By the time you read this, this kalam will once more have wandered off the rails of the 9 to 5 into the seemingly limitless and aimless pastures of the freelance life. It is a landscape with which I am familiar, as I spent a number of years prior to my time with the Times as a travelling editor. So the prospect before me does not fill me with dread. If anything, this time around I step away from the uniformity of office life with some relief and much hope.
The last time around, I fearfully forsook the security of a steady job to combine freelance work with creative writing, and found that having the relative freedom to organise the whole of one's time (and not just the evenings) was a boon, in more ways than one. But without self-discipline, this meant nothing with respect to the writing that had to be done. This time, mystory repeats itself, albeit with the advantage of having made some headway with the writing, which means that in a sense, I still have a job (and this space).
Only to the degree that writing is considered a career, of course. For the vast majority of those afflicted with this psychosomatic condition, the physical manifestation of writing is not lucrative, nor even that which can guarantee economic survival. Its validity as a profession is thus open to debate, particularly in societies such as ours only recently cracking the moulds of doctor-engineer-army to explore different ways of earning a living.
But I digress. I meant not to write about writing, but about flying solo. Ke ho yo phreelance?
Literally and historically, a 'free lance' is a mercenary who is prepared to point his lance at anybody if the price is right. In this sense, then, going freelance is just about the most Nepali thing one could be doing, if the idea of calling the Gurkhas mercenaries doesn't ring your jingo.
But the Gurkhas, be they British or Indian or plain Nepali (though not an ethnic group, as every Nepali must have explained at least once), have never been your garden variety mercenaries. One could say they miss the point of being freelance in the modern world, in that they fight other peoples' wars but are very much focused on having a career, and one with limited but definite possibility of vertical advancement.
Much freelance work, in fact, flies in the face of the idea of a career. Oh, you could be making more or less money than those with careers, and you can even be successful enough to employ people if you so choose. But freelancing today is all about horizontal advancement, in the sense that you move from client to client but never above them. And what is there to aspire to if you are just the boss of yourself, a status that you only share with the unemployed? It is this perception of suspicious stasis, sometimes with an undeniable leavening of envy, that raises the hackles of those with careers.
Nepal is changing in innumerable ways, not least in the ways its middle-class youth constructs its livelihoods. The old, respectable professions are still alive, but with more creative options still not as viable as they could be, freelancing including in the sense of job-hopping across sectors while nurturing 'hobbies' is on the rise. This will necessarily be disconcerting for the career-minded among us, as it may be for those freelancers who feel they know not what they do. But it is as much a mirroring of a global trend away from company careers as an opening up of new vistas for a generation raised on liberal arts curricula. As long as you meet the bottom line, personal achievement over the course of a lifetime need not be measured only in terms of a directorship here, a government citation there: a linear trajectory for a (false) sense of security. Your portfolio could be a music record, a renovation, a website, a restaurant, a development project, a social movement...anything that reflects your interests and particular aptitudes, and it should be respected as such.
All of which makes this sound like a long-winded justification for one man's tomfoolery. I quit already!