Editorial 1\Asleep at Lord’s
Editorial 2\School for vandals
Love me, love my bomb
Letters to the Editor
Reading spirit/Book review
Hard words on visual pleasure/Book review
Stray from the middle path/Book review
Old whine in new bottle/Book review
Treatment for blemishes/Bookwise

There is more to the confession by Hansie Cronje, the South African cricket captain, than the lament that this is the gravest crisis faced by cricket since the bodyline controversy way back in 1932-33. That one of the most respected players in the circuit took money from bookies should be a wake up call to the International Cricket Council that cricket can no longer be administered over a glass of port in the Long Room at Lord’s. Reality has overtaken the ideal. Cricket is now no different from any other sport. Cricket fans will be justified if they begin to suspect that the result of no one day international is an honest one which reflects the correct state of play. Like world heavyweight wrestling, everything and anything might be fixed by the bookies and players become actors rather than sportsmen. It is difficult to imagine talented sportsmen as puppets on bookies’ strings. But that seems to be the prevailing condition of the wicket. The reasons that drove Cronje to surrender his reputation for a few thousand dollars will forever remain a mystery. He must be aware that he has broken the morale of the team he made. He will have to bear his own cross but he has left the world of cricket, players, officials and fans, in complete confusion. To a very large extent, the current plight of cricket is rooted in the attitude of the officials, their refusal to recognize that the ambience of the game has changed and their soft-pedalling of players who have previously been involved in corruption and betting.

When the two Australians, Mark Waugh and Shane Warne, were accused of passing on information to bookies in return for money and the charges were proved to be true, the ICC did not take any steps in the matter. They left the matter in the hands of the Australian Cricket Board which had previously tried to hush up the affair. This would be unthinkable in any other sport. The footballer, Diego Maradona, was penalized for taking dope by the Fédération of Internationale de Football Association and not by the Argentinians. But the ICC did not intervene because, at that point of time, it did not have any clearcut regulations regarding matchfixing. The ICC works on the assumption that cricketers cannot do such things. First Waugh and Warne and now Cronje have blown such an assumption sky high. It is significant that even now the ICC left it to the South African board to reprimand or punish Cronje. In other words, if the South African board had fined Cronje and allowed him to carry on playing, the ICC, going by its history, might have consented. If the ICC functioned in the real world, it should have imposed a 10 year ban on Waugh and Warne and thus effectively stopped them from playing international cricket. Such a step would have been exemplary and would have acted as a deterrent. The ICC has another chance. But Lord’s is known to be a late riser.    

After the three recent attacks on church run schools and their resident nuns and priests in Mathura, there can no longer be any doubt that the minority communities in the country will not be allowed to feel secure very soon. Propaganda and violent strikes against Christians and their institutions had begun in earnest in the latter half of 1998, gathered momentum on various fronts ranging from assaults on nuns to mass “reconversion” ceremonies, and culminated — or seemed to culminate — in the unforgettable brutality of the Staines murders. Since the ugly campaign against Christians was spearheaded by various ultra-Hindu branches of the sangh parivar, it was difficult to dismiss as coincidence the fact that a Bharatiya Janata Party-led government sat in New Delhi. The general perception was that it could be expected to wink at misdemeanours directed towards minorities. This, of course, allowed other criminals, without the least leaning towards ideology of any colour, to let loose their predatory propensities on the unfortunate minority community.

The three incidents in Uttar Pradesh suggest something similar. Priests have been severely beaten up — one is in hospital with serious injuries — and nuns assaulted. This violence is coupled, almost naturally it seems, with vandalism. Rooms have been ransacked and furniture smashed. Additionally, in two of the three incidents, the intruders robbed the schools of cash and other valuables. In spite of the fact that the police appears completely baffled, the Christian community cannot but help see a premeditated pattern in these attacks. An emergency meeting of the United Christian Forum has been convened and the community has decided to approach the governor of UP for help. The situation is all the more alarming in not being unprecedented. If the state government is seriously committed to giving minority communities a sense of security, then it must get its act together immediately. It is not as if the BJP does not have a stake in this. Minorities in the state in which a historic mosque was demolished are particularly sensitive. Mathura, which houses the three schools under attack, St Teresa School, St Dominic School and the Sacred Heart Convent, is on the list of temple cities claimed as their own by the saffron brethren. The BJP state government cannot afford to let the painful recent past bubble up to the surface. It is wobbly enough as it is, attacked by its opponents as well as its allies, as was made obvious by the fate of the UP trade tax (amendment) bill in the state assembly. The chief minister, Mr Ram Prakash Gupta, has inherited a spiky mantle from Mr Kalyan Singh. Organized attacks on Christian institutions, if not stopped immediately, may take on more serious proportions for him than he might expect.    

