Saturday, December 7, 2019

The collapse of intellectuals from public discourse in West Bengal

There is no end to Kaleidoscopic wonder to see the complete vacuum of what used to be his cultured, civilised, educated, enlightened publics which supposedly elected a 'different' regime for 34 long years. CPIM led Left Front used to have this hallmark of politics with a difference than the rest of the country. The white dhoti-fatua clad Bengali communists reading and spreading the idea of an alternative world through smaller reforms forming an oasis in the midst of end of Nehruvian model of governance.

The fall of enlightened sphere
So much to the "subalternisation" of politics as some of the worshipped scholars have romanticised in past West Bengal has shown a new form of politics including the populist stand. Kaleidoscope was of the hope that cultured, civilised, educated, enlightened have remained. No matter how elitist it might sound it was indeed a trust on the so called intellectual elites. First, the media with its 24X7 commitment brought a new dynamics to the whole genere of how Kaleidoscope sees his world through the television! While he began to discard his habit of watching the televions news channels the smartphone brought a bogus timeline. Kaleidoscope like many others is hooked to consume trashes everyday which ranges from bogus pornographic contents to post truth hoax circulated most exclusively through the new agencies. Supposedly to attract people's attention. Second, Kaleidoscope has seen the so called public intellectuals getting divided. Even if one takes Gramscian approach, the supposedly trained left leaning intellectuals changed their camps. One perceived reasons left being not left any more, and more nuanced and later surfaced reasons include the fact that there were perks and benefits in their partisan selves. The organic intellectual stuff is near impossible to see in the state even after three decade of left rule. A few sparks of the people taking stands according to the perceived justice (e.g. kaushik sen, Aparna Send) is too low to have a voice getting reflected to form an opinion that can be called as a public opinion. Third, and a dangerous development is the bunch of apparently highly educated, insensitive and under read students and supposed scholars who might rapidly fill the fututre intellectual sphere. They are in sync with the rise of new generation of intellectuals promoted most exclusively by the television media. These people find a comfort zone to grow their opinions in every matters like an artificial bacterial culture matrix.  

The rise of the viral sphere
The insensitive, history blind, over rated intellegentia uses the videogame logic to form the public opinion and manages to post online. As they are in sync with the general perception of the wider public sphere and often gets aid from different organised ITcells, they generally attract more likes and shares. If the sensitive few manages to Lodge a protest comment the debates break and list of comments reinforces the importance of the post even further- making it "viral" online. The public media algorithms picks them up and continuously show in people's timeline and forms a skewed distribution of contents not based on quality but on quantity. As Chaplin once said public as headless monster, the headlessness grows like gangrene in virtual space. 

The disappearing intellectuals from the public discourse 

In 2011 Ms Mamata Banerjee had to bring together people belonging to the so called intellectual classes. She brought film makers, actors, theatre personnel, painters and potets to throw back an important message to the public sphere that the paribartan - the political change was necessary and inevitable. In 2019 allegedly the goons from BJP rallies broken down the bust of Vidyasagar in the Vidyasagar statue while they were moving through the heart of the intellectual space of the state (one can even say the heart of the country) the college Street. The largest conglomeration of books, rather a relatively smaller institute which has brought a number of Nobel prizes. It symbolically puts an end to the role of public intellectuals in political discourse and BJP could dream of assuming political power without having any intellectual connect in the state. They have shown sceptical, yet prominent symptoms of actually managing to doing it. 

Photograph- Debasmita

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Canopy for your everyday living

How about looking to the world through canopies? Kaleidoscope laughs silently, it's only possible once in a while when he gets to travel to places where there are trees. It's nearly impossible for an urban dweller to avail such a luxury to see through the canopies. 

It can only be the distant dream of an early retirement that Kaleidoscope used to plan with his much loved supervisor. There will be books, coffee, good alcohol and canopies, happy ending of a life. His supervisor, by the way has successfully perked himself in the institute campus and then got a place to stay nearby too to accommodate his family. He is now the proud owner of seven lakes and numerous trees and a palacial quarter. That calls for a quality of life Kaleido, Kaleidoscope often thinks. But then comes the responsibilities in the office that allows barely a moment to even look at the lakes and trees. 

What could be the alternative? Kaleidoscope kept thinking. Meanwhile his employee declared a 65 year for retirement age... It won't let Kaleidoscope go easily, he thought. What is left in a life if the work life ends in 65... That too long... Injustice may be. Kaleidoscope thought, where is the justice? Nowhere may be. 

Here comes the solution, Kaleidoscope planted trees that can outgrow his window and encroaches his balcony. Much loved canopy view now comes with flowers. 

...and it looks something like this.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Detention camp museums: The future of the present

Kaleidoscope in 2007 had the opportunity to stay inside a Jail in Orissa for the whole day. Yes, inside the jail with the inmates talking on the most forbidden issue of his country - sex, that too Men having Sex with Men (MSM). He visited cells, their kitchen, their garden and never failed to witness the 'end of the world' not very far! The world there had a wall, a brick coloured one which almost touched the sky.

It was one of the most unique experiences he thought even a few years back - who having the life course of Kaleidoscope can even imagine being inside of a Jail.

The paragraph above, can be the prelude of a book written in a detention camp that are being set up in tax payers (both direct and indirect) money at different corners of Kaleidoscope's country.

People interfaced - an anecdote:

There is this medicine shop owned by a family originally belonging to the East Bengal (now Bangladesh) where Kaleidoscope often makes a visit. Kaleidoscope by the way is loosing friends and acquaintances at an astronomical pace ever since the public sphere of his world is divided in to Hindu/Muslim, India/Pakistan, Nationalist/Antinational, etc., is quite conscious on the choice of his words, and place of engaging in debates. He lost it all when the shop owner was speaking to one of the custmers and referring to Gujarat riot as a fantastic payback to the Muslim community who killed "thousands of Hindu pilgrims" in Godhra. Kaleidoscope tried to give him some statistics but as usual was informed that the statistics was wrong. Kaleidoscope wanted to give them the statistics of lynching (98% by the way happened after 2014, if one takes the data set from 2010 to 2019), but they labelled him as Pro-terrorist, Pro-Pakistani. One thing, Kaleidoscope thought that he had to stop going to that shop again in near future because he fear lynching! On the other hand the shopkeeper was loosing his customer. Lets talk about NRC then, Kaleidoscope thought. Knowing them to belong to a family which came to India much after independence they might be afraid of it! The response was like this "If requires we can live in detention camp" but we wholeheartedly support Modi-Shah because they will drive away the Muslims! It might have been incomprehensibly deep sense of jingoism and hatred that people like that shopkeeper is ready to even sacrifice their own comfort in the name of ethnic cleansing - Kaleidoscope thought! 

