Editorial 1
Editorial 2
World is the buyer’s oyster
Tongue-tied ruse/Book review
Rites of passage into modernity/Book review
Unifying principles/Book review
Letters from a daughter to a father/Editor’s choic


Small steps

The Atal Behari Vajpayee government continues to carry its economic reforms on the back of a snail. The Union cabinet recently approved two incremental advances. First, it allowed foreign direct investment in satellite systems. Second, it approved amendments that would allow private leasing of five international airports. These are less exciting than they sound. The telecom decision is generous: it allows foreign ownership of upto 74 per cent in such companies. However, this is not about companies providing satellite telephone services but rather those that rent and sell bandwidth on satellites. The government has thus opened up satellite telephone infrastructure while retaining curbs on satellite telephone services. The problem is that limits on the latter automatically reduce demand for the former. Telecom sector reforms continue to occur in dribs and drabs. The decision to lease the five major international airports to private players for 30 to 50 years is welcome. But it is a second best solution. Opening up civil aviation infrastructure had inspired remarkable inter-governmental bickering between various official bodies. The proper route should have been corporatization followed by privatization. Leasing is a politically easier path, in which the airport is rented to private managers. Again, this may not generate much in the way of improvements unless the civil aviation sector is liberalized. Official restrictions mean there is a dearth of foreign and domestic airlines in Indian airspace. This means airports have fewer customers than they should and that leases will generate suboptimal amounts of revenue.

Since the general elections last year, there has been a quiet murmur about the need for a second generation of economic reforms. The spurt in economic growth triggered by the changes of 1991 has run out of momentum. Much of India’s growth these past few years has been because of good monsoons and a healthy global economy rather than improved productivity or efficiency. Second generation reforms have three broad parts. First is infrastructure reform, an area which the two cabinet approvals touched upon. Second is setting up independent regulatory agencies to manage various economic sectors. Incidentally, two sectors that do not have and desperately need such regulatory freedom are telecom and civil aviation. Finally, the government needs to address a whole gamut of financial sector reforms. Getting foreign investment in insurance is only one part of this programme. Another part is the controversial question of bad loans among nationalized banks. The Vajpayee government has concentrated on passing a huge backlog of legislation. This is commendable. However, its preference for not providing reforms with any ideological moorings or incorporating them in a larger political vision means second generation reforms will remain incremental, haphazard and risk averse. In the end, this will mean an economy that will start to cough and sputter sooner rather than later.    


Batting genius

The Indian cricket captain, Sachin Tendulkar, and the selectors have probably no knowledge of cost-benefit analysis. If they did, the Indian cricket team would have had a different captain. The point needs some emphasis and elaboration. There can be no dissenting voice to the proposition that the epithet “great’’ sits rather nicely with Tendulkar, the batsman. It can be debated whether he is the greatest today and how far he resembles Donald Bradman, but no lover of cricket questions his genius with the willow. But Tendulkar as captain is no more than mediocre, indeed many would argue that he is worse than that. He is no great analyst of the game and therefore lacks strategy. His bowling changes, field placings and reading of the tempo of the game are all routine. There is nothing special to recommend it. He is an instinctive cricketer but not a thinker about the game. This is reflected in his captaincy and at a more mundane level in his nail chewing under tension. What is worse, the pressures of captaincy often adversely affect his batting. The Indian cricket team thus often does not get the best performance from its best batsman. This is where the notion of cost-benefit becomes relevant. The Indian team pays a very heavy price for keeping Tendulkar on as skipper: his failure to maximize his potential as a batsman. The gains are next to nothing since any other member of the squad would make as good or as bad a captain as Tendulkar. The Indian team, as the results of match after match are revealing, is a weak side. To strengthen itself Tendulkar needs to perform along with Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.

