More than Half the Sky

Of late, I am not sure about heroes – of who they are, why they are so and how do they become so. And do they change the times we live in? I am conflicted.

Heroes do not make history alone.But, it is seen that very often men and women as individuals and sometimes in groups within the same society are able to see, feel and act in ways which are way ahead of the prevailing times, even before the large masses of this society are able to realize, organize or even agitate against its inequities. To that extent, they shall always be remembered and revered as the courageous first blooms who paved the not-so-manicured garden paths- of a better and more fragrant world.

Bharat Bala with his roving camera as promised travels the length and breadth of India seeking the frequently missed sights, smells and sounds. This time in the sylvan settings of a village in Maharashtra he discovers the “Aajibainchi Shaala”-School for Grandmother’s to celebrate a pioneer woman who definitely is quite the torchbearer of the Second Sex-and unarguably, holds more than half the sky.Enough, to make our small hearts throb with self-belief and much needed pride!

Around the time Marx was writing his Communist Manifesto Savitribai Phule had made the first school for girls in a remote village called Naigaon in Maharashtra, with the help of a courageous husband JyotiRao Phule in 1848. Savitribai most prized possession was a book given to her by a Christian missionary. Deeply taken in by her enthusiasm to learn, Jyotirao taught Savitribai to read and write. Savitribai undertook teachers’ training at Ahmednagar and in Pune. She became a qualified teacher after she passed her 4th examination in 1847.She went on to open several schools for girls in the surrounding villages. When the exploitive dowry system, the dreadful practice of Sati, early widowhood of girls and the pernicious caste system inspired a Raja Ram Mohan and a Vidyasagar to combat the evils with the benefits of education and literacy among other things in distant Bengal,she along with her husband dug a well in their own backyard, letting the discriminated lower castes to drink and fill water like all others. The Brahmanical Village elders did not take kindly to this and she was frequently attacked with cow dung on her way to school. The hopeless condition of widows and young needy girls made her open a Destitute Shelter in the year 1864 and hand-hold her husband to conceive and establish Satyashodhak Samaj (The Truthseeker’s Society) in 1873 followed by Satyashodhak Marriage wherein you swore to promoting education and equality. She also adopted a boy from one of her shelters Yashwantrao.If all of this was not enough she broke all customs and norms to light the funeral pyre of her dead husband riling the frustrated, hide-bound conservative social order. It is to the credit of the English masters that they recognized the many path breaking initiatives of this pioneering woman and declared her the Best Teacher in the entire State. The Bubonic plague of 1897 once again compelled her to open a clinic in Hadapsar, Pune, and it was while carrying a ten –year old in her arms, she contracted plague and breathed her last in the same year on the Tenth of March.

Nivedita Menon in the Outlook magazine underlines the changes she brought about almost a century and ayear later when she says “Eleven year old Muktabai, a Dalit student at the school in Pune established by Savitribai and Jotiba Phule, gave a damn about where the critique of caste came from when she wrote in the Marathi journal Dyanodaya in 1855:

Earlier, Gokhale, Apate, Trimkaji [a series of other Brahmin surnames]…who showed their bravery by killing rats in their homes, persecuted us, not even sparing pregnant women, without any rhyme or reason. That has stopped now…Harassment and torture of mahars and mangs, common during the rule of Peshwas in Pune, has stopped…

‘Earlier’ was under the rule of the Peshwas, ‘now’ was under British colonialism. The West was her saviour from indigenous caste society.”

May your tribe thrive and be born in the thousands. Salutations.

Ganguly – the Road to Perdition or Coming of Age?

A host of articles some connected and some not- got me to think and revisit some of my earlier opinions on these and related matters.If not for anything else,it would get me to scribble some more and maybe,none the worse for it. 

Ashish Magotra has balls to show, especially, when speaking lies and fakery is almost universal.In the sacking of Manjrekar, nay, completion of engagement of contractual obligations with the BCCI for commentating with a “world-class team” he has with an almost English wit and reticence,tried calling spade a spade.With a great eye to see the invisible he interprets with an unsparing mind and rues the inevitable but inexorable descent of the corporatised BCCI into a small clique of sycophants,lackeys and yes men. Alas ! another promise gone wasted.

This journey, however,sure as hell – has a mind and design of its own -a method in the madness.It is common knowledge that BCCI was fast becoming the new Alladin’s cave of goodies where mountebanks and professional bounty hunters,cheesy management gurus,professional gamblers, two-bit bookies,failed stock-brokers and legal disasters, disguised as cricketers, were making a bee-line for the quick buck or to run plenty scams in time.Suitably,BCCI on its part, had managed to reverse the banal colonial logic,venality and greed of the “Goras” with its very native, glitzy makeover : neo-imperialistic-sport-economics of a new El Dorado where the cricketing-sun-never-sets.

The BCCI did a palace coup of sorts sometime in October last year to usher in Saurav and his new team unopposed.Giving it almost three months to settle down and set the new ball rolling as also to set the speculative forecasting to rest Pradeep came out shooting without silencers sometime in the month of January this year naming names.This was on the baffling doings of the most adorable Saurav. (Incidentally,Pradeep Magazine is a respected senior  sports writer who dares to challenge established value systems and helped match fixing to be shamed and condemned nationally).Ashish,pleasingly, continues from where he left off. He helps bringing to the notice of the cricket cognoscenti or those simply interested, after,another couple of months of how at the BCCI, business as usual is the new constant. Magotra has a job to do and a family to look after.Yet,like a small clutch of committed and brave journalists is fighting the good fight, while at it.Therefore,the individuals and institutions who are the decently-clad monsters in this evil spectacle are identified and not left to our gossipy imagination anymore than you would wish to.