Nuclear nonproliferation was a good mantra. It invoked many things for many people. It ordered the world in a certain shape, that is, between the nuclear haves and have-nots. It promised to permanently deny nuclear weapons to some, while allowing some to have them for ever. It invoked hopes in the many non-nuclear weapons states that the world can be rid of nuclear weapons. It promised peace, prosperity and wellbeing for long suffering humanity which had lived under nuclear threats for over 50 years. It was a mantra all could chant. Major powers, medium powers and inconsequential powers all hoped to gain from it.

Like the powerful mantras of mythical times, this nonproliferation mantra had to be chanted correctly. It had to equally apply to all states. Unfortunately that did not happen. Those that had nuclear weapons had no intention of giving them up. While they chanted the mantra they also corrupted it by saying different things to different people.

The United States wanted India to cap, reverse, and eliminate its nuclear weapons capability. Non-nuclear nations kept asking the nuclear weapons states when elimination would come about. The nuclear weapons states amongst themselves chanted the mantra differently. Even as they chanted loudly, some, like China, passed on the technology to Pakistan. North Korea got on the nuclear weapons route. It then cleverly exploited the fears created, to obtain some massive aid in food and money, as a price to put off the day when it would make a bomb.

The effect of improper chanting of the nonproliferation mantra was seen in the nuclear blasts of Pokhan and Chagai in May 1998. India felt it would land up being neither a nuclear have nor a have-not and did not want to be a “might have been”. Suddenly the nonproliferation treaty which was signed in 1995 was found to be in tatters. The NPT had in fact encouraged proliferation.

The NPT bargain or contract was for the nuclear weapons states to start eliminating their nuclear stockpiles, in return for others not acquiring the wretched things. The NPT bargain however was never honoured. In fact, even as the NPT was being drafted, the US had concluded in its nuclear posture review of 1994 that it needed the weapons for ever and in large numbers.

The signatories to the NPT had agreed in 1995 that a review of the progress on the NPT would be undertaken in April 2000. That is scheduled to take place from April 24th. The NPT is however in disarray. Russia has recently announced a nuclear policy which demands nuclear weapons as essential security safeguards. North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s expansion towards the Russian frontiers, a US penchant for unilateral military action in Kosovo, and other factors contributed to this. Britain, France and China are not interested in elimination until the US and Russia start on that task.

The comprehensive test ban treaty, which had been pushed hard by the US and signed with much fanfare as a feather in humanity’s cap, was rejected by its own senate. Even as the US exhorts India to join the CTBT and sign the NPT, every one knows that the CTBT is not reviving soon after the knock out blow dealt to it by the US senate. The NPT bargain is off. No one knows what is to be done.

The review conference, or, the 2000 review as some call it, will therefore become the next episode in the proliferation pantomime. It will become the stage to criticize India (and Pakistan) for having the temerity to test and acquire nuclear weapons. They will be threatened with dire consequences and so on. The five nuclear powers will take the lead in this part of the show. Their acolytes will join the chorus. There would be enough among the signatories to the NPT who would also blame the five powers for not having done enough to reduce the value and importance of nuclear weapons even after the Cold War has ended.

There would be a huge army of lawyers’ groups, anti-bomb activists and non-governmental organizations and others who would demand that nuclear weapons be abolished and eliminated. There would be much colour, noise and excitement but little of substance on a matter which risks the wellbeing of all humanity.

What is India’s interest in this theatrical which would be enacted in Geneva? India is not a signatory to the NPT. It cannot therefore attend the review conference. It is however a state with nuclear weapons, which it was not in 1995. The Indian tests of 1998 were the defining event in the beginning of the end of the NPT. India would be the primary focus at the conference. Should it stay away from the conference altogether even as it is the centre of the discussions in it? There is strong counsel being given to the government that it should have no truck with the NPT, since national security interests are involved.

India’s security interests are better served by engaging the review conference. India would miss a unique opportunity if it acts petulant on this occasion. It needs to seize the moment when its own security is being discussed at the conference. It cannot refuse to acknowledge the review conference and allow its case to go by default. This is a time to address the conference directly and through it the many signatories of the NPT, most of whom are non-nuclear weapons states.

