Aleesha Matharu is the Editor of LiveWire and Assistant Editor at The Wire. She has previously worked for The Indian Express, Catch News and Rock Street Journal and is one of the most fun and chill people you’ll ever come across. With her witty sarcasm, she sure knows how to regale her audience.
Read this interview-cum-candid-conversation for a sneak peek into her journey, and what Live Wire stands for, in heart and mind.
Interview with Aleesha Matharu
How much does journalism as a profession resonate with you?
I’d like to trace back the beginning of my journalism journey to my boarding school “Wellham Girls” where I ended up being the editor of four magazines, including The News & Views. I went on pursuing B.A.(Hons.) English from Delhi University. Post that, I enrolled in a course by The Indian Express for a year, which was more in flux, as far as my futuristic plans including whether to pursue a masters or not were concerned. Receiving the title of “Best All-Round Student” came as a surprise to me, considering the fact that I was a happy 70-80 percenter back in school, where I was rather more interested in reading my own books and not necessarily chasing the grades.
The course served in perfect synonymity with my perception of things owing to the fact that I’ve always had a keen interest in understanding the worldview around me. I was a massive history buff, especially World History. Reading about world history, Vietnam War, Korean War, all the travel in the middle-east helped me form an opinion of what’s happening today because, at the end of the day, it’s all interconnected. Things don’t work out until you choose your own road.
In Journalism, you feel that you’re not only giving other people a voice but also you’re trying to say the right thing and alter the narrative.
What made you choose LiveWire and TheWire?
I was working at the Catch News, when one of the Founding Editors of The Wire, Siddharth Varadarajan reached out to me, and it all just worked out. I joined The Wire, at a time when LiveWire was just kick-starting.
And this one day, Siddharth offers me the post of Editor-in-chief for LiveWire. I was a bit dicey about student politics because that was not my area of expertise but slowly over time, I started making it my own. Here, suddenly I was in a position where I had to do all of it - from ideation to execution, but finally, I think I have put my stamp on it.
When I took over, we had 12k followers on Instagram, and now, we are over 190k in 1.5 years. I always wanted it to grow more organically and democratise the platform in that sense. Understanding other’s perspective has always been in alignment with my high EQ, ever since I was a kid, and LiveWire allowed me to put that into good use.
What is LiveWire’s content creation and publication process?
Our inbox is open for anyone and everyone. Right when lockdown started, we jumped from getting about 25 emails a day to about 80 emails. I spent 3-4 hours with just my mailbox. On Monday, I get hit by a brick wall and tell myself to breathe. My only other colleague at the editor’s desk, Tanya Jha, is the most dependable person I’ve ever come across. Our illustrator, Pariplab Chakroborty, brings life to a lot of copies.
The inbox has made me cry, the inbox has made me smile, the inbox has made me want to throw away my laptop.
Many people write to me because they don't have anyone to talk to. But when I read their writings, I find it hard to use them because they're not written well or they're too raw and emotional. Even though I try to give them a chance, it's tough for me to work with those pieces. It's really difficult to reject those pieces and sometimes I end up saying things like "things will get better" to provide some comfort to them. However, later on, I do feel guilty because I don't feel like I'm actually helping them. I believe my job falls into a gray area where it's hard to determine what exactly I should do. But sometimes people just need to hear the right words, and I try my best to offer them that.
LiveWire has always been reflecting the voice of the masses and the reality, was it a conscious attempt on the part of creators, or is it something that gradually developed over time?
Absolutely, over time I’ve managed to give its own voice to LiveWire. Initially, when I took over, there was an age limit of 28 for submitting pieces and I thought that was really ageist because anyone could have an interesting opinion. A 50-year-old person may have something very interesting to say that could resonate with the youth, so eventually, the age limit was chucked out and that was wonderful because we have had teachers, professors, physicists, people from outside India writing to us: from all walks of life. Recently, a 60-year-old man wrote a couple of poems for us. As far as it’s good creative content that resonates and works, it’s all that matters.
It also serves as a gateway for students to talk to their parents. We’ve got young adults writing stories of great heartache for us. A lot of people go anonymously but a lot of them are okay to put their name on it, and I think that’s so courageous, talking about your family history in ways that people can relate to it. Some stories that come out are just horrible, teachers bullying kids, kids bullying kids. I feel it’s very important to get these voices out there because a lot of them don’t understand that they did this and that they were perpetrators in school. Even if they were not the bully in question, they were allowing for this to happen, and we need to keep them in check. There is too much toxicity in the world: there are pitfalls to woke culture, there are pitfalls to cancel culture but being nicer to one another is one of the easiest things to do.*
Colourist ways in school, fat-shaming: school is not a nice place regardless of a system that can be made much better. And then, we wouldn’t have to have a platform to teach empathy, teaching to just respect a fellow human being irrespective of his race, caste, creed, colour. It’s all roses they taught in school, but the real world is not that place.
LiveWire doesn’t shy away from calling out those in authority and starting important conversations while raising uncomfortable questions. It is the sort of woke platform that everyone wished for, throughout time, but somewhere between the censoring and selling of media houses, the idea got lost somewhere. What and how do you think LiveWire and The Wire has managed to do differently and emerge as what it is today?
