A freelancer survives by his wits. Getting published in newspapers and magazines was not so difficult. But a huge problem was persuading publications to pay for my labour.
Many publications, particularly small Hindi newspapers, hated to pay freelancers for their work. They thought that they were obliging the writers by giving them bylines and making them ‘famous’.
I learnt my initial lesson the hard way.
In 1970, I sent an article to Gujarat Herald, which proclaimed to be the ‘First English Morning Daily’ from Ahmedabad. The article was published. I asked for payment. No payment came. I sent several reminders, week after week.
Never underestimate the tenacity of a student, who has free time at his hands, access to a typewriter and a continuous supply of inland letters that cost just 15 paise. I kept up my bombardment with the help of Indian Post Department.
Finally I received the following letter from the newspaper’s Assistant Editor, whose name I would like to avoid:
“Dear Mr Singh,
“Our records do not show that we have agreed to pay you for any articles, though we have published one of your articles. However, since you have been frequently demanding money for the article published, I have asked the Accounts Department to send you a M.O. for Rs 15/- which is our normal rate per despatch.
“We do not have any of your articles in our file. Obviously they were returned to you and must have been lost in the transit, for which we are not responsible.
“Please do not send any more articles to us.
He had not reckoned upon the fact that my idol was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the radical leader of ‘68 French student movement!
I also learnt, very soon, that a successful freelancer never puts all his eggs in one basket. He always keeps looking for new opportunities.
I kept mailing articles to newspapers and magazines all over India and kept collecting a vast variety of rejection slips.
Around 1969 I noticed a newsmagazine on stalls – Enlite. It was a slickly produced weekly published from an unlikely place, Vadodara, which was called Baroda then.
Enlite tried to copy American newsmagazines, Time and Newsweek. That meant no bylines on dispatches published. (Link, a newsmagazine published by Patriot group, also followed the same pattern.)
As Enlite did not have a correspondent in Bihar, where I was based at that time, I approached them, expressing my desire to write regularly for it. The Editor, CJ Patel, promptly responded, telling me that I could work as a stringer, for which “we pay at the rate of Rs 1/- per column inch of published material and for photographs at the rate of Rs 5/- and Rs 7/- for small and large pictures, again on the basis of those used by us.”
The money was peanuts, about Rs 30 for a page. But I was dealing with professionals for the first time in my life. The Editor soon sent me a style sheet and detailed instructions about writing cover stories for Enlite.
In case you want to read my first article in Enlite, please click here.