If cricket had mutated and been redacted to commercial extravaganzas of IPL’s and their various clones ;Test Cricket, but, a ritualised deity to be periodically worshipped and consecrated in which the profiteers drew up its wretched Sutras, the road to perdition was, as yet ,hidden behind the smokescreen of Lodha Committee’s radical rulings to clean up the filthy stables of organised corruption in the BCCI committed through the gilded pathways of the IPL.Into this problematic comes our darling Saurav who by common understanding gave a self – confidence to Indian cricket -eminently rare. Almost arriving in the back of a match – fixing scandal and Sachin developing cold feet where leading was concerned Saurav stood tall in principle and practice to take India out of this corrupt hole.No stranger to controversy he took to cricket administration like duck to water.Blessed by Dalmia,wooed by CPI (M),encouraged by Mamata Saurav effectively held his counsel and warded off these advances while being the proverbial “Bhadralok”.He headed Cricket Association of Bengal and always looked higher and further towards Mumbai and BCCI as an ambitious man.Nominated by the Supreme Court to be in the Committee for Administrators it is instructive to remember here that he successfully teamed up with the likes of a Tendulkar and Laxman with Kumble as coach to keep Vinod Rai happy with the arrangement.Until the Kohli-Sashtri combine upstaged this rather fraternal foursome.(Remember a far-sighted or a weak balled Ramachandra Guha had fled the Cuckoo’s Nest quite early.)When a lot of seniors were crying foul at the Kumble (mis)handling including Gavaskar,the shrewd Saurav very early sensed the changing winds and decided to re-set his sails for safety first and speed next.He vigorously defended Kohli’s acts of ommission and commission both on and off the field and smartly skirted his personal differences with Sashtri as coach.In part this could be his own less patronised philosophy of captain in command always (l’affaire Greg Chappel).In time he vocally also opposed the conflict of interest issue to establish common cause with a lot of former cricketers to which he was an involved party too.
It is perhaps a matter of conjecture that he correctly surmised of the power and authority of a Dhoni or Kohli came from the political upper echelons rather than the BCCI.He must have also surmised that Vinod Rai was a limited tool with a specific agenda employed to clear certain annoying impediments or persons in the way of the renewed exercise of complete.That Cricket was very much a proven business model for money to be made was never lost upon these grab and appropriate political party in power.The palpable entry of political jingoism in the shape of an emblematic glove,camouflage caps in a Test Match and black bands worn by all test players as a token of respect on the demise of a Central Minister and former head of DDCA were confirmations of unseemly political penetrations into the very heart of this very popular game.

Ganguly watched silently all of it and perhaps was also sending enough indications of his apolitical pedigree awaiting baptism with the right party.Particularly when the new East India Company of Independent India with its HQ’S in Delhi is looking for an entry and a popular face to lead it’s charge in Bengal elections sometime next year. It was also during this subterranean turbulence, whose seismic shocks were yet to surface, the ruling party was quietly winning over most of the cricketers who enthusiastically befriended them.Perhaps, even enrolled themselves.BJP was ideologically systematic and professionally organised in its overtures made.Discreet but focussed while other parties in the past were weak-willed.

 Now the CAB President is Dalmia ‘s son and the Secretary is Snehasish Ganguly :Saurav’s elder brother.When Shah’s son was anointed as Secretary of BCCI and the former’s not so unknown connections virtually turned the tables on a Srinivasan or Patel to get Saurav elected President sourav_ganguly_ptisome just shook their heads in disbelief,very few talked of an underhand deal while most cheered away saying that the Bong had undone the historical limitations of a culture and language.

Quick on the uptake Saurav was not a one to waste time.The Apex Council which was meant to oversee the working of the BCCI and composed of five main office bearers,two player representatives,a CAG and Board nominee was swiftly reduced to a rubber stamp in the very first General Body Meeting with enough amendments brought in to the existing constitution to empower the office bearers in total disregard to the basic purpose of the Lodha Reforms.In fact,the autonomy of the Selection Committee itself stands compromised with the unwelcome presence of the Board President and Secretary.So much so it has been further debilitated with the induction of less than competent replacements from different zones. Saurav advertises and exhorts participation of the pubic in Fantasy Cricket Leagues to suggest the Final Eleven and win prizes.That he even chooses to nominate his own First Eleven unabashedly punter-like and does not believe it to be a conduit for possible gambling is quite another matter.Serious “conflict of interest” issues stands pooh-poohed by Saurav himself.Much less as a matter of law.Would it be too much to have expected a cricketer of his stature, who is likely to have had several engagements and contracts running, to have fulfilled them, before taking on the reponsibilities of the Board so as to not be exposed subsequetly to the embarassing questions raised on ethics and integrity? It is true that the conflict of interest issue being yet unresolved and kept in suspended animation has enabled many famous cricketers like Kumble, Dravid, Gavaskar,Sehwag,Laxman and even Gautam Gambhir with many others to continue wearing many hats and enjoy its attendant benefits.That Saurav continues to thrall millions of Bengalis in a popular TV serial and commentate or give expert comments in cricket matches even today, well is a tired obvious.We also see now the doubts about Saurav’s limited innings as the President also set to rest with the official extension granted through the highest Court. He is reported to be working very hard to take control of the International Cricket Committee(ICC) once again and guess who is planned to be there? Brijesh Patel ! The jury is out for the T20 World Cup money spinner, scheduled for 2021 in India, quite the challenge for Saurav and Jayant Shah for different reasons as also just the year when the former would be needed for the Bengal Elections too. 

The Bengali is generally an Indian only as an afterthought for he is that unique species undiscovered by Darwin and therefore this windfall of widespread attention is also equally special.But like everything Bengali this too comes with its fair share of contradictions.There used to be a time like most Bengalis and less cricket lovers clapped in kiddish glee when Saurav used to knock a blow or two on a Sunny Gavaskar or a Manjrekar.Even a Sashtri for they represented the authoritative might of Mumbai.It was said that a Bengali Brahman would much rather beg than do business as paraphrased from Ray’s “Jana Aranya”.Money was sin ever since the Jagat Seths invited the English and Lord Clive,bribed them,aligned with the Mir Jafars to sink one of the last bastions of resistance in Siraj-ud-dowlah -the Nawab of Bengal.And, most eerily, I recall today almost as providential what  Greg had to speak of Saurav and most disrespectfully almost a decade plus years before – that it was his greed and not competence that kept him playing cricket.Gagging and shutting off prying questions and to accommodate amenable people is the latest of his questionable virtues.Or is it the new hubris?

This ambiguity can be traced historically to a large number of Bengalis while being obedient clerks (read babus)under the English, a sizeable did not think twice about chucking a bomb or two at the same Gora Sahibs or languish in their youthful prime in the dark interiors of the Cellular jail forever.The double – faced Bengali is secretly wishing Saurav and the BJP would make a great team for Bengal while the vacillating Babu in him scares about the future of their fiery Didi.The radical Bengalis who preferred death to letting down the Cause are on vacation.Bengal and the Bengali most definitely also resides in Ganguly, too.

So will Saurav set all of this aside as idle banter and instead choose to be the quintessential Mumbaikar, professionally and commercially savvy – principles making way for flexibility?But,to say that he will withstand the definite interference and interventions of the Big Two and continue being his own man would be madly Bengali in form but seriously lacking in substance.Until then,the Bengali icon is bound to be in the crosshairs of such and more sustained critical questioning in the future.Funnily, in its answers or denouement will the reputation and character of the Janus-faced Bengali as a community is likely to be determined .

Baba – as I see him

It was twenty-seven years ago on this day you left us.

