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Memory and Narrative As Interpretive Devices

Meena R. Menon

By Srila Roy
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 252, Rs. 725.00


Remembering Revolution is a perceptive, sympathetic and yet systematic and rigorous study of gender in the Naxalite movement in the 60s and 70s. There have been many studies of the Naxalite movement of late, but none that has explored the role of women from the point of view of their own experiences and motivations on the one hand, and on the other, examining the attitudes existing then among their male comrades, the party leadership, family and social milieu, which in turn influenced what they did and thought. In the introduction to the book, the author has made an exceptional contribution to the discourse on memory and narratives in history and sociology, on the methodology of using life stories and perceptions for understanding and interpreting social and political processes. This is extremely useful in the background of the growing popularity and validation of oral history. She evaluates the strengths of using ‘stories’ while admitting some of the pitfalls of romanticizing it. Roy describes memory and narrative as interpretive devices and describes the book as one that ‘locates the work of personal remembrance in a wider remit of cultural forms and meanings; of cultural representations and historical interpretations of Naxalbari’. Remembering Revolution is an excellent example of how narratives can be used, without losing rigour or academic merit, to theorize popular memory processes in order to understand and historically locate ‘cultural repertoires of history’.   The book brings out the cultural construct of the ideal of the revolutionary, which is based on ‘revolutionary masculinity’ and ‘heroic feminity’. This image deeply influenced the way that both men and women in the movement viewed themselves and each other; it influenced their relationships and those with their families and society. It is clear from Roy’s work that this ideal was based on dominant middle class male ideals, (particularly in Bengal which forms the backdrop for this study), that are deeply prejudiced against all that is traditionally feminine, and therefore weak, emasculating, powerless, even shameful. She points out that this is combined with a romanticizing on the other hand, of the mother, the lover, the home maker. As a result, for women in the revolutionary movement to negotiate these contradictory ideals was well nigh impossible. The book has used narrative to bring out these contradictions, in the way women perceived and moulded themselves, in the way male-female relationships were conducted, and the way the party dealt ...

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