'61, Mott Lane'

The long battle over. 61 Mott Lane is over. What is not over is the trauma faced by the employees of Frontier in the morning of December 17, 2018. Finally  Frontier will have to vacate this place in a week or two. It all started way back in 1985 when Samar Sen was keeping indifferent health and struggling with a number of ailments, thanks to wrong diagnosis of modern medicare. There was an attempt to dislodge Frontier from its office. The attack came, ironically though, from a leftwing fellow traveller. The then landlord was a passive on-looker. Frankly speaking he was not in the picture. In truth at that time he had no plan to evict Frontier from 61, Mott Lane, albeit Samar Babu was very shaky and anxious because legal position of Frontier was very weak. The person concerned created so much pressure on Samar Babu that he had to spend a few sleepless nights. The move by the leftist journalist who was too eager to see Frontier leaving the premises to make room for their business expansion was defeated because of intervention by some writers and intellectuals sympathetic to Frontier. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief, at least for the time being.

But the worst was yet to come. Since the demise of Samar Sen in 1987 Frontier has been continually confronting threat of eviction from different quarters. This time, however, the landlord made his presence felt in executing the holly mission of eviction. He began to make things difficult for Frontier in every possible way, both legally and illegally. He tried his luck in the court but failed. There was a stalemate but a charged situation prevailed. Having failed to evict Frontier he resorted to many a dubious means to create trouble. But nothing worked against Frontier. Faced with the possibility of a lost case, he sold the property—the premises at 61, Mott Lane—to two businessmen of Chandni Market. It was in 2014. But these people—new owners—actually purchased the old dilapidated building, somewhat clandestinely, by taking advantage of ignorance and financial weakness of the tenant of ground floor who was also a businessman in the Chandni Market. The new landlords showed in their purchase deed that Frontier or any other tenant (or occupier) was never there as if the first floor was a no-man's land—a vacant place. They never informed Frontier that they had bought the building in 2014 from the old landlord. Instead they pretended that they were deputed by the landlord to survey the building and make necessary suggestions for repairing. At first they thought it would be easy to evict Frontier by exhibiting a little bit of muscle power. But the policy of stick didn't work to their satisfaction as some unexpected help came from some people who were ideologically not in agreement with Frontier. So they indulged in soft option by creating an air of negotiated settlement. Nothing really materialised for more than one reason as they were too willing to make a deal without making any positive commitment.

In the last phase the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) entered the scenario as they would hang a billboard of 'danger building' (i.e. condemned notice requiring demolition) on the outer wall of the house. The Municipal Act is so obnoxious, particularly after its latest amendment, that it cannot be challenged in the case of 'condemned building'.

For one thing this building has been in 'danger' for the last fifty years ever since Frontier started its journey in 1968. Nothing untoward happened at any point of time. The situation never reached a critical stage that it would collapse any day. Even on December 14-15, 2018, there was nothing un-usual. To their utter surprise Frontier staff found on December 17, 2018 (Monday) that there was no office of Frontier. The roof of the office was demolished while the wooden staircase linking first floor with the roof was broken. There was every sign that the demolition was done deliberately by applying physical force. The KMC's 'condemned building' notice came in handy to prove that all it happened naturally because the condition of the building was precarious.

This way or that, the legacy of 61, Mott Lane, Calcutta-13, is now all but history. Amit Patra tried to make a documentary on '61, Mott Lane'—almost 90 percent work was done—with passion and revolutionary zeal. But finally it was also a lost battle as Amit died prematurely without completing the documentary.

Readers and well-wishers should know that it was not that easy for Samar Sen to have a room with a roof over his head, when he first launched Frontier in 1968 after breaking with NOW. He had to run from pillar to post to have an office accommodation though political atmosphere for left-wing journalism was not that hostile as it is now. At last he succeeded in finding a place and settled at 61, Mott Lane, because Hiren Basu of Darpan voluntarily came forward to help him by sharing a portion of his office at 61, Mott Lane—with Frontier. As old guards are a vanishing tribe soon there would be none to look back into history.

Vietnam War and youth rebellion across the world in 1968 galvanised an entire generation. It was the age of rage and rebellion, the  youth rebelled everywhere in their own way with the clear message that another world was possible. Frontier had its appeal to the emotive new generation. With counter-revolution, forcefully redefining social development throughout the world, Frontier too has no option but to fight on many fronts simultaneously for sheer survival. And this premises crisis is just part of a bigger crisis. While much of the left has made "anti-establishment" a dogma and reduced opposition to social and economic injustice to a matter of tactics and convenience, committed people at Frontier have shown they prefer the risky struggle for principles over the false comfort of compromised values.


Vol. 51, No.26, Dec 30, 2018 - Jan 5, 2019