Editorial 1\All up there
Editorial 2\India takes over
Greens means genes
Letters to the Editor
Say it first in the local tongue/Book review
Thereby hangs a well executed tale/Book review
Radiant images in colour and stone/Book review
Cruising along the dusty Deccan road/Book review
In search of elusive royalties/Bookwise

Industrialists seem to be the new heroes of the day. The victory of Mr R.P. Goenka, nominated by the Congress from Rajasthan, and Mr Baijayant Panda, nominated by the Biju Janata Dal from Orissa, in the Rajya Sabha elections would suggest that the electoral college likes industrialists. Given these results, it is almost a surprise that the industrialist, Mr Vijay Mallya, did not win from Karnataka. Mr Rajiv Shukla, a media personality, scored the highest in Uttar Pradesh, receiving 50 first preference votes, while the Union minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, and Ms Sushma Swaraj got 38 and 36 each. All this would suggest further that party affiliations were certainly not the only thing on the voters’ minds. Industrialists have had friends in Parliament since independence. That is not surprising, since business in India was intricately tied up with governmental red tape. Things have changed, though, ever since liberalization became a professed aim. Yet obviously, industrialists have not lost the itch to have a finger in the political pie — and as directly as possible. Nothing could better fulfil the desire than a seat in the Rajya Sabha. Meant for “mature” and “eminent” citizens, the upper house does not demand an acquaintance with politics on the street. The electorate is limited and of a distinct and distinguished political class. These are overwhelming advantages for the aspiring non-politician and, to some extent, neutral in moral colouring. Unfortunately, the success of influential candidates in the Rajya Sabha and the manifestation of extra-political considerations in the pattern of voting cannot be put down to an entirely morally neutral cause. The reported precautions taken by the chief election commissioner, Mr M.S. Gill, before the Rajya Sabha elections, his confabulations with the finance and revenue secretaries, point clearly to the basis of surprise allegiances in many cases. The smallness of the electoral college is actually a double advantage.

That party allegiances seemed to have waned in more than one case was clear enough otherwise too. The most remarkable instance is from West Bengal. The independent candidate backed by the Trinamool Congress, Mr Jayanta Bhattacharya, won strikingly over Mr D.P. Roy of the Congress. Whether or not this upset was caused by the wrathful voting of the followers of the discontented former state Congress chief, Mr Somen Mitra, it is certainly indicative of subtly shifting political friendships in the state. For the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, this is a sorry affair. The nominee she had chosen for Uttar Pradesh, Mr Inder Khosla, lost too. Apart from extra-political considerations influential candidates bring into the game, immediate discontent and shifting loyalties are important factors. It is here that the choice of candidate becomes crucial.

The bicameral system has been taken for granted long enough. It is no longer very clear to the citizen what distinctive function the Rajya Sabha fulfils at such great cost. An examination of what Parliament as a whole should look like, its function and aims, would help in defining a relevant and precise role for the upper house. This would also determine the kind of persons who would people it. Influence and money are hardly pleasant or desirable bases for the seats on which India’s mature and eminent citizens sit. Since the Constitution review panel has already been formed, perhaps these problems will ultimately find a solution. So far though, the panel has not mentioned it among its many aims.    

After some fretting by the Reserve Bank of India and some hidebound bureaucrats, New Delhi has liberalized the norms regarding overseas acquisitions by Indian companies. Under the old rules, an Indian company was allowed to spend a maximum of $ 100 million on buying a foreign company. Today, the ceiling has been fixed at 10 times a company’s export earnings in the case of knowledge based industries like software and pharmaceuticals. The only complaint is that when Indian information technology companies have market capitalizations in the tens of billions of dollars, this ceiling still seems conservative. But New Delhi has indicated it is prepared to increase the figure on a case by case basis. This is just as well. Infosys, for example, had lobbied for a $ 10 billion ceiling. Under the new rules it will get automatic clearance for only a fifth of that amount.

