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In the face of finality, a little feasting first

india Updated: May 20, 2011 22:20 IST
Pratik Kanjilal

I have just received an invitation card for the shradh ceremony of the Left Front, to be celebrated at Kolkata's Writers' Buildings. It looks totally authentic with a picture of the Gita on the envelope, the text printed in archaic Bengali on a smudgy old letterpress and signed by all the worthies of the Left pantheon, including Prakash and Brinda Karat. A mouth-watering menu featuring choice dishes of fallen Left bastions is included, to be served by Ma-Mati-Manush Caterers. As you know, we Bengalis can do nothing, not even face the finality of death, without feasting a little.

I have been looking forward to the fall of the Left since the Nandigram violence in 2007. But now, with this shradh card in my hand — on my computer screen, actually — I feel bereaved. This is what happens when the institutions you grew up with go to pieces, no matter how demonic they had become in life.

Dear God, the state whose people had yearned forever for revolution are now satisfied with mere change. The original anti-Americans are happy with Obama-branded snake oil. According to urban legend, the first words their babies uttered were, "Ma, Marx, machher jhol (fish curry)," or variations on the theme. Now, I suppose, they will be saying, "Ma, mati, manush". It's depressingly like a do-gooding NGO's slogan.

The victory of the Trinamool Congress is being attributed to the growth of a middle-class disinterested in revolution. That's thought-provoking, since the best quality cannon fodder for the original Naxalite rising of the Sixties was provided by the upper middle class youth of Kolkata. But yes, the middle-class has changed. In its eyes, continuous improvement processes like Kaizen are natural successors to Marx's permanent revolution.

We're proud of our Kaizen skills. We were taught to respect the relentless self-improvement of Persons of Indian Origin and we aggressively claim them as our own. Even when some of them protest that they're actually American or Canadian or whatever. South Asia has packed the first world with armies of industrious Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, academics and cultural figures. And managing directors and fund managers, too. Damn!

The Colombo-born fund manager Raj Rajaratnam will soon be sentenced on 14 charges of conspiracy and fraud in America's biggest hedge fund scam. The case has also damaged the reputation of a very respected Indian — Rajat Gupta, Modern School boy and former star global MD of McKinsey. The list of names linked to Rajaratnam by the FBI features other prominent south Asians, which sets you wondering if there's a band of white-collar Pindaris on the loose in NYC. Whatever, there goes another institution.

And then there's the International Monetary Fund, a towering, brutal presence in my impressionable years. The distant monster whom we importuned with a begging bowl, and who finally castrated us with the knife of liberalisation, by leftist accounts. Now its chief is in the cooler, diagnosed with a psychosocial disorder for which our justice system may soon prescribe chemical castration.

Really, this barrage of dead, dying and castrato heroes and demons is beyond enduring. My inner contradictions hurt. I really must go to that shradh at Writers' Buildings. We Bengalis can't face extinction without feasting a little.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. The views expressed by the author are personal.