Editorial 1/Day of rest
Editorial 2/Mountain high
Think before you burst
Letters to the Editor
Stage presence/Book review
Beaded bubbles winking at the brim/Book review
Fair fields full of flock/Book review
Aryans and their unsettled origins/Book review
Where have all the readers gone?/Bookwise

It is a little alarming to find the work ethics of West Bengal affecting the whole of India in the guise of political protest. The left parties and almost all the opposition parties except the Congress extended support to the countrywide bandh yesterday. Strikes as political protest were meant to have an edge, a definite aim in view. This bandh is meant as protest against a ragbag of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government’s policies, ranging from the hike in foodgrain and kerosene prices, attacks against Dalits and minorities, disinvestment of public sector units without proper evaluation and so on. There are demands too. That education be made into a fundamental right, that the women’s reservations bill be passed immediately and even, ironically, stringent action be taken against those charged with corruption. It might be mentioned in passing that the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are enthusiastic parties to the bandh. It is no wonder that the citizen, whose interests the leaders of the parties represent and who is the most seriously affected in the long term by the loss of one more productive day, is totally confused. Even if the small ironies about the protest against corruption be set aside, it is completely unclear what such a bandh hopes to achieve. All it means is that the opposition does not like the ruling coalition. That is the expected state of things. A bandh with a holdall agenda is not going to make the citizen share the antipathy of the opposition.

West Bengal saw a taxi strike the day before and is into a truck strike now. Bandhs and strikes in the state have slowly eroded all notions of work ethics among the workers in the state, since most disruption of work is sponsored or supported, covertly or overtly, by the Left Front government. Its position is enigmatic. Government employees were meant to come to office or show cause for their absence. Yet there was no arrangement to ensure the movement of public transport. The home (police) minister had said that buses and trams would ply if the workers came. That was a useful conundrum. More alarming is the interest of the advocate-general, Mr Nara Narayan Gooptu, in a discussion with his counterparts in other states with the aim of making bandhs, strikes and ceasework legal. The hurdle here is the ruling of a three judge bench in the Supreme Court which upheld the Kerala high court’s judgment that strikes, bandhs and ceasework were illegal. To reinstate them into legality would be a triumph for West Bengal’s unwillingness to work.    

The hijack of Indian Airlines flight 814 brought about the diplomatic equivalent of an ice age in Indo-Nepalese relations. India severed a wide range of bilateral linkages ranging from trade to travel following New Delhi’s anger at the security lapses at Kathmandu’s airport that led to the hijack. The cancellation of Indian Airlines flights between the two countries was particularly damaging. Tourism is Nepal’s main foreign exchange earner and the flights represented one third of the visitors into the country. This was not just about a vindictive India lashing out at a small vulnerable neighbour. New Delhi has for years complained that Nepal was the weak link in its attempts at securing its borders against terrorism. Through the Nineties, the Indian government collected a mountain of evidence showing that Kathmandu had become a favourite destination not only of Inter-Services Intelligence agents but also insurgency groups like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. In 1997, for example, Nepalese officials discovered 30 kilogrammes of RDX in diplomatic pouches meant for the Pakistani embassy. Nepal’s popularity lay in its porous border with India, its lax internal security and the ease with which Nepalese passports could be obtained — it was said a passport could be had for Rs 10,000 and in 10 days. The IC 814 hijack, and the security lapses at Tribhuvan airport, led India to at last lower the boom. The final straw in a haystack of complaints against Nepal.

This week’s bilateral agreement means Nepal will tighten its security procedures domestically in return for India resuming, even expanding, economic and transport links. But New Delhi, keeping in mind the ease with which security is breached in its own airports, needs to go beyond just brandishing a stick. Nepal is poor even by subcontinental standards, its democratic polity marred by instability. New Delhi must help buttress the sagging administration in Nepal, not just in security but in all fields. India has not always shown foresight on this front. India complained that Nepal’s Himalayan Bank took the Pakistani Habib Bank as a partner and thus made ISI activity easier to finance. The truth is the Nepalese bank had approached the State Bank of India thrice beforehand and been turned down each time. A policy that is only punitive is pointless. Economic cooperation is useful, but irrelevant to counterterrorism. New Delhi needs to understand that Nepal is not deliberately out to become a haven for terrorism. Kathmandu should be more appreciative of the importance of internal security now that it faces a growing, violent Maoist inspired guerrilla insurgency to its northwest. Reports indicate the insurgency has links with the Maoist Coordination Committee and People’s War Group in India. There is now more common ground for Indo-Nepalese security cooperation than there has ever been before. It is time to put IC 814 behind this relationship.    

