India and “Global Indians” – “Mind Without Fear”

Mr. Rajat Gupta’s book “Mind Without Fear” is released and this blog will review the book after reading this in the coming weekend.

Prior to that, few observations on two “global Indians” of Bengali origin : Mr. Rajat Gupta and Dr. Amartya Sen.

  • “Mind without fear” by Mr. Gupta is translation of Tagore’s poem starting with “চিত্ত যেথা ভয়শূণ্য” . Mr. Gupta’s elder daughter was named “Gitanjali”, again Tagore’s collection of poems, literally meaning Song Offerings and nobel prize is awarded for this volume of poetry. As as aside, in Rajat Gupta’s trial in New York, Ms. Gitanjali Gupta’s testimony on the stand was most impressive, forthright and dignified. She was a character witness for her illustrious father at a critical juncture of his destiny and she spoke with deep gravity and dignity and every father wishes for such a daughter.
  • Dr. Sen has a deeper connection with Tagore and Bolpur where the poet founded an institution called Biswa-bharati where last month we had a Freelancer’s Celebration.

Both Mr. Gupta and Dr. Sen were active in India through various philanthropic activities. Mr. Gupta’s conviction put a brake onto these but now he is working again (as told by him in his interview at CNBC – TV 18 while talking about his book). Dr. Sen – Mentor of Nalanda University with an ambitious plan had a rough and non-graceful exit from the Project. There is not much heard now on this as per my own research.

In contrast, let us see two Bengali personalities hundred years back, the same “global indians” category, perhaps having much stronger character and I shall explain why I say so :

  • Tagore, at the height of his international fame could have easily settled in Europe or US and his friends and benefactors could have welcomed that. He did not – he returned not to urban Calcutta but to Bolpur of 100 years back – struggled and had very less creature comforts but remained true to the credo : You cannot do work for a community action at a distance.
  • Swami Vivejananda, while building his Mission traveled world-over but he came and led from the front, in India in founding Belur Math – struggling and beating heavy odds.

Both Mr. Gupta and Dr. Sen did not follow the examples of last two Bengalis. Both were internationally famous and both had good intentions to do something beneficial for their home-country. However, good intention and its implementation are not process independent. Tagore spoke on this – “মানুষ কখনই কোন কিছু দান হিসেবে গ্রহণ করিবে না, শুধুমাত্র মনুষ্যত্বের দাবী হিসেবেই গ্রহণ করিতে পারিবে।” (“Man will never accept anything wholeheartedly as a charity except as a right of being human”)

Both these men with un-doubted good intentions tried to do good as they deemed fit – however to the heart of men and women whom they were bringing good felt this to be “chairty” and “largesse” of powerful men and it did not touch the hearts.

Tagore and Swamiji and Mahatma Gandhi – all the three lived, worked, suffered and went through everything the target people passed through. They were not considered “successful and great-hearted outsiders trying to do go at the afternoon of their career” but “fellow travelers with exceptional calibre since the start of their career

It is one of the hallmark of our species that we feel compassion for the weak and unfortunate. (Darwinin theory evolution cannot explain as how this increases our chance of survival). I remember a dialogue between Sir Roger Scruton and a student in the audience in Oxford Union. While a student talked of plight of people in some of the disturbed areas of the world and what should be done, he answered and I paraphrase and summarize (not original) :

“It is not enough that you raise some money and send over. It is likely that some will not reach the beneficiaries. If you are really moved, you go and stay with these people – that is the way you can serve them best and yourself. However this has cost.”

The “Global Indians” of hundred years back did exactly the same thing. It was the core character which did not do take the easy way  and hence the work they did endure and will continue to be more and more inspiring as time passes on.

In this media crazy world, the wisdom of the age, especially for people of distinction – Character, not reputation, career or vision, is everything. 

To build such a character is the ideal of all education.

 

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Ms. Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos / Milady de Winter, France|| Mr. John Carreyrou, Bad Blood- Secrets and Lies / Mr. Alexander Dumas, The Three Musketeers

(This post was triggered by three factors – a) Bad Blood – Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-up and b) Leisure in Bangalore  – often called Silicon Valley of India, after a business meeting and c) A chance remark by Sankhadip Sengupta last winter in a back-yard bon-fire party about Milady, femme de fetale of Duma’s The Three Musketeers)

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Elizabeth Holmes – Founder and CEO of Theranos – Stanford drop-out at 18, “changing the world” and becoming $ 5 bn worth while doing it

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Milady de Winter – a pivotal character – femme de fetale of Alexander Duma’s classic The Three Muskeeters

While reading Wall Street Journal’s Investigative reporter Mr. John Carreyrou’s laconic, calm yet surgically bloody and precise investigative reporting (a recommended reading for all reporters, especially of India) and also knowing that Mr. Carreyrou shares a French ancestry from his father’s side, I suddenly felt the import of the greatest question : How some of the most powerful and influential men who were deciding about destinies of nations and war, being at the same level as that of  Richelieu of France   in the prime of their career could behave almost as if  hypnotized by the charm of an ethereal being like Milady de Winter?

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Alexander Dumas – French novelist

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John Carreyrou – The Reporter who investigated and chronicled the whole story. A great absence and perhaps the clue : Ms. Holmes did not grant any interview to him although otherwise she has been generous to reporters.

Creative literature is the cheapest and most-effective time-travel machine ever created. It is incomprehensible as why Literature moves us just like it is incomprehensible as why Ms. Holmes was able to “control so many powerful men” just as Milday de Winter did. This realization at the deepest level has the potential to draw us towards feeling the moral impact of an action, although may not be so effective in  regulating it. While one can  wonder at the enigma of human existence – reflecting on our mortality, vulnerability and weakness, one may ask – Why ? How to conduct Life in all these chaos, confusion and temptations.

“Changing the world” – a slogan too often used in the Valley (“Is the world created by or your father or something you got as a  stock to be vested ?”)  with a cock-sureness is infantile because that misses the deeper and eternal question : Who am I ? How to change myself ?

