Even before he knew, a Calcutta newspaper published his article on its edit page. ‘I saw an article by one Bhaskar Roy, was that you?’ a college professor told him days later. After a month or so a little cheque landed in their letter box – for forty rupees. The year was 1978. That set the course for him. He never looked back, never wavered. Years later the question came back to confront him. After taking a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Calcutta, he applied for a job as a newsman. A legendary editor heading the interview panel asked, ‘Why do you want to be a journalist?’ In 80s India, newspapers had taken over from the street fighters. The angry, angst-ridden generation took to writing the papers because their Revolution had failed. ‘That will be my response to the world around,’ he said.

During his years in journalism, he often went on high-risk assignments – to cover Hindu-Muslim riots in the dusty small towns of northern India, to interview Subhas Ghising, leader of the Gurkha uprising in the Darjeeling hills, to trace the genesis of Dalit politics in the underprivileged quarters of the city’s underbelly. In an article in India Today about the politically small but highly influential constituencies like the farmers, Muslim minorities and Dalits, he used the term ‘fringe leaders’ for the first time in the Indian context. In no time it became a catchphrase in political discourse. He at times gave a literary context to a political development to make it more appealing. Writing about Pandit Kamalapati Tripathi, an octogenarian Congress leader being bypassed by the party yuppies, he opened the piece with these moving lines from King Lear:

Pray, do not mock me.
I am a very foolish fond old man…

Almost twenty-five years and quite a few great publications later he left the mainstream media to edit The Equator Line, a themed quarterly magazine of new writing exploring long-form journalism in the Indian context. TEL emerged as a liberal platform at a time when Big Media had a lurch to the religious right. Serious, dignified, TEL takes a stand against majoritarianism, monocultural tendencies, patriarchy, xenophobia and jingoism.

Alongside his journalistic writing, Roy has successfully written fiction. The Defeat or Distant Drumbeats (Har-Anand, 1998), his first novel, earned the admiration of critics. ‘Roy writes well and will go far in the writing world,’ eminent writer Khushwant Singh said in his review of the book. It’s about the consequences of the government’s policy of caste-based reservations.

An Escape into Silence (New Century, 2000), his second novel, captures the intense emotions fuelling the Maoist uprising in West Bengal in the early 70s. The iconoclastic movement, destined to fail, was marked by the fiery idealism of twentysomethings and also insensate, brutal violence. Widely acclaimed, the book made a deep impact and still sells all over the world.

Roy’s deeply insightful essay, ‘Cricket’s Social Subtext’, forms part of the volume, India: A National Culture? (Sage, 2003). He also heads Palimpsest, his group’s publishing arm.

His wife, Dr Manimala Roy, is a well-known educationist and the author of From Shanties to School (Konark, 2019), a critically acclaimed work tracing deep linkages between India’s radical economic reforms of 1991 and migrant workers’ aspirations for their children’s education. Their daughter Protiti, educated at National Law School of India University, Bangalore, and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, USA, is a policy lawyer working in Delhi.

Books

The Defeat or Distant Drumbeats

One story leads to another. Ominous dark clouds gather in the sky as a prelude to disaster. The twilight hour disappears from the life of simple folk. From one story to another to many. They run parallel, clash and finally merge into each other. Do they really? Why should the ghosts then peer into god-fearing homes, fireballs roll over the moor and the one-legged one unleash terror from the haunted palace? But the veil of gloom, like the spring festival before it, is not permanent.

Between stories space dissolves, time loses its meaning, borders fade away. One story contradicts the other and complements too. A child is born at the hour of self-immolations and breathes in the smell of blood and anger. One stream of politics, a way of life, comes to an end, a new campaign begins.

All this about a defeat? Maybe, maybe… but then… the drumbeats boom dismantling the tyranny of night, overcoming the accidents of ordinary life.

Like all first novels, there is a strong element of autobiography here. Roy is a journalist with a five-year-old daughter… it reads well and holds the reader’s attention. Roy will go far in the writing world.

Khushwant Singh, The Hindustan Times

The first novel by journalist Bhaskar Roy could be described as a work in the genre of magic realism… Roy has done a commendable job. The pace is racy and the narrative never flags. Where Roy is really in his element is in the magical part. The narration of the adventures of Bhola and the Vanished Kingdom and the haunted house shows much promise.

 

S. S. Percy,  The Hindu

An Escape into Silence

Despite the brisk breeze from the south and loud Hindi film songs on the radio, a gust of cold wind blows from the lost rivers of the land in an uneasy reminder of a sneaky winter. Marxist street- fighter Bachchu Sen returns to Barasat. Things begin to happen.

Unable to make sense of his situation, a sensitive young writer drifts dangerously into two conflicting worlds. What follows is a confrontation between a traditional tolerant society and ruthless politics of indoctrination, a secluded past and searing present.

