The New India Courier did not have many days like this. It had been lauded in the national media and the foreign press for its articles exposing corruption and archaic laws, which had made it difficult for whistleblowers to come forward. A series of articles and editorials had also uncovered systemic government bureaucracy that was stifling well-meaning attempts to bring about any change. In addition, anyone who tried to speak up from within the system was either being threatened with lawsuits or being muzzled by superiors. However, due to the spate of well-written and well-researched pieces in the newspaper, the general public had reached the consensus that things had to change. Even the slow-moving government machinery had grudgingly acknowledged that long-standing issues needed to be addressed. The politicians had seen a change in the public mood and had decided to follow suit. Across the political spectrum, many decided to ride the popular wave and bring forth laws supporting transparency and protecting whistleblowers. For some time at least, especially with the elections around the corner, they did not want to draw the ire of an increasingly politically conscious public by stifling change.
At The New India Courier, the task of putting together some of these important articles and making them public had fallen on Nitya Chaturvedi, a relatively young journalist who had joined the paper a little less than four years ago. Initially, there was a lot of skepticism, not only because of the topics she was trying to tackle but also because the senior management was co-opted by an exclusive old boys’ club. Thankfully, for Nitya, that changed soon with some of them retiring. The new people who replaced them were open to giving her a chance. Nitya knew that although the new folks were less chauvinistic, they still had their biases, and she would have to perform much better to make her mark. She had not disappointed and had spent almost a year and a half researching every aspect of each article. Initially, she worked on her own, but when her bosses realized that she could be onto something, they decided to give her a few new hires and interns who could help her. She managed them well and the results were nothing short of exemplary. In fact, most of the accolades that the paper received were due to Nitya and her team’s efforts.
The senior management was delighted with the results. The circulation had increased dramatically, and The New India Courier had become one of the three top national dailies in urban India. By continuing on their current trajectory, they could be at the top in a year. Nitya managed to keep her team focused on research and insulated them from any distractions. She also made it a point to include the names of the researchers and give them their due credit on each article and editorial piece. Usually, the junior reporters did not get much airtime, so their name being published in the articles they had worked on was unheard of. This earned Nitya a lot of respect from her young team. Any misgivings that the male journalists might have had about reporting to her were short-lived. They knew that she was demanding but fair. Although some of them did not like her right away, they grew to respect her, and once the accolades started pouring in, they were more than happy to be associated with her. The owners and senior management decided to give her a promotion and move her to a coveted managerial position in the current affairs department. This was the most sought-after division in the paper. Nitya knew it was going to be a high-profile and stressful job, but she was ready for it. No one at the paper, male or female, had made it to this position till their forties, and Nitya was only in her early thirties.
When Nitya walked into The New India Courier’s main office on that beautiful January morning in 1983, the only thing on her mind was the meeting that she had been summoned to with one of the owners and the managing editor. She was looking forward to the meeting as it would cement her role as one of the main journalists of the paper. The day seemed brighter than usual to Nitya, and anyone who saw her would have noticed the bounce in her step.
The offices of The New India Courier were in Connaught Place, a prime location in New Delhi. The owners had bought the building nearly a decade ago and now it had become one of the most coveted and expensive locations in the city. Having an office in Connaught Place enhanced the reputation and exclusiveness of the paper or at least that was how it was perceived in the news business, and that’s all that mattered.
The three-story building was entirely dedicated to the journalists and the management team. The paper itself was printed in a press in the outskirts of the city. This was partly because of zoning regulations that did not allow a factory with heavy machinery to operate in that part of town. It suited the employees just fine. Most of them did not want to share their offices with the blue-collar folks of the printing press. The paper and its journalists had a reputation of being snobbish and highbrow. Dissent was tolerated but only to a point. The senior management was well-connected to the upper echelons of the civil service and across the political spectrum. In their articles, they were careful to distribute the accolades and censure in equal measure across all the different parties.
When Nitya had moved from her previous role in a small regional paper to her current employer, it had been a dramatic change in many ways. The New India Courier was bigger and different in every respect. Nitya had been on a steep learning curve but had excelled beyond her own expectations. She was lucky, but she knew that she worked harder than all her peers to get where she was. She had grown to like Delhi too. She especially enjoyed her office’s central location, the hype that went with it, and with its surroundings. Most of her friends were either colleagues from work or neighbors from the building where she rented an apartment.
As she walked into the office building, she was greeted with friendly glances and gentle nods. Almost everyone had come to know of her after her recent editorials. She climbed the stairs of the majestic building to the second floor to reach her office. This was where most of the junior and mid-level reporters and journalists had their offices. The ground floor was reserved for the administrative staff, interns, new employees, and the support staff who helped in the maintenance of the building. When she entered her closed office, she realized that her days in it were numbered. She would soon be moving to the third floor where all the senior journalists, the management, and the owners had their offices. If there was one thing she missed about her previous employer, it was the lack of hierarchy. The New India Courier had a management structure so hierarchal that it could have given the famed Indian bureaucracy a run for its money.
Once she was inside her office, she quickly glanced at her watch. Since there was half an hour to the meeting, she could quickly review the files on her desk. She kept her purse in one of the tall cabinets in the office and locked it. As soon as she settled down to read the files, Swati, one of the junior reporters on her team, burst in with a big smile on her face. Nitya had repeatedly warned Swati to knock before entering but to no avail. Today she was happy and didn’t want to admonish anyone. Swati had joined the paper six months ago, right out of school. She was hardworking and eager to please. She followed orders, didn’t ask too many questions but, by the same token, didn’t show much initiative when taking on new tasks. Since Swati was still new, Nitya gave her some time to flourish. In her bright orange dress, Swati seemed even more cheerful than her usual talkative self.
