[This blog post is especially for Tamal, whose birthday is today.]
It is the month of May and my grandchildren are visiting me during their summer vacation. I had insisted with my sons and daughters that they send their children to me during their summer holidays because I wanted to pass on to them the forgotten art of story-telling. In the indolence of the simmering summer days I have regaled them with myths and legends and they have been enthusiast listeners too. But today I have chosen to tell them a true story - the story of how people brought change in Bengal more than thirty years ago. And how the mighty had fallen against the struggle of a generation and how we should be grateful to those people who brought prosperity that we continue to enjoy today. My grandchildren have a skeptical look on their faces when I say that this all happened in front of my eyes. So to make is sound authentic I tell them the name of Buddhadeb, the mighty chief-minister of who once ruled over Bengal.
The youngest of my listeners, on hearing the name cries out, “Is he related to Aranyadeb - The Phantom whose story you told us one day?” The oldest of the lot, who was old enough to understand history, guffawed loudly to the chagrin of the little one. I remember that last year I had told them the story of The Phantom. But since these kids were growing up watching the urban superheroes in films they could not relate to the forest-dwelling superhero. So I had taken them for a visit to Jungle Mahal to witness the life of the tribal people living close to nature. But now silence has again prevailed and I tell the children that Buddhadeb was not a superhero. I add that he did not live in the forests because the forests at that time were infested with Maoists guerrillas. The chief-minister was a man of hubris and his downfall was brought by the woman under whose leadership change was ushered in. That woman was called Mamata - the champion of the poor.
It was now the turn of the eldest to question me. “But didn’t she have to tackle the Maoists too?” The youngest could not have a revengeful laugh because the topic had already surpassed her comprehension. So I give them a simplified answer, “She gave orders and everything stopped. It was because the people trusted her.” They all sigh an “Oh!” But one of the older ones again asks, “How did she gain the trust of the people?” So I tell them that it all began in what is now the industrial town of Singur and how the then government’s land acquisition policy backfired because it belittled the opposition and used strong-arm tactics against the poor farmers. And Mamata led the agitation promising to return the land of the farmers if she was voted to power. Then again in Nandigram, which is now an agricultural hub, many people who were opposing the land-grabbing attempts of the government were killed by the ruling forces. And again the oppressed farmers found the champion of the poor beside them fighting for their cause.
This time the youngest, again finding courage, asks, “Were those responsible for killing the people punished?” I say, “Yes. In the summer of 2011 the man of hubris was inflicted a crushing defeat at the hands of the champion of the poor in the Assembly election.” The children are satisfied so I do not go on to tell them about the poor condition of the state health services or the problems of the state education system or the general state of lethargy and and corruption in the government or the regimented system of favouritism and victimisation by the ruling party prevalent in the state at that time. These children who are born in one of the leading states of India may not be able to appreciate the struggles of the likes of Kabir Suman and Bratya Basu to bring in the change. But these children when they grow up will tell their progeny the story of the triumph of the champion of the poor over the man of hubris that day long time back even before their parents were born. So I continue with my story of how hopes were fulfilled through the change brought in then.
My research article "Emotional and Sexual Wants in Diasporic Life as Depicted by Jhumpa Lahiri" has been published in the book Indo-English Fiction: New Perspectives, Ed. Arvind M. Nawale, Jaipur: Aadi Publishers, 2011, ISBN: 978-93-80902-39-5.
Read my review of Nishi Pulugurtha's Derozio: A Monograph in Muse India Issue 37.
Read my poem "Peace of Mind" at Best-Poems.net.