We’re lucky that with The Wire family, we’re an independent media company with no bosses except for the three founding editors. We’re 80% donor-funded which means that no one is telling us what to do, our readers are sending us money. If it’s a story, it’s a story without any check, it’s us making the call, that if a particular thing needs to be represented and put out. These are stories that need to be told and someone has to say it. It’s important that someone points it out especially when the narrative that’s being sold is very different from the actual happenings. So, the independent media houses including The Quint, The Scroll and the News Laundry, the News Minute provide these alternative spaces.
I’d rather read my news, get my facts right from legitimate websites than watching television news or rather entertainment in form of a sick joke, that has been playing on for so long. There is no talk of a pandemic, and it’s really scary and the fact that they are not portraying that sense of urgency on television due to which our numbers keep on rising of which we dont have the infrastructure for. It’s just so unknown. It’s mind-boggling how far-reaching this confusion that people read. And sadly, it’s also a result of a flawed education system.
We had imagined 2020 to be much progressive, wishing for flying cars but it turned out to be filled with hatred and bigotry around the world, including The United States, crimes against women have not stopped when we look at countries like Turkey and Brazil.
Under the guise of the pandemic, we don’t even know what’s happening all around the world because there is just so much news that who is going to seek out that extra human rights violation in that corner of the world, especially when the world didn’t begin to care about it, in the first place so, it’s really heartbreaking.
In the entire Sushant Singh Rajput case, I’m shocked at the insensitivity and unawareness of the media channels where they called mental health a “disease”. Policing a woman for smoking a cigarette or wearing a short skirt needs to be changed because it’s 2020 already. I’m 30 years old but still, people in my society don’t consider me as an adult yet owing to the fact that I’m not married. Just stay healthy, mentally and physically, that is all that matters. Spend time with your family. And dont forget to wash your hands, of course!
How did LiveWire come into existence?
They wanted to start something that was more youth-focus, a platform for people to write their poetry, essays and a lot more and I think we have achieved that to a great extent.
I’m learning and unlearning every day. I may have grown up in a very liberal household where I and my sister had our fair shares of freedom but despite that, I look around and notice my internalised patriarchy. Even though my father is an extreme feminist and we almost agree on everything, there is always a little something in all men of a certain generation
Absolutely agreed! Even patriarchy as an ideology operates in very subtle mannerisms, I remember reading an article on LiveWire titled “The Ugly Daughter of a Pretty Mother” and it just made so much sense. Such pieces help me identify something which I never knew could exist, in the first place. But it’s very much there in all of us, too deeply-ingrained to be aware or conscious of.
So, the other day I came across an exchange between Masaba Gupta and her mother where Neena Gupta, in a game of Never Have I Ever asks Masaba that have you ever stalked anyone on Instagram and she is like “yeah, of course,” and she is like “no, they all stalk me” which shows such difference in perspectives and even then, Masaba has a lot to overcome, especially in a country like India, where people can be extremely racist and uninformed. So, these small moments of truth make you go like “Yeah, I know what’s going happening here”.
Who is Aleesha Matharu when she is not a journalist? What do you do in your leisure time?
I recently started watching YouTube. I love to spend time with my family and dogs. I’ve also been learning how to DJ since past one year, so, I sometimes practice that. And I go for a lot of walks which is absolutely cathartic for me: getting out of the house for some fresh air. Also, there is this feature on the phone which tells you the number of hours you’ve spent on an app and shames you on your face.
How do you deal with hatred and bigotry? Both on a personal and professional level, do you turn a blind eye towards them because they are not worth your time and energy, or do you call them out and educate them? Because when you try to question the norm, people usually don’t take it very well, considering we’re wired to think and behave in a certain way.
Sometimes, I avoid the comments section, because sometimes I just dont want to deal with it, when I fell that this is not something I can take on mentally. There are other days when I’m ready, I go for it hear-on. It is also scary sometimes, given the hate and bashing that comes to our inboxes. I also try not replying to any messages at least one day a week. Like a whole shutdown, day experimenting with cooking, going to the supermarket, taking that one extra bath and leisurely shower at least one day a week. Self-care doesn’t solve problems but it certainly helps feel you good, in some ways. Post lockdown, we all have a skincare routine which we actually follow.
But there is also a lot of appreciation and support as well, from various individuals saying that we come to your platform, learn something new and take it home with us. It’s fine if you cannot agree with certain posts but as long as something else is resonating with you, I’ sure that empathy is stringing around somewhere.
Now&Me is a peer to peer community support network which helps young people feel less lonely during difficult times and allows them to connect with others who might have been through similar things like them from all across the world. According to you, how impactful are positive spaces like Now&Me, for our youth?
It’s a great platform that I’ve begun to realise with reading so many stories that come into the LiveWire inbox that there are so many experiences that are so similar yet so dissimilar that if you’ve more number of such stories out there, there’s a chance that there is someone out there who doesn’t feel so alone in thinking that they are the only person who is going through this at a current time. It’s nice to know that there is someone out there who is literally going through the same thing as you.
So, if you have a platform which is created to lay bare your true self, where other people are not going to judge you because they are all trying to be vulnerable and vulnerability is not easy, it takes courage. Just owning whatever you want to say and express. And the same goes for LiveWire as well. It has been working itself out so organically, I love watching it grow, it has been a wonderful journey!
Interviewed, Transcribed and Edited by Annanya Chaturvedi
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and guest and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or beliefs of Now&Me, any other agency, organization, employer or company. And since we are critically-thinking human beings, these views are always subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time. Please do not hold us to them in perpetuity.