[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.

 

2 bosses, 2 gurus [ 1996 – 2004]

One way I find myself to be extremely fortunate.  I had eight years of employee-career and in this period, I got two bosses and both were extra-ordinary.  I would have continued as an employee but Providence had other plans and I retired as an employee at a ripe old age of 29 years. This is detailed in my book Wordsmith Book of Business.

Both of them were not mere bosses but were “guru” for me. I use the word “guru” in the Eastern sense but with an etymological clarification. The Sanskrit word “guru” means “heavy” and both of my bosses were very heavy with professional, life and human experience. I also learnt few things from them that decisively helped me run my life as a freelancer’s freelancer for last 11 years.

Mr. A.S Menon, [ year of contact – 1996 – 2002, Cochin International Telecom/Internet Gateway and Submarine Cable Station, VSNL /Tata Communications ]

Mr. Menon was my first boss. He was already a veteran and founding members of India’s foray in satellite communication infrastructure in 1970s. I was a “johhine engineer” when I became his sub-ordinate in Cochin International Telecom Gateway Project. When I joined, VSNL was India’s international and internet service monopoly and Internet as a commercial service was more than a year old in India (launched on 15th August 1995 by VSNL)

It will need a mini professional autobiography to mention all the lessons I learnt.  I shall mention only one lesson. He told me that all communication must be answered and there should not be any file left on the table before you leave office. I asked, “Sir, I do not know what to write as  reply in many cases, what shall I do ?”

He replied and I now realize that the instruction should be bound in gold : ” In that case, you reply that you currently do not know but you shall get information and will reply once you have all the necessary information. But you must keep your promise” 

When I was working to build Wordsmith Communication , this lesson proved to be the greatest blessing. My most-important clients (the first ten) appreciated my honesty and many remained with us for last eleven years because we have made it a point to remain honest and quick in telling them what we know and what we are doing.

Mr. Menon is a true guru because he practiced what he preached and with a conviction which is rare and hence so immensely valuable.

Mr. A.K Sikdar  [ Year of Contact 2003 –  end 2004, VSNL / Tata Communications Calcutta Centre )

I worked under Mr. Sikdar for little more than a year. He was a already a towering figure in Telecom Affairs in Calcutta and East of India. Soft-spoken, mild and humble, he was a master of persuasion. At that time, I was not acutely aware of the importance in building human relationship with clients. One of the reasons was being predominantly working in monopoly. But Mr. Sikdar taught me, again,not by power-point or by accented English or by some second hand MBA-speak, but through practice. I used to see how calmly and in a masterly manner he used to deal with irate customers and very delicate situations. He knew most of the customers in-person and was genuinely interested in the growth of their business. You cannot fake truth. Truth is truth and people feel whether one is simply posing or there is genuine emotion behind the action or speech.

Another remarkable and very rare ability was his “concentrated listening.”. He could disarm you simply by listening. You cannot have this listening ability simply by practice. You must be genuinely interested in people. Your soul must be the listener. People – all people – customers, employees, vendors, vendor’s people – all constitute the whole called Business. Business is simply not some monies and services changing hands.

Again, while I started building Wordsmith, I tried to listen with my soul. I used to tell my clients – “I am the Call Centre and the CEO.. You need not restrain yourself. It is my duty to listen to you and since I believe this to be my foremost duty, I am your Call Centre.”

Our clients liked the humour and the truism in the assertion.

Mr. Sikdar is a true guru because he practiced what he radiated and many of the fortunate souls caught the invaluable radiation that immunizes one from the lethal ego trip of not listening to one’s customer under the pretext of other “priority” and “important” works.

What work can be more urgent and priority in business than listening to one’s customer ?

 

Communication – complicated nonsense

Business Communication without a purpose and practice is complicated nonsense, nothing else. It is sad but it is true. I have met at least 2000+  businesses in various meet, conferences, conclaves, exhibitions, trade shows and all the visiting cards combined will make a make-shift pillow. I am not mentioning the multi-paged and multi-folding brochures which will make a thick mattress.

I am not against pillow or mattresses but I feel sad for businesses, entrepreneurs, start-ups who have lost common sense. I am harsh but please consider the lines below and if they do not resonate at all with you, do not read further :

  • I find that my business is not growing. Although I am telling many great and glorious things to prospect to impress them, my life is not becoming impressive.
  • I am not making the amount of money I think I should make, considering my efforts. 
  • I am doing the same thing over and over again. 
  • I always find that I cannot afford to recruit the talent I wish.
  • My business is not delivering the lifestyle I want. I see that my friends who are employees are having a better life 
  • I tell myself that in business one must be patient but I do not think only patience is enough
  • I feel bored and at times want to leave the business

The root cause of all this can be finally detected to be one and one thing only : communication. 

Communication has  4 fundamental components  – Whom, Who, How, Why

Whom : Is this person / organization qualified for my communication ?