I remember you to be the youngest son in a family of four – the oldest being your sister Nanda di as you perhaps called her,deceased first, followed by two brothers Sadananda who died early and Nityananda who remained a bachelor until he passed away in the late sixties of the last century. You married Chhaya Chakravarty of distant Meerut in Uttar Pradesh after one of your marriage proposals on the Classifieds was answered by that family.You met up at the Howrah Station Waiting Room overlooking the majestic Hooghly River.Showing great wit you impressed her instantly saying”beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” to her rather beguiling query of not being so beautiful. You continued as a small-time rentier landlord with modest land holdings at Village Bheda Rama Chandrapur,Banki, some 40 kms away, hitherto a subdivision of Cuttack District and Patrapara,a small village sandwiched between Bhubaneswar and Khurda of Odisha.You went on to also becoming the sole owner of the huge Prabhabati Bhavan, housed in Sahebzada Bazar, after your only living elder brother Nityananda(Jethu-to us ) generously gifted his all .With a modest secondary level education from -the,then Victoria School (now re-christened as Bhaktamadhu Vidyapith), a father of four sons and two daughters, you must have felt both lucky and proud when you stood at the head of it all.These were the early sixties…

You were of medium build, masculine in the Ashok Kumarish way.

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Copper-coloured, broad-forehead,big eyes sometimes amped further with those black framed powered spectacles,peppered shock of back-brushed hair,a prominent nose atop a firm jaw,dark and coarsened lips after years of Charminar,a strong hairy chest on broad shoulders_- all of it, standing on two sure legs.Jethu and you did try your hand in some small time business of selling parachute cloth, thread, strings and accessories during the Second Great War(in the black-market) and after.Your passions of the dark made you the infamous and much sought after ‘Jomduthes’- messengers of Death-the Brahmin Doms(undertakers) for preparing the last rites of passage of the dead young girls or widows whom their very own dreaded to touch.You washed all of the terrors and bad name-calling down after the unfortunate but necessary ritual in generous glasses of the very strong and cheap “Desi” (country liquor). And the English one too,of course,every-once-in-a-while.You loved the village,the community with its “Gomastas”(Estate-managers) “Bhag-Chasis”(share-croppers) and people, its coarse and authentic flavour and sights,the earthy and tasty delights of the fresh fish from the pond or the choicest limb on an ocassional butchering of the village goat,home-grown vegetables and the rice off the paddy fields served in the shining family brass plates with an array of smaller saucers .You filled us with the endearing but thrilling tales of the disloyal Pitabasa,the grateful Isra Rout and his devoted family:his wife who famously wet-nursed Dula,the youngest scion and was fondly called”chasa-dudha-khiya”(one who has drunk the tiller’s milk),of the rustic sagacity of the oldest Jaya,the physical commitment of Kula and the spotless fielty of Visuniya see-sawed with that of an Apartiya,lines of sandal wood paste neatly adorning his dark, muscular and shining body chipping away single-mindedly at big chunks of Sheesham creating many a memorable piece of furniture and Dhadiya of Patrapara equally vile and unfaithful on the other.The compulsions of legal cases and conflicts to hold on to litigated properties vied with the addictive thrill of playing ‘pasha”(a local variation of chess played on a stitched piece of cloth of measured squares of black and white, like an extended four way crossroad with a squared centre, with cowries-as the dice).Maa did her own thing but always close holding court to help resolve women issues or just plain listen to their unheard woes.Did you gamble while puffing mouthfuls on the “hookah”(tobacco pipes)like the proud aristocrat in penury of a Jalsaghar, I often used to wonder?Was that your Zemindaar moment?

“Prabhabati Bhavan”, kept you in another world of cares,concern and years of joy

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.Merina and Babloo the oldest son and daughter were your favourites.You secretly must’ve desired to do more for them, than what you could otherwise.Mamarbadi of Meerut (the maternal uncle household) feted you as their chosen “Jamai Babu” (son-in-law).You made it a point to visit them once every year with bagfuls of rice, sweets and vegetables and travel the distance in what was perhaps, an unending journey of almost 2 days.You loved them too -Montu,Khoka Da,Choto Mama and Mami,Muna ,Baduni,Meja Boudi and the many younger.Your packet of Passing Show cigarettes,the Pall Mall tins,the exotic deoderants, the odd Whisky bottle and stylish Tees must have made your day or days shunning the Charminars, all puffed up, talking of your favorite Montu, the one on the ships and forever sailing – only to rush to his dear Jayada whenever she docked in at Kidderpore.

Your friends,Durga and Chatak were forever our very loved Mamas.(uncles).Serampore became our first choice of a holiday home and the amiable call of “Sister” at the doorsteps meant Durga Mama was knocking.

You were quite a pair- Maa and you.

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She the outgoing go-getter and fiesty,never to be satisfied easily.You, the sober and understanding other half.Always there,unobtrusive and discreet.Over time you got used to your domestication,looked forward to the cooking of the odd delicacy, unfailingly making the regular trips to the market, mending the old, rusted electric switches, holders,slipper straps and shoe soles,broken furniture and choked plumbings.You gave up smoking, dressed ordinary and economised every which way you could as the family properties were being increasingly sold to make available the fast depleting funds needed for the upkeep and education of a fairly large family.The rentals did not add up for much.Mejda, Dula and I going to the costly Stewart School would have not helped either. Ponchuaa,our Man Friday must have been a tower of strength making up for all the woes and shortcomings when Maa and your absences were on the increase.You stood rock solid with Maa in her political journeys when she in her own way was breaking several glass ceilings sometimes shocking the conservative neighbourhood.You became a devout and practicing Hindu after the arrival of Badada.The house was all incense sticks,lamps and diyas, flowers,mango and Bel leaves.

Your health had begun to fail. Coughing had deteriorated to asthma and the kidneys weren’t as good.You fought it while suffering.Your sleepless nights coughing, now I know, were so difficult and painful. Those days,I tried sleeping away as Maa patiently nursed with the help of Merina and Alina, the older sisters.You were taken to the PGI, Chandigarh to heal the bad kidney.Mukul,our generous friend layed open his house and the scooter to help.Those were the late seventies.Your daughters had gotten married ,all the children employed and away at other places, with grandchildren coming along to fill a very happy family frame.

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The Bawling grand children !

Thankfully, you do remember Baba, the youngest Dula with his wife Sharmila and children stayed back, to be with you and Maa – up until the last. All the lovely tenants Sushila Masi,Behenji,Boudi,Bijoya Masi,Gokul Babu,Lakahan Da,Baiju bhai,Masterji were your friendly neighbourhood, ever at hand. Mashima and Krishna di,Nini Appa,Sailabala didi,Debjani’s mother were some of your friends you looked forward to meeting.Shanker Bhai, Tokon,Papu,Gopi and Subhashis filled your many lonely hours.In the meanwhile you visited your many Bahus and son-in -laws Sunu and Shanker.Boudi, Sashi and Arti got to see you and know you better.Your family was never becoming any the smaller.

