Dipesh Chakrabarty

Kris Manjapra

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Interview Participants
[1] US: This is June 09th 2014 with Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty in Chicago, Illinois in the United States. And this a Bengali world
[2] history interview. So if you could start with your date, place of birth, and your childhood.
[3]
[4] DC: Okay so I was born in Kolkata, December 15, 1948, so after Independence, at the Calcutta Medical College. Where my uncle my
[5] fathers older brother, was the principal, where I was born. Both my mother’s and father’s families are from what is now Bangladesh.
[6] My mother’s family came just a few years before the partition. So my mother grew up mostly in Dhaka, but she did her BA from Faridpur
[7] and then she did an MA from Kolkata university, in Bangla. Her ancestral home was Narayanganj. She went to Faridpur because her
[8] mother’s brother was the principal of a well-known Faridpur college called Narendra College. Very well-known principal there.
[9] And so my mother did her MA in Bangla, after she got married, and my father’s family was from Vikrampur in Dhaka, but they were poor.
[10] My grandfather, whom my father never saw, he died just a year or two after my father was born. So my father did not carry any
[11] memories of his father. My grandfather belonged to a poor Brahmin family, I think some people were educated - in which brothers who
[12] were not very educated, they became priests, purohits. A purohit Brahmin is the worst kind of Brahmin you can have. Totally
[13] ignorant, very poor, and often devoid of self-respect, because they just have to keep their clientelle happy. My mother’s family was
[14] also Brahmin, but my mother’s side was more into educational side. My mother’s father was in the Jute trade. But that’s all part of
[15] my memory and ancestry. But my father family because of the death of my grandfather, and he had two wives, so we also had step-
[16] brothers and sisters. My fathers family moved to Kolkata, so my father grew up was mostly in Kolkata, but they used to go back to East Bengal during holidays.
[17] DC: So this nostalgia of East Bengal my fathers had more of this vacation relationship to home.
[18] US: Their ancestral home is Faridpur ?
[19] DC: Vikrampur in a village called (?) where I went later with my parents. Whereas my mother grew up in Narayanganj so it's much more
[20] full effect - she was much more a Dhaka. Within my family, they spoke Dhaka dialect, and my childhood was full of East Bengal
[21] memories because the only two things that my mother saved during the years of communal riots in 1946, when they had to leave home and
[22] go somewhere else, she had just come to Calcutta around that time, were two albums of photographs, which I still have. And these are
[23] photographs of her childhood in Narayanganj. So a lot of my memory of East Bengal was formed through those photographs, and a lot of
[24] the stories I used to hear. But my growing up was in Calcutta - I think of myself as a South Calcutta boy.
[25] US: Where in Calcutta?
[26]
[27] DC: Initially, the first two years were in what used to be a Muslim area of Calcutta, Park Circus. That’s partly because my father
[28] rented an apartment in a building that used to belong to some Muslim gentleman. Some Bengali man bought the property, and my father,
[29] who was much poorer, bought the furniture, so actually the bed on which my parents always slept belonged to some Muslim family. And
[30] the mirror in front of which my mother used to, she would not wear make-up but groom herself, belonged to a Muslim family. I now
[31] realize now that I have a lot of intimate relationship with this unknown family through my parent's bedroom, which was made up of
[32] things they had, so I don’t know who these people where, but this was in Park Circus.
[33] My father eventually bought a plot of land in Tallygunge, which used to be outside of Calcutta proper, and now is part of Calcutta,
[34] and had a small house built, and that’s where I grew up and my sister. My father studied up to MSC, a Master’s Science in Physics,
[35] and he taught physics for a while. Then because of family circumstances, he eventually managed a small factory, which at that time
[36] gave him more money than a lectureship did. He was born in 1910, so his adolescence and early youth were through the Gandhian years.
[37] Once he got to 850 rupees a month, which in the 1950s was a reasonably good sum to earn, he told his employer that he did not want
[38] any more increments to his salary, that 850 RS was all he needed and the rest of the life he stayed on that salary. I look at my
[39] father’s life and I think there were all these small, silent influences of Gandhi, you know, of that generation. So, it was an
[40] interesting combination. My father’s side was more Congress and Gandhi. My mother’s side , from Dhaka, were all involved in revolutionary politics.
[41] So I grew up with debates about Gandhi versus Bose in the family. But both sides were anti-communist because the fact that
[42] communists did not like Bose for a long time, did not go down well with the mother’s side of the family who all worshiped Bose and
[43] Khudiram and the bomb-throwers, and didn’t like Gandhi, whereas my father’s side was deeply Gandhian. So both of my parents were
[44] educated, they both had master’s degrees. And in that sense, it was not a nuclear family, but they were more enlightened, in that
[45] sense, than many other people. It was not a nuclear family, even though I had a feeling of growing up in a nuclear family, because
[46] it was just my parents and me and my sister - but my grandmother lived with us, and a widowed aunt, who had been discarded and thrown
[47] out of her house by her own son always lived with us. And those were the first two deaths that I saw. My aunt had cancer, and my
[48] grandmother died later. But the two other influences growing up, was one, the reason why I mention education and enlightenment a little bit, was because
[49] my schooling, the first nine years, actually were in a co-educational school. So, and then for the last two years, before I did my
[50] school leaving, my father took me out of that school and put me in a boy’s school, which had a better reputation, for coaching
[51] students and preparing them for the school-leaving exam. We were middle-class family. We didn’t have a car. The refrigerator and a
[52] telephone came in the ‘60s I think. A taxi ride was a luxury, but trams were very nice. I have a lot of good memories of traveling
[53] by trams, which I have written about somewhere else. Calcutta was a gentler city. My memory of the 50s is that Park Street still
[54] looked like European quarters, clean. And Park Circus was very beautiful, pleasant and even used to be washed every morning. But my
[55] later memories are of the house in Tallygunge, of the para (neighborhood), and the neighborhood boys, and playing football with them,
[56] or cricket with them, basically on grounds that have all now been taken up and covered up by buildings.
[57] Not regular parks, but just land laying around. And some of them were agricultural lands. When you played soccer on them, sometimes
[58] the unevenness literally, physically injured you. But the other big influence on me also had to do with the partition. There was
[59] a very interesting man and one of the most impressive personalities I have come across in my life, was a man by the name of Samar
[60] Chatterjee. In 1952, he built a children’s theater organization called Children’s Civil Theater in Calcutta. He came from a Boy
[61] Scout background, a Scouting background, but also an east Bengal person, and the very first play he wrote had some lovely Bangal,
[62] Bangladeshi or east Bengali songs in it, and he wrote it out of his own memories of picnicking in Dhaka. And he was anti-communist,
[63] but a very gifted man. Eventually, he went on to raise enough money for this theater organization to have its own big building,
[64] called Abanmahal in Calcutta, which is still there by the Dhakuria bridge, but my childhood was completely wrapped up in the world of imagination that this children’s theater produced.