( Selling Combs to a completely bald man) 

Who : Who is communicating from my business

( The least experienced man sends mail-merge / Bcc mails to decision makers. Mecahnical  and Robotic call to prospects at 10 am in Monday ) 

How: Language, Time, Time of Delivery, Mode of Delivery, Duration, status / position / mood / situation of the recipient at the time of communication

( The person becomes sad and angry while looking at the  violation and abuse of the grammar and spelling of his mother-tongue and feels like strangling the writer. Sometimes, he finds the communication in a foreign language and Google Translate confuses more)

Why : What is your purpose to communicate and his / her purpose to attend to your communication ?

(A mini novel is written, with enclosure of 3 multi-coloured brochures with 15 graphs and charts in total with 12 links sprinkled in. It will take at least 3 readings and 30 mins to find out exactly what is relevant and interesting for the recipient. How many decision makers have so much time to find out what a gem you are )


Your message is not failing you. You have done almost everything possible to have your message failing to deliver.

You are completely convinced that silence has no power to communicate. The great silence you hear from your prospects is the greatest communication : We are not interested. Have us interested and then come back. We have listened to someone who delivered an interesting message. 

Then you start thinking. If I have not delivered an interesting message, let me give them a bribe – let me lower my price. So, you now present your bribe of a lower price. They have not asked for a bribe but you have advanced. Now, more people will advance the bribe to make themselves interesting. We all know that corruption is infectious. 

Your business is now trapped in a low-profit, low-quality, vulnerable and stagnant one.

You have self-certified yourself to be a low-cost, easily intimidated, nervous business.

Where did it all start ? Think again.

It all started because you could not make interesting communication. Since your communication was not interesting, you started getting noticed by those who are not interesting themselves. The question is not of size of your prospect but whether they are interesting. Finally, you are stuck with low end customers.

These customers told their friends (“birds of same feather flock together”) and your referral circle remains stuck in a circle.

You know, you do not go anywhere else how much or how fast you run in a circle.


 

 

 

[Book Review] Of Hawks and Sparrows – a collection by Satabdi Saha

Wordsmith’s Statutory Disclaimer on Review : Wordsmith Review process is open, simple and  unconventional. Chief Editor reads the book and expresses his  first hand reaction and background thoughts as clearly as possible. This is in stark contrast to the mainstream review which starts with a ponderous solemnity, then a complicated attempt to express the reviewer’s inner microphone and other mechanics and then a English public school headmaster’s ruling.

I have read only the stories. I did not read the poetry section because of a reason. Hence the review remains applicable for the story section only. I hold the fanatic opinion that poetry ( “a state of the soul”) cannot be written in any language other than one’s own native language. The writing can be very high quality, very powerful but it is not poetry in a sense I understand poetry. I refuse to enter into any debate on this with the “argumentative Indian.”

The first thing that came to my mind while I read the first story is to imagine how these stories will read in translation in another language. Since locales are in Bengal, Bengali translation would have made them very intimate and would have  added a layer of delicious complexity, especially for a Bengali reader. This can be considered a project itself by Wordsmith Communication – our bread and butter machine that translates in 250 languages of the world with a team of 3000+ freelancers.

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The author, Ms. Saha is an artist – both with words and also with colour as clear from the cover art of the book.  Her language is also very lucid and shows  very clearly of her long years of engagement with the English language and that of some of her characters. Her treatment on some of the essential themes of existence is very delicate yet clear and powerfully expressive. She is a master of the art of narration.

Her stories explore, structurally something very interesting, at least what seemed to me. It is like this : a quintessential Bengali story, theme, character being narrated to a dear friend who does not understand Bengali. Many of us might have that experience while talking about a Bengali classic story to a friend whose first language may be German. This is very interesting for me.

Of all the stories, the story that left strongest mark on me is The Mansion. (p.27) This is a story of Nilima meeting her old friend and husband after a long time in her old bungalow in semi-rural Bengal. The setting was taking a turn to a ghost story but then the pitch changes. The whole theme now becomes very strange, sinister and the epilogue is very very unusual. The story must be read to have a feel of it. Even in English, the story’s essential Bengali smell and light – of the কালবৈশাথী shines through.

As a reader, I have also found that the author has no rigid stance on feminism. She considers both man and woman as essentially human and with follies and innate goodness.  Because of this quality, the stories will radiate the literary joy when the ideological debates will be over or will be considered inconsequential by the later ages. This is not some imagination. Shelley gave a shrewd advice to all authors in a simple way : most of the social evils and rascal-dom will cease sooner or later – may be after few decades more or less but artistic beauty will not arise automatically. The highest works of Art does not follow the “automatic generation” theory.

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Her stories also mask her scholarship and craft with the language. Simplicity is not being a simpleton.  The greatest master a craft  knows how to hide the hard work that has gone behind to have the effortlessness. Her prose is very intimate within the bounds of English but as soon as it became very very intimate, I regretted again as why am I not reading this in Bengali.

I hope either the author or some translator will translate some of the stories in Bengali, the native language of most of her characters.

Of Hawks and Sparrows by Satabdi Saha

Patridge Publications, 2014,