My Boss was very cross. Cross with me for no reason at all. It was my first job – a sub-editor with a daily. Straight out of college and still under the protection of parents, whose evening tea would wait for me to return home from work. I worked the afternoon shift 12 to 5 for the inside page – National –relatively less significant.
If you didn’t know, a newspaper office is like a large classroom – only more noisy and disorderly. We sat on both sides of large tables – groups together, editing what the various news agencies sent. Every once in a bit, the Boss would point a finger at one of us and say, ‘You go’ and obediently, mid-sentence, making then-than, it’s- it is, the pointed-at would get up and go into the Printer Room to gather the spool of paper the machine was constantly dispensing – quite like a toilet paper roll running on the floor. Each news item was then torn and randomly handed to us by the Boss. I got the boringest, the least important, the ones that were fillers and at the end of the day would have to be discarded or I would have to go around to snooty men on Business or Sports desks and ask if they had any use of it – like selling news was my job too. I didn’t mind.
We sat and ‘subbed’ – copy edited with pencil – each news item, then gave it a headline and presented it to the Boss. The Boss looked at our work disdainfully, made some random corrections wearing an annoyed expression, letting off some sighs and uffs. I didn’t mind.
The Boss made me sit across the table from the rest, facing the large sunlit windows that stung my eyes. I didn’t mind.
On the Boss’ particularly bad days, at five when I would be about to leave, I would be told, ‘You!’ ‘Stay back and get the pasting done. No mistakes!’ I stayed behind waiting for the paan-chewing Paster uncle to make an appearance. Slowly, like the chewing of his paan, he pasted headline after headline, news items under headlines. That done, one had to accompany Paster Uncle to the Chief Editor for approval. It would be past tea and close to dinner time when I reached home. I didn’t mind.
I didn’t mind nothing because I was doing what I wanted to; Papa looked at the paper each morning and his face beamed with pride when I pointed out the headlines I had written; and the Chief Editor encouraged me to write short pieces, by-line and all, and soon I had a column. I did not mind anything because one day he had called me inside his cabin and in front of his visitors, said, ‘Your piece on Coleridge was brilliant!’
Did I tell you my Boss was a woman? As women bosses go, women have a tough time dealing with them. Kind of teenage romances these are – dealing with quicksilver, irrational moods, unfounded jealousy that is not professional alone.
The Boss became cross-er when the Chief Editor’s praise wafted out of his cabin, when he started to walk up to thump me on the back right at our National table that sat my Boss, a bearded, kurta-ed young man who had lost his fingers in an accident in the press and was sent to the news desk, some floating people like the whimsical, college girl who came for five days a month including the payday and poor me who sat wiping her sunshine tears all day.
Papa said I needed to give her more respect. Call her ‘ma’am’, he was categorical.
Unwillingly, I ‘ma’am-ed’ her and we became close in a problem-sharing way. The Boss had married an already married man and was facing hell from his family and the man, her husband lived off her earnings. I, poor little lapin, growing up secure in a close-knit family, knowing nothing of the wild, bad ways of the world, asked my Boss, dear lady, to go back to her home in Bombay to be with her parents and siblings, the protectors from all things evil. That is when I heard the most heartbreaking thing ever. My Boss, the cross, ignoring-me lady, said with more disdain than she had for me, ‘Do you think the exploitation there is less?’
*Picture from the Internet.
*Picture from the Internet.