[65] And I used, eventually I used to write plays for them, and I used to perform and I used to sing. We had Bengali adaptations of Wizard
[66] of Oz, of Japanese folktales, German folktales, Bengali folktales and plus other things that this man would write. He wrote a lot of
[67] rhymes that the children would perform to. And when I was in school, or maybe until my college years, no when I was in school I
[68] thought my ambition was to run this place one day, that's what I thought I'd be. I thought I will run this place, write plays for it,
[69] write certain things for children, and I still have a connection with the place - actually when I was in [unknown] in 2008 and 9 I
[70] actually wrote a play for them, and which then got performed, in Bangla. He wanted me to write a play on Emporer Oshukan(?) so I
[71] actually wrote a play which then either this year or next year. But also, so I left school in 65, there are a couple other things
[72] that are happening, but I was very aware of, growing up in Calcutta it is very hard not to be aware of even within the cultured people,
[73] not just, think of, not just the poor people, the beggars, and servants but any of my background had very close and loved but very
[74] indigent relative. If you look at Bengali-Hindu culture group. You will find that families were either one generation away from
[75] poverty or two generations away from poverty, or at the most three. So most families actually remembered poverty, because I grew up
[76] with stories of how poor my father was and how he couldn't even afford to buy the exercise books for his classes and how he had to
[77] collect scraps of paper from different places and put them together and stitch them to make up an exercise book. And how when he was
[78] doing his masters he didn't have the money to pay for a train fare to get from the Science College to the Presidency College so he
[79] used to walk, which is quite a distance. And all of his life he remembered his poverty, so we remembered his poverty, but if you dig
[80] memories of into the lower classes you found that those were either one generation away, my case, or two generations away.
[81] And someone like me was completely ... if I looked at my father he was one generation away, you know he had his own house. But if I
[82] looked at my uncles I couldn't say one generation away. I had counsins, who were extremely poor and one branch of the family got
[83] completely destroyed by poverty. It was mental illness, illiteracy, people died of road accidents and things. My first cousin became,
[84] a man, and one day he disappeared. We still don't know what happened. Another first cousin was sold into slavery to a family and my
[85] father worked hard to get her back and there were two cousins who had same branch of the family, very poor, who were ricketed,
[86] literally, and therefore retarted. So even though we were growing up in this family of six people, people were dropping in on us.
[87] What my father did was have them close by so we could take care of them. So poverty was not a strange thing. The experience of
[88] actually seeing people you loved and play with experiencing a kind of status dishonor in that family setting,
[89] was something that was both hurtful, and strange, and very influential so it remains in that context. And therefore when I was in
[90] high school, so I'm talking about the years 64, 65. And I was coming across young poeple, but I was also getting close to people who
[91] were slighlty senior to me, like in college for instance but who were getting influenced by communist ideas it was actually very easy
[92] to be receptive to them, to the ideas. So by the time I finished school I went to college I'd made up my mind that I would become a
[93] communist. This was 65, I finished school, so I went to college end of 65. But I went because I knew that I would get involved in
[94] politics, in changing the world, as it were. In my head I still think of it as a transition from the gospels of v to those of Marx.
[95] Because I didn't come from a family that was lefty. It was either Ghandi and the soft Hindu tide or the revolutionary tide,
[96] aggressive, you know, militancy. But neither was translated into communist, both sides hated communists. But I was becoming open to the message of Marx.
[97] Because this was also a time, you have remember we had been in a war with china in 62, I was in school, and that was a big shock to
[98] find that our leaders were inept and ordenance factories were lipstick shells rather than bullet shells. Then they talk about
[99] corruption. Going to the children's theater to find that, I mean I loved that organization it molded me, but most of the kids in that
[100] theater had come from families of slight higher status than mine, I sort of flourished where I coudl do things, I could act and I
[101] could sing. So I was an important member of that organizaiton but most people had cars, most people spoke more English than I did. I
[102] used to feel alieanted from them, the more I was coming into a consciencess of awareness of social disparity, and the more social
[103] disparity became the thing that bothered me most or more than anything else. The other important truth in our growing up, before the
[104] Indo-China war which was 62, was very important until 1961, which was Tagore's centenary ? and the govenrment made it available Tagore's collected works which I still work from.
[105] We bought a whole set. More importantly than the words of Tagore were the songs. Even Bengali singers who normally wouldn't have
[106] song Tagore songs, who sang what we would call the adhunik ghan, modern song, began to produce Tagore songs. So Tagore songs became
[107] part of my puberty and adolescence. A lot of the spiritualism of those songs, and not just in terms of religiousness, but also the
[108] eroticization of your body and the world, became part of our eroticism. So that, there was almost a kind of psychosomatic
[109] hierarchy, where you could go to an adhunik song for the beat and the rhythm, and you could sway your body to a rhythmic song. The
[110] words were not doing a great deal, but altogether, the song was either romantic, or eventually getting influenced by jazz and
[111] foxtrot. And then, in your own head as you experienced eroticism, and love or eroticism in your own head, you graduated from an
[112] adhunik song to a Tagore song. So when friends go together the evening would move from adhunik songs to Tagore songs. Tagore songs became very important.
[113] I think Tagore’s sense of spirituality, Tagore’s sense of spiritualizing nature, and falling in love, in my puberty and adolescence,
[114] if I had to imagine a family for myself, and a child, this was before having a girlfriend by the way. You know biological changes
[115] were happening and these thoughts would come. And a song of Tagore that completely captured it for me was a song with the first
[116] line, “The first bud of this creeper of mine is looking at me”. This was completely my imaginary picture in those days, in which my
[117] partner was my creeper, ‘amar lata’, so it so kind of feminized the partner, while it made the baby have all the freshness of a
[118] fresh bud. And the tune was nice. And it’s asking me a question. It probably was how Tagore felt when he held his baby, and he put
[119] it into his song. You can see how his entire sexual-erotic relationship got transformed in his relationship to a creeper, and its
[120] blossom, and how decades later it made its way into my life and to my way of spiritualizing sexuality, and particularly in a society in which sexuality was not part of a boy-girl relationship, it was still eroticism.
[121] At the most, you held somebodies hands. So Tagore was very very important. And ’61 made him so available. And even when I was
[122] turning to communism, even that turn was mediated by Tagore songs. There was one a communist friend put it to me. There was always
[123] this perennial debate: can communists like Tagore, was he bourgeois or not. So we were always delighted if there was something in
[124] his writing that could excuse him, that would keep you as a friend even during your journey to communism. And I remember later on,
[125] this was ’67, a neighborhood dada said to me, you know the old man wrote this song, this revolutionary song. And I said, what did
[126] it say? And he recited the lines that said, “we have to fight if someone resists us”. And there were two lines, “who is it and who
[127] are you, who have plundered other people’s wealth want to lord it over them”. So, we used to think, “wow, this is exactly how we feel!”.