So the prison house is not to be feared - if it is detention camp then it might be better than prison house - at least that is what these people might have in their mind. Or does it have something to do with the "assurance" from the home minister that apart from the Muslims the rest of the people will get citizenship. Even if that happens there will be different classes of citizenship - Kaleidoscope knows, but who cares. 

No one:

Perhaps the most easy to use phrase is "no one." No one cares to what is happening (who cares are either jailed or are silently executed in one way or the other), and to the people whom these things are happening are no one! There is a dreaded indifference to the matters involving civil liberties and violations of fundamental rights - the prime example is of course the Kashmir. If the Kashmir is what can happen to Kaleidoscope and his fellow citizens, the amendment of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by enabling it to designate individuals as terrorists without following any procedure and by providing the accused no effective means of redress is the instrument through which it can happen. On the one hand Kaleidoscope's fellow citizens have the example (Kashmir) and they can check with UAPA but they have other important things to do or celebrate the possible imprisonment of their fellow citizens. 

In so far as Kaleidoscope lives in a world where 'no one' cares for 'no one' there will be a rising number of 'no ones' until the country is completely dismantled. May be Kaleidoscope will have a dying wish inside/outside a detention camp that he would like to see in some future time. When those detention camps will become well maintained Museum objects at display with narratives for the future generations about what should not have been done

Meanwhile his society still has a chance of not doing it!


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Mountain person?

Are you mountain person? Asks Kaleidoscope to the river. The river was too busy to reply but gave away fountains of scattered intoxicated droplets as Kaleidoscope and his friends climb up the mountain through the early morning lights. The forest only accepts those who seek refuge in the canopy, creepy soundscape and definite waterfalls. As the car speedup and pines started to replace sal a brief goodbyes to the plains Kaleidoscope thought. Where else would you see the morning lights, cloudscape, whispering birds, moss, ferns and colourful people making love with each other - than the Darjeeling!

The day started with his favourite sausage, becons and a cup of tea in his favourite corner of Caventers, juxtaposed by the chilli-beef with a hint of beer in the noon. Before the night it was to see the love making and the evening show by rock bands on the mall could not have been better with rounds of whisky! All just for the river that brings memories of love in the mountains.

Before the day breaks Kaleido leaves, he thought he can born a thousand times just to see the silhouette of the mountains always ready for the love... the eternity - like the river born.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Namthing - place where nature steps in

Wonder if Kaleidoscope should let it settle in the deep sea if his heart and let it be for the rest of his life - like a long lost love! Namthing - at the heart of the Sitong reserved forest about 4000 feet above the sea level, centering around the cute little lake where Salamanders live a peaceful life before they are completely wiped out of the planet, is the place of solitude with the Stars in the night, monsoon rain during the day and a game with sea of September cloud.

The place is about 50 kilometers from New Jalpiguri through a near deserted road which complements well with the trees and  steep altitude is waiting with open arms to conceal you from your life - for as long as you want, perhaps for the eternity.

Here are some photos of what Kaleidoscope could experience with a group of like-minded others

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A balcony towards liminality

At the midst of nowhere, there seems to be an endless transitional space where Kaleidoscope now inhabits. A varanda, that offers more of a macro cosm with micro details. The trees outside offers the perfect wilderness, the miss in the bark, the never ending furn on the bark is a timeless memories that mesmerises one's soul. Kaleidoscope can quitely sit on a chair and listen to the loud sound of birds and whispering wind that blows through the monsoon soaked old Kadam tree. He could live a thousand lives just by looking at the trees grwing old, and the end of civilisations that could imagine to paint the walls Blue-White.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Life (?) in a Jute Mill - Kankinara and more questions

West Bengal, even a few years back used to declare itself with proud to be a Marxist exception. There was a God that people used to worship, yes, Karl Marx. Inspired by the Marx's brilliant explanation of history as a class struggle and that in a capitalist society there were supposed to be workers movement against the owners of the means of production, West Bengal has seen no shortage of trade unions. The workers supposedly push towards a better deal for their interests. The average person in Post-Left Bengal would almost invariably say (if s/he is a TMC supporter, then more vehemently) that trade-union militancy is one of the reasons that the state has experienced relatively quick migration of industries from the state to elsewhere. The assumption is posed in such a way that the state seems to be an isolated ideal self sufficient village which does not have impact of the national or global waves! While reverse is the true, Kaleidoscope's brief exposure to the Haldia industrial city created an image inside of his head that workers during the Left period could consolidate their demands around the CITU banner to push for their demands against the top-down pressure of profit maximisation through "dead labour"!

He was shocked for the first time when his team went to study the riot in Hajinagar. Hajinagar has Hukum Chand Jute mill where workers from different states have been coming for decades. He wondered how could a state run by Karl's followers failed to transcend beyond the primordial identity issues while it ruled for three and a half decades. If West Bengal being the state with an experience of longest communist rule of the world could not transcend such issues then can we really see any hope for the idea of equality and prioritising workers rights - of so called base of Marx's Base-Superstructure structural model of explanation.

The question remained unresolved as he kept finding riot like conflict increasingly becoming the dominant narrative to his state. His Kankinara visit after the riots taking more than 7 lives was an eye-opener.

Below are just two images of the medieval like quality of life of the Jute mill workers which perhaps has not improved even an inch after so many years of India's independence and three and half decades of Left rule.

Yes, the top photograph is that of a community toilet where workers are supposed to defecate without any cover, seeing the process of their fellow workers. Watching the excreta floating on a large tank, which overflows to their tiny little rooms during the monsoon.