… Each day unfailingly in the morning hours,Maa still sees enough to put a thread into the invisible eye of the needle.She makes a garland or two of fresh flowers- sometimes big and sometimes small.She speaks occasionally.Her memory is like another memory.So they say…But, she does not forget each day to make her silent offering to the only person she misses with all her heart.


It is true, my memories, are never sharp when it is about you.Unlike sons or daughters.I am sure, each of them will have their own stories to tell.
I shall remain your “Pencha”(owl) always.I know you are always around somewhere happy watching what you see.

while I was sleeping

“Comrade,What’s up?Stay safe,” my good friend Doc buzzed  flying out of Delhi .Friends and family kept calling equally concerned.I had no clue of these missives.Was bemused as I do not watch TV and remain closeted indoors – only to move as far as my Mayur Vihar Pan shop for an occasional puff. Business seemed ,the usual.The Twitteratti on my mobile was still quiet except for the faithful who were talking of the Army to move in to save an imminent bloody riot. That was a couple of days ago…

North East Delhi by now is burning.I am still rubbing my eyes or shaking my ears in disbelief.A mosque has been vandalised,one Dargha burnt down , some dead and over a hundred injured.The Muslims campaigning democratically and peacefully for their citizenship rights under challenge at the behest of the ruling dispensation are either defending, resisting, retreating or just running to safety. The Saffron flags and sticks in hand, pelting stones,mouths covered in handkerchiefs, emblematic of a kind of  definitive Hindu mob were chasing them everywhere shouting terrifying slogans. The Police stands and watches or selects the Muslims for questioning while going through the motions of crowd control – benign and suspiciously lazy. A well- rehearsed chronology and sequence of the macabre perfected by the present Home Minister Amit Shah on the streets of Gujarat in early 2000 was /or is unfolding – the fratricidal blood-letting.

Trump dodging pointed questions on the backdrop of uncalled for violence and attack on minorities  was around and has since left, feted and feasted in the erstwhile Royal Durbars of a much abused “Lutyens Delhi” by a Modi and Govind.Some cutie-pies have even seen the immorality of the protest when the new “Latt- Sahib,” our revered guest was at home.How very wicked,you know !

AAP has returned to power on the back of some good  public work and disgust of the public at the hatred spitting bigotry of the BJP and the waiting-to-be-mothballed, disconnected and dormant Congress. The Muslims are still waiting to see the “other” Hindus to come out in large numbers in their support while the opposition Party leaders are yet to be seen in front or by their side. A mixed-up ,confused and slouched Kejriwal  sits Gandhi- like in Raj Ghat praying for the communal virus to vanish while a sizeable lot of the “normal” Hindus are looking away with mocking shrugs.The Army would soon be coming in to restore peace  after the damage has been done . A small group of lawyers,businessmen,social activists,journalists, public spirited citizens ,young girls and boys, also known as students – probably the “new Hindus” share space and sticks with the Muslims adding an unrecognized colour to this theatre of the Absurd…

And here we are over some shots of some cheap scotch squabble amongst ourselves on questions of when and who did it first.Was it not always there?Did the Congress not appease them?Why were the Muslims not asked to go to Pakistan during Partition?Why can’t they keep quiet and pay respects to our religion?Oh,these are those termites from Bangladesh?We have had enough?The Congis and Commies and all such anti-nationals need to rot in hell.And that bloody-Gandhi?

… No more can I recognize my friends  from the others.They all speak the same and have started to look alike, even – so woke, to believe, that the desecration of the Babri Masjid was only a reminder of the Avatar of Deliverance,long overdue – was ready to return in Ram’s Ayodhya.The famous poet Neeraj rues too.

जितना कम सामान रहेगा उतना सफ़र आसान रहेगा

जितनी भारी गठरी होगी उतना तू हैरान रहेगा

हाथ मिलें और दिल न मिलें

ऐसे में नुक़सान रहेगा

जब तक मन्दिर और मस्जिद हैं

मुश्क़िल में इन्सान रहेगा। #गोपालदास_नीरज

Quixote-like, I keep crossing swords with imaginary windmills. I am safe and the mobiles no longer buzz.Delhi burns in parts.Life is normal, when last reports came in…

 

Kejriwal- tactics or collaboration?

🔖One is so fed up with Congress that it’s ghosts still scare even the Ramsay brothers.The Left is so wasted they seem to not exist.What is after that are some regional leaders of substance and ardour and a withering opposition lost in a Mela.But,truth be told,in the national imagination Modi’s ubiquitous image has become an – avoidable must. His fans however,can take heart – for he has still some time.

Modi and Amit Shah had almost tripped Kejriwal with a Congress fishing in troubled waters.Should they have got a mere 5%more of the Delhi votes Kejriwal was a goner.
Be that as it may – the liberal fringe have snorkeled up for some much needed political oxygen after having choked in the deep and dark depths of a Modi-led authoritarian,divisive Hindu national ride.
But as the first flush of the infatuation of a historic victory simmers down we need to draw the red lines quite quickly so as to not suffer a premature cardiac arrest.At best kejriwal brings hope for the David’s of resistance not to lose hope and at worst he has only reminded Modi of what is to be done and is guilty of forgetting.
In this unusual analysis – read on how a righteous democrat analyst begrudges Kejriwal ‘s victory as pyrrhic and gives a lot to Modi’s strategists to feel vindicated.Yes,if anything Indian society, indeed has shifted to the right and we are discussing politics and economic development within that paradigm.

☘zindabad @sunilkbanerjee ⬆

Kejriwal Didn’t Stand Up To Modi – He Side-Stepped Him – NDTV https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/kejriwal-didnt-stand-up-to-modi-he-side-stepped-him-2177811

Are you a Communist ?

What is the most outstanding and significant event of the last decade is a question posed to the protaganist in Ray’s movie Pratidwandi at a job interview during the turbulent sixties and early seventies.Was it Vietnam or Landing on the moon is still to be answered?But,that the job-seeker was a signature Communist has not changed,since.The four minute clip of the witty exchange,sharp but smart replies followed by a clipped and abrupt closure quite captures my childhood and adolescence with my family and friends,both at school and college and maybe my subsequent years in the Air Force to becoming a Veteran and even to this day.

I studied at an English medium school,played most games with claims to ability of no consequence,watched a few movies,was glued to radios for a BBC that rarely got thru for the infamously truant short waves and read mostly stolen(flicked)comics, borrowed sports magazines and a few on current affairs.Text books were the only books I had read in any language.Most of us friends

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had quite a similar journey.Our erotic impulses were more than satisfied by watching a Mumtaz or a Helen who co-starred with our parent authorised and parent-permitted favorite, Dara Singh on the silver screen.As for the school girls we had little time or were too shy.”Pocket-money” was a term we became familiar when it’s necessity had far exceeded its useful life.We were unusually well informed – though it was : each according to his ability and to each as per need . Not everyone had the same heroes and if they had a different sense of history or politics; Ah,well ! – we loved each other too much to scarcely notice the diversity.

