2008. I graduated from St. Xavier’s College.
2008. In the month of September, I landed my first job.
Let me point out right now that this is not a rant. It’s going to be a lot of words. And all of them have meaning and are carefully chosen. If you are going to be judgemental, feel free to leave or stay and assume or deduce what you may, but I’m not trying to reach out to you for sympathy. If you are receptive and open to know what I have to say, thank you. You’ll probably take away more from this post. And lastly, I’m not angry. Neither am I victimizing or feeling sorry for myself. I am, in fact, in a position where I’m detached from the situation and making observations and recounting instances.
2008. I started with a minimum salary. Reason cited, I wasn’t “qualified enough” and should have earned an extra degree in journalism and re-applied for the job. Besides, it was my first job and that’s all they could offer. Also, I didn’t “need the money”, right? First day on the job. The person who hired me doesn’t show up until after lunch. I’m made aware through various people that I wasn’t really required, I was hired because the management was told to hire me. I spend my first 6 months in the “prized film magazine” office looking through compact discs of pictures from Bollywood parties and captioning a shortlist of the said pictures. The editor doesn’t know what my interests or skills are. 2009. Recession hits India. A week later, I am fired. Yes, called to the editor’s cabin and asked to leave because I haven’t taken initiative to do any work. Coming from someone who probably knew nothing about my background and was never around to assign or provide feedback on any of my work. 15 days later. My family has a word with the management. I am called back. I sense that the editor despises me. I am not wrong. I am regularly taunted. “Queen of nepotism”, “Girl with the acid tongue”, etc are titles loosely thrown around. Circa end of 2009. My boss has become pally with me and thinks it’s appropriate to pick up the phone, call me and open the conversation with, “You should break up with your boyfriend.” No explanation. A major scene is going on in the office the next day when I walk in. “I am not going to be in the same room as Dhruvi’s boyfriend.” Did my then boyfriend work in the same office? No. Did I introduce him to my office folks? No. Was I asked to? Yes. Was he befriended? Yes. After shit had hit the roof and multiple conversations with friends and one colleague in particular, I decided to quit my first ever job. The role I had vied for growing up. The words on the pages I had carefully read and stored in my memory. Nobody was more upset than I was. I have the conversation with the editor/boss. And the only words I remember. “You don’t leave the job because you’ve had a fight with your boss. I even let you hang out with your friends. What are you going to do sitting at home? Your family will get you married.” So many assumptions, so little space for receptiveness, no concern for a 23-year-old female employee. Just brutal high-handedness.
2010. A blogger opens the position for a writer on her team. I apply. I get through. I am not paid for the first month. It’s a trial. I am compensated with a gift voucher. In the next 5 months that I slog for close to 12 hours a day, I am given a salary of less than 10k per month. I break down. I also break up with “the boyfriend” in the series of break-ups to follow. I seek professional help. Having not even made a cumulative 50k in 6 months of working on this site, I quit my second job. Someone very close to me says, “The peon in your family office probably makes the same amount.” I am devastated.
I take a break for 6 months.
Somewhere around then, I freelance for Sunday broadsheets and try my luck at odd jobs, I am paid 2 Rupees a word. My morale is at an all time low.
2011 or 2012. I interview with a television show. People who acknowledge my skill and appreciate my work. The boss has the awkward conversation about money, admits it’s a low figure and also says I don’t need to work more than 5 hours a day. I really like the frankness of the conversation and genuinely respect the lady. I probably worked for 15k per month for a whole year but I didn’t feel cheated. The personal issues came to the foreground heavily again. The television show’s season ended and I wasn’t asked to renew my contract or stay either.
2013. I go back to working with the blogger. This time, there is an actual physical contract. I am on the payroll. Of course, I have my doubts but the first 6 months are not as unfair as they were in the last stint. As with all good things, this run came to an end too. I was performing 3 roles at once. I was also consistently the last person to leave office, sometimes, shutting the door and latching it myself. Newbies were hired but the responsibilities kept increasing. I was made to call the boss’ personal friend and check her schedule. And then co-ordinate something between the both of them. In effect, I had become a personal assistant. Lots of liberties were taken. I was even made to sit down and made to realise that I was the among the 2 highest paid employees in the office. Thank you. I was heading the team. I wasn’t being paid in millions or demanding a share in the equity. I was being paid to do my job. That is not a favour. But it did seem to come across as one. When the time of contract expiry came closer, I decided not to renew. I was feeling suffocated again. I needed a break because my personal life was suffering again. It was bound to. I was spending those dreaded 12 hours at work again and constantly wired to the ever-growing “Whatsapp group”. When I suggested freelancing with the site to continue providing content, I was asked to work for “free”. Yes, not be paid for any work I might do, so the investors could be given an example of my commitment and dedication if I was to be “rehired”. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t do it. I had developed some amount of courage to say no and stand up for myself.
