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


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,

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”?

The Bengali Blight

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


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.