The Home Minister’s advice to stop romanticising Maoists took me back a long time ago to my college days, when I made strenuous efforts to become a Naxalite. Radical chic ruled campuses at the time and Maoism was very fashionable.
I soon realised that some of the prettiest girls were all part of a Naxalite group that held study sessions every morning. A friend and I, both completely smitten, conspired to get invited to these sessions. That turned out to be surprisingly easy, as the Naxalites were looking for recruits and we feigned a passionate interest in the revolution. Besides, being a Bong, I was an honorary Naxalite anyway.
But my first attempt at bonding with the revolutionary women was a disaster. I had swotted up the Red Book the night before and was in a hurry to pass on my newly acquired wisdom. So immediately after the study session the first thing I did was catch hold of one of them and blurt out, “Good morning. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” The conversation then proceeded along these lines:
She [smiling]: You’ve been reading Mao.
Me: Wonderful chap.
She: I’m reading The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.
Me [thrown off guard but recovering swiftly]: Ye..es, I’ve always liked Louis’ style. How did you like the other 17?
She [coldly]: It’s a book by Marx.
Uncomfortable silence ensues.
She(deciding to give me another chance): What do you think of Luxemburg?
Me(hesitantly): Uh…rather small, isn’t it?
She (lip curling in contempt): Rosa Luxemburg, the Marxist.
Me: Oh, that Luxemburg. By the way, are you free this evening?
She: No I’m rehearsing a play by Brecht.
She: The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
Me: The what?
At which point she walked away.
I realised then that one must be prepared to suffer for the cause. So I gritted my teeth and ploughed through vast reams of Marxist literature. Attending the study sessions was rough going, before we discovered they became bearable if we smoked a joint or two before the meeting. That eased the pain considerably.
As a result of all that hard work I became quite popular with the revolutionaries. I had slowly and steadily progressed from hanging out with one of them at the college canteen to taking her to the movies. I could see that she was beginning, in Mr Chidambaram’s phrase, to romanticise this intellectual Maoist-in-the-making. To hasten the process, I planned to grow a beard.
Unfortunately, disaster struck before I got around to it. One dark day, one of their leaders took me aside and whispered conspiratorially, “A central committee member is coming. He wants us to work in Bihar. Come over to the hostel tonight.” “You will, won’t you?” added the girl, hero worship in her eyes. I was trapped. In vain did I plead that an intellectual like me could do better work in the city.
“Look at Lord Byron,” I said, “who went to Greece to fight for independence but died of fever without firing a shot.” But even that failed to move her. The curled lip was back, accompanied by a sneer.
Of course, I stayed far away from the hostel that night. And that was the end of my brief romantic fling with the Naxalites.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal