In 1997, I edited a magazine by the name Diary, a monthly publication and though an editor, I also had to personally involve in vending copies of the journal. While doing so at Chingmeirong, an unmarried girl voluntarily walked up and offered to buy a copy. I was a bit surprised because it was always a matter of pushing and people refusing to buy a copy. So I asked who she was, and it so happened that she is the sister of Thangjam Arun, of Arun Enterprises who is now contesting the bye-election on a Congress ticket against Okram Henry in the Wangkhei Assembly constituency.
I am reminded of this incident because on Friday, Th. Arunkumar in an election meeting held in his constituency exhorted the youth to take to self-employment instead of running after government jobs. That sounds agreeable to me. I had an experience of working in a government office on contract basis for six months. I could not read late at night, because I had to wake up early to go to office in time, the clothes had to be washed and ironed, petrol had to be filled in the vehicle, repairing had to be done, the vehicle had to be cleaned, I had to be in the office from 9AM to 5PM, parties had to be attended after the office hours, and the clothes wore out soon. I had no time for pursuits of intellectual pleasure. And so when I was fired, I was relieved.
I started my own Centres where every white-collared job is done. I work wearing shorts, and I have a lot of free time to read. There is no pressure from superiors, I can devise and change the office set up, try out various ways till perfection is attained. And I am enjoying it.
So when Arunkumar affirmed self-employment, I would like to join the campaign and spread the word that it as a nice option. It is a rewarding experience, without a boss. You are your own boss. You are not working for an employer but only for yourself.
On the flip side, one has to be really good, having sufficient knowledge in the relevant field, some experience and skill if one has to be a successful self-employed person. We cannot be naive or mediocre. That puts up the question how we are going to acquire the knowledge and the expertise? For example if one wants to start a photo studio, one needs to have enough knowledge of photography, and the skills in Photoshop etc. But what is very important is the business and trade knowledge – how to attract customers, please them and create your own market.
Capital is another big issue. If you seek a bank loan, they would ask for this paper and that, and then maybe a guarantor as well, which is full of hassles. You may end up running here and there without the loan showing no sign of materialising. So in my opinion, the best thing is to seek a loan from the local moneylenders or a daily collection private bank, though the interests are a bit higher. It saves time and materialises soon. However, if you have acquaintances and friends in the bank, the difficulties may be reduced.
Now, getting the relevant knowledge and skills in the relevant field is not easy.
We don’t have the apprenticeship system firmly established, though in the UK it was established as early as the 13th century. Inspite of that, we can seek apprenticeship to acquire the knowledge of the trade.
Self-employment, though a good way out of the unemployment problem, is detested by women of the group 30s to 50s in Manipur because it does not have the tag of an office Babu or officer. The officer culture is so ingrained in the people’s psyche that any job which is not a government one is demeaning. Unless we remove this attitude, there may not be many opting for self-employment.
Then, I recalled an incident in which I was asked by an honourable gentleman as to what I do for a living. I said I am self-employed.
Upon which he quipped: “Shuraga chaba” ( one who eats by working). Does he mean other employees eat by not working? I could not understand.
So given this atmosphere, there is a hankering after government jobs. One who does not seek a government job is considered an eccentric or an uneducated fellow without any qualification.
Which is why Arunkumar’s call for self-employment merits serious attention. It is debatable whether the culture of self-employment will catch on but given that government cannot provide jobs to the job seekers, many of us will in any case be constrained to take up self-employment whether we like it or not.
As Jamshedji Tata who founded the Tata group of companies, who after graduating from Elphinstone College, Bombay, though he could easily get a government job, opted to become self-employed, there may be many in Manipur who would like to follow his footsteps. Tata not only broke his family tradition of becoming a priest, but also didn’t want to work for an employer. So he set up his own company, and became the founder of modern Indian business.
Being self-employed is like founding our own company.
The writer is a freelance writer and journalist