My first solo trip to Kolkata taught me I had been making serious transportation mistakes in India. I was there to visit Equitable Marketing Association, an organization based in Kolkata with a development center an hour outside the city. My second day there, Kakoli, a member of the marketing team and a 15-year-EMA veteran, showed me how to find my way.
We left the hotel and she led us across the street. As we approached the morning commute traffic, she stopped. She made eye contact and shouted ‘Ballyganj!’, our train station, to the man driving the rickshaw paused on a corner.
He shook his head yes, and Kakoli ordered: ‘Come!’ We crossed the street, squished into the rickshaw with two fellow commuters and went on our way. We got out at Ballyganj station, payed our 10 rupees and Kakoli pointed out the spot where I should take the share rickshaw back to my hotel.
I thought to myself: 10 rupees! I can’t drive for 15 minutes in Delhi in a rickshaw for only 10 rupees.
Then I remembered back to one of my first weeks at Fair Trade Forum – India. My coworker took a couple of fellow interns and myself to a giant-naan establishment by Chandhi Chowk, in Old Delhi. My coworker took his responsibility for transporting the three hapless foreigners (two German college students and myself) safely and cheaply across Old Delhi seriously, so he found us one of that electric share-rickshaws common in that part of the city. I loved its convenience and frugality, but since that time, I had failed to take advantage of any share rickshaw system in Delhi: partially because of my fondness for the metro system, partially for the (seeming) lack of share-rickshaws in my own neighborhood, and partially due to my fear of my ignorance of how the system works.
My fondness for cities with easy and accessible transportation made me excited to explore the Delhi metro system. I have embraced tuktuks and motos (with a helmet, of course) in Southeast Asia, learned to ride a bike in the sea of transportation that runs through Phnom Penh, settled into the informal bus/van transport in Kathmandu, been a bus regular in Boston and Washington, D.C., taken every trolley available, from Sarajevo to The Hague, and acquired a metro pass in nearly every city I visited that it was possible (my favorite being Hong Kong’s octopus card – a multi-purpose currency pass usable on the metro, buses and many shops around the city). My forms of transportation often define my level of comfort in a city. If I can’t cross a city with ease, I have not yet fully settled.
So I spent my week and a half in Kolkata exploring this informal (at least to my eyes) system of share rickshaws. It feels to me that in Delhi that you can do almost anything there, if you meet the right person or have the right information. I think the same of Kolkata and much of India. When I returned to Delhi, I was determined to figure out the share taxi system that I knew had to be under my nose.
During one of my first workdays back, I went to my organization’s board meeting to give an update on my work. I had been gone for over a month and I arrived anxious and uncertain. After working and traveling solo for a while, I had only shown my work to my two technical mentors and myself: what if they hated my videos?
This is the first year I have worked solely on creative projects for my job. I am the director, videographer, photographer, interviewer, and editor. Each video I make and photo I take is created from my ideas and goals. I collaborate with each organization to plan the subjects and employees covered in the videos, but the uncertainty of each field visit means that the material I capture is dependent on my ability to think quickly and creatively in each setting. The set video format and visual identity (font, name titles, video thumbnails) were decided at the start of the fellowship, led by my mentors, Ronny, Diana, and Meenu, but each final video is made or broken by the work I do each day.
This is a unique opportunity for a young professional: this amount of responsibility and leadership in day-to-day work. It is an opportunity I embrace, I love. It is wonderful to have the chance to craft a story out of pile of b-rolls and interview footage, to make something out of nothing.
It is also a lot of pressure. For a long time, and still sometimes, the fun stopped for me the moment I had to show someone what I made. I realize now my creativity had driven all my previous work, from my research choices to my writing, but this felt like the first time I had banked on my creativity so publicly. Previously, my creativity had served me privately, my puns and poetry shared mainly with friends and partners. If my bosses disliked my creativity expressed through these videos, I was not sure if I could take the critique of something so tied to my identity.
So I sat in the waiting room, chatting with my coworker and dreading my time to face the board, to show the videos. Eventually they called me in, and we chatted for a few minutes about West Bengal desserts as I set up my computer. I smiled nervously, made a joke, and pressed play.
I barely remember the feedback I received, but it was mostly positive and helpful. I cringed through each video playback, but quickly realized my stress and anxiety was unwarranted. Sharing my work beyond advisers and bosses still gives me hives, but it is necessary if I do not want it to exist in a vacuum. I know in theory and in practice that feedback is essential to learn, grow, improve — the more critical the better.
Content creation does not need to exist solely for the sake of consumption, but when my purpose here, and moving forward, is to use my communication skills to effectively shed light on untold stories, they will need to be shared with others. How can I possibly expect to do so, if I am too afraid someone will be critical of my color correction skills? How can I expect someone to trust me with their story, if I can’t trust myself?
I left that meeting, a little less afraid of the world, and immediately realized I had little cash and a battery-dead phone, leaving out most uber and rickshaw options. I started walking, thinking there must be an atm nearby. On my way, I heard multiple rickshaws go by, and a familiar ‘Metro! Metro!’. I side-shook my head ‘No’ and kept walking. Then I stopped.
These were definitely, definitely share taxis. My coworker had confirmed that they did exist outside of Old Delhi, and here was my shot. I found my atm, got my cash, and walked back to the road. It took just a moment for a ‘Metro!’ rickshaw to drive by, I stopped the driver, asked ‘Das rupees?’ (10 INR, the go-to share rickshaw rate) and hopped in. As we picked up fellow riders, I felt at ease, after a day of anxiety, wondering how my work would be perceived by the organization I’d been spending months trying to get to know and serve. We got to the metro – miraculously on the line I needed to be on – and I went on my way. I made it home a little while later.
Being able to take a share taxi is, in theory, a minuscule thing. I can in no way claim to be fully immersed in Delhi, but this was a step. I will be proud when I am able to converse, make puns, complain with my fellow sharers in Hindi, but for now, I will take this victory.