Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Whisky-sipping, gender-bending, Kolkata radical


In reading the names that have formalized and given voice to the hushed conversations about sexual harassment by radical-posturing academics in Raya Sarkar's List, one is struck by the repeated appearance of a particular kind of elite, the highly networked Kolkata elite.

This elite, inaugurating the posturing conversations of postcolonial and Subaltern Studies, occupies a radical space in the Kolkata imaginary, and by extension, the desi imaginary.

One striking feature of this elite class is its access to spaces of radical posturing simply by virtue of being born in upper middle class, highly mobile, Convent-educated Kolkata families, with an ancestral history of prostrating to their British colonial masters.

Often educated at posh Kolkata English medium private schools that afford access to the art of language trapeze, networked in by parents working in Ad agencies and multinationals, offered pathways by parental connections into elite Kolkata universities, and groomed in the establishment Calcutta and Bengal Clubs, this elite category is highly mobile, from Kolkata to New York.

This or that "dada," this or that "mesho" or "mashi" opens up the connections to other networks of privilege and entry into this parochial club.

For most of its life, this elite class grows up with utter disdain for or complete cognitive erasure of the poor that live in shanty towns and squatter colonies right outside the posh New Alipur and Ballygunge Phari homes. The rural only appears in its Shantiniketan culture tours.

By extension, the organized Left of Bengal is entirely absent or derided in its registers.

This class is born with the birthright to its version of urban radicalism, postured in listening to John Lennon, learning to play guitar as one composes radical-sounding Bangla rock, and theorizing its radicalism in marijuana parties. Gender bending is one extension of this bourgeoisie position, performed from elite privilege.

Highly parochial and exclusive, the elite club puts up a wide range of barriers to any outsider. Talking in elite tongue that recirculates all the way to New York via London, various strategies of exclusivity are strategically cultivated. And then when in New York or London, some chic-sounding pretense of solidarity with displaced farmers becomes the perfect recipe for the entry pass to other elite circuits.

Devoid of questions of class struggle and structural transformation, this elite group finds refuge in performing its radicalism in the marijuana parties, whisky addas, Calcutta club gatherings, Foucault, and Derrida.

The ongoing conversations on desi versions of sexual harassment open up a window into the faux radicalism of this Kolkata radical.

No comments: