My first solo job as a reporter was to interview a dead woman.
To be fair to my editor, she never meant to assign me such an impossible task. After all, this was my first month as a full-time employee at the website Cactus, and I’d been put on the lifestyle beat, which was historically, a fairly straightforward section that involved people who sometimes had style but who always, always, had life. And at the time I was briefed, the woman in question was very much alive. The email assigning me the story still resides at the bottom of my inbox, one amongst the deluge of the usual first-month-of-work emails, which included a welcome mail, important links, instructions on reimbursements and a calendar invite to a session on women’s safety at the workplace.
Natasha Babani is the president of the residents’ association for Whispering Willows, a residential complex situated near Lake Ahilya. In less than six months as president, she has managed to mobilise residents of her community as well as others around the lake and initiate the much-needed Clean Ahilya drive. Experts say that the levels of effluents have already drastically reduced, and Mrs Babani and her team’s final aim is to make the lake free of toxins by the end of her presidency.
In her spare time, Mrs Babani loves to spend time with her husband and two adorable children, grow organic vegetables in her terrace garden and paint using natural colours. She’s also a trained Pilates instructor and certied chartered accountant.
Sneha, please do a 500-word profile on this woman. Focus on the lake clean-up angle.
V, of course, was my editor. She is usually known as Vij, which is short for Vijaya. You’d think Vij was short enough to sign off emails with, but as you grow in your career, you get busier and the first thing you must sacrifice is your full name. I personally hope to be an “S” someday, but as things stand, I still have time to write my full name.
There it was! My first-ever assignment at my first-ever job.
Technically, I’d been on probation with them for six months, but I was a proper employee now – on their rolls, with a provident fund account and everything – and boy, was I going to make them glad they hired me! I was going to make this the best prole of a lake cleaning, terrace-garden growing, painter, Pilates instructor, chartered accountant, mother of two that the world had ever seen. It would be the profile that put all other profiles to shame. The one that would shine the spotlight on me and prove to the journalistic world that I was not just another millennial–Gen Z cusper, silly campus recruit but also an empathetic storyteller with an original voice and a special insight into her subjects. I pictured blue ticks on my Twitter and Instagram accounts, mentions in 30-under-30 lists and did I dare say it out loud – even a TedX talk.
But first, Natasha Babani. I painstakingly drafted an official (but friendly) email to her, in which I told her how fascinated I was with her story and requested an interview with her for our website. And as I awaited a response, I began my secondary research by turning to the world wide web to see what it had to say about this wonder woman.
Natasha Babani’s online presence was like a big, bursting-with-life, technicolour version of the little profile she’d shared with us. She was indeed a Pilates instructor with a weakness for fun, little stories and high-energy reels of her students strengthening their cores. ere were pictures of her beautiful apartment – all windows and white furniture – and if the artwork on the walls was hers, the woman really could weave magic with those natural paints. There were several pictures of her and her family on vacation, featuring her two boys wearing matching clothes and doing all sorts of adorable boy things, like splashing in the pool, hanging on their father’s arms, kissing their mother’s face and standing proudly next to a snowman (a snowman!). Her husband looked like an Indian Russell Crowe – all big and handsome and bear-like. And then there was Natasha.
Natasha was an absolute vision – tall and golden with a wavy bob, big brown eyes, a long lean, body and the biggest, cheekiest smile I’d ever seen. She had impeccable taste in clothes and a great air for mixing and matching assorted styles and lengths of necklaces. I could’ve been doing a profile on her as an Instagram influencer; she had over 25,000 followers. Yet, here I was, waiting to interview her on how she’d cleaned up one of the most polluted lakes in the city. It really was too bad that she was dead.
It’s a funny thing – the death of someone you’ve never met but feel like you know intimately. A part of you is in mourning, and another part is puzzled and mildly judgemental of this unnecessary sentimentality you’re feeling.
But you see, my acquaintance with Natasha Babani wasn’t merely one-sided online stalking.
Excerpted with permission from Moms in the Wild, Nidhi Raichand, HarperCollins.