The photo bellow represents their everyday bathing practices. Kaleidoscope remembers similar scene in his experience of studying Chowdwar Jail, Orissa. Inmates were supposed to take bath in similar fashion.

Kaleidoscope learned the fight between the fellow workers and their families on the issues of portable water, access to whatever little space they have.

Yet, instead of demanding for the Base they are fighting for the supposedly religious superstructure! 

It doesn't look like the riot was a completely manufactured game executed from the outside, neither did it happen from within the inside! Puzzle!!

AAMRA ek Sachetan Prayas Forum and Kaleido's friends in AAMRA

Monday, August 5, 2019

Scrapping of article 370 - a lonely Kashmir and the funeral of the Public Sphere

Indian Coffee House: Vibrant public sphere?

Scrapping of article 370 was a newsfeed which came when Kaleidoscope was showing Rang De Basanti song "khoon chala" to his students as part of his course on Social Movement. The CBCS system though disrupted to a significant extent the tune of Higher Education system, also brought some space to deliver things that matter to his student's everyday life. Social Movement, although is inclined towards the stereotypic study of tribal movements, but Kaleidoscope thought of showing in what ways his country demands an active social movement to make things going around for a future plural India!

The news floated on the projector screen, thanks to their newly installed institutional Jio mobile connectivity. Suddenly, Kaleidoscope saw faces of a few people who came to his life at different points of time, a friend from a long past workshop, a girl during his days long workshop courses, several shalwalas who were the childhood fantasies to many of his childhood friends of the opposite genders.

The streets, roads are deserted while in the parliament its being shouted out that people were supposedly celebrating there. Seeing these Kaleidoscope recalled his youthful days at the IIM library desperately reading and re-reading Habermas! Kaleidoscope had enough trust to his theory of "Communicative rationality." He constantly believed and subscribed to the fact that communication skill of his species would be able to solve no matter how challenging the situation is, simply because there is a forceless force lying within the communication itself. The vibrant public sphere that transformed itself with the rise of consumerist capitalism was undermined by Kaleidoscope for quite long, so as to even forget that there is a parallel rise of misinformed, partially informed, whatsappised, facebooked public sphere to encounter.

Therefore, what scrapping of article 370 show is nothing short of a major move simply bypassing what people of Kashmir wanted - simply because its very easy to bypass public sphere of the whole country once you can modify it through your IT cell and the sense of Nationalism. Public sphere is dead... so does the "communicative rationality" - Kashmir shows the future, like it or not Kaleidoscope!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Life after a riot: A girl from the 'field'

How does it feel when you encounter a person from the place you have done ethnography at at an examination centre while you are tasked with evaluating them? It certainly takes you back to the field memories! The romantic field memories, or that is what conventional ethnography tells you. We subscribe to the fact that we let go field as we leave. No matter how transforming your experience is, it's buried deep inside like the heart of ocean carrying a whole library of stories of the past.

Well, Kaleidoscope couldn't afford the romanticism as he found the then higher secondary appearing girl crossed her age and now a student of a good suburban college. She travels to study and stays back if she has to every once in a while. This particular girl let's just call her Jasmine calls her father baba instead of Abbu and mother Maa, instead of Amma. She has adopted the Hindu Bengali kinship term as she belongs to the place predominated by Hindus for five generations now. Her father, as  Kaleidoscope remembers her village might have thought of letting go such terminologies as they were no longer required. The perfect harmony with people with different faith was the everydayness of people in Bhyabla, to the villagers of Tentulia and Tyantra.

All has changed since 2016 slowly and then with riots at different extent in 2017. A deep rooted social cleavage that Jasmine couldn't accept. Overnight my friends became unknown to me. Kaleidoscope remembers on a rainy October he along with his team from Aamra ek sachetan prayas was listening to one of the bank employees version as he said
"I have seen even my childhood friends came and tried to vandalise our house... Yes there were outsiders but insiders showed which one is a Muslim household and which one is not. The person who supplies our daily needs from his shops was also there... I am about to 40 and I have seen this only now... My father is nearing 80, he has seen this at this age.. think about my son... He is only 6 to see this..."

As the kid was asked to remember the day he was sobbing and then cry out loud. One of the lady members of the team with a background in psychology took him away in a separate room and talked only to know how sad he is and how revengeful his mind has become at this tender age. The lady transformed herself from a Hindu to Muslim appearing girl simply by altering the dupatta perhaps the best way to show how these are constructs. The boy ended up smiling.

Kaleidoscope could remember those faces and the expressions. Kaleidoscope could remember how he read Kumar Ravi Priya's article on Bhuj survivors and how deep the trauma could reach so as to make a person permanently unsettled, skeptical and disturbed! 

Jasmine however answered with a degree of certainty to some of the difficult most questions which Kaleidoscope saw others failed to give a proper answer to! Jasmine, however, looked at the ground when he could identify Kaleidoscope! The person went to know whereabouts of riot affected people in Bhyabla. When they exchanged the 'i know you' glances, Kaleidoscope asked her "how are you these days? what about the neighborhood?" She replied "not well... we are not well... things have changed for bad!"

Kaleidoscope could see the 6 year old kid in some future time saying "even if these are constructs... all are not well!"

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Being-in-the Bars: - Construction of Everyday Social Reality in two Spaces of Consumptions

Kaleidoscope is fortunate enough to have a gang of like minded people in an otherwise monotonous built-in-city. He is grabbing almost every opportunity to explore the length and breadth of the built-in-city and penetrating inside the old city which is yet to be explored and known. Such an experience questions his very foundational assumption of the being-in-the-world. 


In order to be as a being in the world, Kaleidoscope's peculiar species makes constant decisions regarding the patterns of interaction and interface with the 'others'. The other includes most conspicuously the fellow species members but it is not limited to it solely. With their constant action and interaction they become being in - this being in is constantly shifting and never settled. This constant critical being in happens to be explained by Heidegger in his 1962 famous work being and time beautifully!

Such being in is part of the constant world building process through which Kaldeidoscope and his fellow species members continuously pass through and it is an ongoing public discourse. Humans respond to objects according to their perception of its meaning which arises from negotiated social interaction (Blumer 1969 Symbolic Interactionism).