It should work on the conference process through the lobbies, NGOs and activist groups which would congregate in Geneva. There is, however, a greater opportunity in making a formal statement by the Indian government addressed to the conference. It can be made by the foreign minister who is most suited to do so.

India should ask for a redefinition of the term proliferation. Proliferation has many faces. Tests are not the only form of proliferation. Laboratory experiments to develop new categories of weapons of mass destruction is proliferation. Deploying missiles and targeting smaller countries as is being done in the Taiwan straits is also proliferation. Passing on nuclear weapons and missile technology is proliferation. The NPT needs to be revised to include the new dimensions of proliferation.

India needs to grasp the NPT nettle. It is being advised time and again to join the NPT. It cannot obviously do so as a non-nuclear weapon state. It should reassert its security needs and the many NPT violations by other states which led to India testing and going nuclear. The statement should reassert India’s commitment to nuclear disarmament. It should place on record the measures it has already taken to abide by the NPT and CTBT regimes.

It should above all indicate its willingness to join the NPT if it is revised to recognize India’s nuclear weapons status. It is time India took the lead on the global nuclear arena as a voice for reason and moderation. India also needs to start using the leverage from its nuclear status for the good of nonproliferation.

The author is director, Delhi Policy Group, and former director general military operations    


On the face of it

Sir — With Arundhati Roy having suddenly turned environmental with a vengeance — her wanderings with less viewer friendly faces on the banks of the Narmada have probably proved suicidal — little wonder the media should be so happy with its new find (“To Pulitzer via Bengal and Boston”, April 12). As usual, “looks” figure as prominently in Jhumpa Lahiri’s resume as they did in Roy’s. Also the wee bit of information that Lahiri after all has a boyfriend was provided through — you bet — the tiny capsule that went with the picture in the inside pages of The Telegraph on the same day. Remember how husband Pradip Krishen figured prominently in Roy’s publicity campaign, both before and after the Booker? So what have we here? Descriptions of writers in which their writings become almost incidental to their worldly assets and relationships. True, with husbands and boyfriends in their right places, goodlooking female writers, who have the India connection, do have a chance of reaching the drawing room book cabinets of the gradually awakening Indian. But does the face or the “Bengaliness” of writers need to be blown out of proportion to sell the books?

Yours faithfully,
T. Sarkar, Calcutta

Money talks

Sir — It is surprising that India’s balance of payments surplus, attributed to lower investments and more savings has been dubbed a negative sign (“Poor investment leads to $ 5 billion BoP surplus”, April 4). One would think that savings will ultimately be converted into investment through formation of capital. In the pre-globalization era, when “export or perish” was the dictum, the present phenomenon could have been a cause for elation. But certainly not now, when advanced countries are hellbent on pushing their products — capital and consumer — into the sprawling Indian market. I would like to suggest that the word “investment” used by the experts is actually an euphemism for “imports”. Import of capital goods for fresh capacity creation is welcome.

The Union commerce minister has chosen the right time to withdraw quantitative restrictions on 714 items of daily consumption. The experts need not worry too much, the surplus will wither away through enhanced import bills. That the developed countries are more interested in exports into India than resorting to direct foreign investments is apparent from the fact that remittances and portfolio investments are the major contributors to such surplus. Foreign institutional investors are notorious for being “fair weather friends” and they may decide to repatriate funds overnight, as they did in Mexico. Some cushion in the form of such surplus needs to be maintained to take care of such eventualities.

It is, however, astonishing that the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries are silent on the withdrawal of QRs. With an unrestricted import regime, many Indian industrialists are destined to be out of the race because of dumping. Once the market is captured, the multinational corporations will raise the prices with gay abandon in a market sans competition.

Yours faithfully,
Ashis Datta, Calcutta

Sir — S. Venkitaramanan’s “Fiscal irresponsibility” (March 24) and the letters, “All aboard for subsidy cuts” (April 6), fail to mention one important fact. True, it is the responsibility of a welfare state to provide its citizens essential commodities at affordable prices. But Indian citizens also belong to individual states which are autonomous units of the Indian Union. The responsibility then may not be an exclusive one for the Centre. States too have a similar duty, more so given the fact that they have their own separate source of finance and statutory rights to frame their own budgets.

