Editorial 1/Hell for leather
Editorial 2/Hung up
General eyewash
Letters to the Editor
Forever green/Book review
Foot soldiers of the cold war/Book review
Aesthetics into rhythmic forms/Book review
When the twain did meet/Book review
Growing up in Faust’s city/Editor’s choice

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/HELL FOR LEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Indian leather is in for a bad hiding. United Kingdom-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has managed to persuade important clothing retailers in the United States like Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic to stop using leather from animals killed in India. This is the result of PeTA’s sustained campaigning against the illegal transportation of cattle into Kerala and West Bengal — the only states where slaughtering cattle is not illegal — under conditions of appalling cruelty. It is understandable that these activists, who are not against slaughter in this case, could find the pre-slaughter treatment of the animals difficult to accept. In fact, they are not making a merely humane point, but a legal one as well. The usual methods of cattle transportation in India usually break the existing law in herding together many more animals in the same carrier than allowed. Moreover, the US retailers are entitled to their right, as consumers, to boycott as a matter of principle. But ethical campaigns have unintended consequences that are often counterproductive in social and human terms. PeTA and their support group in Calcutta, People for Animals, seem to be quite untroubled by these costs.

The Indian leather industry employs nearly 10 lakh people directly, and another 50 lakh indirectly. Leather exports are worth Rs 7,100 crores every year. With the transatlantic boycotting of Indian leather, the loss of jobs and exports will be on a scale the realistic consideration of which ought to persuade the activists to rethink their priorities. India’s demographic and economic realities operate at a level of immediacy and unwieldiness that forces any sort of ethical issue to be confronted with tough, and admittedly unsavoury, imperatives. In a country where poverty and unemployment levels still remain critically high, in which jails, for instance, are crowded well beyond their official capacities with prisoners awaiting trial, the treatment of animals designated for slaughter is placed — unfortunately, but unavoidably — in a hierarchy of human response that calls for tough-minded prioritization. Even a more unambiguously deplorable phenomenon like child labour in the domestic service sector or small scale industries calls for the balancing of the contingent good against the absolute evil, necessitating an order of ethics which is considerably more complex than unthinking inhumanity. The leather industry could mobilize a combination of legal vigilance and counter-lobbying efforts to make out their case in terms of a specifically Indian context. But the fact remains that the international activist groups and retailers, with celebrity backing, have greater lobbying and economic powers than the third world leather industries and their governments. It is now up to the former to accept the validity of harsher priorities.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/HUNG UP 
 
 
 
 
A recent report of the Union ministry of information technology has rightly pointed to the department of telecommunications as the primary obstacle to the spread of internet access. The DoT was supposed to have provided such access to 322 districts by April this year. It has connected only five. The report also takes aim at the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited and urges it be quickly stripped of its monopoly on domestic long distance calls. Both these government agencies are proving far more adept at lobbying against private competition than providing India with the sort of information technology infrastructure it needs for the 21st century. The millstone around India’s neck that the DoT represents was also the theme of a recent speech by Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a member of the national task force on infotech. The DoT’s determination to hold onto its monopoly is, he said, “the root cause” of many of the problems bedeviling India’s infotech revolution. It was a sentiment seconded by the Andhra Pradesh government’s infotech advisor, Mr. T. Chowdhary. The DoT has played a very successful but self serving game to keep out private players. Over the past few years the government department has nearly ruined the entire private cellular telephone industry, banned technologies like internet telephony, broken the telecom regulator and otherwise gummed up the telecom and infotech sectors.

Its influence remains strong, as is evident from the tenth report of the parliamentary standing committee on telecom. Under the leadership of Mr Somnath Chatterjee the committee has given full vent to regressive thinking about the telecom sector. It denounced the decision to place cellphone operators on a revenue sharing rather than licence fee payment system — though this had saved the entire sector from liquidation. It has expressed concern that the DoT and its henchmen, the Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Limited and VSNL, will lose money because of the entry of private competition in internet and long distance telephone services. The obvious gains in terms of efficiency and lower costs for consumers that competition will provide is somehow lost in this antediluvian prescription. Telecom is a textbook example of how not to liberalize an industry. It seems unlikely the present drift and confusion will end soon. The Union telecom minister and minister of state, Messrs Ram Vilas Paswan and Tapan Sikdar, seem obsessed with using their ministry to push populist measures on behalf of villagers. Sorting out the sector’s nationwide problems comes a distant second. An example of this sort of ministerial myopia is the fact the government plans to auction off domestic long distance service licences rather than go for revenue sharing agreements. This only shows that no one in authority has heeded the lessons of the cellphone mess — and that the Indian consumer will end up again bearing the cost .    


