I was born and brought up in the beautiful east Indian city of Kolkata (also known as “Calcutta”), once the capital of the British East India Company, and famous for its long line of artists, reformers, writers and filmmakers of international repute such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, Satyajit Ray, Amitav Ghosh. Kolkata lives through its art, music and films, and growing up in this city… I had a happy childhood. My parents took me for weekly movie nights at the theatre and to the various social clubs that Kolkata is famous for. We spent a lot of time in bookstores and libraries, listening to book readings by famous writers touring the city, and enjoyed stage plays featuring local theater personalities. It was the spirit of the city that was responsible, to a large extent, for shaping me as a writer and a journalist.
Did you always dream of becoming a writer?
I loved books, and was an imaginative child. I remember spending hours in front of the mirror talking to myself, pretending to be different characters, and then writing down my plots. The only problem was the stories would never have an ending. At that point, I was also very secretive, and I didn’t like discussing my stories with anyone. I would get mad at my mom for reading my diary while I was away at school. As a writer, you need some space to be alone and your work to just be your own till you complete it. But because I spent so much time on my own, completely aloof, it used to upset my mom who laid a great stress on academics.
What were your hobbies?
It was definitely reading, and we had a well-stocked library at home. I had access to a lot of books and stories from different parts of the world. While I was at school, I enjoyed Russian authors like Anton Chekhov and Alexander Pushkin. I also read Swedish author Astrid Lindgren’s books and loved “Mardie, Mischievous Meg” and “Pippi Longstocking,” and soon moved onto JD Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.” I loved the Bengali classics of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay as well and other writers who wrote in my native tongue such as Nabarun Bhattacharya, Sunil Ganguly, and much later, the poems of Joy Goswami. My other favorite pastime was going to the local market with my father to buy fish. The fresh catch would excite me, and the colors and sounds of the market were therapeutic. It was a chance to meet so many people and listen to so many stories. Local farmers’ markets even in big cities like Kolkata are a hotbed of news and gossip, and people spend a lot of time and energy arguing over social and political issues. I still enjoy going to buy seafood here in Dubai at the Deira Fish Market and at Jumeirah early on the weekends, but I miss that Kolkata energy where people were always arguing and contradicting each other.
What aspect of your earlier schooling helped hone your writing skills?
I studied English Literature in college and university. At school, we were encouraged to write for the local English paper in Kolkata, “The Statesman.” The “Junior Statesman” was a great place to have your article and stories published. There was no better thrill than seeing your byline in print. Sometimes I got together with a friend and penned a story or reported an incident. It was highly encouraged, and that certainly helped hone my writing skills. My parents also encouraged me to participate in writing competitions. I remember writing a letter to Princess Diana in school, and was thrilled to have received a letter from her thanking me for considering her as a role model.
Describe the path your career has taken from your first job after university studies.
I was lucky to get a job as a copy editor on the news desk right at The Statesman in Kolkata after I completed my post-graduation studies at Calcutta University. It was hands-on learning because we had experienced news editors who taught us editing skills and the art of mastering smart headlines. We learnt what works as a lead or anchor news, and how the nature of news could change completely between a link shift in the evening and a night shift post-midnight. We learnt from scratch, right from making pages to rummaging through the photo library for a picture, to creating flat plans and checking the dummy. A lot has changed because of technology, and life is much easier now, but because we learnt the process the hard way, I am in a position to bring out a magazine from scratch irrespective of the resources I have.
Is real estate something you are very passionate about?
I have lived in Dubai long enough to understand the real estate market well. I might not be passionate about it, but it is one of the most dynamic and challenging areas in Dubai, and something that keeps me on my toes. I enjoy that challenge and the ever-changing nature of the business. In many ways, being the editor of a property magazine in Dubai constantly connects me to people. When rents go up, when communities have a problem, when affordable housing is the need of the hour, the news from the real estate market shapes Dubai and I enjoy living through it.
If you were not the Editor of Property Weekly, what would you be most likely engaged in?
I think I am at that stage of my life when the time is just right for me to work on my own books. I have a lot of ideas, I just need time.
In more traditional, conservative societies, women journalists have a greater access and with that, face greater risks as well. But saying that, I wouldn’t like to draw a distinction between men and women in media. For instance, there is a need for more security when women are there in the frontline, but I think a man would need that, too. My concern is more about verbal sexual assaults or the sexual harassment that women often face, not just while reporting out on the streets, but also at the workplace.
How do you balance your role as career woman with that of the part you play as a parent?
There are plenty of challenges. I am constantly juggling dates on the school communicator and my work meeting planner. I miss coffee mornings with other moms and take time off from my lunchbreak to pick up my son from school every day. Schools are very demanding these days, and a lot of active parenting is required to keep abreast of everything. But the rewards are plenty: when I see my son’s smiling face every night when he goes to bed, when I hold a new issue of PW every Wednesday morning, when readers call me and say their problems have been addressed, and when the market respects your publication for being honest and newsworthy.
In terms of the industry you are in, are there any obstacles that you see in women’s media practice?
In the last 16 years of my work life, I have been in different areas of news, and I have been lucky enough to have never faced any discrimination or unfair treatment. From taking care of dailies and weeklies to third party publications, from reporting on public policy and education to social issues, and now, again, back to a realty weekly, I have gone through several stages, and I think women are capable of a lot of things.
All around the world, the lengths some of the women have gone to and the personal risks they have taken to tell their audiences the truth are extraordinary. I feel people open up differently to women, and that is our greatest advantage. Even when reporting on war, there is a chance that a woman war reporter would be able to open doors to parts of society that her male counterpart wouldn’t be able to do.
In more traditional, conservative societies, women journalists have a greater access and with that, face greater risks as well. But saying that, I wouldn’t like to draw a distinction between men and women in media. For instance, there is a need for more security when women are there in the frontline, but I think a man would need that, too. My concern is more about verbal sexual assaults or the sexual harassment that women often face, not just while reporting out on the streets, but also at the workplace. I think we need to have stricter laws that protect women in these areas.
Your advice to our readers out there.
Live your dream. Word hard. Be independent. There are no shortcuts to success.
About the writer
Claire Dangalan is a Filipina freelance feature writer (a.k.a. Lovely Claire Cachuela) based in Dubai. She is a consummate lover of the arts, especially literature. She taught Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, Humanities and Literature back in the Philippines. Her interests, aside from writing, include the environment, health and fitness, culinary arts, social issues, studies on world view, and “unprofessional photography.”
To connect or read more from Claire:
Facebook: Reduce your CO2 footprint
Twitter: Alice Red Queen
Twitter: Red CO2 Footprint