to myself, as to `why were we being taught whatever we were being taught.'
Pugalia spent his formative years in Sahibganj in Bihar. Those were the days of social activism, the youth movement in the midst of great socio-political changes. With a glint in his eyes, he recalls, "the 80s were a period when the media became extra-conscious and vigilant about democracy, due to emergency declared by the then prime minister. As a teenager, I was influenced by the student movement and once happened to catch hold of a weekly called Ravivaar edited by the late SP Singh. That magazine influenced me a lot and I knew from then on that journalism would be my calling in life."
So, inspite of stiff opposition from family and friends, Pugalia left home, moved to Mumbai in 1982 to join Navbharat Times at a salary of Rs 2000. He recalls, "it was a big decision then, because of my business background and also because journalism wasn't a viable career option then."
Listening to him tick off the course his life has taken, I realise Pugalia has a knack for cutting through the heart of things which has taken him to the dizzying professional heights he is today. Always the one to take on challenges, he started off with investigative stories, economic offences and politics.
After a good ten year stint with Navbharat Times Pugalia shifted to Delhi. Recalling the old times, he says, "I got on to the hot beats of politics and journalism. And the 90s were a happening period in terms of government change and economic reforms. After a three year stint with the Business Standard, he seized another opportunity by joining Aaj Tak as Deputy Executive Producer. He says, "those were the times when Aaj Tak was in the process of launching a channel. We used to revere SP Singh as God and when he asked me to work with him we had to make things happen. Also, it was the right time to be in television news; since it was nascent and evolving."
Pugalias' first break as an editor came with Zee News in 2001. He says, "this was an opportunity to establish live television in the country with events like the Agra summit and Gujarat riots. Working under Subhashji was the most enriching experience. He would interact, give his ideas but never would he say do this or that. We had the complete editorial freedom there.When the next challenge came in to launch Star News from Mumbai, I was all set for it. On a personal level, I was itching to get back to Mumbai."
I ask him whether he's been a rolling stone all his life. "Well, I did stick around for more than ten years in print, then five years in Aaj Tak; but the desire to do something different is what keeps me going. Also, one has to be prepared to take on challenges when the right break arrives."
Moving from the general news space to launch a niche channel for the Raghav Bahl promoted CNBC-TV18 was the next big challenge. "Call it luck gain or right timing but once when I had just send a casual sms to Raghav; he gave me this challenging offer. The challenge was to move away from politics and launch a niche within a niche."
I ask him whether he now enjoys his success? Rather matter-of-factly, he says "I am still a reporter at heart. But what is exciting is I get to meet a new breed of entrepreneurs, traders and retailers who are shaping up our new economy."
I am a peoples' person
Stress is obviously a part of the game. But Pugalia believes in being charged all the time. "I hardly take any leave and believe in constantly training my colleagues. News is a people intensive job and fortunately I am a peoples' person. I believe in delegating and developing the second, third and even for that matter the low level executives, so the process and the system is strong. I believe, either you're a journalist or you're not. Or everyone who passes out of a journalism school cannot make it as a good journalist.
"I hate Page 3 parties or for that matter having lunch/dinner with the powerful le crème de la crème is not my trip. Also, money has never been a motivating factor in my life. I am not really brand conscious.
Over the weekends I spend time with my wife who has throughout been very supportive in my profession and about my odd working hours .On Sundays we either catch up on a movie or go for a quiet dinner. I love to spend time at the Sea Lounge in South Mumbai.
I love to travel. Recently, we had gone to drop my son for undergraduate studies in the US. We had a beautiful holiday when we went to Germany, Boston, and Las Vegas. I would recommend Las Vegas to everyone who loves to travel."