The built-in city and stereotypical bars

As Kaleidoscope is now transferred to one of the close to the colonial capital colleges in a built-in environment he often explores the planned and plaza like 'expensive' places. It includes the malls nearby and some of the finest bars which offers some of the finest flavours of the world! He remembers, once one of his very close relatives after having a drink in Country Roads bar - the place where Kaleidoscope often grabs his drinks commented 'it feels like home." Yes, it gave him the feel of Scotland - his present home. These are the places where people from upwardly mobile middle classes come after office, grab a rounds of drinks, eat wonderful mouthwatering foods pay no attention to the increasingly loud music and then leave. These are the bars that play the IPL matches on giant screens, keep the light dimmed and allow some private moment even within the public space. Kaleidoscope has seen couples looking at each other deeply for long pauses, holding each others, hugging and kissing under the loud music, a mix of alcoholic-foodie-perfumy-bodily-smoky ambiance. It allows a transcendence of boundaries between bodies and the world as both of them slowly sleep deep inside the darkness and increasingly loud music. There is hardly any cross table exchange of glances or words. You have options for high chairs to make yourself visible, privy sofas at corners and open sofas on the high raised dais. The three certain places together form the uncertain space. People can definitely project themselves on the high chair or can form a gang like appearance on the conspicuous sofas on dais or sleep into the privacy in the comfortable sofas. Kaleidoscope remembers on several occasions they sat on the sofas of the dais - the middle range space. Whenever he visited with just one friend they choose the privy sofas.

The typical stereotypic space that one can find in the posh park street or perhaps at many places of the world gets reproduced in the built-in city of New Town Kolkata.

The formal inside story of country roads

The radical bars of the old city: 

Kaleidoscope moves on to find relatively cheap places to drink whenever he manages to go to the old colonial city. While he wrote exclusively on the Apolitical bar in a blogpost he was fortunate enough to spend hours in perhaps one of the oldest and arguably the cheapest bar of the city named as Saw's.

Shaw brothers offer you an extraordinary large hall of a masculine space which is filled with numerous chairs and tables . the style of the furniture represents that of a previous century. The staff wearing traditional waiter dresses having brass badges will take you to the past. Shaw brothers does not allow you to keep your belongings on any of the chairs and radically brings people closer. You can have your table but you can see that there will be other people occupying your table as well. You can talk to them, argue, even share your food and drinks with a complete stranger.

Kaleidoscope was amazed with the enormous shape and size of the bar which looks exactly like a running market where people are actually in a hurry to have food and drink! But they are not. None of the consumers are in a hurry and the space no matter how fleeting it appears is comfortably settled in itself. As they ordered the waiter demanded the money - yes, its prepaid. What about food? Kaleidoscope was even more astonished - there are running hawker like waiters who will bring your food from outside. They are part of the famous delicious street foods of Kolkata. The variety will knock you out. You can have Alu-Kabli (a boiled potato snack) to Panir Tikka in veg and Fish fingers to mutton liver curry and plain fish fries including that of tiny fishes. All in unthinkably low price. The liquor you order are served at the lowest rate in the town. You can go outside to smoke where a couple of sellers are standing with all international and local brands of cigarettes, cigars and hookahs. You can buy single piece of 555 or Dunhil which is otherwise unthinkable in Kolkata.

Crowd is equally interesting. Its a microcosm of the vibrant Kolkata. Kaleidoscope could see people drinking alone at different corners, aged and suited officer-looking people in groups, college students, research scholars, and small businessmen radically challenging every boundaries that human species proudly reproduces in their everyday lives.

The entire space challenges the boundaries between formal and informal economy, class divisions, divisions of inside outside spaces and gives a carnivalesque appearances.
The masculine space inside

The three glasses with three shots of white mischief came on top of each others carried by a juggling waiter. No hanky panky glasses. It's straight and questions the capitalist dimension of unequalising nature often manifested in different kinds of glasses for different types of beverages

The smokers den immediately outside the space

Street food at your table and the boundaries are radically challenged

Consumers intersubjectivity:

While the consumers - the living human elements are always fleeting both the spaces that minutely alters the patterns of being-in of the bars, the broad categorisation remains the same. The built-in bar is formal, restricting and excluded space from the outside world. While even being a confined space the Shaw brothers doors are hardly closed ever. Its almost always swinging with the outside informal world stepping in and the inside liminal and uncertain formalinformal world is stepping out. The careers of street foods or the alcohol serving waiters are the agents of the radical and juxtaposed existence. Kaleidoscope could understand why G H Mead found material culture as a collapsed act bearing a sign of completion that is never complete. Thus while Shaw's door keeps moving as the agents goes out and steps in and Country Road's automated sliding door formally opens with a heavy blower creating curtain of airconditioned air flow it fixes the two radically different experiences. Like Tuan (1980 The Significance of the Artifact) notes material culture fixes our experiences much in the similar manner in which text fixes discourses.

Kaleidoscope can however, enjoy the radically free flowing growth of the material surrounding in his imagination and in his subsequent visits. Its getting built up every moment and then falling flat everytime like his own name - Kaleidoscopic!

Since, now Kaleidoscope is more conscious regarding his being-in the stereotypic late capital bars as on stage, and in those radical bars are off stage, next best thing would be to bring the off stage self inside the stereotypic bars to see if the world cares!

Monday, July 8, 2019

July- A personal Aranyak story

July, the month Kaleidoscope's part of the world dedicates in planting trees. July is the month for monsoon in this part of the world, no wonder this is the time for Grand Forest Festival. Unlike many other festivals this doesn't have canvassing, because Kaleidoscope lives in a society which still sees forest in derogatory sense. Forest- jungle - jungli are never seen as part of the life of the people who are adapted to the urban environment. Since, it's part of the urban centres, it does have a considerable ideological apparatus to trickle down at the places where people still find it compatible to live with forest.

Perhaps the most celebrated novel on forest is Bibhuti Bhusan Bandyopadhyay's Aranyak. It is also the most empathic one, however, even here the protagonist was tasked with transforming the forest into a land for habitation. 

