Remember the Magaj Dholai Yantra (brainwashing machine) in Satyajit Ray's masterpiece Hirak Rajar Deshe? The machine when applied to the king's dissidents made them sing his praises. The present Left Front government in West Bengal probably has taken a cue from the film. The only difference being that instead of the Magaj Dholai Yantra, it has chosen bullets and muscle power to force 'rebels' to surrender to the red bastion. Ironically, the 1980 film was produced by the West Bengal government.
'Peace restored in Nandigram,' read a newspaper headline on October 13. Well... At the cost of how many lives? How and when was the Magaj Dholai done? Are we mistaking the after-storm lull for peace? The media does not have an answer. How will they... they were never allowed entry into the disputed land of Nandigram till yesterday?
I am, as my colleagues would say, a 'devout' Bengali, someone who takes pride in her roots. Each time I return home during holidays, I feel secure and safe. During weekly addas (interactions) at our ancestral home, writers, poets and singers exchange their thoughts freely on events ranging from nuclear deal to Nandigram, domestic violence to debt-deaths in Vidarbha -- a genuine air of camaraderie stringing their thoughts.
But next time I visit home, the same people, I am sure, will think twice before speaking their minds. They are not Minds Without Fear any more. The state machinery has wielded its batons at them for protesting against something they thought was wrong. In my adulthood, I cannot recall any other incident in which 80-odd intellectuals had been arrested for taking part in a peaceful rally against a state government's action.
During my visits to neighbouring Bangladesh a few years ago, I was exposed to tales of government violence on intellectuals. They had made me shudder. 'Something like this was unimaginable in my state,' I had told myself. Alas, I cannot say that anymore.
I am essentially an apolitical person; never been a part of active politics even in college. However, I grew up in a family, which had easy access to celebrities, even political heavyweights.
None of the Left Front leaders, whom I got a chance to watch closely, impressed me as much as Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee. I saw in him a sensitive intellectual (not only because he is related to Sukanta Bhattacharya, one of the stalwarts of Bengali literature), who had an intent to change West Bengal for the better.
As the information and culture minister, Bhattacharjee gained tremendous support from the youth, primarily because of his dynamism. So when he became chief minister after Jyoti Basu stepped down in 2000, the younger generation could not have been happier. 'Change is about to set in' they thought. And they were not disappointed, at least initially.
There was an improvement in the infamous work culture of the state, industrialisation started gathering steam, IT sector set its eyes on Bengal and employment opportunities started booming. This is what we wanted, you see, we told ourselves.
But our euphoria was short-lived.
We came to witness the other side of Bhattacharjee soon enough when under his aegis, police fired on innocent villagers resisting forceful acquisitions of their land, first in Singur and then in Nandigram. When the intelligentsia and general population rose in protest, their voices were smothered in no time. Our heads hung in shame at the disgraceful behaviour of the state machinery led by our 'beloved' chief minister.
This was not enough. Bengal got another severe jolt the next day when a brazen Bhattacharjee justified the police move by saying, 'Some intellectuals are just cashing in on this incident to hog the limelight.'
What are you up to, Mr Bhattacharjee? Have you forgotten the days when as the information and culture minister you walked in tandem with publishers to rebuild The Calcutta Book Fair after it was gutted? Have you forgotten how you used to enlighten us then by reciting Pablo Neruda? Why can we not see that compassionate side of you any more, Mr Chief Minister?
Is it power or arrogance or both? How can you let your police slaughter innocent people? And how could you insult the brains of Bengal when they cry foul? You had once instilled hopes in our minds. I have no qualms in saying that today you have made us throw those hopes out of the window.
Today, reading about Nandigram, I recall Leonard Cohen's memorable lyrics:
And I thank you, I thank you for doing your duty,
You keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty.
Your vision is right, my vision is wrong,
I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song.