Counts, Barons, Academic High Priest, Generals – on whom the spell was cast 

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Henry Kissinger – Former Secretary of State and definitely a man who has seen much of human nature – good, bad and ugly

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Mr. Schultz, Former Secretary of State and arguably one of the key architects of victory in the Cold War, seen with President Reagan. Mr. Schultz’s grandson worked in the company and without him, Mr. Carryrou would have never achieved what he did achieve in his investigation. Explanation followed

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Rupert Murdoch – invested $ 125 million and it was his newspaper, Wall Street Journal that exposed the story. A honourable moment in the whole saga – he refused to intervene and kill the story as requested by Ms. Holmes  while he has told that he believes that the editors in WSJ will treat this fairly.

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General Mattis – one of the board members

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Professor Roberston, Chemical Engineering, Stanford University . He was the first in the series of successful, distinguished, highly influential old men who saw something of a “genius” in Ms. Holmes. He compared her with some names of Western Civilization and perhaps he is regretting those statements now. Explanation followed below.

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Dr. Avie Tevenian, a decade old colleague of Mr. Steve Jobs at Apple Corporation. Was a board member of Theranos and left in 2007. He was the first but not the last who detected early signs of “cult-leadership” and “group think”. One interesting point – Dr. Avie is the youngest of the board members and the spell appears to be directly proportionately in intensity and its hold with age. Mr. Schultz, the most ardent is 94 years old, whereas Dr. Avie, I estimate will be will be in his fiftieth decade.

The first truly seduction victim 

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Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani – a Pakistan-born, Indian immigrant – met Ms. Holmes when she was 19 and he was almost 40.

Mr. Balwani alias “Sunny” belongs to a class of Indian immigrants who were at the right place at the right time (1990s dot com boom, technology trained, based in Silicon valley in the 1990s ) and became enormously “wealthy” which they themselves, with all reasonable and unreasonable  belief in their competence and hard work could never dream of. It reminds me of Schopenhauer’s quote on martyrs where the sardonic philosopher argued that martyrs earn great fame without going through arduous and lengthy path of struggle and pain and anonymity, as surely happened to the philosopher.

Mr. Sunny, as it appears from the statements of his employees, far from being grateful about his good fortune, he was some kind of a bully. His mental make-up was that of a feudal Lord (I use the word in italics consciously ), most of Indian businessmen of earlier era who believed that employees are something like menial servants and since he was rich, even by American standards, they were his “slaves”. In one memorable moment in the book, when an American employee was rudely told by Sunny that the frustrated employee could not even resign from the company, the employee retorted, “Sir, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863“. After that, Mr. Sunny was taken aback.

A man like Sunny – cash-rich but without much inner worth and culture (“habit of the mind”) in one way was the ideal candidate to be seduced first – in the long list of seduced men, he remains the only man who was doubly seduced  – romantically as well. He reportedly forwarded $ 13 million interest free loan in “good faith” to Ms. Holmes and later rose to be the President and COO of Theranos and remained almost at the last. However, as in case of Milady de Winter’s young prison guards and other young men, when the ship was sinking, he was kicked out from the company and also from her bed at the same time and now he is facing the triple whammy – losing the lover, losing almost all the money he made earlier in reparations, fines and legal fees plus a non-zero prospect of spending time in Federal Prison. Even though they are mentioned as co-defendants in the criminal charge, he is fighting it alone and that is suggestive.

In his book, John Carreyrou also mentions something interesting without any trace of judgement or bias against young, well-educated, brilliant Indian immigrants in the age-group of 25-35 and this is to be noted by policy-makers of the US. It was found that Mr. Sunny as COO was recruiting more Indians, many holding PhDs from renowned universities and research institutions. They might have all the academic qualifications but very little job experience and since their H1-B visas were tied to their employment or in other way, their residency, there is enough incentive to, as Mr. Carreyrou says, to please Sunny or advance their career or both. There is an incident where a car of an employee was found to have a dent and with tape measure, it was positive that an Indian IT consultant’s car was the perpetrator. When the IT consultant was approached, he escalated to Sunny and Sunny immediately took sides of the IT consultant even though the evidence clearly showed that the Indian man’s car really hit the other person’s car.

Mr. Carreyrou did not and it is unfair to demand that he should know of the policy implications I mentioned earlier. To be blunt with facts : there is a qualitative and quantitative difference between Indian students who do research in US universities now compared to those who did the same few decades earlier. In the 60s and 70s, most of the researchers went with a purpose to study and with the intention to return back to India. Although majority of that population (and they were few prior to the Immigration Reform of the mid sixties) stayed and eventually became citizens but that was not by design but due to choice and habit at a later stage.  Most of the Indian researchers in the US and from other domains (notably IT) starting 1980s and continuing till today have already “designed” their career and many have already decided to stay and continue there. Thus “to stay” whatever it takes may be the ultimate cause putting those young and brilliant students in a vulnerable situation, easy to be exploited by men like Sunny and he really did.

In a strange sense of justice, dispensed by Time, Mr. Sunny – the bully and the exploiter of younger employees became super-exploited, in the form of losing money, his love and perhaps his freedom to be decided by the Judge and the Jury in a Federal Courthouse.

The Conscience Man – the Moral Tragedy and Redemption 

The only redeeming character in this saga of Secrets, Lies, Deception, Untruth and Un-science is Dr. Ian Gibbons and he only appears to have been traumatized by the web of lies that he felt he had been also a part of.  If lack of experience for younger employees was the vulnerability that forced them to continue in a toxic work culture, it was the age and huge experience as a scientist and researcher that made his position vulnerable.  A PhD from Cambridge, England of the old school and defender of the scientific faith – “doing in the right way”. He was the Chief Scientist of Theranos, recommended by Professor Robertson, the first person who saw the light of “genius”. When he raised questions, he was demoted and later, when the house of cards was falling, he came to understand that the lies and deception now caught up with him as some of his own works – patented works were circulated as Holmes’ work and some litigation naturally popped up and Dr. Ian was called as a witness. Depressed, tired and under moral pressure, he committed suicide. He is the only relatively old man who was too deeply troubled by the goings-on and his participation thereof. Whatever people may say, experts included, I think Dr. Gibbons’s suicide was symbolic with the exit of the conscience of the company and the people around and within six months from his death, the first devastating expose came in Wall Street Journal and Theranos really changed the world and the Valley by becoming its so far greatest episode of Secret,Lies and Deception and it is for the Law of the land to judge – whether of serious crime.

