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Garner: Small beginnings

Bob Garner

Bob Garner

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

I heard her Tuesday on the BBC World Service, where she presents each weekday’s first broadcast of NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report.

The heart of that day’s segment concerned pig slaughtering facilities abroad.

Some 25 years ago, ironically, she was being dispatched by UNC-TV to produce broadcast segments on eastern North Carolina’s hog waste-disposal facilities. She was North Carolina Now’s Kashmir-born student intern from UNC-Chapel Hill — and I was “swole up” enough to consider myself one of her mentors.

Now, I’m equally as proud to consider her one of mine. Speaking British English these days, rather than the slightly Southern-accented American-ese she had imitated during her student years in the Triangle, she thinks that’s “so, so lovely” of me. It’s now as natural as her smile and not the slightest bit affected.

Anu Anand’s family had immigrated decades ago and became involved in the motel business. Her journey toward freelancing for the BBC, freelancing from home, freelancing parenthood during a “work break” and back to the BBC (still freelancing from home) began, though, with a 1996 visit to her relatives in India.

Her immediate family’s motel management demands meant Anand had sometimes been a latchkey child with too much solitude on her hands. In India, she found she had virtually no “privv-ih-see”.

But what the Hindi word “tamash” describes — the chaos and spectacle of India — was no match for her overriding fascination with the sight of monkeys freely scampering over rooftops.

So she interviewed for a job with the now-defunct United Press International bureau in Delhi and decided to trade the relative security she had experienced in the United States for grinding poverty, pollution, caste distinctions, “worthy”-class arrogance, dysfunctional infrastructure … and adventure … in India.

Here’s where the “small” part enters the story. At the age of 23, she accepted the offer of a starting salary of $50 per month.

When I had lunch last year with her and other former colleagues in an upscale Carrboro pizzeria, she literally wept at the fear, dismay and initial lack of encouragement that emanated from her American family at the time. Which parents among us can blame them under the circumstances?

They came around superbly, to the extent of offering to provide an emergency financial backstop so she could pursue her dreams. But rather than depend on that, she slept on a broken-down chaise longue and otherwise lived in penury, determined to get by.

Fortune smiles on the brave, sometimes. By the time she actually arrived in Delhi, the remuneration had jumped to the princely sum of one cent per word, although no travel budget existed. Writing “like a fiend” from her office desk, she managed to cobble together around $300 per month.

See, it’s never a safe idea to pay journalists by the word.

Even though I have described her as an international “star,” Anand doesn’t summarize her career in that manner. She admits flatly that she tried — and failed — to find a “swallow your time” journalism career. You know, the kind that wrecks your marriage, makes strangers of your children and scatters your luggage, clothes and personal effects to the four winds.

It’s the kind I tried and failed to land, too, thank God.

She’s among my mentors because she chose to believe and act on what every world religion teaches, along with the golden rule and other wisdom. In our Christian Bible, it’s rendered in Zechariah 4:10 (NLT): “Do not despise these small beginnings …”

Most all religions on the planet also teach that those small beginnings — presumably small endings, as well — can actually become great triumphs. Sometime. Somewhere.

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com.

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Humans of Greenville

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