In a significant way the story follows the love-loss-reconciliation trajectory of the old tales. That girl after all comes back to the young protagonist one wet, wispy winter afternoon. But where it daringly breaks free of conventions is in its attempt at building a parallel between the terrible happenings in the outside world and the troubled, tortured state of an adolescent mind.

An Escape into Silence is an impressive tour de force from a writer who combines good writing with psychological energy.

 

Dr Karan Singh

Bhaskar Roy’s novel is fascinating. This beautifully crafted literary creation makes history vivid and alive. Roy portrays Bappa – the central character – with great care.

 

Avijit Pathak, Mainstream

Bhaskar Roy’s novel offers a mature view of life and politics in Bengal, from the Naxalite movement through the years of the Emergency and beyond. Ostensibly about a young man’s coming of age in a confused political climate, it is in effect a portrayal of a disenchanted society that dares to hope in spite of individual and ideological betrayals.

 

The Little Magazine

An Escape into Silence has a deceptive quietude about its title and the opening chapters. But once you have entered the world of Bachchuda, the Marxist street fighter, you are swept by the surge of passion…

 

Malashri Lal, IIC Quarterly

Bhaskar Roy has displayed the grit to grapple with the most complicated period in Bengali life after Independence – the aftermath of the Naxalite Movement.

Biblio

Bhaskar Roy’s novel is shot through with piercing reminiscences of this [Naxalite] movement in a most poignant way… he has succeeded in a surrealistic retelling of the Manasa myth where Behula transports her dead husband on a raft, learning to look death in the face, teaching us to defy its stratagems.

Alokeranjan Dasgupta, Indian Literature

For An Escape into Silence he decided to intertwine an East Bengal legend with the political situation of the 1970’s. [In the legend] a newly married bride discovers that her husband has been bitten by a snake. He dies without their marriage being consummated and she travels down the river in the hope of his returning to life.

Interview in The Hindustan Times

The ambience of the period in which the story is set is one of fear and uncertainty. The aura of the Naxal movement provides a poignant addition. This is through the memorial plaques of some of its leaders. Bappa’s psyche is moulded when he gazes on the plaques of these leaders killed in encounters.

Srinivasan Subhramanian, The Telegraph

An Escape into Silence is an attempt to recreate the turbulent seventies when Bengal was rocked by the Naxalite movement, and when young men and women fought for what they believed were their ideals… Roy inserts to his credit, some observant details about the city, its steady creep into the outskirts, and its buzz of little magazines.

Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta, The Book Review

As if to match the complexity of his narrative with the twists and turns in the life of the poet-protagonist, Bhaskar Roy constructs a taut, well-researched plot… The writer also weaves in an account of the dying rivers in the land that stretches from Calcutta to the border town of Bongaon along with myths and legends that local people keep alive through rituals.

Aruti Nayar, The Tribune

Roy’s essay, Cricket’s Social Subtext, is part of this anthology.

India: A National Culture?

The last two decades of the 20th century have witnessed a spectacular return of national consciousness. In this exciting and unique collection of essays, eminent academics, art historians, photographers and dancers focus on one essential ingredient of the making of Indian nationalism – i.e. the ingredient of culture, and one that has resurfaced in everyday experience. Their essays contribute incisive analytical comment on, and very different readings of, the fabric that constitutes ‘culture’.

From the early stirrings of national fervour in the second half of the 19th century, through the secularism of the Nehruvian era in the 1950s, to the all-pervasive and persuasive refashioning of culture to political purpose, the contributors demonstrate convincingly that culture is not a static entity. Rather, it can be refashioned, reinvented or co-opted to suit political purpose.

It is time, they argue, to once again reinvent an Indian culture that is intangible, that gets under the skin to resist the vicissitudes of political agendas.

PRINT

India Today
31 October 1989

Mahendra Singh Tikait, Syed Shahabuddin, Kanshi Ram, representS powerful electoral triumvirate Kanshi Ram Leader, Bahujan Samaj Party with the genral elections round the corner, their shadows are looming large on the political horizon. Like vandals capable of wrecking the fortunes of the major contenders, a strange triumvirate – Kanshi Ram, Mahendra Singh Tikait and Syed Shahabuddin – has staked its claim to the electoral sweepstakes.

The trio have little in common except for the ability to cut into the votes of both the Congress(I) and the Janata Dal and upset the applecart of the principal bidders for power in the forthcoming elections. Though obscure figures a few years ago, the three are now weighing heavily on the psyche of leaders of the major parties.