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Dr. Ian Gibbons – the Englishman, the scientist and the keeper of conscience

The Spell 

The above body text and captions are to provide a background with the intention to explore why these world-tested men men have continued to believe so easily, not only putting their reputation and integrity at stake so late in their career (Mr. Tyler Schultz, Mr. George Schultz’s grandson, told in one of the documentaries to the effect that the former Secretary of State who came out of Cold War and Iran-Contra with his integrity completely intact, now finds it questioned in his ninetieth decade and this was grandson’s dominant motivation to help expose the fraud).

I shall now try to put what the opinions are on the spell and then put my own thesis, in some cases taking the liberty of a radical departure :

I. Mr. Sunny : I found no commentator talking on this. So I put my own thesis. Mr. Balwani first married a Japanese lady and later separated (as per  media reports). An Indian man who has a feudal mind-set in dealing with employees was not consistent  in romantic relationship / marriage. This can be only explained by the fact that he was “looking for something” rather than being organically faithful to a cultural tradition. It is quite clear that he belonged not to elite aristocracy (as per his bullying and ostentatious display of wealth and swagger – Vini, Vici, Vidi in car number plates etc ) and his association with Mr. Holmes, first as a noble benefactor and later as a lover was “new money courting old money” or in other words “cash-respectability” trade-off. This is the same as that of old aristocracy of England marrying American heiresses (such stories are abound in Sherlock Holmes’ stories during late Victorian era).

This propensity of society was earlier restricted within the same race but in this case, it over-lapped into other races in the age of more movements – both of idea, goods and people. No wonder, Mr. Holmes mother was shocked (“oh.. such an older man and that too an Indian”) when she first came to know that she was having some kind of co-living with Sunny but later on everyone reconciled when Mr. Sunny bankrolled their holidays in some up-market hotels. Moreover, he offered $ 13 million good faith loan without interest to Ms. Holmes just as Federal Reserve was offering zero interest loan to stimulate the economy and a part of that good faith found huge funds moving from coast to coast in search of ideas, visions and the visionaries who are going to change the world and in this process making everyone richer by money to be measured in astronomical units of vastness. A note of contrast and complementary principle working here : in one of the greatest insider trading cases where Indian born Rajat Gupta was found guilty and convicted (I spent a considerable time researching on this and eventually writing a formal paper entitled – Immunodeficiency of contemporary education and the Case of Mr. Rajat Gupta), it appears that this was a reverse case : social respectability  trying to bargain billionaire level wealth. Or in other words, Mr. Sunny was wealthy (with a margin) but was unknown and a no-body in certain social circles whereas Mr. Gupta was known and respected at the top-most social circles but he was not as wealthy as he thought he should be while founding a venture fund company called New Silk Route.

2. Professor Robertson : Except Professor Roberston and Dr. Avi, none of the characters who were supposedly under the spell were scientists in the strict sense of the word. What happened ? It may be damning but following Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ advice regarding deduction, I deduce that in the 60s and 70s, when scientists were “changing the world” – the genius of Einstein etc and as fundamental science reached a crisis and then became more and more a hand-maiden to technology and people who controlled its direction through funding the genius and world-changers were now Steve Jobs and such technology wizards who now wanted to have their product ubiquitous in every home of the world and in a milieu where such wizards were considered “gods”, it is possible and not un-pardonable that an old Professor of Chemical Engineering wanted to be part of something glorious and world-changing (as science was so couple of decades back). This demonstrates my long back held belief that after some 400 years from Newton, Western Scientific tradition has reached its decadent phase with the discovery of “celebrity scientists”.

3. Mr. Schultz and others : Mr. John Carreyrou argued that many of these old men would have liked to have a daughter or a grand-daughter with such a mix – charming, beautiful, young, brilliant, college drop-out with a world-winning idea. They must have felt an emotion only known to them and it must have been new and novel to them(“an old man is an infant to his old age” – Milan Kundera, I agree, except for true philosophers and poets.) For such men, world has little charm left and the need to be in the vortex of things happening is a need we mortals always harbour. Most do not get opportunity and thus escape many follies in the bargain but those who get, do get a double-edged sword.

I think Mr. Carreyrou’s diagnosis is the effect but the cause is much deeper, very deep and goes at the essence of Man. Two words : Mortality and Morality.

A Man or a woman with extremely successful careers behind their past goes into “inertia of achievement and action” – with all the money, fame and sterling career (to you and me as told by other people – media most prominent) to have a retired life, they might find their days empty, their daily routine boring, their old achievements told many times from all quarters and they appear as if this was in a dream. The flush of the experience itself, the youthful energy and the pulsating feel of believing in something with great earnest and confidence and authority are over and youth is so alluring to old men that many mourn it ruefully – Keat’s immortal reflection on the sadness of the great trees of November, now more saddened thinking of the present destitution.

All ancient cultures have stories where old men have wished to take the youth again and bartering all their riches (King Yajati in the Mahabharata trading off his kingdom with his old age with his son Puru).

No one knows for sure but I find no other explanation except what I have thought and presented above.  I will remain curious to know of other stand-point or perspective.