 
 
GENERAL EYEWASH 
 
 
BY J.N. DIXIT
 
 
The 25 March press conference General Pervez Musharraf gave just after the Pakistan visit of the United States president, Bill Clinton, was remarkable for two things. First was his refusal to accept the admonitory undercurrents of Clinton’s message to Pakistan about restoring democracy and abjuring violence to resolve the Kashmir issue. Second was his signal Islamabad is not going to pull back from its confrontationist and interfering approach on Kashmir. There were the usual denials that Pakistan was in anyway involved in terrorist violence in Kashmir.

There is much debate as to the implications of Clinton’s yatra to India. Equally interesting, however, is how Pakistan will structure its policies to adjust to the gradually emerging shifts in US policy toward the subcontinent. Clinton’s going to Pakistan was to be expected regardless of the reservations conveyed by India.

The US remains interested in sustaining a normal, cooperative relationship with Pakistan. Pakistan has been a dependable, reliable and responsive ally of the US for nearly 50 years. Washington believes that regardless of which government is in power, Pakistan’s foreign and security policy will have positive orientations towards the US. There are additional US concerns like Islamic extremism, cross border and narco-terrorism. The US takes the view that remaining engaged with Pakistan is necessary to meet these concerns. Ostracizing Pakistan may result in the country becoming a permanent and committed base for narcotics, smuggling, terrorism and religious extremism.

So Clinton visits Pakistan. He has a frank three hour long conversation with Musharraf. He speaks directly to the people of Pakistan. The perception in India, rooted in euphoria and instant value judgments, is that Clinton scolded Pakistan and put it on notice to conform to US stipulations on democracy, good governance, human rights and Kashmir.

There is some validity in this perception. But it must be remembered Clinton’s public pronouncements in India also had admonitory undercurrents for India on issues like arms control and disarmament, Indo-Pakistani relations and concerns regarding the World Trade Organization. Indians should take note of the fact Clinton underlined the US’s continued interest in maintaining friendship and cooperation with Pakistan. He did not support India or oppose Pakistan on the substantive aspects of the Kashmir issue. It is the latter ingredient of his policy that has been seized upon by Pakistan’s government and decisionmaking elite. They claim this is evidence US-Pakistani relations remain on course, that the US has not succumbed to Indian blandishments.

In substance the Clinton visit to Pakistan, in terms of the discussions held and policy statements made, shows a shift away from the general US pattern of supporting Pakistan’s strategic and political goals. This pattern is derived from the Cold War and the Afghan conflict. There is now an incremental acknowledgment of India as a more important, long term partner in the economic, technological, political and security spheres.

This must have disappointed Pakistan. Similarly, his public message to the Pakistani people that if they and their government do not conform to the mainstream orientations of global politics towards democracy, good governance and human rights — and opposition to military adventurism — Pakistan will find itself ostracized and isolated, was certainly unpalatable to a Pakistani audience.

The response of Pakistan’s public opinion to Clinton’s visit was fragmented. Imran Khan described the visit as an insult to Pakistan, that it would have been better if Clinton had not come. Parallel views have been expressed about Clinton’s lack of sympathy for Pakistan’s Kashmir concerns and his lack of understanding about the compulsions that necessitated Musharraf’s coup. Some Pakistanis say their country should develop an alternative foreign policy equation to balance the US’s shift towards India. Other voices of Pakistan’s public opinion accept there are changes in US attitudes towards India. They blame this on a lack of vision and the ineptitude of Pakistani governments over the last decade. Suggestions include fashioning links with Russia, China and committed Islamic countries.

Musharraf will have to cope with these contradictions in Pakistani reactions to Clinton’s visit. But he will have to do so without losing the leverage Pakistan still has with the US and maintain US as an influential factor supportive of Pakistan’s well being and security. This is compounded by the highly critical reactions of Islamic parties in Pakistan to Clinton’s discussions in Islamabad. These parties remain important in Pakistani politics.

According to reports from Pakistan, Musharraf has given categorical assurances about Pakistan’s signing the comprehensive test ban treaty, provided India does the same. Assurances were also given about Pakistan cooperating with the US in containing terrorist activity originating from Afghanistan and Pakistan and aimed at the US and the West. No such assurances about pulling back from violence and terrorist activities in Kashmir were given.

