By Chitra Ahanthem
Sometime in the last week of November 2012, a mail from the IFP founding Editor, Tamo Pradip came in my inbox folder. It was short: “I have something to offer you”, the details of which would be made when he would be in Imphal in the first week of December. One of the perks of being associated with IFP is that based on merit and capability, one gets linked to exposure programs or other assignments. I thought the ‘offer’ in question would be something short term. Nothing prepared me for the quiet shock when at our meeting, Tamo lobbed a question at me: “Would you like to be Editor for Imphal Free Press?”. That the question took me by surprise would be an understatement, for there were many other immediate reactions.
Going by the gamut of work with the paper, maybe the editorial responsibility was a normal course of events but the ‘offer’ meant many things for me: it meant that I had immense responsibilities and that I would be under intense scrutiny. But most of all, it meant that I would be breaking ground in terms of working hours since editing a daily newspaper entails starting work from the afternoon till late night. Every day as I drove my two wheeler at night from the IFP office to home, I knew I was the only woman to be on the streets with darkness for company and a few security personnel on the roads. I would be home by 10 pm and then resume the remaining of my work everyday online, shutting off only when the paper was complete with the sub editing team doing an admirable job of being the link between what I would wrap up and what would appear in the paper the next day. Working at home meant having to be victim of the electric load shedding and every alternate day would see me working in total darkness with a mosquito coil for company. On such a day, the headline of a news report that was supposed to be written as ‘Highway’ ended up being printed as ‘Hugeway’ since the ‘i’ and ‘u’ keys on the computer keypad are next to each other. There were the lighter moments too which happened mostly when people came in to meet the Editor and they would react with shock at seeing a small size woman answering to the description. One time, a well attired gentleman came calling to request that his writing be published. I heard him ask the way to where the Editor sat at which, my team said he would find the person in question in the next cubicle. He peered at me quizzically, thought better of it and headed back to ask the same question. I heard my team saying a patient, “It is the Iche sitting in the next cubicle”. He stepped in to my cubicle then with a “So, you are the Editor? But I thought it would be someone older”. I could only smile for that reaction also had a hidden “and you are a woman too” hidden somewhere. One time, a few journalists dropped in to the office in the evening “to check if you would be office at such a timing”, mirroring the reality of how women are still confined to working only day timings in the state and having household responsibilities to take care of. I had it relatively easy because of my mother who has always been a pillar of strength but my seven year old had to be bundled off to boarding school.
The challenge of the editorial responsibility was met with able support from our young team of reporters and a sub editing team that stayed up late nights with me. But May end, health issues cropped up with the joints of my fingers aching so badly that I could not bend them while my arms weighed me down. A cousin who is physiotherapist suggested that I get seek diagnosis from neurologist. The first diagnosis ended in a list of medicines that would help my muscles relax but which would keep me asleep for the better part of the day. It also led to an uncomfortable neck collar that I was to wear for one whole month. The medicine I opted to take only once a day though the dosage was for twice a day: the pain did not go way and the neck collar changed to a Philadelphia collar, a contraption that locked my jaw and made me feel like Hanibal Lector, but the worse was that my shoulder was totally frozen. An MRI scan revealed I had a prolapse in my C-6 and C-7 discs: I would need to limit my computer use, not lift heavy objects and not drive a two wheeler. As I went about my work from home online, I underwent a bout of depression at the thought of having to limit my movement and my hours of real pleasure that I get out of writing and reading. But through this phase, the responsibility of bringing out IFP everyday kept me afloat while physiotherapy sessions made me see that I was not the only one. I knew I was better off when I met a young mother in her mid 20’s with the same condition as myself crying bitterly that she was no longer able to hold and lift her 7 month baby. It took a serious health condition to make me see the truth that ‘health is wealth’. Hopefully, the rest that I am getting now will help me heal and continue my love for writing.