Concluding Remarks 

  1. Readers who may challenge me in terms of drawing the parallel between Ms. Milady de Winter and Ms. Elizabeth Holmes, I have my defense pre-written by Mr. Dumas in 1844 in 800+ pages in the novel The Three Musketeers. Please read and in case, re-read. If not anything, you will have a grand experience. Nothing to lose.
  2. All students of journalism must read Mr. Carreyrou’s book. He is a master of under-statement, especially downplaying his own courage and hard-work. In spite of that,  his Gallic power with words shines through in small anecdotes he narrates (his Sicilian-Italian-American boss and La Matazzna) and his scholarship without the heaviness of it. The greatest Art of Learning is to hide it completely except leaving some few cracks from where it can be discerned by careful eyes.
  3. One recurring theme is Ms. Holmes not divulging her romantic and co-living relationship with Ms. Balwani. We may ask why did Mr. Balwani do not disclose this either ? I have no answer but this is an interesting question. One easy answer is that in the relationship Ms. Holmes was the dominant party and she chose, for whatever reason not to disclose anything. I doubt this line of thinking  -I feel that had Ms. Holmes pulled off the scam without being exposed, she would have surely left Mr. Balwani as seen in a report by London Daily mail that she is in court-ship with a young hotel heir called Mr. Evans. Note : Mr. Evans is in his twenties. She is 35. A reversal in terms of age preference  for Ms. Holmes. If Sunny was Athos, Mr. Evans is d’Artagnan.
  4. A very sad but suggestive fact is that many ex-Theranos employees are finding it hard to get a job. A small valley that prides itself in being an agent of “changing the world” goes by the most conservative idea : one’s association, past or present guide the future performance. Isn’t it the complete anti-thesis of the underlying premise of all hi-risk investments ? Past performance/association is not a guarantee of future performance as things are disrupted. The Valley might have everything but it has no redeeming qualities.
  5. I could not discern whether Mr. Carreyrou believes in any personal or impersonal God. However, he has astutely handled a story with all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy and human drama – ingredients to make a movie but one thing is for sure – such a movie will not move us as movies like The Godfather or The Godfellas did – tales of another age and another time but their villain /heroes finally find artistic redemption. Who cannot but find a redeeming calm in Sam Rothstein in Casino at the end and we find an epic consolation  that purifies something inside us and that is the first breath of moral purity.
  6. For all old men, I hereby paraphrase from a Vaishnav scholar who had cautioned all old men, especially having a luminous (and now nebulous to him/her) career in the past to relinquish from the ways of world – doing good or bad, helping good or bad but concentrating on one’s deeper self. It is Rembrandt’s paintings of his old age – he was looking at himself, more and more inward, he was looking at all the deep crease and crevices of human face in old age, the most spiritually reflective part of our anatomy and there, we could see the mark of true genius, a master of technique, craft and genius now in an in-ward journey and thus doing the greatest good, the greatest philanthropy – Gnothi Seauton – Know Thyself. 
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Self-portrait by Rembrandt- one of the greatest self-exploration in Art. Also the greatest in Spiritual Art, if such a term can be coined. One of the greatest masters now looking at himself, nothing else.

 

 

Leadership Model of Freelance Foundation

Freelance Foundation is a registered charity with the motto : Harmonizing Income, Leisure and Fame for freelancers.

(Leadership Model is essentially borrowed from one of the greatest global institutions, born in Bengal but belongs to the world – Belur Math)

 

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1. The centre of the Foundation is a living principle, not a person or a belief system : Harmonizing Income, Leisure and Fame and Life Fulfillment through this.

2. The top-most leadership must be “independent in earning their livelihood” or in other words, they are instantly disqualified when they work as a salaryman/salarywoman. Leadership is open to all, no bar of age, sex, caste, creed, orientation, financial condition, nationality, skin colour, academic qualification.

3. The top-most leadership is eternally honorary and all services rendered are charitable.

4. Leaders are nominated and must be unanimously agreed to by their peers. No voting, no tyranny of the majority or the minority.

5. A nominee must have at least 10 years of continuous work as a freelancer / sole business owner / independent living in addition to unanimous selection. No exception.

6. There is no Membership – followers and beneficiaries only. This group can be nominated to Leadership once qualifications are met.

7. Governing Body Council (GBC) will have their executive aides selected by them and these younger group will be trained for Leadership and some of them will become peers of their Mentors. See clause 5.

Effective 1st April 2019 – The Foundation will be active seeking Leaders for GBC positions through its global campaigns.

Experience tells that with a such a bar, we should be happy if we get 1-2 Leaders per year/globally.

“একশ্চন্দ্রতমোহন্তি ন চ তারাগণৈরপি”
(The dark sky of the night is illuminated not by thousands of stars but by a single Moon)

ওম স্বস্তি!, ওম স্বস্তি!, ওম স্বস্তি !

Event Report – 4th Cosmic Celebration of Freelancers- 9th and 10th March, Shantiniketan, Bolpur

Event Philosophy 

3rd “International” “Conference” of Freelancers took place on 9th February 2018 at The Park Hotel, Calcutta. This year, there was a radical departure – we chose the venue to be Shantiniketan, Bolpur – the University-Ashram Rabindranath Tagore, the greatest poet and one of the most influential cultural figures of Bengal founded as a “cosmic shrine of learning”, not a mere international university. The event was called 4th Cosmic Celebration (instead of International) of Freelancers (also called Li-Ders or Life Designers) and was in resonance with Freelance Foundation’s explicitly uttered stand on its relation with Bengal – “Born in Bengal but belongs to the world.”

In view of the on-set of spring, we welcome everyone in the Celebration with sandalwood, palash flowers and abir. 

Event Highlights 

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Tribute to the poet and Founder of Viswa-Bharati – a cosmic concept that told – আয়্ন্ত সর্বত:  স্বাহা: – Let everyone come from all directions.  

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The backdrop   basking under Bolpur sun at the courtyard of Poushali Lodge, Bolpur – our camp office and a relationship with Wordsmith running for last 18 years.

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Mr. Subhasis Chatterjee, anchoring the whole event. He is also Governing Body Commission Member, Freelance Foundation

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Dr. Angshuman Bhattacharyya felicitated by Mr. Swapnil Mukherjee, one of our youngest members before he recited Hymns from the Rig Vedas – an Invocation and tradition of all Wordcon Events

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Lighting the Inaugural Lamp by the Top Leadership of Freelance Foundation – “তমসো মা জ্যৌতির্গময় – “Take me from Darkness to Light”

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Inaugural Vocal by Parijat Biswas : আনন্দলোকে মঙ্গলালোকে…

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Inaugural Dance – আনন্দধারা বহিছে ভুবনে…by Ms. Sohini Bhattacharyya

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Chairman Pritam B Wordsmith welcoming the audience – “…Freelance Foundation is born in Bengal but belongs to the world. This is said infinitely more beautifully by the poet who is also the Founder of the august and unique institution where we are now – তোমাতে বিশ্বমায়ের, তোমাতে বিশ্বময়ীর আঁচল পাতা””

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Mr. Bikas Das – distinguished photographer and one of the Awardees  felicitated after he delivered his lecture inspiring younger generation to have a fulfilled life and successful profession being a freelance photographer.

