In last week of November 2014, I made my 17th trip of the year. It was towards my home. I visited my parents quite a few times this year and I felt genuinely happy I was able to spend some quality time with my lonely parents. I wanted to make them feel I am close and do not stay far away from them, although my present place is two day’s train journey away from home. Many will admit that visiting home and being with parents is a luxury owing to lack of time due to work pressure and deadlines in this fast pace of world.
Out of these 17 trips, many were work trips that I intended to do with all my heart. Those were the tales of marginalized people that I wanted the world to know – the stories of forced migration in beautiful mountains, the hardships of active but exhausted women, the urban carriers of mankind, and dying drummers with their young drums. I travelled extensively, met extraordinary people and wrote about them to make their stories heard.
Rests of trips were charting unknown territories into the mountains. I didn’t visit the seas this yea. I biked through the chilly mist of Himalayas; saw the cobalt peaks of Trishul, Nanda Devi and Panchachauli on a full moon night; did yoga in airs of mountain sunrise with Himalayas a witness to it; travelled on a truck on the highway after our car broke down; read my favourite authors while basking in the warm sunshine of mountains; and walked through forests in non-stop train.
Yet, there were long and frequent periods of intense frustrations of not finding enough assignments, and serious financial constraints. Almost always I was in anxious waits for replies to pitches, and above all, constant uncertainty of my potential of being an independent professional. Whenever, there was a rejection mail from editors pinged in my inbox, I spent hours of my time ruminating what went wrong and if at all I could manage to pull up myself, and needless to say, there were second thoughts of going back to a job in office.
This was a life I lived, loved and candidly disliked, in 2014, which was unlike any life that I lived all of my life.
Needless to say, I experienced the conundrum of emotions, only after I left my black and white job and headed for interesting, occasionally baffling, lives of an independent journalist, a traveller and a writer (in random order) – all at the same time.
I cannot recall if I travelled out of home/work 17 times in last six years.
A day at work never ends
A large white hall and from the door, as far as eyes can see, white fibre partisans, bordered blue, run one after another and sometimes, when you are eyes are red, they seem overlapping each other. Inside those partisans, men and women, all dressed in different colours are sitting and working on their all-black desktops, at half-past seven in the evening. All you can hear is tap-tap-tap sounds, coming from all angles of the hall. Conversations happen only when needed urgently; rest of the time, it all happens through shooting emails. This isn’t any call centre, this is a publishing and media house. One side of the hall has long glass windows, which are never open and has white blinds drawn from one end to another. Sitting inside one can never know when the dawn breaks in or night slowly oozes out from the sunset.
Face-to-face dialogues happen less, and, sometimes we do not even know what beat the new reporter covers. However, out of compulsory courtesy, you convey greetings when you smile at her in an elevator. All day you are occupied with your phone, pen and paper and computer, while the big daddy of time constantly keeps a watch on you. After you finally finish your copy at eight in the evening and send it to the desk, you come home and switch on the television. Before even the day ends, tomorrow’s big story is happening, and you are already preparing interview questions in your mind.
Out of office, it is a different world. You are always behind your stories, keeping all senses alive like a sniffer dog, conversing with almost everyone out of compulsion, including rickshaw wallas, unearthing news before any one else does, getting facts out of arrogant and silent tongues, and, of course, running to be always When your story doesn’t materialise, it’s time for a one-sided face-off with big daddy. Next morning, you are behind additional quality stories to prove your value as a journalist in the organization. Leaves and weekly-offs become occasional affairs, just like phone calls with parents and family. On last day of the month, while you are on your way to interview someone, phone beeps with a notification of bank deposit of a hefty salary. You become cheerful for a day or two.
But I did not want to be a journalist only. I wished to be something else also, like a writer or someone who travels and writes at the same time, because I have tales to tell. I hoped to meet ordinary men and women living in remote places and make their voices heard. I also dreamt of writing novellas – I knew I have such rare quality of imagination, and I didn’t want it to go waste. I knew I can observe minute details of every day life and can also put them into good imagery. I so much wanted to remain a journalist, because, as they say, once a journalist, always a journalist. But I did not want to spend all my life sitting in office, filing news copies till night, without having watched sunset, at least once a week or even a month (many, with me, will admit, that is a far-fetched luxury).
An office of monochrome cannot give freedom to wings of creativity to fly. I hated it for six long years till I decided to take the plunge into freedom, and uncertainty. I acknowledged that I fancy diverse passions and being in one failed to fulfill my life, even with good money every month. I wished to be free from editorial domination, everyday deadlines, 15 minute lunch breaks over checking emails, coming home at dead hour, regular face-offs and mostly, running against time.