The sight of Indian firms buying up foreign companies should serve as an answer to those who still raise the bogey of foreign multinational corporate dominance. Wipro and Infosys have together proposed Rs 90 trillion worth of purchases. In comparison, Coca Cola’s buying of Thums Up and the Parle group was a Rs 1.8 billion deal. This is a positive sign, evidence of India’s economic coming of age. It is also a necessity in a globalized world. Knowledge based companies have to run hard to keep up with technology and the markets. They will have to constantly buy and merge with other companies to stay ahead of the pack. Much of this nonstop acquisition is done through stock swaps, not with cash. The America Online-Time Warner merger was an example of a cashless marriage. New Delhi’s new policy does not differentiate between purchases by stock or cash. If Indian software and pharmaceutical companies are to compete globally, they must be able to purchase budding foreign firms or content providers that they believe essential to their future survival. Tata Tea’s purchase of the well known British firm, Tetley Tea, shows that Indian firms buying Western companies is not just a digital phenomenon. When he initiated economic reforms, Mr Manmohan Singh had called for the rise of Indian multinationals. His hope is now becoming a reality.    

For the first time in history there are six billion humans on the planet. It is likely the birth of the six billionth person took place in Asia or Africa — and that the child was malnourished. At the time of Jesus Christ, the world’s population was about 300 million. It took 1,800 years for it to reach one billion. It needed only 12 years to take it from five to six billion. Experts tell us the world’s population will touch nine billion by 2050.

How will this number be fed? Already one billion people go to bed every day on an empty stomach. There are 40,000 hunger related deaths daily.

There has been a massive increase in food production the past few decades — not only in the United States, Canada and other granaries but also India and China. This increase resulted from science based crop improvement programmes along with better irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, better credit and market policies. Centres such as the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines have helped increase grain yields several fold, especially in poor countries. Scientists have made crops more productive, more pest resistant, helped them grow faster and more nutritious.

But the world needs more. In two generations the world will need twice as much food as it produces today, says Anatole Krattiger of Cornell University. How can this be done with decreasing land and water resources? How can environmental sustainability go with the production of more food to end chronic malnourishment?

The answer is technology. Specifically, the continuing development of farm technology, its meaningful integration with current agricultural practice in parallel with enabling policies.

Traditional technologies are reaching their limits. The potential of new technologies, such as genetically improved crops, must be looked at with an open mind. Gene technologies have many solutions when it comes to addressing the problems of food security across the world. There are some real and perceived concerns regarding the safety of these techniques. But the benefits far outweigh the risks.

New genetic enhancement tools allow scientists to redesign crops plants to be more productive, more sturdy, more tolerant to diseases and pests. Plants can be made with improved nutritional attributes such as enriched protein quality and vitamins. Much of the quality arable land around the world is disappearing because of population pressure. Future crops will be increasingly grown on marginal lands. Biotechnology can alter crops so they can grow on such types of soil. Delaying the ripening process of fruits and vegetables will improve their shelf life, eliminating wastage.

Farming can be made more profitable with the production of renewable products like biodegradable plastics and alcohol in environmentally friendly ways. Edible vaccines and pharmaceutical products in crops could revolutionize healthcare in poor countries.

Food products derived from new gene technologies are as safe, if not safer, than conventional products. Precautions are taken to ensure they are substantially equivalent to existing products before being commercially released. As a US official testified before a US senate committee recently, “Thirteen years of US experience with biotech products have produced no evidence of food safety risks beyond those of their natural counterparts.” There has been “not one rash, not one cough, not one sore throat, not one headache attributable to biotech products”.

Genetically improved food is subject to hundreds of tests for its nutritional value, food safety, toxicity and so on. In contrast, traditional crop varieties are not as thoroughly tested. These crop varieties are often developed through crosses with wild species whereby hundreds of unknown genes are transferred. In contrast, genetic improvement involves precise transfers of one or two genes with clearly known functions and food value, and whose products are already in our diet. There are far greater differences between any two varieties of corn than between genetically improved corn and the variety from which it was derived.

