A version of this appears in the January issue of GQ India.
A master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University was meant to boost my fledgling career. However, six months after coming back home to Delhi, I’m still struggling to find work. I didn’t want to be an unpaid intern or worse, risk being unemployed, which is why I left America. I had already worked too hard at Time Out magazine, running around town looking for story ideas while simultaneously collecting phone numbers of senior journalists who’d help me get my dream job: features editor of a leading Indian magazine like Caravan or GQ. All that was missing was this fancy degree.
Yet, friends and editors have stopped responding to texts and phone calls. I'm now the household errand boy and have to buy medicines, pay electricity bills and get computers fixed. My father has berated me to get a real job; one that involves going to an office, attending meetings and earning a salary, not interviewing a pigeon-caller and visiting a toilet museum, both of which I had to do for Time Out. I really should’ve applied for that unpaid internship as an editorial assistant in Iowa. Better than being a penniless chauffeur to my grandmother.
Admittedly, starting a job hunt was not the first thing on my mind when I returned home. Instead, I wanted to freelance for a while, get some more bylines under my belt and then start looking for something permanent. I don't have rents to worry about, and I don’t pay my own bills, so I thought I should take the risk of working on a piece of long-form journalism. After that three-month-long assignment and a short author interview, I sat back and waited. Now that these stories were out there, the job-hunt would get easier, right?
Wrong. My phone hasn’t been ringing. I’ve often wondered whether it’s on silent mode or the battery is dead. Honestly, this whole Ivy League education feels like a con job. I mean, you work 13-hour days to complete writing assignments – some of those days were incomplete without a dose of anti-anxiety pills – spend thousands of dollars on tuition and living expenses and in the end, you have to return home and become a freelancer.
Now, as a "self-employed journalist", my job involves sending emails, pitching stories, following up with editors, retweeting people on Twitter and posting tweets of my own. My ambition of writing and editing 7,000-word pieces has been reduced to a mere 140 characters.
I’m now writing for anyone who will pay me. I’m only 26, but my family is so worried about my future that they want me find a rich but desperate (read, ugly) girl so I can live off her. My friends have found employment and expense accounts in the corporate world whereas my parents have tightened their wallets so I’m forced to wear faded clothes from five years ago. As if to make me feel worse, property dealers send me spam texts about cheap apartments in Faridabad.
But there’s a silver lining to this dark story: along with all the friends and editors who’ve stopped calling me, PR people have stopped too. It’s not a big perk but as a “self-employed journalist”, you settle for what you get.