While no timetable was given about restoring democracy, Clinton was told the local bodies election already announced would be followed by polls at higher levels. Musharraf reportedly pointed out that there was widespread disenchantment with the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan has undertaken a calculated exercise of resuming a dialogue with India, basically a public relations exercise aimed at the US establishment. The Pakistani foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, made a statement in the last week of March that Pakistan would be willing to resume the Lahore process without preconditions, if India did the same. The Pakistani foreign secretary suggested resuming the Indo-Pakistani dialogue at official levels, on the basis of reciprocity and sincerity of purpose. This was a follow up to Musharraf’s press conference statement that he was willing to resume dialogue with India any time, any place and anywhere.

When it was asked what Pakistan meant by reciprocity, the answer was that Pakistan will try to influence militants to reduce their violent activities, if India scaled down or even removed its security forces from Kashmir. This is not a new suggestion. Pakistan made precisely this offer between 1989 and 1994 and again during the 1997-99 dialogue. What Pakistan wants is a one sided withdrawal of Indian forces from Kashmir while they only “try” to reduce terrorism. No Indian government can fall for this ploy.

In the beginning of April Musharraf sent Pakistan’s interior minister, Lieutenant General Moinuddin Haider and the chief of the Inter-services Intelligence, Lieutenant General Mehmood Ahmed, to the US. His chief executive for national affairs, Javed Jabbar, also went there. The objectives of these visits is clearly derived from the discussions the general held with Clinton in March. Musharraf is also expected to visit Afghanistan later this summer. Discussions in Washington could provide a framework for resolving some of the US’s concerns about Afghanistan based terrorism. These terms of reference should be the basis of Musharraf’s forthcoming discussions in Kabul.

Musharraf is not likely to be responsive to any of Clinton’s suggestions about bringing Indo-Pakistani relations back on a positive track. Islamabad’s response will be largely cosmetic. The likelihood is that the scale of terrorism against India will be heightened. While such hostility may increase, Pakistan would nuance its subversion by making it more covert and camouflaged. Musharraf is also trying to cultivate Islamic countries to bolster his credibility and policies.

Positive equations with the US will subserve Indian interests. India has to remain alert about continued Pakistani hostility. There is no reason to be complacent about the prospects of Indo-Pakistani relations in consequence of Clinton’s subcontinental journey.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Irresolute, but observant

Sir — The Congress once had a visible and palpable thinktank. Not any more. The abiding discontent within the ranks come out in the open from time to time through resignations and public outbursts. The latest to join the resignation bandwagon is Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, evidently sore about the way Sonia Gandhi gave a virtual green signal to the Congress-Trinamool Congress mahajot in West Bengal. Worse still, the enquiry committee formed to investigate the disastrous cross-voting in the recent Rajya Sabha elections, has been converted into a benign “team of observers”. The shameless cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections has undermined the Congress president’s authority in an unprecedented manner. That Sonia Gandhi is willing to turn a blind eye to it is proof enough of the decrepit state — ideologically and otherwise — of her party. It is at times like this that the need for a powerful decisionmaking group is felt most badly. Sonia Gandhi is certainly not a good enough substitute.

Yours faithfully,
Ranen Majumdar, Calcutta

Against harrowing odds

Sir — Every day we meet parents and people with disabilities who have had to go through harrowing experiences in order to get their disability card (“Where help is handicap”, March 30). The apathy of the state commission for disability is a case in point. I had written to the state commissioner for disability on March 15, requesting a meeting to discuss how best this problem could be solved. I had suggested that the directorate of social welfare should hold disability camps on the premises of nongovernmental organizations. These NGOs could be selected by the state government on the basis of their location, accessibility to people with mobility problems and recognition by the state. On specified dates, medical professionals from state hospitals could visit camp sites to issue disability certificates. This would be a way of saving time for the disabled, their families and the authorities.

I have had no response from the commission. It is really difficult to work in this field unless we have the complete understanding and support of the state government. The disability card, meant to be an asset to a disabled person, has become a nightmarish endurance test for persons trying to obtain one. We are not asking for favours but a simple identity card, which is supposed to be rightfully given to a disabled Indian citizen. We are not asking for charity but for the right to a life with dignity.

Sudha Kaul,
Executive director, Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Calcutta

Sir — The attitude of various government bodies towards the disabled is nothing short of criminal. These self-important government officials, and unfortunately doctors too, seem to enjoy tormenting physically and mentally handicapped persons. Is this not the most despicable form of bullying?

In civilized countries, the issuance of identity cards for the disabled is a simple, streamlined procedure; in India it is an ordeal which would, ironically, sap the strength and patience of even the able-bodied. If one does manage, with divine providence, to acquire an identity card, further harassment lies in store.