If current standards of food safety or environmental impact assessment that are required of genetically improved crops had been historically enforced in the US, American farmers would be growing only blueberries, Jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers — the only crops native to the US.

Critics of biotechnology argue we should not play god or meddle with nature. But humans have been altering “nature” since the dawn of civilization. Agriculture itself, domesticating animals, preventing infectious diseases and providing clean water are all examples of nature meddling. As the Church of England recently concluded, “Human discovery and invention can be thought of as resulting from the exercise of god given powers of mind and reason” and “in this respect, genetic engineering does not seem very different from other forms of scientific advance”.

Farming needs continuous technological infusion. Fears that biotechnology will mean corporations will control world agriculture ignore the reality that private firms already provide farming inputs like pesticide, seeds and fertilizers.

Agriculture, like any other economic sector, stands to benefit from competitive enterprise and innovation. It would be hypocrisy to deny this opportunity or choice to farmers. In any case, research on staple crops that feed developing countries will largely continue to depend on public sector research.

Biotechnology alarmists tritely argue that food shortages are due to unaffordability and unequal distribution. They belittle the need for increased food production. This is like saying the poverty of Ethiopians can be solved by redistributing Bill Gates’s wealth among them.

The process of food production, like any wealth creating move, can enhance the income of the world’s rural poor. Developing local agriculture and increasing food production regionally will help address economic inequity. Genetically modified seeds are “scale neutral” — a one acre farm in Bangladesh stands to benefit as much as a ten thousand acre spread in California.

Europe’s present furore over genetically improved food has little to do with safety. Public perceptions in Europe are being manipulated by sensationalist tactics by fringe groups. They are also being taken advantage of by politicians favouring trade protection.

The decision of some food companies to not use genetically improved foodgrain in their processed food is a knee jerk response to scare tactics. It is also irresponsible because it sends a false message to consumers that such food products are unsafe. Sound scientific evidence on the safety of these products has been completely ignored. However, flawed studies or hypothetical arguments of activists are being given free play by the media.

It is ironic environmentalists have led the battle against a technology that advances food and nutritional security around the world. Greens should support efforts to increase the world’s supply of affordable food. Highly productive crops would reduce pressure on wild and forest land, and reduce use of environmentally destructive pesticides and chemicals.

As with any new technology, biotechnology will have some adverse impact. However, just as society has not banished automobiles, the internet, air travel or immunization because of their negative aspects, it should strive to promote the responsible integration of biotechnology into agriculture. Concerns about its impact on food safety and environmental fallout must be addressed rationally and scientifically. To ignore or vilify biotechnology because of minuscule risks or hypothetical hazards would deny farmers and consumers vast benefits.

Well fed European members of Greenpeace have taken up the cause of banning genetically improved food. Let us remember that nearly a billion people have only one cause — looking for their daily bread. Biotechnology has the means to end hunger on the planet and feed even nine billion people. For the people from countries with food surpluses to spearhead campaigns against and suppress research into potential solutions to hunger for ideological or pseudo-scientific reasons is more than irresponsible. It is immoral.

The author is director, Centre for Plant Biotechnology Research, Tuskegee University, US    


Succession issue

Sir — Why do communists always have to pretend they are a breed apart? Had they dared to show their similarity to ordinary mortals in this country who make politics their livelihood, they would have had fewer obstacle races to run in their dhotis. Look at the ease and the èlan with which political mantles are passed around in India — from husband to wife (in the Laloo Prasad Yadav family or in the more famous Nehru-Gandhi family) or from father to son (the most recent case being the projected succession of M.K. Stalin to M. Karunanidhi). Very few questions are asked by the minions — though they are called members of the party — about this feudal custom which continues to predominate in Indian politics. Now communists are trying to import an alien practice of “inner party democracy” into this setup. Given the fate of their ideology, it will not be surprising if democracy turns into autocracy. Little wonder Jyoti Basu’s squeaks about his inability to continue cannot be heard over the booming dictates of his party.

