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Frescoed Words

By Prabhat Sharan

23 January, 2010
Media Praxis / The Verdict


Book: Colour of Gratitude - A compilation of selected writings
Author: Amit Sengupta
Shreya Publications, shreya
Price- Rs. 150/-

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.

(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 11, Scene ii.)

The word never dies
Charu Majumdar

There is an old joke with a deep psycho-social caustic and scathing meaning. A man accosts every so-called respectable gentleman on the street asking them question, “Are you sane?” An easy question with an equally affirmative answer. Then the second question dropped, “But can you prove it?” And none could since they would have to use their sanity to prove their sanity and the questioner then with a smirk on his face said, “I can prove my sanity,” and would brandish a successful discharge certificate from a mental hospital.

The joke though bordering on morbidity delineates that people cocooned in their fictitious illusory insulation from the multiple psycho-social realities fail to understand what sanity is; since they have always lived within its walls.

The joke maybe old but it holds true especially when it comes to corporate establishment media journalists. Living in moribund islands of regressive economic structural thoughts, the modern day journos have become babus of British era with a crystal clear job: Help the expropriation and exploitation of the sub-continent. All brown sahibs had one common thread binding them: Thinking was out of their job scope.

Amit Sengupta, a journalist with poetic sensitivity dares to ask such questions not only to fellow journos and writers trapped in bazaar kitsch, but also to his readers in his book Colour of Gratitude-a compilation of selected writings.

After the everyday bombardment of mindless filth in newspapers and inane vocalizations on television news channels, it was a pleasure to read this crowded canvas.
The writings have one thread running across- they are ‘subjective.’ Sengupta through his essays delineates on how to write current events as if it were not enmeshed and constrained to a finite number of stories and standpoints- fusing straightforward reportage with bravura passages.

For him, subjectivity is beyond the commonsensical definition trying to find roots in ideology, nationality or gender. What comes out from the essays is that subjectivity is not just historically constructed but it also needs to be read in terms of language.

Most of the essays reveal a productive tension between the general and the particular, and Sengupta emphatically goes against the procedures of abstraction and hair-splitting normative analysis. He manages to walk the thin subtle line dividing narrow simplified definition and an all-embracing view that tells little about anything.
The subjectivity comes out in multiple perspectives manifesting within the exploration of the subject and that of the reader articulating itself in textual subjectivity with the journalist as the narrator describing the dominant linguistic, cultural and social tropes.

Though Sengupta in his travels in the utopia of a garden and dystopia of desert in the hinterlands of the country reads his subjects- in the manner what Hans-Georg Gadamer calls “sacral communion,”- like Margaret Atwood, he also carries out explorations of “silences and evasions,” that weaves the social fabric. A classic case in point is the essay - “In Death as in Life.”

It is here that while managing to sidestep the alienation that emerges from writing internal vocalizations, Sengupta combines incredibly detailed vernacular histories of cases with a metanarrative that keeps moving till the end when you realize that every one of the boxed structure has been dismantled or deconstructed.

The tightly structured deconstruction, to use a phrase from Henry Fowler- with “prolixities docked,”- Sengupta’s forceful pivotal thesis revolves around what needs to be done to pull humanity out from the jagged edges of rapacious man-made disasters.

Take for example the articles on forests and tribals. The articles deal not just with forest people struggles or vanishing beauty of forests, but on the perception of indigenous people towards their forests and the impact of development on their everyday relations to forests as well as to the internal diaspora and Foucault’s “heterotopias.”
To conclude who should read this book? For one journalists, irrespective whether they are trainees or have spent years in the field. They should read it to see how much substance one can actually pack into each paragraph. Sociologists, political activists, cultural anthropologists, economists and historians with renaissance proclivity will certainly find their own studies enriched from this book.

And lastly, those who love words. Proustian words high on psychedelic visuals, dancing out aurora borealis images in the supernal region of memories, like the clouds that grinned out from the nursery book while thunderstorm howled and groaned outside window panes. And, the sweep of relief, when mother’s gaze embraced you. Or the winter evening when in front of a pan shop, holding your father’s hand, you watched the frescoed shadows dancing in the lantern light, listening to S D Burman’s music playing on transistor with the cold crimson cherry in your mouth. The mystical moment became a joy forever. Sengupta’s visual words are just that.

Prabhat Sharan is a Senior Journalist and Editor of MEDIA PRAXIS a monthly magazine published from Mumbai. He can be contacted at


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