[128] You know what happened: by the time I got involved in the student union, and I got quite involved, I was part of a student strike
[129] that went on for about three months, and through the strike I moved up to the leadership of that strike. And the strike happened at
[130] the time when the congress was losing its position, ’67 elections were to be held, when for the first time Congress lost in West
[131] Bengal and a new United Front Government gave in, and the CPIM was part of that. And the strike was being organized by CPIM
[132] students informally. And we were sort of idealistic purists, who were quoting Lenin back to the party saying, a single strike is
[133] more important than a 100 elections. While the party forced us to withdraw the strike, because they wanted students to do election
[134] work. And out of that disgruntlement against the party, eventually snowballed into what became the Naxalite movement. And this was still 6 months before whatever happened in Naxalbari.
[135] These young people would come into CPIM, who had opted to support China after the 62 war, consciously becoming anti-nationalists, in
[136] that sense, internationalists. And then began to find the party battling elections more than a revolution. Who were reading all
[137] the Chinese criticisms of the Soviet Union, and therefore were taking in by the idea of revisionism, were getting very disaffected
[138] by the party. That dissatisfaction, combined with other developments, is what created the Naxalite movement. As my friends were
[139] preparing to join the Naxalite movement, and I had gone through three months of intense separation from middle-class life, I had
[140] disappointment by parents by not studying by organizing strike, I broke up with the young girl I used to fancy then, she’s now a
[141] good friend, because her father was high up in the American company, Union Carbide, and I told her I’m going to be a revolutionary
[142] and you belong to reactionary household, we can’t be together, I still feel sorry about being so cruel to her.
[143] She was not into any of these things, and she didn’t even understand what was being said. The Vietnam War was happening, and it was
[144] very important at the same time. The Vietnam War, in those days, even if there was drought in Bagalpur, you went and through some
[145] stones at the American buildings. So, we used to often march to the American building, and there was this Bengali slogan, “Tomar
[146] Nam, Amar Nam, Vietnam, Vietnam”, “Vietnam is everybody’s name”. But the American Center, the USIS was in the big building on
[147] Chowrungee, there were domes at the corner, beautiful building, and downstairs was Khadigramadra , and then you had the United
[148] States Information Service. Anything happened, people would go and throw stones.For me, the most formidable experience was that
[149] once the strike ended, my leaders of that strike, slightly older students, asked me if I would leave hom and join them and become
[150] part of the Naxalite movement. And that’s when my courage failed me, because I was very scared of police torture.
[151] I was very scared of physical pain inflicted by somebody, and I told them I couldn’t go along. I thought of it. You know as I was
[152] involved in the strike, there was a crisis in the family, my mother took to bed and her blood pressure when up. I was letting down
[153] everybody. I’d go to the Children’s Theater, and Samar-da, who is another person I idealized would tell me “You’re destroying
[154] Presidency College”. I was a student of physics of Presidency College. Utpal Datta, and the theater was very much there. Not
[155] professionally I was a part of the childrens theater, we used to go and watch their plays. Utpal Datta was very much part of this
[156] move because he was part of CPIM, and he would come to our college to make speeches for the striking students. I still remember of
[157] his speeches. The left scene was flourishing, and I was totally immersed in it in all respects. And I was feeling alienated from
[158] the more bourgeois middle-class Bengali scene. But at the same time, I didn’t have the courage to become a Naxalite.
[159] So I told my friends that. There was a big meeting on the college grounds, and they actually passed an official resolution condemning
[160] me, because they were worried that other students might be influenced by my example, by reneging on a revolutionary promise. And it
[161] mean that overnight, my friends stopped talking to me. And one of them, once I came across him a few days after my decision, even
[162] spat in my direction. And also what happened was that because of my involvement, when the exams came, I felt totally unprepared. So
[163] I dropped one year. I didn’t take the exam, I joined the class a year junior to continue my studies. But eventually, my group of
[164] friends changed. And the people who became my friends, not politically, I didn’t accept their political opinions, were
[165] people on completely the other side, who were anti-communist, but gave me friendships and refuge. Mainly because you know I could
[166] write, and sing, I wrote plays for the college. So I developed a life with these people, but I lost all these other friends.
[167] Inside myself I was confused and depressed and didn’t know what I should be doing. So after I did my BSc, and I had come to this
[168] judgment in my own head, that I was a failed revolutionary, which was the same as belonging to the rubbish heap of history, there
[169] must be an Leninist invective for that position, so I thought, well, I will just simply join the reactionaries. Making money should
[170] be the aim of life, almost in a sadomasochistic manner. I’d do to myself something that would really hurt me, which would be my
[171] penance for being a revolutionary. And I wouldn’t have a family and a child that I used to think of with Tagore songs, and I would
[172] just live in a house by myself and I’d come back at the end of the day to a dark house and just listen to Tagore songs. And there
[173] was another song, which was very well known, which had a beautiful rendering by Rajasari Datta, “shaki andhara aekala kore mone
[174] manena”, that was my picture of my future, that I would earn money, come to a dark home, and listen to this song.
[175] So out of that, the government of India had just set up two business schools, one in Calcutta and another in Ahmedabad. So I took
[176] the exam and got admitted. And without knowing so, I came into an Indian institution that was completely molded by America
[177] institutions. It was based on MIT Sloan School. Sloan school actually helped to create the curriculum. And this was a completely
[178] different exposure. You could call students by their first name. One great freedom was that you could smoke in class. Today this
[179] would be terrible, but then, we thought “wow, what a sign of…”, and you didn’t have to hide your cigarette from your professor, and
[180] some professors while lecturing would actually ask you for cigarette. So some students would actually hide their cigarettes from
[181] their professors if they were too much in the habit of asking for cigarettes, "bumming your fags". And we were in a class of 100
[182] people, but not more than 6 or 7 Bengalis. People came from all over India, including someone who came from Iran.
[183] So it was moving into a world that was not Bengali and for the first time in my life, I had to actually converse in English. This
[184] was 1969-71. The government of India had put in this requirement, that given India’s state of development and stage of development,
[185] even these business school students must study some history. And, the School of Management in Calcutta, had two very well-known
[186] Indian historians, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, who later on moved to JNU, and Barun De, who then became the Director for the Center for
[187] Social Sciences. They became my first two teachers of history, I never studied history before. Sabyasachi taught a wonderful course
[188] that Barun had designed, called ‘The Historical Roots of Economic Backwardness”. It was an economic history course. Then Barun came
[189] back, he was away in Shimla, Barun-babu I should say, then Barun-babu came back, and I remember going to see him and saying “I have
[190] become very interested in history and I’ve heard a lot of what a good teacher you are, but History won’t get me a job.
[191] So I’m specializing in some functional area, but could I do all your courses, maybe not for grade, but just for pass/fail or
[192] something. I’m very interested, but this won’t help me in life. He didn’t used to get students for his elective courses, you know
[193] it was a business school, and so he was delighted. So I did a lot of courses with him on History, and when I got the equivalent of
[194] an MBA and I got a job with a Scottish family, and I had a conversation with him, and he said, “Do you want to be a manager or a
[195] historian”, and foolishly, I said ‘a historian’. So I gave up that job, and I got a scholarship in the institute to pursue doctoral
[196] studies with him. But the institute could not give you a PhD, but they had a what they called a fellowship program. So I started
[197] studying with him and he sent me off to the archives, and he told me about EP Thompson’s book, and he said you can work on the
[198] working class, and it resonated with my own interests in Marxism and things. So he said, you should get a PhD in history, because this fellowship will only get you a job in an institute.
