November 8, 2002

what is it like to unlearn?

after a degree in english literature, i was expected to marry and settle down in a family. but i refused, much against the wishes of my parents. i was so desperate to get a career for myself, and know “who am i?”, that i agreed to work as a trainee in an advertising agency very close to my home. anybody can guess, my father was a client at the ad agency.

i love the ad world, but i hated every day at that office. because every body was too nice to me. after all, at 20 i was very inexperienced. i was told to spend time at whatever section i felt like, and then decide on what i favoured over the rest. fair enough, but i was the client’s daughter. so i never was given the complete picture. not quite sure of what lay ahead, and though i knew copywriting was something that interested me, within six months, i quit.

i cannot do something if my heart is not in it.
that was my first education.

in those six months, i got the first taste of what bombayites call duniyadaari (literally translated as the ways of the world, it perhaps is more apt as a slang for ‘being streetsmart’). the ‘office’ was a place where rumours brewed along with tea and coffee, and everyone from the peon-cum-chaiwallah to the french-bearded ‘ceo’ took part in mud-slanging and unhealthy competition against their co-workers. apart from my mixed feelings of disappointment, curiosity and sometimes even amusement, i was undeterred. my resolve to make it somewhere, somehow, on my own only increased, and thanks to constant encouragement from chacko varghese, the copywriter who i used to assist, after one or two interesting interviews that failed, i soon landed up at the indian express. of course, my parents never had wanted me to work, so i had not told home i was going for an interview. the company published a tabloid about computers, which i knew just how to spell. but i passed the subbing and editing tests, and was taken in as a trainee right away.

someone believes in me, which means i’m not doing something ‘wrong’.
that was my second education.

when we go to school we are told it is necessary to study and get a degree “for a decent job”. but as i began to look around i saw it was so untrue. rarely did i come across anybody who stuck to a subject he/she had chosen at school. as for whether my literature degree helped, shelley or wordsworth never wrote an ‘ode to a personal computer’. i thought this is it, i should have a degree in journalism…but again i was told it was not necessary. since i was already working in a publication. i was disillusioned, but yes, i did have a job. i stayed on.

my next job saw me as copy editor for a magazine that was not yet launched (chip, now digit). i had freedom, i loved the people around me, and i believed it was ‘my’ magazine. however, in just a week i was overwhelmed to tears by my doubts of whether or not i could match up to the expected standards, i was assured by my editor “yes radhika, i know you have that quality”. i stayed for two years, and it was the best part of my career.

when you are in the right place, it reaches out and talks to you.
that was my third education.

i did not want to leave that job, ever. but part of me also wanted to know if i could ever be independent, and live alone. i had had a protected life. my parents gave me everything even before i could ask. so i was asked “will you be able to live alone?” i thought i was running away from a truth; i knew i was afraid of facing what i could not predict, and of leaving behind my present in which i had learned to be complacent. i decided to find out. it was the toughest decision i had to make. i quit.

when a fear haunts you, turn around and grab it by the collar.
that was my fourth education.

nine months later, i resigned when i learned the company was more of a game played by the management and i was not going to learn anything here. i did prove to myself however, that i could stay on my own, and that it was alright to make decisions that a certain situation demanded. and even if i took a wrong decision, i had myself to blame, because it was my decision after all.

we all live one life, and it is alright to make mistakes.
that was my fifth education.

i was now the home page editor at zdnetindia. my parents wanted me to get married. i had my biases. i also had a past. i had wanted to hide. but life goes on, and somewhere i read “if you stop to watch the world go by, it will!” i was not a quitter, and i knew i would be in the right hands as soon as i saw him.
maybe i was plain lucky. i gave up my job. i left behind my friends and memories. somewhere inside i knew i would still be me. and so i got married. today i know, i did the right thing.

your parents will only want the best for you. no matter what you give to the world, remember that one day, it will come back.
that was my sixth education.

i had begun writing in a personal diary when i lived alone. this was to keep in touch with my friends and family, and i wrote in it “for fun”. but it began to take shape and have a life of itself. it affected me, and what i thought of the world. because the world was no longer a place to hide from. everything i did was on the world wide web for everyone to see. like millions of others, i was online, and i too was making mistakes. like them i also laughed and cried. “what will people say” never mattered to the introvert anymore…i was free!

there is so much freedom in the simplest of truths. the only way to feel it is by just being yourself.
that was my seventh education.

i came to the uk with praveen. i did not have a job, but it did not stop me from writing. on the contrary, i took it so seriously that often i did not post an entry if i was not satisfied with it. i was unconsciously developing a hobby that i thought could only happen to anyone else, or a distant cousin. i redesigned my journal, and my husband made it possible. my journal began to include experiences of an indian girl in a different culture, and one day i was discovered. my teacher used to say “the world is a thick huge jungle. you’ll never know from which bush a rabbit will jump”. this surprise though, was pleasantly encouraging.

wherever you are, make the best of what is given to you. when the signs tell you something, listen.
that was my eighth education.

but i did not listen. i wanted something that would keep me occupied, a job so i could bring discipline into my content life. i did not want to get comfortable. i did not want to be a ‘housewife’. i wanted to be a ‘home-maker’. soon enough, a job offer landed in my email inbox. had i come across it in the ‘job opportunities’ sections i would give it a miss…it was too far from home. it did not seem creative enough. but it was very tempting. it was a mutual need on both sides. i accepted the offer.

“it is better to be hated for what you are, than to be loved for what you are not”. i was trying to step in shoes that i knew would not fit.
that was my ninth education.

that was also the shortest career-life i ever had. two months. it was also what seemed to be the longest ordeal. the travel, the frustration of doing something i did not enjoy…it was like my life was on a pause. like the two or three trains i changed every morning to work, everything had become mechanical. my journal stagnated, so did my attitude. i was seeing sides to myself i had never seen before. i had stopped being the ‘fighter’. i gave in to being depressed easily. i resisted no more. i stopped writing.

it is one thing to be able to adapt to a new routine. it is another, to not want to adapt to it. if you think to survive you must get out, get out.
that was my tenth education.

something finally must have snapped inside me too. two days ago, halfway on my way to work, i turned back home. i called my kind director, explained why it could not work, and quit the job. thankfully for me i had understanding colleagues. thankfully for them i was on contract.

today, once more, i start afresh. like my friend sanjeev says, very zen-like “to unlearn, simply forget”. but i need not unlearn. i have no regrets for the past, nor (many) expectations for what’s going to come. after all, i’m a normal life-loving girl, and like most people, i too like to collect my observations and experiences, and turn them into lessons i’ll never forget.

this entry is for swathi sri, the “tamilian gal” from singapore, who touched me today, with her simple email.

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