"I am going to turn 30 and I still don't know what I should do. All I know is that I hate this job and I want to get out of it as soon as I can," my friend told me. It sounded strangely familiar. I've heard many people from the journalistic fraternity say that. A couple of years ago, when a colleague turned 25 (which should be enough cause for celebration), she cried, "I have spent 25 years of my life. What have I done? What have I achieved?" I was shocked by her reaction. I am a staunch Darwinist. I believe in the theory of the survival of the fittest. I told my colleague, "You've survived on this planet for 25 years. That's an achievement!" Of course, she didn't get it. It was too scientific an observation.
Coming back to my friend who doesn't know what he should do but has made up his mind that he hates his job. That's a good start. People join journalism for a variety of reasons - glamour, power, visibility, fame, connections, love of writing, ability to meet people, etc. Somewhere, down the line, routine sets in. Nobody ever thinks that a media job could become like any other nine-to-five job. It's the people outside the industry and the organisation who look at you differently. For your superiors, you're just another employee of the company. And even if you are on the reporting desk - there's a limit to the number of people you can meet everyday. There are only a few people in Mumbai you can approach for your stories. Celebrities are fewer. You don't see a new crop of celebs every month. The existent celebs can't provide exclusive information to various media in Mumbai. The demand for information is far greater than the supply because of the advent of new media. Sources are few and you end up calling those same sources regularly for information. Where are the surprises? Where's the thrill?
My friend isn't from Mumbai. He had a million dreams when he came here. He wanted to be popular and make a lot of money. That's what people come to Mumbai for. Villagers are ready to give up their clean homes in their villages only to settle in the filthy shanty towns or slums around this city. They may miss home, but they won't go back. As Gillian Tindall writes in City of Gold - The Biography of Bombay, "Bombay has wretched poverty, not hopeless poverty." Even middle-class professionals from Delhi, Pune and other small towns are willing to trade their comfortable lifestyles back home for matchbox-sized apartments in far-flung suburbs and hours of commuting time. "This is Mumbai," they say. That statement gives them hope and the power to dream.
Last year, I met a taxiwala, Salim who told me he had almost been selected for the lead role in Mashaal (the Anil Kapoor-Dilip Kumar starrer). Salim, whose forefathers are from Lahore, came to Mumbai from Azamgarh in UP in the early 1980s. He used to work at the cafetaria in the Film city. Salim, I must admit, at 42 is one of the best-looking cabbies I have seen in Mumbai. He said he was 19 when he was offered Mashaal. He had to turn it down because his father wanted him to marry his cousin. "Shaadi ke jhamele ki wajah se aaj main film star ki jagah, mamooli taxiwala hoon," he told me. He may not have become an actor, but he is still associated with the film industry. He keeps his dreams alive. Someday, he'll get a bit-role in a film.
In my 25 years on this planet, I have lived several lives - of a scientist, a journalist, an explorer, a friend, a counsellor, a publicist, a doctor's assistant, a career guide to students and have even played God. I have done things people wouldn't dream of - driving through forests in Naxal-dominated areas of Jharkhand, going 450 metres down to explore uranium mines, riding pillion on a Yamaha XT660R with the guy (Pankaj Trivedi) who holds a world record for crossing 14 of the world's mountain ranges between UK and India (I remember the ride from Worli sea face to Dadar TT at 140 kph in 8 minutes flat), I've met people and discovered places in Mumbai, people haven't heard of but wished they would...I've lived my million dreams and captured some of the best moments of my life. Have I really tasted success?