We Don’t Need No Remuneration: I’m an Unpaid Intern Who Works For “Exposure”


We Don’t Need No Remuneration: I’m an Unpaid Intern Who Works For “Exposure”

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

My friends often ask me, “Hey man, why do you work for a company that doesn’t pay you?” Unlike me, they don’t understand that everything in life can’t be measured in a paycheck. My mother always used to tell me that some of the best things in life come free. I just didn’t know that I was one of them. This is why I’m content to work simply for “exposure”, free from social constructs like having a sense of self-respect or minimum wage.Being a young creative professional, I used to think that putting my talents to use was the one true purpose of my existence. That, and making fat wads of cash. But, five job interviews and one boss later, I had an epiphany when my employer, Nikunj Nikamma, offered me exposure in return for my countless hours of work. Mr Nikamma was the CEO of a media company that produced edgy web content popular among millennial audiences. At the time, I wasn’t sure what he meant by “exposure”, but the light bouncing off his bald head made him look like an angel and that seemed like good enough reason for me to play along.

I thought I was being hired as a writer, for my innovative ideas and indefatigable work ethic. But according to my boss that won’t help me in the future. This is why I’m given complex tasks like fetching the newspapers in the morning and ordering food for the employees who actually draw a salary during lunch. The only difference between me and the office boy is that one of us is neatly dressed in a uniform and the other one is me.

Having been an unpaid intern for over two months, I have realised that there are many unique privileges that I enjoy. For instance, my only real work involves photocopying everything from documents about employee appraisals, to long resignation letters, followed by printouts of stats and graphs that make no sense to anyone. Sometimes, I wonder if people would be alarmed if I stopped showing up to work one day. But I know very well that my colleagues are entirely unaware of my existence. Except Nikamma, who ensures that I regularly strike up awkward small talk with fellow colleagues from 11.30 am to 1 pm near the vending machine. Usually, this behaviour is met with utter shock from fellow employees followed by screams of, “Arré! Yeh kiska baccha kho gaya hai? Koi le ke jao isse!” Does this count as harassment at the workplace? I’d investigate, but my last smidgen of self-respect was taken away from me when I signed up for this.

Since I’m not being paid for my time in office, this creates the illusion among my colleagues that I don’t care about money. This is probably why they call me a spoilt, entitled brat when they find me stepping out of an Uber in the morning. Truth be told, I’m just a couple of rides on surge pricing (and desperation) away from being able to afford Ubers to having to drive one to earn a living. And since I am far too ashamed to admit that I don’t draw a salary, I simply laugh along with them.

Does this count as harassment at the workplace? I’d investigate, but my last smidgen of self-respect was taken away from me when I signed up for this.

The best part of my day comes during lunchtime, after I’ve done the scut work of taking down everyone’s order and calling for the food. Once it arrives, I take a break from the photocopying to smell the dabbas of my fellow workers. I like to think of that as my lunch. My higher-ups often tell me that I do a great job of picking out new dishes and that encouragement is enough to keep my tummy full. Feedback like that spurs me on to work harder. I truly believe that if I keep up the good work, someday, I’ll be able to replace the doormat outside Nikamma’s cabin.

Toward the end of the day, I prepare to leave by looking in the washroom mirror and repeatedly asking myself why I worked so hard for a degree in mass communication if exposure was all I’d be working for. With that, I begin to recollect how I haven’t assessed my mental health in over a year and that my hair has also been falling out. But I try not to look too much into it. Besides, Nikamma is standing right outside, waiting to remind me to be in before everyone else so that I can have the coffee ready for tomorrow’s meeting.

Every memory of when a teacher told me my education would serve me well in the real world flashes through my head. I go red with rage and scream internally, ready to tell my arsehole boss what I really think… “Sure sir, see you tomorrow.”