I Gave Up An Internship That Paid ₹10,000 For Unpaid Work. No Regrets

Posted by Kajol Runwal in Careers, My Story
July 31, 2017

Summer holidays are meant to be memorable. You could opt for a long, exotic vacation – or perhaps, you could do an internship which makes you smarter, highlights your capabilities and gifts you with an altered perspective.

Consequently, to make my summer an unforgettable one, I chose to intern in Mumbai for a couple of months. I have always been a storyteller – and have been a feature writer with Pune Mirror (which is under the Times group) for two years now.

But this summer, I wanted to do something different – something untraversed and unexplored. Therefore, I decided to intern at a local startup in Mumbai.

Fifteen days into this internship, I realised that I wasn’t growing in the work profile that they had allotted. I couldn’t continue any further, and I decided to quit. ‘What next?’ can be a harrowing question, sometimes – haunting you incessantly until you calm it down with an answer that you are happy with.

The next 15 days were tough ones. I wrote mails almost every single day and applied for internships – in the hope that I would get to live in the city for some more days. I fervently hoped that I didn’t have to return disappointed – with an unfinished ‘summer story’.

That’s when I resorted to journalism yet again. Fortunately, I heard back from The Indian Express and was called in for an interview. I couldn’t have been more thankful for the promptness of The Indian Express’ HR team. Previously, I had dealt with plenty of HR people who kept me waiting or wouldn’t be consistent with their email correspondence.

In comparision, the interaction with The Indian Express team was a pleasing change. And it brought so much more – a myriad of experiences, each unique in its own peculiar manner!

The interview was nothing like I had anticipated. I thought that I would be quizzed about current affairs – about GST, my views on Trump or what I knew of the seven cannons of journalism. Instead, my interviewer, Kavitha Iyer (the associate editor) was more interested in where I came from, what languages I was well versed in and how I would make my way around the city for all the leg-work and reportage from the field. She was more curious about my small-town origins than about the subjects I’d studied at college.

My first day at work began with an editorial meeting, where I was introduced to the ‘city team’ of The Indian Express. That day, I also got a few stories to work on – and needless to say, there were deadlines to meet.

I was both nervous and excited. Mayura Janwalkar, the city editor, briefed me about the hooks that the ‘city team’ works on, and gave me a free hand to pick whichever topic I was most inclined towards. I enjoyed that freedom of choice. The wide list of options enabled me to try out the different themes – health, education, legal report, police diary and a bit of crime too.

I am completing my economics honours from Symbiosis University, Pune. And in order to usually explain people the relation between my formal education and my passion (journalism), I often feed them what sounds sensible – ‘business journalism’, for instance. Along the way, I did not even realise how ‘business journalism’ could be something that (I think) I am interested in – because I have kept telling that to myself over and over again and not because I really like it.

Kavitha pointed this out after watching me work for a month. I was aiming to narrow down my options too soon. As it turns out, one should try multiple things before settling for a favourite. Take all the sweet time you can before shortlisting and finalising.

I think that’s why internships prove to be important – because you get to try a little from each bucket. The pressure and stress levels are comparatively lower – and it’s okay if you mess up. Making a mistake will only help you learn how to fix it.

My mistakes imparted great lessons to me – from the small lessons (like remembering names) to big ones (like the importance of researching well). Apart from this, I also value something I learnt by myself on the field. I quickly learnt that it’s important to bond with the people you’re interviewing. It’s vital to win their trust, so that they can confide in you. And that’s not always a cake walk! Sometimes, they won’t be willing to talk to you, simply because you’re from the press. However, if you wholeheartedly believe in your story idea, then you have to stay put and remain persistent!

I wanted to write about K Rustom’s ice-cream parlour, but the owner was reluctant because she thought all journalists publish wrong facts. As a matter of fact, I came across this mentality several times in that month. But this cannot dissuade you when you’re working at The Indian Express! After all, it’s a place where facts are worshipped – and only the story gets to be the dictator. After visiting the parlour for almost three days in a row, the owner finally agreed to the interview.

‘Letting the story be the dictator’ is one of the fundamental and golden rules I learnt here. It’s fine to go in a certain direction – but if your story demands a turn, then you have to take it! Never bend the story for your requirements. Let the story pan out on its own accord.

One story which I worked on was about the Matunga station being converted into an all-women-crew station. Initially, I began working on the story with an idea to portray how ideal this step was for women empowerment. But, when I actually visited the station, I witnessed the woes and worries of these female staffers. I saw them gather around me to narrate their troubles regarding lodging facilities, the safety threats and several other inconveniences.

My story had to take a spin! It became a story that unveiled a whole host of problems. It became a story that received the bitter brunt of the station master and a few other officials. My editor liked the story – and trust me, I have never felt so motivated before!

“Kajol, you need to learn how to write news,”  Kavitha told me once. “It’s not that I know it the best, but you tend to get better when you have been doing this for 18 years,” she added. Thereafter, I was marked onto every edited copy of my articles. Comparing my drafts with the final edited versions was nothing short of a steep learning curve.

Time is also an important factor that you always need to keep a track of. From the very beginning, I was instructed to time myself and to turn in the story no later than the given deadline. Tap-tap-typing and churning out quality stories created a rhythm that became so very special for me!

Along with ‘tourist spot’ and ‘on the job’ which were fun story hooks to work on, there were stories that were sensitive and emotionally taxing. These generally dealt with murder, suicide and addiction – and at times, it did get pretty rough!

But that’s the thing with journalism, I guess – it keeps you close to realities, which can be thoroughly confusing. It gives you a chance to take a close look at how messed up things can be. As a journalist, you have the power to be the mirror of this society. And at The Indian Express I was asked to be cautious, careful, precise and honest because journalists influence the minds of readers. They were well aware of this fact, an hence were extra careful about this responsibility.

Contrary to what people say about journalists being jaded, cynical and bitter people, I saw multi-coloured, funny, sarcastic and rather chirpy journalists here. Mostly, they were ‘over-caffeinated’ weavers of interesting stories. In fact, the editors in my team were warm people who always made sure that I had eaten before I left for my leg work. They also ensured that I always left the office before 7 at night, and that I didn’t have to work on Sundays. They treated interns like any other reporter or journalist at the office – but with some extra care and tenderness.

My last day at the office will always be special to me. Everyone gave me constructive feedback and bade me farewell. There was also a small cosy celebration in the canteen. I also remember being gifted a cake that read ‘Best of Luck for your Career’ and everyone singing ‘Happy Birthday’ as I cut it!

This one month made me bet on my every ounce of gumption, and left me a little more confident than before. Everyone asked me if it was a paid internship and I would say ‘no’ with no regrets at all. After all, I left a ₹10,000 worth internship for a non-paid internship – just to write those 1500 words, all the while wondering why I did so!

However, I do think that they should have provided some minimum transport allowance, given that it was an internship that involved a lot of travelling.

I think I succeeded in making my summer memorable. It was an internship that broadened my horizons and left me with a note that I could’ve done more. And isn’t that exactly what we would want an internship to be like? Plus, two months in Bombay can probably tick off the long vacation part too!

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