THE FIRST day at a new job is never easy. And if you are a mere mortal who is making the transition from a laidback, read unkempt, newsroom to the inner sanctum of a reputed fashion magazine, well, there are bound to be teething problems — or, as in my case, a massive root canal. It was a mystery even to me why I got the job. Maybe, it was the way I was dressed, or the editor just liked my over-the-top confidence. Alas, here I was, a special correspondent with a fashion magazine. And was I thrilled, and slightly smug! I was where I had always wanted to be, and could I say it, deserved to be. No more making pages, no more QuarkXPress, no more editing unreadable copies, no more boring trend stories… no more newspapers.
I had always been told I was enthusiastic, but here I turned it up a notch. I attended my first edit meeting with uncontained excitement. My eyes would grow wide at every word — clothes, shoes, celebrities, beautiful people, glamour — now this was the real thing. I got a celebrity interview and shoot to my name and when the results came, the seniors complimented me on my styling. I was the new ‘It’ thing, though nobody still asked me for lunch! Maybe they knew deep inside that it won’t be long before I showed my true newspaper colours.
At the next edit meet, I suggested a feature on then still-new slum tours of Mumbai and the petite brigade with their designer threads and matching totes looked up at me in awe and smiled. “Yes, yes, you must do it.” Shock and awe. A fashion magazine wanting to run a piece on dirty ol’ Dharavi — I must have died and gone to heaven. All those columnists who wrote about the snobbish world of the fashionistas were simply jealous. These people, after all, had hearts; they were who I aspired to be. The tour was an eye-opener. Beyond the filth lay a land of the poor entrepreneur, who just went on striving for the best he could. I was inspired and I knew that Dharavi had taught me an important lesson — I was not going to give up. This fashion magazine was mine to rule. High on idealism, I slogged all night, and finally, yes, I wrote a great article.
That is until the pimply copy editor looked at it. She read the first line with a voice laced with nasal disdain, “From an airplane window, the slums of Mumbai look like miles and miles of grey, filthy landscape.” Filthy, she almost screamed, “Darling, when you call it filthy, why would anyone want to go there.” She read the next line. “Potholes,” she circled, “Sweetie, is this really necessary?”
I was at a loss, but this is why I was here — to learn, to absorb. After I gave in my tenth draft, the copy editor looked at me sweetly, and a little sadly, and shook her head and almost sang, as if she had planned my public assassination, “No darling, this is not working! It has to be…” she snapped her fingers again, “More snappy. More…,” she grinned as she searched for the world, “magazinney. But what would you know, you newspaper girl.”
As she cackled, I heard my brain say, ‘No, I didn’t know.’ After all, it wasn’t a report of the Mallya bash in town, nor was it an interview with Katrina Kaif. It was a tour of Dharavi, and that too, a “reality” tour of Dharavi. “Do you even know what the word ‘glamorous’ means?” She drove the final nail into my coffin. And I curled up inside like a dying leaf — I gave up.
They never carried the piece and I knew that my days there were numbered. I went back to my newspaper world, realising finally that Fendi bags and reality cannot exist side by side. And today, everything makes sense. If only I had stood upto to the bullies, I am sure they would have been intimidated. After all, Gabbar Singh said it right, “Jo darr gaya, woh marr gaya.”
Is 28. She is a journalist based in mumbai
Illustration: Samia Singh