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Ms. Monolekha  Mukherjee, Founder of “Shilpir Bajra” and an Awardee – a handicraft start-up being felicitated after she told her journey with craftswomen.

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Students from various departments of Viswa-Bharati and BITM.

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Professor Bijoy Mukherjee felicitated by Mr. Sushobhan Mukherjee, Chief Architect, Wordcon and Chairman, Infosec Foundation. Professor Mukherjee spoke on “A firm way of farming” where he discussed a radical theme, leveraging on his own theoretical and practical farming experience that our one-sided stress on increasing production of the plant world for food is mis-guided and genetically engineered seeds have unforeseen consequences on environment, human absorption and toxicity of food ingested due to heavy use of pesticides.

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Ms. Mimi Das, Chairperson of “We for We” NGO for women empowerment – one of the Awardees  being felicitated and she delivered a moving lecture about her journey – both professional and personal.

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Lunchtime – Authentic Bengali Lunch

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Back to Business after Lunch at the sun-drenched Lawn of Mark and Meadows

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Mr. Sushobhan Mukherjee talking about Freelance Foundation and also reciting limericks written by him which was relished by the audience very much.

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There is a fresh breath of spring (“আজি বসন্ত জাগ্রত দ্বারে) and signs of Holi in the young cheeks

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Professor Asha Mukherjee feliciated by Dr. Angshuman Bhattahcharjee

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Professor Mukherjee (nee Dubey) spoke of her 38+ years of teaching and staying in Bolpur in Bengali documenting her childhood in Rajasthan, her first experience in Bolpur then and in a moving moment, she acknowledged her gratefulness to her teachers (মাষ্টারমশাই) and said : “I have got a second birth coming here in Shanti-niketan.”

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Professor Asha Mukherjee unveiling Freespace – Freelancer’s Journal – a print magazine going monthly from 1st April as Pritam B Wordsmith, Publisher and Mr. Subhasis Chatterjee, Editor of Freespace, look on.

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Mr. Amitava Ghosh, renowned violinist spoke as how to have a successful career being a musician. He is felicitated by  his student Priyam B Wordsmith, Jr-I.

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The Quartet – Mr. Parijat Biswas, Mr. Sankhadip Sengupta, Mr. Anik Gupta (cajon) and Mr. Anik (guitar)

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KYE (Kolkata Youth Ensemble) playing

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KYE in progress – Mr. Sankhadip Sengupta on vocal, accompanied by other members of KYE

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Post Event Tea – Lawn of Mark and Meadows

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Relaxation at Mark and Meadows in the evening

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Round Table Dinner – a hard day’s work

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Tour of Ashram (11th March – morning on the day after the Event)

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The Bolpur Ambiance

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The Toto (Tuk-Tuk) Experience

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The Sacred Chatimtala – the founding stone of Shantiniketan was laid here and it was here – on seeing two chatim trees (Scholaris Indica) in the wilderness by Debendranath Tagore, Tagore’s father and the decision proved to be pivotal for Bengal’s history  and history of the world.

Afterthought 

“I always wondered about the fact that Rabindranath, leaving aside his genius, simply because of his  own and Tagore family’s international connections dating for at least hundred years (his grandfather Prince Dwarik used to have dinner parties for the top most elite of the British empire in London, including Her Majesty) could have easily stayed and worked in any part of Europe or America as many talented men and women of our time have chosen.

I asked this to a world-famous German conductor while I happened to meet him in Calcutta about this characteristics of Tagore. It is all the more important to know that living and working in Bolpur at that time was not easy. Then why?

I have pondered long over this and combining the insight of the German conductor, my thesis is simply this : only an artist of the highest calibre could think this way. Tagore’s staying in Bolpur leaving aside all the Great Expectations reminds me of the return of Pip in Dicken’s Great Expectations of Nietzsche’s self-imposed exile in the Swiss Alps.

To me, Tagore was the Pip of Bengal as depicted in the Great Expectations by Dickens with infinite tenderness and sensitivity and the poetic soul that resided in him could have withered in a foreign climate. He was well aware of the bargain but in the end, he remained true to the wisdom of Pascal and making us grateful to him for doing so :

“The Heart has a reason which Reason will never comprehend.”

Wordsmith’s Video Documentary on Tagore : The Journey of a Bengali Pip

 

Scam, Politics, Morality – Contemporary Bengal and a Study in Destiny of Nations – Part I

Why am I writing this ?

I spent almost  a decade writing “An Intimate History of Bengal”   which covered a span of 500 years from 15th century to 1990s and with a halt note when in 2011, a new Government came to power, ousting Communist Party which was in power since 1977. In that halt note, I wrote that I was thinking of writing a sequel after two or three decades (or someone else would) when sufficient distance in time will be available. Like an indolent person, I was happy that the task is some 30 years away and  forgot the matter altogether. I am writing this now, some kind of a premature entry into the project. This is a keyboard cry of a betrayed reader.

I read most of the mainstream media and also the so called alternative media and was amazed to find that there is no perspective presented, event attempted to capture the contemporary goings-on within some larger historical picture. It points to the fact of dwindling historical consciousness of Bengali people – those who live in West Bengal in India, those who speak Bengali language.

I am reminding my readers again that I am writing this neither as a commission, nor to defend or offend anyone holding political beliefs of any kind, nor to build a career but to say something which I was hoping to find in the works produced on these happenings – both in Bengali and English media and writings.

The Boundary Conditions 

In order to present my thesis and its criticism and possibly some insights from their collision and collusion, I would put some boundary conditions  and my readers have their right to question them but I would request them to suspend their disbelief for some time when we enter into the body of our discussion.

I. Decline and eventual withdrawal of British Empire from India remains the greatest geo-political event for Greater Bengal.

