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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 46

Bravo, Jessoda!

Saturday 3 November 2007, by P. M. Warrier

In their little den on Park Lane in Calcutta half a dozen young Malayalees, mostly clerks and typists, listened intently as a tiny bespectacled man in his early 30s read aloud a graphic account of how the city greeted India’s independence only a couple of days earlier. As the momentous hour approached, the multitudes of the hitherto riot-torn metropolis had poured out on to the streets singing, dancing, spontaneously embracing one another and welcoming the dawn of freedom in near delirium. The young men of the den who had witnessed those glorious moments now relived them.
You, still in your teens, were a newcomer in the den. When the account was over you asked the reader, “Did you write that?” “Me?” the reader said, shocked. “No. Maybe in another three lives I can write like that. This is by Nikhil. Can’t you see the Oxford touch? Nikhil writes for the People’s Age. I merely typed this for him.” The den got People’s Age regularly. You read and reread the Nikhil report in it. You liked the way he wrote. You became a fan.

Suddenly People’s Age stopped coming. The Communist Party of India had been banned. One day the head of the den brought a young man home and introduced him to you as Jessoda. Jessoda was an underground communist looking for couriers. On an impulse you enrolled yourself. “For our purposes you are Paul from today,” Jessoda told you. He gave you letters and packages to be delivered to unknown entities at street corners or in public parks. You identified them by Jessoda’s description: White shirt, curly hair, horn-rimmed glasses, Amrita Bazar Patrika under left arm. You spotted your counterpart and asked something like “Can you tell me the way to Howrah Bridge?” You got your code answer, exchanged packages and got quickly lost in the crowd.

This went on for over six months. Then you had to leave Calcutta. On the eve of your departure you learned that Jessoda was none other than Nikhil. You felt a faint thrill. Many years and cities later you moved to Delhi where you learned Jessoda was publishing a weekly journal from the Capital.
You arranged to get it and read it regularly. Your respect for Jessoda grew.

You had had a fairly good life, but like many of your contemporaries you slowly became disenchanted with men and things. You were never an angry young man, but now you were an angry old man. You respected none any more but still had a soft corner for some, particularly men like Jessoda. Why? You didn’t quite know. Maybe they were doing some of the things you would have liked to do yourself but didn’t ever get to doing.

The blow was a sudden and hard. “You too, Jessoda,” your cried out in anguish as you looked at his picture in your paper alongside this year’s Republic Day Honours list. You had nothing against anyone being honoured, but a vague resentment stirred in you at the very thought of Jessoda receiving an official award.

Later, when you read about how Jessoda had turned it down, you nearly choked with gratitude. “Bravo, Jessoda!” You muttered. “We need more like you.”

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