Power, money and more

Hi! I hope you are well and the money gods have found your home. After wondering where my next big project will come from, I have been picked by two different organisations which makes me eligible for grants. Yay!

And this time I am going to write about money. This is instalment II, I hope you have read instalment I. If you haven’t, please click here.

A year or so ago, I was telling my friend Sruthi about my dream about being published in The New Yorker and how I wouldn’t even list it as a dream because it seemed almost impossible and I felt inadequate to harbour such a dream. To which she said,

”Please do not dismiss off New Yorker.

Some context: I used to be in awe of all these big publications but realised slowly, it is also a matter of access and how much we can potentially see ourselves there. In your Instagram you had asked where men get the courage to comment with such confidence - access and they have seen other men do it, so it is easier to do it. It is a process of constantly telling myself don't be awed, chumma don't put off things/institutions/people in a pedestal and worship, remember they are also people and you are an atheist.

This is my go-to when I want to do something professionally that seems out of my reach. Though this isn’t about money, I want to talk about this bit:

don't put off things/institutions/people in a pedestal and worship, remember they are also people and you are an atheist.

In late 2019, I was talking to a person, a very well known person in the liberal circles, for work. Let’s just call him bleeding heart. Now bleeding heart is an award winning journalist, well known for their work in social justice, reportage of untold stories about poor labourers and most liberals swoon when they hear their name. I won’t lie, I was quite thrilled that I was going to be working with them and on an interesting project. We had had a telephonic conversation, had exchanged emails, my availability had been confirmed for travel and they were charged about starting work. So was I but we had not talked money. We were talking about a fair amount of work though they had told me it would be spread out and I could pick up other work. But working for free was a no-no, so I shot them an email asking about the money they had on offer. They ghosted me for two weeks, this after wanting to start work immediately and then came back to tell me how busy they were.

I thought it was the money. They probably had many people do stuff for free for them and expected me to do the same. After all they were doing such ground breaking work. I felt good that I was not swayed by the fandom. I was also aware of the where they lived (upper class Mumbai), their caste location (Brahmin) and their network. Since I didn’t have the same and wanted to be paid well and hoped to move into a hip neighbourhood, I said what I said.

Anyway, two months later, they wrote back in a tearing hurry. Now I thought they had managed the money and that’s why they had gotten in touch because it was clear I wouldn’t work for free. So I engaged. We were to meet but that couldn’t happen, so they instead shot me a condescending email with an attached story to work on, saying - Take a shot at this, with other instructions. They also said they wanted it quickly.

I was honestly pissed. We still had not talked about money and I had not agreed to doing any project, what made them think I wanted to do a sample for them? So I wrote just that, I said I charge for samples and that we had not discussed money. Their tone changed and they asked what I’d charge. When I had initially decided to do the project I thought I wouldn’t charge as much because they wouldn’t have that kind of money. But after the email, I sent them my original rate card. They simply went their way to probably find the next person who would work for free because they were so taken by their “great work”.

All the people I fangirled turned out to be humans.

This was something I drew a few years ago, after working with a popular feminist. I don’t know why I tend to think that people who work in the social sector or liberals or feminists may just be better people, even though I have worked in the sector for so long. I never learn. Or rather I am learning slowly.

Anyway, moving on, this popular feminist took a keen interest in my work (pre #100IndianTinderTales) and introduced themselves as a fan. I couldn’t believe that even they were consuming my work and readily agreed to do their project. The money wasn’t great but the project was and I was so happy about the validation that I constantly showed them that I could churn illustrations instantly, when actually I had spent hours and days on each of them. They would look at the many options I would produce and tell me, “Take x from image 1 + Take y from image 2 + Take z from the next one and I will send you a couple of illustrations, take a look at it and then create.” All their fandom for my work had disappeared and now they just gave me orders and they were mostly unhappy with what I produced. What was supposed to be a month-long engagement stretched for four months. This person micromanaged me so much, texting and calling me at all hours that I was scared every time the phone rang or to get online on WhatsApp.

Once the project was done, I had zero self respect or confidence, I was scared they were going to tell everyone that I had zero talent. Also, when I sent in the invoice, I was paid Rs 4,000 less. I thought TDS had been deducted but my accountant later told me there was no TDS deduction. I muted them everywhere, seeing them being praised would make me angry and really scared. I would doubt what I had been through. I had to tell people what they did to me so I could believe myself because how were they so popular and how did everyone like them? Then I found people who opened up to me about what they endured while working with them. It felt so good to know that I was not alone and the abuse was real.

