The next time I write something (if I’m ever allowed to), I might be doing so from within the entrails of some prison somewhere in West Bengal. I don’t reside in the state any longer, but I might as well be dragged to Kolkata under the guidance of Didi and her aides, and thrown into some cell to rot my days away. But has that really been able to stop freedom of expression? I have serious doubts.
Just the fact that the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Bengal went all the way to actually check up on a cartoon and arrest the perpetrator of the ‘crime’ is ridiculous to say the least. If honest feelings are unleashed, the next arrest warrant in the country would be issued against me. Or maybe I would end up being the next on the hit-list of some hitherto unknown Bob Biswas. Lame musings aside, the entire brouhaha that has gripped the state of West Bengal is completely, absolutely ridiculous. We have a bunch of jesters running the state. People who are upset over something as innocuous as a ‘cartoon’ and leave rapists unscathed!
It hasn’t even been a year when the wounds of neglect had just begun to dream of a ‘greener’ future, and the assault of red had just been replaced. After a span of almost four decades, people had just begun dreaming about a change. I, too, was among them. Fate did have its share of laughter then. When we had had the audacity to dream that a change <i>was</i> possible. That was the 20th of May, 2011. Most people in West Bengal stood by The Change. Many others unleashed their caustic, silent sniggers. And many more snorted disbelievingly. We were no soothsayers. We never knew what further was in store for the state whose history of exploitation, like the sea, knew no beginning.
This is no political castigation. This is just the voice of one of the many millions who had been silenced with shock, thanks to the fiasco whose rallying point was a harmless cartoon. After all, there were people who made a living by drawing caricatures of political leaders. Where would the likes of the caricaturists go if this is what a ‘democratic’ government behaves like? Or is it one person’s dictatorial restrictions that everything else seems to be making way for? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind!
It so happens that I was also a part of the ‘heinous crime’ that Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra had committed. I too was one of the innumerable people who were insolent enough to look at the ‘dangerous’ cartoon in question and have a good laugh over it. Back then, nobody was intelligent enough to have known that what had then appeared to be just another ‘joke’ was pregnant with the seeds of an outrage such as this. Nobody had known that something as grave as an arrest could have taken place with the backdrop of a cartoon. I wonder how many <i>Sonar Kella</i>-laced days and nights would have to pass by before we actually get back to the mundane things of life. After all, it is not daily that such cartoons are made!
History has been witness to the fact that the things which are repressed the most, are the ones that are sought after the most. We have seen numerous instances of banned books topping the list of the most read ones, and banned films turning out to be the ones lapped up by people. It is human nature that is at the crux of it all. Such was the fate of this particular cartoon too.
A mere 65 people who were on the recipients’ list of Prof. Mahapatra initially, snowballed into a viral number once Mahapatra was arrested. All of a sudden, a cartoon had become the newest sensation in the entire nation and abroad. Mamata ended up doing something that she wouldn’t even have thought of in her worst nightmares. She ended up popularising – to a frightening extent – that very thing which she had set out to suppress. And yet again, we stood spectators to the immense potency of repression. Potency that, like Frankenstein’s Monster, almost ended up swallowing the repressive creator.
If a cartoon had such a fate, I wonder what stronger things would deserve. So what next? The Big Brother (the reader is free to change the gender) is watching us. Nobody can escape the hawk eyes of the custodians of the law. Let’s not delve into the realms of psychoanalysis and psychiatry. We might discover a snake instead of a worm there.
Anyway, getting back to business. The contours of profession have been defined with rock-solid borders in West Bengal now. The strict compartments of work no longer allow the free flow of idea. A professor of Chemistry is no longer entitled to the freedom of articulating his thoughts in a cartoon composed in good humour. The prison-insides lust after innocents with shameless greed. And the sentinels of the state are more than willing to fill them up – it doesn’t matter what the crime is. In this regime, everything is ‘dangerous’. So here’s to my next blog. From somewhere in a prison where Mamata Banerjee rules. Hail Didi!