Instead of castigating the Centre for the subsidy cuts, our political leaders should put pressure on state governments to bear the burden of subsidies shed by the Centre.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — Every right thinking Indian will be delighted by the pragmatic response of the prime minister to the irrational views of the heavy industries minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was arguing for the retention of enterprises in the public sector for another year or two (“Atal sends wake-up signal”, April 2). It is strange that a nation should close its eyes to reality despite failing on the industrial and economic front. In spite of having the best industrial infrastructure in the whole of Asia in 1947, India is lagging behind. Instead of creating wealth, our public sector enterprises have been destroying our resources.

Yours faithfully,
R. Singh, New Delhi

Sir — Public sector undertakings have become the butt of criticism. While it is true some of the units are suffering from managerial problems and labour unrest, many others have fallen victim to the government’s hamhanded policies. For instance, the reduction of import duties on steel and the scaling down of fertilizer subsidies inevitably have an adverse impact on the corresponding industries.

The second major problem is poor planning. At the time an industry is set up, the long gestation period, constant increase in the costs of basic production materials like coal and power, future demands and so on are not taken into account. The government, moreover, has always concentrated on pilot projects with a view to creating more employment. But expansion on a large scale can take place only if the subsidiary industries are developed properly. The commercial viability of Haldia Petrochemicals Limited, for example, is already in doubt as it is fully dependent on downstream industries. It would be suicidal to think privatization is the panacea for all ills.

Yours faithfully,
A. Kameswari Lal, Calcutta

Lesson unlearnt

Sir — I would like to make some additional points on the letter (“Repeating old lessons”, March 18), by Bidyut Pramanik, on the plight of librarians from the schools of West Bengal.

The West Bengal government enacted the Library Act in 1979. There are approximately 778 school libraries with professional librarians in West Bengal. These school libraries are running out of grants, storage facilities, reading rooms and furnishings. If the condition of libraries is such, one can imagine the state of its custodians. Pramanik has rightly mentioned the observations of a few commissions, but not the Radhakrishnan commission’s report, nor the International Federation of Library Association’s observations. Here, it has been observed that many librarians are made to do work other than their allotted duties. They take classes as assistant teachers, double as clerical personnel irrespective of their professional qualification.

The emoluments, including dearness allowance and house rent allowance for school librarians, have decreased. Librarians have been compelled to return the money they had been paid during the interim, though the court has stopped the procedure for those who appealed against the order. This has not occurred anywhere in India in any profession. The 1990 pay commission put school librarians under librarians of the “C” category. The government ignored this suggestion. It should take immediate action to eliminate these discrepancies.

Yours faithfully,
Mrinal Kanti Sarkar, North 24 Parganas

Sir — Students from the Northeast once came to Calcutta for higher studies. But now Bengalis are growing more fanatical about the “use” of “their” language. Calcutta is thus losing its attraction for students from the Northeast. Although our forefathers, the Lushai or Mizo headmen, introduced Bengali in our region, Mizoram, parts of Manipur, Cachar, and Chin state of Myanmar, as the common language, we are not so adept at it as not to be disturbed when students and teachers in English medium institutions discuss most subjects in Bengali.

Sadly, Calcutta as the metropolis nearest to us where education is affordable, is no longer the best option for students from the Northeast.

Yours faithfully,
L.M. Thanga, Calcutta
Letters to the editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]    

Words to Win: The Making of Amar Jiban a Modern Autobiography
By Tanika Sarkar, Kali for Women, Rs 350

The term “jitakshara” means “one who has mastered the alphabet”. Rashsundari Debi, whose autobiography Amar Jiban was, so far as we know, the first to be published in the Bangla language, described herself by this term once when her arduous struggle, as an almost middle-aged housewife, to teach herself to read became successful. Amar Jiban is a well-known text to Bengali readers and its renown arises largely out of the fact that it becomes a parable of the emergence of modern female subjectivity in Bangla literature. The unbelievably painstaking process through which Rashsundari acquires the skill of reading and writing becomes the central motif of this parable and her celebration of “Kaliyug” as the era in which women learned to read and write is one of the most quoted passages of the book.