Inexplicably, governmental rules stipulate that even those with permanent handicaps have to keep getting their cards renewed every three years. Someone should explain to these babus the meaning of the word “permanent”. Railway concessions have a separate form and the nightmarish procedure has to be repeated all over again.

We, the handicapped, are indeed the “children of a lesser god”. Income from savings instruments is, more often than not, our only source of livelihood and even this has not been spared by the government.

In its haste to ape the West by slashing interest rates to levels found in advanced countries, it has conveniently forgotten that a comprehensive social security net is available to disadvantaged citizens in those countries. In India, every conceivable tax is slapped on an income earner during the productive years of his life. But if he is suddenly rendered disabled, not a single paisa is forthcoming from the government for his rehabilitation. Doesn’t this make a mockery of the term “social justice” bandied about by the politicians?

The national human rights commission and various NGOs concerned should force the government to be more humane in its dealings with the handicapped.

Yours faithfully,
Rattan Kumar Dutt, Calcutta

Sir — I have a few suggestions to ease the ordeal handicapped people go through to get identity cards for persons with disabilities.

One, the process of issuing identity cards should be simplified. Camps for issuing identity cards should be held from time to time in institutions working for people with disabilities. The diagnosis, assessment of disability and of disability percentage should be done in the same place so that the disabled do not have to go from one hospital to another for tests. Further, doctors should be sensitized so that they can relate to people with different disabilities appropriately.

They should be able to gauge what tests are needed for different disabilities, instead of following a standardized and impersonal procedure.

Two, the identity card for persons with disabilities should be valid all over the country. Three, identity cards should be permanent if the disability is permanent.

Yours faithfully,
Smita Worah, Calcutta

Sir — I had taken my 14-year old daughter to Chittaranjan Hospital for a disability certificate. The first day in room number 18, where the tickets are issued, I was told that certificates were issued only on Mondays and Thursdays. When I went back on a Monday, the doctor said I would have to obtain a form from a particular person. Only then would he be able to evaluate my daughter’s disability.

When I went to get the form I was told that since the man who gave them was ill, I would have to come back some other day. On the third day too the clerk concerned had not come to work and his replacement would not arrive until 1.30 pm. So I took my daughter to the superintendent and asked him how many more days I would have to bring the disabled girl to the hospital. It was not easy for me to bring my grown up daughter all the way from Behala, since I can’t afford taxis. The superintendent replied that if the person in charge of handing out the forms did not come, there was nothing anyone else could do.

Yours faithfully,
Kaberi Pal, Calcutta

Sir — I am a physically handicapped person and have been allotted a certificate which says that my spinal and lumbar mobility is zero and that I suffer from giddiness. Last November I had availed myself of a railway concession to travel from Calcutta to Bareilly and back. This time when I went to the railway booking office, the officials refused to accept the handicapped certificate issued to me by Sambhunath Pandit Hospital because of suspected forgery in certificates issued by that hospital. When I asked that this be given to me in writing, I was refused. If some criminals are out to make a fast buck, it’s they who ought to be penalized and not the disabled. I hope the railway authorities will look into the matter so that justice is done.

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

 
 
FOREVER GREEN/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
Environment and Ethnicity in India, 1200-1999
By Sumit Guha, Cambridge, Rs 800

One of the few points on which breakneck modernizers and arch populist conservationists agree upon is that tribals and forests inhabit the same kind of geographical and ecological space. One wants to integrate them into the wider world of economic exchange; the other seeks ways in which this process can be slowed or moderated. Sumit Guha’s work is of enduring significance because it forces us to reexamine the stereotypes that underlie both these approaches.

In a sensitive and lucid portrait of western Indian society over a period of six centuries, he forces the reader to think afresh. His range of sources is formidable but the centrepiece is the painstaking use of the Peshwa records written in a now little-known Mori script. By stretching the story beyond the era of the colonial encounter he breaks fresh ground. But the insights he generates are of even wider interest.

Simply put, the forest and the sown were in a state of flux over centuries. So were the peoples that lived in and used them. The woodlands at the edge of the cultivated fields were a place of refuge not only for rebels and outlaws but also for rulers in waiting. By tracing the humble origins of many latter day dynasties, such work also puts paid to the “Merrie India” view in which all was in harmony until the point of rupture with the entry of imperialism.

The Peshwa, eager to get large logs for building a palace in Pune, found the large trees all gone in the plains areas near his capital. And this as long ago as 1730! Conversely, his officials hacked away and cleared the secondary growth along roads. Their purpose in such acts of eco-war was simple enough, “The peasants are troubled by tigers and robbers and human settlement cannot grow”.

