An Interview with Sanjukta Basu


Haegwan Kim

Let's start with your personal definition of success.

Sanjukta Basu

My personal definition of success would be, well, I really think that success is very contextual. I might think that I'm successful and other people might not feel the same way. So for me, if I am happy, I'm doing what I'm doing and I have absolutely no pressure, like why I'm doing something is because I have to earn or because I need to do this; this is my work, some kind of pressure. As long as I'm free of any kind of pressure and I'm happy doing what I'm doing and at the same time, I'm also helping someone. That would be my definition of success.

I'm happy doing something that doesn't really make a difference in the world that we live in, that is not, for me, successful, although I might earn a lot of money. But as long as I'm doing something which I like doing and, at the same time, I'm also helping in whatever little way. I'm not saying it has to be something extremely great or I have to save people and feed the hungry. But in whatever little ways I'm making some difference somewhere in the society that I live in and giving back something to the place that I was born. I'm also happy doing that. That, for me, would be successful.

HK

Why are you using social media as a tool to help others?

SB

Well, social media is something that… there has been a media revolution in the last four, five, six years. Media has always been something that has been controlled, like if it's a newspaper, there's a lot of control as to their opinion through the newspaper or who gets to have a programme on the TV. If I have something to say, it's very difficult for me to become a publisher of a book or have a TV channel or have a newspaper where people will hear me. When this whole social media thing came, when people starting blogging and people started using other social media. So everybody had suddenly become an agent of opinions. Everybody has an opinion and they can express their opinions. So that this whole media revolution thing that has happened in the past that I have noticed happened for the social good.

It's supposed to be for everybody. It has not penetrated in all sections of society, particularly if I'm thinking of India. Social media is still used in the urban sector and people with technological backgrounds and people with social backgrounds. Even the non profit industry and in rural areas have absolutely no access to technology. And they have no access to social media. It's not because they cannot take it, but because they don't know about it.

First of all, my first step would be to take social media as a tool of expression to the people who are not using it. Tell them that this is a great tool by which you can express yourself. And maybe there are great stories that we need to hear, the world needs to hear, from every individual in this world and they remain unheard because they don't have any way to express it. And social technology, social media is one way of everybody to express themselves using social media. If people cannot express, a lot of stories remain unheard, a lot of lives, like you have people living in the villages and they are the great people. They are great human beings, but we don't know about them because nobody goes or the mainstream never goes out to them and brings their stories in.

Sometimes they do, but many more people could reach out to the world by using social media, which is why I thought that using social media will be a great change. But you've got a lot of change in the way we view ourselves and the way we view society. I started using social media myself in my own life five years back. When I started expressing myself, it helped me in assembling my own personality. So I thought if can do that, others will also have the same benefit. It's just that they don't use it, they don't know about it, they're, like, what is blogging?

HK

I came here, India. So some questions about India. There are a billion people in India, and that's a huge number. But many people are still, as you said, can't afford to be on the web. What's your opinion in the long term view?

SB

When I talk about a the penetration of the Internet into the rural areas and in all sectors, I really imagine that there will be a centre in every small town or village, at least in somewhere in the vicinity or nearby there will be a centre where one will have access to a computer with internet connection.

The government of India is really making a lot of progress in the field of taking broadband into the villages. Basically the BSES, which is our BSNL, which is the service providers for telecommunications. They have a lot of ambitions and they want all the villages to be connected on broadband. In my view of the world, I want to see one day when every, if not the total villages, but at least the smaller towns we have these centres, like you have a post office, and every small place and you will have a centre that might be called a media centre, it might be called a communications centre, I don't know what it can be called. But it will have access to internet and computers. The people of the place can come and they can access this. Maybe they will pay a small fee for using it. In the cities you already have cyber cafés for people who cannot have a computer at home, they can go to a cyber café where they can pay ten rupees per hour and they can absolutely use it for whatever their purpose is. So the thing is that for just ten rupees, you get one hour of access to the entire world of information. Once you're on it and on the worldwide web and you have the whole world wide open in front of your eyes just by paying ten rupees in a cyber café. And I am imagining that as time goes by, we these things will get cheaper and people's style of living will also slightly increase. So one has to make the effort and how we make it more and more affordable.

These days mobile phone has huge penetration in India. Even a complete villager, people living in very remote; I know my housemaid who comes from a really remote village in West Bengal, she lives in a village where there is no electricity but they have mobile phones. So what they do is go a few miles on their cycles, charge their cell phones and they come back.

HK

[Laughter]

SB

They have cell phones, but they don't have electricity to charge it, so they go to the nearest place where there is electricity on a bicycle, they charge it and then they come back and live for two days.

HK

[Laughter]

SB

That's what I'm saying. The mobile penetration is there and the social media is also constantly making an effort to be more device friendly. Sometimes you never know, we might even have it accessible to your landline. My point is that a device and the availability of the device cannot be a reason why people should not be connected. I'm not saying it's going to happen overnight, it will take time, but that's what my personal effort is in my work.