But what is the specific character of this subjectivity? How do the social-historical circumstances out of which this subjectivity developed leave their imprint upon it? What makes Rashsundari, who begins as a child-wife and becomes a matron in complete control of the household of an affluent landowning family, pursue her task of acquiring literacy with singleminded determination in the midst of her unending family chores and pregnancies? How does the “modernity” of her aspiration for literacy link up with her deep devoutness? Exploration of these questions is crucial to a feminist reading of the text; undifferential radical interpretations to which feminism sometimes seems to be committed can only serve an essentialist purpose. Tanika Sarkar, in her book, which is both a translation of the text and a critical reading of it, does an excellent job of brushing away these cobwebs and provides an example of what the feminist reading of a text should be like.

Sarkar points out that “it would be simple-minded to posit a straight connection between female subjectivity and female writing, to assume that the latter reflects the former in some direct, unmediated way. In fact, for the writing woman of her generation of the first-educated, the act of writing itself would have reconstituted her subjectivity in radically new ways.” In a sensitive passage, she describes how “authentic” feminine writing is expected to privilege her bodily being: “its phallic lack, its rhythms, pulsations, urges — as if it is the woman alone who has a body, or rather, her body is all that she has”. What she does not mention here is that such expectations are evident even in some feminist criticism. Sarkar, though, argues that feminine subjectivity may announce its presence in specific circumstances through use of language that resists such expectations, and emphasizes “the discursive, the reflexive, rather than the descriptive or the entirely emotional”. Rashsundari’s autobiography is of this kind. Sarkar’s translation largely retains the flavour of the original.

In the introductory chapters, “Her Times, Her Places”, “The Changing World of Religion”, “Strisiksha or Education for Women”, “Women’s Writings” and the postscript, “On Re-reading”, Sarkar meticulously unravels the social-cultural components that went into the construction of female subjectivity in the text. Particularly interesting is her analysis of women as caste/class subjects. “The extremes of privation and labour” that marked the domestically-bound lives even of upper caste/class women “detached the woman somewhat from processes of exploitation and full caste and class membership”. It aligned her to some extent with the “worst-exploited social categories” although such an alignment might be “limited as well as temporary”, and might be there no more as the woman assumed a position of matronly authority vis a vis other younger women in the household. But her earlier deprived status might provide the context of her aspiration towards a liberating subjectivity of which the craving for literacy is a symptom.

On the other hand, Sarkar points out that Rashsundari’s world is an extremely restricted world. The “Bharatbarsha” she keeps on mentioning as her birthplace and her locale and the “Kaliyug” she mentions as her temporal setting are curiously devoid of any concrete and specific details. “Time’s flow is captured through her own physical and mental transformations — at the most, through certain very broad changes in the world of upper caste women.” Even the happenings that were quite close to her, like “indigo riots”, the Pabna peasants’ uprising, the self-respect movement of the “Namasudra” peasants of Faridpur leave the text largely unaffected. It is significant, however, that for her, “Bharatbarsha” is sometimes mapped through a “Hindu— particularly Vaishnav — pilgrimage circuit”.

This is significant because we come to know from Rashundari’s own account, that her craving to attain mastery over words was prompted by an inexorable and singleminded desire to read a particular sacred text of the Vaishnavs— namely for Chaitanya-Bhagabat. For her, this pious motive was not just a disguise for a more secular craving that can be described within the familiar parameters of modernity, but it had its own authenticity. Nonetheless, the text offers an opening towards modernity for subsequent generations of readers in so far as, in it, the devout aspiration to attain salvation through the acquaintance with the sacred text coincides with the desire for literacy.

In fact Rashsundari presents her attainment of literacy in the text as part of a divine design. The writing of the autobiography itself is for publicizing a miracle. It is regarded as an example of divine grace that Saraswati and her husband (Vishnu) should favour a “weak, insensible daughter” like herself. In the text her timidity and submissiveness since her childhood are emphasized throughout. After an early marriage, her husband became the supreme figure of authority for her and her relationship with him is presented as a very formal and deferential one.

In this context, her one “transgressive” act, as Sarkar calls it — namely, her quest for literacy — is intricately bound up with her devoutness, the one locus of respite in her housebound life being her relationship with her god, in this case, the Vaishnav deity. Sarkar explores with a great deal of sensitivity the history of the dissemination of Vaishnavism in Bengal, and gives an analytical account of the way in which it created paradoxes embodied in the tensions between the “respectable” and the “deviant” orders produced by it, between the largely “upper caste” immediate followers of Chaitanya and his proselytes among the so called “lower castes”, and between a deep “interiority” of faith and a detailed behavioural model that a Vaishnav was supposed to follow. “Shudras” and women (even upper caste women like Rashundari), without giving up their “lowliness”, could find in this “lowliness” itself a precondition for salvation within the parameters of Vaishnav faith. The paradoxes allowed them this space within Vaishnavism. For Rashsundari, it is this cherished space which also becomes the locus of her act of transgression.

