Wednesday, 28 January 2015

In Search of a New Abode

New Culture and New Economics

Partha Sengupta

I was reading the anthology Ekti Bhabna Sankalan: Tomake Chai produced to commemorate twenty years of 'Tomake Chai' sung by Suman Chatterjee/Kabir Suman. The anthology is edited by Sumit Das and Anirban Sadhu published by Altamira, second edition, January 2013.

In the beginning I would like to mention that, as most of the authors in that collection have pointed out, there is pre-tomake chai and post-tomake chai era in Bangla music, I differ to that observation. There are many genre of Bangla music produced industrially or otherwise. It is completely impossible to club all of these into to one meta-classification. Industrially produced popular Bangla music, in the form of Bapi Lahiri to Paglu Dance has continued as it is. Nothing has changed on that front. The middle class bhodrolok music commonly known as Adhunik music was on decline when Suman appeared on the horizon. If we unpack the event of decline, in the light of emerging technology of recording, post-production, distribution and musical instrument and its relevant industries in neo-liberalisation conditions, we might observe rather a shift than decline. Many relatively young singers were making albums of ’Adhunik’ popular remakes and remixes. This genre is discussed in detail in that anthology. Suman didn't choose the path laid by Bapi Lahiri or ‘Adhunik’ remixes. These two forms of music were doing quite well in terms of market, especially the first one. But he chose to create his own genre; though singers like Gautam Chatterjee, Pratul Mukherjee, Anushree-Bipul were already there and were doing great work. But for some reason they couldn't became part of middle class imagination. Were they too radical or too much politically stimulating for larger middle class to connect with? Presently, I am not looking into that detail.

But I would like to mention two very important aspects which I find most significant in new cultural practice that has larger social and economic implications.

Opening the flood gate of creativity
Bengali middle class always had habit of writing poems or occasional stories. It is said that every Bengali young boy/girl must have written a line or two in his or her adolescence. But hardly anyone had thought of writing and composing music. Suman had done it. He inspired the whole generation of young boys and girls to write and compose their own music. Later, Bengali Bands further contributed to this inspiration. People started believing that they could also create music themselves. What was significant in that is, like little magazine practices which is completely based on personal or collective satisfaction without any perception and possibility of commercial benefits, Suman  and bangla bands invited the same culture into music. Music is now composed and enjoyed by many as individual or collective with very little or remote possibility of financial benefits. Often collectives fall apart due to personal gains or ego, but that doesn't mean capital relation is better than collective, it actually means individuals in the collective have to work on their personal ambition or/and ego. Post Suman and bands, the pleasure of creation of music itself has emerged as a big public culture in Bengal or may be urban Bengal. This is definitely a revolution and again offering a new model of creative and cultural practice beyond financial ambitions.

Deploying the peer to peer internet network to share new creations
Nowadays, many singers, musical groups share their music on internet which has huge number of listeners, not consumers. People who believe in that culture, they only listen to those music. This practice redefines the idea of quality. They don't need ‘state-of-the-art’ commercial studios or factory production to satisfy their listeners. For their listeners quality is somewhat else, it is not confined within the industrial quality control standards which mostly produce junks.
Though corporate burgers and pizzas go through rigorous quality standards, still people call it junk food! Have we ever asked that why food products produced in large scale are mostly junk foods laced with excess oil, salt, cheese or sugar? (Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar and Fat, How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Random House, New York) Why at every second day mobiles and other consumer goods come up with new fancy models? Because the companies cannot sustain on the basis of normal necessity, they need to lure the ‘customers’. If a company thinks that it would produce only 1000 items all through and survive in the market, it will not happen, the company has to reduce cost of production by increasing productivity in the form of extraction of surplus value by exploitation of workers, technological advancement and other legitimate/illegitimate cost cutting mechanisms, to survive the competition. That is why small enterprises wither away or are bought out by the big enterprises. We can imagine a control system to stop big enterprises to form, but in reality it doesn't happen or could ever happen. This phenomenon is built-in within the capitalist economy. Even local shopkeepers and street vendors deploy several malicious ways for an edge in the local market competition. Small enterprises running workshops at backyards are no less ruthless and repressive than 'big' companies. Ethical company is an oxymoron idea.

So more the companies produce, more it has to lure ‘customers’ to buy those surplus productions. Market through various strategies titillates basic instincts of human being and converts them into ‘customers’. People largely accept the commercial publicity stunts obediently and surrender to the temptations and fall in the trap of market economy. Capital also lures or forces non-consumer societies into ‘consumer base’ to expand its market. In reality they enhance greed against actual necessity. Freedom is destroyed through the rhetoric of ‘freedom of choice’. In a capitalist society, ‘freedom of choice’ actually means the livelihood reeling under the cycle of obsessions and consumptions. Technological advancements sought for the purpose of reduction of cost and luring is often projected as development. If examined, many technological research would collapse like avalanche. Secondly, inventions and innovations are also made for marketing purpose that very much destroys the humanity.
Norman Borlaug, the pioneer of Green Revolution was working in the war laboratory of American company Du Pont but Rockfeller Foundation hired him by offering a much bigger pay packet. American government, Ford Foundation and Rockfeller Foundation entrusted him with setting up a research centre named CIMMYT in Mexico for research in wheat and corn. Reference given to him was to develop such dwarf high yielding crop varieties which can consume maximum fertilizer without falling on the ground, with fertilizers helping in increasing yields. This seed variety was sent to Punjab in 1966. At that time it was called Mexican wheat. Similarly an institute, named International Rice Research Centre was set up in Manila. These were mainly funded by American government and its Foundations, for example IRRI got 74% of its fund from American govt. and its companies. Paddy was not a regular crop, was planted only in water logged areas but after high yielding varieties came in mid-seventies, wheat–paddy rotation became the crop pattern. Thus ‘green revolution’ landed in Punjab.
                                    S.S. Mahil, Social and Economic Cost of Green Revolution, Frontier, Internet Issue (