July, the month when one can easily buy (or collect free of cost) saplings from many places to satisfy the zeal for the green. Kaleidoscope's grand father was a compuslive Gardner. An artist by profession, after India's independence he bought a piece of land in Birati and instructed his son, my father as he grew and got a public sector job, to built a kachha house. The lowland was then filled by digging up a pond and a home in the middle of low land - in the middle of nowhere was constructed. My grand father started buying plants (especially the tree category plants) to make the place a perfect greenery. Feidnds during his freedom fighting days often came there and spent days and another kachha house was built to accommodate them. Kaleidoscope was born in1983 and completed his 5th standard to see electricity for the first time of his life. 

July, was their favourite month, because he knew his grandfather would bring one after another variety of trees to plant. As his grandfather suddenly left in an accident his father also waited for the July to come. 

July was the month when Kaleidoscope had to stop wearing laced boots and wear water friendly chappals, to give numerous folds in the end part of his full pants.

July was the month when Kaleidoscope could enjoy the cycle ride over the water logged lanes and bylanes. As his sycle sped up, water dispersed like a ship -perhapa his little Titanic. 

Until 1995s his place grew little greener on every July. His grandfather could motivate his neighbours to plant a variety of trees which he bought for them. His father continued until people started to divide their lands and completely fill up the lowland which was the home of a variety of wetland grasses and wild animals. Kaleidoscope could remember jackles, heirs, cevet cats, Bengal fishing cats roaming around their courtyard. 

July 2003 was the time when his grandfather's dream was finally dismantled completely as their land was divided and apart from their portion the rest was sold off and on the pond transformed to give room to several families. 

July, 2018, and Kaleidoscope is on his way to a sub-urban college a little away from his place. He sees plants are kept at a busy crossing of the district headquarters. Fresh saplings are kept beside a dead trunk. 

Like Satyacharan, Kaleidoscope doesn't have a choice than to see the world as it revolves around, only that in his imagination there lives a July which is way more rainy, green and a space where people can plant trees - the large ones.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Mandarmani - sea, sand, sombre in late capital extravagance

Kaleidoscope often takes refuge to the imagined reality - perhaps in a hyperreal snapshot of the memories, facts-artifacts and perhaps hyperfacts of the ideal types. The quick tour to the posh weekend destination of Bengal - Mandarmani perhaps represents one of those refuges. Where the imagination could unleash with a help of a variety of feudal spirits aided with beautifully served tandoors!
It's the salt-sand-sombre in the evening silhouette that gives you somewhat out of the world luxury in the middle of nowhere. Few years back the beach was the house of the famous red crabs who used to populate the beach to make it look like a red beach. Perhaps the name came from local name madar boni - madar represents the wilderness! The wilderness which once used to occupy the space that has been encroached by the fast growing weekend destination.
Mandarmani that lives in the imagination of Kaleidoscope is that of 2009 when he and his colleague took their students to a quick tour as they were returning from Digha after a 15-day-long fieldwork. The mandarmani had a super costly place to stay -Rosevally - the name now commonly associated with financial scam and the rest of the beach was empty. As they approached, it's just 10 years Kaleidoscope thought looking at the numerous places that offers a stay and food to the tourists. If one can afford the journey one can afford to stay! Hence, Mandarmani, Kalieodscope thought is on its way to become perhaps the second Digha. Digha is crowded and concreted minus the beauty of the famous Marine Drive, Mumbai!
As they reach to their destination they were informed that because of the lack of communication between the Kolkata office and the hotel, their booking information was not updated. The hotel candlewood beach resort apologised and arranged kaleidoscope and his friends and fsmiliest into another resort nearby. None of them were satisfied with the rooms offered to them but they were assured to be given the best rooms of the resort on the day after.
Kalieodscope, his family and friends were class conscious and of course it was rather an adjustment to the situation. The candlewood had beautiful decoration, well maintained garden and cushioned large half tilted chairs. They had a tandoor counter outside from where they could order items to be served on the beach while one can enjoy rounds of drinks. Seeing the approaching evening in slaty blue sky along with such extravagance would be a dream for a middle class mind who aspires to embrace the ecstacy of the aristrocate.
All these happened with the best available room being offered to them on the next day as Kaleidoscope enjoyed their stay for the entire trip.
It was their child's first trip outside the known territory and hence it was full of excitement and uncertainty. The baby cooperated and perhaps made the trip even more happening with his excited gestures of seeing the limitless sky water lovemaking over the silhouette canvas. The little one tried to have a grip on wind that blew over them. He smiled at the strangers, waved at the other kids months elder of younger than him and kept participating in the late night parties by entertaining Kaleidoscope's friends - the newly weeded couple!
He cooperated by sleeping early on the next day when the team was offered a stay at the most expensive cottage of the resort.
The journey to the retreating sea during the low tide along with the little one to a point where the wet sand met the sky and embraced the reflection of love affair has been dissolving one. The water is a great leveller. Whoever stays at whatever place gets wet in the same water where river meets and rain falls. Perhaps the only equaliser that one can imagine in a hierarchical society!
Some of the moments worth sharing!

The extravaganza

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Train journeys and ethnographic experiences

How did kaleidoscope miss the over crowded train journeys since 2007. Train compartments are the places where you are doing ethnography on the way. One of the major methods he used in his ethnography during the violent days of political turmoil in West Bengal happens to be doing nothing. Keeping the mind recorder open and sit peacefully at a nearby tea-stalls in a crowded place. Occasionally smiling at the people enquiring about their cultivation experience, children's studies and future plans. Meanwhile keeping the mind open so as to not miss any significant event being discussed. Later on he explored significant cases thoroughly.

This particular habit was not part of his theoretical knowledge of the 'methodology' classes but what he experienced in his decade long commute in the infamous Bongaon locals boarding from Birati and getting off at Sealdah. He used to cling by holding a slender grill of the window and the handle meant for pulling the door on the other. After Durganagar- the next station he used to get a strong push from the outside to enter inside. It was suffocating but close to the people. Close so as to blurr the class, caste, ethnic and regional boundaries. Perhaps national boundaries as well as he knows there are many people from Bangladesh looking for a better life in the second most important city of colonial period the Calcutta.

