"I have been standing here for two hours; don't try to be smart. I will get inside first," the video journalist told me. I was in no hurry. The door was locked from outside, after all. I remember I stepped back a little.
Soon, more people began to come up. The whole stairway was full of people, carrying cameras, cables, tripods, mikes and note pads. Everybody was waiting for the family.
The mother appeared first. Before she could greet us, she was jostled by many rushing for the door. "Are we allowed to show her face," asked a young woman. "Let's shoot now. Baad me dekhenge kya karna hai," said her male colleague, struggling to hold his video camera high.
The mother managed to reach the door but couldn't open it. Held up downstairs, her husband appeared after some time. He didn't have the keys either. Neighbours shut their doors. After a while, it turned out that their younger son had got the door locked from outside to keep the media at bay. He failed.
He threw the keys from inside. In two minutes, journalists swarmed into the house. "Let us have a glass of water. We have been travelling the whole day. Please go outside. I will give interviews to all of you," the father pleaded.
Nobody listened. Let's do the set up for now. We have been waiting for hours --- was the common refrain. One of the bedrooms turned into a makeshift studio. Women reporters invaded the washroom --- for make-up. They cracked jokes.
Now the mother pleaded: "Don't we have any work to do? We cannot deal with so many people. We have not invited so many of you. Please come later."
Again nobody listened. They check audio, plugged in cables, set up lights as if it was their own studio. Interviews began. All exclusives. "Did you ever ask your daughter what exactly happened to her on that bus?" "Do you remember her?"
People grabbed the couple by their arms and took them to different directions for better angles. They were made to sit in particular postures.
[Can you please look a bit sad?]
"Us kaali raat to nirbhaya jab ghar se nikli thi to kya aapko ek baar bhi laga ki darinde usko apna shikaar bana lenge?"
[Can we get a doll in the backdrop, just for effect?]
The mother went into the kitchen to get water, but the light there was suddenly switched off, again without consent, because it was 'disturbing' the shoot happening in the next room.
As crews began to pack and return, the mother said, "Look, they ransacked the entire house. I am paying Rs 2,000 as monthly power bills. They come and plug in all kinds of equipment. I will go mad.
She turned to me, "Bhaiya, you didn't ask anything?" Her husband replied for me: "He never does." Having tracked the family for a year, I realised for the first time that I actually hardly ask anything when I meet them. I never have to. Just be with them and they have so much to share.
The father broke my chain of thoughts. "Tea," he said. He makes tea for me every time I visit him. Not because I am a better journalist [he doesn't know which paper I work for] or I am more sensitive than others. In fact, I also have my share of guilt. It's just that I am, perhaps, working with a medium less evil.