The fluidity of these societies was greatly facilitated by the fact that the same groups of people often relied on more, far more than one source of livelihood. Farmers turned to herding as a prime source of support when droughts lasted over long periods. Warriors turned predatory brigands and vice versa. Mercenary soldiers of fortune formed band societies and later claimed to be of the land they settled down on since time immemorial.

For much of the period, India’s landscape was a mobile one, with people as well as lands switching roles. Disease and excessive revenue demands played a major role in depopulating settlements, and letting the forest back in where it had been cleared. A point that is surely significant is that much of this flux took place in a subcontinent that was thinly populated in comparison to today.

The Sahyadari and the Satpura, the Vindhya and Satmala hills that are the focus of the story were by no means exceptional. Even as well-known a group as the Baigas of central India, a tribe seen by anthropologists as isolated from the wider currents of change, turn out to have had links with the wider society as magicians and sorcerers.

While denying any total break with the past in the 19th century, Guha sees the changes that then occurred as pivotal to the birth of the present. The agrarian frontier was closed and foresters built around the forest estate a cordon sanitaire. Some groups adapted well to these changes and others did not. In the Dangs, Gujarat, the Bhils were the military power, collecting tribute from the Koknis. In the British era, the latter did better partly due to their affinity for plough based cultivation. The former lost out, as their political power became purely nominal in nature and their military might was broken. The forest became clearly and finally subordinated to the field and factory: the mosaic of occupations became a sharply defined hierarchy.

The study is instructive in a wider ecological sense. The key point is that mythological tales of the past must not be taken at face value. Not only have identities been fluid in the past, there are and were no pre-ordained niches of different groups. The fact that there was such a mosaic of occupations and activities in the past means that we need not simply and mechanically reverse today’s hierarchies to understand what things were like.

The idea that woodlands have been modified and used for centuries also suggests that apocalypse need not follow in the wake of all humans everywhere. The secondary growth or scrub jungle, to use today’s terms, that often regrew on abandoned fields could be the habitat of a range of birds and animals. Though not pristine forest, it was a critical resource, supplying meat, timber and other forest products. Where all this leads to is fairly clear. It is possible to protest the inhuman treatment of adivasis and other forest-dependent peoples or the destruction of the forest without subscribing to a romantic view of the past. In fact, an unduly romanticized view may be misleading and an inadequate guide to action.

This book is a must for the specialist and lay person alike. At a time of increasing segmentation of knowledge, it is a true work of synthesis across disciplines. It is all the more remarkable that it does so in language that is easy to read and lucid, avoiding any overt display of jargon. Sophisticated in its argument but clear in its style, it is set to become a major landmark on our ecological and social history.    


 
 
