By Tulika Singh
Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.
"I'm sorry we don't have anything suitable for you," said the receptionist behind the desk as she handed me my résumé. I felt the now familiar feeling of despair. I counted off mentally -- this was the fifth "no" I'd received over the week.
It had been four months since my husband's transfer brought us to this small town and I felt like a fish out of water. Life seemed to have come to a standstill after the hustle and bustle of vibrant Mumbai. I missed my work, my colleagues, my friends. God, I even missed the overcrowded Mumbai locals. My job with a large financial corporation seemed like a distant dream. Back in the 1990s, smaller Indian towns had barely any financial activity. For someone used to spending over twelve hours at work, sitting home was punishment. I needed to work.
I went to the few placement agencies in the city. Not satisfied with that, I went to the business hub and dropped off my résumé at all suitable offices.
No luck! Either I was rejected for being "over qualified" or the jobs just didn't excite me. Now, after almost a month of serious job-hunting I was still jobless.
I pored over my résumé looking for other qualifications I could use. I had a dual specialization in marketing and finance... so if finance wasn't working out maybe it was time for a marketing job. Every city needed people to market something, I reasoned. I had no experience but I had to give it a shot.
Soon I was back at the offices with a new résumé highlighting my marketing qualifications, back to the placement agents telling them I was okay with a marketing job.
Then followed another wearisome round of interviews and the "no-thank-yous" really hurt. There were times I had a brusque "no vacancy" flung at me heartlessly. Sometimes people would glance at my résumé and dismiss me with a curt "but you have no experience." Other times the reasons were bizarre. "You are an MBA but you will be reporting to a college graduate; it won't work." Or even stranger, "we have an all-male team; you're a girl so you just won't fit." I'd have laughed if I hadn't been so miserable. Worse, there were times I couldn't even get past the receptionist. I'd plead with her to let me meet the management. But they were always "busy."
It was frustrating and I despaired. Was there really nothing I could do? I felt worthless. My self-confidence, always a tad shaky, took a deep plunge. My husband was busy with the demands of his new assignment and I felt well and truly alone.
Then one day a neighbour dropped in. While I brought her water she idly flipped through the "crib diary" I'd left on the table. This was an informal journal where I'd often pour out my anguish after tough days of job-hunting. "You write quite well," she remarked casually, even as I took the journal from her, terribly embarrassed about my private ramblings. She left, but the thought remained. After months of rejection the compliment felt good. I was good at something... or was she merely being polite? I dismissed the thought and tried to busy myself with the housework.
That evening over dinner I mentioned the incident to my husband. "I know someone at the local newspaper. Why don't you check with him? Maybe they have something suitable for you," said he. Newspaper? No way. My only relationship with the entire publishing industry had been that of an avid reader. It was uncharted territory.
However I did make an appointment with the shift in charge. I had nothing to recommend me -- no qualifications, no background, no experience. However I firmly pushed back all my anxieties. I tried to concentrate on what I DID have. My convent education and love for books ensured that I was fairly well acquainted with the intricacies of written English. That was what I had.
The next morning, armed with the shreds of my confidence and my résumé, I went to the newspaper office. I had nothing to lose -- perhaps it was that thought that gave me courage. I told the shift in charge I had never worked in publishing before. He silently handed me a copy and said, "Edit it." When I finished, I handed it back to him. I waited with bated breath for the dreaded "you won't fit" line.
"This is not bad," said he, "but you realize you'll be starting at the bottom of the ladder?" Bottom of the ladder? I was being offered a job! I stopped myself from whooping with joy and managed to reply with a serene "Yes, that'll be fine."
"Well then, go down to the Personnel Department and work out the compensation," said he. I tripped out feeling suddenly light and euphoric.
That's not the end of my story, though. Each day I was assailed with doubts. I made mistakes and got laughed at. But I learnt. I learnt the intricacies of news reporting, of conducting interviews, of scanning pictures, of dummies and layouts, of ads that came in at the last moment and upset my careful space calculations. Each day was a challenge and I fell in love with it all. I'd never enjoyed work so much before.
Ironically enough, a year later I was approached by the financial corporation I had been working for in Mumbai. They were setting up office in our city and wanted me to head the operations. And guess what, it was my turn to say "no thank you."