“Good morning, ma’am,” Swati said, with a giggle.
“Good morning, Swati,” Nitya replied, with a smile on her face.
“I guess today’s the day. I am so excited for you, ma’am. Do you know which office you will be getting upstairs? Who will be reporting to you? What will be your first story?” Swati rambled on as Nitya kept shaking her head. There was no way for her to get a word in. Finally, when Swati paused, Nitya took a deep breath and asked her to sit in one of the chairs across her desk.
“I don’t know the answers to any of those just yet. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I will get to know after the meeting, and I will certainly let everyone know then.”
“Oh, you mean they haven’t told you anything yet?” Swati asked, clearly disappointed.
“Not yet. Now I want you to go back to your desk and read up on the story you are working on.”
“Sure, ma’am,” Swati replied softly.
“As soon as I come to know, I will let all of you know. I promise.”
“Thank you,” Swati responded with a half-smile.
When Swati left the room Nitya thought of how she had become a role model for many of the young women who had joined the paper. The only other woman in a senior position was a senior editor, but she was related to the owner. There were some women in their thirties and forties who were in mid-level positions, but they were usually never given the stories that could propel their careers. Most women at the newspaper were younger and in junior roles. That reflected contemporary India where more women were joining the workforce. Although Nitya did not feel that she had an obligation to be a role model or mentor, she knew that her success could be a stepping-stone for many toward a rewarding career.
There was a gentle knock on the door. Through the large glass window beside the door, Nitya saw that it was Suresh, her trusted deputy and one she was closest to at work. Suresh and Nitya were about the same age, but he had been at the paper longer than her. He had helped Nitya the most at work, and she trusted him above everyone else. Shy and reserved, he was perceived as someone who lacked ambition, hence although many of his peers were considered for senior roles, he wasn’t. The senior management felt that he wasn’t interested though that was simply not the case. Suresh was happy to be working with Nitya. It had given him the visibility that he desperately needed. He was also hopeful that it would boost his stagnant career. Seeing the worried look on his face, Nitya thought to herself what a contrast he was to her previous visitor. Suresh was conservative in every sense—in demeanor, in outlook, and even in attire.
“Suresh, how are you?”
“I am fine, ma’am,” Suresh replied.
Although of the same age, the strict hierarchy meant that he would need to address her as “ma’am,” though Nitya had repeatedly insisted that he call her by her name.
“Something on your mind?”
“What is it?”
“It’s about your promotion. Does it mean that we won’t be reporting to you anymore?”
“I don’t know. They haven’t told me anything yet.”
“We would still like to report to you. At least I would.”
“Honestly, I don’t know what their plans are, but I will know soon enough. I really must go to my meeting now. I wouldn’t be too worried. You are very good at what you do. If I am given a choice in the matter, I will retain my entire team. Though, I am not sure if they will give me any say in what happens next.”
“Understood, ma’am,” Suresh replied, sounding a bit relieved.
“Don’t worry,” Nitya tried to reassure Suresh as she got up to leave.
“Congratulations on your promotion.”
“Thank you,” Nitya replied as she followed Suresh out of the room.
Nitya made her way toward the end of the hall toward the stairs. As she walked across the hall, she could see the desks of all the journalists. The closed cabins of the managers were lined up against the walls with windows. The journalists reporting to them had cubicles and desks in the middle of the floor. The giant hall with high ceilings could have resembled an indoor gym had it not been for all the desks, chairs, typewriters, cabinets, phones, and photocopiers. The chaos was compounded by the sound of the workers barking into their phones, some simultaneously smoking. Although the hall had ample lighting, the smoke emanating from the cigarettes made it seem dark and dingy. Nitya could sense their eyes on her as she walked across the hall. She smiled and nodded at them and, on reaching the stairs, quickened her pace. She was partly excited and partly worried about what was in store for her.
On the third floor, she walked past a long corridor of closed cabins. Unlike the second floor, there were no open offices or cubicles on this floor. Here, hierarchy was maintained through the size of the offices. The senior editors, around thirty of them across different areas, had larger offices. In addition to the senior editors, there were around twelve directors across different departments like marketing, advertising, and sales. These directors headed the departments on the ground floor and the printing press outside of town. All the directors and senior editors reported to the managing editor, Manoj Vij.
Manoj had been at the paper for more than two decades. He had started in a managerial role and had slowly risen through the ranks to become an effective leader. He reported to the editor-in-chief, Prakash Jain, who was the owner of the newspaper, and its largest shareholder. Manoj and Prakash ran the daily operations. While Manoj focused on the content, Prakash focused on the business itself.
Prakash Jain was well-known and well-liked in the business community. In a country with well-established family businesses dating back decades, Prakash was a bit of an anomaly. He had started a small regional newspaper in Delhi in the late 40s and had slowly grown its circulation. He then bought out some small papers and consolidated them under a single banner. He had risked his family’s wealth and personal reputation on the paper, and it had paid off. His fortunes were tied with the paper’s growth. In a little more than three decades, Prakash had personally amassed a lot of wealth and created a name for the paper and himself.
Prakash and Manoj had met at university and had been close friends ever since. Initially, Prakash was unsure about hiring Manoj, since he already worked for a well-established national newspaper. Manoj, too, was uncertain of how things would work out when he applied for the managerial role. But Prakash was impressed with Manoj’s work ethic and when the senior staff started retiring, Prakash quickly decided to promote Manoj to a senior position. Their friendship had weathered the storms that came with running the paper.