 

The Indian Express
19 June 1994

Atal Behari Vajpayee

Statesman in waiting

Even though he has grown up in the Sangh, the impress of Nehruvian liberalism on him is only too pronounced

The day after he made the controversial remark in the Lok Sabha bailing out Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao from a difficult situation, Atal Behari Vajpayee shared the platform with the extreme-right phalanx of the Hindutva proponents at a book-release function. In the same row were sitting RSS Sarsanghachalak Rajendra Singh, BJP president LK Advani and former party president Murli Manohar Joshi.

As the audience for the launch of BJP MP Vijay Kumar Malhotra’s book Lotus was mainly drawn from the Sangh Parivar, the tension was palpable. An invisible line seemed to separate Vajpayee from the others. However, the moment he took the mike the mood changed.

 

The Times of India
20 February 2011

Lord of the rings: Why aam aadmi is sitting pretty

Nasir belongs to a village in Bihar but has moved some distance from his physical and mental origins — he works in an office canteen and recently, had to contact a mobile phone helpline. He says he was gobsmacked when a polite female voice answered the phone and all his queries. “I never thought they would bother to talk to me,” says Nasir.

       Clearly, the canteen boy had underestimated his importance as a mobile phone subscriber. Across India, there are many like him and they are part of a radical change in mindset, expectations, worldview and aspiration. But the revolution underway is not the result of a political doctrine — it is the product of new technology.

 

India International Centre Quarterly

Vol. 29, No. 3/4, India: A National Culture? (WINTER 2002-SPRING 2003), pp. 252-258 (7 pages)

Cricket’s Social Subtext

One inspiring image in the backdrop of insensate communal violence in Gujarat that stayed with the television viewers in 2002 was India’s main strike bowler Zaheer Khan’s bristling burst of pace targeting an opposition batsman. Young Zaheer, who has already established himself as the team’s most dependable speedster by virtue of his sheer pace and penetration, happens to be from Baroda, an important city and cultural landmark of the afflicted state.

At a time when the gloomy landscape of strife made even the most incurable optimist wonder about the future of Indian pluralism, the beaming face of the new cricket star after hunting down yet another victim in the willow war, comes across as a reassuring symbol of hope. The red ball in hand, the left-arm bowler striding down the run-up in an upfront movement acquired an iconic dimension.

TEL 15: Liminality of Faith
April-June 2016

THE FAITHSONG

When the Venetian merchant Marco Polo travelled across what is now the Middle East on his way to India and China in the late 13th century, it was an exciting place, a melting pot of ideas, influences and an amazing space where faiths intermingled. The intrepid traveller with an eye for the unusual, came across Jews, Christians, Muslims, Persians, Turks, Mongols, Buddhists and others. Though the Crusade had already been fought, cultures were still feeling each other out and imbibing each other’s influences and assimilating. The degree of sharing and coexistence was indeed remarkable. According to Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, another traveller of that time, the city of Baghdad, the capital of the Muslim Abbasid Caliphate, had 28 synagogues. Jews in Azerbaijan lived in complete harmony with Turks and others. In his Travels, Polo wrote about Nestorian Christians, Muslims and „idolaters‟ living peacefully together.

Bhaskar Roy as Publisher

Bhaskar Roy is one of the finest editors around. A manuscript, often a little raw and clumsy, is edited to its fullest possibility by him. With his keen literary sense and thorough knowledge of contemporary history he often brings out an interesting part that the author unknowingly underplayed. Truly, a book is reborn in his hands.

Dr Ashok Pandey

Administrator and Author

A development professional attempting his first book, I submitted my manuscript to Bhaskar Roy. When it came back edited, I was amazed. It was very much my own writing, not a single fact altered, the soul remaining intact but it read very different.  It had a smooth flow I had not anticipated. In his own quiet way Roy did wonders. He is more than an editor.  Beginners like me had a lot to learn from him. Such an editor is difficult to come across.

Prof. KK Varma

Author and Social Sector Expert

For a new writer it’s very reassuring to have someone like Bhaskar Roy as your editor. Indeed, I learned a lot about writing from him.

Usha Mishra Hayes

Chief of Social Policy, UNICEF

Media

A journey of conversations:
The Tribune

Launching Sheila Dikshit’s
Dilli Meri Dilli at Habitat World

The Nehru Centre, London:
Launching Balraj Khanna’s Line of Blood

Speaking at the launch of
Tied in Knots in Mumbai

At the launch of Dr Karan Singh’s
The Mountain of Shiva

Speaking at FICCI

The Equator Line:
A Journey

Dr L M Singhvi Memorial Lecture
Bhaskar Roy’s speech

Bhaskar Roy Articles
 

Contact

Phone: +91 11 40503955
Email:  bhaskarroy@palimpsest.co.in 

Address:
Palimpsest Publishers
16 Community Centre
3rd floor, Panchsheel Park
New Delhi 110 017, India