[199] And then I realized that it was an uphill battle to get a PhD in India. Then the university wanted me to a BA again in Arts, and then
[200] a MA and then a PhD. So I would have to go back to my school-leaving year again. In the meantime, Indira Gandhi was in power, Nurul
[201] Hasan was Barun’s close friend, the Government of India set up this Center for Social Sciences in Jadunath Sarkar’s house. And Barun
[202] became the director, and offered me a research position, junior research position there, for three years. While I working there, the
[203] woman who became my first wife, who I had met in the physics class in Presidency College their family moved to Australia. She didn’t
[204] want to come back, and so I was thinking of going to Australia. By that time I had become very immersed in the world of Indian
[205] history through Barun De’s teaching, both inside and outside the classroom. I wanted to go with her to pursue a PhD. The person who
[206] became my PhD advisor, Anthony Lowe, D.L. Lowe, happened to visit Calcutta.
[207] So I met with him through Barun De and Rajat Kanta Ray, because he was staying with Rajat. He knew Rajat from his Cambridge days. I
[208] met with him and he was interested in having me as a PhD student. Rajat supported my application, and Sumit Sarkar also supported my
[209] application. And I got admitted to ANU to do a PhD, which was my first degree. This was ANU in Canberra. I had already gotten
[210] married, and my wife already gone to Australia. That marriage broke up later one. So I did my MBA in ’71, and then I was learning
[211] history, and I left in December 1976, so really, 1977 I started there. And, you know what had happened, is that I essay five
[212] or six articles. But I could not pull them together to make a thesis out of them. So I published them in Indian journals and
[213] things. But ANU considered my articles to be the equivalent of MA and gave me a PhD scholarship on that basis. By then Barun had
[214] introduced me to the professional world of South Asian history, and he’d send me off to Indian History Congress conferences, and I was getting to know the world.
[215] Again, Gautam Bhadra was in college with me but we renewed our friendship as historians. We were both offered fellowships at the
[216] Center at the same time, and we shared an office. There was things in the Center. Barun was very close to a man who was a professor
[217] of economics, who was also one of mentors, called Ashok Sen. And everything that Barun-babu wrote had an acknowledgment to Ashok
[218] Sen, and everything that Ashok Sen wrote had an acknowledgement to Barun-babu. So Gautam Bhadra said so whatever I write you have to
[219] acknowledgment, and what I write, I have to acknowledge you, and we’ll became famous this way. And used to think that
[220] acknowledgement was one way to disseminate somebodies name, and Gautam was a very keen reader of acknowledgements. And Partha
[221] Chatterjee became our friend. Partha had just come to the Center, he had already done his PhD and taught in Amritsar, so he was
[222] slightly older, maybe a year and a half older than me. But he was academically much more accomplished and much more advanced than where I was.
[223] So I was trying to catch up for everything I didn’t know. And then I was in ANU, and I was going to go to England to do my archival
[224] work for my jute book. This is when Antony said to me, I’m trying to get Ranajit Guha to come to Canberra, and when you are in
[225] England, go and meet him. So I actually called Ranajit, and the moment I called Ranajit, he said, this was 1979, yes, I know of you,
[226] I am very interested your work. Come to Sussex and spend a weekend with me. And that was my exposure to Subaltern Studies. Ranajit
[227] had already been meeting with Shahid and Gyan, and the two Davids, David Arnold and David Hardiman. And Hardiman and Arnold did PhDs
[228] with Anthony Lowe at Sussex. And Shahid and Gyan did PhDs with Tapan Raychaudhuri at Oxford. But Ranajit was kind of the guru on the
[229] side. Ranajit Guha was 25 years older. But, probably in terms of spirit, the youngest member of the group. I think he was the most
[230] youthful person, intellectually. Ranajit-da could get excited like a young person could get excited.
[231] He had a very youthful intellect in that sense. The other person whom I know who is very youthful is Narayan Rao. They are two old
[232] scholars who make you feel old. So, I went and stayed with him in his place. And I did not realize that he actually had it in mind
[233] to induct me to Subaltern Studies. So he read out to me what we used to called the Manifesto, and got my assent to it. So when he
[234] published it, you’ll see my name in a footnote. By then, Shahid and Gyan, and the two Davids, and Ranajit-da were already talking
[235] about publishing a series. They were not sure of what to call it, until it was Ranajit’s brainwave to all it “Subaltern Studies”
[236] from Gramsci. They were thinking of “History from Below” or this or that, but I think it was a stroke of genius to call it Subaltern
[237] Studies, which I think was a stroke of genius, since it did not reproduced a name. Ranajit said, “Let’s call it Subaltern Studies”
[238] And he read out to me part of “Elementary Aspects”, and I found it revolutionary and eye-opening.
[239] It was a very intense two days in Sussex, but I came back a convert. And very excited. And he was going to come to Calcutta on his
[240] way to Australia. I would be there already. I so I took the message of Subaltern Studies back to my friends, Gautam Bhadra and
[241] Partha Chatterjee, and spoke about it enthusiastically to both of them. So when Ranajit-da came to the city, he met with them, and
[242] inducted the three of us into the group. And that would have been 1979, or early 80. Partha had already done his PhD, and had become
[243] a professor. He became a professor quite early in his life. Gyan and Shahid were post-PhD, and so were the two Davids. Shahid, I
[244] think, had a postdoc in Oxford. And Gyan had come back to India, and was probably teaching at Allahabad University. Gautam was
[245] teaching at Calcutta University. I was good friends with Sumit and Tanika Sarkar, because Tanika was in College in me. Tanika was one
[246] friend I had even when the Naxalites were not talking to me. Tanika and I had a very nice friendship. I used to write funny songs about College couples.
[247] And every morning, Tanika would be waiting for me in the College canteen, and for a cup of tea, I would sing for her the new songs I
[248] had written. I would entertain her and get a free cup of tea in exchange. And then through her I would become good friends with
[249] Sumit Sarkar. I was officially a witness at their wedding. There are two historian’s weddings that I was formally a witness to,
[250] one was Sumit Sarkar nad Tanika Sarkar, and the other was Gautam Bhadra to Narayni, his wife. But anyway, those are moments I
[251] treasure. It’s nice to have been there when your friends were being married in that official capacity. So Tanika I’ve known for a
[252] very long time. She has been a close friend. Even though there was a hiatus of 10 years, when they didn’t like Subaltern Studies
[253] and didn’t like what we were doing, and we didn’t see each other that much, but that’s gone. She’s back in my life and I’m very happy
[254] about it. The Australian years, the Australian experience, was formative at different levels. Australia affected me very profoundly.