It was Manoj’s idea to hire Nitya. Manoj knew Nitya would be a good addition to their organization. He had read some of her articles in her previous paper. One article had caught his eye. Nitya had even received an award for it. When he had first contacted her, she had been unsure about joining, and this had surprised Manoj. He had assumed that she would jump at the opportunity to join a coveted paper like The New India Courier. He sensed that being a woman, she probably faced other pressures from her family. After a few months, she had suddenly called and asked him if the position was still open. He discussed it with Prakash, and they decided to hire her. Whatever their initial misgivings might have been, the decision to hire Nitya was one of the best that they had made. Not only had she excelled at her job, but her writing had improved the standard of the editorials. Even their competitors agreed that the quality of articles had vastly improved. People had started inquiring about the new additions at the paper that had brought about this change. Both Prakash and Manoj were aware of it. It was all the more reason why they wanted to make sure that Nitya stayed with the paper.
The only thing that bothered Prakash and Manoj were the rumors about Nitya’s brief affair with Vijay Jha, one of the senior editors in the current affairs division. Since it was a personal matter, they didn’t have the right to confront her about it. Their relationship would typically not have been frowned upon had Vijay not been married. Nitya and Vijay had been discreet and tight-lipped, but their co-workers had seen them together at clubs, parties, at the theaters, and other places. The sightings were enough to make them a subject of juicy gossip. Then suddenly, a few months back, things subsided. It almost seemed that there had been nothing going on. Whatever had happened seemed to be in the past and the office folks moved on to new interests. With many young, unmarried, and unattached people joining the growing newspaper, budding relationships were common. Manoj and Prakash’s urban mindset and upbringing had conditioned them to assume that these were bound to happen and it did not deviate them from their focus of growing the paper and hiring the best talent possible.
Manoj’s office was at the end of the corridor. It was one of the two largest offices in the building; the other belonged to Prakash. Manoj’s secretary, who had a desk right outside his office, stopped typing, greeted Nitya with a smile, and asked her to take a seat at the lavish sitting area usually reserved for guests. Nitya made herself comfortable in one of the sofas and leafed through one of the many magazines. As she waited, pretending to read, she couldn’t help but wonder how far she had come in the last ten years. Now in her 30s, she had established herself as a well-known, sought-after journalist. Sometimes it had meant making choices that went against the norm. Although there were invariably some regrets, she had mostly enjoyed the journey. When Manoj had first hired her, she had insisted that she be given investigative assignments in the current affairs division. She could sense that her request had put Manoj in a difficult situation in the organization. But he had taken the risk of assigning her to high-profile stories that would have ordinarily been given to those who had been at the paper for a while. This had caused some friction among her peers, though they gradually realized that she was up to the task. Soon, even her most ardent detractors grudgingly admitted that her writing and research were well above par. Nitya also ensured that any accolades that came her way were shared with her team and this gave her a loyal following.
Nitya’s only regret was her brief fling with Vijay. She couldn’t quite reason with herself why it had happened. In her initial days at the paper, she was assigned to different senior editors on various stories that she had to work on until she had her own team. Vijay was the friendliest of the lot and easy to work with. He had also helped her adjust to the new job and the new city. They had gotten close while working on a story together, and that had led to a brief affair. She knew he was married, and they both knew that their affair wouldn’t last. They had decided to end it amicably a few weeks after it had begun. She was happy that Vijay had never discussed it with anyone. Any gossip or rumor was just that. However, she knew that colleagues had seen them together and that had let their imagination run wild. Since her affair with Vijay, there had been no serious relationships. Nitya had gone out on a few dates that her friends had set up for her, but none of them had led to anything. Her mom had also “arranged” a few meetings with acquaintances, but those hadn’t materialized either much to Nitya’s delight and her mother’s disappointment.
Just as Nitya was about to put down the magazine and pick up another one, Manoj came out of his office. A few senior journalists were filing out and, once they had left, he walked up to her and smiled. Manoj’s tall, lanky figure seemed out of place among those leaving the room. His six-and-a-half-feet frame was quite uncommon in India and Nitya thought he could have been mistaken for a retired cricket player, had it not been for the generous proportion of white hair and the thick spectacles.
“Nitya, good morning.”
“Good morning, sir.”
“I am sorry to keep you waiting. The meeting lasted longer than I’d imagined. It seems that journalists like to not only write but also talk,” Manoj said with a smile.
“We do,” Nitya replied, returning the smile.
“Well, let’s get to it then. Let’s chat in my office. Prakash and Anand are there too.”
Manoj’s office looked like the office of a senior partner in a law firm rather than the editor of a newspaper. His office was just above Nitya’s so they had the same view of the main road from their windows. Though, of course, Manoj’s office was bigger and more impressive. His large, mahogany custom-made desk was at the opposite end of the window. There was a large comfortable chair for him and a set of four chairs across the desk for visitors. On the other side, opposite the door, was a sofa set and coffee table for when he would entertain visitors and colleagues. Along the walls in frames were famous newspaper headlines from all over the world. Nitya could spot front-page headlines on the end of the Second World War, India’s Independence, the moon landing, Kennedy’s assassination, and the declaration of emergency in India. She sensed that Manoj not only valued current events for their immediate impact but also viewed them in their historical context. This is what made him a good journalist.
Anand was already in Manoj’s office. Although many senior editors helmed the current affairs department and directly reported to Manoj, it was well-known that Anand was the most experienced, and that both Prakash and Manoj highly valued his opinion. It was also common knowledge that if Manoj were to either retire or leave, Anand would take over as managing editor. Nitya had briefly worked with Anand and had been very impressed. He was a good leader, valued research, had a good command of the English language, and didn’t mind collaborating on stories with other senior editors—all of which were required skills for running a national newspaper. Prakash and Anand were engaged in conversation but when Nitya walked in they paused, walked over to her, and shook her hand.
Prakash motioned Nitya to sit on the sofa. Manoj and Anand sat on the other sofa on the other side of the coffee table.