II.  Emergence and remarkable durability of Communism in Bengal do not indicate its “progressiveness”, neither of any kind of progressiveness of Bengali people but was a retrograde phenomenon and coincide with the political and cultural withdrawal of the Empire. There is an exact time marker for this event – the day Communists decided to teach English only from class V. The only window to the “free world” was closed for those who needed it most, in their formative years.

III.  The remarkable fertility of the land and the vast swathes of Indo Gangatic plains. Seven hundred years back, fortune hunters and warriors from Afghanistan and Turkey despised the sultry and humid climate with low marshlands but it was “Hell overflowing with bread”.

IV.  The nature of the Oriental mind which has fundamental difference on the moral issues. Or in other words, Oriental and Occidental moral universes are different, especially different in practical matters and that matters most to us and to history.

The Crisis of a Cadre State 

One may reasonably wonder as why Communists were presiding over the overall decline of Bengal in 1990s and the first decade 2000 while the whole idea and its practice were thoroughly discredited globally with a simple epitaph : “It does not work, stupid.”. Even the die-hard believers were ready for some compromise and the compromise was heresy – market must be respected.  Such a man was Bengal’s last Communist Chief Minister – Mr. Buddhadev Bhattacharyya.

By the end of 1990s, Bengal has reached the “crisis of a cadre state.” A cadre state is a state where party affiliation supersedes everything – even biology. This happens because in a communist state, biological survival depends on the affiliation. Bengal was no independent state and hence politically and geographically, it could not become what Soviet Union became sometime in its history – state uber alles. Thus a grand contradiction could be observed, even in an average Bengali household in the communist regime : the housemaid and the factory-owner both were members of the same party – the party of the working people and the contradiction was completely lost on both the parties.

The Government was forced to take initiatives as the best already left Bengal for North, East and South – for education, job, health-care, to invest – in short for everything. The “worst with passionate intensity” remained. They had two options – anger and biting the throat that fed so many years, not sumptuous may be but fed nevertheless or looking for alternatives. The political pendulum started to swing fast – one one side, the anger was planned to be managed  by fits and starts and in one of the tragic decline of a community – all the benchmarks were low. Beggars cannot be choosers. A mis-managed industrialization (hard industry, factory etc) was launched without any positive sentiment but to delay the inevitable – the collapse of the cadre state.  Bengal’s feminine psyche prevented a civil war (which had a non-zero possibility) and the new politics forgave the old with a sense of compassion – it was again negative in its essence – it was not compassion when a massive struggle illumines the essence of existence but how to find an enemy when all the enemies have become the new allies.

The Crisis of the Cadre state culminated in an inversion of almost the entire populace. The true believers consoled themselves that the “tenets of the prophets” were alright but the practitioners were incompetent and deviant.

In this short de-tour, I shall try to expand the 4-boundary pillars I had mentioned

 The Tryst of a an exceptional Bengali and Indian in the United States ( 1970 – 2011) 

Within 30 years from the withdrawal of the British Empire, the city of Calcutta streets witnessed violence and killing of a type which were known only to thugs some hundred years back – ultra-left young Bengali men killing teachers, constables, shop-keepers and anyone they felt were “class-enemies”. Many were highly talented men, students of premier institutes of Calcutta and many were leaders of exceptional calibre.

Mr. Rajat Gupta could have been such a young man in such a period. Instead of becoming a left-wing revolutionary, his destiny pulled him to IIT-Delhi, then Harvard and then at the threshold of a glorious career. It was also the time, another Bengali gentleman in New York was creating Hare Krishna movement – we are not sure what was Mr. Gupta’s opinion about that movement which he must have known. This is an interesting question as just Mr. Sachin Tendulkar – whose spoken and co-written words do not provide readers with any idea of the terrible transformation cricket was undergoing – morally, economically and aesthetically when he was a leading player of the world. It is known that Mr. Gupta as a globally recognized business leader used to quote from the Bhagavad-Gita to his audience and friends but there is no mention of this when he was a young man. This characteristics must be noted as my late boss Mr. Subbiah used to say when I was in my twenties : “beware of 40+ men who quote scripture- they have some problem. One should start this either in 20s or in 80s – anytime in between is a sign of deep problem inside.” (1997, Cochin, Kerala)

Just like many meritorious young men, many were of his calibre, may be brighter, were shot like dogs in police encounters, many fled and the worst among them, first became petty dacoit, then attained respectability, then became some kind of a local leader and some catapulted even into high offices of the province when they reached their fifties.

Mr. Gupta was of that generation and he became a consultant – not an ordinary one – but reportedly one of the the best of the world. His job description as I could understand was some kind of an astrologer and his work had (or work of all consultants) three components –  objective radiology, descriptive communication, prescriptive outcome based. For all the three functions, the consultant gets paid and delivers advice. So, his profession’s deliverable was “advice” and his business was “advice business.” They are different. Will come to that shortly. Before that we must talk about something that has got great bearing on the grand, heroic and tragic journey of this remarkable man of Bengali origin.

I.  These consultants are extremely intelligent, be-bewitchingly  glib, hard-working, well-informed, having multi-disciplinary knowledge, some are quite likable as a person (like Mr. Gupta) but some are not (Mr. Gupta’s protege – Mr. Anil Kumar – a coward, demonstrably corrupt, greedy and  a classic example of “the hollow man”, “the stuffed man” of Eliot. This foxy man would have been surely a convicted felon had he not turned co-operator in the United States vs. Rajat Gupta, S.D.N.Y case that culminated into conviction of Mr. Gupta).  They lack one crucial thing, something a man is born with – to build something – a builder of enterprise, a business builder, building and owning a business, to start something that never existed bearing complete individual responsibility, guided by own’s internal moral compass alone. 

II. Most consultants will mesmerize you with a dissertation on RISK but if you simply ask – “My dear Sir, if you know so much, why don’t you take risk where it matters most – why you remain  a billionaire’s advisory butler at the best and a power-point / excel junkie at the worst  ?”

III. The top-most consultants deride the clients they advise in private with a smugness that insiders know and is well documented. If the consultant finds out that the client is not “that” (say, it will take the consultant some 20 years to have the wealth the client has now if his income remains at $ 5 million /year)  wealthy (a more interesting question : should consultants consult a business which has less money as revenue than his annual income ?). In such a case, something happens – the smugness goes away – the consultant resigns and the most important consulting – consulting with the self is replaced by ingratiating the person – here and now.