[255] It was the first Western country I spent an extended period in out of my Calcutta upbringing and context. The first Western-liberal
[256] democracy I saw functioning. The place where I made life-long friends with people who didn’t share my background. And also the
[257] place where I actually discovered nature. So I loved the sea and the beaches, I loved bushwalking, I loved hiking, and learned to
[258] love a landscape that was totally different from the Bengali landscape. Plus, encountering aboriginal history was something really
[259] significant. You used to come across the people whose history became pre-history, even if you only went 200 years back, was a
[260] strange experience coming from a place where you thought your history stretched by to 3000 years. And how to be a human being whose
[261] history became pre-history only 200 years ago, was something I always found fascinating. And I think aboriginal history had a deep
[262] influence, and those debate, on my thinking. I loved Australia so much.
[263] I would come home from Melbourne, I was teaching in Melbourne after my Canberra PhD, and I would come home from Melbourne and go
[264] back, and I would be missing home in India, but then I’d get to this splendorous day, wonderful sunshine, glorious colors in the sea,
[265] and I’d just look at the sky and the water and say to myself, maybe I can live for this. This way of actually living for natural
[266] beauty was something very strange and unfamiliar to me. You cannot do it in Calcutta and say, maybe I would live for this. In
[267] Calcutta, beauty was completely inside your head. Your brain cells carried this, it was in Tagore’s songs, or on TV screens, and in
[268] people’s bodies or peoples looks, or in their words, but beauty was not something you lived with. In Santiniketan maybe you did, but
[269] not in Calcutta. In Calcutta, you lived with a lot of ugliness in terms of human and social relations and physical environment. So I
[270] was very happy in Australia, in that society. I took to it and made friends. My marriage had broken up. I was not unhappy in terms of my life in Australia.
[271] And the thing was, the Australian academic world was not as professional as the US academic world was. I was lucky with the first
[272] book in the sense that I did not have to go looking for a publisher. I published something in Past and Present. Margaret Case, who
[273] was then the editor at Princeton, wrote me out of the blue, and said “Is this part of a larger work, we’d be very interested”. I was
[274] still in the midst of writing. She wrote to me again and said “Have you finished that larger work, we’re still very interested”. So
[275] I thought “Wow, they’re very interested, so I just gave it to them”. I had not idea what a professional world was like. In fact, I
[276] was so silly, you wouldn’t believe it. I gave them the thesis, I had very good readers’ reports and they didn’t ask me to do much,
[277] but I think I sat on that reader report for two years before I sent it back. All I had to do was to write a new conclusion, because
[278] I just didn’t know you had to get your books out quickly. Australia, in that sense, had a kind of innocence.
[279] You might even consider it anti-intellectual, but whatever it was, it was innocent of the professional world. My book came out and I
[280] was a lecturer, and I remember running across my colleague, Charles Sarwine, who was actually an American and by then he had become
[281] in spirit become Australian. We used to call him Chips, and I said, "Chips my book is out!" And I was carrying it so I held it up.
[282] And he took one look at it, he didn't even open it, he didn't even hold it, and he said, "Now go for senior lectureship". So that was
[283] the use of the book, you published it and it meant promotion into the next realm. But when the book came out, I got invited to visit
[284] Berkeley for a semester to teach in the place Tom Metcalfe, because Metcalfe was going on leave. And I think I met Tom Metcalf before
[285] that in Australia. He and Barbara had come through and we met, and we had a great time. And we became good friends. So Tom was
[286] going on leave and probably looking for a cheap replacement, and wrote to me and said, would you like to teach in Berkeley for a semester, and I said, again, yeah, that would be good without again knowing anything.
[287] And I came to Berkeley, and people would ask me, are you applying to jobs here. Because I was a happy Australian young man by then,
[288] and I would take it as an insult. I would say, no I’m going back. This was in 1990. I finished my PhD in ’83, got my degree in
[289] ’84, and started teaching from ’85. All at Melbourne. What happened in Berkeley was that even though I was not thinking of applying
[290] for jobs, the USA completely destroyed my innocence. When I was here for a semester, it so happened that Partha had started visiting
[291] the New School, Gyan Pandey was visiting Chicago, because Barney Cohen was on three-years leave and he had similarly made an
[292] arrangement for Gyan to come and teach, and suddenly I found that the selective Subalterns Studies had come out in 1988, I had no
[293] awareness of how Subaltern Studies had been received in America, and in those five months, we three got invited together to probably
[294] eight places, and I got invited to two others. So in those five months, I traveled to 10 places, often in the company of Partha and Gyan.
[295] And it completely destroyed the innocence of my Australian life. I found that people had actually read my book. I found people were
[296] actually asking me questions about things I’d thought about. I was used to that experience in the Subaltern Studies group, but I
[297] didn’t know that colleagues would actually read what you wrote. I went to Australia very happily, but I was invited to America for
[298] all sorts of things. And sometimes I was back two or three times a year. And I somehow felt that something was pulling me to this
[299] country, and in this country there was more interest in what I was doing. In Australia, I was getting loved and people liked me. It
[300] was a small country. But because I was far from archives, and far from South Asian Studies, in Melbourne University they promoted
[301] me, but put me in charge of social theory. I was teaching Foucault and Derrida and deconstruction and all those things. But I was also missing India.
[302] I was loving learning about all those things, but that conversatio... they were only useful when I put them in conversation with
[303] India, since it was my lab, it was the thing I knew the best. I got quite involved in the Australian cultural studies things.
[304] Postcolonialism hadn’t broken into my life yet. Simon During went to a conference at Sussex, and came back and said, do you know
[305] Homi Bhabha, and I said, yeah, he’s a great physicist, why are you interested in Homi Bhabha. And he said, Physicist! I’m talking
[306] about a literature person. I had not heard of Homi Bhabha. And then, all sorts of things happened. Selective Subaltern Studies
[307] came out. For whatever reason, Sumit Sarkar was not included in that selection and he decided to resign from Subaltern Studies and
[308] lead the charge against Subaltern Studies in India. Hindutva movement had taken off, and we were being accused of not being left
[309] enough and helping the Hindutva Jaggarnaut. I was missing teaching India. Australia was pushing me in this other direction of Deconstruction.
[310] We had met with Gayatri. So I was reading, I was developing on that front, but not teaching much India. And the other interesting
[311] revelation thing coming to America was that everyone knew Partha’s book on Nationalist Thought. Very few people actually knew about
[312] Ranajit-da’s book on Peasant Insurgency to the same degree. I love Partha’s book, but Ranajit-da’s book had more research in it,
[313] technically speaking. In Partha’s book, you can see the chapters are by authors and their particular works. So you can go to the
[314] library, and sit down and do them. With Ranajit-da’s book, it’s the Indian Office Records, etc., it’s much more meticulously put
[315] together, little bits of information. I was naïve enough to think that the popularity of a book is a function of how much labor has
[316] gone into it. And you know Partha had plans for writing a three volume book on land relations on Bengal, and then did not publish the
[317] other two, and he moved to the study of nationalist thought. He had by then become aware of Anderson and Edward Said.
