The Famous but Poor

Fame per second and $ / sec are not necessarily correlated. I recently conducted an empirical survey and very interesting results followed.

First, let me explain the methodology :

  1. A Fame quotient is created by checking social media followers, likes and visibility in online media. For off-line visibility/fame there is no quantitative measure available.
  2. I had asked the “famous” whether they are rich and / or whether their fame was consistently converted into money.

THE RESULT

  • Less than 1% of “famous” freelancers* tell me that that they find that their social media fame has directly helped them make money.  The percentage is not very encouraging, even taking into account the sample bias.
  • A business owner who has 30k+ follower in facebook alone tells me that he has not generated a single monetized business from this network.
  • An “entrepreneur” with 4000+ follower and high activity in social media says that he did not get a single business crystallization even after pitching proposals in the network.

THE WORDSMITH TEST OF FAME 

I propose the following test – a litmus test sort of.

1. Spread a message in your fame network to the effect that since people have followed your activity for so many days, let them send a donation in paypal

2. Check total Paypal balance after 3 days from the post

3. If you see a balance of $ 1000+,  there is a connection between fame and money.

In pre-online world, there were writers and artists who were famous but many were very poor. There still are. However, now the situation is different. Now, non-artists and non-writers can also have considerable “fame” but my research indicates that Fame is not so easy to convert into money.

For a “Famous and Poor”, the more heart-breaking news is that there are many people who are not famous but this lack of fame does not prevent them from becoming rich.

It is provocative to ask whether the search and hunt for social media fame is triggering some process which is diverting us from becoming less poor.

I have no idea but the idea is worth pursuing.

[Non-fiction] The Converted Freelancer Journalist

Last week, I met a journalist with experience of 15  years just after I returned to Calcutta from Silchar. He was until two months back an employee of ABP / TT, the largest media group of Bengal and one of the largest of the country. Not anymore. Two months back, he “resigned”, so the story went in paper (that carries his signature) and for the future historian of the type that swears by the archives.

The Group streamlined its businesses and the vortex flow thereof carried him off from the roll and he became a freelancer. He is neither happy, nor sad but in a state of confused excitement. He learnt of Wordcon – Global Platform for Indian freelancers and as recent convert, he was very excited to learn more about “the potential of freelancing.” Before I narrate the discussion, a flashback.

FLASHBACK  : Kalada (কালাদা) of The Dainik Prantajyoti (দৈনিক প্রান্তজোত্যি), Silchar

My first exposure to journalism and print media happened through a very interesting journalist and editor – Kalada of Silchar.  My first published work went through his large and magnanimous hands and I consider this as a badge of honour.

He had a formal name, for sure but the whole town called him as Kalada, even by those who were at the age of his grandchildren. He used to roam around the town in a bullet motorcycle and there are fascinating stories. Journalism was his passion, mission, vocation, digestion and everything. His newspaper was always cash-strapped, so was he, the technology he used was of the letter-press (off-set was yet to arrive) but the Daily continued daily.

There are so many small town stories about this remarkable man with which we grew up. At a certain stage, the print quality of the daily became very poor and sometimes, whole letters were so worn they that they gave up the ghost and that created the story below.

This story was  told sometime in 1980s in my hometown which is so distant to me now that I must write a list of mostly negatives to create the photographic positive image of that time in my mind – no cable TV, no mobile, no Internet, no ATM, Ambassador,  plane tickets in 7 pages in multi-coloured paper, train tickets in cardboard colour chit, no sms, no bar coded cheque book, only maruti and bajaj scooter, no time zone, Test and one day matches only, no service tax). The prankster said, “Did you see the headline in the paper ? Oh, miraculous news : পুলিশের গু  খেয়ে    বকের মৃত্যু – Crane dies after eating shit of  police. !!!!

It is highly likely that this is a made up story or may be not. The newspaper might or might not have reported – পুলিশের গুলি  খেয়ে   যুবকের মৃত্যু –  Youth dies at police firing – tragic but nothing miraculous and we could see the randomness of the Universe in removing two letters from the sentence  and a miracle happened, in agreement with all the laws of grammar, phonetics and perhaps of politics !!!

Those of us who lived in small towns in 80’s might remember that police used to check late night movie returnees  and demanded to see the counterfoil of the tickets and it had happened with me many times.  A new Superintendent of Police arrived in town and perhaps he was young and he was told about Kalada and his bullet motorcycle. Kalada used to roam around the town and outskirts with his bullet. At 3 am, he could be spotted with his bullet, traveling 30 km off to report something and in one such missions, a rookie police beat challenged him. He politely told that he was a reporter. The policeman did not understand and detained him.  Kalada did not talk much and engaged them. In the morning, the SP got the report and he arrived. Kalada introduced himself and the whole affair became a story.