Sarkar’s thesis seems to me to be very interesting, particularly because it is able to capture the complexities of and tensions within the solitary enterprise for literacy that Rashsundari undertook. Her explorations are specific to Rashundari’s social-historical context. At the same time Sarkar avoids falling into the trap of regarding religious tradition as a totally autonomous and unbreachable category. Her analysis of the text strikes the right balance.    

Making Meaning in Indian Cinema
Edited by Ravi S. Vasudevan, Oxford, Rs 545

Growing out of a seminar on Indian cinema held in 1995, this volume of essays is intellectually stimulating and impressive in its range of materials and approaches. In spite of its well-defined focus — “popular-commercial” films from the Fifties to the Nineties, its spirit remains methodologically promiscuous. This somewhat redeems the earnestness that could have made the experience of reading these essays more wearying. Film studies often talk of “visual pleasure” in the most dourly unpleasurable of terms, and this collection is not entirely free of such exhausting rigour.

Driven by the need to understand the political implications of popular Indian cinema, the book’s theoretical fundamentals are provided by Althusser’s notion of the “ideological state apparatus” and by the Foucauldian analysis of the relations between authority and subjectivity. But Althusser and Foucault are mediated by the interdisciplinary approaches pioneered by such diversely brilliant interpreters of culture as Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, Sudipta Kaviraj and Sudhir Kakar. Indebtedness to the tradition of left-wing cultural critique, embodied in the Economic and Political Weekly, is also acknowledged by the editor.

The practice and theory of reading films as contemporary political documents are developed by this book in two ways. First, what constitutes the cinematic “archive” is persistently redefined. Apart from the films themselves, the studies look at a wide range of documents on cinema production, distribution and exhibition, information about film personnel at various levels and about the “geography of cinema in society”. Stephen Hughes uses government archives to show how the civic administration in colonial Madras perceived and dealt with silent film as a threat to the public order. Bureaucratic correspondence and newspaper reporting are also used by M.S.S. Pandian to write an important chapter of Tamil political history. He studies the making and viewing of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-inspired film, Parasakthi, in 1952.

Second, a differentiated notion of spectatorship is central to these analyses. Going against the grain of Laura Mulvey’s classic theorizing of the gaze, the essays of Ashish Rajadhyaksha, S.V. Srinivas, Lalitha Gopalan and Sunder Kaali explore the “circuits of communication” between films and their audiences. They use the idea of the “inscribed spectator”, Eighties Telugu fan culture, films on female vengeance and Tamil nativity films of the Seventies to establish “how desires centred on stars, lifestyles, commodities and social identities influence the politics of everyday life and imagination”.

The extended notions of the archive and of viewership give rise to two unifying themes in this collection. These are its principal intellectual contribution. First, the idea of “cultural recognition”, which uses compacts of mutual intelligibility between producer and consumer to study the “process of registering the embedded histories to which we are heir”. This leads, in turn, to a focus on the “local” cinematic cultures within the Indian “democracy” of film-making and film-going.

These local forms consist of performance practices, musical and linguistic idioms and personality types that become representative images. Moinak Biswas’s interpretation of the Uttam-Suchitra mystique in the Bengali melodrama, Harano Sur, uses such local traditions to present a nuanced sense of how nostalgia counterpoints modernity to form the romantic subject within a private sphere of intimate relations.

Yet, the absence of stills in the book and the battering effect of infelicitous prose — “massification”, “micro-narrational co-ordinates”, “the intra-diegetic look” — leave one wondering at the end. What is the logic of elaborating an opaque and academic discourse on popular cinema that would arouse little interest in and have a negligible impact on the many people who make, act in, sell and watch these films?    

Maximize Your Life
By Pavan K. Varma and Renuka Khandekar, Penguin, Rs 195

There is little doubt that the middle class community is synonymous with the middle income group. For its semantic verification, one can check out the Bengali equivalent of the term — madhyabitto. But the statement about the economic status of the middle class serves only as a logical premise from which other implications of the term can be systematically derived.

