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Social Dynamics and Societal Politics

Prathama Banerjee

By Amit Kumar Gupta
Orient Blackswan, Delhi, 2009, pp. 340, price not stated.

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 9 September 2010

Crises and Creativities is a book that can be described in many ways. At one level, it is a book about the (Bengali) middle class. At another level, it is a book about vernacular Marxism, if such a term be permitted. At yet another level, this book is about a critical and still under-researched time of Indian history—the 1940s and 50s. And to me, personally, this is above all a book about the difficult and ever-changing relationship between the literary and the political. In all these aspects, this is an important and interesting book. And Amit Kumar Gupta writes with deep involvement in his subject, which is bound to move the reader. Let me begin with the period that the book deals with—namely, Bengal between the Second World War and the first general election of 1952. This in itself is significant. For while there is now increasing scholarship on the immediate post-Independence years—the years of decolonization a la Sekhar Bandopadhyay, the after-years of Partition a la Jaya Chatterjee or the post-Gandhi years a la Ram Guha—it is only rarely that the decades right before and right after 1947 are thought together. The nationalist insistence that the event of freedom/partition should be seen as a momentous ‘break’ in time still remains a powerful influence, such that colonial and postcolonial histories are almost always studied as distinct. Indeed, in the mainstream Indian academia, 1947 remains not just a chronological marker but also a disciplinary divide—such that the pre-1947 years appear the site of history while the post-1947 years the site of sociology, political science and economics. The current book moves away from this earlier kind of ideological and disciplinary framing. While freedom and partition figure prominently in the narrative, they are seen as no more or no less momentous as events than say the famine of 1943 or the Tebhaga movement of 1946 or for that matter, the death of Gandhi. Additionally, the book tries to co-formulate the eventfulness of the 1940s and 50s with contemporary everyday experience of the middle classes in Bengal. The author calls this a period of crisis—referring to experiences of war, Japanese bombing of Calcutta and its neighbourhood, occupation by Allied troops, famine, price rise, cloth-scarcity, unemployment, black-marketing, urban alienation, communal riots, industrial strikes, peasant movements, communist insurgency, partition, migration of refugees and so on. The label crisis is perhaps appropriate. And yet this is ...

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