In the early nineties, the first newspaper office where I worked started its journey with some Macintosh computers—not for the use of journalists, but for a group of compositors to compose texts from hardcopies of journalists. The people who worked in the "computer section" worked in an elite environment: carpeted floor and fully air-conditioned. The compositors did not really understand their machines but knew how to compose text and give print outs in tracing papers. These tracing papers were cut with scissors and taped on cellophane sheets that were used for newspaper layouts.
For the journalists, the writing tool was typewriters. The sub-editors used a pen to edit copies. This culture is alien to the present-day journalists.
Among us, Bangu bhai is the first reporter to have ever visited a computerised and networked newsroom where both reporters and sub-editors worked on PCs and the page make-up was done in computers. Not in Bangladesh, not at The Daily Star where we worked but in Germany.
We loved Bangu bhai's hyper-activities. Bangu is his "title"—not a real name. It represented his tiny stature.
Back in 1992, he was nominated by the newspaper to visit Germany on a media tour. When he got his first "foreign" visa, we celebrated as we did not consider an Indian visa as a true foreign visa. We had Indian visas plenty already.
Bangu bhai comes from a Bangla background like me and had a flat desi English pronunciation.
After his five day visit, he walked back to the office in a mood as if he had returned from conquering the Everest. Tucking his shirt repeatedly, Bangu bhai smiled at us when we asked him about his trip.
He blurts back in English with a distinct pronunciation, "Well, they don't use any typewritah. Only c(h)omputah! All reportahs use computah."
"Computah? Typewritah? What are you saying?" we asked.
Bangu bhai then talked about how a German newsroom worked. A computer network, photo-editing and all that made Germany "so advanced!"
Surely we did not have computahs in 1992. But by 1994, our newspaper brought in some used PCs as typewriters started to be phased out. And we, along with Bangu bhai, were using computah minus the network. In between I had taken Bangu bhai to an electronic genius who was building a custom 'amplifiah' for my rock band—but that's a different story.
In 1995-96, we had our first networked computer system with Linux and an off-line e-mail system of Pine. We switched to Windows PC in 1997.
All the while, I was taking advantage of my better PC knowledge over my other colleagues. My regular prank victims included Bura bhai and Bangu bhai.
One such early prank involved using a Microsoft Word feature. The software comes with an auto-replace words option. I sat at the PC of Bura bhai, opened the auto-replace command box and typed "idiot " to be replaced by every time the word "the" is used.
Later Bura bhai came and started writing his story. He typed, "The river is choking to death with the pollution." After typing, he looked at the screen and screamed, "Hey!" What's wrong? The monitor reads: idiot river is choking to death with idiot pollution.
Bura bhai pressed backspace and typed the same sentence once again. But the result is the same. He looked at others to see if anyone was pulling some strings. "What's wrong?" I asked.
Bura was angry. So he pressed backspace again and then slowly began typing, letter by letter. To his surprise it did not work. Right before his eyes, he saw "the" being replaced by "idiot " and he could not do anything about it. He then angrily typed his sentence at the speed of light. Once again the result was the same. He was on the verge of crying.
"Please help me—I think my computer is kaput!" Bura shrilled.
I made a serious face, "That must be some virus. I can fix that! Get me some singaras and tea."
"Ok!" Bura said as he ordered singara and tea. I opened the auto-replace box and normalised things right before his nose—but he did not understand what I just did. But he was so grateful that I had fixed his PC just in exchange for some singaras.
Our colleague Masud Hasan Khan meanwhile joined the BBC and came to visit us in our office in Dhanmondi in 1997. He had some gifts for me: a fake beard and a plastic replica of human excreta. I cursed Masud for bringing such stuff, but soon I found a use for at least the realistic human excreta.
Though Bangu bhai is the first among us to have visited a modern newsroom equipped with networked PCs, he did not know much about computers. All he knew was to open Microsoft Word, type a story and print it. He did not know anything about floppy disk drive (remember floppies?) or what else a PC could do.
That day he was writing some story with deep concentration. He was occasionally turning to one side to sip his tea. I just placed the plastic excreta below the floppy drive of his CPU without him noticing me. Then I stepped back.
Bangu bhai turned to the monitor and began typing. Suddenly he fell off the chair. "What the hell!" he shrilled. Others thronged to him. "What's wrong?"
Bangu bhai clipped his nose with one hand, pointing his fingers to the desk just below his floppy drive. Human excreta?
I shrilled, "What has happened?"
Bangu bhai took a few steps back and said, "I don't know. I must have pressed some wrong buttons and it came out through that Floppy Drive!"
I almost died of laughter.
After our office moved to Karwan Bazar in 2000, we now had a network and server system and computers for all reporters, sub-editors and other staff. We have now moved out from cellophane based make-up to basic make-up on our PCs—and we just fell short of printing the layout directly on printing plates. In other words, we were now in a smarter office.
My last classic computer joke was hacking into Pintu's computer from my computer through the network just to modify his desktop wallpaper in photoshop a bit by bit. While I would photoshop his wallpaper, Pintu would never suspect anything as I was sitting just one desk next to him. Pintu would not at first notice the minor changes in his desktop wallpaper upon turning on his Windows every day.
Pintu had a wallpaper of Michael Angelo's painting that he photographed while travelling abroad earlier that year. The painting showed innocent little naked angels, among other elements. All I did was distort the private part of an angel to a negligible level every day. And there was one person staring at the angels. I also gradually made the eyes of that person grow big and wide to eventually express utter shock.
After a few days, one evening when Pintu opened up his PC, he almost fell off his chair.
"What's this! My PC has been infected by some weird virus!" he shrills. Everybody thronged to his computer and exploded into laughter. There was this angel with a long distorted private before a person whose eyes were popping out. This is supposed to be an artwork of Michael Angelo—not a cartoonist.
Oh well, in the end I restored his original wallpaper in the pretext of fixing his computer virus.