A young lady is full of excitement. An airline has offered her a cheap ticket, she is going to 'do' Russia. She is first going to St Petersburg, and then hop on to Moscow.
Old fogeys like the present writer cannot but receive a jolt. Habits die hard, and they cannot familiarize themselves with the changed identity of Leningrad: St Petersburg. Even the remonstration that the new name is really the ancient one ' Leningrad was only a temporary imposition ' does not remove the discomfort. And other questions fill the mind. How come while Leningrad becomes St Petersburg, Stalingrad is freshly named Volvograd and not restored to its old sobriquet, Tsaritsyn, why should the new rulers of the country continue to be anxious that this city's name must not bring back the memory of the tsarist regime, and they would rather prefer a nexus with Ol' Man River, Russia edition, the Volga' Or why is it that Leningrad and Stalingrad are banished as city names, but Kaliningrad remains unscathed' Perhaps only big fry matter, small fry do not, where guilt by association is concerned'
The young lady is to take a tourist's turn in Moscow as well. In the olden days, those who used to visit Moscow did not belong to the general run of tourists. The trickle which found its way to the city where the Kremlin was mostly went to imbibe ideology. In that era, it was not always easy to travel to Moscow if one happened to be from a country whose government was hostile to socialism. Passports would not be endorsed for travel to the Soviet Union ' for that matter, to any socialist country ' and earnest-minded aspiring ideologues would have to fall back on subterfuges to reach Moscow.
The ideology Moscow was notorious for attempting to implant in susceptible minds is, by the reckoning of wise ones, a closed chapter in human history. It has ceased to be relevant to travel either to Moscow or to anywhere else, China included, to drink in the fountain of ideas and ideology. Idealism as such is, we are being told, dead. And once ideals are defunct, holding on to principles is an equally invalid proposition. The only ideal that has survived the tumult of the past few decades is that of hedonism. Forget talking about the past, forget speculating over the future, concentrate on enjoying the present. With idealism buried seven fathoms deep, conscience too has become an inert item. It is no longer necessary to debate a thought, or an about-to-be-embarked-upon act, with one's conscience. Hedonism in fact implies man's total victory over conscience. Conscience is no longer capable of restraining you from drifting in whichever direction you, whether mindlessly or with deliberation, want to proceed. The world's innumerable problems will cease to be for you, none will be around to remind you of the hunger, deaths and pestilence befouling the neighbourhood.
Moscow has generally a cold climate. That apart, it is not, according to standards set by globalization, exactly overflowing with goodies that are the first love of hedonists. A considerable number of people ' this includes even eminent Muscovites like Mikhail Gorbachev ' therefore travel the other way, towards the direction of the United States of America, these days. New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles are the favourite ports of call. Bewitched by America, many of those who come for a short visit stay back, visa formalities permitting, to enjoy the good life for ever, both for themselves and their progeny. No wonder the Indian diaspora in the US is now close to five million.
A few amongst those visiting the American shores belong to the tribe who, in the past, used to travel to Moscow for a crash course in ideology. If not they themselves, at least their parents used to do the pilgrimage to Moscow, a gleam in their eye, determined to experience heaven. All that is of course over. Members of the present generation fail to understand their parents. The latter, the children suspect, had a hole in their head. What did this strange animal, idealism, look like' Well, all is well that ends well. Idealism is extinct.
Globalization has made sure that the disbelief in ideals and ideology spreads across the six continents. It is now a kind of Whitman-esque weather everywhere, contradictions raucously co-existing with one another. Having a principle and the lack of it are the same, no distinction is necessary between bad means and good ones as long as the end of money-making and more money-making is sovereign. No opprobrium attaches any more to unscrupulous practices, since there are no such things. Supposedly saintly characters might have fought, for over half a century or more, in defence of a moral principle. At the end of the road, they are now being asked to give up the absurd fight; they do, quietly.
Life becomes so much easier if the idea of the ruling class ' or the country ' is accepted by each and everybody else too as their very own. This involves climbing a learning curve. Traverse a couple of times in the right direction, and the odds are that the concept of international terror will gradually assume a more and more credible image. Environment shapes the reality. In post-9/11 US, terror is serious business. If one does not believe in the pervasiveness of terror and, simultaneously, cultivates a paranoia regarding possible loopholes in security arrangements, one is not a good American. All god-fearing citizens learn to fall in line.
For a foreign person on a stray visit to the US, the closing of ranks in the face of international terror, never mind whether real or ersatz, is most impressive. Besides, it helps to drown dissent, paving the way for smooth administration. The visitor carries back home this beautiful piece of knowledge. The regime at home laps it up. The chant rises to a crescendo: terror to the right of us, terror to the left of us, terror in front of us. Security is beefed up inside the country, and along the borders. Rumours about terrorist infiltration fill the air. In such a climate, increases in police and defence budgets are accepted as a natural phenomenon.
All this is great going. The obsession with terror has secondary consequences. For instance, it encourages a revision of history. Serenading an historical event or incident, which could be interpreted as glorification of terror, is desisted from, or at least toned down. A most recent instance of such revising of history is at hand. The April of this year marked the completion of seventy-five years since Mahatma Gandhi's salt satyagraha cum the Dandi march. But it also marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the assault on the Chittagong Armoury by daredevil Bengali revolutionaries. The salt march anniversary was celebrated with great 'clat by the nation's elite. It was a big deal for the media too. In contrast, a total silence descended as far as commemoration of the Chittagong raids which had scared the daylights out of the British, were concerned: no march, no meeting, no reference in parliament or the state assemblies. Not a squeak even in great revolutionary Calcutta. The grammar of global terror has caught on. Surya Sen and his comrades are perhaps no longer to be revered as revolutionary patriots; they have reverted to the description the British rulers had reserved for them, 'seditious terrorists'.