If Tendulkar knew what is good for him, he himself would step down as captain and the selectors should then accept his resignation. His batting and therefore the team’s performance would profit from such a move. An unnecessary premium is put on captaincy in cricket. With the emergence of the coach and the team’s think tank, the importance of the captain has been minimized. The appointment of Tendulkar as captain grew from a lack of foresight on the part of the national selectors. They did not groom a successor to Mohammad Azharuddin. They assumed, with no basis, that the team’s best batsman would make the best captain. The reputation of Indian cricket is at the moment at its nadir. Things at the worst will cease or else climb upwards. But for that climb some hard and radical decisions have to be taken. Men who run Indian cricket, least of all the selectors, are not known for taking such decisions. But they must recognize that keeping on Tendulkar as captain is harmful for the team and to one of the greatest batsmen cricket has known. Let the team benefit from his batting genius.    

Cynics might say: so what is so new about globalization? In a way they are right. Capitalism has never respected national boundaries from its earliest days. World wars and trade wars have been common enough occurrences for over the last hundred years and more. At the same time it has also been noticed that technical innovations have not stopped at the frontiers of a nation, nor have fads and fashions. So what is novel about globalization? Is it just another word?

What globalization brings to the table is a new ideological shift. This is clearly visible in the manner in which businesses are projected today. In this era trade unions have been laid low and along with it the emphasis on production and producers as the main planks of economic thought and policymaking.

In their place the consumer has stepped in and has become pivotal to all calculations. If the customer wants a product it must be made available. Economic restrictions and trade policies that earlier determined what would be produced, and how, are now looked upon with distaste.

Thus in the age when production was central, technologies entered only if they first cleared national barriers regarding what was to be produced. Today, consumers get the first preference and any obstruction in getting these goods and services across to them is anathema to the ideology of globalization. This is what makes the consumer king in the age of globalization.

In other words economic policies centre around what consumers want. It is no longer material if the production of these items brings about unemployment, greater economic dependence, or lack of trade union privileges. These issues mattered a great deal in the earlier age that was production-centric. National wellbeing and economic sovereignty were critical issues then that could not be ignored, indeed, had to be kept up front in any policy formulation. This approach quite logically led to planned and centralized development in which workers’ rights, wages, wage goods, and production conditions were critical considerations.

This regime of production favoured an ideology that privileged economic independence and sovereignty at the national level above profit making calculations. According to this point of view it was essential that each country be economically strong and self-reliant so that it could bargain from a position of strength. This rationale was factored in very consciously and with high ideological fervour. Therefore, if the long term interest of the nation meant that cars of a certain kind, or colour televisions and fuzzy logic washing machines, would not be produced because that might jeopardize a country’s economic self-reliance, then so be it. Decisions regarding production were tied umbilically to national development and sovereignty.

Once the emphasis is on what is to be produced, it naturally entails that producers and production methods gain a high degree of salience in economic affairs. Technology should not be of the kind that induces dependence either. So what was produced depended upon skills that could be internally generated. This would ensure that a nation’s overall economic sovereignty in a highly competitive international world order would not be compromised.

In this climate, stagnant production methods were unfortunately justified in the name of economic sovereignty. This allowed permitocrats, trade unions and hand picked capitalists to do rather well in a closed market.

If the ideology of globalization is now on the ascendant it is largely because earlier production centred economies ran out of steam a few decades after they were introduced. They were mired in corruption and quite unable to free themselves from bureaucratese. It was not at all surprising then that the rationale behind production oriented economies fell into disfavour at the popular level. Globalization emerged against this background to fill the ideological vacuum. It is not as if the call for globalization emerged only lately. It was always there and was championed by the advanced capitalist countries. It was the underdeveloped world that was resisting it so far.

Production may not be a dominant ideological leverage any longer, but it cannot be altogether dismissed from realistic economic decisionmaking. The difference that globalization has brought about is not that it has made production concerns immaterial, but that the leading factor is now the consumer and production must do what it can to meet the demands of the market. So every now and again one comes up against serious production problems at the national level that can only be resolved at the global level by importing skills or machinery.

Thus, while it is true that consumer tastes are getting more visible and homogenized across the world, production facilities have not quite kept up. Economic difficulties at the national level arise from this mismatch.

