The Phone call...
The day at work was tiresome, but fruitful. After toiling through bumper-to-bumper office-hour traffic, it was relieving to be home. Typical sweltering summer day in Delhi was satiated by thunderstorms in the evening which brought down the temperature a tad, but at the same time caused congestion and jams on roads. “Delhi roads improved after the Common Wealth Games but, traffic management remains awry during weather conditions like today,” she cribbed. By the time she reached home it was 9:30 P.M. She was usually late home with or without the weather difference or traffic.
Asmita was exhausted, but smiled as she stood in the balcony of her room holding her elixir, ginger-lemon green tea poured in her favourite mug with two biscuits. There was still sometime for dinner and she was glad to be home ‘a bit early’. Throughout her professional life, she got home with the moon and stars in the sky only to grab a bite and sleep.
She was amused as the day turned out to be special. The publishers she was working with had hinted that they were planning to launch another magazine and she would be heading its content team. She was looking forward to the opportunity, but was wondering at the same time about how she would manage two magazines simultaneously and find time for herself too. It would be hectic for her, but the idea of kick-starting a new magazine and brainstorming for it seemed exciting- ‘It’s a vicious circle’, she thought. “One feels excited to get promotions and responsibilities and then gets tensed thinking about the execution part,” she smiled to herself.
Asmita enjoyed to head and initiate projects and use her expertise to craft them and give her best. She liked her work and would not mind spending umpteen hours at work, even when she was an intern and did not have much work to do in office. She used to hang around observing seniors and colleagues and hoping that someday she would do what ‘they’ were doing. She learnt from them and without an official degree in Journalism or a jack to push her up, she was now the Editor of a known monthly magazine. “Soon it would be two,” she sipped from her cup.
‘This’ was the opportunity for her and she was happy to have reached here from ‘there’. From darkness to light, despair to hope, desperation to opportunity.
Not long back, she was struggling hard to find a foothold in journalism and coming from a non-journalism background, she was finding it hard to convince editors about her writing, reporting skills and style of expression. They were looking for ‘people with experience in television, print media, people with ‘contacts’ or ‘freshers’; whom they could have hired at low cost or not pay at all.
These norms disgusted Asmita and she especially abhorred the culture of hiring interns, not paying them. “All this in the 'name of journalism', or giving them a chance to work for a big brand. This was a sheer blackmail,” she thought.
For media honchos and big brands, it was justified as they always have long queues of wannabe candidates or aspiring TV anchors looking for ‘an opportunity to work with…’ Media bosses always had ‘options’ and behaved in a brusque manner when it came to hiring newbies.
Then there was a significant list of those who knew ‘someone in some organization, PSU, Government office, or their own company department’. Asmita did not know ‘anyone’ and neither possess a journalistic or bureaucratic or Armed Forces or political background. She was a commoner and even after working hard for so many years; she still was the ‘common nut’.
No one in her extended family was associated with media or journalism and even as a kid she never thought of entering this field. It was the sudden demise of her mother-her friend, philosopher, guide, play mate and pillar of strength-she decided to pick up a job which gave her some power, authority, security and integrity in a country riddled with corruption and misogyny. Her father was a Manager in a private firm and family earnings were meagre. Parents wanted the best of everything for their kids, three in number, but only managed to make ends meet every month.
Asmita realised after her mother’s death in a government hospital because of cancer, that she has no other option but to work hard and get to a position where she is not vulnerable and weak. She wanted to yield power, in a constructive way, and even thought of sitting for Civil Services Exam but, her family could not afford extra classes, tuitions, tutorials and preparation, hence she started studying hard for a good academic record to become eligible for jobs with reputed firms.
Her hard work paid off and she got into two of the best colleges in the country; one for graduation and second for post-graduation. She now had two Ivy League college stamps. She responded to a newspaper advertisement which was looking for freshers for a new magazine. She jumped at it and because she had a good academic background, she was hired.
Thence began an exhilarating journey, work wise, and Asmita moved to television from the magazine. It was a calculated move, “TV reporters wield more ‘power’ then an obscure magazine,” she thought. Here too she excelled and got promoted as one of the anchors for the late night news bulletin. Asmita’s career was rolling like anything. Pretty, charming, exuberant, lovely, warm and friendly she was everyone’s delight. But, gruelling working hours and 24X7 breaking news frenzy took a toll on her health and Asmita was about to face the biggest health challenge of her life.
She was diagnosed with hypertension, depression, fatigue and Tuberculosis. She had to quit her television job. It was painful to see her colleagues on TV every day doing new and exciting stories while she was bedridden and watching her career drift away. She was advised to stay away from hectic schedule and take up some easy job. What took her years to achieve was lost in months…
Asmita broke down. She lost weight and her confidence. She gathered herself and decided to get her health back and then think about work. She took time off and focussed on eating and sleeping right. Upon recovering, she thought of going back to work but, in print media as it is not as hectic as electronic.
It was tough for her to get a breakthrough in a different medium but she had worked for a magazine initially and she had confidence in herself.
