For the past two and a half years, I have been working on my own. I draw up my own schedules, work on my own terms (well, more or less) and demand what I think is an appropriate compensation for the effort I put in. "Are you a freelancer?" When people ask me, I usually respond with a nod or a shrug. I don’t like explaining my job. If you’ve read my story and love it, I’ll respond with a smile and blush. And if you haven’t read my works, it doesn’t matter anyway. Some people take this attitude with a pinch of salt, others laugh it off.
Being a freelance journalist and blogger may be cool career choice in some parts of the world, but in India we love names and affiliations. When you introduce yourself as a journalist to a roomful of people, you'll get the question, "Which paper or channel?" Once people are satisfied, they'll want to know if you are an intern, trainee, contractual or permanent employee, and most importantly, if your byline appears in the newspaper (or your face on TV). If it does, they'll exchange their cards with yours, tell you about their problems, and vow to keep in touch with you. But if you're a deskie (sub-editors who actually 'make' the newspapers' pages), they’ll keep it to, "Okay!" or “Good!” Some may enquire if a sub-editor is an editor’s deputy. Others might want to know if you know someone they know. If not, they'll leave it at that. But if you're a freelancer, you're most likely to be dismissed as "jobless". And if you work from home, your profession is likely to be labelled as an "activity" - like watching TV, reading, playing ball - not serious enough but it helps kill your time. It doesn't matter that you spend more effort, time and energy working independently than you ever did when you were employed. It doesn't matter than you may earn even more than what journalists on payroll do. It's the organisation that matters!
I started freelancing simply because there were no jobs here. I'd moved to a much smaller city from Mumbai bang in the middle of the economic recession that hit the media harder than most service industries. Vadodara doesn't offer much in the form of English media. There are two newspapers and the combined circulation of both The Times of India and Indian Express would be about 1.2 lakh. In a city with a population of over 18 lakh, that hardly matters. People don’t relate to English dailies here simply because they don’t contain local news! (We’ll keep that story for later.) Travelling to and fro from Ahmedabad daily on the National Expressway 1 wasn't much of an option for me, given my responsibilites at home. I chose to stay here, explore some options and with the help of some media friends back in Mumbai, I started writing for Mumbai-based websites and papers within two weeks of my moving here. Later, I taught print journalism courses to Masters students at the university. I enrolled myself into a graphics course, for I wanted to learn more about desktop publishing. Small jobs for editing and designing started trickling in. A book here, a website there, by the end of my first year in Vadodara, I was working 14 hours a day through the week. I wrote press releases, news reports, blogs, feature articles, book reviews and content for websites. I did editing, designing, translation and transcription work - basically anything and everything that has to do with writing and publishing. A friend commented that I had written much more after I’d quit my permanent job at The Times of India in Mumbai.
The flexibility that freelancing offers, allows me the chance to explore options, choose and work with people I want to work with. And when I am not writing, I invest my time, energy and money to travel and learn. I read a lot more than I ever did, sometimes up to four books a week. (I don't burden myself with newspaper reports.) I prefer to learn about what's going on in the world from people - the way they did it in the old days, when everyone did not have access to newspapers. I go through blogs and Facebook updates religiously in my own time and space (and I have no boss who'll cringe). They give me more news on what I should know about those I care for than any media house can provide.
Sure, I miss the colleagues and the conversations around the coffee machines. I work alone and the decisions I take can be very risky for I have no organisation to fall back upon. And the money doesn’t come in the form of a paycheck on the 30th of every month. But I've started liking the idea of being independent - of not being bogged down by ideologies and can and can't-dos. That's not to say I won't take up a job ever. But now that I have learned the hard way of what the world out there is like without an organisation to carry you around, I'll take a hard look before I grab an offer. If nothing else, I now know my worth.