Capital, to repeat an old truism, only moves to satisfy those consumer needs where there is profit to be made. Consequently consumerism is best manifest at higher expenditure levels. Production techniques are then geared to meet these demands regardless of what is required by the less privileged classes, or what they can reasonably afford. Thus we have a spate of super-specialized hospitals, but the existing national health care systems are in serious trouble. Likewise with educational institutions and transportation systems. The government agencies that provided for these facilities are hopelessly inadequate, but there is no public outcry because of this.

Today there is a greater discussion about getting multiple brands of cars in the market, but not nearly that much enthusiasm for public transport. It is as if there is a real and a vicarious market for consumerism. There are those who have been there and done that over and over again, and then there are those who are fantasizing about possessing consumer articles, even if in their shabbier and less glitzy versions.

Consumerism is still not a mass phenomenon in the poorer regions of the globe. Most people in such societies cannot afford the luxury of indulging in fullblooded consumerism, no matter how passionately their hearts may long for it. Their economic wherewithal rarely matches up to their consumerist needs. The West has been historically more fortunate in this regard. Consumerism came about as a result of advanced capitalism. In countries like India where the process has been telescoped quite dramatically, and where there is a small class of true consumers, globalization has to rely on the very long run trickle down effect for consumerism to gain a wider social base. As planned production centred economies failed to deliver in the first round, all attention is now focussed on globablization and consumerism. Such is the power of ideology.

A globalized economy has a few other telltale characteristics at the national level, particularly in poorer countries. Globalization creates an ideology that is so consumer oriented that it ends up in actually undermining citizenship by taking away the concern for the truly underprivileged. Governments do not take full responsibility for national development any longer, and indeed encourage international agencies to step in to do the needful on this account.

As consumerism emerged in the Western countries after citizenship was realized in fairly substantive terms, the tension between production and consumption, between the imperatives of globalization and production, did not affect them profoundly. In the developing world, on the other hand, a consumerist globalized approach takes the edge off national considerations for the disprivileged and for the downtrodden. The slogan is “If you cannot buy it is not good for you.”

The state’s responsibility lies only in so much as it allows consumer demands to be satisfied by making it easier for capital to move wherever there is profit to be made. While consumerism can be satisfied, to a large extent, by profit seeking considerations, guaranteeing true citizenship requires a different set of principles altogether.

In the pre-globalization phase it was clearly the state’s responsibility to meet certain basic demands of the underprivileged. To do so was very much a part of the state’s responsibility to look after the primary producers. Globalization has now let the state off the hook in developing countries. It is not as if these states actually did much on this account in the past, but were ideologically under a good deal of pressure to protect the interests of those who were not able to pay their way.

Globalization is an alliance of consumers across countries who have no national stake. Hence, its most articulate spokespeople argue against government spending, social security services, and such like. It is then not surprising that globalization should also advocate the rolling back of the state. Globalization has several ramifications and is not just a quicker way of making profits. Quite clearly there is a paradigm shift that globalization has inaugurated. It is not just another word war.

The author is professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and principal, KPG Peat Marwick    


Woman’s worst enemy

Sir — It is ironic that Ganouri Devi is being denied justice as a rape victim by a government headed by a woman (“Rape victim’s justice cry ends in death bid” Jan 12). That the Rabri Devi government has been viewing the pressure on it as political malice on the part of the Bharatiya Janata Party in opposition is one more example of rape being politicized. The BJP too, in appearing to help the woman, is trying to catch the Rashtriya Janata Dal on the wrong foot once again. Those accused of the gang rape have almost got away without being punished, whereas Ganouri Devi has been arrested for attempting to commit suicide. But then, how could one ever expect Rabri Devi to provide justice when she has been unable to do justice to herself? As a titular head of the Bihar government following the directions of her husband, Laloo Prasad Yadav, in governing the state, Rabri Devi is herself a representative of wronged women. She is a glaring example of how women continue to be “used” for “larger” political ends.

