Dreams and realities

In the media The Statesman - 20th January 2010

“The passing away of Marxist stalwart Jyoti Basu ends an important chapter of India’s history of Independence led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru“, writes MADANJEET SINGH.

The other day I woke from a curious dream in which I saw my friends KR Narayanan and his wife, Usha, come to visit us. On my bed they noticed a book about Jyoti Basu. Sitting beside the book with her head held in both hands, Usha lamented that her husband was unwell and she did not want him to accept the government’s offer to appoint him an advisor. Then the night before Jyoti Basu died, I dreamed of a tsunami-like flooding in front of our seaside Villa Surya at the Cote d’ Azur in France followed by colourful festivals — dream symbols that, as I described in my book, The White Horse (Macmillan 1976), invariably anticipated the death of someone near and dear to me.

Carl Gustav Jung called these ominous anticipatory shadows of coming events “meaningful coincidences”, saying that “such chance happenings have a certain numinous quality that grows in proportion to the number of its terms. Unconscious — probably archetypal — contents are thereby constellated, which then give rise to the impression that the series has been caused by these contents. Since we cannot conceive how this could possibly happen, we generally let it go at the bare impression”.

The White Horse is written against the background of the political turmoil and agonising communal conflict during India’s struggle for freedom. The story begins in Lahore where, as a child, I saw Jawaharlal Nehru riding a beautiful white charger at a political rally on the banks of the Ravi river on 1 January 1930 and he declared Purna Swaraj (complete independence) from colonial rule. Since then, a white horse has often appeared in my dreams to connote politically related events, just as flooding and festivities, coupled together, symbolise death.
I had the honour of briefly meeting Jyoti Basu in Kolkata where I had gone to attend the International Student Federation Conference on the eve of Partition. I was then a student at the Government College in Lahore, as I had been expelled from Uttar Pradesh on my release from Mirzapur Jail during Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement.

I met Jyoti Basu more than a half-century later on 22 December 2004 when a political crisis was brewing due to the differences between the Congress and CPI(M). I was afraid that should the CPI(M) withdraw its support, the secular government at the Centre would fall and the communal Hindutva Sang Parivar might take over.
The 90-year-old Marxist leader received us most cordially at his Kolkata home. His biographer, Surabhi Banerjee, Vice-Chancellor of Netaji Subhas Open University, and France Marquet, a South Asia Foundation trustee, accompanied me. I was astonished by Basu’s extraordinary memory as he recalled my meeting with him in 1947. Banerjee had already cautioned us that at his age Jyotiji received visitors for no more than 10 minutes. But he spent about an hour before we left as he unveiled a life-size statue of his, made by a young village artist. As he stood besides the sculpture, Marquet commented that it was as good as the wax sculptures in Madame Tussaud’s Museum in London. “That’s right,” he said with a sense of pride. And then he added with a twinkle in his eye, “Bengalis are born artists.”

Jyoti Basu admired the illustrations of paintings and photographs in my Unesco book, The Sasia Story, and showed a keen interest in the two Peace Campaign exhibitions I had organised at the Government College and the Lahore Museum when the rioting broke out in 1947. I told him that “sasia” (South-Asia) was the name I had coined for a common currency, like the euro, and, as in Europe, it might well become the anchor of economic stability and regional cooperation in South Asia.

Then I broached the subject of the CPI(M)’s support to the UPA coalition at the Centre so that the Congress-led secular government would be able to complete its mandate. The Left parties should not commit another “historic blunder”, I said.

Basu paused and said, “We depend on the Congress as much as the Congress depends on us.” And he added, “We have been telling them that the unravelling of the UPA will inevitably bring (the) BJP to power, not us, the Third Front.”

I conveyed his message to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on my return to Delhi.
My latest dream, as always, had picked up bits and pieces from the deepest crevices of my conscious and unconscious memory, hopes and fears that I attempted to put together like a jigsaw puzzle. The dream’s reference to the book about Jyoti Basu that Narayanan noticed on my bed seemed to indicate that Basu, too, was an intellectual and ideological genius like Narayanan. Usha’s dream comment that her husband was unwell obviously alluded to Jyoti Basu’s health, invoking the grief that I felt on the death of Narayanan. Usha and several other close friends have recently passed away.

Real sorrows seem to sleep in the heart’s cozy bed though they never cease to fret and eat into the soul. Indeed, it is strange how a dream can, in a flash, succinctly summarise my entire life, helping me to face my painful forebodings and fears and at the same time providing me with the courage to uphold the ideals I cherish. The passing away of Marxist stalwart Jyoti Basu ends an important chapter of India’s history of Independence led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the apostle of secularity.
A UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, the writer is the founder of the South Asia Foundation (SAF).