Yours faithfully,
Ranen Sen, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Twisted tail” (March 16), makes clear the ludicrous relationship among the Left Front partners. Despite its fulminations the Communist Party of India had ultimately to return to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) fold with “its tail between its legs”. That Gurudas Dasgupta himself was willing to play down the controversy was evident from his parleys with the Bharatiya Janata Party member of parliament, M. Venkaiah Naidu, and others in the Rajya Sabha on March 14. Dasgupta, while arguing for the need to disclose the names of defaulters to nationalized banks, was taunted on the question of his failure to get a ticket from the CPI(M). Dasgupta promptly answered that such matters were internal to the party.

The report, “Basu BJP heat on Trinamool” (March 16), points out that the CPI(M) is equally intent on playing down the controversy. The chinks in the armour of the Left Front are well hidden by leftist barbs against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP which are only intended to deflect attention.

Yours faithfully,
Omprakash Mehta, Calcutta

Sir — Communists evidently cannot walk it alone. Not surprisingly, the CPI has very tamely given in to the CPI(M) and gone back to sharing power in the Writers’ Buildings (“CPI caves in to big brother”, March 15). In its long and chequered history, the left has rarely walked alone. When the communist party broke up following the Chinese aggression in 1962, the CPI(M) grew in strength along with other so called left parties. Meanwhile, the CPI moved closer to the Congress and stayed close till the fall of the Indira Gandhi regime in 1976.

The CPI(M) became cornered in West Bengal when India won against Pakistan in the Bangladesh war in 1971 during Indira Gandhi’s premiership. The Naxalite movement also did not do much to help its growth. Opportunity came its way when the Janata Party decided to fight the Indira Gandhi regime in the wake of the Emergency. The CPI(M) joined hands with the Janata Party. The CPI and the CPI(M) came together much later in 1977 when the former joined the Left Front government in West Bengal.

In the present age of coalition politics sharing power has become a political dictum. If the left has been able to continue in power in West Bengal for so long it is because it has held out as a combined front. Any effort to break this front and fight elections alone will signal the beginning of the extinction of the left.

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Sir — “What is to be done” (Jan 20) was right in noting the paradox within the CPI(M) party organization. The root cause of the quarrel between party hardliners and the dissenters, Saifuddin Chowdhury, Subhas Chakraborty and Samir Putatunda, can be traced to the divorce of power and responsibility within the party. While hardliners stick to the practice of ideology, popular leaders have to make compromises that are necessary in a democracy.

The pragmatic and seasoned politician that he is, Jyoti Basu has been able to feel the pulse of the dissenters. They have been given a patient hearing by Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet. Even the state committee of the CPI(M) in its March 26 meeting let off Chowdhury with a mild warning. But will the dissenters have a shoulder to cry on once Basu takes the backseat in the 2001 assembly elections?

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — There are a few questions for sections in the Left Front opposed to the rent bill. These can be asked also of the Calcutta district committee which recently stalled the implementation of the new rent act fearing an erosion of the vote bank. How come even after passing the rent bill in the assembly the Left Front won the Howrah municipal civil poll in 1999? How is it that in the last series of municipal elections in 1998, held after passing the rent bill, the party improved its tally by winning eight municipalities out of 12 municipal bodies?

A recent survey shows 51.2 per cent of Calcuttans living in rented houses will not be affected by the legislation. Those living in bustees are protected by the Calcutta thika tenancy act. If, together with this large chunk of the vote bank, one includes tenants who have entered into lease agreements with their houseowners or those who are paying more than Rs 2,000 per month as rent, the number of tenants falling within the purview of the act will be far less than expected.

Calcutta district committee leaders must explain why, even without the rent bill being passed, the party suffered a setback in the last assembly elections in which it won only five of the 24 seats in the Calcutta districts. It can also learn from the fact that Saugata Roy and Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who have openly opposed the bill, suffered humiliating defeats in the last parliamentary elections. Apart from a few non-Bengali businessmen, future tenants would actually welcome the bill as it does away with the practice of paying huge advance money for rented property. Is the district committee listening?