Kalada never became rich. I suspect, he borrowed heavily to run his paper and he did continue with his mission. He did not leave any fortune to his family. In spite of being owner and editor of a daily that ran for so long in a small town, he was remarkably accessible and easy to be with.

Society of that time was fast changing. In late 1990s – an altogether new age was on the horizon that was going to consume many things, including printed newspaper.

But without the passion of man like Kalada, any age or place – small or big is not worth living.

His press and office was not very far from the place where I was born and grew up till I was eighteen (The Heritage House) and sometimes in the early morning or late winter night, I used to hear the boom-boom of his bullet and I knew and everybody knew that Kalada was on his mission.

I still miss this sound along with my childhood – never to return and my small town memories are all squeezed into such a deep recess that only some music, some prose, some poetry, some painting or some smell only penetrates  that cavern and that too, not at all times.

My advice to the converted freelance journalist 

I have no experience as a journalist. Hence I cannot say anything about the profession. However, I can say something as a freelancer. In 2006, on my 31st birthday, I found myself sitting in my flat ( it was then I took the nick name as ফ্ল্যাটপেঁচা- (The Owl of the Flat), having left the corporate cubicle which smelled the deodorant of mine because I was more of less like a furniture there.

  • Once a democracy attains a certain level of maturity and evolution, media will be captured by “special interests.” This is as sure as getting only the option of Rs 2000 note in an ATM nowadays.
  • In a democracy, since no one can either earn money or get power without the co-operation of  equally powerful (or powerless) fellow citizens, professionals of all types have powerful psychological incentive to help the dominant “special interest.”
  • Since all forms of special interest and power – political or otherwise must understand, modulate and channel public consciousness to continue the status quo, media will reflect the course of this modulation and will be eventually modulated.
  • Twenty years back, Indian fathers did not so happily choose a journalist as a groom but now the sentiment has slightly changed. Living in India for last forty years and reading some of her greatest lovers and observers (not the analysts and think-tanks or economists and bestselling authors), journalism was perceived something by our old Litmus man as having serious potential of “social mobility.”

Rx as  Dr. Philo 

My recommendations below will sound and feel “strange” and “shocking” but the situation is also extra-ordinary.

  1. Passionate journalists have only option now : to appeal directly to the people and continue creating stories. They must become a true public intellectual – a true Brahmin, who will demand from the society donations to have a basic level of  living. He/she must live below his means and must re-design his life.
  2. It is highly likely that his/her call to donation from the public will not be responded ( go raas gali gali phire / sura baithi bikay  – Milk is to be sold from going door to door, alcohol gets itself from a single point) and hence he must get any job – menial, abominable, drudgery. His whole leisure must to dedicated to his craft.
  3. Does this picture resemble more and more like those mad pioneers of early journalism, early film industry, early Renaissance period of Calcutta where a genius like Vidyasagar was crafting the very modern Bengali language in a hello hole in North Calcutta. He could maintain his integrity, first because of the innate strength of character and secondly, he became a writer-entrepreneur and built a fortune. Frame his picture and keep this in front of your desk. There are very few man, in Bengal and in the entire history of the world like him.

The Future is very grave indeed. For print media journalists and those who write in vernaculars, the fate is similar to the scholars and teachers of Sanskrit, Arabic and Farsi around 1820 in Bengal when overnight, their skill became obsolete in the market. A new world-view was emerging and was adopted passionately – the modern Indian population.

But there are tremendous opportunities. We shall see some men, by Nature’s own mechanism who will be pioneers and heroes and through their efforts the whole vocation will have a Vita Nuova.

Some of the young journalists who got off-loaded from 6, Prafulla Sarkar Street and in all likelihood, for good stand at the entry of the Great Historical Lottery of being true heroes and the glory of being remembered alongwith Young Bengal of 200 years back.