Yours faithfully,
Manjira Ghosh, Calcutta

Cry, my beloved country

Sir — The editorial, “Strangers on a train” (Dec 26) on the predicament of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, who hopped on to the tube when he was caught in a traffic jam, was a refreshing change. Blair travelled without any drama being made over his security arrangements and even kept standing in a full compartment for part of his journey. A woman near him did not even recognize him.

The editorial rightly says that such a situation is unimaginable in India, that these things happened only in Britain. Feudalism and imperialism, which had deep roots in the history of this country, slowly gave way to the institution of democracy. British democracy grew organically and was sustained by the patriotism and consciousness of its people. But India is still steeped in feudalism sprinkled with vestiges of the colonial mentality to complicate matters. Naturally democracy could not take root here.

A weak and patchwork model of Western democracy was chalked out by the framers of the Constitution who were mostly anglicized Indians. What they neglected to consider was the abysmal awareness levels of the Indian masses. The ideal of democracy can only be appreciated by citizens who are both aware and patriotic. The conspicuous lack of both qualities among the Indian population is eroding the volatile political fabric. Even so, democracy is still a vital force in India. But for Indian democracy to become as mature as British democracy will take time, say another hundred years.

Yours faithfully,
Satyendra Nath Pal, Barrackpore

Sir — A recent United Nations development programme report has said India is one of the “most corrupt and poorly governed” countries in the south Asian region. The root cause for all the ills in the country is falling moral standards. Corruption in public life has assumed dangerous proportions and debased all ethical norms. Elected representatives are busy making a mockery of democracy with their unbecoming conduct in legislatures. Fissiparous tendencies have harmed the integrity of the country. The vicious atmosphere has affected the bureaucracy, bothered only with personal advancement. India is today the living example of the dictum that cynicism corrupts and absolute cynicism corrupts absolutely.

Yours faithfully,
K. Gopakumar Menon, Sonepat

Sir — Rudrangshu Mukherjee concludes “Looking glass war” (Dec 4), with, “Indian liberalism, long dead, is now buried.” When did this happen? No one was heard to moan the death of Indian liberalism. Now we hear anguished voices lamenting the burial. One would have thought that only after a decent burial can the rise of a new and true liberalism be seen. Much against his intention, Mukherjee narrates how the earlier liberalism was only a mirage, perverted by the very people who are now anguished over the burial.

Yours faithfully,
Vinod Pawar, Mumbai

One for the road

Sir — The report, “Buses afire in fury at child death” (December 4), exposed the tragic shortcomings of Calcutta’s public transport system, which drove the normally pliant Calcuttan to frenzy. The traveller in the city constantly deals with rash drivers and rude bus conductors. Buses are havens for pickpockets who operate with the full knowledge of the bus drivers, conductors and the police.

Bus drivers also skip bus stops, halt in the middle of main roads to pick up and drop passengers, sometimes move at a snail’s pace and then speed up at the sight of another bus. And this is what may have happened on December 3, when a series of hit and run incidents occurred. The mayhem that followed left many injured, nine vehicles burnt, and more with shattered windscreens — all in front of a hapless police force.

The state administration should install speed governors in all buses, mini buses, taxis and autorickshaws. The police must direct buses to bus bays and warn bus drivers not to drive through the middle of any road. In order to regularize the flow of traffic it is also essential to restrict the halting time of buses between five and 10 seconds. The police must impound the licence of any driver who violates traffic rules. If the city’s residents cooperate, the number of tragedies is bound to come down.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — The report, “Police chase for bribes kills trio” (Dec 11) is an account of a disgraceful incident. It makes one feel that it may not be a bad idea to disband the city’s police force completely and recruit younger and honest people who would carry out a better job than the present inefficient and corrupt lot. There is hardly any intersection in the city that does not witness the police extracting bribes. Isn’t it time the police restored some order on the roads instead of chasing bribes? Yours faithfully. S.K. Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — Drivers should not be solely blamed for accidents. Pedestrians cross roads oblivious of traffic. They also stop heavy vehicles for crossing roads, and it is difficult for lorries or buses to halt suddenly. The government must build subways and overbridges to make it easier for pedestrians to cross.

