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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- রামতনু লাহিড়ী ও ততকালীন বঙ্গসমাজ – শিবনাথ শাস্স্রী
- Democracy in America – Alex de Tocqueville
- আমি কেন লিখি ?– নীরদচন্দ্র চৌধুরী
- An Intimate History of Bengal – Pritam Bhattacharyya