You see me every day, sitting behind my counter, crouched over my desk, staring hard at the computer screen so that I get all the figures right for you.
It is only figures that matter here.
I work in a bank. I deal with figures day in and day out. They make their way even into my dreams. And I have to get them right even there. But, the facts of my life—they are all messed up.
You see, I can’t afford to make a mistake. It is not kindly taken. I say this out of experience – a mistake from a woman is proof of inherent stupidity. It shows a zanaanmohnievis not supposed to be in that chair. Clients say this to my face. I want to correct them, tell them making a mistake is “human” not “woman”, but I don’t. I want to keep my job. I had better not talk back.
A lot of my clients don’t see me as a human being. For them, I am just the thing that works in the bank. I am acknowledged with a scowl. If I tell them a cheque won’t be cleared because of some reason, the look I receive is one as if I have committed a sacrilege. They go to my immediate seniors and complain. What happens there is a story for another day. Today I just want to tell my story - the story of a misfit. It might also sound quite a bit your own story.
Literature is the love of my life. I knew this when I was eight. I am just among the countless people who never get to specialise in the subject they want to, because their parents think it is not a good idea. I never liked science as a subject. I hopped from science in my secondary education to a little less science in my graduation to no science at all in my post-graduation. The last two years of my academic career are my happiest memories of a classroom. And then I started working in a bank and the happiness dies a little bit every day.
Growing up, we all want so many amazing things for us. We also choose pretty diverse careers. I remember so many of us in my school wanted to pilot a plane. Some boys wanted to do nothing other than play cricket. Artists, interior designers, architects, businessmen/women, doctors, and engineers – you would find almost everything in there. A girl even wanted to be an actress.
I am sure our parents must have smiled indulgently at all of us when their four-feet-something, ten-year-old must have revealed to them with a dead serious face the great career plan. “Kids!,” they must have said and laughed.
And then, the manipulation would have begun.
“Doctor is a better option... doctors are respected... doctors work for humanity... it is the best out there.” That’s the standard line from our elders. It is repeated until we all fall in line. By the time we are fifteen, our minds are already doctored to think in a particular way. We know by rote this is what we want.
And then, when CET comes, we fail miserably and blame our luck.
I think our parents are not wrong in being so concerned for us; it is their unwillingness to consider anything else that is out of normal. They don’t want to take any risks. So they force you down the beaten track. They fail to realise the damage, the lack of passion does to ones professional and personal life.
And when college and university are done, our parents expect us to go with any job that would take us. Anything with a steady pay check.
Kashmir has a grim job market. Finding a job that fits your qualification and taste is rare. Among the many low paying government jobs, a handful of posts in bureaucracy and the high stress ones in private sector, you are not lucky enough to always have a choice. A friend of mine did an MBA and she is unemployed. Another is studying as much as she can to make it as a professor, because botany really doesn’t offer any career opportunities at all. Another specialised in biotechnology and well, we all know where it ends. The colleges and universities are churning out misfits in bunches, session after session. Misfits who will take up anything, possibly anything that falls along on the way. Just as I did.
I, the misfit, have no interest in my current job. I was forced into it. True I had no choice. So I too had to force myself into it, sort of. The atmosphere around makes it worse.
I get yelled at, a lot at my job. I am used to it by now. A confused customer who couldn’t get his sums and deductions right wanted to know how qualified I was. Another was advised by a fellow customer not to listen to what I said, saying,“Zanaanmohnivsyundkyaboezakh.” The first time a client screamed at me, I couldn’t talk properly for two days. I did say what was necessary when my job required that of me but beyond that I just wanted to disappear. I never wanted to return to my office. I was deeply hurt that people could talk to me the way they wanted and no one around would even raise an objection. I saw the silent acceptance of this behaviour and realised that I’d have to face this as long as I work in the bank.
My mother always tells me it is normal for everybody to hate their job. I don’t know whether she truly believes it or says it just to comfort me.
I know it is a very long shot for me to do something in life that makes me happy and then make it work. That doesn’t stop me from dreaming and planning. I think of setting up a business or finding a job that revolves around literature. Nobody thinks much of it, but I do. And I believe my thinking matters. But I am scared of each passing day. It lulls me into a routine that I am getting comfortable with and I hate that. It dulls my pain of being a misfit.
In the last few years my hair has started greying. For somebody in her mid twenties, it is not something new. This is expected. But the speed with which my greys are debuting is unusual. My stomach ailments have worsened.
My job makes me unhappy and there is not a lot I can do about it. I fear that one day in the process of developing that thick skin, I will lose my ability to feel for the person sitting on the desk next to me. I fear I won’t recognise myself five years from now. I fear, in the world of figures, I might become just another figure that would even frighten me—a zero.
Or have I already become so? I don’t know.
(The writer of this piece wishes to remain anonymous)