New | Novel | Serialised Fiction | Junk Days | Part 2 | Abhimanyu Kumar

Mural on socialist liberation by Jack Hastings


When I first went to the JNU, I knew nothing about communism. Or politics for that matter. Communism was dead, I believed. After the fall of the Soviet regime etc. Ofcourse, Bengal and Kerala had communist governments but elected ones, not through a revolution, and those governments functioned well within the Indian constitution so their being communist was not overt.


It took me a week to get a room allotted. Till then, I stayed with someone in Narmada hostel. My elder sister already studied international relations there. It was through her that I got a place to stay. She was a big influence in my deciding to write the JNU entrance. She would come back home in vacations and tell us about the place. It seemed positively enchanting, the freedom: going out at nights and all for someone from a small town where everyone slept at 9 and going out meant occasional dinners with parents. Also, I had very low marks in my plus 2 and it was impossible to get into any college, forget a good one.


After I was allotted a room in the newly built Mahi hostel, I went to check it out. It was filled with people, hotly debating something. I told them I was the new occupant of the room. The information was received in silence. A thin guy stood up. Prakash, he introduced himself. He was the original occupant. It was a double-seater. Another guy was living there, along with him, unofficially. And others also slept there at times, in true JNU tradition. Later on, I would also have 8 people sleeping in my room at times. Of course, like everything else in that university, this also had a political angle. Accommodating new students who hadn't got a room was a political strategy to get them indebted and slowly indoctrinated. If they wouldn't join your political party, they would at least vote for you out of gratitude. In fact, come to think of it, it couldn't have been a pure co-incidence that the then university president from the Party who helped me get a room got me one that was a true and proper Party citadel.


Prakash was a hardcore Marxist. He used to read heavy books on Marxism and took notes in a long register. We started having discussions right from the beginning. When I told him communism was dead, he refused to accept it, and instead told me about Cuba; how the Soviet regime failed because they didn't stick to the correct interpretation of Marxism; about China that also had a communist government although he was not enthusiastic about China opening up its economy like India and about JNU itself that had produced two of the most prominent contemporary left leaders of the country.


No man at a young age, if he is a sentimental fool and believes in ultimate goodness and equality of things to be, can be unaffected by the story of the Cuban revolution and its leaders, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and how they, along with a young band of revolutionaries threw over a despotic regime. The refusal of Che to stay back in Cuba to run a government and his mission to spread the revolution in entire South America, giving up his life as a result, was equally inspiring. And of course, I also learnt that Bhagat Singh was a Marxist - although now I realise he had Anarchist tendencies too. 


Prakash's conviction influenced me. No idea can be dead if someone believes in it so strongly, I felt. I read up on and read works by Che, Castro, Bhagat and others. I started going to Party meetings. Robi was with the Party before he came to university, I think. Manik would come by too but by inclination, he was not very keen on the whole thing. I think he thought of it as a waste of time in his heart. He had the artist’s disdain for power and its paraphernalia, no matter how ideologically sound it was. 

It was not only the ideology for me. The Party had some really sincere people. Prakash, for example, was very upright. He never talked loose, like boys of our age were prone to do, about women or anything and he also studied hard. He came from Jehanabad, a place famous for caste wars, in Bihar. Robi and I would go there, couple of years down the line, after the Jehanabad jail break that threw the Maoists back into the national limelight, to make a documentary film. We stayed with Prakash's father, also a communist and a teacher. 


We had some fun in the Party in the beginning. Other Party activists lived in the hostel too. We hung out together sometimes, smoked pot. They were seniors and didn't smoke openly. Once, we were drunk and stoned and we locked this guy from the main right-wing student group from outside. It was a big scandal when he found out. He suspected us, rightly so, and complained to the warden who called us for chastisement. But he had no proof, and the left was dominant, so we were let off. Now I think we did a wrong thing because he, despite his political affiliations, was quite decently behaved, and never gave us any cause for offense. But politics in the campus, although presented to the outside world as largely ideological and based on high and noble ideas, was often petty and vicious and our side was to blame as well. 


