By Fareeha Qayoom
Its 2:00 AM. I am sitting at my desk on my day off (yes, it’s a Saturday; no, actually now its a Sunday!), writing this post, letting off steam while the creative director and his bunch of graphic designers work on the Urdu part of the magazine layout.
My boss has shot down two of his cover concepts. We have to go to press on Tuesday regardless. Loads of work remains.
Sometimes, I think there must be easier ways of earning money and why don’t I look for one tomorrow? But I refuse to give up. Like the famous fictional character once said, “Tomorrow is another day.”
I tell myself – “things will get better.” I will look back at this and realize, it wasn’t so bad after all. It was quite fun; I was actually in fact having a great time. As Ghalib said, “Dil Ko Bahlain kay liay Ghalib khial acha hai!”
This is nothing. This is the fun part. Putting in late hours, not getting enough sleep, eating junk food on the run, putting out fires all day while people keep coming at me with problems but no solutions, and insist things are not happening because there is no follow-up. “Oh really?” My solution to this problem? Give the problem to the person who insists following-up can solve these problems. Interestingly, he’s changed his tune in two days flat. He’s now whining that he has loads of workload and he can’t handle it! I told him, “Welcome to my life!” He’s now my official nagger. His job – to follow-up! 😀
I have no magic wand that would suddenly make these people sit up and start doing their jobs. This is the culture that doesn’t understand speed. Urgency. The business of this place is run by hanging out at the canteen drinking countless cups of tea at someone else’s expense, talking blah, blah, blah all day, (gossiping, bitching, sniping, envying, and complaining in other words) or running long-winded meetings that accomplish nothing. Pushing one paper from here to there in a day and saying, “Oh, today I did a lot – I don’t know. Work was very hectic today! Time to go home now. Its five PM.”
Besides, lack of follow-up or tortoise-speed is not the real issue anyway. The problem is, there is no transparent standard operating procedure (SOP) in place yet. Folks in this place frequently procrastinate because they actually don’t know the how-to’s even if they understand the what-to’s. In other words, they might know what needs to get done in the abstract but they haven’t figured out how to trick the system to get it done now. Rules are obscure. Making it happen is an impossibility so things happen at snail pace. I understand that. I am making do while they figure things out.
My real work starts when all these complainers go home. I get some time to think, write a few emails and clear my inbox. Push some of the paper off my desk and into a folder so I can hide it on the shelf! (OMG! I am becoming just like them!) And just plow into the piles of my real work. The funny thing is, I am not even making a dent and its becoming bad for my self-esteem. It’s like I am stuck on a treadmill, running faster and faster going nowhere fast! The list is long and endless, the results zero. I am supposed to run a donkey cart at the speed of a Concorde! (A supersonic passenger jet airliner has no comparison with a donkey cart. Know what I mean?). My team thinks this is a funny but an apt analogy. Another problem is, we are supposed to be taking out a BMW but are expected to use Suzuki parts!
Here are few examples of these Suzuki parts.
“OMG! I can edit. I have God given rights because I am only 26 years old and have read extensively great works of fiction. I have the senior management fooled at this joint. I might be a recent grad of LUMS and have only one year of total work experience under my belt but I am more capable than loads of experienced, older folk that walk these corridors because I read the New Yorker regularly! This is not all. I may not know jack about how to make headlines, tag-lines, catch-lines, teasers’ what have you but I can edit this copy better than you! I don’t know the meaning of the idiom “old hat” though. Googling it might prove me wrong but I will stick to my guns insisting that 55 years doesn’t seriously mean it makes it an old established industry when the total age of this country is just 68 years only. Take this phrase out. It gives the wrong impression. By the way, who is this stupid lady anyway? How did you get her to write this silly story? Is she your friend? She can’t be who she says she is. Her copy is so bad. Besides, identifying where to put this colon is the end all, be all of editing. It’s not a difficult job – anybody can do it. All you have to do is fix a few punctuation marks when all is said and done! What do you mean there is a deadline? I will only pick and choose the articles I want to edit. I may not know the difference between editing and proofing but I can teach you and oh yes, I have never worked for any publication or ever been published before in my life but I am better than you so there! And yes, I will inform the senior management accordingly.” That’s really telling me.
Then there’s this another James Bond. He crawled out from the woodwork suddenly after the launch of this magazine I am working for now, writing to my boss, telling him he’s a science journalist of 28 years standing and has been running an Urdu Science website. He can’t bear to sit at home and why don’t we let him handle the whole gig? Yeah, why not? The only question, why didn’t he volunteer when my boss was frantically looking for people to front this mag a year ago? Why now, when all the senior staff has been hired?
One guy wrote me a text, telling me he wants to write for us. I said, “Go ahead. Send me a few examples of your work.” Then he disappeared on me. The same guy turned up on my boss’ desk, looking for a job. Why does his resume suddenly become my problem? Especially, when to work at this place, you need to have at least 16 years of academic qualifications to even pre-qualify? And he doesn’t qualify. On top of it, he still has not sent me any examples of his work. Hmmm. Anyway, these buggers are the least of my problems.
Back to my real dilemma, how to take out a BMW in the current landscape? There are only two possiblities – either, there are no BMW parts available in this part of the world at all or we can only get Suzuki parts at this price point. Which is more likely?
A third possibility also exists: we can only get BMW parts at very hight price points. In that case, we don’t have the budget. Another possibility is that we can only get some or limited parts at higher price points and still might have to import the rest at even a higher cost…in that case, we can only take out a wanna-be BMW ( a disguised high-end luxury Suzuki that might achieve Honda and Toyota Corolla levels) at best and that’s it. That would be sad. We need to create a genuine ‘made in Pakistan’ BMW.
I might be forgiven for thinking I am taking part in the re-enactment of the Twilight Zone episode. I am ready to climb the walls, tear my hair out but there’s no escape. I am stuck in this triangle shaped narrow space that seems to be pulling me in all directions at once, working day and night to put this magazine out there on schedule without total editorial control or project autonomy or tools or facilities or a complete team of people or indeed money…luckily for me, I have been able to gather a few good people around me that are willing to walk with me on this road less traveled! I know, we will make it. Because, I will not give up. That’s one decision I can make and I have made it.
And yes, I have now great respect for people in the government who manage to get anything done – push the paper all the way through to build roads, schools, hospitals – the works. It takes hundreds of engineers to change a single light bulb in this joint! Literally. People who can do all that are my heroes. I salute you. You must be relentless, tireless and have a lot of tolerance for putting up with loads of BS and still plowing through all that nonsense to come out on the other side.
By the way, do you know the meaning of simple, colloquial and jargon-free expression? No, it’s not a start of an academic discussion. Just a simple question. No, most folk don’t. They have not managed to read a single page of this magazine and presume to tell me they know better and can teach me a thing or two. I bow to their superior knowledge and just politely bow out. I am getting tired of flogging this dead horse. What do I know? I am just supposed to be its managing editor and have been reading the past issues from cover to cover… so what?