A one pm on Doordarshan book
If I had a time machine, I would transport myself into Bengal of the late 60s. Naxalism fascinates me. As a child, I remember someone explaining Naxalite to me : ‘They hate rich people. They behead the man at night and place the head on the doorstep for everyone to see it the next morning’. Something that gave me nightmares, something that made thank god we were not rich. But as I grew older and wiser (?), I began to sympathise with them. Last year I went on a Red Sun and Hello Bastar reading phase, topped by The Lowland and The Shoes of the Dead. Overdosed. So maybe that is why The Lives of Others didn’t hit me as hard as it should have.
There is not a single likeable character in this book, not even Supratik; he fell from that pedestal towards the end. But that’s how reality should be. A huge messy joint family, the Ghoshes live in a four storey building on 22 Basanta Bose Road. And there is a story in each storey. The patriarch witnessing the slow downfall of the family business he built, four sons with problems of their own, an unmarried daughter seeped in bitterness and spewing venom, a scheming daughter-in-law, grandchildren ranging from mathematics prodigies to drug addicts. And a revolutionary Naxalite.
The narration moves between the story of each Ghosh in Calcutta and a diary written by Supratik while hiding in small villages on the Bengal-Orrisa borders. Disillusioned by his comfortable life and the party power politics in the city, he moves to the villages and lives with the farmers there, as one of them, and sows the seed of revolution while he sows seeds of paddy in those fields. The diary he writes is expected to invoke strong feelings, but I was somehow immune to it. I’ve read enough about starving farmers to know that they never win ever. But to whom was he writing this diary? At first, I thought that it was to his mother, then it seemed like it was to his lover. But when the recipient was finally revealed, it left me hanging. The relationship had no form, no closure. And there’s one more uncomfortable relationship in the family, one that is disgusting and disturbing. Weddings, funerals, trade unions, mad professors, terrace romance. You have everything, but without the song and dance or comedy. It is an Ekta Kapoor saga, without the blingy clothes. It is a Visu movie, without the lesson at the end. As I said, it is a one pm on Doordarshan story. And it is a story that is reality even today.
But all these make the book what it is. A slow, long, painful but wonderful journey into the Lives of Others.
Afternote: Maybe an overdose of such stories where there is no happy ending is a well planned conspiracy to make people like me disillusioned with the revolutionary movement?