It would take me months to get back to believing I could draw. When I told another famous feminist friend, her peer, someone who talks about compassion in her columns, she would tell me, “She is a boss lady, she has to crack the wip.” I wouldn’t know if that was true and if that was the only way to work with someone junior to you. When I told my film editor friend and she would say, “ I am a boss lady too and I don’t crack the wip.”

So from the experience and from years of resentment of not being compensated well enough, not being respected, I started to check if my interests are covered when I start negotiating for a project. Not all projects may pay what I usually charge but I don’t want to be manipulated into making the decision. I don’t want to make a decision because someone does good work. I check with myself why I am doing a particular project and if it doesn’t pay well what am I am hoping to achieve. Not everything maybe about monetary benefits, some projects you may want to give your time to, in some there maybe something new to learn, sometimes you just need the money. From my experience the ones one commits to from a place of fear always come to bite you in the bum. Fears like - I don’t want to upset this important person, maybe this important person will open their network for me and so I will self sabotage now, if I don’t say yes to this I may not have any money. I have not overcome my fears but how I negotiate money has gotten better.

Recently, I had a meeting with folks because my pitch had made it to the long list. This was a project that I have envisioned beyond the internet and print. In fact, I had written about the people I hoped to work with and how I hoped to make good money while working on it. During the interview I talked about how the amount to offer was small and I could only offer a few services. I also talked in great detail about all that I could give them but nothing about the money rolling. They are supposed to raise money for me. I talked about the impact the project would create for others but not really talking about what impact I wanted in my life, especially the monetary impact. At some point they said, “if we take this on, we would like this project to pay you well to live comfortably.”

It was so heartening to hear them say what I was not willing to say. And it made me feel this is how I am in most relationships, I am constantly focusing on the giving and never paying enough attention to what I want in return. I am constantly building towards I-am-so-good-that-you-will-obviously-read-my-mind-and-give-me-what-I-want instead of ever clearly stating what I want . I cannot tell you how much resentment it has created in my life. Work-wise there is little less but in personal life there is a lot.

Anyway, so I told this to one of my Instagram friends who lives across the border. So they congratulated me and said, “I hope all your hardwork can sustain you because isn’t that what we are all looking for?” Then they went on to tell me how they talked to their therapist about asking for money for something they liked to do. The therapist talked about going to a psychology conference and the question came up about charging for therapy and the room was divided by gender. “So the men said, I calculate my mortgage, how much I will spend on vacation, how much money I want for my life and then work backwards from there and charge money.”

She told me about her life and how she runs her business which a lot of people love but when she prices stuff, she is worried, that people may think, “Yeh apne aap ko kya samajhti hai? I think ki pata nahin mein kitne zyada paise le rahi hoon.” She also added that whenever she does budgeting with her husband and he says- we should charge more, she says, “Don’t be greedy.”

I know this so well, I am so worried that I will come across as greedy when I ask folks to pay me well. And look at what I came across on NPR.

Several studies show when women are direct and assertive during salary negotiations, it puts managers of both genders off. They see the women as pushy and they don't want to work with them. And women know they're expected to be likeable. It's a common story. - Ashley Milne-Tyte


So, how can women negotiate as successfully for themselves as they do for others? One piece of management advice is basically to remind women they're rarely negotiating just for themselves. They should bear in mind they're often supporting parents or a spouse or their kids. Maggie Neale teaches negotiation at Stanford Business School. When she navigates a new employment package, she thinks of her retired husband, her three dogs, five horses and 14 chickens.

Whether you are negotiating for yourself or others in your life , I hope you can ask without constantly worrying that you will be rejected and that you will come across as a bad person. I am trying.

So this week when a nonprofit that mostly employs people with privilege asked me for an interview and not just an interview but a written interview, I thought that’s like writing an article and for writing an article I should get paid. So I told them to buy me coffees to support my work. They wrote to me saying that they themselves seek funds and donations in order to do their work and are not in a position to compensate contributors but were willing to send me books.

I already had the books and politely declined the offer and decided to do the interview free of cost. But I feel having these conversations with nonprofits is important so they start raising funds for writers and contributors. Money is respect. And it may be the norm to expect free work but it also means there are only certain people who can do it for free and the others are doing it at their cost and that’s not okay.

That's it and if you think I add any value to your life and you’d like to support my work, please feel free to buy me pizzas.


P.s.: Here’s a link to Sruthi’s newsletter.