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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Odd jobs...

I have been trying to remember some of the very many things I have done ever since I started, in a very small way, to fend for myself in mid-teenage. It’s because I worry these days that I might be beginning to forget, so it would be a good idea to write them down, if only for the sake of my grandchildren.

I have been tutoring school- and college kids all through,
I helped a teacher of mine to prepare her notes for a B.Ed. degree when I was myself in high school,
In college, I once helped a judge to pass his Master of Law examination (which he had been failing repeatedly and so couldn’t get promoted to first-class magistrate) by summarizing an entire thousand-page book on jurisprudence into one sheaf of foolscap handwritten paper in simple Bengali,
I wrote articles, reviews, news and stories for numerous magazines in both English and Bengali, and a few daily papers,
I designed a greeting card for a major public sector firm once, and a publicity brochure for a diamond merchant,
I translated a famous author’s novel from Bengali to English at very short notice so that he could read it out before a panel of fellow authors at the American Center in Calcutta,
I have edited, at various levels of detail, many people’s PhD theses on very diverse topics,
I have traded in encyclopedias on commission,
I have been paid by hundreds of people for counselling them and/or their children,
I have ghost-written speeches for a lot of bigshots,
I have hosted quiz contests,
I have conducted ‘grooming’ classes for college graduates about to appear for job interviews,
I have contributed ‘lessons’ to textbooks,

Some of that work has gone unpaid, or paid what I would call beggarly rates now. And despite making money in so many different ways, I have still jealousy guarded some time and leisure for fun, as well as for work of a purely charitable nature.

Now, if I am growing lazy and unwilling to work unless I am paid the kind of money that I want, I wouldn’t like people to hold that against me.

I wrote this just as an explanation for why I seem to be so unhelpful these days to a lot of people who come to ask me to do them all kinds of favours and go away disappointed (only last week I shooed away two profs from a local engineering college who had come to importune me to host a quiz show for them. As always, the only thing they refused to mention was payment). I think I have earned the right to have grown allergic to work that brings me neither love nor money! Salaried people will never understand the sentiment, whereas I trust that any businessman or self-employed person would go to the other extreme and call me a fool for having allowed myself to be exploited for so long. When I think of the countless ingrates for whom I did work for which I could have charged hefty sums but didn’t and who have long forgotten me, I keep telling myself I shall never let my daughter be suckered like that if I can help it.

If you are reading this, Tanmoy, that might be one way in which I have changed over the years...


Rajarshi said...

Respected Sir,

I had stumbled upon your blog around a year back (and have been regularly following it since then)while doing some search on Tagore (I guess I was looking to check if there is an English translation of 'Rajarshi' available and you had written a wonderful post on 'The Mahamanab'). The first thing which stuck me was the versatility of the topics, breadth and depth of your knowledge and of course, the kind of experiences you shared with your readers. This post is probably just another record of how vibrant and fulfilling your life experiences have been.

I follow a couple of more blogs written by people who are your contemporaries in terms of age and upto a certain extent have lived 'unconventional' lives.
And it saddens me to realize that yours was probably the last generation who lived by a certain value system and valued virtues like hard work, compassion, sympathy for the underdog etc. and the fact that my generation viz. children of early eighties and beyond are simply running a futile rat race in pursuit of materialism.

Would like to meet you someday in peron :)

With Best Regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Rajarshi. You of course meant 'struck' in line 6, and 'person' in the last line...

I am ashamed to say that my generation (today's parental generation) is by and large far worse than their grandparents were, in the sense that most of the 'successful' ones among them (I have my own classmates in mind here, in both school and college) can boast of no 'experience' or significant personal achievement beyond cramming for examinations, getting nondescript jobs, and making a little more or less money than their contemporaries. No reading, no personal tastes, driven blindly by tradition, habit and advertising; measuring success only by how frequently they can change mobiles and cars, and dine at fancy joints. Which is why it never ceases to amaze me that they can lecture their children so confidently about right and wrong, good and bad, whereas I keep telling my daughter that I know too little to give her sermons: the best I can try is offer suggestions, or simply declare my ignorance.

And my contemporaries call me arrogant and rude! Explain that if you can.

Shilpi said...

From my patchy - terribly patchy - reading it seems that some people thought Tagore was a lunatic and that Einstein was rude and arrogant and as you said the other day, Jesus himself probably had no idea when he was going about speaking in a tiny and remote "corner of Roman Empire" that people would do all the terrible and all the beautiful things that they do in his name, and the common people didn't think too highly of Plato's teacher either.....I know it doesn't make me feel any better to brood over these instances....but if nothing else - you know you're in the company of fine men...and maybe a couple of fine women as well.

So all I hope for is that you have some/many sunny and happy years to look forward to with your family and good friends while watching your daughter grow up...and who knows, maybe with some sensible recognition.

The second and third one on your post made me grin and the sixth and tenth one made the anger forks zip around in my head while the seventh one doesn't surprise me at all.

Take care.

Rakendu said...

Should you really bother about people who love the sun in the winter, curse it in the summer and ignore it in autumn and spring?

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

My sincere apologies for being late. I could hardly switch on to my home computer last few days.

Thanks for addressing my curiosity on your blogpost. I have been little bit aware of the variety of work you have done and continue to do. Honestly, the change that you mentioned is a welcome change. I am really glad that you made that change in your life. The righteous are always known as brash and arrogant.

Though it may sound negative and cynical but I have noticed over the years that in our society there is always a tendency to expect freebies. Not just in terms of money but we hardly ever value actions in terms of respect, love and admiration. I have seen my parents face similar kind of scenarios all through our lives. I don’t want to elaborate this here on your blog because it may really make my comment cynical.

Thanks once again Suvroda.



Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,
You have indeed been exploited for a very long time.I am glad that you have decided to stop 'helping' the ingrates.
While going through this post,I was reminded of the conversation almost two years ago,on gmail.I had so many things to ask you,I was in desperate need of advice and help,and how you kindly used to say that you always had time for important questions.
Thank you for everything, Sir.
As for your contemporaries calling you arrogant and rude,it is because they subconsciously know that they cannot even dream of the depths of your knowledge and they can't stand the bitter truth.
Warm regards

Suvro Chatterjee said...

You know, Rashmi, I was expecting some more thank you-s of the sort you have sent here. I have done no more for you than what I have done to literally thousands of others. The bitterness comes from the fact that far from summoning up the enthusiasm to write a thank you, most of them were not affected at all (though at the time of their need they used to gush over me!), and since then they have quite forgotten that they owe me a debt of gratitude. At this age, nothing makes a person more respect-worthy in my eyes than this capacity for gratitude... maybe only because I have found so little of it in my own life!

Dipayan G said...

Dear Sir,
I'm sure there are some students of yours who respected you and valued whatever you taught, whatever you shared, whatever you advised, and, they will continue to remember your contribution in shaping their lives as long as possible, perhaps longer. And they'll always be grateful. And here is a humble 'thank you' from my side as well. I know hardly anyone who is as versatile and hard-working and inspiring and as little pretentious as you were in your youth and still continue to be. Like Rashmi Datta, I too am glad at your decision to stop "helping the ingrates".

I still remember the day when I went to visit you some months after the ICSE results and asked you about whether some of my batchmates were keeping in touch with you and you said a 'no'. It shocked me because they actually had good relations with you all throughout the classes. Surprise surprise! I can never imagine how much all these things hurt you.

Anyway, some of your "odd jobs" were pretty interesting. And inspiring. For a generation that squeaks "life's tough!" at the drop of a hat, they could do a little good to themselves by taking a leaf out of your book. I remember Severus Snape once blurt out "Life isn't fair!"