FOOT SOLDIERS OF THE COLD WAR/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY KAUSTUV BASU
 
 
Havana Bay
By Martin Cruz Smith, Macmillan, £ 6

Arkady Renko, a detective of a Moscow agency, might be remembered from a book called Gorky Park which was published in the early Eighties. Gorky Park sold millions of copies and was even made into a film. Martin Cruz Smith had spent eight years writing the book. Some said he was a John le Carré in the making. But Smith subsequently regressed into writing pulp fiction and a string of remarkably unsuccessful books followed, some with Renko in them. Havana Bay marks Smith’s attempt to return to the glory days. With the Cold War well and truly over, Havana seems the best setting for a spy thriller. Renko lands up in Havana to investigate the death of a fellow Russian and soon, true to form, finds himself in the midst of a huge plot. The book seems realistic because Smith, as always, includes a lot of detail. And his area of expertise seems to be forensic science — witness the description of an autopsy performed on an unidentified body that occurs right at the beginning of the novel. The process is described in the minutest of detail, and is bound to make some readers extremely queasy. There are descriptions of funny-coloured liquids spurting from dead bodies during post mortems. All this might be very, very morbid but there is the convincing ring of truth in what Smith writes. From Smith’s description of the hostility with which Renko is received in Havana, it is clear that the author has been reading up on recent happenings in Cuba where Russians are despised almost as much as Americans. This is the country where the shops are empty and everything can be bought for a price. The shadow of Karl Marx hovers around, but revolution and idealism are long dead. There are descriptions of Havana, a beautiful city which has slowly slid into ruin. The novel is peppered with longish descriptions of the music and the waves, almost like a well-written travelogue. It is against this idyllic setting that our hero, Arkady Renko, finds himself. And soon enough, there is a murder, immediately followed by two more— that of a boxer and a streetwalker — and we are back again in familiar territory. Renko is an endearing character, full of quirks. He arrives in Cuba to investigate the death of Sergei Pribluda, a colonel in the KGB who has gone missing and is presumed to be dead. Renko, who had become almost a manic depressive after the death of his wife, comes to Havana and, predictably enough, falls in love again. The object of his passions is Ofelia Osoria, an attractive Cuban detective, who helps him survive in Havana. She is almost a split personality, living superficially in Castro’s Cuba, but in reality, another world peopled by spirits. The dialogue is crisp and the scenes realistic, but without doubt Havana Bay is no Gorky Park. No doubt, the 56-year-old author puts in a lot into this book. He seems to think that the trick of a successful novel is to include a lot of details, but surely a little bit of magic glue is needed to hold it all together. Unfortunately for Smith, it is this magic that he fails to work. Havana Bay won’t make it to the best sellers list, and for obvious reasons. In trying to create too much of a character for Renko, Smith only succeeds in making him too broody. Some have even called Smith a social anthropologist since, even in a spy thriller, he finds space to delve into various worlds. But everything seems just on this side of convincing, and the book ends up being neither here nor there. After all, in the post-Cold War era, it is really tough to craft a book of this kind. Smith does succeed in parts though. For one, he has consigned to the dustbin the stereotypical image of the Cubans. He writes with feeling and passion, but only in snatches. And in the end, Havana Bay falls just a little short of being a good spy novel.    


 
 
AESTHETICS INTO RHYTHMIC FORMS/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY ARUNJYOTI BASU
 
 
Vision and Creation
By Nandalal Bose, Visva-Bharati, Rs 350

Though there have been many Indian artists in the last hundred years who charted a different path for themselves or made far-reaching changes in the Indian art scene, few of them have put down their artistic credo in writing. Notable among these are Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and Benodebehari Mukhopadhyay. Bose was a worthy successor to Abanindranath, both as a teach and an artist. However when it came to putting his thoughts down, he was strangely inhibited.

Thus the volume of Bose’s writings remains small. It fell to others to collect and collate his thoughts, writings and letters. The first such collection was Silpakatha (1944) followed by Silpacharcha (1956). Most of Bose’s writings were in Bengali, and thus did not received much attention outside Bengal though their study is essential for an understanding of Bose’s art. Thus it is creditable of K.G. Subramanyam to compile this volume of translations of Bose’s writings, a few new letters and conversations.

Of the several parts of the book, “Silpacharcha” will appeal students of art most since it deals at length with the mechanics of drawing and painting. The artist also deals at length with various surfaces and types of painting like mural, “pat” and “tanga”. Bose was a maverick who experimented freely with colours and materials in “his relentless search for aesthetic expression”.

“Silpakatha” deals with Bose’s views on a variety of subjects. For example, there is Bose’s thoughts on the importance of art in education. “If the objective of our education is total development, art training should have the same status and important as reading and writing.” It pained Bose that the general notion of art was that it was “the exclusive preserve of a few professionals and common people have nothing to do with it. When the educated do not feel any sense of shame at not understanding art, what question can there be of commoners?” This was in the Thirties, and unfortunately, things have not changed much since then.

Bose placed great emphasis on the knowledge of anatomy but maintained that the Indian artist’s knowledge of anatomy was different from that of the European. The latter, he felt, analysed the parts and moved towards the whole. The oriental artist, on the other hand, started with the whole and came to the parts. He also felt that the best time to study anatomy was when a human being or an animal was in motion since the sense of rhythm lay at the very heart of artistic creation.

Bose was greatly influenced by Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings and noted that in order to understand the essence of Tagore’s paintings it needed to be remembered that he was a writer long before he held a brush. His visual creativity emanated from a certain refinement that his soul had already acquired.

Like many of his time, Bose too was drawn by Mahatma Gandhi’s strength, purity and fearlessness. When Gandhi asked him to decorate the Congress Nagar, he acquiesced with great enthusiasm. Later Bose was also asked to decorate the Haripura Congress grounds. According to him, Gandhi had spurned machine-made articles as these did not fulfil the aesthetic need. Bose was also greatly taken in by Vivekananda’s teachings.

However it is the letters that reveal Bose, the man. He is remarkably candid and comes across someone who was essentially a loner. The last section, “Nandalal Bose in Conversation”, reveals the wideranging and random thoughts of the artist and afford a peep into his very soul.