Yours faithfully,
M.S. Ali, Calcutta


Letters to the editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
[email protected]

The Romantics
By Pankaj Mishra, IndiaInk, Rs 395

There is a peculiar tongue-tiedness deliberately placed at the heart of Pankaj Mishra’s first novel, The Romantics. The narrator, Samar, a young Brahmin graduate from Allahabad who comes to live in Benares, is a “tireless autodidact”. The constraints and inhibitions in his deeply provincial existence are all experienced in relation to his obsessive reading. “Nietzsche, Mann, Proust, James, Kierkegaard, Pascal”, he tensely reels out the list. But this reading brings him no deliverance. And when he meets a bunch of (more or less sophisticated) Europeans and Americans in Benares through Miss West — an English lady whose literary pedigree goes back, through Jhabvala, to Bloomsbury — Samar’s tight little world is profoundly shaken, even dissembled. This is counterpointed by his fascination with the world of criminal politics and rural deprivation, embodied in Rajesh, an attractively enigmatic student at Benares Hindu University. Most of Mishra’s novel is about the various strands in these encounters and their aftermath in Samar’s life, narrated in first person by Samar himself.

Mishra explains in a recent interview how the idea of “defining the narrator’s identity and his tone” compelled him to write this novel. Samar’s sensibility is constricted, insecure, immature and essentially uncosmopolitan. Yet he is widely read, sensitive and hence capable of a tormented self-consciousness in relation to his native ethos of “middle class mediocrity”. Quite understandably, finding the right narratorial voice for him must have felt like an immensely exciting challenge for the writer. Mishra valiantly confronts this challenge, but the result is immensely disappointing.

Mishra is cornered and constrained by his protagonist’s limitations, and the way out of this tight spot leads him to either a levelling banality that often comes close to tediousness, or to a rather transparent and ultimately annoying disingenuousness. For the reader, the disingenuousness would perhaps be preferable to the banality, because the former allows the writer to sneak in — through the back door, as it were — the more interesting and amusing aspects of his intelligence.

Mishra’s own sensibility — sadly pushed down by the imperatives of his protagonist’s tongue-tied mediocrity — is sophisticated, cosmopolitan, socially canny, minutely observant, and generally a lot more fun than Samar’s earnest, self-tormented, self-limiting Brahminical priggishness, with its “innate aversion to intoxicants and stimulants” among other things. For instance, the drift and shreds of conversation and the random, easy juxtaposition of a medley of social and cultural registers at Miss West’s parties, the depictions — stereotypical, yet so very true and recognizable — of Catherine’s self-absorbed, confused, chic bourgeois rebelliousness or Priya’s convent-educated intensities crackle into life and delight in a manner that Samar’s post-coital desolations, existential agonizings and spectacularly unremarkable literary elaborations never quite manage to.

Some of Samar’s perceptions of foreigners and most of his more readable self-analyses — as he recollects his time in Benares from a distance of about seven years — use this other voice, what Mishra calls his own “clever, metropolitan voice”. But the effect is one of “wrongness, incongruity”, to use Samar’s own words in another context. This is all the more so since, in these intervening years, nothing particularly earth-shaking happens to Samar to make him a more sophisticated and articulate person. Minimalist calm and uneventful placidity in the hills, punctuated with rereadings of Edmund Wilson, Flaubert and some Sibelius symphonies, cannot credibly amount to an evolution into sophistication and complexity.