2014. At the end of the year, I went to Los Angeles to study an 8 week programme in screenwriting at the New York Film Academy. I came back in March. They were the best 3 months of my life. One very significant observation I made thanks to my working Indian friend in LA was that Americans are paid by the hour. Because every minute you spend at work is accounted for. Labour is neither free nor taken for granted.
2015. I come across a job opening in an update on Twitter. I write in. I’m called for the first round of interviews. The person interviewing me is actually a junior in the field. And doesn’t understand my industry or range of experience. A copy-writer in charge of operations at a website trying to turn into a serious publication. Granted, I clear the interviews and an offer is made. I demand a higher CTC. It is agreed upon with the disclaimer that I will have to put in more work. I start work. Toughest first month at any job. My work is not proofread or edited by this person. It is rewritten. And goes through multiple rungs of “editors” in the head office in the capital city. One evening, I receive a hilarious phone call. “There’s too much copy in your article. Remove all the text and just leave the captions under the photographs. I’ll publish it after that.” Advertising – 1. Journalism – 0. Dimwit – 1. Writer – 0. Three months later. The team has grown to 6 in number. The bosses from the capital come to the incubator in the city of Bombay. Things not agreed upon are demanded of the “employees”. Half an hour deadlines on a stopwatch are given to turn around ready-to-go “viral” articles. It is suggested that we can be called at 4 in the morning to push out articles. This site has primarily received traffic for being the “Indian version of Buzzfeed” before Buzzfeed came on the scene. After 3 hours of discussion on a Monday evening, 5 of the team of 6, present in the office, give in their resignations. Including the person who had interviewed and hired me. The first 3 resignation emails get responses in diminishing length. The last 2 don’t even get a response. Accounts are suspended, etc. That is the end of that. Other journalist friends find out, the word spreads and the act is dubbed as ‘mutiny’. More fodder for gossip mongers and another story to run in a competing publication.
2015. September. 5 of the above mentioned are instrumental in formulating and launching a site, channel, publication, whatever you want to call it in another company. Rewind a little bit. “The team” that stuck together, quit together, was fucked over together were hired by another company for reasons known to the them. The unity and strength of the team was tested at every stage and constantly pulled up. Some cracked under the pressure. And some survived longer. The incident that tipped things over the edge for me was being yelled at continuously for 2 hours in the office up to the point of being brought to tears. By whom? An outsider to the company at the time brought in as a “free resource” to keep the team “in check”. Schedules were made, tools were found and targets were set. Consequently, the content lost importance and quality obviously suffered. But of course, content was not the priority. Volume was. And delivery of volume was ensured. I take a stand again. After 7 years of working in the publishing industry, I will not let work take toll on my health. I ask to have a conversation with the person who thought it completely fair to yell at me and never offer an apology. Before I know it, I am sitting with the pair of bosses and being told it has been decided that it is my last day in the company. Great, I walk out.
I haven’t been on payroll or taken up a full-time job since 23rd December 2015.
If you have read the instances I have cited and want to know what I have taken away from these experiences, please do continue reading.
- I did not ask for the salary I deserved and so, I did not receive it. I should work on my negotiation skills because Indian companies, especially start-ups want you to give up everything for the job on the basis that you opted for it. There are no health or medical benefits. There is no insurance of any sort. The notice period means nothing. You will not be compensated for any damage because clearly, you brought it upon yourself.
- Ethics? What is that?
- Experience? What is that?
- You’re a girl. You have a family that takes care of you. You have a house to live in, food to eat, clothes to wear. Why do you need anything else? It’s not like this career makes any difference to you.
- If there is a managerial position open and there is a boy in the running with you, he will be picked by sheer virtue of him being a boy. That’s how it is. Get used to it.
- If there is a boy slightly less qualified than you and with not as much as experience as you, he will still be paid more. Why, you ask? He’s a boy. That’s enough explanation.
- You don’t deserve respect as an employee. You will be spoken to however the boss pleases, depending on his/her mood.
- There is not understanding of time. You will receive a work message at 4am or 6am or 9pm. It’s work. You better read your Whatsapp.
- There are no standards set for anything. The rules and guidelines are made up along the way.
I have now written 2058 words and I haven’t even broken the tip of the iceberg. But I will leave you all to mull over this now. And write another post on why I think we have leaps and bounds to go over before we reach semblance of logic in the workplace. That is the unfortunate truth.