Muddy bottom of democracy
Shalini Rawat

Comrade Sahib
By Rohit Handa.
Genesis Publishing.
Pages 267. Rs 175.

THE Naxalbari movement, like a mole, keeps surfacing at different places on the Indian political scape. The lotus-eating bureaucrats, since the inception (or outbreak?) of the movement have stirred ever so little to delve into question of this and other such tangential explorations of democracy. Draconian measures like "encounters" are resorted to once there is a strike by the "militants", but that is like peeling only another thin layer of the onion and life goes on. What started as a movement of the people in the 60s rears its head time and again to this day. Rohit Handa, in his maiden novel, is intent on taking the bull by the horns—the theoretical part of the problem that is, the people’s movement versus the government’s machinery (or machinations). Maybe that’s what makes the second edition of the book relevant so many years after the first one in 1977.

The battle lines are firmly drawn. On one side is the nonchalant father, Hari Om Dhingra, ICS, who is too anglicised for a middle-class Indian, too much of an upstart to be Civil to anyone and never even remotely imagines himself to be a Servant—of the people or anyone else. His son—of finer sensibilities, softened by an easy life but disgusted by the hollowness of it all—chooses to cross over to the side of the Naxalites. The ideologies that are threshed out and spewed on the pages of the novel are both Red (the Communist son’s) and White (the father’s—unloading the burden off the British bygones).

The farce between the "reactionaries" and the "revolutionaries" plays itself out, bit by hard-hitting bit, in the slow-paced narrative. The caught-in-between mother, whose feudal genes and maternal instincts are forever engaged in a tug-of-war, throws up some interesting feminist insights.

The writer brings the action closer home with Punjab being the site of the drama. The crooked SDOs of the Electricity Board, sparring farmers and the ever-inept pot-bellied policemen are all familiar stereotypes. It is here that the Naxalites set up camp and hope to carry out their plans. But the assortment of revolutionaries is as incompetent and unorganised as the authorities they talk of replacing. Will the Servant rule or the people take over; is there hope for any revolution after this? Jarring questions in our peaceful world—the book stirs the muddy bottom of democracy. Better editing would have made it a pleasure to read.