Millennium Post

Kundera's fugue & dancing comrades

Time after time, Czech novelist Milan Kundera wrote how history of the world could be mapped on the history of music and lamented the moments when free-flowing creative energy was subdued under a rigid structure of form. His essays and novels, particularly Testaments Betrayed, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Immortality, among others were long-drawn musical lamentations, strung together like pieces of a fugue.

They captured, with breathtaking flourish, the joys and sorrows of Euro-American politics post May 1968 ‘Prague Spring’ -- the euphoria of revolution, the apogee of student movements and intellectualisation of international politics, and the eventual, almost inevitable, loss of faith, the heartbreaking disillusionment with it all. Kundera documented, with brutal honesty, the concentric circles of disappointment, with war and Western imperialism, with its communist alternative, and then, finally, even with its counternarrative, Western capitalism and its flattening of the round world. As I watch the student movements, first in Delhi, now in Kolkata, with their ‘solidarity’ doppelgangers in New York, Berlin, London and other transcontinental destinations, with interest and awe, I’m overcome with the same sense of déjà vu as Kundera. Because they are on the brink of betrayal by the dancing comrades of Hok Kolorob.

No, don’t get me wrong. That Kolkata and Delhi needed rescuing, needed being reclaimed, is as obvious to me as it is to the student and teacher volunteers who throng the streets by thousands to make a point. The V-Cs are incidental: they are just the face of a system that has alienated the people it is meant to serve, educationally, ideologically, politically. Gold medalists have returned their badges of honour; alumni have penned long open letters to explain their demands. It’s not as if they are not self-aware and fearful of the eventual petering out of this ‘anarchic impulse.’ The very architecture is a disease, and an en masse rejection of this architecture is a bold, indeed revolutionary, gesture. Yet, time and again, these fabled uprisings, whether in Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal, or in New Delhi in the wake of 16 December horrific gang-rape, have outlived their Jacobin moments almost as soon as a watered down solution was stitched up and thrown about like an expired packet of food.      
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