Further Reading 

  1.  Mr. Biswajit Roy, a 57 year old journalist who was one of the 700 people who  “resigned” during the business re-structuring  reports the event in his facebook page.  I did not find any other voice.
  2. রামতনু লাহিড়ী ও ততকালীন বঙ্গসমাজ – শিবনাথ শাস্স্রী
  3. Democracy in America – Alex de Tocqueville
  4.  আমি কেন লিখি ?– নীরদচন্দ্র চৌধুরী
  5.  An Intimate History of Bengal – Pritam Bhattacharyya

 

 

The River Sutra

Though I always regretted for not being born in a great city, this is partly compensated by Providence as I was born in a house which is very close to a river – the Barak. The good fortune appeared to be part of my horoscope as I continued living near rivers continuously for last twenty years – the Ganges, the Bharatpuza, the Alua(Kerala), the Sangam (Pune) the Clyde and the Kelvin(Scotland), the Thames(London). I have also observed that I find a strange unease living in a city which does not have a river or is not by the sea.  I always felt a strange kind of repulsion in cities – Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Durgapur. As a matter of fact, I could not ever consider working in Bangalore, Hyderabad when I was in my early twenties although I lived 500 km from both of them. This temperament has no logical explanation.

A river for me is a constant reminder of our mortality and also a faint echo of our reaching out to some unknown. As a private citizen of Calcutta, I have direct experience of the urban agony and the Ganges at many number of Ghats have always redeemed me. A decade ago, I was roaming on foot in the streets of Calcutta – unemployed and un-employable and this was the time, the river Ganges was kind of a sanctuary for me.

It is impossible for a non-lover to have any idea of the undercurrents of love and care Calcutta hides under the authentic “third-world-ish” chaos, crowd and noise. He/she will only observe a spectacle – a haunting one and will find consolation to consider that majority of our countrymen  live in rural or semi-rural areas.  I longed to return to my boyhood small town home. In summer days, I used to sit for hours in the Ghats and that amplified my longing – to escape this exile. I understood why the exiled Jews remembered their homeland in Babylon as they saw the water of the Euphrates. The Ganges helped me to keep my sanity.

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The River Ride with two  young assistants

Today, I woke up early, gathered two young assistants and went for a ferry ride over the river Barak. I used to be here – swimming in the river when I was of their age.  A river is also like a vein – the blood of young or old flow – the flow is ever fresh, ever new.  The greatest and the craftiest teaching of a river is to be aware of one’s mortality and also of its transcendence.

The Galleon

Taking a boat over a mountain

In one of the greatest works of fiction of this century – One Hundred years of Solitude,  we suddenly encounter an abandoned Spanish galleon – visited by young boys. They speculated as how this came and we can also speculate – may be thousands or million years back when the mountain was under the primitive ocean. May be.

We just saw a retired ferry – very strange – on a raised land as if it either going to drop to the river or just threw up by the river over there. The rusty structure reminded me of the great work and I mentioned this to the young boys. They became interested. They even inquired of the work which they need so badly but are unaware. The ferry of imagination that can only redeem them.

There is a folk song in Sylheti which captures the sense of exile from home for a young bride and she sings softly with the invaluable melancholic sadness of a girl of Bengali origin

“কে যাও রে, ভাটি গাঙ্গ বাইয়া..  / আমার ভাইধনরে কইও নাইওর নিত আইয়া”

She remembers her father’s home – her home in her husband’s house and as she senses a boat passing, she sends her longing in the eternal text, her father perhaps no more and wishes her brothers takes her to her home.

We are all searching for our home. In a fundamental sense, we are all in exile.

[Treat in Retreat] Fishing, Food and Star-up Ecosystem

Foreword : The post is indebted to a very detailed analysis on the present market situation presented by Mr. Sushobhan Mukherjee, Chairman, Infoconglobal here : https://sushobhanm.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/market-mystery/]

As a small town boy of Greater Bengal, I always liked punting, rowing and fishing. In my personal opinion, fishing is one of the best ways to mix purpose, leisure, concentration and hopeful imagination. Jim Corbett wrote such a piece while he caught a mahasheer in Kumayaun and the narration has such an excellent literary quality that we can read this again for pleasure.

Fishing and food are closely related, especially for people of Bengal, Kerala, Japan. In Japan, there is a religious reverence for food and its freshness. The fish should carry a bit of the sea. In Bengal and Kerala, the synthesis happens – the fishiness of the fish is masked under a miraculous canopy of layer and layer of spices and fragrances. Just like a Bengali tongue cannot speak Japanese easily and vice versa, a Bengali tongue will not be able to appreciate the taste of Japanese fish dishes immediately and vice versa. Why ?

Culture’s ultimate and concrete handle is  neither the research of tenured professors, nor of the tales of the travelers or  the tome of the culture scientists but an organ each one carries – our tongue.