Kaleidoscope used to travel in the same compartment and used to listen to the stories and narratives as they progressed over weeks, months and perhaps years.

Stories range from economy and politics to sexuality. From getting drunk to refusing tea. From going to Sonagachi to disregarding sexuality completely.

Local trains are no shortage of stories. There is no better way to do ethnography than to listen to people as the talk!

The book 'people party policy in India' which is expected to hit the stacks soon is an outcome of my learning through the train journeys as much as it is an outcome of my methodology trainings.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Apolitical bar and a 'cultural' Jai Shri Ram : Bengal Politics in a nutshell

It was a hot summer noon with the mid sun sucking everything that a human has to offer. Along with one of his close colleague turned friends Kalieodscope seeks refuge to one of the local not so famous bars. These are the bars where real people meet chat and perhaps discuss the whereabouts of the rest of the world. These are the bars which doesn't stop you from smoking while you enjoy your drink because it's ultimately your lungs and your decision, remember the famous my body my choice move. these are the bars where you get to see people across spectrum some engineer, some medical representatives and also some of the truck drivers and local political goons. These are the bars that can suspend the bars between classes, political identities and what not. Truly postmodern experience crystallized in the form of alcohol consumption located nearby. They are not going to give you fantastic foods or so called ambience. However these are the places where one can find out real feel for a sample of the entire cosmos which is happening around you and things which are making people affected.

So when they entered the bar all of the tables were occupied some by engineers one of whom was afraid of getting married but was sufficiently pressurized by his family, couple of medical representatives who like Kaleidoscope was looking for a refuge from the scorching sun, one of the local businessmen, a couple of local political workers exhausted with installing party flags in neighbouring areas in order to mark the territory of one of the political parties facing stiff challenge from the others, and also an auto driver who thought it was enough for him to earn for the day and grab a beer.
The thing that was striking in the bar was a couple of codes of conducts pasted on its wall. Kindly refer to the photograph Kaleidoscope managed to take.

Yes you got it right the bar was asking its customers not to discuss political issues and not to use slangs. It was quite clear that these two domains frequent in that space. Kaleidoscope's friend's fun full response to this is that it's a sanskari bar. However, when the couple of local political workers entered the bar they looked at one of the tables where one of the customers were previously known to them, chanted "Jai Shri Ram". Yes you got it right not Rum but Ram.
immediately the entire scenario of the Bengal as well as India's political terrain surfaced. People do not consider Jai Sri Ram as a political slogan and there is hardly anything that anyone can do about. Entire political landscaping BJP is capitalising on is by using the cultural baggages which is apparently not political at all. Starting from their campaigning strategy which uses social media that requires huge amount of money to their sloganeering that uses so called what Kaleidoscope had said cultural misrecognition. There is hardly anything that can be done at this point of time to convince people that these cultural misrecognitions are misrecognitions and not so called innocent cultural expressions anymore.

Kaleidoscope knows as many others that the the cultural ideological sloganeering and poitics is winning unhindered in most part of his country and its alarming.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The eight pillars of BJP’s rise in West Bengal in 2019


8. Internal sabotage within TMC: 6

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has shown a radical surge in Parliamentary election 2019 in West Bengal. While many find this rise as unexpected and shocking, this article with the help ethnographic research in Rural Bengal since 2008 shows the possible reasons for such a rise. It appears that in recent past excepting 2016 when CPIM and Congress had alliance, BJP’s vote share is rising rapidly in the state. If one compares the 2016 Assembly election it is an astronomical figure in favour of BJP (Figure 1). I have been doing fireworks in different places in West Bengal since 2006. Based on such field experiences and available scholarly works in this article I explore some of the major reasons that has escalated BJP's rise in West Bengal, a state which was relatively immune towards Hindutva sentiments until now.

Figure 1 Vote percentage share of different political parties in West Bengal since 2006 (Source: and news paper reports)

1. Identity –Organisation interface

While, the three decades of left rule was successful to install an interesting form of public transaction through ‘party society’ that undermined every other competing channel, it changed drastically in post left Bengal. There has been a surge of state sponsored festivals (both secular and religious) that permanently altered the political landscape of West Bengal once and for all. West Bengal is one of the soft targets for identity polarisation given the partition history and repeated riots and state's failure since independence to 1970s when Left Front took up the office. In my fieldwork sessions since 2006, I have been to places where Riot like situation was created during the Left’s tenure because of a) misunderstanding between the communities (e.g. a cow's leg was found in some temple, but it was carried by a bunch of jackles not by the Muslims), b) purposive attempt (to polarise) and, c) a mix of the two. These were managed effectively by the party society. Usually, a school teacher, or a govt employee would have informed the local party cadres to mitigate the tension even before it was formed. Whenever an inter-caste or inter-religious marriage took place, or for that matter any familial crisis arose, it took little time to become partisan. Booth Committee – Branch Committee – Local Committee has been champions of quick and easy fixing of a wide range of conflicts which could potentially spread and instigate further violence and counter violence. Such a mechanism of public transaction was completely wiped out by the TMC since 2011. After their landslide victory first, they assumed control over several Left Front’s party offices and then as an obvious political mechanism they sidelined the ‘party line’ of control. As an alternative to the organisation based system TMC depended on a handful of locally powerful elites. In several villages these elites are often the persons who had to give away land during the Land Reform movement and had considered the left to be their class enemy. This section had money and assumed control over a significant section of the rural youth. TMC used this mechanism and exercised control through a new form of party machinery which was unknown to the people of West Bengal. Over time, the individual dependent organisation structure started to show crippling chain of command, role confusion, area confusion and ultimately dreadful factions. When the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee depended on a significant number of film and like personalities instead of her dedicated party workers for giving tickets to the Parliamentary Elections in 2014, TMC’s inability to manage faction was clear.
As Political Society and Party Society got weathered away (as theorised by Partha Chatterjee 2004 and Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya 2009, 2016), TMC tended to depend more on the ‘cultural’ and ‘representational’ issues which Suman Nath theorised as ‘Cultural Misrecognition’. Nath (2018: 99) in Economic and Political Weekly shows that TMC “Instead of bypassing or substituting existing channels of public transactions, the TMC is inviting existing channels of public transactions to take place but within the templates provided by them.” Hence, while TMC undermined and dismantled the party society invited traditional Identity based mobilisations ranging from Shalishi Sabha to the rise of Religious festivals and religiousity. Although, with most of the TMC state level leaders’ association with Durgotsav, it is not surprising to see such an inclination towards identity-festival-TMC nexus after they assumed political control in the State Assembly.

