One of the downsides to being on the road in a country far from your own is that you get only a sort of soft-focus idea of events at home. On past travels I would listen to the news on shortwave radio; these days I still carry the little instrument, but mostly I get news off the Web: but whichever way I get it, it always seems slightly remote. I hear the names, I know the gist of what happens, yet somehow constant travel at a remove takes a toll on my ability to fully grasp events.
It's been like that over the last few weeks. So I've been trying to read all I can about some of these events. One, in particular: Nandigram.
And if I was soft-focus appalled when I first heard what happened (think it was in Maryland), I'm simply clear-eyed horrified now that I've caught up.
I won't spell out here what happened in Nandigram earlier this month. It's been written about and discussed over and over again, far more thoroughly than I can manage. I'll point you to just two examples that said things to me.
One, here, is notable not so much because of the contents of the article itself, but for the attempts of a CPI(M) activist and apologist for West Bengal's Left Front Government to explain away -- putting it kindly -- the crimes in Nandigram. (See the comments).
Two, What Happened in Nandigram. This account sent a chill up my spine, with its mention of things like cordoning off the area and "blocking" the media from the "action zone."
And as I read this account, I realized that Nandigram reminded me most of all of that previous horror in West Bengal -- the Morichjhapi massacre of the 1970s, featured in Amitav Ghosh's Hungry Tide. There, it was East Bengal refugees in the Sundarbans who were cordoned off, fired on and the survivors evicted.
What causes a state to turn on its own people? The drunkenness of power. The whole crummy edifice of the Soviet Union eventually crumbled under that very drunkenness. (I first heard that good news on that same little shortwave radio).
Nandigram, and Morichjhapi before Nandigram, serve as horrific reminders of that. No soft-focus.