Although I had been planning to quit for more than three years, I just couldn’t put down my papers. I was overwhelmingly scared of repercussions if things didn’t work out the way I hoped. But again, I was exhausted of the monotonous life I was living. So even before I quit, I began to look for assignments by sending pitches, along with samples of my writing, to as many publishing and media houses I knew. Most of them sent no replies, which is a common practice. Each day felt like I was taking a test: coming home at night after work and then sit down with dinner and laptop, mailing pitches to editors till next morning, without having realised how night faded out so quickly. The dinner plate remained as it was until I came back home from office and washed dirty crockery, and the previous night repeated itself.
The process was as slow and silent like a snail. But out of prolonged discontentment and anxiety, one evening in November 2013, after I mailed my last news copy of the day, I sent out my resignation to my editor, without thinking of consequences. I didn’t know what I was going to do next; all I knew that I needed a break from compulsive filing of news reports. After consultations with my editor, my resignation was accepted and I was released in a month’s time. I felt so relieved, yet fears of future couldn’t leave me. I packed my bags and left for home.
Soul searching begins
Coming home with no assignment and deadline to follow, I deeply reflected on my actions, but I realised I was happy with my choice, and eventually made my parents understand it. Having become aware of my choice, for next two months, I found myself writing fiction and creative non-fiction that I always wished to do, but never had the luxury of time and support. I began to take long walks, watch Ganges taking bites of sun and spend quality time with parents. I resumed the process of sending pitches and out of scores of mails that I sent, only a few newspapers and magazines, replied and agreed to publish my stories on their platforms. I was elated and walking on air.
In the meantime, I decided to join my partner living in a quaint hill station, far away from noises and complexities of a city life. After a couple of weeks of moving in, I tried meeting journalists, media professionals and people from other walks of life. Being a small place, almost everyone knows each other, and so my acquaintances introduced me to other people. I was also trying to comprehend the media scenario of the place and realised this place has been very less written about in national and mainstream media. I applied to one of India’s premier media organisations for the post of freelance journalist and luckily, they were also looking for someone who can cover my region. With a smaller amount of monthly remuneration, I happily agreed to report and write for their paper, because I was free to travel and write for everyone else. Thus began my first formal independent journalism project.
But before I grabbed my big assignment, I was writing for a politics and cultural magazine, thanks to innumerous mails that I sent over last two months. I was also writing for a popular travel magazine completely free of cost, because I am fond of individual travel stories (Pico Iyer and AndrewTMcCarthy are a couple of my favourite travel writers). I wished to make a similar attempt and, thankfully, some of my travel stories received unexpected response. I was delighted. Now, of course, I don’t write for free; I charge them and other travel magazines.
Much later on, I discovered Contributoria, and it so happened my first pitch received a full backing from the journalist community of the platform. I wrote my piece on changing social and cultural value of money in India, which was well recognized by my editors and peers. Next month, I wished to write on a school that gives birth to free-spirited independent girls. Here I always tried to focus on stories that will never feature in mainstream media, due to editorial politics and marketing pressures. Stories of marginalized and voice-less people, strong women and their never-ending struggles, of teenage girls who study, sow, feed cattle, cook, tailor own clothes, and are extremely outspoken, tribes that is losing its own language due to influence of regional and national languages, of children who go to school and also help their fathers build their first mud house. Contributoria has let my reporter’s wings fly
Meanwhile, I also managed to do a lot of creative writing. I have been immensely savouring the journey of being my own boss and have produced more satisfactory pieces of literary writing in these ten months than I did in those six years years of material hardships. I was recently selected for a creative writing workshop offered by University of East Anglia, Norwich, and for ten days I was overjoyed to be with fellow authors from around the world, brainstorming, reading and writing. The workshop has been priceless in my writing life. For now, I am busy sending my short stories and fiction to various literary magazines, and hopefully, at least, some one, will agree to publish them.
But the year wasn’t just full of good writing. When I began writing for travel magazines free of cost, I didn’t for how long I would have to wait to get paid a decent remuneration. Months went by, not a single deposit was made in my bank account. The political magazine was also a start-up, so naturally it makes its payment quite late. My partner offered immense support to my work and me, and thanks to him, I continued to focus on my writing. But things do not work, as they should. There were frequent and long periods of desperations when I almost gave up and applied for regular office jobs. Those were difficult days and nights, and frankly, even now, I end up doubting my ability of being a good journalist and writer, whenever a rejection
The year ends..
Now, a year on, I do report, write and travel – which were impossible to do in 2013. The best thing I like about it is that it doesn’t prevent me from doing anything in this world. My work allows me to spend lazy afternoons and of course, there is no more running against time. I really don’t know for how long these good days will continue. But right now, I just want to be a better journalist and focus on good writing.