It started as a farmer’s revolution. But when the city boys started to take up the cause, that is when the police started to get cautious, and then brutal. Anyone who’s over 50, and has stayed in Bengal during the late 1960s and early 1970s have lived at a time which can only be called turbulent. This was the terrible times which rendered many people silent, and sadly, literature of Bengal has been largely quiet about it. This was the premises for Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Kunal Basu, and Samaresh Majumdar to come together with Swapnamoy Chakraborty for relieving their memories – the naxalgia so as to speak.
Of course, there are exceptions. Kalbela by Samaresh Majumdar is one of the rare examples, which tries to portray the spirit of the time, and the youth who are driven by passion. Partly based on his experiences (Samaresh Majumdar studied in Scottish Church College, same as his protagonist), this is one of the few examples of the agitation of Bengal. Speaking about the book, Samaresh Majumdar spoke of the lack of literature on the Naxalite movement, and the limited number of resources available now. But, there is also this terrible void – the inability to speak of the horror faced – and how exposing the same somehow dilutes and, perhaps, pollutes it. Someone in New York, a man who had faced the active horrors of the past, and then run away to another continent to work, eat, sleep, day after day, had unceremoniously told Samaresh Majumdar about him ‘selling’ those ‘lost’ boys to make a living. The impact is profound, but what needed to be said still needs to be said.
Kunal Basu started on a note of rather aggressive defence, stating his affiliation at that time towards the communist party, and declared himself to be someone who had practised weapon-carrying politics. Although he seemed woefully unaware of the current student politics of Kolkata (after making a completely incorrect statement about a recent agitation, perhaps to emphasize on a rather weak point he was making), but his stance seemed defensive, which also showed through his rather aggressive statements at first. He was intent on rejoicing in the movement’s violent past, bringing in the names of infamous police officers, who were also student killers. Of course, he spoke of the resources he had found while researching for his book, about the police and the people who were just all too eager to spill their sides of the story. He spoke of the ease with which he had gathered some evidence, but the street plays, the slogans, and many of the songs were lost to the world.
Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay was, however, of a different opinion. He spoke from his stance as a school teacher, who had seen his school students termed ‘Naxalite’, and the horrific, sudden surge of ‘teacher killing’. “Whatever it might have started off as, it fell into the hands of people who were misguided, misinformed, illogical, and, most importantly, foolish. Which was the reason for the degeneration of the movement, and its successive failure.” Speaking from the point of view of the ‘observer’, he spoke about the day when he had gone over to buy spices from Barabazaar, and seen fresh blood spilled on the ground, of the traffic police who had been killed moments ago in that same spot. That had been one of the most defining and terrifying moments of his life – but the mindless cruelty is what he was strongly opposed against.
The talk ended on the tone of memories – the nostalgia of the age, which is all set to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, and the manner in which memories have either made the times look even more romantic than it was, or stripped it to its true aspects, bringing forward the lack of direction of the movement, despite its bravado.
More sessions are going to happen on the 25th and 26th of January, 2016, and check out Kolkata Literary Meet site, or search with hashtags #TataSteelKalam or #KolLitMeet.
Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee is blogging in association with Kolkata Literary Meet, 2016.