“Do you want some tea, Nitya?” Manoj asked.
“I am fine, sir.”
“Alright, let’s get to it then,” Manoj continued, “as you might have guessed, we have called you here today for two things. One, to tell you that we are extremely pleased with the work you have done so far. It has meant a lot to the paper and to us personally. Second, and more importantly, we want to give you a bigger role in the paper and make you one of the senior editors in the current affairs division.”
“Thank you, sir.”
It was Prakash’s turn to speak. Unlike Manoj, Prakash was short, bald, and had a round, bulging figure. Had they not been her bosses, within the confines of a professional work environment, they would seem like quite the comical pair. Prakash was also the extrovert and the more talkative one. Although they had been classmates in university, Prakash looked much older than Manoj. The stress of starting, growing, and running the paper had taken its toll on him. He had built the paper ground up. He drank and smoked heavily, which made his lips dark and the lines on his face more pronounced. He had a habit of speaking quickly and often interrupted people midway. He was a success story. He worked harder than anyone else and it showed. For Prakash, the paper was both a blessing and a curse. A couple of years ago, he had had a mild heart attack that had kept him in the hospital and at home for a few weeks. The doctor had advised him to rest and take time off. But this seemed impossible to him. His wife and daughter had been driven up the wall and finally pleaded and begged his doctor to allow him to go back to work for his own sanity and theirs.
Prakash had been impressed with Nitya. He liked people with ambition. He also knew that if she were given the right environment, she could improve the reputation of the paper. The foremost thing in his mind was to ensure that she stayed at The New India Courier.
“Nitya, I want to congratulate you on your success. You are certainly deserving of all the accolades and awards. Manoj and I have decided to give you a bigger team and a larger role.”
“Thank you, Prakash-ji. It means a lot to me, sir,” Nitya replied, gratefully.
“You already have a team of your own, and you can retain them. Manoj and Anand will be giving you a few more reporters and you will be managing and driving their stories as well,” Prakash said, quickly getting up. Nitya was about to do the same, but he gestured for her to keep sitting.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You are most welcome. Unfortunately, I must leave for an important meeting with one of the ministers, but I wanted to be here in person to congratulate you. We are lucky to have you on the team, and I am sure you will do well in your new role,” Prakash said with a smile. He then turned and headed toward the door.
Once he left the room, Nitya observed that both Manoj and Anand’s demeanor became more relaxed.
“I don’t know how he does it. If he continues like this, he will have another attack,” Anand said.
“Yes, and I have told him many times. He doesn’t know how to slow down or relax. Well, let’s talk about what we are here for,” Manoj said, as he handed one of the files on the coffee table to Nitya.
She started reading it and after a moment’s silence, Anand said, “Nitya, this file has the stories that your team will be working on.”
“Yes, sir,” Nitya replied, wondering if she had to continue calling Anand “sir” given that they were going to be peers and reporting to Manoj directly. But she guessed that the office etiquette demanded that she do so since Anand was the most senior editor and since his other peers also addressed him as sir. Since he was to take over from Manoj, it wouldn’t be prudent for her to disrespect him. And anyhow, Nitya had great respect for him, and she knew that she could learn a lot from his experience. Anand had a good fifteen years on Nitya and was known to be fair in assigning stories to the rest of the teams. Nitya shifted her gaze toward Manoj again, who handed her another file.
“Nitya, this is another file for you to look at. It has the names of all the new people who you will be managing. You have four people in your team now. You will get three more. As you know, most senior reporters manage anywhere between six and ten junior reporters and interns. In your case, you will have four junior reporters and three interns.”
“I will go through the files, sir.”
“Yes, I’m sure your current team will be happy to be continuing with you. The two junior reporters and the intern joining your team have been working with various senior editors,” Anand said. This wasn’t surprising, as there was a constant movement of junior reporters and staff depending on the stories they were assigned.
“Apart from what is on my plate at the moment, is there something specific that you want me to prioritize?” Nitya asked.
“Well, I think I will let you decide, but from the list that has been given to you, I think the one that is probably most important is the one on government tenders,” Manoj replied. Nitya and Anand both nodded in agreement. They briefly discussed how government tenders were being awarded for public works projects in Delhi. The capital had a unique arrangement with the central government. The departments at the central level were directly in charge of floating tenders and accepting bids. What raised eyebrows was that in the past two years the same three business houses had ended up bagging most of the lucrative contracts. Although everything seemed above board, something didn’t sit right. It was almost as if the three companies had carved out the same amount of funds while bidding on different contracts. Of course, proving that would require a lot of investigative work. The businesses were always careful not to make any missteps that would lead them to be accused of collusion. From The New India Courier’s standpoint, this was a good story to work on, and if any wrongdoings were uncovered, it would cause quite an uproar and scandal.
“I will take a look at it right away, sir,” Nitya said, as she closed both the files.
Anand was just about to say something when there was a knock on the door. Charu, Manoj’s secretary, walked in.
Addressing Anand, she said, “sir, there is someone here to meet you. He says he is an insurance agent and has a meeting scheduled with you.”
“Oh yes, thank you, Charu. Manoj, Nitya, I need to go to this meeting. It’s for a story that I am working on about insurance brokers.”
“It’s alright, Anand. We are almost done here anyway. I will speak with Nitya for a few more minutes and then we can go back to what we do best,” Manoj said with a smile as Anand got up and followed Charu out of the room.
Before leaving, he turned to Nitya and said, “congratulations again. You will be a great addition to the senior editorial team, and I look forward to working with you. Oh, and by the way, we didn’t talk to you about Shiv Kumar. Be careful with him. He has already been given a warning. If he gives you any trouble, come to us right away and we will toss him out. Manoj will fill you in.”