None of this, barring a few letters, is new. What is new, though, is the fact that everything has been compiled as a single volume. In the process this book reveals many new and interesting facets of one of modern India’s greatest artists.    


 
 
WHEN THE TWAIN DID MEET/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY AMANDA HAMILTON
 
 
The Jadu House, Intimate Histories of Anglo-India
By Laura Roychowdhury, Doubleday, Rs 587.25

Anglo-Indians may be forgiven if they feel that Y2K has been hard on them so far. First came Merchant-Ivory’s dismal rehearsal of racist stereotypes, Cotton Mary; hot on its heels follows Laura Roychowdhury’s The Jadu House. The novel is loosely based on her Ph.D dissertation on Anglo-Indian railway employees in colonial Bengal, which had elucidated the byzantine and arbitrary nature of railway administration and the Anglo-Indians’ resourcefulness in the face of British racism.

The plot hinges on Roychowdhury’s dream in which she meets an Anglo-Indian woman holding a crystal who says: “Here is our inheritance. Take it, but be careful what you think of...” If only Roychowdhury had been careful. In Calcutta, the British social scientist fears appearing “easy”, so her landlady teaches her to pin dupattas, wear shankha pola, and display the bashfulness of a “traditional” Bengali wife. Maurice, her husband, never benefits from the virtues supposedly enshrined in this cross-cultural transvestism. The author hires an undergraduate, Subrasheel Roychowdhury, to be her research assistant, and the rest, as they say, is (intimate) history; and she reveals remarkable relish in scandalizing locals with her affair.

At the Kharagpur guest house the lovers invent stories based on Anglo-Indian oral histories. Many of the railway colony’s residents forge rewarding, if eccentric, fantasies in response to racial ostracism which are wonderful stories in themselves. By contrast, the railway officers’ Masonic Temple, or “Jadu House” is a mysterious, malign reminder of elite officialdom in the colony’s midst, and Roychowdhury shows these worlds in competition. After Kharagpur, she casts off her old life and marries Subrasheel.

The Jadu House is part research memoir, part bodice-ripper — an infelicitous combination. The title says it is an Anglo-Indian story; but the overwhelming focus of its “intimate histories” is Mrs Roychowdhury’s vivid personal life. Of 12 chapters, barely three elaborate Anglo-Indian stories. Reflecting on her intellectual quest, she writes, “And if I studied India, I thought, perhaps, I could...reinvent myself as an expert and a descendent of a different civilization.” This admission seals the fate of the novel as a masterpiece of narcissism.

The Jadu House belongs to the sub-genre that may be called “memsahibs behaving badly”. Sarah Lloyd, author of An Indian Attachment, another unabashedly neo-orientalist celebration of an affair with a Sikh, blithely justified her conduct by saying: “I wondered idly, though never seriously nor for very long, about the consequences of my actions.” Much the same can be said of Roychowdhury, despite her tiresome harping on “demurely” draped dupattas and jangling bangles.

Roychowdhury’s unfathomable self-involvement invariably marginalizes Anglo-Indian experiences. In Kharagpur, a widower weeping at his wife’s grave provokes, “Silenced by Mr Vanjo’s...loyalty and loss, I don’t know if my mourning is for him, [or]...my marriage to Maurice.”

The novel’s potential only surfaces on the rare occasions when Roychowdhury’s gaze turns outward. In Kharagpur, “Colt” and Loretta Campbell’s lives are rent by poverty, alcoholism and murderous violence. But, this resilient couple gains peace by dressing as cowboy and cowgirl, reading the Bible and listening to country music. Another engaging story is that of the maverick Anglo-Indian homeland, “Santa Barbara”. The old lady who founded it “wanted her para to welcome all comers, building it among the adivasi villagers from mud bricks so that Anglo-Indians could become like them, children of the Indian soil”. Roychowdhury reflects astutely that, “Within the walls of Santa Barbara people had overcome obsessions with origins and identity. This, I suspected was why...the other Anglo-Indians found it so scandalous.”

But ultimately, it is the “jadu” of the Roychowdhurys’ affair that is the sole point: “As [Colt] sang I felt the soothing magic of the holy book and Colt’s cowboy myths...And I wished that I was with Subrasheel creating a new future with our own magic.”

Roychowdhury’s administration of her love life is her own business, and it is her prerogative to publicize for the best-seller lists. What is really at issue is the breathtakingly irresponsible use of her intellectual training. For all her arrogant claims, Roychowdhury cheats her Anglo-Indian characters of the chance to tell their stories. Worse, she posits “Westernized” Anglo-Indians, as a foil to “traditional” Bengalis, to somehow vindicate her exploits. She is thus one more willing accomplice in the Cotton Mary-style stereotyping of Anglo-Indians as “loose” and “shiftless” and Indians as “traditional” and “patriarchal”.

