Guest post by ANIRBAN GUPTA-NIGAM – A Preview of SHAUNAK SEN’S film ‘Cities of Sleep‘
A few days ago, on its Facebook page, Business Insider India shared a series of images of Bollywood stars who had gone—plainly speaking—from “zeroes to heroes”. The yardstick for what constitutes success is another matter (Mithun Chakraborty, for example, is celebrated because he progressed from being a ‘Naxalite’ to ‘India’s highest tax payer’), but accompanying the post were the following words: ‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world’. In another words, dare to dream and you shall become all you want to be.
This simple, inspiring message is possibly more complex than it first appears to be. It contains within it a contradiction that might well be worth attending to. Specifically, the images implicitly demand that we ask who (or what) is a ‘dreamer’ today.
The famous comedian George Carlin once said that ‘they call it the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it’. A problem of a similar order is posed by the images in question here. Taken at face value, the mantra ‘every great dream begins with a dreamer’ not only propagates an all too familiar narrative of entrepreneurial success. It also comes with a qualifier—every great dream begins with a dreamer. Which is to say, not all dreams qualify for this honor. Continue reading ‘Cities of Sleep’: Anirban Gupta-Nigam
Guest post by ANIRBAN GUPTA NIGAM
The last book François Furet wrote before his death in 1997 was called The Passing of an Illusion. At the very beginning of the first chapter of that book, Furet spelt out the central question driving his study:
What is surprising is not that certain intellectuals should share the spirit of the times, but that they should fall prey to it, without making any effort to mark it with their own stamp. […] twentieth century French writers aligned themselves with parties, especially radical ones hostile to democracy. They always played the same (provisional) role as supernumeraries, were manipulated as one man, and were sacrificed when necessary, to the will of the party. So we are bound to wonder what it was that made those ideologies so alluring, that gave them an attraction so general yet so mysterious.
Furet’s book emerged from an autopsy of his own past as a as a Communist “between 1949 and 1956.” He wrote, further, that his years as a Communist bequeathed to him an enduring desire to unlock the mystique of revolutionary ideology. Given this, it’s not difficult to see why he pioneered some of the most brilliant historiographical work on the French Revolution. The question we are concerned with here is the one I have quoted at length above; for it seems that in our own day, this strange romance between (formerly) fiercely independent intellectuals, scholars, activists and the – a – party, continues.
The latest document of this affair is a long essay by Arundhati Roy (once famous for her declaration of herself as an”independent mobile republic”), titled ‘Walking with the Comrades,’ published in the latest issue of Outlook. It makes for exciting reading, as a lot of well-written travel literature does; but it is significant for another reason: in the current debate over ‘Operation Green Hunt,’ with many versions of ‘ground realities’ fighting amongst themselves, this document is Roy’s attempt at producing an (her) authentic truth, so immersed in the charming details of revolutionary existence that everything else becomes secondary. If we were ever to perform an autopsy of our twentieth century’s ‘Communist’ pasts, ‘Walking with the Comrades’ would probably be as good a place to start as any. Continue reading Moonwalking with the Comrades: Anirban Gupta Nigam