“Thank you again, sir,” Nitya said, wondering what this was all about.
Shiv was a junior reporter and had been at the paper for a year and a half. She knew him because his desk was on the same floor as her office, but they had never worked on anything together. She had heard some fleeting gossip about his heated arguments with some senior editors, but she didn’t know the details. Now Shiv would be reporting to her. He was one of the three people joining her team.
Charu and Anand had forgotten to close the door behind them. Manoj got up, walked over, and closed the door gently. He then sat across from Nitya and said, “before you go, there are a couple of things I want to talk to you about.” Nitya could sense that Manoj was being cautious as always and choosing his words carefully.
“First off, it is probably not lost on you that you will be our youngest senior journalist. If you had faced any professional jealousy or competition before, please be forewarned things might get personal.”
Nitya knew Manoj was right.
“Yes, sir. I am aware of it.”
“What I want to tell you is that although I want you to tread carefully, I don’t want you to take any undue or unfair comments from anyone. The senior team has been, for the most part, an old boys’ club, and they are not used to someone in their thirties challenging them. You got your promotion on your own merit. You deserve to be where you are, and if you feel anything is unfair, I don’t want you to hesitate in bringing it to my attention. I know it will be difficult to maintain the balance, but from what I have seen in the last few years, you have a good, mature head on your shoulders and you are up to the challenge.”
“Thank you, sir. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. What’s the other thing, sir?”
“I am sorry?”
“You said there were two things, sir. What’s the other thing?”
“Ah, yes. You will be moving to this floor. We have assigned you an office. It’s down the same corridor that you came through. Charu will show it to you. I hope you don’t mind that it will take a few days for it to get ready. From what I understand, it needs another coat of paint.”
“I really don’t mind my current office. It has a nice view.”
“Yes, but now you need a bigger office to match your role. It’s all about perception. It’s not the office itself. It’s what it says about you,” Manoj said with a smile.
“One last thing,” Manoj said, handing over a piece of typewritten paper.
“What’s this, sir?”
“It’s your official promotion letter which has your new salary and benefits. You can go over it. You will get access to a car and a driver like most senior editors. Most of your meetings will be outside the building from now on, so it’s best to have your own transport. It will also drive you to and from work.”
Nitya nodded with a smile. This was one perk she was looking forward to. Having a paid-for car and driver in Delhi was a godsend. She hated taking public transport. She found most of the taxi and auto drivers rather uncouth. Most of them could easily make out that she wasn’t from the city and would take advantage by taking longer routes so they could charge more. Although she had been in the city for a few years, taking public transport made her feel like an outsider. Then there was the issue of safety. Having her own car and driver would certainly be safer in a city that was notoriously unsafe for single women, especially at night.
Manoj gave her some time to read through the letter. After reading it, she placed it neatly on top of the two files she had been given.
“Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes, I think so. Unless you have any questions for me.”
“Yes. Anand mentioned something about Shiv.”
“Oh yes,” Manoj replied with a sigh. Nitya could see that he really didn’t want to talk about it.
“What’s that all about, sir?”
“Do you know Shiv Kumar?”
“I know who he is.”
“Well, it seems that he has a habit of getting into spats with senior journalists. Some of them have been complaining to me about him. Even though he has been with us for less than two years, he tends to do things on his own, get into arguments, and challenge decisions made by the senior staff. I have assigned him to many senior journalists and most have complained about his attitude.”
“Anand said something about him being given a warning.”
“Ah yes, that. Well, we are giving him one last chance. He has been given two warnings already. Prakash and I spoke to him last week. All you need to know is that if he doesn’t do well or doesn’t behave properly, it’s not good for the team and we will have to let him go.”
“Well, he is reporting to you now. You will get to decide what he will be working on. Let us know what you think of him.”
“The three journalists joining your team have already been told by their current managers that they will now be reporting to you. I think that’s about it really. Good luck on your new role,” Manoj said slowly getting up.
“I will get a move on these right away,” Nitya said, pointing to the folders.
“Yes, thank you. Take the day to get to know the new stories that you have been assigned and the new members of your team. It’s perfectly alright to take in all the accolades and bask in the moment, but tomorrow, it’s business as usual. Please remember what we talked about before. All your actions and decisions will be scrutinized and challenged even more. But I am confident you will do well,” Manoj said, opening the door for Nitya. Nitya nodded and left Manoj’s office with the folders and papers that she had been given.
Charu got up from her desk and walked toward her.
“I will show you to your new office, ma’am.”
“You can just call me Nitya.”
Charu smiled. Nitya could sense that she was happy there was a woman senior journalist now. She remembered how, when she had first joined, Charu had gone out of her way to ensure that she got a good office. She had also ordered new furniture for it. Charu had tried in many little ways to help Nitya adjust to her new surroundings. Occasionally, she would come down to Nitya’s office and check if she needed anything. Initially, Nitya had thought that Manoj had asked her to check on Nitya. But later she realized that it wasn’t the case. Charu was in her late forties and had been Manoj’s secretary for more than a decade. Most of the senior journalists didn’t really interact much with her. Charu led Nitya to the end of the corridor near the staircase. There was a hallway across the landing and another corridor leading to the side of the building that overlooked a park. The offices were at the very end. Most of the doors were closed and they could hear murmurs from meetings. Through the few open doors, they could see the large offices of other senior journalists. Many were empty, which wasn’t unusual. They were probably on the road following up on stories. Charu stopped in front of one of the doors and opened it. Nitya could smell the fresh paint on the walls. The room was mostly empty except for a big filing cabinet in one corner. Nitya walked over slowly to the large window to take a peek and saw people in the park enjoying the sun. The view was as majestic as the one from her small office downstairs, but she liked the spacious room. She looked around to get a feel of her new office.
