September 29, 2011

After 34 Years

The change is there in Bengal for all to see. Perhaps the last bastion of communism in the world beyond Cuba has finally fallen down (and the only popularly elected). Of course, there always is the possibility of a comeback but if there was ever an age that could claim to be the end of an era this is it.

34 years is indeed a long time and that is something that has always fascinated me. All through my growing years I have tried to understand what made successive generations of Bengalis embrace an ideology which remained mostly confined to trade unions and tea cups at universities. It also was easy growing up in Calcutta. Communist literature was easily available and every Durga Puja stall of the communist party would have translations of everyone from Tolstoy to Marx.

So as I was growing up, the Nehruvian Socialistic ideals in me were strong and I could not accept Ayn Rand and her passionate support of Capitalism; or even free markets. The Government I believed was still of, by and most importantly for the people.

Ever since Kush had told me about Kalbela, I had been searching for it and last time I was in Calcutta, he and I travelled around to pick it up. It is perhaps one of the most honest accounts of the turbulent times of the seventies and what made it special was that it did not accuse anyone. It was a tragic account of dreams turning into nightmares, of the youth asking questions but not understanding the answers.

What started as an outburst of anger against the system confused everyone around. But there were so many of them who went ahead with the hope of believing the answers would come one day if they stayed true to the ideal. It did not. An entire generation was wiped out and the world almost has forgotten them dubbing them as the first naxalites.

As I see the support for the Anna Hazare movement, I am suddenly wondering – do we as a nation require a solo fighter to rally around? Do we need heroes to lead us to battle or can we sustain as a colony of bacteria where the collective decides for the collective. But probably that’s the reason why the first Vedic Societies around the Indus elected their first king and it became etched in our DNA.

When I was growing up, I also heard a lot about Hollywood propaganda - how Hollywood hoodwinked an entire world to believe in The American Dream. But a chance viewing of a few films made me wonder. The first was “College Ties” – a story of the deep roots of anti-semitism in the early days of the “New World”. The other place where I had seen mentions of it were in “Acts of Faith”, one of the lesser known Erich Seagal novels. The Second was “Mao’s Last Dancer” – an autobiography of a ballet dancer from China who defected to the US in the eighties since he wanted to dance and be free. The film accused no one, did not try to make a point, it just tried to showcase the fight of an individual for his dreams. There was a portent scene where Li asks someone in the US, did he love his President? And when he is told, “Love? I don’t even like him.” Li in his innocence asks, “Are you not scared?” The third movie was Charlie Wilson’s War. Classic Tom Hanks, I think there are not many movies which openly accept America’s involvement in arming the Afghans against the Soviets to end the Cold War. “We want it to be their Vietnam”

The reason I came up with this was because while watching the movie I suddenly realized how so many people were castigated for doubting Anna in a democracy! How posters were torn down when “Fire” was released, how Karan Johar had to get his blessings from political parties before he released “My name is Khan”. And there was Hollywood who could openly make a documentary called Zeitgeist which doubts the very existence of Jesus Christ!

Suddenly I realize nothing compares to that freedom. Not the best gilded cages in the world can compare to the open skies.

While tolerance to differing viewpoints is slowly becoming a rare trait in India, I suddenly feel proud of my state. After 34 years there was a regime change. And yet, contrary to all that was being prophesized, there has not been any major backlash or retribution in Bengal barring sporadic incidents of post poll violence.
I hope we rebuild our state. The mandate that was given to a calm and composed Bhattacharya 5 years back yielded no results as the system crushed all hopes of a turnaround. Today a mercurial Banerjee has been given the same mandate and if the press reports are to be believed, the scum has just changed colours at the lowest levels of society and corruption continues unabated.

But I believe and this year when Bengalis pray to their Mother Goddess in Durga Pujo, they will pray for the killing of more than one demon.

Subho Mohalaya.

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