ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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So Sharply Delineated

A Guernica of Political Prose

Calcutta Diary by Ashok Mitra (Kolkata: Paranjoy Guha Thakurta; first published in 1977 by Frank Cass, London), 2014; pp xxvii + 300, Rs 395.

A few lawyers, doctors, teachers and journalists, they do not trumpet their inspiration from the rooftops: “their identification with the cause is nevertheless total”. Amal Sen, the homeopath was one such sympathiser. A dreamer of socialist dreams, he medicated, “free of charge ... the poor and the needy in working class slums. The coarseness of commerce never intervened. ... Doing a good turn to others was for him a cerebral impulse. The sum of such impulses was his life. ... A rainbow of a bridge joined ... [his] life with ... [his] dream.”

That column of “Calcutta Diary” in 1974 was part of the making of my political consciousness, this when I was an undergraduate student of metallurgical engineering at IIT Bombay, cocooned in an ivory tower. Sometime in 1972 or 1973, a friend who had joined the advertising firm of Frank Simoes brought the EPW home. The EPW was the obvious oddball out of the bunch of magazines she shared with me, and I took it home to Dadda, and Dadda and I soon fell for its first half – hook, line, and sinker. Dadda loved Calcutta Diary the most. The son of a proofreader, Dadda had a felicity with the English language and English literature. Ashok Mitra’s (AM) column became a source of comfort for him, for he felt that if AM’s political prose – so full of life, of anger and indignation as well as empathy and compassion – could move him, it could also touch others, engage the feelings of a whole lot of sensitive souls, bring about a realisation of the need for progressive change. The dignity and the elegance of AM’s political prose in that column about the homeopath just hooked me; I wanted to be like Amal Sen and AM rolled together.

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