“We have ordered some new furniture. It will be arriving in a day or two. The phone should be here in a few days as well. The painters are coming back tomorrow to finish the job. It should all be ready in a couple of days,” Charu said.
“Thank you,” Nitya said with a smile. Just as they were about to step back outside, they heard a booming voice.
“Hello, Ms. Chaturvedi. Welcome to the elite club and to the floor that matters. It’s good to see that you have rid yourself of the lesser mortals downstairs.”
The voice was unmistakable. It was Colonel Harry Singh though he was neither a colonel nor was his name Harry. He had been in the army a while back but had taken early retirement following an injury. His name was Harjinder Singh. He had shortened it to Harry for his friends and Colonel for everyone else. Harry Singh had been at the paper for nearly a decade. He was pompous, loud, and colorful. For someone who had been in the army for almost twenty years, he was in terrible shape. To match his booming voice, he had a large belly and a mighty mustache. It was quite evident that although he took little care of his belly, he took enormous pains to ensure that his mustache looked proper and wavy at all the right places. Nitya had heard that he was close to Prakash and had been hired for his connections in the government and the military. He had been resourceful in getting many interviews with high-ranking officials and was known to enjoy a good cigar and a drink.
“Good morning, sir,” Nitya said while Charu nodded.
“So you will be my new neighbor. Finally, we will have some young blood on this floor. I don’t know if you have noticed Nitya, there are two things that people lack on this floor. One is a sense of humor and the other is good looks. Pity they can’t do anything about either. You have to be born with it. Now both of us will make up for it.”
“Yes, sir,” Nitya said with a smile as the phone in Harry Singh’s room started ringing.
“Duty calls, or maybe it’s the wife. Either way, I will have to take that,” Harry said pointing to his room.
When he left, Charu and Nitya made their way through the corridor toward the staircase.
“You should pay no attention to him. His language is brutish, but he is otherwise alright,” Charu said with a sigh.
“I know. I have seen him at parties and at the club. That’s just how Harry is,” Nitya agreed.
Once they reached the staircase and were about to go their separate ways, Charu touched Nitya’s arm and said to her softly, “I am so glad that you have made it to the senior staff and this floor. I hope you do well.”
“Thank you for all your help, as always,” Nitya said with a smile.
As Nitya climbed down the stairs, she could see some people on her floor huddled around the desks listening to the radio. She wondered if there was a cricket match. As she made her way back to her office, she smiled and nodded at the few folks she met along the way. Once inside, she opened her desk drawers and kept all the files and papers safely. Through her door, she could see the huddle growing. She didn’t want a radio in her room since it was a distraction, and she didn’t like listening to it anyway. But now she started to wonder what the hullabaloo was about. She didn’t have to wait long. Swati burst into her office with Suresh quietly following behind.
“Did you hear what happened?” Swati asked frantically.
“What happened?” Nitya asked.
“Communal riots, ma’am. It’s all over the radio. It started in Old Delhi last night and it looks really bad.”
“Any trouble here?”
“No, it doesn’t seem that way,” Suresh replied.
Old Delhi seemed like a world away from New Delhi. Unlike New Delhi with its grand boulevards, majestic buildings, and leafy neighborhoods, Old Delhi was crowded, noisy, and a tinderbox when it came communal tensions. It also had more character, history, food, color, and diversity. Riots weren’t uncommon in that part of the city whose inhabitants were poorer than in other parts of the sprawling metropolis. However, the riots usually started and died down quickly, and over the decades the police had been quite successful in managing tensions between the various communities. They had smartened up, and each time something started, they were quick to engage local leaders on both sides and force them to reach an amicable solution. Sometimes that meant a few nights of curfew and a strong and visible police presence.
“What happened upstairs, ma’am?” Swati asked, changing topics.
“They have made me a senior journalist and our team will have three new members. And yes, before you ask, I get to keep my current team.”
“Yes!” Suresh and Swati said almost in unison. Nitya smiled at them.
“It also means more work and sometimes long hours. Now, I want all of you to be nice and welcoming to our new team members.”
“We are nice,” Swati replied.
“Yes, I know.”
“Who are the people joining our team? Do they know?” Suresh asked.
“Yes, they were informed yesterday by their managers,” Nitya said, and gave them the names of their new team members.
“Oh no, not Shiv,” Suresh sighed.
“I have heard he is bad news” Swati nodded in agreement.
“Why is that?” Nitya asked.
“I don’t know for sure, ma’am. I once heard him arguing with two senior journalists. They were scolding him for something he had done. Instead of apologizing, he was arguing with them. It became a big shouting match in the cafeteria,” Suresh said.
“Do you know what prompted it?”
“No, ma’am. I don’t know all the details,” Suresh replied.
“I once saw him in the parking lot with Mr. Vijay. He was giving Shiv an earful. Again, the argument quickly descended into a shouting match for everyone to hear,” Swati said.
“Well, we don’t always get to pick and choose who we work with. So, let’s give him a fair shake, and since we don’t know what happened, let’s start with a clean slate,” Nitya said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Swati replied unconvincingly, and Suresh nodded.
“Alright, first order of business is that I want to meet everyone. Can both of you book one of the conference rooms and let everyone know that we will be meeting in half an hour?”
“Sure, ma’am,” Suresh replied.
After they left the room, Nitya looked through the files and checked out the stories that her team had been assigned and the new members who would be joining her team. There was Rakesh, an intern who had started only a few weeks ago. There wasn’t much on him except his CV. He had graduated with good grades and was working on a story about the state electricity board overbilling some residents. Then there was Moina who had been with the paper for five years. Nitya had worked with Moina on a short story and really liked her. She was a familiar face around the office. Finally, there was Shiv Kumar. He had been with the paper for eighteen months. He had also graduated from one of the best schools and his CV was great. This was his first job and though he had worked for such a short period, he had been shunted from one story to another. His latest assignment was on a string of thefts at jewelry stores all over Delhi. Nitya had read about it in the papers that the police were having a hard time apprehending the suspects.