Perhaps, at the start of his career as a novelist, Mishra should have avoided the challenge of this first person voice, giving himself more of an unhindered chance to use — unabashedly and less surreptitiously — the native urbane intelligence that informs his reviews in Biblio or The New York Review of Books and made his Butter Chicken in Ludhiana ever so readable. This need not mean throwing poor Samar out of the window. Jane Austen put her unlikeable puritan-mouse, Fanny Price, at the centre of Mansfield Park; the foolish Catherine Moreland, the protagonist of Northanger Abbey, is also profoundly deluded by her reading. But both novels owe their undimmed brilliance to the relentlessly critical, yet indulgent, irony that operates upon these central characters through a distinct authorial intelligence standing apart from its creations. An open and sustained interplay between Mishra’s “clever, metropolitan voice” and Samar’s small-town limitedness would have made the novel more capacious and interesting, and would also have displayed the right sort of cunning. Mishra would then have avoided having to sustain a point of view located outside “the hectic world of big cities and writers and publishers”, a position almost comically inauthentic when fictionalized by someone like Mishra. It takes a late James, or a late Mann, to pull off such a novelistic lie. And even then, one would expect to be thrown at one what James teasingly calls “a quintessential wink” in The Golden Bowl — a gesture unimaginable in the sober world of The Romantics.

At the risk of being branded a dour nationalist, it is impossible to miss the extent to which Mishra’s novel is aimed at the transatlantic market. Samar travels all over India, from Mahabalipuram to Dharamshala. And each time the novel enters a new terrain, he turns into a gentleman-cicerone — obligingly, unobtrusively knowledgeable about history, geography and architecture (especially the BHU “Indo-Saracenic”). These subjects deftly expand into metaphysics, particularly Brahminical philosophy and ethics, suitably potted and glossed. Sunyata, maya and samskara are the novel’s metaphysical triple coordinates. This, too, is part of the novel’s cleverness, for the Blue Guide bits are made part of Samar’s “voice”, releasing the absconding authorial voice from any responsibility.

Samar ultimately becomes a rather convenient scapegoat. The Romantics is not to be simplemindedly called mediocre, banal and tedious. It attempts to elicit from its readers a much more flatteringly sophisticated judgment: the novel they are reading is actually about mediocrity, banality and the tedium vitae. Simplicity, according to Wilde, is the last resort of the complex. Could banality then be the last resort of the “Indo-Anglian” postmodern?    

Tribal Situation in Eastern India By Pradip Kumar Bandyopadhyay, Subarnarekha, Rs 300

A comprehensive and meticulously researched work, Tribal Situation in Eastern India focusses on the customs and “customary laws” of the Santhals and the Mahalis, the two numerically dominant tribal groups in the border areas of West Bengal, viz, Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. The Santhals represent the largest of the 38 tribal groups in West Bengal.

The term “santhal” has originated from the saont which is in the Silda parganas of Midnapore. The term “mahali” has been derived from the Santhal word mah which means bamboo as the Mahalis took up bamboo work as their profession. The Santhals may be regarded as prototypes of the Dravidian stock. Once nomads, they are now settled agriculturists.

In their socio cultural life, the Santhals do not have any caste hierarchy. Each has equal status in his village irrespective of economic and physical power. The women too have equal standing, although they are not permitted to perform religious functions.

The author points out that these tribals have their own democratic systems to serve their social purpose. The village councils, with the manjhi or the village headman as the presiding officer, settle the disputes among the villagers and interpret and apply their customary laws. The councils are unique in dispensing simple yet expeditious remedies to the villagers. The accent is on settling the dispute and restoring amity rather than inflicting punishment for a wrong done.

Custom is the lifeblood of tribal societies. It is one of the sources of law and the age old customs have taken the shape of laws governing the lives of the tribals. These customary laws are mostly applied to marriage and divorce, property and succession, adoption, widow’s and married daughter’s maintenance and guardianship and religious festival rights. Bandyopadhyay gets down to the details of the various laws and their operation with remarkable thoroughness.

He also takes special care to identify the principles and rules in terms of which the traditional councils and village elders solve problems and arrive at decisions when norms and customs are violated. He notes that the customary laws of the Santals and the Mahalis, despite undergoing changes to negotiate with modernity, remain related to the life and culture of the people. Bandyopadhyay subsequently tries to explore the possibility of an area where laws of the state and customary laws of the tribals converge.

Marriage in these societies is a contract. Marriage with non tribals is forbidden and polygamy is not favoured either. Adultery, witchcraft, drunkenness, sickness, domestic friction, sexual incompatibility and violation of custom are the likely grounds for demanding a divorce. Divorce is granted in the presence of the senior members of the community.