[318] So first of all there was this professional world in which your stuff is read, but then I also realized, there’s not just a
[319] professional world, there are words that are buzz words in the US and there ware words that are not. There is a certain conversation
[320] that is going on, and you are either part of it, and if you have fallen outside of it, you are on the margins. And the other lesson I
[321] learned from the US was, that I want to be part of the conversation, so I want to do my work in such a way that I am actually part of
[322] the conversation. And as a thought experiment, when I was in Berkeley, sitting in Tom Metcalf’s office and thinking that, there’s
[323] something called conversation in America, there are issues that people are discussing, that doesn’t exist in Australia, or in India,
[324] or in Britain, but this is a place in which there are issues that people are getting interested in across disciplines, fields, etc.
[325] The reason why people where reading Partha’s book is because Anderson’s book on nationalism had come out.
[318] Nationalism was a topic of conversation, and peasant insurgency was not. If it was the 1970s Ranajit-da’s book would have been read
[319] as much. Just as Stephen Hay’s book on Orientalism was not read. It wasn’t read even though it was ahead of its time. I realized
[320] there’s a peculiar thing of being timely. And as a thought experiment, I tried to see if there’s a way of writing something quickl
[321] that becomes part of the conversation. I drafted something quickly, using pencil on paper, I remember, an essay called
[322] “Postcolonialism and the Artifice of History”, and the moment my work in those terms, you know that essay still gets anthologized.
[323] It still sometimes get transalted. And that’s were I first tried out the idea of “provincializing Europe”. And suddenly, I had an
[324] audience, I had a readership, and I realized, this is what’s called conversation. I remember trying it out as an expirement, and it
[325] worked. So the US taught me two things, which Australia hadn't, which was that this place with a sense of profession and this is a place with a sense of conversation.
[326] And now I've realized that you can sometimes luckily even start the conversation. And sometimes you can join the conversation, and
[327] this is a part of american expression, where you recruit people and say they will "join the conversation in the department". Even if
[328] there is no conversation in the department, even if people are actually not talking to each other. This you would not hear in other
[329] countries. So I thin eventually I became a prt of American Academic life. So when chicago offered me a job, which was also very nice,
[330] I didn't apply for it, and I got a phone call from Sheldon Pollock and then from [unknown] say "would you be interested in Chicago".
[331] And I was missing teaching India, and I knew Chicago was great for South Asian studies. And I said yes. I came over as a visitor and
[332] they gave me an offer. Everytime I try to leave Chicago they managed to keep me. I also realized that the American Academic system is
[333] probably the best academic home I've had. In the sense that it just suits me by temperament, by predilection, by dispositon.
[334] What I do is what this academic also wants to do, not all the time but most of the time. And I felt that is one I felt very lucky an
[335] privileged that there has been that fit, I didn't ahve that in Australia and India. I felt much more valued by this academic world.
[336] At the same time what I've done from 1988 on is keep up kind of a second writerly life in Bangla. So I write very year in Bangla,
[337] sometimes for newspaers and sometimes in magazines. Sometimes I write quickly sometimes I take the trouble to write something that is
[338] researched. That is something that I enjoy, having that connection with Kolkatta, and I try ot keep up a mental connection with
[339] Bangladesh. Partly out of nostalgia, partly out of a real desire to see - now that Bengalis have our own nations, in principle there
[340 should be nothing stopping us from interacting more, culturally. I think of this language community as broadly one community, or
[341] family even. The fact is that a majority of Bengali speakers in the world are Muslims. We can only neglect them at our own peril and cost.
[432] I don't always agree with their view of history, or thier view of Hindu history. We are tied by so many ties, Bengalh as a much
[433] longer history than that of Islam in Bengal. That's a shared history. I also think that Bangladesh by now has its own history, there
[434] can be a legitimate field of Bangladesh studies, and similarly West Bengal as part of Indian union. Just acknowledging those
[435] histories. I just think it's suicidal for the two communities not to exchange more ideas and culture. As a Hindu Bengali I consider
[436] say [unknown] or tamil poetry to be part of my heritage. There is no reason for muslim Bengali not to consider it part of thier
[437] history. If Tagore can lay claim to that, why can't they. There is a cultural loss on both sides because of the partition. I think
[438] the Hindu's have lost more, and have had to pay more, at least on the Bengal side becaus the migration was mostly Hindu's from east -
[439] west some moved west to east. I think that Bengali Muslims, it was good thing for them to be rid of us, even though it was painful for us, and not always fair to us.
[440] At the same time I don't think it was fair. I also think from 30's on a lot of Muslim writing became very revengeful towards the
[441] Hindus. Again there maybe historical reason for undersanding that but the vengeful attitudes, a vengeful attitude, they are not nice.
[442] I think India has developed a form of politics, historically, where I say, I see them as my oppressor that I want you out of this
[443] land. Caste movements have done it, the Brahmans had to leave. Whereas if you look at the Russian aristocracy or the French, they
[444] didn't all have to leave bceause of the revolution. I mean some people got killed. But I think where this form of politics, which is
[445] a kind of ethnic cleansing, and I think caste politics has suffered from that. I don't mentally subscribe to the idea of revenge, I
[446] mean as a historian I accept it as a fact, and I think as a Bengali I have to put it behind. We have paid different kinds prices for
[447] what has happened, but how do we move forward with the realizaiton that we don't need to pay these price any more?
[448] That salvation heritage is part of everyone's heritage. I personally consider myself as both a Hindu and a Muslim. I have some
[449] Bengaldeshi friends who have said the same things. So I would say there is apart of me, that runs deeply interested in what happened
[450] in Bangladesh, and Bengladesh history and politics. I think there is something distinct to study. Their history has enough time to
[451] develop that autonomy. There are also areas where we need to have more conversation and exchanges. I ended up being his [someone] phD
[452] supervisor, he's like a brother to me. When Bangladesh war was happening, our sympathies were with the Naxalites. They were divided
[453] on this question, they were not being romantics in that sense, they were supporting China and China was supporting yoyocan and China
[454] was pro-Pakistan on this question. It took my a while to warm up on the problem of Bangladesh. For a long time it was like an
[455] international reactionary project to weaken Pakistan. As Bengali's began to see the torture, and you realize that the Bangladesh war was not like wanting to get out of Pakistan, it was really the torture that forced them.
[456] India took advantage of that and helped them. What you couldn't avoid were the sign of torture. So the torture stories, and
[457] eventually we were all won over to the cause. Also that event played a role in making Hindu Bengalis of my generation more aware of
[458] Pakistan history and the history of Bengalis there. The debate about language, we became more aware of those things. It was kind of
[459] in a way we were jolted into an awareness of Bangaldesh history. Plus my reacher in english in my school years, he made one of his
[460] cool friends, general Osmani, who was actually a well known general in the Bangladeshi army. He called my school teacher by his
[461] nickname, and they were so delighted to see each other, and we were affected. It was a very important event. Most of what I said
[462] about Bengal wouldn't have happened without the '71 war. The '71 war in a funny way brought us closer. Later on as you leave India
[463] and you go outside you meet Bangladeshi people friends in my generation. One day I want to follow up on your work on. I want to write on that. I think of that as probably my last project.