Nitya reread her promotion letter and then filed it away. She looked at her watch; it was time to head to the conference room to meet her team. The team had already assembled, and she was happy to see them interacting with one another. But there was no sign of Shiv.
“Please take a seat,” Nitya told them.
Moina spoke first. “Shiv called earlier today and informed one of the receptionists downstairs that he will be late.
“Thank you, Moina. Do we know why?” Nitya asked, placing her files on the big conference table.
“I don’t know, ma’am. It could be because of the riots in Old Delhi. That’s where he lives,” Moina replied.
“Alright. Well, I hope everything is fine. We will know more when he gets here. Let’s get started then,” Nitya continued, opening the first file, which contained all the stories and articles that they were currently working on. They spent the next two hours discussing these. She was happy to see that Moina and Rakesh were interacting well with the rest of the team. They seemed nice, and everyone appeared to be in a good mood. Nitya told them what she expected of them. She did not micromanage but liked to be kept informed of what was going on. She also wanted to make sure that the stories they were working on were moving forward. If that meant pairing her team up with other journalists, she would facilitate it. She wanted her team to travel, to meet the subjects of their stories, and most importantly, interview as many people as possible to understand the various angles of the articles they were working on. She asked her team to attend the training sessions on soft skills, a new initiative underway at the paper for junior reporters.
Toward the end, she gave everyone a chance to talk about themselves, what they did outside of work, their hobbies, and their interests. They shared a few laughs when everyone let their guard down and talked about music, chess, cooking, gardening, and reading. Finally, right before closing the meeting, Nitya reiterated their priorities and the work structure. Nitya’s strategy was to pair up an old team member with a new one. She knew that the article on government contracts was their top priority. She asked Suresh and Moina to work together on it and pull in other members of the team as needed. Rakesh was asked to help Swati with her story. She still didn’t know what to do with Shiv. She decided that she would use him as needed to help one of the other team members on articles they were working on.
As Nitya walked back to her room after the meeting, she saw that everyone had returned to their desks and not huddled around radios any longer. That was probably a good sign. Maybe the riots in Old Delhi were now under control, she thought to herself. She could hear the phone in her room ringing from afar so she quickened her pace. She picked up the receiver just in time. It was her mother.
“Hello, Nitya, how are you?” Mrs. Chaturvedi asked in her usual loud voice.
“I am fine, mom,” Nitya replied, stretching the receiver cord just enough to reach the door so that she could close it.
“On the radio, we heard about the riots in Old Delhi. You know how your father gets when these things happen. He has been trying to reach you for an hour now. But your phone kept ringing and it got us really worried.”
“Don’t worry, mom. I am fine,” Nitya said, sitting on her chair. “Whatever is happening is far from where I am. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Okay, speak to him first, and then I want to talk to you about something.”
Nitya sighed. She knew what that “something” was going to be. It was always the same thing¾ when would she find the time to meet someone and get married? The distance between Callipur and Delhi had made things a bit better. Keeping her mom at bay had been easier. There was only as much that could be said over the phone. Mrs. Chaturvedi no longer had the luxury of pestering her daughter every day about marriage. These conversations were now confined to annual vacations and whenever her parents came to visit, which was usually once every six to nine months. But Nitya knew that her mom possessed an enormous talent of making her feel guilty and low even through a set of copper wires. What had made matters worse was that both her elder and younger sisters were now married. In her mom’s circle of friends in small-town Callipur that made Nitya “the unmarried one.” Nitya didn’t mind the reference, but it irked her mom who made sure that her daughter got a dose of her “uncomfortable” life because she was unmarried.
When Nitya moved to Delhi, it was general knowledge that she would be marrying Raj, her family friend from childhood. In the end, though, she had decided against it. Nitya hoped that today’s conversation would be different; perhaps it could be about her promotion. She was happy to hear her father’s voice, though. He was much easier to talk to and never brought up anything about her past relationships. She enjoyed her conversations with him on various topics and they were full of longing and affection for one another. She spoke to him for a few minutes, assured him that she was fine, and then informed him about her promotion. She could sense that he was ecstatic. She could hear him relaying it to her mom but couldn’t gauge her reaction. After a few minutes, he handed the phone over to her.
“Nitya, what’s this I hear? You got a promotion. Congratulations!”
“Thank you, mom.”
“When did this happen?”
“They told me this morning.”
“What does this mean?”
“A bigger team, more responsibilities, and a bigger office,” Nitya said knowing really well that her mom would be weighing all of this against what she would say next.
“I am so happy for you. Your dad is already getting ready to go to the club to share the news with his friends. How is your health? Are you eating properly?”
“Yes, mom, I am doing fine.”
“I have to tell your sisters about your promotion. Kavita just called a little while ago. She may be coming over next month for a short visit. Can you come too?”
“No, mom. Not so soon. I was just there a couple of months ago for Kavita’s wedding. I have a lot on my plate,” Nitya said, as she sensed the momentary silence on the other end and dreaded the inevitable conversation that would follow.
“Have you thought about what we talked about last time? Are you seeing someone?”
“No, mom, I am not.”
“It seems that you don’t like any of the boys we arrange for you to meet. I was discussing this with your father yesterday. I think we will be fine with you selecting someone yourself.”
Nitya couldn’t imagine her father getting a word in during this “discussion”. In her family, her mom made the decisions and everyone else just had to go along with it.
