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Note: On Saturday, Nov. 17, 2001, I was asked to introduce Jyoti Thottam, SAJA president at the Kerala Center in Elmont, Long Island. She was receiving the Center's award for excellence in journalism. Here are my (slightly edited) remarks.

At the South Asian Journalists Association, we represent more than 800 journalists across the United States and Canada. That means there are at least 800 sets of desi parents out there somewhere really upset about their child's careers choice. And, of course, a large number of those are Malayalee parents.

But I am honored today to introduce to you a journalist who would make any parent proud -- even Malayalee ones, as she does in her case.

Jyoti Thottam is the president of SAJA and, has, in the year she has been in charge, taken the organization to dramatic heights, revamped its governance and raised its profile.

She has managed to do that in a completely voluntary capacity, while doing her day job -- being a reporter for On Magazine, a major title at Time Inc formerly known as Time Digital. Her stories have helped explain complicated techology to a lay audience and helped improve the lives of countless readers. She has previously worked as a reporter in Queens, Connecticut, Florida, even India. And on top of all this, she runs a biennial documentary film festival in New York called "Travelling Film South Asia."

While preparing my remarks today, I asked Jyoti's editor at On Magazine, Joshua Quittner, to tell me his thoughts on Jyoti in an e-mail. I asked for a couple of lines -- he sent me several paras. As some of you might know, Josh is one of the best-known columnists in the U.S. Here is what he had to say:

As I've probably told you, Jyoti is one of my favorite people in the world. Everyone here feels the same way. The thing that is truly amazing about her is that she can do absolutely anything. I've never met anyone with such a short learning curve and so many interests and so much inate talent. Two stories come to mind.

One: ON Magazine had a dream assignment of r a young reporter. We were doinga story on last-minute travel and I was looking for a volunteer to try a service that offered tix at great discounts to people willing to travel at the very last minute. Jyoti volunteered. Now most reporters would use this as an opportunity to grab a weekend trip to the Bahamas or Miami or New Orleans or some other den of iniquity. Where did Jyoti choose to go? Salt Lake City, Utah. Not suprisingly, she had a great time. Don't ask me how.

Two: Now, some people might see this as evidence that Jyoti is a very dull person--anyone who can be amused by a weekend at a YMCA in Salt Lake City must be easily amused and probably isn't so amusing. But there is no pigeon-holing Jyoti. I had her writing a back-of-the-book thing, a chart hat ideally would have been funny and clever. It wasn't. I kept sending it back to her, saying, this just isn't funny. Somehow, Jyoti, like Superwoman... WILLED herself to be funny.

Usually, when a writer is struggling making a piece funny, I end up rewriting it myself. I have done this dozens of times. But her last draft of that piece was so funny, it actually had me laughing out loud--no mean feat given the fact that I had alread read the thing a half dozen times.

How does she do it? Maybe it was something she learned in Salt Lake City.

For her consistent, high quality reporting and her leadership skills, the Kerala Center is proud to present its 2001 award for excellence in the field of journalism to Jyoti Thottam...

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More on Jyoti:
http://www.saja.org/thottam.html

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