As the party began to focus more on the festivals (one instance is the allocation of funds to the Ministry of Information and Culture from Rs. 61 Crores in 2010-2011 to Rs. 300 Crores in 206-2017), politico-identity issues began to surface from 2013 onwards. If one sees the number of riot like violence of the state it shows a steep rise from 2012 onwards (see figure 2). 
Figure 2 Number of riot like conflicts in West Bengal, Source State data provided to the Parliament

2012-2013 onwards two major policy linked events happened, a) provision of a monthly allowance to the Imams and Muezzins which was considered as an instance of Muslim appeasement by the state and b) Not allowing Durgotsav procession to go during the Muharram to avoid communal clashes. Moreover, organising Durgapuja Carnival has often been seen as a balancing act from the TMC. Ram Navami rallies started to spread rapidly since 2015-2016 and became aggressive over the years. AAMRA Ek Sachetan Prayas Forum, an organisation doing serious conflict studies in West Bengal had documented and Published several reports on the detailed nature of such conflicts and how these are connected to a) religious festivals including Ram Navami, Muharram and Durgotsav, and b) hoax faceboook posts in different parts of the state.
Once, the identity faultline was opened up, BJP capitalised on it by consolidating the Majority vote including that of erstwhile Left Cadres.

2.Primordial identity beyond political identity:

From the extent of vote share it appears that the reduction in Left vote from 23% to 6% and rise in BJP from 18% to 40% is self explanatory, but it would be a gross generalisation if one makes such a streamline conclusion that Left people simply voted for the BJP. In my ethnographic works, especially in places where active identity mobilisation has taken place since 2013, I have seen the proliferation of Rashtriya Swayamshebak Sangha (RSS) led organisations like Bajrang Dal, Durga Shakti, and Hindu Samhati which has a cross party appeal. In a couple of articles published in 2019 at International Journal of Conflict and Violence (IJCV) and at the Journal of Indian Anthropological Society Suman Nath and Subhoprotim Roy Chowdhury write on the ways in which these organisations are pulling people from across the political spectrum in the name of “saving the Hindus”! There are workers belonging to TMC, Left and Congress who did not hesitate to say that party comes next to the Identity/Community. Such a divide has been percolating and tearing apart the public sphere through a variety of mechanisms that range from circulation of videos and texts via social media to tangible experiences of riots. If one observes the geographical dimension of the riots it appears that once there is a communal tension at one place, its adjacent places are affected within months. Among several instances we can imagine the recent conflicts in Naihati-hajinagar-Chandannagar and Baduria-Basirhat. While in the first instance a mix of population is notable (Nath and Roy Choudhury in IJCV article) which includes people from other north Indian states in the second instance significant minority presence is noted. As one of the TMC worker in Basirhat says “Nusrat has got votes because of her identity only, who knows her to be a party worker?... earlier it was the Didi factor, she could make anyone win, but now its Hindu-Muslim factor!”
While the popular film actress Nusrat won the Basirhat seat allegedly because of her identity, TMC lost with its veteran Dinesh Trivedi to Arjun Singh of BJP who recently left TMC. It has something to do with consolidation of Hindu votes in the region. Similarly, Assembly by-poll at places like Bhatpara is won over by BJP defeating experienced TMC leader, Sarada Scam accused Madan Mitra because of Identity polarisation.

3. Governance issues and absence of participation:

The discursive sphere of West Bengal since 2018 had one issue in common: the disgust of the people who could not volte in the Panchayat election. Three District Panchayats in West Bengal are won over by TMC uncontested. Additionally as the Election Commission of India data shows about 34% of all the seats from different tiers are won over by the TMC uncontested. Panchayat election has been one of the bloodiest elections that the state has witnessed in recent times. West Bengal has always witnessed high poll percentage, especially in Panchayat elections. In fact in a Bengali book entitled Shreni’r Drishtite Gram Panchayat, (Panchayat, seen through the Class) written by CPIM leader Dr. Surya kanta Mishra voting percentage is shown as one of the achievements of politically conscious vibrant public sphere. Indeed, as written by Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Bhaskar Chakrabarti and Suman Nath in 2010 in Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, even though there is a falling percentage of attendance to the annual Gram Sabha meetings over the years, Gram Sabha continues to occupy an important position in the Rural West Bengal. With DFID sponsored Strengthening Rural Decentralisation, during the last phase of the Left ruled West Bengal has seen special emphasis on the Gram Sabha led Annual Action Plan preparation. With the advent of TMC’s rule and onslaught of World Bank sponsored Institutional Strengthening of Gram Panchayat Programme (ISGPP) there is a parallel shrinking of space for participation in decentralised governance. Consequently, even though a number of schemes have actually catered the needs of the rural poor along with the improvement of rural connectivity and livelihoods support base, people got alienated from the Gram Panchayat. It is important to note that Gram Panchayats are not only an institution of governance, but it is an institution that entangled itself with the social fabric of rural West Bengal. For instance, a Pradhan (chef of a Gram Panchayat) is not only the office bearer but also a guardian of the region. He is called up to resolve family issues and often given a lot of respect in different ritualistic performances.  
While, on the one hand the party society was dismantled, sphere for people’s participation in democratic functioning of Gram Panchayat was also reduced significantly. In a 2017 article published in Critical Asian Studies, Subhasish Ray and Mohan J Dutta show how in Junglemahal (the forested western part of the state) Gram Panchayat decisions are being implemented bypassing the elected wing of the Panchayat. They argued that this form of “hyper development” has alienated people from the development initiatives. Clearly, People’s inability to vote and stopping people from filing nomination in 2018 election have backfired.

