Saturday, July 14, 2012

Notes for toast

It was easy. A notebook, pen, or pencil, a convenient knee to facilitate writing; later type it up as a hard copy, double-spaced, ready for imaginary publication. Diligently stored in an arch file. Lost in the cobwebs and dust of time today.

Today. Today, ideas float in my head, demanding to be written, preserved for posterity. The laptop, on for the last 12 hours is somewhere else as I sit on the terrace of my barsati, open, exposed to the southern breeze. A kilometre or more absolutely ahead of me is an ugly monstrosity of a multi-storied residential apartment building, its sight covered by four palm trees which wave about in the strong breezes. There will be no rain tonight. I can see stars.

To go back into the room, away from the cooling breezes, and write these words is too much of an effort. Lethargy is engraved in me.


The year-old government has an anthem. Vibrant voices sing in mournful chorus piped through acoustically deficient loudspeakers (not microphones, as many have stated) at the traffic junctions, replacing the always mournful versions of Rabindrasangeet which had been playing there for the last few months. At least there was a choice in that repertoire. Now its just one of those patriotic, marching sort of tunes reminiscent of the movies of the 50s, sickly-sweet, on a perpetual loop, guaranteed to piss you off.

The music self-procreates, constantly regenerating, exponentially spreading from one traffic junction to another. It's like the issues of mis-governance of the party in power that is a leading topic of the constant chatter in cyberspace. Still, I want to empathize. Mamata Banerjee is known for her honesty and her complete non-involvement in so many scams in which so many leaders are so implicated, not excluding a few from her own party. On the other hand, a retired justice who now heads the Press Council, calling her dedicated to serving her state and her nation, smacks of senile naivete.

After 34 years of suave and urbane corruption of not just the body politic but also of the mind, the people of Bengal were willingly lulled into a false situation of “everything's all right, things happen, just get back to your mediocre cultural aspirations and leave business to us”, we are expecting too much too fast from the new Chief Minister. She certainly needs her full five year term. At the same time, I can only hope she sees sense and stops tilting at windmills to get on with the real things.

A recent amendment to the law protecting copyright is aimed at ensuring lifelong royalty to creative contributors like singers, song writers, script writers etc. Till now these royalties accrued to the producer and/or the label or company which released and marketed creative works commercially and otherwise. Most creative people got the shit end of the stick when their works made money over and above the fees/costs agreed upon. These were never shared by the producers/manufacturers, and yet those creative works were known by their creators and not the producers. So this is a positive move, but how it works in real life is a whole different ball game.
This then leads me to consider the actual act of copying, replicating, duplicating, in other words, plagiarising.

Recently, cyberspace has had me and some others generally discussing plagiarism. It arose with words quoted from a Steven Spielberg film which I commented seemed to have been lifted from a Bob Dylan song written a decade or more before the movie. One of these persons has taken it to heart and has thrown Mark Twain's words about the subject of copying at me, palpably irate at my possible accusation of the great Spielberg 'lifting'. The reverential and defensive use of Twain's words is similar to when they say that the quoting of the Scriptures is the last recourse of the Devil.

Two points need consideration here. First, I respect Mark Twain and his creative works and uphold him as a great story-teller and one of the finest writers in American Literature. However, I’m not na├»ve enough to believe every thing he has said and written as gospel truth or as some tenets I need to live by. I am permitted to differ.

Secondly, I started off by saying this was about plagiarising. The dictionary defines plagiarise as “to copy (ideas, passages of text, etc) from someone else's work and use them as if they were one's own”.

This then was my bone of contention. I had a few times commented on posts on many subjects made by this person where I had, instead of taking an accusative, confrontational attitude, merely posted the link from where this gent had so obviously obtained his material, done a good Ctrl C + Ctrl V job and not acknowledged his source. A gentle reminder to next time quote and acknowledge his source. He did so a couple of times in what I thought was a rather reluctant manner, and then went back to plagiarising.

How I knew he was plagiarising is because of his employment of language. Normally, he writes with innumerable grammatical and spelling errors, never bothering to use the spellchecker wasting away in his computer's word processor. And then he would post stuff which compared to his own writing was impeccable in its construction, spelling and ideas. And how did I confirm his plagiarism? That's what's wonderful about the interweb. You can find out anything about anything if you use a slight amount of intelligent, logical thinking. And Google.
The man, admittedly, has a wide range of interests and topics he wants to share with people on the social forums. That's a good thing because computers connected to the internet have made this ridiculously easy. At the same time, not giving and acknowledging the sources of your shared information and posting them without actually saying they are your own, is a crime to me. And more especially because the man is also faculty at a premier institution in Calcutta, in charge of impressionable minds, as he is a well-known personality in the corporate communications world of the city for the last couple of decades.

What is work culture? Even Wikipedia has no entry of it, though they do have one on 'organizational culture' where they warn you that the article requires clean up and they don't sound too happy about the entry at all. I see it as a tangible and intangible environment outside home, where people can be sincerely and gainfully occupied with the work they are good for, and be able to do it competently and honestly. And do so in a cheerful atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration. Leading to progress and satisfaction all round. Human nature as wishfully conceived by optimistic me.

In truth... need I say it? The truth is, of course, the opposite in most cases.

I've been gainfully employed for at least two-thirds of my life and I have damned good experiences of interacting with people who are paying for certain abilities I have. And yet they always surprise me, it hurts, when people do things they otherwise criticise. Only because it affects them.

Real human nature again.
I have certain time-tested, established, and basic ways of conducting myself at work. So I find this much-touted 'work culture' depressing, and atrocious. Why can't people keep to the times and schedules mutually agreed upon, even when there are loopholes to wriggle out of such agreements? Why, in this day and age of instant digital communication possibilities, do people not respond one way or another on project outcomes one has discussed endlessly? What are all these meetings about? Every time I go to meet people on scheduled appointments, I usually find them busy in other meetings, so I must wait. When does the work happen, if all they do is have meetings? Work is kept pending for a variety of reasons, usually the most mundane: “Haven't had time to see it[/think on it/action it] yet, boss. Give us a few days.” This is after quite many days have already passed. And like, it's been quite a few months since we all agreed upon action and final outcome. In one case, more than a year.

And if this sounds like some fictitious government bureaucracy example, you're wrong. These are real, and happened with reputed, well-respected, private corporations and institutions.

A Facebook friend posted this recently: “Why are some people always late? More importantly, why do they show disrespect for other people's time? This paper explores both cultures (the Japanese take it as a personal insult if you're late; Indians think time is an illusion) and individuals (punctual people win in the end, it's mathematically proven - P(k) = E [A(k + X)] − C). This is a MIT paper, so don't expect humour - though there's the odd touch of wit (In Brazil, 20% of watches and clocks don't work properly, so 1 out 5 have a good reason to be late).” The link to the paper:

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