Yours faithfully,
Joyjyoti Dev, Calcutta

Last word

Sir — Maneka Gandhi likes making news. Now she wants people to stop drinking milk. She said drinking milk is equivalent to drinking blood. But cows produce more milk than their calves need. Some produce eight litres at one time. One should just take care not to deprive the calves.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Letters to the Editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
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India’s Newspaper Revolution: Capitalism, Politics and the Indian Language Press 1977-99
By Robin Jeffrey, Oxford, Rs 545

If you are reading this “tom-tomming” of our less-feted Indian language contemporaries, it is because (please say yes) you appreciate the virtues of being informed by newspapers and, along with it, get a laugh out of seeing our bloopers remaining permanently in print for posterity.

If the reply is in the affirmative, you agree with what Marshal McLuhan described as the “subliminal charge” of print that makes you all better informed decisionmakers. Admit it, you got your first job or your big business break by reading the advertisements in papers — definitely not from the nerd box. These two reasons alone are good enough to explain why so many more people buy and read the Ananda Bazar Patrika, Dina Thanthi, Eenadu, Gujarat Samachar, Malayala Manorama, Punjab Kesari and other Indian language dailies rather than the English ones. The growth of regional language dailies defies world experiences following the arrival of television. Indian press is very unique in this regard. However, the regional language press became dominant only after the Emergency. In 1977, the circulation of Hindi dailies soared above the English ones for the first time, leaving them trailing far behind even to this day.

Indian languages enjoying a long cultural history, are brilliant, phonetically expressive media for daily encounters in newspapers. A culminating question. Is there now a greater chance that India will be “balkanized”, as some have feared, given such a big following for the vernacular press? According to this remarkable book by Robin Jeffrey, former Canadian sports journalist and now professor of politics at Australia’s La Trobe University, the answer is no. This is on account of the consolidating effects of capitalism and politics, which rely heavily on making themselves known in print through mass circulating dailies.

India Inc. transcends state boundaries and needs to promote itself to the “Union of Bharat” [sic], using the mass reach of the language press. Jeffrey’s explanation for the language dailies’ rapid growth is that readers want to participate in shaping the effects of capitalism and politics. And how potently so: even the pro-reformist, cyber-happy leader of the Telugu Desam Party is coy about endorsing the federal budget of the government it supports because the government is seen to be too right-wing.

The Emergency was cathartic for millions of Indians who became cruelly aware of the modern Indian state. The seeds were sown to decide the future of the Indian state and its policies — including nationalization and socialism. The language press became a natural forum.

Till then, Indian publishers were latent capitalists. Many were altruistic, lettered “bhadraloks”, keen to educate readers and not very savvy on profitability. The Emergency revealed a previously “un-nurtured” readership to change that latency. Rapid news production and distribution, combined with high circulation, competitive pricing and attractive packaging of information were to result in what the author calls “print-capitalism”. The “investment” in offset printing and computerized photo-typesetting was integral to this transition. If one were to appreciate where the strength in Indian software writing came from, read Jeffrey’s account of the Research Institute of Newspaper Development.

India’s first national readership survey of 1978 helped to “underwrite” the revolution. The survey revealed the enormous reach of the language press. Using the data, advertizers were “educated” about the new market opportunities the language press offered. Ananda Bazar Patrika’s Shobha Subramanyan, now president of the Indian Newspaper Society, is singled out for special mention in this regard. As a benchmark book, it also considers the pros and cons of commercial issues like the absence of the Indian press on stock markets and government-appointed wage boards.    

Hangman’s Journal
By Shashi Warrier, Viking, Rs 295

The title of the book is enough to shock. It should not, however, be mistaken for fiction. The account takes the reader on a journey to the world of an executioner hanging condemned men to death with coldblooded swiftness. Hangman’s Journal deals with the life and work of a “real” hangman who executed 117 men in his lifetime. The book, evidently, is not for the faint-hearted.