If you are still with me and curiouser, be aware, that I was born into a political family of staunch Congressmen , my mother had been a proud part of the Indian Freedom struggle while my father, was a small-time Zemindar embroiled in bleeding litigation mostly, residents for over three generations at Cuttack, Odisha – a Bengali immigrant of sorts. Sheikh Mujibur’s Ghare Ghare Durgo Godhe tolo(Build citadels in Every Home) or the rallying cries of Aamar Nam, Tomaar Naam -Vietnam (My name,your Name, Vietnam) for Ho Chi Minh and Amaar Badi, Tomaar Badi – Naxal Badi in praise of Charu Majumdar ( My Place, Your Place_Naxalbari) as much as the undigested morsels of extreme subversion seen in the life and struggles of a Bhagat Singh or a Jangal Santhal excited and stirred – to boggle our infantile minds.Nehru and Gandhi hung unfavourably on our halloed, rebellious walls as against a Mao or a Fidel.These were my or our folk heroes.
Violent ways,shedding blood to gain any kind of freedom or Victory and irreconcilable hatred of anything British were important imperatives of our lives.Else why would one adore reading Ashok Mitra, almost salivating in savage glee, describing a Vivian Richards belt every ball of a Botham,Willis or a John Snow, as if in revenge of every whip-lash that his proud ancestors had been subjected to as black-slaves.We loved action and war movies and some Hollywood slapstick caricatures of revolution.Ours was a generation that identified with political protest and fraternal solidarity almost spontaneosly.Seamlessly.Or am I talking of a region that was still to become integrated with the idea of a nation-that was Bengali and chauvinistic- perhaps nihilistic?Or was it ceaselessly seeking a perfect world much ahead of its times?Remember, Siddharta Chowdury almost rhetorically thinking aloud in the Interview clip “Nation?

In time We, the Six,

T15
went our different ways to get into the business- of- earned- living : our political passions very private and quiet.While me and my broad-shouldered elder brother Lalloo chose the military,Pappu ,the ever persevering Bihari became a specialist doctor while Gopi, a large-hearted Marwari settled, quite literally in his father’s “Gaddi”to continue with the parental stock-in-trade -Business.The steady Tokon and macho-man Subuda, the two Bongs got into Accountancy and Medical sales.Tokon and Gopi remain bachelors while the rest of us went on to get married and have children.

I spent my military life confused about the ideas of Partition,Indian National Army Nation,Patriotism,Pakistan and China as enemies of India.All my life,I had learnt about the love and unfailing bond of brotherhood of the peoples of the world and here was I confronted with the worst of contradictions.My sense of discipline must have faltered often for my peers and superiors saw in me a potential insubordinate.Many wondered of what use was my Masters in Political Science in my profession called soldiering – much like the smug Corporate honcho questioning the honest but naive hero of Pratidwandi. In bars or crew rooms light discussions frequently descended into verbal brawls.That said – I had still managed learning well the Chetwoodian Honour Code- that I came last and my subordinate – first and uppermost.My patriotism never got challenged though in the thick of battle for a war never happened in my time.At least, the regular one !Immodestly though,I must add – My men (those I am sworn to protect and care for) I believe,would have had no qualms, if ever, I was leading them into one.

After three scores and a quarter of our lives spent- We, the Six

pappu 10

watch TV, movies and sports most of the time, if not,screaming at each other on our politics and compromises so far.It is now, more than ever, I get to know, for sure, on the questions of what is a nation,Freedom,state of the woman in India, Is the Muslim an equal partner,who and what is a Hindu,patriotism,development, equality, caste, religion and ways to go about it we think and feel so differently while we still sit and sup together.

Behind us,the TV has come alive with images of the young protesting ,singing hand- in- hand of no jobs ,unending hunger and the brutality of the police and the State repression right within the premises of the Jamia,Jadavpur,JNU and Aligarh Muslim University and many places else.What has changed after these many years? I ask. They fight bolder and stronger against the State in Free India comes the anguished cry.The same fire in the belly…

The march or the drum roll has not ceased…but,the Question still haunts deep and long – “Are you a Communist”?

A Bharat Ratna or not?

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2001/jun/23/weekend.adrianlevy?CMP=share_btn_wa

Horrororror!Horror! was the insane cry of a Col Kurtz eerily played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now(based on “A Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad) on seeing the inhuman carnage in Vietnam.That moment had remained frozen in the recesses of my memory, forever.Tragically,that sense of Hell seemed to spring yet again while going through this heart – wrenching narrative graphically told of the Cellular Jail and ruthlessly brought out in this article.The barbarism of the British skewered my inner vitals just imagining the vivid details of excruciating gore.Guilty and weak I felt ,as I stood free but hollow,being more aware of an Auschwitz, Gulag and Guantanomo, blissfully distant from our very own who died bloody,undignified deaths,screaming and squealing unheard to relentless ungodly tortures.Yes,a very few scared and fearful,shaken to their marrows chose to seek pardon making this theatre of the macabre seem human in a way,profoundly weird.Savarkar

was one of them.

Having finished reading I was not very sure of my courage anymore but sanguine of a cowardice deeply embedded within.I was both unashamedly frightened and strangely inspired.

Savarkar would be lionised,to me if succeeding generations of hero worshippers admit,concede and recognise the fallibility of frail human beings- like most of us – to get scared of the consequences of rebellion and seek pardon.It is one thing to lay down one’s life regardless and quite another to seek pardon.Particularly so when only 3 out of over 140 freedom fighters incarcerated for life at “Kalapani” only sought mercy repeatedly,I would imagine,because of the pain,misery,loneliness and sustained torture befitting not even animals to undergo at that God- forsaken prison.Those 3 incidentally were the Savarkar brothers and Barin Ghosh.Instead it would be respectful to remember that it was a Mahabir Singh,

a Bihari who had led a hunger strike until death who was a first of sorts in being a true Veer.It is also pertinent to recall that subsequently Savarkar was on a lavish British pension for several decades having assured that he would remain a humble servant of the Queen forever.
So the question that is moot for all patriotic (sic) Indians,to me is do all of these frailties common to man distinguish him to be Veer and to be even considered for a Bharat Ratna.
Because if that be so then millions of freedom fighters would justifiably stake claim to this honorific which fortunately is reserved only for the Bravest of the Brave !🐾

This interpretation is very personal and it is about how I choose to see it .Admittedly,it is beyond the stated purpose (loosely worded)of the Bharat Ratna Award ,

the highest Award in the Republic of India which is, and I quote “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order for any human endeavour”.This definition,albeit was arrived at after many tweakings up until the second decade of the new millenium which were well – meaning, creative to adjust to new unforeseen requirements in some cases but mostly designed and motivated for political purposes.The several controversies that beleaguered and diluted the importance of the very prestigious award is common knowledge mostly.