Roychowdhury writes that as a teenager in London, she would dress up in 18th-century attire and admire herself in her antique mirror-strewn bedroom. Subrasheel provides this tale with its own mirror. Many years ago, his grandmother, fearing that her husband had an Anglo-Indian concubine, resolved to spy on him. What she discovered was not her husband in the arms of an Eurasian temptress, but alone, admiring himself in a mirror-lined room. “Despite his show as a good Bengali husband, [grandfather] found his real secret self in these foreign mirrors.” The emotional kinship between Subrasheel’s grandfather and his English lover is stunning, for she too views all other human beings as “foreign mirrors”.    


 
 
GROWING UP IN FAUST’S CITY/EDITOR’S CHOICE 
 
 
 
 
My German Question: Growing up in Nazi Germany
By Peter Gay, Yale, $10.95

It is important to tell non-historians who Peter Gay is so that they can grasp the full significance of this fragment of autobiography. Gay is one of the leading historians in the US. He has written a large number of books on modern European history including a study of the Enlightenment, a biography of Freud and a five volume study of the Victorian bourgeoisie. He is one of the most respected scholars in the groves of US academe: a man who writes clearly, fearlessly and is not swayed by fashions.

Peter Gay is a self-made American. He came to the US in 1941 as Peter Joachim Israel Frohlich. He was a Jewish refugee from Germany, and Israel was a Nazi addition to his name. He came to the US from Berlin via Cuba. In Berlin his father ran a modest business and did not think of himself as anything but a good and patriotic German. A committed atheist, he had done his best to assimilate himself and his wife and son into German culture. He had fought for Germany in the first war and had been decorated for it. In April 1939, the Frohlich family decided to flee Nazi Germany: they were among the last Jews to leave before Hitler’s Final Solution recreated hell on earth in the death and concentration camps in Germany, Poland and parts of eastern Europe.

Gay spent the first 16 years of his life in Berlin. He was 10 when Hitler became chancellor of Germany. His formative adolescent years were spent with the Nazi noose tightening around the throats of Jews. He was present in Berlin on that fateful night of November 9-10, 1938 — Kristallnacht, as it has come to be known — when Nazi thugs went on a planned destruction of Jewish life and property in Berlin and across Germany. This was the final signal to the Frohlichs that they were living on borrowed time in Nazi Germany.

One aim of this book is to answer those who, with hindsight, ridicule the project of assimilation into German culture that so many Jews undertook. Peter Gay emphasizes that till the Nuremberg laws there were no clear signs that things might turn really nasty and brutish for Jews in Germany. The outpourings of Mein Kampf seemed, to any educated person, to be the ravings of a lunatic when set beside the achievements of Germans in music, in literature and in the arts. The path to Auschwitz, as Gay rightly points out, was never straight; all human beings are not always born with the gift of prescience. Many Jews believed, and justifiably, that in Germany civilization would triumph over barbarism. Gay also notes that by the mid-Thirties, not many countries had their doors open to Jewish refugees. His father’s application to move to Britain was rejected by Her Majesty’s government. There is something cynical involved in mocking at the hopes of those who did not have the gift of hindsight.

But this book has more than a mere polemical purpose. It records the attempts of a highly sensitive individual to come to terms with his own past, to lay the ghost of his hatred for Germans and Germany. It records a “part of my past that seems dead but is not resolved, a piece of achingly unfinished business”. This past stayed within his system like bits of broken glass and this is Gay’s attempt to pick out and rid himself of the shards. The result is a moving document, a contribution to that rare genre of autobiography as history.

Gay makes no claims to objectivity: indeed his subjectivity is his strength in this book. But his humanity and his life’s experience prevent him from a blanket judgment on all Germans of the Thirties. His family was saved by Emil Busse (to whom the book is dedicated) who risked his life to save the Frohlich family. Busse told Gay later about how he devised his own cunning strategies to avoid the draft. Gay was also moved by the story of the wife of the German historian, Karl Bracher. Dorothee Bracher’s mother was a Bonhoeffer, a family deeply implicated in anti-Nazi activities and in the plot to assassinate Hitler. It is the presence of men like Busse and the history of families like the Bonhoeffers that allowed Gay to redeem his own past; it enabled him to relive the hell of his childhood and adolescence.    

 

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