Monday, July 20, 2009

The philosopher who changed our world

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

No sooner had I uploaded my Sunday, 19 July, post, "Dubai seen in the words of a philosopher" on my blog "Against the Tide" than Gauri Gharpure had read it and commented:

"This post is relevant to me for I am attempting to read the manifesto. Every 20 pages, I go back and read again for I find it somewhat difficult. So, I am still where I began. When I complete reading, I will seek your help."

Here is my reply to Gauri on Monday, 20 July:


My dear Gauri,

I did not dream my piece would be relevant to you, "attempting to read" the Communist Manifesto (CM). I distinctly recall reading it the first time when I was 22. Let me tell you the story.

I used to buy a lot of science books by Russian or Soviet authors from a shop run by the People's Publishing House (PPH), near Flora Fountain in Mumbai, when I was in college during 1967-71. Slowly, I got to know a salesman well and we became good friends. One day, after I had bought some chemistry books, especially one by Glinka, he gave me a complimentary copy of the Communist Manifesto (CM) "just like that".

When I decided to take a break from my studies in 1972, and went to the drought-prone villages of Maharashtra to do rural development work in July 1973 (that is, exactly 36 years ago to the month), I took with me the best of my science books. The CM is a thin, little book. So it came along with the others, without my knowing it.

One day, I was lying down in the village hut, where I had been put up by the sarpanch of village Pangri Budruk, taluka Sinnar, district Nashik. Today the place is full of factories and crawling with Sai Baba pilgrims going to Shirdi. Then in 1973, only women beedi workers slogged in dry huts for a pittance. Their menfolk were toiling in Mumbai.

I chanced upon the thin, little CM, and began to leaf through it. Even yesterday, as I was writing the piece on "Dubai seen in the words of a philosopher (Karl Marx)", the same feelings of wonder came over me as the waves of joy that immersed me that day 36 years ago. I shall always remember Marx's CM for the beauty of its language. I was swept away by the words. But I was not impressed by the meaning -- then.

So, dear Gauri, I have copied out the same passages that had over-powered me when I was 22, and do so even now when I am 58. I have tried to relate the meaning of CM to what I saw in Dubai: the power of the bourgeosie to redo the world in sand.

And, in passing, I have tried to introduce you, dear Gauri, one of the best of my students, to a philospoher who dared to change the world. Agree or disagree with you, but do not ignore him. I hope you read him."

Peace and love,
- Joe.


That is the story of how I read the CM the first time. I have read it hundreds of times, since that day in 1973. And Marx never fails to learn me. What he predicted in 1848 is happening today before my eyes. Not the details, which are for us to explain and understand, but the outline.

Peace and love,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Monday, 20 July 2009.