Historically speaking the context of immediate post-independent Bharat Ratna awards were based mostly on the contribution of individuals to the freedom movement and nation building.Even then some questionable selections or omissions had been made.Post the Seventies the Congress had lost much of its revolutionary elan and was fast degenerating to a power – loving anti-people,cult promoting new Party – a caricature of its founding objectives and laudable principles.Rajiv Gandhi and many other awardees were both a product and beneficiary of such times.That said – to the original question on “bravery” the changed context needs to be understood.Savarkar is being resurrected on virtues of courage,physical sacrifice and challenge to the oppressing British in which the Cellular Jail

is a powerful symbol.So bravest of the Brave is an attribution made on what you did in the face of the enemy.His wobbly integrity in dire circumstances,unflinching loyalty to the Cause in word and deed,effect on the other prison inmates’morale and camraderie and never-say-die spirit when under fire were questionable merely to seek a release from this “privileged hell-hole”.The stories doing the rounds fabled to have been done – to live and to fight for another day are wide òpen to debate – all this,despite the relaxation to the odious inhuman torture regime extended to him as a for his “mercy petitions and assurances of future good conduct.He at best was, then – a good man whose infatuation with revolutionary terrorism had run its course – a collaborator but a traitor,he perhaps,certainly wasn’t.His ideas were not in sync with the contradictions of diverse masses and the enormous challenge of their integration to make common cause with the freedom struggle and to ideate instead for making of a Hindu India as a mirror – image of a Muslim Pakistan by no stretch visionary or far sighted.Quite the contrary.India with all its limitations had chosen to be a pluralistic,diverse,multi – religious, secular democracy.In short Savarkar ‘ s vision of India was divisive and majoritarian to say the least.The atheist in him mysteriously found the Hindutva spirit sit equally well for perceived goals in the future.

Nevertheless, is the frequent and reflexive Whataboutery of the present rulers in defence an unconscious admission of Savarkar ‘s weaker credentials? Importantly a wrong award in the past is no vindication of a repeat of the same political manipulation,dubious motivations and historical fakery.

There is no gainsaying that the BJP and its RSS cohorts have efficiently exploited the many vulnerabilities of the Congress not to improve upon or correct imperfections,but to – instead,build on such – like weak foundations, a counter-culture of half – truths. It’s propaganda machinery is charged to impose on the popular malleable minds its dishonourable absence during the Freedom struggle to be a conspiracy of motivated historians to be redeemed emphatically with the “rajya-abhishek”(royal coronation) of Savarkar.

The consecration much like the construction of the Ayodhya Temple sadly,shall happen. Perhaps confirming the royal fakery that is afoot putting paid to all the sacrifices that the Brave had done for a nation unborn !

The Bengali Blight

A double whammy of sorts has perhaps caught the Bengali on the wrong foot in recent times.The Abhijit – Esther duo

IMG-20191014-WA0046.jpg

being awarded the Nobel in Economics and a much loved Saurav becoming the President of BCCI unopposed.
The Bengali is generally an Indian only as an afterthought for he is that unique species undiscovered by Darwin and therefore this windfall of worldwide attention is also equally special.But like everything Bengali this too comes with its fair share of contradictions.Abhijit is fragile cutlery to be handled with care what with his criticism of Modi Babus New India policies.This ambiguity can be traced historically to a large number of Bengalis while being obedient clerks (read babus)under the English a sizeable did not think twice about chucking a bomb or two at the same Gora Sahibs or languish in their youthful prime in the dark interiors of the Cellular jail forever.So this part of the Bengali being double – faced both a rebel and an apparitichik is it true human face to be politically correct that is .

Into this problematic comes our darling Saurav who by common understanding gave a self – confidence to Indian cricket -eminently rare. Coming on the back of a match – fixing scandal with Sachin developing cold feet where leading was concerned Saurav stood tall in principle and practice to take India out of this corrupt hole.No stranger to controversy he took to cricket administration like duck to water.Blessed by Dalmia,wooed by CPI (M),encouraged by Mamata Saurav effectively held his counsel and warded off these advances while being the proverbial “Bhadralok”.He headed Cricket Association of Bengal and always looked higher and further towards Mumbai and BCCI as an ambitious man.Nominated by the Supreme Court to be in the Committee for Administrators it is instructive to remember here that he successfully teamed up with the likes of a Tendulkar and Laxman with Kumble as coach to keep Vinod Rai happy with the arrangement.Until the Kohli-Sashtri combine upstaged this rather fraternal foursome.(Remember a far-sighted or a weak balled Ramachandra Guha had fled the Cuckoo’s Nest quite early.)When a lot of seniors were crying foul at the Kumble (mis)handling including Gavaskar,the shrewd Saurav very early sensed the changing winds and decided to re-set his sails for safety first and speed next.He vigorously defended Kohli’s acts of ommission and commission both on and off the field and smartly skirted his personal differences with Sashtri as coach.In part this could be his own less patronised philosophy of captain in command always l’affaire Greg Chapell that is.In time he vocally also opposed the conflict of interest issue to establish common cause with a lot of former cricketers to which he was an involved party too.
It is perhaps a matter of conjecture that he correctly surmised that the power and authority of a Dhoni or Kohli came from the political upper stories rather than the BCCI.He must have also surmised that Vinod Rai was a limited tool with a specific agenda employed to clear certain annoying impediments or persons in the way of the complete control of these very same superiors.That Cricket was very much a proven business model for money to be made was never lost upon these grab and appropriate political party in power.The palpable entry of political jingoism in the shape of an emblematic glove,camouflage caps in a Test Match and black bands worn by all test players as a token of respect on the demise of a Central Minister and former head of DDCA were confirmations of unseemly political penetrations into the very heart of this very popular game.Ganguly watched silently all of it and perhaps was also sending enough indications of his apolitical pedigree awaiting baptism with the right party.
This journey of cricketing politics of Saurav now culminates with a not so routine visit of his to Amit Shah a day prior to the BCCI elections.And what do we get.He becomes President and Amit Shah ‘s son become Secretary unopposed with Anurag Thakur’s brother in tow.The former heavy weights like a Shukla,Niranjan Shahor a Srinivasan very much there supervising the proceedings and make the coronation happen.
Now cut back to the essential argument of Bengali binaries and ambivalence.Like the Abhijit case being restricted to limited celebrations among the cerebral with some Right Wing sympathisers going to town on his immoral personal life – divorce and abandonment of his first love followed by a second marriage to a White French girl student while pursuing research on left -leaning subjects to denigrate a strong nationalist Indian Prime Minister the same Bengali community perhaps in larger numbers or almost unanimously see Saurav ‘s climb to the top to be in no conflict with principle or professionalism that got him there.Particularly when the new East India Company with its HQ’S in Delhi is looking for an entry and a popular face to lead it’s charge in Bengal elections sometime late next year during which period Saurav should have demitted office going by the current rules in force for BCCI.
Many who know and are not easily swayed by isolated acts had opined that Dhoni’s gloves issue was much ado about nothing.The double – faced Bengali is secretly wishing Saurav and the BJP would make a great team for Bengal while the cringing and fawning Babu in him is running scared and confused undecided on the future of their fiery Didi who till yesterday ,perhaps even still loved had liberated their dear land from the hands of the lumpen-left.The famed Revolutionaries have since become as rare as the Dacca muslin-cloth to save the Bengalis from any furher dilemmas ,thankfully.
So will Saurav set all of these conjectures aside as idle banter or will he chose to be the quintessential Mumbaikar professionally and commercially savvy for principles to make way for prudence or practicality?To say that he will withstand the definite interference and interventions of the Big Two to be his own man would be madly Bengali in substance but highly unlikely.