IV. Top most management consultants are highly conservative, risk-averse and worshiper of status-quo. They are the true statists in a sense that all risk is absorbed by the state or state like too big to fail client.  Thus they can claim many virtues but no film will be ever made on them – their work – whatever it is will never excite public imagination. Moreover, their work is that of a “hired servant” and a man who wears coat owns it, not the person who has designed it. I think many firms employ consultants just Hollywood top artists consult psychiatric.

V. A management consultant having trained in philosophy in Oxford once told me in Oxford Tube from London to Oxford, verbatim – “I do not know what else these management thinkers have to tell more than what is already told by philosophers and artists regarding motivation, money, aspiration, ambition, society and crime ?”

The Pundit and the Boatman 

A pundit, as a well known Bengali story goes tells that once a great pundit was crossing the Ganges in April and was checking the level of knowledge of the boatman. As the boatman failed on all counts, the pundit declared that three-fourths of your life is wasted. As the boat reached middle of the grand river, a storm started playing with the small boat. The pundit was terribly scared and the boatman asked : do you know how to swim ? The pundit said no with his head. The boatman, with one hand in the oar, interjected and the answer reverberates – “I see..in that case your whole life is wasted.”

Mr. Gupta met a person in the Wall Street waters who was like a fisherman – he was so good in fishing that he had a veritable shoal of fishes that Mr. Gupta can only wonder. Mr. Gupta offered the man that he knew many places where the fisherman can catch more fishes. He knew all about them and the techniques to catch them. The fisherman replied and Mr. Gupta understood : “I have built my own boat, I ride on it, I catch fishes on my own, supported by my lieutenants – everyday I venture with full responsibility into the dangerous water. I may catch something unthinkable but I may go down altogether. “

Then the fisherman asked :  “Do you know how to catch fish all on your own ?”

The fisherman was Raj Rajratnam.

He had built up everything on his own, employing dubious and illegal means but one thing is clear  –  he was on his own. He was a builder of something that didn’t exist before.

Mr. Gupta – a salary-man till recently, a reader of the Bhagavad-Gita did not contemplate on the instruction as what one should do : “swa-dharme nidhanang sreya paradharmo vayaboho”

(It is better to die while remaining loyal to one’s dharma rather than trying to follow another’s dharma)

Freelance Tour of England 2018

Freelance Foundation – Tour of England 2018 – Report for all our patrons, associates and friends and how you can be a part of it 

( Collated by Freelance Foundation Documentation Team and from Facebook : Wordcon Channel)

Shorter version : 1 min video trailer – Directorial Debut of Priyam B Wordsmith Jr- I in England

Freelance Foundation is a  charity registered in Calcutta and works with the following mission.

The Mission: Primary mission was to spread the message of Freelance Foundation through lectures, travel, one to one discussion, institutional interaction and playing the game of cricket.  The secondary mission was to provide two young associates exposure to work and deliver under adverse and semi-adverse circumstances.

The Motto: Harmonizing Income, Leisure and Fame

The Team: Pritam B Wordsmith, Chairman, Freelance Foundation, Mr. Priyam B Wordsmith, Jr. I, trainee youngster, Mr. Anik Gupta, Head of Events and Logistics.

Duration: 19th Sept – 28th Sept 2018

Locations Covered: London, Birmingham, Aston,  Oxford

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The Heritage and History of the Tour

On 30th Dec 2017, Wordsmith Communication – the permanent and seminal sponsor of Freelance Foundation hosted a retro style cricket match in NKDA Cricket Ground Calcutta and it was conceived to have a similar match in British soil. In 2018, Freelance Foundation conducted a 4-city tour of India, namely Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta and gathered a considerable patrons, associates and well-wishers.

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It was just after the successful Tour of India 2018, the Trustee Board approved the Tour of England, presumably being convinced of the effectiveness of the model presently termed as “Cashless Model of Patronage” where individuals and institutions provide us facilities and the Foundation keeps all the events free to attend in return and the model is sustainable and scalable with some seeding fund provided by Wordsmith Communication and others.

Brief Description of the Tour of England 2018

The relationship of Britain with Wordsmith and by association, Freelance Foundation goes back to 2004/2005 when Chairman Pritam B Wordsmith left his job as Deputy General Manager of Tata Communications and landed in Starthclyde Business School, Glasgow as a British Chevening Scholar and boarding a British Airways direct flight from Calcutta to London Heathrow (CCU à LHR and now this is extant) in a chilling February morning of 2005. This relationship matured and in one of the addresses in London and also  in last Wordcon International Conference in the Park, Calcutta where British Deputy High Commissioner Mr Bruce Bucknell was present, Pritam B Wordsmith in his capacity as Chairman described – “..As Chevening alumni, I thank you as a representative of British Government and British People and taxpayers for their generosity. It was my stay and study for a year in Britain that nurtured and supported my desire to start Wordsmith Communication as a company of unique nature and also the networking that made this journey possible. A Journey which I call the journey of a Time Rich Cash Poor Gentleman where I use gentleman in the Victorian sense, i.e. a gentleman is always above money. One of the greatest business learning from Britain was to consider a business contract sacred and inviolate.” The details of this relationship are described by Pritam in one of his books – Wordsmith Book of Business.

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“The hand of a good man that wields the bat, rules the world” – Anonymous Wordsmith

The three member team from Calcutta started westward on 19th and there have been practice sessions in Eastern Calcutta parks in full gear with GBC Chandrani Bhattacharjee present. Associates delivered their wares – memento, medallion, gifts, banner, standee, camera gears and we greeted them as associates, not as mere vendors. On 18th, GBC Subhasis Chatterjee had a breakfast meet at Wordsmith HO at Salt Lake and bade us well. Without much event, the journey went westward – to Arabia Deserta and then to Londonium.

