Break on through to the other side

Colour of Gratitude Selected writings: 2000 to 2009
The writings are full of passion. There is a poet that runs through his prose and it lifts the ordinary to a level where it becomes the subject of admiration or plain gaze

Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

In 1980, Saeed Mirza made a film with a title that subsumed the undefined pent up rage people have towards the system. The protagonist of Mirza's disturbing film, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai, essayed brilliantly by Naseeruddin Shah, did not have a clue, till its denouement, about the reasons behind his seething anger. There is no such confusion, however, visible in journalist Amit Sengupta's debut offering, Colour of Gratitude is Green, about what makes him hopping mad.

The book, which is a collection of his articles that have appeared in different publications over the years, shows Amit furiously questioning the status quo and all its respected and a hallowed guardians. He is unsparing in peeling off layers of confusion laid over our social and political reality by the vested interests to obfuscate and distract us from issues that concern ordinary lives. His touchstone for judging people's conduct is humanism and not doctrinaire understanding of Marxism.

Therefore, he is on the wrong side of CPM on the issue of Nandigram, when ordinary people rose in revolt against the mindless land acquisition programme of the Left Front government. He is again on the side of Medha Patkar who picks up cudgels on behalf of the dam oustees against the undemocratic tyranny of the big project mafia. His interview and brilliantly sketched profile of Patkar resurrects anew her uncomplicated and simple persona and how she manages to easily convey the message from the ground to the powers that be - even if it means taking a three-wheeler to meet the prime minister.

What unifies the book, despite its different backdrops and subjects, is Amit's totemic faith in the ability of the "proles" to find a way out of an unjust feudal-capitalist order. He believes in the role of public intellectuals to engage in debates on key public issues. His interaction with social scientist Ashis Nandy is one of the highlights of the book. Amit's deep reading of history and political science manages to draw Nandy into discussing issues seldom seen in Indian popular media. It is one of those interviews that really bridges the two worlds of the academia and media.

Nandy concurs with Amit when he says: "A huge majority are not public intellectuals because they are afraid of jeopardising their professional status - basically, their status is not high because of what they say with the help of jargon could have been said in a much simpler, direct form."

Amit's training and worldview has little space for the anti-intellectualism of the Sangh Parivar and the manner in which its simplistic ideology panders to fascism. He spews venom at the divisive ways of the Hindutva brigade and how they have communalised our pluralist society. He is unsparing in his criticism of the Indian State and how it has brought misery on the minority community in the name of fighting terror. There is a special piece on the Gujarat carnage, 2002, a tribute to our secular inheritance and synthesis: 'A poem for Asif'.

His interview with author Arundhati Roy that appeared in Hardnews magazine shows how terrorists and security agencies often work in tandem. Read this gem from Roy. "In Kashmir, he special operations group (SOG), they become porous, osmotic; they blur into the universe of renegades, surrendered militants, informers, spies... Eventually, there's a sort of exchange of body fluids."

Amit's writings are full of passion. There is a poet that runs through his prose and it lifts the ordinary to a level where it becomes the subject of admiration or plain gaze. His nostalgic journey through the Mughalsarai railway station, for instance, has to be savoured by all those who long for the simple joys of life, "when life was not so complicated, the air was not conditioned and water did not arrive in plastic..."
Last, but not the least, the book takes cognisance of the contribution of Hindi literary giants like Rajendra Yadav, Uday Prakash or Dalit literature that does not find space in the English media. He gives prominence to language thinkers 'as his writers' - showing how real and rooted they are about their narrative on contemporary India.

Amit has it in him to pause and write a cinematic, nuanced, big book about the complex, many-layered cruelties, injustice and violence that are inherent in a country that is going through bewildering changes. We must all wait for that moment.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2009