I have the experience of fishing in deep sea, in lakes, ponds, rivers in various geographies but mostly in the backwaters of Kerala. I have forgotten completely the catch (output) part of all of them but vividly remember the sunlight, the dark shade, the waves in water, sometime a drizzle. Once near Allepey, I was fishing in brackish water and the backwater was something like a circular area surrounded by coconuts. Suddenly, the sun was covered by a cloud, a magical shade came, in the distant, I could see a ship sailing far away towards Western, only its starboard side visible. In the pale blue water, seen through the coconut foliage, I “felt” as if I am fishing 500 years back and the ship is that of Vasco Da Gamma !

This brings me to the philosophy aspect of fishing. Fishing business for pleasure is a business where output is immaterial if one conducts the business in the right spirit.

Catching fish is a very low end objective of a true fishing enthusiast.

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Meditating on Fishing Business

We seldom approach our business with such a spirit.

When we were younger, start-up was a verb, not a noun as it is today.

Since 2013, I have been observing “start-up ecosystem” and as a fishing enthusiast, I can claim some expertise in understanding “ecosystems”. What do I observe ?

In brief, I find that most of the start-ups are not interested to internalize the wisdom of the fishing business.  Venture Capital is their fishing rod and fish feed, the pond is the world that needs to be rocked or changed and fish is the valuation. They are burning Venture Capitalist offered feed with an exotic burn rate in a tower by the side of the pond and hoping that the smell and smoke thereof will hypnotize the fishes deep below  and they will soon come in shoals and in millions and billions.

Just like fishes cannot be bribed, so are customers. It is against all known laws of physics, chemistry and consciousness that one can become rich by burning money to get paying customers.

To catch a fish and continue catching fishes, one needs to catch and control three inner fishes first : greed, hubris and ego. 

[Book Review] হিন্দু কালেজ (Hindu College, Calcutta) by Prasad Sengupta

[The Review is the work of three generations of the Bhattacharyya family of Purbasha, Silchar. The grandfather Mr. Pranab Bhattacharyya has  written the review, the son has edited and the grandson has typed and formatted the text. The book was presented to the Reviewer by Ms. Bhattacharyya, Masters in History, summa cum laude, University of Pune.]

Having gone through the book, I convey my heartfelt thanks to Ms. Bhattacharyya Jr. (Lili) for presenting me this book. The book has enriched my knowledge about the historical institution established by the then intellectuals of Greater Bengal of the 19th century. I cannot call the book a masterpiece but it is a brilliant work. It is not a book of history in the real sense of the term but a worthy book for research works for students of history.  The author deserves high appreciation for undertaking such a work of history although he has been a Professor of Physics in Presidency College, Calcutta.

 

While I was reading the book, I remembered two works of that period. One is  সেই সময় by Sunil Gangopadhaya and another is a Bengali tele-serial called আলোকিত ইন্দু। The subject matter of the book is so vast and complex and the author has taken a methodology that did not provide the same taste one gets when one reads a wholesome and comprehensive type of historical work.  This aside, Mr. Sengupta has done a lot in this regard for coming generation.

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Published by Signet Press, Calcutta, 2016

The language of the book is not appropriate as the book has collation of reportage and chronicles but does not meditate enough on the creative literary works by Bankim, Sarat Chandra , Vidyasagar and Tagore and this has made the overall literary quality poorer.  Not only that, this has somewhat affected the comprehensiveness of the book.

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The author has clearly expressed the social impact of Hindu school towards the organization of Young Bengal.  He illuminates various interesting ironies and contradictions connecting patriotism, religious thoughts and English education.

As a reader, I have also observed the book’s relatively less emphasis on women’s education and the social impact thereof. Here again,  creative (and imaginative works of high order) literary works illuminate contemporary time better than journalistic documentation.  Let us consider the following from a short story of গল্পগুচ্ছ

“ফণিভূষণের স্ত্রী মণিমল্লিকা বিনা চেষ্টায় আদর, বিনা অশ্রুবর্ষণে ঢাকাই শাড়ী এবং বিনা দুর্জয় মানে বাজুবন্ধ লাভ করিত।.. তাহার নিরীহ আর নির্বোধ স্বামীটি মনে করিত, দানই বুঝি প্রতিদান পাইবার উপায়। একেবারে উল্টা বুঝিয়াছিল আর কি !

Or Nirad C Chaudhuri’s grand historical summary in “আত্বঘাতী বাঙ্গালী” – বাঙ্গালী ইংরেজী ভাষার মধ্য দিয়া গ্রহণ করিত কিন্তু আত্বপ্রকাশ করিত বাঙ্গলা ভাষায়।.. সে সব লেখা (বাঙ্গালীর ইংরেজী লেখা) টেঁকে নাই বা তার প্রভাব-ও জোরালো হয় নাই।

In both of these works, one of fiction and another of non-fiction, the readability and recall can be attributed to the literary quality of these works and not because of the “facts” or “documentation”.  Considering Nirad’s argument cited above, the greatest vindication is the case of Madhusudan Dutta.

