And Kolkata shrugged

Kolkata's writers and poets are accustomed to receiving the kind of adulation that rock stars enjoy elsewhere. Last year, the noted writer Sunil Gangopadhyay's cortege was the size of a state funeral. Writers, artists and theatre professionals have helped to steer the politics of the state and served as its social conscience. In fact, Mamata Banerjee may not have won office without the backing of a section of the artistic community, which was disgusted by the state's use of political violence in Nandigram. Notable supporters include the poet Joy Goswami, writer and tribal activist Mahasweta Devi, the painter Shuvaprasanna, theatre activist Bratya Basu (now state education minister) and the popular singer and composer Kabir Suman, TMC MP and irate critic of his own party.

He is not the only votary of poriborton (change) who has issues with what it has come to mean. After Banerjee's honeymoon period, many creative people withdrew their support or looked for a fence to sit on. Meanwhile, the Left, past-masters in the art of co-opting creative talent in political projects, continues to enjoy the support of older writers and artists. They may be in their seventies and eighties, but they command enormous respect as the elder statesmen of the arts. The community is now divided; the majority appears to side with the Left.

But who's weighing in on whose side is not really the point. Looking at mere numbers would be too politically mainstream to explain this phenomenon, which is not seen elsewhere in the country. In Kolkata, art is as omnipresent as gravity, shaping human experience and giving direction to the human will. This used to be a city of lunatics, lovers, poets and fabulous drunks who were as influential as politicians. Mythologies of craziness and creativity were built around personalities like the modernist poet Shakti Chattopadhyay and the novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay, and the editors and critics of their times. A few years ago, the city developed a unique form of entertainment addas or chat sessions featuring writers. An invite to a writer's home is valued as much as an invite to Raj Bhavan. And until now, it was not very easy to attack a literary figure without suffering a backlash.

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