“Fine, mom. If you want to leave it up to me, then just leave it up to me.”
“Yes, but time is running out, you know. You are already well into your thirties.”
“I am well aware of my age.”
“Now you will become busier and have less time to meet people.”
“I have to go, mom.”
“Even Raj is married and has a daughter now. We met them, his parents, and his in-laws at the club. If you had stayed in Callipur, you could have married him and had a more normal life.”
“My life is quite normal now.”
“But you are not settled. What’s worse is that I don’t get a sense that you are interested in anyone at all. It is very stressful for us as parents. Your dad may not say it openly, but he is worried too.”
“I didn’t want a ‘normal’ life in Callipur. I am happy for Raj, but I am also happy with my decision to leave and come to Delhi.”
“What exactly has that resulted in? You are still single, and all these promotions are getting you nowhere. You are getting older and soon, even if you want to marry, there will be no one left to marry. Boys are not waiting around for you to be ready.”
“Alright, mom. We are just going around in circles. I thought today was going to be about me and my promotion. But you managed to talk about the same thing. You really have a unique ability to make me feel sad on a day I should be really happy.”
“Nitya, please think about what I am saying. You need someone with whom you can share your life. You are getting older, and you will get lonely.”
“I am alone, mom, but not lonely. They are two different things.”
“I don’t know why you have to be so stubborn and headstrong. It is completely pointless talking to you. You just don’t understand.”
“Fine. I have to go now,” Nitya said, raising her voice slightly.
“Fine,” said Mrs. Chaturvedi, in a shrill voice as she banged down the phone.
They had been having the same conversation for years now. It had become more pointed since the weddings of both Kavita, Nitya’s younger sister, and Raj. Kavita had married someone from Bombay and Raj had married one of Nitya’s school friends from Callipur. To her mother, that meant that they were both settled and happy and she yearned for Nitya to have the same. Nitya’s decision to not marry Raj had been a shock and embarrassment for her mother. It had taken her a few months to come to terms with it. Raj’s parents were family friends and that had made things awkward. But since then, Nitya had moved to Delhi and Raj had gotten married. With time, everyone had moved on, except Nitya’s mom.
After the conversation with her mom, Nitya kept staring at the phone. Usually, her mother would call back after a few minutes to soothe things over. However, if the self-righteous Mrs. Chaturvedi was really upset, it could take her a couple of days to call back, and even then, she would talk about mundane things pretending that nothing had happened. That was her way of apologizing. As Nitya stared at the phone, she couldn’t gauge whether her mother would call in a few minutes or take a day or two. Nitya was angry and fuming. Her mother had managed to upset her and make her feel low on a day that was so important to her. Then the phone rang. Nitya decided to give it back to her mother.
She picked up and said in a loud voice, “enough mom. I have had it with your guilt trips. I don’t want to talk to you about this anymore.”
There was a momentary silence on the other end. She could hear a faint noise in the background but couldn’t make out what it was. Then someone spoke in a clear, soft voice.
“I may have got the wrong number. Is this Nitya Chaturvedi?”
Nitya immediately realized her mistake and regained her composure.
“Yes, this is Nitya. I am sorry I thought it was someone else.”
“That’s alright, ma’am. I’m Shiv Kumar. I understand you will be my new boss. I have been trying to reach you for the last hour and a half.”
“Oh yes. We were at a meeting. Moina told me that you had called to say that you will be late.”
“Yes. I am in Old Delhi now and the police have cordoned off a lot of streets. We are not being allowed to leave, and I’m told there will be a curfew soon. I am calling you from a public phone booth near my apartment.”
“Oh. Are you alright?”
“Yes, ma’am. I am fine. Luckily, nothing happened on the street where I live. But some houses and cars have been burned a few streets over. I heard on the radio that there have been a few casualties, but I am not sure what to believe.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?”
“I am not sure. I think we must follow police orders and stay indoors till they get the situation under control. I don’t think I will be able to make it to the office.”
“That’s alright, Shiv. I want you to be safe and at home. Please call me if you think there is anything I can do. If you want to get out of your neighborhood for a while and live with someone else, maybe some relatives in other parts of Delhi, please do let me know. As soon as the curfew is over, I can send over a car to pick you up.”
“Thank you for the offer, ma’am.”
“From what I have been told, the riots are confined only to Old Delhi.”
“I am not sure that’s the case. That’s another reason I have been trying to reach you. I heard from my neighbors that a large rowdy crowd is making its way to Connaught Place. I think it would be a good idea to close the office for today and send everyone home.”
“I have been here since morning, and everything seems fine here. This is a relatively safe area, and there’s a lot of police presence all around. I am sure we are fine,” Nitya replied. She was amused at Shiv’s assumption that the offices would be closed simply on the basis of his message.
“I spoke to the receptionists and some of my colleagues on the ground floor and told them what was happening. They wouldn’t connect me to any senior staff members,” Shiv said, sounding a bit disappointed.
“It’s alright, Shiv,” Nitya said confidently. “You take care of yourself and stay safe. We are fine here. Once things have died down and the police have lifted the curfew, you can come to work.”
“Right, ma’am. I will keep you informed of what’s going on here, and as soon as I am able to make it to the office, I will.”
“Thank you, Shiv,” Nitya replied and hung up.
She could imagine Shiv trying to reach the senior journalists on the third floor to warn them about the riots and not managing to get through. She smiled imagining what their reaction would be if the offices considered closing because of Shiv’s advice, especially after his recent run-ins with them. Soon after hanging up, Nitya heard a growing ambient noise outside. Through the glass partition, she could see the journalists on her floor looking out the windows. Just as she was about turn and look outside her office window, a large fiery rock came crashing through the glass pane and landed on her desk, missing her only by a few inches.