Meanwhile, the middle class is characterized by a strong conservatism that makes it difficult to infuse a revolutionary spirit in them. In the Indian context, the task is all the more difficult because the middle class here represents an inconsistent and chequered class pattern, incorporating a wide variety of professions and mindsets. This class also comprises a distinct paradigm of conflicting values and an entire gamut of specified sentiments.

Maximize Your Life is about mobilizing the Indian middle class towards altruistic ends. Confronted by the enormity of the task, one of the authors had to take into account the basic class character of this substantial chunk of hoi polloi, comprising segments of different class-interests.

There are uncaring people who have to be reasoned into caring. There are those who sympathize with a cause, without knowing how to make their voices heard. They need to be provided with an effective action plan. And there is a motley body of individuals sceptical of its own abilities. To get it round to do social service, it must be made to focus on inspiring role models.

And of course, there is no way we can undermine the challenge of grappling with cynicism and self-pity that form an integral part of the middle class temperament. “We are also aware that not all the ideas mentioned in the book will be able to cut through the pervasive haze of cynicism that has enshrouded much of the Indian middle class”, writes Pavan K. Varma.

Interestingly, the seven chapters of Maximize Your Life are cleverly devised to elicit the desired response from middle class readers. The first chapter, “Why Bother?”, discusses a rationale of philanthropy which relates the social concern to the much fancied self-interest of a middle class individual. The pointed arguments wield persuasive force , at the intellectual and emotional levels, to reconcile the middle class to the changing perspectives of its own reality. With the help of some data, this chapter also portrays the dismal condition of life below the poverty line, proceeding to a fervent appeal to the “collective imagination” of a socially secure community to understand that “we cannot insulate our lives from what is going on around us”.

The same spirit of “live and let live” continues in the subsequent chapters, though with a marked difference in approach. Being convinced that the “residents” are by now converted to “responsible citizens”, the authors concentrate on highlighting how the “support strategies” of non-governmental organizations serve to substantiate the “sarkari vows” in a civil society.

The chapter, “Squirrels at Setu”, which goes back to an episode of the Ramayana, highlights the profiles of some NGO workers like Meera Mahadevan, Satya Sheel and J.K. Mathew. Instead of the final summing up chapter, a few interviews with frontline NGO activists may have been worthwhile.    

Scoop-wallah: Life on a Delhi Daily
By Justine Hardy, John Murray, £ 16.99

India at the end of the Nineties is a a place where countless contradictory ways of life come together. For an outsider like Justine Hardy — notwithstanding her four previous visits to India — it soon begins to resemble a perfectly Carrollian realm. All her journalistic training in England and Australia had not equipped Hardy to deal with the madness of Indian elections. But what she was less equipped to handle was the appalling indifference of the features editor of The Indian Express — the daily that Hardy goes to work for — to the turmoil all around. Elections, and the accompanying violence and anarchy, by the end of the Nineties, were not “news” any more. Delhi’s loos were, if Sourish Bhattacharyya, the features editor, was to be believed. Yet, when a Delhiite is confronted with a question on Delhi’s public lavatories, he exclaims in anger, “How can you ask such a ridiculous question when the country is about to spend all these billions of rupees on another bloody election?” One wonders, with Hardy, if public opinion is the real driving force behind Indian newspapers. In the experiences that go into the writing of Scoop-wallah, Hardy’s familiarity with the country does not breed contempt, only a quirky sort of humour. Hardy’s India of the Nineties is still as much a land of maharajahs and sadhus and polo matches — in spite of AIDS awareness, or the lack of it — just as England for Sourish Bhattacharyya is still the land of “batter pudding and jammy rolls”. She notices, though, that American corporates had stolen the show from the traditional maharajahs, now reduced to sorry creatures, bereft of privy purses. Yashwant Singh, Hardy’s harbourer in Delhi, is a representative of this class, complete with his insecurity, family pride coupled with cynicism and strange pastimes (collecting fish with frilly tails and developing anti-cockroach explosives) to rescue him from the brink of idleness. The Raj hangover can be attributed in part to Hardy’s reading and appropriation of Rudyard Kipling: “Here I was, playing the same game, translating shadows, mixing truth and tat, Buddhism and balance, yoga and science — not quite the same underbelly, though each had its own twist.” She even detects in Kipling’s India, where venereal diseases cost the British army “nine thousand expensive white men a year”, the “same refusal to face reality” as in the AIDS-scared end-of-the-millennium Indian society. It is not surprising to find her wandering off to a remote tea garden of Assam, ostensibly to study the transformation of the once-pristine gardens into a valley of fear, but bringing back only accounts of the lifestyle of the owner, Billy Singh and his wife, Alka, which was hardly different from that of a white planter during the Raj. Hardy’s exchanges with her Indian editor provide an insight into the way Indians want to see themselves through the outsider’s eyes, and into the parts of the complex social tapestry they choose to exhibit to the outsider. Hardy is forced into writing a feature on yoga and another on fasting, for these are the conventional areas of interest as far as foreigners are concerned. Hardy cannot convince her editor that the status quo needs to be changed. The conjunction of medieval parochialisms and Western enlightenment, as Hardy sees it, is still very much an urban Indian phenomenon, and she fails to delve into the changed face of rural India in a way, say, Mark Tully does. A humble auto-rickshaw ride to the polo grounds, where most others turned up in Mercs and the like does not prove a point. As a novelty, she feels that it confers on her a touch of authenticity. Scoop-wallah is more about the grimy, sordid and unromantic world of Indian newspapers than it is about India. This is not a contradiction in terms, since no Indian newspaper is about India, or more precisely, every Indian newspaper strives towards revealing its own notion of the “real” India. The process gives birth to several Indias, none of which, naturally, gets it absolutely right. Hardy quite inadvertently lays bare the struggle to pit one India against another in an attempt to extract “stories” out of an artificially created rivalry. Sourish Bhattacharya tells Hardy in no uncertain terms, “I need reportage. You know, more quotes, more comments from the people themselves and pictures of them too.” Countless aspiring Indian journalists have learnt it the hard way after watching their stories being trashed on similar grounds of “too much storytelling”. Hardy has it easy by Indian standards. An unknown journalist from London, she is eagerly invited to write for The Indian Express as the paper had not had “an English journalist working on the paper for quite some time”. If only getting a newspaper job in India was as easy for an Indian!    