The author provides an exhaustive and fascinating study of witchcraft in all its ramifications as practised in the Santhal society. The advent of panchayats has almost eliminated this evil from the Mahali society. But the diabolic jans or witch finders still exist among the Santals, and so does the belief in bongas or evil spirits.

Bandyopadhyay emphasises proper education along with free interaction with non tribals and joint cultural activities. Legislation and police action can put an end to witchcraft and the practice of jans, ojhas and others who thrive on it.

It is a pity that such an excellent work bristles with typos which stick out a mile.    

Multiculturalism, Liberalism and Democracy
Edited by Rajeev Bhargava, Amiya Kumar Bagchi and R. Sudarshan, Oxford, Rs 595

The debates on multiculturalism come in a variety of guises in this rather haphazardly arranged book, comprising of the 18 revised papers read at the Centre for Studies in Social Science conference in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh. Albeit unsystematic and hardly categorical about any programmatic evaluation of multiculturalism in the context of democratic, republican nation states (primarily the Indian, South African and French experience), the editors nevertheless manage to focus on major issues of community rights, individualism/ communitarian dialectic, the conditions for a peaceful, symbiotic relationship between diverse cultural groups, the justification or otherwise of affirmative action.

Both for the editors and presumably the reader too, the question of approach to the complex fabric of the multicultural experience is ineluctable. Epistemological and theoretical relationships between liberal-democratic ideals and the subject positions of clearly defined identities, as Rajeev Bhargava rightly notes, are relatively “straightforward”. The real challenge lies when, as Shail Mayaram in her essay shows, existing models of multiculturalism are found to be both insensitive to the internal differentiations within groups as well as to the fluid, overlapping nature of identities “at least in non-Western societies”. Evidence of this anti-syncretism has also been quite tellingly narrated by P.K. Dutta in his essay that deals with a minor episode in Calcutta of 1926 where the burial of a fakir became a site of struggle and contestation of a much larger nationalist movement.

Not surprising, therefore, much energy has been spent on interpreting the inefficacy of the existing models, especially the democratic ones. Democracy being largely exclusionary in nature, as Charles Taylor affirms, liberal individualist ideologies do not even notice the complexity involving multicultural identities. Catherine Audard’s interesting study of French republicanism tries to offer a bridge by suggesting an enhanced role of citizenship in ensuring cultural rights. But such a proposition, most contributors would tacitly agree, is tenable only when the discourse of rights is aligned in the space of civic peace and civil amity. It becomes quite difficult to visualize a smooth transition of rights in circumstances involving, for instance, minorities with “too particular and too excessive” community identities like the Muslims and the Dalits. According to Vivek Dhareshwar, in such cases, their agency is always susceptible to statist interventions, and worse, neglect. Muslim personal laws are a case in point as Muslims often find themselves blocked from the space of citizenship. Is there no form of multiculturism that is egalitarian, dialogic, non-hierarchical and yet liberal? The book does not offer any answer to such questions..

In fact, one of the dominant perspectives supported by R. Sudarshan, Amiya Bagchi and Javeed Alam has to do with the kind of governance multicultural politics would demand, but seldom receive. Sudarshan highlights the need to rethink constitutionalism and the rule of law keeping local needs in mind. He especially espouses the desire for a pluralist legal system. Bagchi critiques governance in the context of the Indian burgeoisie of pre as well as post independence India in specific relation to religion.

A rather shoddy piece of Indian history unfurls as he narrates how the burgeoisie or the bania, enlightened or otherwise, unabashedly used religion to beat down the rebellious artisan as well as to defy the superiority of the modern British. This clearly contrasts with the European counterpart whose role in segregating religion from politics, eventually contributing to the rise of the industrial state, is well known.