[464] I think that I want to write in Bangla. I have to get out of professional life. So that I can do that. The history needs to be done
[465] more. Peope need to know Arabic and Persian, the views of the Qu'ran where it is interpreting certain points. You need that kind of
[466] scholarship to do it really in depth, which I don't have. Hindu's need to hear about that. It is a fascinating discussion about how
[467] much Pakistan was discussed, same in Bangladesh. The switch happens from 1930's on, the 40's very significantly, they give up their
[468] congress membership and join a Muslim group. That idea of east pakistan, what happens is the Hawk Ministry with the anti-zamandari??
[469] rhetoric, it merges with the anti-Hindu rhetoric. Whereby all Hindu's become exploiters. The more they move away from that platform
[470] in the Muslim community. What used to be a anti-zamandari rhetoric, by the 40's it becomes all Hindu's have become exploiters, that
[471] is where it becomes revengeful. So when the upperclass Hindu's go away, they begin to take the revenge on normal Hindus. Some of it is driven by property considerations.
[472] If you look at it locally, some it's like, is the officer in charge. You take advantage and you torture some helpless Hindu, and you
[473] take thier property. In the 50's thats is happening and there are many Bengali-Hindu accounts. They also need to face up to the
[474] uncomfortable part of their history, just as we need to face to the uncomfortable parts of our history. That is my dream in life that
[475] this is will be writen as a shared history], but both sides have to face up to a lot of untruths. Because just as we have ignored
[476] them and treated them badly on many ocassions. They have also misunderstood and said many things about Hindu's which are not true,
[477] they also painted all Hindu's with the same brush. They have to face up to it, they have to face up to the bad things that happened
[478] in the 50's, again not everybody did them. But similarly we have to know how, on this question, Hindu's have lost more, both
[479] intellectually - I mean you just have to compare the two Bangla deparments in Calcutta University and Dhaka.
[480] And what happened in the 50's, they're miles ahead in Calcutta, their research is discovering more interesting writers, they're doing
[481] more work on the Bangla language. They have a whole host of people who carry on, as a result of all that. In many ways they couldn't
[482] be able to do all that if we were still the dominate force, so getting rid of us was not a bad thing, but maybe historically it can
[483] be clean things. Now that enough time has passed, I think this shared history should include a lot of facing up to. If you keep
[484] saying all the Ponjolocs were bad, you ignore the shared history. A lot of Hindu-Ponjolocs were inspiritional. They learned from the
[485] Hindu teachers. You can't have shared history unless these parties face up the hatred that they have nurtured. Unfortunately a lot of
[486] that hatred is still around. Without western Bengali's, without their soverignty, these things would not have happened. We all gained
[487] from it, from their research we learned about new poets, new songs. At the same time things become so communalized.
[488] An American professor the other day was saying that the Hindu's hated the [unknown] because they are Hindus. Now the simple fact is
[489] that this is bizarre position that because a Muslim has written it it is considered good literature. I heard American scholars take
[490] this completely communalized position. People think, the way we have distorted our own history, foreign scholars studying it, carries
[491] over these distortations. A lot of Bengali marxism was mediated by Tagore. The poets we used ot read in the 60's, and recite, were
[492] all poets of the 40s. Tim comes up in Bangladeshi plays. If you read these people. So generally the aesthetics created very much
[493] informed our Marxism. Criticism in the end that I don't think will help me improve myself I put it to the side. Without going to the
[494] merits of the argument, something that is missing from the debate is not about who is right or wrong about Marxism, but what kind of
[495] Marxism did we read, as we read, as we questioned certain parts Marx. That is dimension missing from the account.
[496] There was a tradition of reading Marx, a Hegelian tradition, there was a book by a man by Rosdosky, I think it was called "Notes on
[497] Marxism", translated in the 70's and there was a book by a Russian dissident Marxist, written in the 20's and made avaiable by by a
[498] Canadian publisher in the 70s under the name I.I. Ruben, this was called on the Theory of Value or something. And these were
[499] philosophical readings of Marxism. At least for me they were influential texts. They were very diffent from the kind of Marx that
[500] John Elster and rationalist choice people were producing. So we were actually in the 70's reading these books. Alvin Goodner wrote
[501] abook called "The Two Marx's", and making choices. If you go back to the 70s you'll find there is a flourishing of a differnet kinds
[502] of Marx's. So the economists they were reading this rationalist Marx they were applying rationalist choice theory to Marx. By
[503] temperament, training, pereference we didn't taavel down that path. The Frankfurt school was morphing into Moishe kind of work.
[504] The Frankfurt school were never interested in third world. So Moishe was never interested in revolutionary Marxism wherewas for
[505] people in India and China Marxism was relevant only because it could be revolutionary, I mean, our capitalism was not going to become
[506] socialism by it's own logic. I mean there was hardly any capitlism. So if what was going to be socialism it was to be brought about
[507] by political will. So it is revolutionary idea of Marxism that interested us, but philosophically we were much more drawn to this
[508] Rosdosky grouping kinds of texts. So when someone like Chiver comes to critique us, my impression is, he has no background in the
[509] richness within the Marxism tradition in the 70's of how Marx was read differently by different Marxists. It's missing from the
[510] debate because if Chiver had, he has two chapters on my working class book, from what I heard him say on that debate, if he had these
[511] books are referenced in my footnotes. He's not a textualist. We were trained into the proposition that if you wanted to understand somebody you had to read what they read.
[512] In reading Foucault and Derrida we went back to Heideggerand and Nietzsche, similarly in reading Marx we went back to Hegel. So if
[513] you want to take my writing seriously enough to want to spend your time to criticize it than you should at least read my footnotes
[514] and see what I was reading. So if you read the working class book, than you will know that [unknown] book to Rousseau and Lenin,
[515] Rubin's book on value theory, Rozdolsky's reading of Kapital, were more important to us than Jerry Cohen and Jon Elster's book, which
[516] also I read, but I was drawn more to, C.L.R. James has a wonderful book on Hegel. We were going back to Hegelism, today I can say I
[517] am probably no longer a Marxist. I don't feel so attached to any one particular way of thinking. When I was working on
[518] provincializing europe and working on Working Class Book book I was working within a Marxian tradition. I was also working in an
[519] awareness that Marxian tradition had many strands to it and that you didn't have to swear in the name of one Marxism.
[520] India had very little Frankfurt school when I was growing up, because it was mainly of Germanic origin, and didn't get translated,
[521] there was Pelican book called critical selections from Horkheimer, most people didn't read it, people didn't know what to make of it.
