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The politics of inequality, and inhumanity.
on 26 May 2014
This novel is set in Calcutta, in the seventies - but feels immediately relevant to the politics of today. The writer demonstrates how economic inequality and inhumanity are inextricably linked. The members of the prosperous, bourgeois Ghosh family, funded by their paper mill business, step over the famine victims dying on the streets - and learn to show the same callousness to each other, within the household. Only one family member, Supratik, a student, is disturbed enough by this to imagine change. He joins the Naxalite revolutionary movement, and goes to live in the countryside, amongst the poorest farmers, to agitate for revolution. Once, there, though, facing the mechanics of fomenting revolution (fire-bombing, assassination) he finds himself showing exactly the same extreme inhumanity to the small-time landowners and policemen that they have shown to the villagers they exploit. The circle is completed when Supratik returns home, and, faced with an Indian state that gives no quarter in its determination to wipe out the Naxalite economic threat, betrays the one person, above all others, that his politics should tell him to save.
The writing is a precise, unflinching and merciless as the story it tells. The book is long, but the intricate detail of the world it creates, the complex narrative, and characters struggling with unreconcilable contradictions, both within themselves, and within the society they're part of, pull the reader in. Not always an easy read, but a necessary one - and, at a time when India has elected a new government that has sold itself on dreams of wealth for all, but appears to espouse a politics of unrestrained capitalism, perhaps also a timely warning of the dangers of extreme inequality. The state, in the end, failed to crush the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency that started in the Seventies - and which has now taken over vast areas of rural India.