Monday, April 24

Hello, Goodbye

21st April was my last day at work. It was not easy to accept the finality. How could it be? You don't put your heart and soul into a place for 2-and-something years and walk off, nary a qualm. At least I don't.

I've quit two ad agencies prior to this and the only feeling I had both times was relief. At the end of 2013, I was determined to work in mainline, desperate to get away from a ship that was drifting and a captain whose obsessions and excoriations made Ahab look like a choirboy. The next workplace was in Fort and it was simply terrible. A sweatshop where I lost 6 kilos in 11 months and almost gave up on advertising as a career. I jumped that ship without a life-raft, lifebuoy or land in sight. I'd swim to safer shores or sink into another line of work. Just as the sharks began to give interested looks, my most recent workplace threw me a lifeline, for which I am and will be eternally grateful.

Having an eccentric, eclectic and sometimes downright brilliant yet moody boss has its own charms and challenges. I joined the best team in the office on 5th Jan 2015. We truly were the A-team, the group other juniors hankered to join. By the time I said my farewells, we had become the W-team, the people in our boat frantically rowing in unison but inching towards the lip of the waterfall nonetheless. Office politics can be brutal and I had grandstand box seats to the tragedy of a team casually broken apart by a leader with an absolute lust for power and control and all the charisma of a moldy cube of paneer.

But the office and my boss had saved my career. So, I gave it my all. Fighting with the servicing over ridiculous deadlines, berating the planning for a complete lack of any planning and chivvying my team-mates along to push us over the finish line. Day, week, month, year. My longest holiday was 2 days, initially because I just couldn't afford to take a break and later because I did not know how to. We saw some successful days and many more middling ones, the kind where we'd just want to get the assignment out of our collective hairs after one too many rounds of feedback from our clients.

This job can break you. I almost did go to pieces, sobbing uncontrollably in my boss's cabin on one memorable occasion. It doesn't even have to be anything big. Just a lot of small frustrations and stresses, piling up on your shoulders over time until an off-the-cuff remark punches a neat hole through your equanimity. You, your colleagues and your seniors can keep talking about not taking the job so seriously but try telling that to an Indian marketing manager or brand associate. I have yet to meet a more repulsive species of person in my line of work, though there are a few senior people in advertising who are no better. We seem to have replaced our 333 million gods with just one - money. And he is a powerful god, able to transform into the sword of Damocles within a minute.

"If this is how long the work takes, this will be the last time we will be working with you."

"Either do this job or I will call for an agency review."

"We're calling for a pitch."

"Client ne bola hai... karna hee hai."

These are the sentiments that grease the sprockets of the ad industry, never mind what one big-shot has written in his autobiography. If anything he's probably single-handedly responsible for clients thinking it is okay to ask for work at 10 pm or on the weekends. And while my agency personifies this subservient attitude to a high degree, there are many others who are slowly being sucked into the morass. Or walking into it voluntarily. Everyone needs the money.

I woke up this morning with a dreadful thought. That I've stepped off the train at a junction and am watching my colleagues wave to me, even as their lives move on. My path, struggle, journey and destination are no longer theirs. It's not as if I won't jump back into the bogie with them. I can't.

Many of my colleagues said they'd miss me. I did not know how to respond so I smiled awkwardly and mouthed empty platitudes. But the truth is, in my mind's eye, I am watching the train disappear in the distance.

And it feels like abandonment.

Song for the moment: Don't you forget about me - Simple Minds