Tracing my footprints

Monday Musing

[Nellie N Manpoong]

As a teen, I was fascinated by movie stars and musicians. I didn’t want to be them; I simply wanted to meet them and maybe take a few photographs. And journalists were always interviewing celebrities; having a few laughs; sharing stories of their journey to stardom. So I thought the easiest way to meet some of my favourite celebrities would be by becoming a journalist.

Those close to me thought there was no future in it, at least not in Arunachal, and getting a degree in journalism was put on the backburner.

To this day I continue to believe that the universe conspired in helping me achieve what I had desired as a teen.

Nearly nine years of journalism and I still haven’t interviewed an SRK or a Johnny Depp, let alone Salman Khan, who visited Mechukha in 2018. Instead, I tell stories of the broken-down bumpy roads of Arunachal; of candidates struggling and mostly fighting with the Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission and the Arunachal Pradesh Staff Selection Board after every single exam; of how the Batti Project – an organisation from outside the state – raises funds and lights up villages of Arunachal; of the time when journalists were stuck between the stones of rioters and bullets of the police during the anti-PRC riots; of continued political upheavals; of maternal deaths due to lack of medical care; of small businesswomen trying to make a living; of sexual violence; of exciting festivals and adventures in different locations, and everyday life of the common man and woman of Arunachal. I now know these stories are more important and they had to be told.

Journalists, especially in the print, work when everyone else is relaxing after a day’s work and spending time with friends and family in the evening. There are no days off for journalists, especially if one is working on a developing story.

I have always tried to put in my best when I am on the work mode, and when I started out as a print journalist in the Independent Review in 2013, I unintentionally stopped meeting friends and family because I sincerely did not have the time to spare. And I, like several of my colleagues, missed out on birthday parties, weddings, and all the picnics that are held annually like some ‘age-old’ tradition in the state. Even if I did manage to attend some event, I would drop by for an hour and go back to work, or arrive at a time when everyone was heading back home.

Friends outside the press fraternity come to realise that you cannot make it to their event and they eventually stop inviting you.

Then, the only events journalists are left to attend are press conferences, official government lunches and dinners, the Arunachal Press Club’s meetings (so many meetings) and the occasional get-togethers. And just like that, a fraternity becomes a family – a family that is fighting and shouting at each other, but still sticking up for each other whenever time calls for it.

Apart from getting to travel (mostly within the state) and making the world a little bit better, it is difficult to dream big dreams as a journalist in a small state such as ours.

Oddly, the number of new journalists keeps growing, even if there are financial constraints to being a journalist or operating a media house. There are sadly not many people or companies that want to or can afford to pay for large advertisements or event coverage, which in turn affects most media houses’ ability to provide good salary packages, allowances, maternity leaves, and so on to its employees.

While we do have a growing number of young and highly talented female journalists, I can count the number of married female journalists on my fingertips. Those with children are even fewer.

I have learnt firsthand that priorities change once you are married. You are in a new house, which has its own way of functioning and months are spent trying to remember which thing goes where. Most of the little time that you do have is spent trying to get to know your new family and them getting to know you better. Having a supportive husband does wonders in settling down and I have been fortunate enough to find someone who helps me steer clear of mishaps, and even luckier to have in-laws who support my work. Even if one does get accustomed to a new house, working late nights leaves no time to socialise outside the house.

I can only imagine how many more times it is difficult to manage time for those who have children. As far as I know, there are only four female journalists who have children, as opposed to 20 male journalists who have children. The numbers may vary if I do a detailed analysis.

I cannot help but be inspired by the dedication long-time journalists such as Appu Gapak, Sapna Tayem, Karpu Chisi and Karyir Riba put in the wellbeing and growth of their children as well as their work. I hope their enthusiasm encourages a whole new era of female journalists in the state.

Every job has its peaks and valleys, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to say that I love my job and my organisation. Journalism is all that I have done even before I was an active print journalist and probably the one thing that I know I am good at. My writing has improved from what it was nine or 10 years ago. It has helped keep my mind occupied from negative thoughts and feelings during my darkest days, and helped bring excitement in an otherwise dull day.

But all good things must come to an end.

I imagined that women did not stick around in the media profession because it includes late working hours, or having to take care of children, or low salaries and no scope of promotion. But as I write this piece, I realise that women are simply better at adapting to changing weathers and navigating the course of their life.

After devoting too many years of my time to work, I have come to understand that some things are more important than work, and we need to prioritise what matters in the moment. Even if you love what you do, it does not necessarily fit your future. I now desire something else with the same intensity as I did when I was a teen. I don’t have a clear map of where I’m heading, but I believe my first few steps will create a new path, even if it is a little patchy.