Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Learn to get out of your car

On this day, 4 years back, I hurriedly opened my apartment door to pick up the newspaper. I opened the paper to page 3 and there it was: my first published article as a citizen journalist in the Times of West Mumbai--a supplement from Bandra to Borivali. "Promenade Paathshala" represented my leap from nonwriter to writer.  “Yayyayayyaaaya!” I screamed, jumping with joy as Kewal, my husband  watched me in amusement.

 Essay and letter writing in school were the only composition I’d done before this. Penning down a few lines for skits and nursery rhymes came naturally to me during my 6-year-old career as a kindergarten teacher so that too was a small contribution. Now, I had entered a new space. Journalism was completely new for me.

 I enjoyed interviewing people, taking notes and researching, learning about others' achievements and challenges, and taking pictures for stories. However when it came to writing, I was lost. I struggled for the words, stealing them from books to complete my sentences. I would sit for long hours at the computer to figure out whether what I wrote made sense, and I would even call up a friend to ask if the sentence I wrote sounded right. I cringed when I was told to write a story within a specific word count. And yet, somehow, I managed.

Coming from a conservative Punjabi background, my brother and I hardly communicated with our parents in the English language. English always fascinated me. I enjoyed picking up the dictionary to collect new words and writing them down in my diary. I loved my English teacher and scored well in essays.

Every summer vacation, we travelled to New Delhi to naani’s house by the popular Rajdhani Express. I indulged in reading storybooks on the trip. So summer vacation was all about reading, playing, catching up with loads of cousins, and relishing nani ke haath ka khana. Still, my vocabulary was limited. We had friends from diverse backgrounds, but most of them spoke their mother tongue and we conversed in Hinglish while we played.

Now in shoes of a journalist, I needed to be aware of the world around me. I was a homemaker and teacher residing in Bandra, and my life revolved only around 3 areas of Mumbai—Bandra, Khar and Santacruz. I was clueless about travelling by local trains and buses. Even the abbreviations for these modes of travel were foreign to me. But my keenness to learn prompted me to prod the editor for more. Here, the tenacious Talwaar had to prove her mettle. After all, I had resigned from my job as a playschool teacher because of a health challenge. I had no alternative career plan.

With a lot of help, support and encouragement from the editor of that supplement, I began contributing stories regularly. I was introduced to other editors, and I am sure I must have given them a hard time. However my confidence increased, and so did my enthusiasm to explore more. I later got acquainted with terms like sub-head, masthead, slug, plug-ins, typographical errors and later realised the importance of each.
In the meantime I also began hunting for journalism courses. My editor told me the best way to learn writing was simply to write. I am glad I listened to his advice.

Sub-head, subbing and more!
Once, my story didn’t get published because it had loads of errors. I was told there were a lot of typos, and the sub-editor didn’t have time to sub my story because of the deadlines. Now I knew I had serious work to do. I contacted the sub-editor who subbed all the stories and made a deal with her to teach me subbing. I learnt the nuances of subbing from her and didn’t do a very good job initially. She continued to encourage me just as I continued to sub my stories. I would send her my copies and asked her to highlight all the errors in red. Once the story was published, I would go back to the story and go through all the errors. I made loads of mistakes even after making a note but this sub-editor, now a dear friend, never frowned. I used to sit up late at night to do this kind of work because most of my daytime hours were spent writing stories, managing household chores and addressing my chronic spine issue. I owe a lot to her and to the editor who subbed my first six stories.

The drama of deadlines
A journalist has to adhere to strict deadlines and I was no exception. At times, I still had a day or couple of days to submit my stories. Journalists who work full time don't have that luxury. I can understand the pressure they all experience and salute them for their spirit.
As time passed, I began to enjoy the challenges, the deadlines, the anxiety before interviewing a celebrity, and the appreciation. My eyes sparkled each time I saw my byline below every story. There was even a time when six of my stories were published in different plusses in one week.
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The power of the pen
I wrote several genres of stories including profiles, festive features, decor stories, human interest stories, advertorials, and much more. My happiness knew no bounds when the trustee of an NGO told me they managed to gather funds for their project because of my story. I had tears in my eyes when I received a call from a mother of Down syndrome twins who ran a library and were donated box after box of books for their project. I share the thrill and excitement with scores of people when they receive appreciation for their work when their stories are published. I love when people share the stories on their Facebook timelines and tag me to offer their gratitude. This indeed is the best part of journalism.
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A content writer(pun intended;)
My health began to deteriorate, and I couldn’t manage the volume of stories. Most of my stories were written while I was in a lot of pain. Many times, sitting longer than 10-15 minutes was so difficult, I would lie down and write. The hot water fomentation bottle, the ice pack and the Volini gel became my best friends.
I managed without many pain killers during the first two years. But with time, my dependency on painkillers increased. Travelling long distances to interview people became a challenge. At times, I would limp and walk. Sometimes, I couldn’t stand straight because of the pain. At times, the doctor ordered strict bedrest. I reached a stage where every single moment—even now—meant continous, nagging spinal pain. Lots of my time went into rehab sessions, physiotherapy, experimenting with alternative therapies, and visiting orthopaedics.
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 I guess my enthusiasm kept me going. Today, I am proud of my 175 bylines and have added content writing to my profile too.
So the homemaker whose world was the three areas of Mumbai has travelled far and wide in Aamchi Mumbai for stories. Before I started as a citizen journalist, I asked the same editor, “Can I get into writing”?

“Paayal,” he replied, “first learn to get out of your car!”

Journalist Paayal Talwaar celebrates her achievements

Shared on the 6th December, 2014:)
Congratulations, Paayal:)
Well done:)