The Bengali will be in the crosshairs of such and more sustained and critical questioning in the future.And in its answers or denouement will the reputation and character of the janus-faced Bengali be determined.
I write as a Bengali who is disturbed by the marked ambivalence in today’s politics in Bengal in general and of an uncritical,narrow minded,chauvinistic Saurav fan following in particular.

https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/no-bcci-deal-sourav-ganguly-bjp-amit-shah-1609326-2019-10-14

Hypnotic Encounters?

https://youtu.be/QUr6eN9-NIE

Aldous Huxley or George Orwell are the stuff of modern imagination on what is coming or is already here.They in different ways predicted the captivity of human thought and fantastic ways how they would virtually surrender their freedoms,almost willingly.Without granting too much of credit to such prognostications one has to listen to this illuminating talk of our dark futures -the coming of cloud computing or Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Some would say oh! this is so much sci-fi of yore and I would think this is the Western idea or interpretation of the control of human perception.What is to be made of the relatively autonomous and alternate Chinese model of AI and what would be their motivations or consequences?
An Armageddon of the heavens !?
Read on so that you may warn your grandchildren of what is “surely”coming !🧐

Orwell 1984 – revisited in 2019

BOOK REVIEW

Doublethink Is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined
What 1984 means today

GEORGE PACKER
JULY 2019 ISSUE
The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984
BY DORIAN LYNSKEY DOUBLEDAY

OLIVER MUNDAY
No novel of the past century has had more influence than George Orwell’s 1984. The title, the adjectival form of the author’s last name, the vocabulary of the all-powerful Party that rules the superstate Oceania with the ideology of Ingsoc—doublethink, memory hole, unperson, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Thought Police, Room 101, Big Brother—they’ve all entered the English language as instantly recognizable signs of a nightmare future. It’s almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to 1984. Throughout the Cold War, the novel found avid underground readers behind the Iron Curtain who wondered, How did he know?

It was also assigned reading for several generations of American high-school students. I first encountered 1984 in 10th-grade English class. Orwell’s novel was paired with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose hedonistic and pharmaceutical dystopia seemed more relevant to a California teenager in the 1970s than did the bleak sadism of Oceania. I was too young and historically ignorant to understand where 1984 came from and exactly what it was warning against. Neither the book nor its author stuck with me. In my 20s, I discovered Orwell’s essays and nonfiction books and reread them so many times that my copies started to disintegrate, but I didn’t go back to 1984. Since high school, I’d lived through another decade of the 20th century, including the calendar year of the title, and I assumed I already “knew” the book. It was too familiar to revisit.

Read: Teaching ‘1984’ in 2016

So when I recently read the novel again, I wasn’t prepared for its power. You have to clear away what you think you know, all the terminology and iconography and cultural spin-offs, to grasp the original genius and lasting greatness of 1984. It is both a profound political essay and a shocking, heartbreaking work of art. And in the Trump era, it’s a best seller.

DOUBLEDAY
The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, by the British music critic Dorian Lynskey, makes a rich and compelling case for the novel as the summation of Orwell’s entire body of work and a master key to understanding the modern world. The book was published in 1949, when Orwell was dying of tuberculosis, but Lynskey dates its biographical sources back more than a decade to Orwell’s months in Spain as a volunteer on the republican side of the country’s civil war. His introduction to totalitarianism came in Barcelona, when agents of the Soviet Union created an elaborate lie to discredit Trotskyists in the Spanish government as fascist spies.

Left-wing journalists readily accepted the fabrication, useful as it was to the cause of communism. Orwell didn’t, exposing the lie with eyewitness testimony in journalism that preceded his classic book Homage to Catalonia—and that made him a heretic on the left. He was stoical about the boredom and discomforts of trench warfare—he was shot in the neck and barely escaped Spain with his life—but he took the erasure of truth hard. It threatened his sense of what makes us sane, and life worth living. “History stopped in 1936,” he later told his friend Arthur Koestler, who knew exactly what Orwell meant. After Spain, just about everything he wrote and read led to the creation of his final masterpiece. “History stopped,” Lynskey writes, “and Nineteen Eighty-Four began.”

The biographical story of 1984—the dying man’s race against time to finish his novel in a remote cottage on the Isle of Jura, off Scotland—will be familiar to many Orwell readers. One of Lynskey’s contributions is to destroy the notion that its terrifying vision can be attributed to, and in some way disregarded as, the death wish of a tuberculosis patient. In fact, terminal illness roused in Orwell a rage to live—he got remarried on his deathbed—just as the novel’s pessimism is relieved, until its last pages, by Winston Smith’s attachment to nature, antique objects, the smell of coffee, the sound of a proletarian woman singing, and above all his lover, Julia. 1984 is crushingly grim, but its clarity and rigor are stimulants to consciousness and resistance. According to Lynskey, “Nothing in Orwell’s life and work supports a diagnosis of despair.”

Lynskey traces the literary genesis of 1984 to the utopian fictions of the optimistic 19th century—Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888); the sci-fi novels of H. G. Wells, which Orwell read as a boy—and their dystopian successors in the 20th, including the Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). The most interesting pages in The Ministry of Truth are Lynskey’s account of the novel’s afterlife. The struggle to claim 1984 began immediately upon publication, with a battle over its political meaning. Conservative American reviewers concluded that Orwell’s main target wasn’t just the Soviet Union but the left generally. Orwell, fading fast, waded in with a statement explaining that the novel was not an attack on any particular government but a satire of the totalitarian tendencies in Western society and intellectuals: “The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.” But every work of art escapes the artist’s control—the more popular and complex, the greater the misunderstandings.