She succeeded in getting a job with an upcoming magazine. They were looking for experienced journalists and were finding it hard to get seasoned journalists on board and because ‘senior journos’ working in big brands were not interested in a new start-up.
She accepted the challenge and was determined to give her best. The magazine’s concept was new and it needed a major editorial direction; which excited her. Also, colleagues were cooperative here, minus the sluggish bureaucracy. Though the budget of the magazine was low but, she could function freely, which she liked the most. The office was a quaint little place, unlike the huge glossy buildings and MNC infrastructure she had worked previously in but, she was the boss here. She enjoyed interacting with the paltry staff here and everyone was congenial and bereft of self-created super-image or ego.
Asmita was enjoying her new job and was now beginning to feel that her career was back on the right track. Though, she was very careful about feeling secure in a job and thinking that it is an ‘assured one’. The unpredictability of the Media Industry baffled her and many times she regretted her entry into the same. She had witnessed many colleagues doing rounds in different channels/media organizations, only to return to their ‘alma mater companies’ and getting the same job profile.
What annoyed her was the fact that a change in the management of a channel or a media company, would result in people being handed pink slips and asked to leave without reason; competence did not matter nor did experience. A news person anchoring prime time shows could be jobless and worth less by the evening. Everyone saluted the chair and the designations.
It was tough to survive in a position and get good promotions in the industry and she had managed to somehow slog for ten years now. She was proud of her achievement. She considered it as a big thing because she managed to survive without any ‘mentor’, jack or appeasement or sycophancy.
‘But, I somehow did it?’ she told herself, and as she emptied her cuppa. She realized she had been standing in the open for quite some time.
She had to hit the sack early, as next day was a big day and she was getting tensed in her head thinking about the upcoming editorial meeting. Quickly finishing her dinner alone, her family was out of town to attend a wedding and were to carry on for vacation; she changed into her night dress and glanced in the mirror. “When was my last vacation?” she smiled at herself. Then staring at herself she thought, “I still look decent though. Healthy and a little chubby,” she was glad she looked healthy but did not like the chubbiness she recently acquired and wondered, ‘Steroids are the culprits; otherwise, I am a prudent nibbler.”
Her cheeks, pink and full, and she had a very warm and assuring smile which always communicated; everything will be alright, even in the most difficult situations. She had received numerous compliments for her personality and was praised primarily for her pleasing smile. “A gift from Mom,” she thought and thanked her every time someone complimented her.
Asmita remembered the days when she used to look extremely gorgeous; she was never very thin, but just perfect. She was known to be very attractive and charming. She was still everything above but, a little weight gain had rounded off some of her sex appeal. She still had a very charming personality with a perfect figure, long hair, fair complexion, big and bright yet compassionate eyes and a cute small nose.
Probably, that was the reason she used to be one of the loveliest Television Anchor that News.com had at that time. Liked by all, she had a very Indian face and a simple style of news delivery that her producers and colleagues adored. Now, she looked even better, though she thought she was fat, as she the stress of ‘Breaking News’ was off her head and she had more time for to relax and unwind.
News.com was the topmost news channel in the country and getting a job there was every journalist’s dream. Asmita too aspired to work with the channel when she was a newcomer ten years ago. She had somehow managed to get a job in a production house called The ENT Productions, after working for the magazine as a reporter, and learnt the basics of electronic media and news reporting. The ENT Productions used to make infotainment shows and news packages for established national news channels. Asmita, like many others who worked there, wanted to get into a full-time news channel and the News.com was on top of her list. To outshine others, she took up a beat none of the female reporters covered or reported on. She started reporting on the stock market, infrastructure, retail, tourism, finance and commerce. That was an anomaly then, and the stint made her stand out in the sea of female reporters.
Opportunity knocked on her door when a new News Channel was being launched and they needed business reporters. Asmita thought this was the opportunity to jump from a production house to a news channel. She applied for interview and got selected in the first round because of her expertise and also because she was the only female reporter applying for the Business Desk at that time.
Asmita was happy as she was never good with business news and knew nothing from the word go. She had learnt business reportage on her own by watching business reporters day and night. She learnt business terminologies and reporting jargon by reading business newspapers every day. She used to search the internet, watch and read business news day in and day out. Many times she used to get bored by extremely technical terms and lingo printed in the pink papers but, she was determined to find her way and started making notes, like she did in her college.
‘Thank God! My struggle worked,’ she smiled feeling satisfied. This upcoming news channel became a stepping stone towards her ambition, News.com; as they do not entertain newcomers.
Asmita never shied away when hard work and or conviction mattered. She was always ready to go on photo shoots for reportage and was full of energy while shooting stories or events. She knew that she did not have a mentor or god father to guide, propel or protect her. She never asked for one, and she was ready to take on the world on her own steam.
Cherubic and buoyant, she would report and deliver her stories day after day. ‘Hectic but memorable days,’ she thought as she drifted into sleep…When suddenly her mobile buzzed loudly, “Who is it … and at this hour?”
She thought, “Must be some nut”… Her phone kept ringing in a loop…