[522] Foucault came late to India. Unless things became important in English language discussion we didn't read them. Gramsci was through
[523] [unknown] Gramsci was translated in '71 and people who were looking for non-stalinist forms of Marxism. He brought it into our
[524] debates about transition into capitalism, he brought into the idea of civil society and its role in the transition into capitalism
[525] and used Gramsci a lot. We were all discussing Gramsci in civil society around '73 and '74 in Calcutta so before Subaltern Studies. I
[526] don't think they would have been reading Rozdolsky and Ruben because these are very speculative and philosophical texts and not
[527] suited to their temperament because these people come, if anything, they live with analytical tradition in philsophy, whereas we were more drawn to the speculative, continental tradition of philosophy.
[528] And those make for very different parts, of course you can translate sometimes from one to the other, and sometimes not. So many
[529] different varieties of Marxism in the 70's, the richest period for academic Marxism. I think what happened in 80's and 90's you can
[530] see, Marxism as a general feel gets discredited, sometimes unfairly but it happens. I came here in '94 and I encountered Moishe's
[531] book. By then this other divide had happened. First of all between post-modernists and Marxists. Christopher Norris came out, who
[532] started out as post-modernists then wrote a book against deconstructionists. That was happening in Anglo-Marxism. Then that fault
[533] reappeared between post-colonialists and Marxists. In thirty years time when we stand back we will think '89 produces its own
[534] problems. In other words '89 produces a very defensive marxism, people who want to defend Marxism at any cost and therefore see any
[535] division from it as betraying and therefore very angry as post-modernists who also come from the left field. [unknown] first essay talks about how we can reinforce socialism by certain kinds of readings.
[536] Left of labor party, in England. Because of this general crisis the richness of the 70's the confidence that we can have different
[537] renderings Marxism, that confidence is lost. It becomes black and white again, you betray the cause or you are with us, that kind of
[538] divide. It is more unfortunately on the Marxist side, or people who claim to be Marxist. No I see myself now as someone who is
[539] seriously interested in Marx, but not a Marxist. Now I have serious intellectual reasons to not be a "Marxist" which is not to deny
[540] the value of Marx or his claim to my respect, and his greatness as a thinker, but there are many great thinkers and you learn from
[541] all of them. I was gradually coming to this position in Europe as I was trying to read both Heidegger and Marx togher and they were
[542] both answering some questions. I came to realize I have to make my own way, and now I work on climate change.
[543] I have some discussion in my head going on with Marxism, now people who consider themselves Marxist feel more threated and therefore
[544] feel there is more at stake in giving ground to any position that seems un-Marxist. Because they feel kind of besieged and they have
[545] to protect this fort. And giving ground is letting the enemy in. Now there is much stronger sense of friend and enemy inside the
[546] left. Whereas 70's were not like that. You could take one strand of Marxism and say okay I'm not doing that. Post '89 coincides with
[547] 90's opening up of economies. I cannot begin, the world is full of unpleasant facts. They exist, you can't wish it away. neoliberal,
[548] which is useful word, can become lazy, suddenly everything is neoliberal. Indian neoliberal under Manmohan Singh is very different
[549] than Thatcher. Can you imagine a neoliberal regime that values San Andreas kind of work. Now we shifted to Modi there will be
[550] significant changes. To clamp it all together under neoliberal sometimes is lazy.
[551] Personally I feel clear about two things, but I can't prove it - yet, one is that capitalist prosperity in whatever form, probably
[552] can be extended to seven to nine million people. Similarly I feel the assumptions of liberalism or a liberal social order can't be
[553] extended to that many people. My own sense is population itself has emerged as a determing factor in creating quite tectonic shifts
[554] in social managment and all kinds political and economic regimes. I can't prove it and I think we'll need some historical distance to
[555] look back on this period and be able to see the rise in human population and longevity since the post-war itself has caused many
[556] important problems in terms of food security, species extinction questions, environmental crisis, but to do all that you need a
[557] poltical framework that population can be treated as an independent factor. What happens now we think that population biology factors
[558] into every species but humans. So if you talk about Malthus and his fears, if you read stuff on population biology, Malthus applies to every other species to every species but not to humans.
[559] But it's very possible we haven't given ourselves enough time to know if Malthus applies or not, A, but also they think we are
[560] special somehow, we escape all other natural laws. But maybe as the environmental crisis gathers momentum and becomes more intense we
[561] will stand back and see population is something we need to talk about. Universal history can be many forms, Marxism is one, there
[562] were many other before Marx, there was enlightment universal histories. The history of earth as difference species is a common
[563] history. We will have to get back to different configuration of common historicality. Beyond being Bengali and Bandladeshi, and West
[564] Bengali, all of that sort of stuff, which is important at an existential level, but the scale of historical problems are such that we
[565] will also need, not just scale but categories. We live on different scales, at a certain level being Bangladeshi is important to me,
[566] at another level my family is important to me. We are all facing problems that can't be addressed at this scale somehow we will have to find the human commons whether it be in genes or in Marx.
[567] Again the richness will be the variety of it because in social science there is no one, correct answer. We need to get to an
[568] environment where we encourage and appreciate a variety of attempts at univerals so that as long as we value the universal whatever
[569] variety you create it doesn't matter so much. I personally don't get mine through Marx the universal I am looking for, that is one
[570] way to look at it. The same way 70's Marx was richer, there was a variety. Our universal would be richer if we had a variety of
[571] universals. We don't have to be sectarian and say my universal has to kill your universal, that would be thinking like some Jihadist.
[572] Either particularist or this idea that my universal or I will kill you. We have to figure out ways of thinking our commoninality. How
[573] we do that? I don't have any one formula, but we need to go there, we haven't gone there yet. I suggest my own ways of getting there,
[574] but I'm not saying they will be universally accepted, they don't have to be universally accepted.
[575] The main task is actually contributing to creating a larger field of universals, with the ideal of universal being accepted. What are
[576] your variety of it. It's like in marketing they say, you can't simply sell abrand of soap, the soap as a generic product has to be in
[577] demand. The universal as a generic product has to be in demand before you can sell your variety of universal. There are time lags, I
[578] still have to teach history, they are also part of my life. You have to allow for those preferences, which are not always
[579] explainable. They main not be universally explainable, I say valuing universal should not mean we produce the same universal, so long
[580] as I have a toleration of your universal. It's like 19 century go back, everyone believed in God just a different version, but it
[581] means God was well. We need to go back to universal as a value. We're stuck, I feel that, I have moved on from those positions. I
[582] don't think as I used to in 80's and 90's, as I moved on and many of my friends haven't, I come up against that wall.
[583] I can still think of a project on Western Bangalis and it's meaningufl on an existential level, that scale is true too, just being
[584] able to realize we live on scales, and historical situations make the larger scales as relevant as the smaller scale. Increasingly
[585] the crises we are facing as such, where the planetary scale is becoming important, it's more visible, and we need to think about how
[586] we think about it. A lot of these differences, from attitude then, become panned out in your generation. I think in that sense the
[587] future is quite exciting, we are at a turning point, I often have trouble explaining that to people. Thank you.
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