A piece of news in the Hindustan Times two days ago made me remember A Clockwork Orange. The bottom of the Nation page has a story about an experiment that might be conducted on jailed Maoists. A 17 year old is currently the guinea pig of the experiment that involves reading books such as biographies of Dhirubhai Ambani, You Can Win by corporate self help guru Shiv Khera and Positive Thinking by Joginder Singh, a former chief of the CBI. The idea is to undo Maoist indoctrination.
This is hardly comparable to the Ludovico technique. And the CRPF’s experiment seems comically naive. To think that feeding the kid hagiographies of capitalist rockstars like Ambani would turn him into an enterprising, positive thinking freemarketeer… Or maybe it will. Who knows?
At the same, this counter indoctrination is disturbing. The cops have chosen books that are almost propaganda for a capitalist way of life. These are books that suggest, directly and indirectly, that money is the autobahn to happiness. They could have given the kid novels or biographies of truly great men. Great works of art can have transformative effects. (This is not an argument against Maoists.) This is happening, not in Gujarat, but in Bengal, a state where people esteem art and consider money a dirty necessity. Intellectuals practically form an entire social strata here. One of the state’s greatest intellectuals, Amartya Sen, once attributed West Bengal’s low crime rate to the Bengali habit of reading. But perhaps this choice of literature is less surprising when you consider the money-minded zeitgeist.
In an article in The New Republic, Jed Perl talks about how pecuniary partnerships between galleries, museums and collectors influence the art market. Artists who are good but not great are privileged as their paintings sell for millions at auctions. Culture has always survived on patronage. But what we’re seeing today is culture being leashed by the might of capital.The West Bengal cops are attempting to tame the 17 year old with the appeal of capital. And that says a lot about a state in which calchaar ees keeng.