HK

You said social media makes you reflect on yourself. Social media helps you to think about yourself. Do you think that if more people can be afford to be on the web, more people can find their meaning of life or anything like thtat?

SB


You know, there is a chance because I have seen it in my own life, so I am very optimistic about it. I think that, yes, access to internet and access to having a tool of expression makes a change in my life. What I'm going to do with that expression, with that tool, is very difficult to say what I'm going to do. It is like we educate everybody. We send every child to the school, we teach every child to read and write, but every child doesn't do something great, every child doesn't become the same thing. Different children takes differently the same kind of education given to them. So what I feel is that this tool of expression is freedom of expression that, just by the click of a button, I am able to take my voice to the entire world.

This knowledge, this capacity, this power brings a change in who I am. It happened to me and I'll explain to you in what sense. It was only after I started writing my blog where I was expressing a lot of my personal life. I wrote a lot about my personal life, my boyfriends and all those kinds of things, so I started writing about it. And it was something very natural, because societies don't really talk about their personal lives in public. We don't talk about sex, we don't talk about love relationships, romance in public, these are things which are always kept in private. But I was breaking a few rules there. I was writing a lot about my personal life without any inhibitions. And I realised that that actually empowered me, instead of making me feel vulnerable or making me feel ashamed of who I was or what my life is, I actually became more powerful and people also went wow, you have the courage to say all of those things.

We also feel that way but we can never say. We think that you're very brave. So I realised that I was a brave person, that's something that I realised about myself. Also about writing, I'm a good writer, people read my writing and they like it. I had the confidence in myself to blog, which was not there before this whole thing. I met more people through my blog, through all my acting with this social media, I started meeting more and more people. I became more confident in my interpersonal skills. I feel that it's something that might just change somebody's life completely. It's a tool that I give you. It's like giving a camera to 100 people and out of that 100 people, one of them would turn out to be a great photographer. They will use that camera and they will turn out to be a great photographer, so it's like that. You give the tool to everybody and then it will make a great change in somebody's life.

HK

Can you tell me why you're focusing on non profit?

SB

Because they're not using it enough. Because the people who are into the non profit industry, they are mostly coming from social backgrounds. Politics and sociology, humanities. And they say oh, my God, technology! I cannot use it. I cannot even use my computer, it's like that. So I say it's not that difficult, why don't you try? It's not at all difficult to have your own blog or have your own Twitter account and start using it. In fact, I have learned everything about the technology with trial methods. I kept trying, trying, trying and then I learned it.

HK

What is your background?

SB

My background is humanities, so I studied political science. And I was a lawyers in India so I didn't touch to any technology at all. And the other reason is, you know the non profit, they do a lot of work in the field. They go to the field and they interview people, they capture people's lives, they make studies, reports, findings, surveys and all of that. But all of these things, ultimately, sit in their offices having access to only some scholarly person who is writing some research again. It does not come out of that circle, that development circle to the corporate or the profit making people, the corporate world, this other side of the spectrum.

HK

India's IT has a great power, do you think it will be harmonized with politics and nonprofits as well? I think not only in India, but also in the world, the 21st century will be the new era of technology that used for well-being of humanity.

SB

Technology and politics, I think it is happening now. I think this century, like you said, this is the time when more and more people are trying to contribute to a good cause for the development of their country's society. It is happening. And the other thing, I see a connection between the two because, for example, very, very young people like you, the young people working in the IT sector, they have a certain job, they're very satisfied with their work. They have good money, so they are paid well. And I know that all of this young generation want to contribute. They are very concerned about their society. They are not selfish people who only want the gadgets and the car and the iPod and they're happy with that. They also want, in terms of their success, they feel successful when they have the iPod and they have that new car. And at the same time, they also want to give something back to society. And I think once we merge these two worlds, they will be able to contribute in whatever way. Maybe they will give their time free whenever they're sitting free, they'll go and do volunteering for some network, for some NGO. Or they will give some donation. So the more that we know about what's happening in the non profit world and what kind of work is going on, the more they will be interested and they will also contribute.

HK

My final question is your advice to achieve success in a general sense.

SB

I think I will not give advice because I don't see, in the sense that I don't know if I would be called a successful person by others, it feels completely mine. I think what I'm doing in life is fine and I'm happy with this and I will keep doing what makes me happy. But if I had a family to take care of, if I had to earn every month a certain amount of salary otherwise my children wouldn't go to school, then I don't know if I would afford to do what I want to do. It's around reality. I also have to take care of my family. I have to raise my children and give them a good life and an education. So when it comes to that, I don't know if I continue what I want to do. Right now I can because I'm free. I don't have a liability, I'm a single person, so I want to do that. So, basically, all I would say that whatever you're doing, you have to be happy. And that's a very common advice that anybody would give; you've got to be happy in whatever you're doing.

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