Brinda Karat’s An Education for Rita: A Memoir — 1975-1985: A comrade remembers 1975

Brinda Karat’s memoir sets the Emergency in context, through the eyes of women, mill workers and others

March 22, 2024 09:02 am | Updated 09:02 am IST

Brinda Karat at a rally in New Delhi.

Brinda Karat at a rally in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

In some ways, in India, the Emergency hangs like a ghoulish background tapestry in modern day living rooms listening in to conversations, extending a cold, smoking arm sometimes, laying it on a shoulder until the chills run down the spine. India will never get over its Emergency days, clearly, despite more potent and real dangers that might be in our midst today.

How a memoir that spans only 10 years becomes infinitely more interesting is if it is set in August 1975, merely two months after Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency. Of course, it is also the 10 formative years of a tall leader of the Communist and feminist movements of the country. There are many reasons why Brinda Karat’s memoir, An Education for Rita, is an eye opener: it sets chronology in place, couched in stories of the people, mill workers, in the slums of Delhi, in its crooked bylanes, at the factory gates, in conspiracies and union victories, small and big. As she herself says in an unusually-illuminating acknowledgements section: “Some people said to me that a memoir should be of a life, not merely of a decade. Several comrades felt that it was unusual for a memoir to be only about 10 years of the over 50 years of my public life. Well, frankly, that’s all I could manage. I write about a different time.”

Brinda Karat at a meeting in Kollam.

Brinda Karat at a meeting in Kollam. | Photo Credit: C. Sureshkumar

A mirror to the times

As Karat writes, the reader gets the sense of sitting by a roadside tea shop outside of a textile mill in Delhi, on a cold morning, sipping on a badi chai, as a hanger on, witnessing historic events unfold, ones that we had a mere inkling of. And yet, as Karat pieces them together, the larger tapestry of connections to modern day India become apparent.

Karat has a strange skill, she speaks of 1975 as if she were living in 1975, and the dramatic events unfold as if they were running on an old Solidaire black and white television set. Usually when people talk of the past in retrospect, they have the present sitting heavily in wisdom. But when Karat talks of her 19-year-old person, you hear an actual 19-year-old, fresh and refreshing, not someone on whom nearly five more decades of experience sits well. This is a unique skill and frames her book within the varying times she chronicles. Great leaders of both the Communist movement and the country enter and exit the stories like crucial punctuation marks, enhancing and emphasising the stories with their wisdom and with what they do.

An Education for Rita, Karat’s undercover name, is indeed an education for the reader. The experiences of a young woman working in a male dominated sector — the labour unions — offer an education if only one cares to listen. In the pages of this slim volume, we also have a rare window into the lives of the ordinary women with their simple living and high thinking, who have made it possible for the sorority to do what we can do today. And for that, and everything else the book brings us, a salaam to comrade Rita.

An Education for Rita: A Memoir —1975-1985; Brinda Karat, LeftWord Books, ₹350.

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