My first hunger strike ended in a disaster. Someone had been denied admission in PhD. The Party took up his cause, and organised a relay hunger strike. I was hanging out at a canteen in the same building with the JNU student union office. Someone from the Party asked us to go for it. We agreed. Both Manik and I got our guitars and went and sat there, outside the admin building. It was great fun. We had dinner anyway. We sat on the stairs of the admin building and played our guitars. Smoked pot with Bidrohi. Bidrohi, who died two years ago, was an old man, a perpetual resident of JNU. He was suspended in 1983 I think, after a student movement led to a Sine Die in the university. But he never left. That's what I had heard. He lived on the charity of students. Someone always bought him tea or food. He was considered to be mad but I always enjoyed his company. He could talk quite sanely when he wanted to. His only quirk was lapsing into these long monologues which were quite incomprehensible except the cuss words. He abused everybody when he had a fit, starting anywhere, sitting at a dhaba, or on the streets. But otherwise, he was fine.


By morning, Neha came and took me away as I had classes to attend. A dog stole a shoe of mine that could not be found. Manik left too.


The misadventure apart, I continued to keep up my association with the Party. I did find it unethical that the party asked us to inform them about the political inclinations of our classmates, acquaintances and friends and that sometimes it did not seem to mind employing the same electoral tactics it derided publicly but I did as everyone else did. It did give you a sense of belonging to a community where the impression given was that they will watch out for you.

Nonetheless, as we continued with the dope and the over-all slackness they began to identify us with, since we slowly dropped going to the meetings and protest demos, the Party became disappointed in us. We were expected to be not only present ourselves but bring others too. On our part, though we never overtly discussed it, the party’s expectations from us, of becoming loyal foot-soldiers who would simply obey command was not tenable. It was clear to us that despite professing egalitarian ethos, the Party was a bourgeois organisation. It promoted the same individuals to the front like everyone else did: children of other politicians, senior bureaucrats, academicians. It expected you to abide by the hierarchy, and follow without questioning.

When Manik started taking junk, I guess somehow it must have leaked to the seniors at the Party. Tahir was mostly around and he was the typical good Bengali boy or Bhalo Chhele as they say – good at studies, overtly mild and subdued, no threat to anything or anybody –that the Party liked. Tahir played the guitar with us. He played well but his inclinations towards popular music were not to our taste. Still, he was very friendly with Manik.

I think Tahir informed Manik’s mom about his taking smack after he was instructed by the seniors in the Party. I remember the night he came to tell him that he had done so. We were in Robi’s room or Manik’s – they were roommates – as usual, smoking a chillum, listening to Pink Flyod. Some others from foreign languages department were also there for the same purpose.

Tahir took Manik away. After a while, Manik came back alone and told us what had occurred. Manik’s mom was already on her way to take him back home.

Robi and I steered clear of the hostel the next day because she was supposed to come visit the room. When we returned in the evening, Manik told us that he had made a deal that he would go back home himself after a week or so.

That night, we decided to play at the music room. Tahir was the co-ordinator of the club; we had campaigned for him when he ran in the elections. He was likely to have won anyway since the Party had the majority in the student union. He had bought some drums and a couple of guitars on behalf of the club. They were kept at a room next to the union’s office in mid-campus.

It was after dinner that we went there, Manik and I. We knew Tahir would be hanging out there. We wanted the key from him.

We found him there. But he said that he was not willing to part with the key. “Why should I give it you? I am the co-ordinator. I will decide to open or not,” he said.

Since he raised his voice saying so, some of the Party seniors also gathered around to find out what the ruckus was about.

Manik, already drunk, lurched at Tahir. Someone got in the middle and separated them. Manik started to abuse Tahir who also returned in the kind.

I can’t remember who mediated but they sided with Tahir. We had no option but to leave.   


He binged on everything he could find in the next few days: pills, booze, smack, grass. After a week, he packed his stuff and left in the next train home.


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