Janardan Pillai, whose experiences are recounted in this book, became the aratchar, or hangman for the king of Travancore in 1941. He took his skill to such artistic heights that his services were sought after independence by the prison authorities in Tamil Nadu. “I ...do these things well,” Pillai writes in the journal, “because I concentrate... on them as best as I can, because if I don’t, my mind will find its way to the man about to die, and then I will have no peace.” Then after 25 years had passed since he hanged the last man in the gallows, Pillai had to do the most difficult thing in his life. He met Shashi Warrier, who asked him to write about his life and the 117 executions. Unknowingly, he confronted his own self while digging into the past. The experience was painful, for it took away his peace of mind.

Hangman’s Journal is a combination of Pillai’s diary and the interview conducted by Warrier. Pillai, who knew little English, wrote the diary in Tamil, which was later translated by the author into English. At the end of the book, the author says he has not tampered with Pillai’s writing. “I’d been planning to rewrite the book, ...Perhaps that was what my publishers expected: if they did they were going to be disappointed, for they were going to get the hangman’s jumbled and ragged story rather than a superficially more polished one”.

But what the book offers is a well planned work with a dramatic story line that comes naturally only to a writer of fiction. The narrative moves back and forth in time, making place for suspense. Interestingly, in his acknowledgement, Warrier calls it “a mixture of fact and fiction, and the protagonist is to a large extent my creation”.

Nonetheless, the work portrays the character of Pillai well. Writing about his deeds makes Pillai go back in time and to see his past as he had never seen before. He stands face to face with his own conscience, which wrecks him constantly. He stops writing. Yet the journey to the darkest abyss of his conscience cannot stop and he is forced to go back to his notebooks.

The book reveals how, apart from facing the horror of death in the silent eyes of condemned men, Pillai was ostracized in a society that abhorred his company. His loneliness evokes pity rather than fear. It is ironical that one who executed his own fellow beings should have such a profound understanding of people.

Warrier writes good prose not to let the book read like well written fiction. It is a poignant tale, gripping and dreadful. Never was a more shocking story more easily written. Yet one feels that it had better not been put into words.    

What DEVI: THE GREAT GODDESS, Edited by Vidya Dehejia (Arthur M.Sackler Gallery in association with Mapin and Prestel Verlag, Rs 2,750) communicates first and foremost is the wealth and intricacy of the tradition of the female divinity in south Asia. It is an enormously valuable catalogue of an exhibition which brought together objects from 36 collections in the United States, London and Switzerland. What gives the collection its sweep is the fact that the originals came from India, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and China, and range in time from 100 BC to 1987. The excellence of the reproductions is enhanced by detailed glosses. Equally valuable are the articles by scholars that explore the tradition of the female deity from the point of view of religion, history, society and art. Although the visual appeal is primary, the volume is a triumph of interdisciplinary research.    

Divining the Deccan
By Bill Aitken, Oxford, Rs 395

An ever-wakeful curiosity is part and parcel of a traveller’s vocation. But for Bill Aitken, who left his native Scotland to explore the Deccan every year for 12 long years, curiosity is overtaken by vibrant passion which has ultimately gone into the making of his creative imagination.

His original fascination with the interplay of “Indian theology and topography” has gradually intensified into an enchantment with the pulsating beauty of the Deccan rockscape and its enigmatic history. In “Core concern” he says, “This unregarded plateau country is a catalogue of impressive wonders, a gallery of exquisite geological sculpture, a spiritual laboratory that sifts the meaning of divinity.”

To Aitken, the Deccan plateaux appears as palimpsests of eclectic culture, swept over by currents and cross currents of history. The semi-arid Deccan land which concealed rich mineral wealth underneath had encouraged foreign invasion time and again. For all its tradition of religious dogmatism, the modern Deccan, as distinct from other regions of India, is governed by a “freelance religious spirit”, which accounts for its composite culture and the synergetic architectural pattern of its temples and mosques.

