The truth about ‘Urban Naxals’: a review of Samaresh Majumdar’s ‘Kaalbela’


In an attempt to continue the series of my reviews focusing on Bengali literature, I couldn’t resist the allure of using a buzzword to attract attention. It’s been a long time since I have written anything here, which goes along well with my not reading anything Bengali for a long time. In fact, I have not been reading as much as I used to. The nice little goodreads widget you see on the right might vouch for it. But I am happy that I am into reading again. I have started buying books (of course, without finishing the ones I already have!) and reading as much as I can in my new lifestyle (new city, new campus, new routine, ooh, the newness!). Recently I got my hands on a book that I otherwise wouldn’t have read just now had I not got it as a gift. A great gift, that I now realise. You should always be grateful to people who introduce you to new book and music. Anyway, straight into the book (or the review of it)…

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Kaalbela (English: The Time of Tomorrow Or The Time of the Catastrophe) is the second volume of The Animesh Quartet by Samaresh Majumdar, who is one of the few living legends of modern Bengali literature. The book starts with Animesh Mitra coming to Kolkata (then Calcutta) from Jalpaiguri to study B.A in Scottish Church College. But unfortunately, Kolkata was not a really calm place then; trams and buses would burn due to protests by young minds who wanted change. And Animesh got mixed in one such event and got shot as a suspect. From there, the story just went on, increasing its pace and tension like a classic thriller. The 70’s world of Kolkata, the people, the society – all came out rather vividly. I was reading with eyes open wide, not for wonder, but due the sheer clarity of it all. I felt youth of Kolkata then was in the phase of transition, people are thinking up new slangs and using them openly, girls hanging out with boys late — how such changes were affecting the people. Fascinating.

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Animesh never wanted to get himself involved in politics, but somehow, rather inevitably he went ahead on the uncertain road of changing the world. I could see how the university students wanted to take an active part in politics. And it was natural. Because, even after the Raj was gone, the structure remained, the sucking and looting went on. And it was normal for people to get angry, people who lost so much to get the much awaited independence. So thus, frustrated by the Communist Party’s double faced attitude, Animesh, like many others, started preparing for an armed movement, inspired from the methods of Mao Zedong, that led to the liberation of Vietnam. They started an armed revolution in the villages, dethroning the landlords and freeing the lands to the farmers. The first such an encounter happened in Naxalbari, a village in north Bengal, quite close to the international borders. As India is a huge country with so much diversity, the ideology couldn’t spread as fast as in Vietnam, and the movement simply came to be known as The Naxalite Movement. A lot of young students from well-to-do family happily sacrificed themselves in the cause. But due to lack of no single leader with concrete manifesto, the movement fell apart soon. Though, the idea remained.

But this novel is not only the story of Naxals. It is a love story. An idyllic one. And you’d be crying at the bittersweet ending. It is a book that needs to be translated immediately, for it deserves a broader readership.

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