4. People’s disgust with Corruption:

In a 2017 Economic and Political Weekly article entitled “Everyday Politics and Corruption in West Bengal” Suman Nath showed how the corruption charges against TMC especially that of Sarada Scam and Narada bribery could not give any electoral dividend to the opposition. He further argued that people are quite habituated to become involved in the corrupt transactions in their everyday life. Starting with empanelment to employment generation schemes to getting houses, everywhere party demands money and people are usually willing to pay a certain amount if that speeds up the process. Such an everydayness of corruption made the corruption charges virtually insignificant. This scenario, however, has changed over the last few years. Allegedly, a large number of people bribed to get employment at variety of positions. News reports of such incidents made headlines every other day. While corruption charges are not new in West Bengal, last few years have seen complete open discussion of such bribery and corruptions in the public sphere. It was well known informally who were asking money for what. The chain of command was open and sometimes there were conflicts regarding the percentage share of the money among the party cadres of different layers. When, BJP came with an alternative form of corruption free governance system, it got immediate appeal to people at large.

5. Governmentality of fear

CPIM led Left parties had a powerful trade union among the government employees. For clerks and officials it was Coordination Committee and for other people occupying relatively higher echelons had a variety of associations. Transfer to distant places happened to be the most feared punishment to anyone getting involved in anything which party doesn’t approve. There were competing associations belonging to non-left parties, but they were weak and hardly had any command over how does the government function or make the decisions. Since 2011 these associations were dismantled through a variety of mechanisms and slowly administrative wing took over the welfare issues of the workers. While, it helped bringing back the much needed “work culture” of the offices, a large sections of the employees disheartened to see the rights to protest and participate in strikes were dealt with stringent action. A government employee for last few years is supposed to come not only on the day a strike is called but also the day before and the day after. Additionally, there are grievances related to significant difference in Dearness Allowance and delay in implementation of the Pay Commission benefits. It is said that based on the calculation of postal ballot which is issued mostly to the government employees who were involved in election, BJP wins about 39 out of 42 sits in West Bengal.  
In my ethnographic works in different government offices it is found that there is an ambiance of fear among the employees everywhere primarily because of two reasons. First, the stringent action taken against those failed to appear on the days strikes are called. Second, public image of the government employee has been affected by statements made against such employees by several political leaders. In consequence, there is an ambiance of fear of becoming subjected to public and media trial which is anything but a biased and often with heinous consequences. Government employees are not isolated from the society, rather they are important nodes to the web of society. Their disgust had dreadful consequences to TMC’s vote share and perhaps gave confidence to the BJP.

6. BJP’s Organisation, Temples and money:

It might sound unreal to people who know the political landscape of West Bengal if I say BJP has its organisation strength in West Bengal. However, throughout my fieldwork in different districts of West Bengal I have encountered BJP’s organisation in a variety of names. It includes pro-Hindu new organisations like Hindu Samhati, Durga Shakti and Bajrang Dal long with several existing temple, sacred grove based local organisations which get funding from Viswa Hindu Parishad and RSS. Apart from these, several places like North and South 24 Parganas, Hoogly, Bankura, Paschim Medinipur, Purba Medinipur, Paschim Bardhaman BJP in the name of BJP has earned popularity. There were already existing workers who earned confidence with regular visits by central leaderships and state level leaderships. There happens to be a silent movement “Meri booth sabse Majboot” (my booth is the strongest) among the BJP players. In several rural places in addition to identity polarisation and statement like “Hindus are in danger” they also popularised the notions that people need jobs and self reliance. They also campaigned based on the Panchayat level corruption and lack of democratic practices at the Panchayat. I remember before the election in several places there were saffron flags along with BJP flag hoisted in the paddy fields – something symbolically state the extent of political percolation in rural sphere.
With the rise of BJP’s popularity and cadre base, TMC local leaders in many places panicked. They panicked primarily because of the relatively chaotic organisation and confusing chain of command within their party network. Additionally, allegedly there was a huge fund flow along the line of establishing political control. During poll two BJP workers were arrested carrying one crore of rupees in a railway station which is symptomatic to the nature of illegal money flow during the election.

7. BJP as a new saviour

I have encountered several Left Front supporters and cadres in rural West Bengal who took help from the BJP cadres to come back to their villages and to fight against the alleged false cases registered against them by TMC. These are localised and extremely significant findings to actually show the reasons behind the left’s support to BJP. Additionally, a simple calculation of enemy’s enemy is a friend has been playing a background score. In this situation in addition to the identity issue and Hindu vote accumulation, Left’s vote consolidation under BJP’s banner is nothing but natural and instinctive.

8. Internal sabotage within TMC:

TMC has a practice of nominating people with little known political career behind them. These are the popular faces from the silver screen who managed to win in 2014 election but many of them failed to do so in 2019. As already discussed it was a master stroke of TMC supreme to deal with the internal and factional conflicts within the party where it became inevitable that nominating one would make the other angry. Instead, someone fresh, someone having enough “symbolic capital” earned from other field (like film and television, theatre, etc.) got the nomination. This strategy made internal alienation of the workers and leaders who toiled to curve out political space from the Left and now compete with the BJP. Consequently, before the parliamentary election several TMC leaders held open disagreement with TMC’s chain of command. Sabyasachi Dutta exemplifies one of those leaders who held significant difference in terms of TMC’s decisions. It is highly likely that there were internal agreements with the opposition forces in many places in exchange of money and/or promise of ministership etc.

There are several other individual and microscopic reasons for such an astonishing rise of BJP in West Bengal. Those require thorough studies. To conclude that the entire Left vote has changed its camp and got accumulated to BJP would always entail oversimplification to a much complex and detailed story. Each of the districts will reveal a different story of the rise of BJP, however, it is needless to mention whatever issues they have taken up the major axis of BJP’s rise is on identity mobilisation. A dimension which has been fuelled since 2011 and BJP being champion of it excelled and steered the benefit in their favour.

About the author:
Suman Nath, PhD, teaches anthropology in Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Government College, New Town, Kolkata. He is doing research on development governance and politics in West Bengal since 2006. He regularly publishes scholarly and popular articles in journals like EPW and news papers like Anandabazar Patrika. His book People-Party-Policy Interplay in India is due to release from Routledge, New York this year.