In summary, the content – the denser part will be of immense help for researchers (i.e. those who have immediate, direct /indirect and tangible/intangible interest and material gain) in this subject but for a reader who is reading solely for pleasure, the book will be somewhat disappointing. This is not an observation on the overall value of the book in this genre but a specific and prejudiced opinion of a specific kind of reader.

The Production Team

 

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The Production Team of Purbasha 

 

Musician as Freelancer – Part I

The strobe-lights, camera flashes and the halo around “celebrity artists” blind us to look deeper into a musician / artist’s life as a sentinent being.

Once the Age of monarchs and kings gave way to “mass people” as the arbiter of music in democracies,  court musicians became extinct. In other words, musicians were freelancers and lived from project to project – commissioned by rich patrons, state or even municipalities. This was true for geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven. As a matter of fact these two musical geniuses worked as freelancers and that freedom perhaps gave their music something which is radically different from the masters of the previous era.

Mechanical reproduction of music multiplied the reach but it also brought something which we are too aware in the Internet age – zero marginal revenue, i.e. a piece of free software does not earn anything additional per unit when user base increases from 100 to 1 million in terms of marginal revenue.

So, the revenue model now becomes complex and layered. In one version of this model following Pareto Principle, 20% of the paid subscribers subsidizes the 80% free subscribers. Since the total is very large, 20% becomes significant to bear the load of the rest. The free segment trades something for the service :privacy. Providing their contact details, taking a survey, providing preferences and these become sale-able items for other businesses.

The layering comes from businesses now directly coming in between the product and the paid audience in the form of sponsors. These sponsors are generally large corporations or global organizations and institutions with overt and covert agendas. Today, major corporation’s ultimate judge is the fickle and restless public opinion ( “..In a liberal democracy, there is too much movement and motion but little change.” – Alex de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, published in 1833)   and this translates the following for any artist/musician in a liberal democracy :

  • A musician as an income earner becomes  a freelancer and comes under the ambit of all the laws of freelancing.
  • One of the fundamental aspects of this law is to finish a project and have another project ready in the pipeline.
  • An increasing need to be visible and present before the restless judge – public.
  • Fighting with the public expectation that is always in a flux
  • In addition to the invisible boss called public, one may have a visible, tangible, ever-present boss in the form of sponsors and obligations to implicit and explicit protocols
  • Retaining artistic independence.

Thus, in a liberal democracy with incessant mechanical re-production, Art declines.

However, many will dis-agree with my last assertion of decline.

I shall not make my defense but will quote a poet who spoke thus, in another context but poetic context is cosmic in its highest level

“The best lacks all conviction / The worst is full of passionate intensity.”

In Part II, we shall discuss the steps society must consider and take to become true patrons of Art and Music.

This means that the public demand for musical and artistic products must qualify itself higher than the raw demand of the economics.

If any demand of some economic connection has to reflect into the public space, we cross Art and Economics both and enter the domain of Politics.

This explains why Art, Economics and Politics are all connected.

Kalikaprasad of Dohar -a tribute

One cannot argue with accidents. So with Fate. The accident that had taken away Kalikaprasad of Dohar from us and his family cannot be argued with. We can only try to feel the depth of sorrow for the immediate family members.

However,his music and achievement will live on and will inspire someone in some city, some small town, some village to continue the journey he started. He is also a rare musician of Bengal who at a very early age was not only creating music but had already built an institution.

In all communities, a true latent is a rarity. Manpower is common, a true talent is a very rare thing. The same is especially true and relevant for contemporary Bengal. Nature replenishes human stock but she always displays  a strange economy in replenishing true talent.

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Image Courtesy – indiatoday

Since we both grew up in Silchar and he was my college senior, I remember his great organizing power even when he was in his early twenties. He was not a mere musician – he took all the attendant risks and life of struggle to pursue his dream with Dohar. It is no less achievement for a small-town boy to establish himself in Calcutta’s musical environment as a towering personality in his chosen domain of folk music.

A true musician never dies. He sings from another dimension.

Music in its ultimate essence is de-materialized matter, whether the matter is the material body of a vocalist or the instrument of a player. Fate, accident, catastrophe, disease can take away the material body or the hand that plays or the throat that sings but the de-material aspect is eternal, like our soul.

May his soul rest in peace and continue to sing the song eternal.