Forget the packaging: the computer simulated four-colour jacket, the gold embossed titles on the spine, the standarized formats and the much improved paper and colour reproductions. Look closely at the contents — the language, style and subject matter. Almost all our best books, those that manage to get into the bestseller charts, bristle with factual errors, sub-editorial flaws, structural deficiencies and non-sequiteurs of all kinds over which it is best to draw a veil. What has gone wrong and why?

The simple answer is that the editorial care which means reshaping, revizing and/or rewriting seems to have been put on the back-burner, and mainly for two reasons. First, the notion has gone around that minor blemishes would go unnoticed; or else, the critical reader would iron out the flaws and move on. Whether the book sells or not after its publication does not really matter; it is better to follow the old shot-gun approach: fire a whole mass of pellets and sooner or later you are bound to hit something. Hence the irrelevance of checking facts and details and cutting out the flab.

Second, with more and more work being done on personal computers, a new syndrome has evolved: “ word-it-is” or the diarrhhoea of words, words, words that can spew out in no time from over-heated minds. Combine the two factors and add to it that good editors have more lucrative opportunities in the media, and you can figure out why editorial standards are going down. But, more importantly, an unseen factor that has operated for many years has almost disappeared from a publisher’s essential tool kit; the “anonymous reader” who advised the publisher whether to publish or not or the changes to be made.

Unfortunately, these anonymous readers are no longer part of editorial teams. To give a few examples of the contributions that “readers” made to finished books. First, Max Perkins and Gertrude Stein read Ernest Hemingway’s early novels and advised him on details. In fact, Perkins literally pushed through The Sun Also Rises when the publisher wanted to turn it down. Perkins also re-worked F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first book, This Side of Paradise.

Ezra Pound read T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland which led Eliot to remark that “ Pound was a marvellous critic because he didn’t try to turn you into an imitation of himself. He tried to see what you were doing.”

Moreover, the list of unknown “readers” and editors who helped to tighten the “copy” is almost endless, especially in academics. The question is why does not it happen here. There are two reasons.

First, there are very few “readers” who would do the kind of detailed reading with specific comments on how and where the text could be improved. The generalized comments that are usually handed out, are of little practical use either to the publisher or the author.

Second, on the flip side, the renumeration or the “reading” fees that publishers pay are so pathetic that they devalue the work to be done to start with. Also, many publishers believe that the reputation or the “well-knownness” of the author is all that is required to make a book a success. They haven’t yet learned — despite all the dismal failures— that you can bluff some of the people some of the time, all the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time.    


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