Self-creativity, innovations, jugaar are the various creative routs regularly people take to create objects which suits perfectly to their necessity rather buying it from the market at an exorbitant cost.

New music practitioners don’t see their music as object of market rather as gift of love. They force us to think about the relevance of mass production against the subjective notion of quality. The cost of quality in terms of amount of required investment defines the subjective framework of quality. They further pose a challenge to all forms of management controlled mass productions done through alienated work force who are blackmailed to work inhumanly against very basic survival for the accumulation of someone else's wealth.

Thus, every time these music practitioners share their songs on internet they kick the market economy on its face. And that kick is purely intoxicating.

The question of quality, freedom, autonomy and humanity have reinvented software, film, drama, music and other forms of creative and interactive materials. Creativity emerging from conditions and situations found spaces in the new formats. Experimental films, tactical media, self-publishing etc. are new formats emerging out of this question of subjective quality and specificity.

There is a theatre collective in Kolkata, Kathajatak, who avoid proscenium and prefers to perform in small spaces. They do it not because they have shortage of resources, they do it because they want to avoid passive spectacle of proscenium and stardom. They give more importance to the narrative and its structure than the aura of performance. Kathajatak also prefer to facilitate rather participatory and interactive situation to blur the line between performer and the viewer and engage in discursive sessions which constantly redefines and re-frames the content of the performance and the subject itself. Let us not confuse this format of performances with Third Theater. This is a rare but not an isolated event; there is a long global history of collaborative performances.

Such people and groups represent a complete new model of cultural practice. Through their practice they have proposed a new cultural ecology almost devoid of direct intervention of market. I use the word 'almost' because spaces like ‘youtube’ or even many free blogs are commercial spaces, but the artists who are uploading their works, they are not necessarily financially benefited from this. Artists selling their musical works online are subverting the capitalist model of demand-supply chain and its paraphernalia as I discussed earlier. Social relation of dignity and mutual respect plays more important role in this case rather than making wealth for few. This practice works on the principle of simple commodity exchange where financial and economic activities are limited to survival necessity only through selling their own materials directly to the interested listeners and users.
Here I would also like to mention about a publication initiative named Dhyanbindu. It runs a small book shop in College Street, Kolkata. On its facebook page it emphasises on ‘Dhyanbindu doesn't produce at mass scale’, ‘Dhyanbindu doesn't have any page three’ etc... It sees itself as a location for deep research and introspection not just another commercial venture. Interestingly, it also declares that this space doesn't publicise itself as a counter-culture etc. to garner any sensationalism.

I am concerned about the situation when similar initiatives come face to face in competition. But that is not happening soon. I am sure people would find a humane way to subvert competition when situation would arrive. In these initiatives, inter-personal relation plays more important and primary role rather than wealth generating for a few. Is this a non-commercial/limited-commercial model function? Is it a utopia? How does it matter as long as the artists and other stakeholders enjoy? Let them negotiate between survival and buyout.
Presence of such creative practitioners is extremely important in a time when many people celebrate market economy as only ‘successful’ form of social existence. An economy completely based on violence (ruthless exploitation of workers, destruction of civilizations, ecology etc.) and allure (customerism, consumerism, wealth), destructing other models of non-transactional sharing and collective survival and existence. In that world, humanism means occasional industrial philanthropy for the ‘poor’ from the top or economics of philanthropy for the ‘poor’.

Survival of humanity cannot be controlled by vicious circle of competition, exploitation and industrial philanthropy. Globally many collaborative experiments are tried out. One such experiment is Fablab (
Economic theorists are working on non-hierarchical collaborative economic models. (Vasilis Kostakis, Michel Bauwens, Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy, Palgrave Pivot, August 2014; Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism, Palgrave Macmillan Trade, April, 2014) I am not saying that these models are perfectly working models, but then if we wait for a model to be fabricated in a workshop somewhere else and we very conveniently jump on it when time ripe, I don't think that opportunism is going to ever happen. We have to make that model work through our limited possible efforts. I don't know whether all pervasive social revolution would happen any time soon, as it is difficult to imagine that greed for power and wealth would recede simultaneously across the world and the population. But these collectives, selfless activities, refusals, alternative sharing and survival efforts that crawl within the repressive systems are the locations where humanists would find their home.

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