Lynskey’s account of the reach of 1984 is revelatory. The novel has inspired movies, television shows, plays, a ballet, an opera, a David Bowie album, imitations, parodies, sequels, rebuttals, Lee Harvey Oswald, the Black Panther Party, and the John Birch Society. It has acquired something of the smothering ubiquity of Big Brother himself: 1984 is watching you. With the arrival of the year 1984, the cultural appropriations rose to a deafening level. That January an ad for the Apple Macintosh was watched by 96 million people during the Super Bowl and became a marketing legend. The Mac, represented by a female athlete, hurls a sledgehammer at a giant telescreen and explodes the shouting face of a man—oppressive technology—to the astonishment of a crowd of gray zombies. The message: “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’ ”

The argument recurs every decade or so: Orwell got it wrong. Things haven’t turned out that bad. The Soviet Union is history. Technology is liberating. But Orwell never intended his novel to be a prediction, only a warning. And it’s as a warning that 1984 keeps finding new relevance. The week of Donald Trump’s inauguration, when the president’s adviser Kellyanne Conway justified his false crowd estimate by using the phrase alternative facts, the novel returned to the best-seller lists. A theatrical adaptation was rushed to Broadway. The vocabulary of Newspeak went viral. An authoritarian president who stood the term fake news on its head, who once said, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” has given 1984 a whole new life.

What does the novel mean for us? Not Room 101 in the Ministry of Love, where Winston is interrogated and tortured until he loses everything he holds dear. We don’t live under anything like a totalitarian system. “By definition, a country in which you are free to read Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the country described in Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Lynskey acknowledges. Instead, we pass our days under the nonstop surveillance of a telescreen that we bought at the Apple Store, carry with us everywhere, and tell everything to, without any coercion by the state. The Ministry of Truth is Facebook, Google, and cable news. We have met Big Brother and he is us.

Trump’s election brought a rush of cautionary books with titles like On Tyranny, Fascism: A Warning, and How Fascism Works. My local bookstore set up a totalitarian-themed table and placed the new books alongside 1984. They pointed back to the 20th century—if it happened in Germany, it could happen here—and warned readers how easily democracies collapse. They were alarm bells against complacency and fatalism—“the politics of inevitability,” in the words of the historian Timothy Snyder, “a sense that the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done.” The warnings were justified, but their emphasis on the mechanisms of earlier dictatorships drew attention away from the heart of the malignancy—not the state, but the individual. The crucial issue was not that Trump might abolish democracy but that Americans had put him in a position to try. Unfreedom today is voluntary. It comes from the bottom up.

We are living with a new kind of regime that didn’t exist in Orwell’s time. It combines hard nationalism—the diversion of frustration and cynicism into xenophobia and hatred—with soft distraction and confusion: a blend of Orwell and Huxley, cruelty and entertainment. The state of mind that the Party enforces through terror in 1984, where truth becomes so unstable that it ceases to exist, we now induce in ourselves. Totalitarian propaganda unifies control over all information, until reality is what the Party says it is—the goal of Newspeak is to impoverish language so that politically incorrect thoughts are no longer possible. Today the problem is too much information from too many sources, with a resulting plague of fragmentation and division—not excessive authority but its disappearance, which leaves ordinary people to work out the facts for themselves, at the mercy of their own prejudices and delusions.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, propagandists at a Russian troll farm used social media to disseminate a meme: “ ‘The People Will Believe What the Media Tells Them They Believe.’ — George Orwell.” But Orwell never said this. The moral authority of his name was stolen and turned into a lie toward that most Orwellian end: the destruction of belief in truth. The Russians needed partners in this effort and found them by the millions, especially among America’s non-elites. In 1984, working-class people are called “proles,” and Winston believes they’re the only hope for the future. As Lynskey points out, Orwell didn’t foresee “that the common man and woman would embrace doublethink as enthusiastically as the intellectuals and, without the need for terror or torture, would choose to believe that two plus two was whatever they wanted it to be.”

We stagger under the daily load of doublethink pouring from Trump, his enablers in the Inner Party, his mouthpieces in the Ministry of Truth, and his fanatical supporters among the proles. Spotting doublethink in ourselves is much harder. “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” Orwell wrote. In front of my nose, in the world of enlightened and progressive people where I live and work, a different sort of doublethink has become pervasive. It’s not the claim that true is fake or that two plus two makes five. Progressive doublethink—which has grown worse in reaction to the right-wing kind—creates a more insidious unreality because it operates in the name of all that is good. Its key word is justice—a word no one should want to live without. But today the demand for justice forces you to accept contradictions that are the essence of doublethink.

For example, many on the left now share an unacknowledged but common assumption that a good work of art is made of good politics and that good politics is a matter of identity. The progressive view of a book or play depends on its political stance, and its stance—even its subject matter—is scrutinized in light of the group affiliation of the artist: Personal identity plus political position equals aesthetic value. This confusion of categories guides judgments all across the worlds of media, the arts, and education, from movie reviews to grant committees. Some people who register the assumption as doublethink might be privately troubled, but they don’t say so publicly. Then self-censorship turns into self-deception, until the recognition itself disappears—a lie you accept becomes a lie you forget. In this way, intelligent people do the work of eliminating their own unorthodoxy without the Thought Police.

Orthodoxy is also enforced by social pressure, nowhere more intensely than on Twitter, where the specter of being shamed or “canceled” produces conformity as much as the prospect of adding to your tribe of followers does. This pressure can be more powerful than a party or state, because it speaks in the name of the people and in the language of moral outrage, against which there is, in a way, no defense. Certain commissars with large followings patrol the precincts of social media and punish thought criminals, but most progressives assent without difficulty to the stifling consensus of the moment and the intolerance it breeds—not out of fear, but because they want to be counted on the side of justice.

This willing constriction of intellectual freedom will do lasting damage. It corrupts the ability to think clearly, and it undermines both culture and progress. Good art doesn’t come from wokeness, and social problems starved of debate can’t find real solutions. “Nothing is gained by teaching a parrot a new word,” Orwell wrote in 1946. “What is needed is the right to print what one believes to be true, without having to fear bullying or blackmail from any side.” Not much has changed since the 1940s. The will to power still passes through hatred on the right and virtue on the left.

1984 will always be an essential book, regardless of changes in ideologies, for its portrayal of one person struggling to hold on to what is real and valuable. “Sanity is not statistical,” Winston thinks one night as he slips off to sleep. Truth, it turns out, is the most fragile thing in the world. The central drama of politics is the one inside your skull.

This article appears in the July 2019 print edition with the headline “George Orwell’s Unheeded Warning.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

George Packer is a staff writer for The Atlantic. He is the author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America and Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century.

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