Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Prattler's Tale

A Prattler’s Tale: Bengal, Marxism, Governance
Ashok Mitra
Translated from the Bengali by Sipra Bhattacharjya
royal hb 473pp ISBN 81-85605-80-0 Jan 2007 Rs 595

For the readers, A Prattler’s Tale is a fascinating experience, funny and sad at times. What marks out the book from the pedestrian autobiographies of ex-bureaucrats and politicians which flood the market, is the absence of an abrasive tone of self-righteousness and the swagger of ‘I-serve-the people’ type of hogwash which usually mar their narrative. Ashok Mitra bares himself, warts and all. –Sumanta Banerjee, Seminar

Offering a thought-provoking, incisive analysis of Bengal and India, Ashok Mitra’s memoirs, translated for the first time into English from the Bengali original, Apila Chapila (Ananda, 2003), brings contemporary India alive. Growing up in British India, in old East Bengal, as a member of the middle class, the bhadralok, he dissects its ideals, foibles, prejudices and flaws. The Partition of India found him and his family in the new country of East Pakistan, that they were to leave, like millions of other refugees, to a new India where they had to re-build lives. He goes on to analyse the fledgling democracy of India, taking readers through the heady days of the five year plans, with which he was involved in the 1950s.
Always taking the view of a maverick, Mitra held considerable positions of power within the establishment, especially when he was the economic adviser. At this time the political crisis in East Pakistan turned into the war of liberation and he provides much insider information.
The book also highlights a different aspect of his life, as an intellectual. He talks of his close friendship with Sachin Chaudhuri, the founder of the Economic and Political Weekly. Throughout the book he weaves in the cultural and literary history of Bengal.

Ashok Mitra is an economist, political activist and essayist who writes in both Bengali and English. He was at various times chairman, Agricultural Prices Commission, chief economic adviser to the Government of India, minister of finance and planning in the Left Front Government of West Bengal, and a member of the Rajya Sabha. 

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