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
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”?