Aitken’s narrative is interspersed with historical anecdotes and digressions, which not only highlight the many facets of the Deccan culture, but also ferrets out its inner conflicts and innate strength. A maverick in style, Aitken writes limpid prose with deceptive simplicity. When he talks about his own trials and tribulations as a traveller, there is a unique streetsmartness in his writing. An undercurrent of humour runs through his observations. Consider how he describes the Deccan culture , “The Deccan, unlike North America, is not a melting-pot of cultures nor a kedgeree of civilizations. It is akin to chaat, the peppery salad that delights the palate with a mix of subtle and sometimes outrageous combinations”.

The success of a travelogue depends largely on the sense of empathy it is able to generate in the reader. The book provides ample evidence of how the author has mastered the tricks of the trade. Aitken correlates images that create an ambience of table talk. For instance, in the chapter titled, “Ganesha Sharanam”, he moves freely from the topic of the worship of Ganesha, the elephant god, to that of the natural habitat of wild elephants, and again to the logo of the Shiv Sena.

Aitken is meticulous in his analysis of temple architecture and cave murals. These come alive with the topographic details he provides. The flitting glimpses of medieval Indian history in the narrative exude romantic charm.

True, some of Aitken’s idiosyncrasies find their way into the narrative. This is exemplified in his views on Aurangzeb. He tends to exculpate the Mughal emperor from his ill-famed bigotry. But in all fairness, these should be ignored as spelling mistakes in a love letter.    

“I don’t want to take up literature in a money-making spirit, or be very anxious about making large profits, but selling it at a loss is another matter altogether, and an amusement that I cannot well afford.” — Lewis Carroll to his publisher, from Letters to Macmillan. March is the end of the financial year for all Indian publishers; so authors should expect their royalties sometime in June/July after accounts are completed and audited. But will they? Some Indian publishers do not strike as men who believe writers ought to make money from their works. They are allowed to get away with it by many authors who believe it is unworthy of them to take account of the commercial or pecuniary side of the business. So what can authors do to ensure that their royalties are paid in time? First, they have to shed their reticence because they do not make what is called “money”. What they have to realize is that there are two kinds of literary works — distinct and separate — and they cannot be considered together. One is the literary value of the work— its artistic, dramatic, poetic value. The other is the commercial value that comes into operation after the work has been finished and production begins. Here the artist ceases and the man of business begins. Either the man of business takes over at this point or the next steps of the artist will result in partial loss of that commercial value. The pretended contempt that it is below the dignity of an author to play the man of business has never been shared by any of the better known literary figures like Dickens, Thackeray, Geo- rge Eliot, Bern-ard Shaw et al. It is necessary for authors to realize any man who makes money cannot be regarded as a tradesman; that the price in the case of a book cannot be measured by its literary or artistic values. If the fundamentals of the game are clear, the nitty gritty of recovering royalties will be somewhat as follows, though not necessarily in the same pecking order. One, it is necessary to be on the best of relations with your editor. He is your man on the spot, “the dealing clerk”. Even after management accountants have become the key decision-makers in publishing firms, editors continue to be regarded as the brains. Two, it is important that you are familiar with the basic clauses of the contract: whether the royalty is payable on the full price of the book or on the net receipts; how soon after the end of the financial year are royalties payable, and so on. Calculations on royalties payable at full price/net receipts can make a lot of difference. Increasingly, publishers now calculate royalties on net receipts; but this is a “catch” that many authors are not aware of till the royalty statements are received. Three, publishers of general fiction, memoirs, reportage of contemporary affairs make a great deal of money today through the sale of rights: translation rights, serialization rights, television and film rights, and so on. Authors should fight for a share in their contracts. But having said all that, it is important that authors themselves stand up for their rights. It simply won’t do to sit back for royalty statements to arrive in time. The era of gentlemen publishers is over.    

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