To make deep seated religious beliefs and liberal-democratic outlook compatible, it is essential to see that there actually is motivation of the “right kind” among peoples and communities. While this makes Akeel Bilgrami look into the moral psychology of identity itself, for Alam, it is intrinsically linked with the awareness of the public sphere. The “regime of rights” must be understood. While excess of liberal individualism is not called for, attention must be given to the individual’s “right to exit”. This should facilitate intra and inter community dialogues for a possible life of choice in allegedly posthistorical, postcolonial social and cultural configurations and/or power relations.

It is worth noting that the editors have managed to give a fair picture of multicultural realities, emphasising above all, the need to respect, and better still, legitimize the understanding of differences. Although no structural parameters are provided for a single point programme, it will be helpful to remember that the purpose of a congregation of philosophers, political theorists, economists, students of local cultures and historians is to welcome a plurality of approaches and expectations. This wide canvas makes the book extremely readable.    

Galileo’s Daughter: A Drama of Science, Faith and Love,
By Dava Sobel, Fourth Estate, £16.99

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was described by Albert Einstein as “the father of modern physics — indeed of modern science altogether’’. Among other things, Galileo confirmed the Copernican system by which the earth moved around the system. Galileo’s science went against what Aristotle and Ptolemy had said; more importantly it was seen to be against the beliefs of the church of Rome. It was Galileo’s singular achievement to take science outside the realms of religion and philosophy and to base it on empirical observation. But Galileo was not a non-believer. On the contrary, he was a devout Catholic who was a victim of the church’s orthodoxy.

Dava Sobel in this marvellously researched and sensitively written life of the scientist brings out the depth of his faith in the church. Even after the church had condemned him, Galileo remained convinced that he had committed no crime. To a French supporter he wrote, “I have two sources of perpetual comfort. First, that in my writings there cannot be found the faintest shadow of irreverence towards the Holy Church; and second, the testimony of my own conscience, which only I and God in Heaven thoroughly know. And He knows that in this cause for which I suffer, though many might have spoken with more learning, none, not even the ancient Fathers, has spoken with more piety or with greater zeal for the Church than I’’. Galileo believed that his scientific discoveries were all gifts of God with which he had been blessed.

If this piety gave comfort to Galileo in old age, the love of his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, was his principal source of solace and sustenance. Galileo’s relationship with his daughter is at the core of this book and also its novelty. Maria Celeste was born out of Galileo’s long illicit liaison with the beautiful Marina Gamba of Venice. She was born on August 13, 1600 and she alone of Galileo’s three children “mirrored his own brilliance, industry and sensibility, and by virtue of these qualities became his confidante’’. Maria Celeste was christened Virginia but she became Maria Celeste when she became a nun. As she was illegitimate, she was thought to be unmarriageable and after her thirteenth birthday, Galileo placed her at the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri where she spent her life in poverty and seclusion. The choice of the name Maria Celeste was a gesture of acknowledgement of her father’s fascination with stars.

It could not have been easy for Maria Celeste as a bride of Christ to see her father being assailed by the church. But she never disapproved of his endeavours because she knew the depth of his faith. She accepted Galileo’s conviction that God had revealed the scriptures to guide men’s spirits but at the same time had made the unravelling of the universe a challenge to men’s intelligence. The relationship between father and daughter never jarred. “A woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness and most tenderly attached to me’’, Galileo once wrote of her.

The letters from the father to the daughter have been lost. Maria Celeste had preserved all of them as they formed the bulk of her earthly possessions when she took her last rites. But they were probably destroyed after her death as in the eyes of the mother abbess they would have been nothing more than letters from a heretic. Only a handful of Maria Celeste’s letters remain and her preserved among the rare manuscripts at Florence’s Central National Library. Sobel provides the first translation of these letters and they bring a special colour to this biography.

In the popular imagination, Galileo has been cut to heroic proportions. This book restores his human dimensions. In his time, he had seen furthest into the universe. In old age, the same man lost his sight. The irony of this overwhelmed the scientist. Later generations might well ponder the irony of a coincidence: if Galileo’s advocacy of the heliocentric universe had not coincided with Luther’s challenge would he have faced Rome’s wrath?    


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