Up The Barrel

Posted on November 13, 2010


(Published earlier in: Outlook Magazine | Nov 22, 2010)

Anyone interested in the Naxalite movement will find much to mull over in this enjoyably jangly, rough-and-ready novel

by Manjushree Thapa

Anyone interested in the Naxalite movement will find much to mull over in Dilip Simeon’s enjoyably jangly, rough-and-ready novel Revolution Highway.

Right off, Simeon establishes the context from which Naxalism emerged, as the characters debate the legacies of the Bengal famine and India’s independence and partition. The Soviet-China rivalry and the split into CPI and CPI(M) have a particular bearing on their consciousness, as does the founding of Bangladesh. They are concerned with violence as a means of liberation.

The main characters are students at the Mission College in Delhi—Pranav and Mohan, and their friends, family, love interests, and comrades-in-arm. Their minds are ablaze with the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, feminism, the struggle for Palestine, the Prague Spring, and strikes in France—not to mention the Situationist International and Sartre’s late conversion to Maoism.

Pranav and Mohan eventually progress from being Naxal sympathisers to ‘whole-timers’. Their qualms grow, however, as they find the Naxalite movement rife with doctrinal differences.

Simeon is Tolstoyian, launching on mini-essays and dropping in original documents. The pleasures of such a text are more idea-driven than novelistic. Like Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, the novel looks back on the debris-filled history of Naxalism. This debris only increases today. Revolution Highway is timely, thought-provoking, and important to read, and not just for readers in India.


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