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Practice in Calcutta East – 48 hours before Fructus ex Virtus in British soil

On 20th, we reached London and it was a sunny day and we emerged out of London Euston –fully loaded with message to be delivered and cricketing gears. For the two young fellows, playing in British soil was first time experience and they were little anxious. From Euston, a virgin train dropped the campaigners in Brimingham New Street where they were greeted and picked up by Head of Wordsmith UK – Mr. Amit Ghose and we had a good night’s sleep. On 21st, we had our freelance meet in Birmingham and in the evening, briefed by an ominous weather report, the visiting team met Mr.Bukhari – a young British gentleman and a promising engineer in GE to discuss the proceedings next day. On 22nd, we played at Aston Manor Cricket Club, Birmingham under very adverse conditions – rain and cold and very ferocious bowling. The Game was interrupted many times but the Cricket won as the players braved the weather and promised to return next summer. Mr. Bukhari commented – “This is a slight interruption. This is not cancellation and we consider the match postponed till next summer.”   After a rest day on 22nd, the team set off to London on 23rd.. In Baker Street, near the statue of Sherlock Holmes, Pritam delivered a tribute in words to the greatest “freelance” consulting detective of real and imagined and the passers-by were quite amused. It was a bright day and the team folded their standee and went off to Oxford. Walking along one of the greatest and oldest architectures of the British Isles in Oxford, the young fellows were captivated by the charms of the buildings. Pritam B Wordsmith delivered his address entitled:   “Beauty, Freedom and Utility – the business of Freelancing” at St. Clements. The address emphasized that lack of freedom will invariably lead to ugliness and life may be very affluent but without beauty it is not worth living. Freelancers have this inestimable gift of freedom if they can creatively harmonize income, leisure and cultivation of beauty. Nothing is so magnetically famous as an object of beauty and nothing is so repellent to human spirit as  lack of creative freedom.  Returned to London and then next day in Working Central Victoria freelance meet, the address was entitled: “What freelancers can teach the world?” Pritam talked about how Future of Work in itself is a question of Art rather than only some function. In a world where more and more labour will be saved by smarter machines, the challenge is not from the machines but from a more formidable and self-referential problem – “What shall I do with the Leisure which appears to be thrust upon me.”

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Heathrow welcomes us with an opportunity for a photo shoot.

On Leisure – at Bloomsbury Park, remembering Francis Bacon’s “Essays”

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Surrounded by architectural Beauty and just before delivering the talk entitled : Beauty, Freedom and Business of Freelancing at St. Clements, Oxford

In London, at Central Working Co-working space – a kind partner and Pritam B Wordsmith – “tired and emotional” reflects on how London is an enchanting yet merciless city for any freelancer and he reflected on his engagement with the city as a “come and go freelancer” since 2005.

What did we learn?

  • The message of Freelance Foundation is greeted warmly by freelancers and institutions supporting them, for example – co-working locations and training institutions plus innovation ecosystems. All artists are freelancers but all freelancers are not artists. Innovation is what art for a freelancer who re-invents all the time.
  • There is an increasing awareness of freelancing as a significant component of economy in England and freelancing is considered more and more as a “normal” career option.
  • The Millennial Generation are increasingly drawn towards freelancing partly because of structural shifts in the economy and also in consumer behaviour. Innovation is no longer something an enterprise does or obligated to do, marketing and innovation are the pillars now of a freelancer – a one person business.
  • Our two young Tour members did wonderfully well – whether it is organizing meets or playing in British weather or working on the go – these discoveries of hidden strengths were great achievements.

The Road Ahead

  • Next year Tour of England 2019 will have Mr. Subhasis Chatterjee, GBC and Head of Logistics, Mr. Soumendu Chakraborty, Head of Operations and Design, Mr. Gaurav Purkayastha, Global Counsel and Head of Regulatory Affairs. All of them are freelancers in their own right.
  • Vision 2020: We shall be carrying our message to 20 cities of India and 20 world cities by 2020.

How you can be part of it?

Being a charity we are fully dependent on support – financial and non-financial from our patrons, associates, friends and well-wishers. Here are six modes of association:

  • You can be a teacher in your domain and teach freelancers and our audience free of cost
  • You can be a mentor to our freelance associates as a teacher without any financial transaction involved
  • You can provide us with seed-funds as a donation in form of cash.
  • You can provide us with facilities in cash-less model of patronage. For example, you can provide us a meeting room under your ownership/control free of charge where we can organize meets which will be free to attend for all.
  • You can spread our activities within your network of influence and let us know.
  • You can be friend of our social network and traditional friend circle, grace us with time and attention and be a friend and a constructive critic.

WORDCON India Tour 2018 Culmination – Calcutta – 7th Sept

WORDCON India Tour for Freelancers 2018 came to a close, to the starting point – Calcutta with a Freelancer’s meet in collaboration with EasyDaftar – a co-working space in Calcutta, in their premises at SKP Building, off Kalighat Metro station in the heart of South Calcutta.

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A multi-location event, connected by Facebook in Wordcon’s traditional informal but serious event. The whole event is recorded and produced below (Facebook Live event – Wordcon Channel)

FULL RECORDED EVENT (Courtesy – Ms. Sritama Muhuri, EasyDaftar) – also shared at our Facebook Channel : Wordcon Channel

Highlights

  1. Sharing 4-city Freelancer meet experience, insight, success, failure, challenges and most-important : What Freelancers need and what are being done and what should be done. A bottom-up approach.Hear the problems at field level and direct, deliberate and build solutions and connect to resources for building solutions.
  2. Freelance Foundation officially announced its Master Freelancer and Masterclass Policy : A Master Freelancer affiliated with Freelance Foundation must guide qualified (humble, interested and strong desire to succeed) aspirant freelancers without any fee whatsoever. Only those Masters who share this value system should consider associating with us. 
  3. Freelance Foundation is building a process and platform to engage those freelancers who are humble and interested to be guided and Masters who are ready to teach.
  4. Announcing our England Tour starting next week including cricket match and 2 freelance meets – one in London and one in Birmingham.

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Thanking all our past and present partners for making the India Tour possible and England Tour feasible.

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Acknowledgements 

  1. Ms. Sritama Muhuri, EasyDaftar and her Team
  2. Easydaftar Clients / Co-working location members at multiple locations in Calcutta who participated in the Event online.