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifestos of 1996 and 1998, while supporting the concept of a nuclear free world, had reiterated the party’s commitment “to reevaluate the country’s nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons”. Yet when the Pokhran desert reverberated to the tests conducted in May 1998, it was as if the people of India stood betrayed.

A major national daily in its editorial wondered to what extent the Atal Behari Vajpayee government had thought through the strategic implications of its decision, while a respected writer on security affairs termed the tests as offending the citizen’s democratic conscience, being devoid of a strategic rationale and condemning India to international isolation where, barring Iraq, it had no allies. It was, however, the sharp criticism of political parties in the opposition led by the Congress that was of greatest significance to the Indian public. Even the confidence of believers in nuclear deterrence was somewhat shaken by the loud protests of opposition political parties.

The brickbats were not confined to the shores of India alone. The nuclear states condemned India’s action as also did Japan, Germany and Australia. Sanctions were put in place and even ceremonial and training defence ties were put on hold. Two recently published books, India’s Nuclear Bomb by George Perkovich and Weapons of Peace by Raj Chengappa have provided excellent insight into the historical happenings behind the nuclear curtain both in the South Block and the concerned Indian scientific establishments.

In addition, the Kargil review panel’s report, titled “From surprise to reckoning”, by virtue of its official standing and formal interviews with those in positions of authority including past prime ministers, has established that the Indian programme was a weapons programme all along, notwithstanding its peaceful tag.

Based on the above documents, K. Subrahmanyam, who also headed the Kargil panel, has in an article concluded that the “nuclear weapon policy was mostly formulated by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao with contributions from V.P. Singh, Chandrasekhar, Deve Gowda and Gujral”. It follows that except for Morarji Desai, every prime minister of India has contributed to the Indian nuclear weapons programme. By implication this includes all political parties that were part of these governments.

On the second anniversary of Pokhran II, it is appropriate to reflect on the happenings on the Indian strategic canvas with specific reference to some of the criticisms mentioned above. As it transpires, the people of India were being misled. Two years down the road, the Indian citizen whose democratic conscience was supposedly offended should now be wiser. In the aftermath of Pokhran II, when the National Democratic Alliance government, with BJP as the main target, was facing severe criticism the Congress, which deservedly should have taken much of the credit for preparations leading to the event, ducked. So did all those involved in previous governments. P.V. Narasimha Rao, who had reportedly authorized tests in 1995 only to back out because of foreign pressure, remained a mute spectator.

Had these luminaries and political parties shown the courage of conviction to back the Indian government in the face of anticipated foreign pressure, perhaps the leading nations of the world would have read the national mood and been more muted in their criticism and reactions.

The question that comes to mind is: why were the political parties misleading the citizens by their chorus of anti- testing when their own governments had brought the nuclear weapons programme to near fruition? The most charitable answer is that they wanted to score political points. This must carry the stigma of putting petty political interests over national security and solidarity at a critical milestone in India’s journey to becoming a power befitting its size and potential. By these actions the parties encouraged nations who either believe that such weapons are essential for their security but not for the security of others, or indeed those who subscribe to the discriminatory non- proliferation treaty smug in the safety of a nuclear umbrella provided by others.

Those who questioned whether the government had thought through the strategic implications of its actions at the time must now wonder whether, to the contrary, the government had a well thought out strategic plan. Today the United States president has paid a visit to India and together with the prime minister issued a joint Indo-US vision of cooperation for the new millennium. The British foreign secretary, whose last visit in 1997 was a disaster, has also concluded a successful visit to India.

Both these countries claim to have a better appreciation of Indian security compulsions. Sure they put forward their perspective of wanting India to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty, but so did India in reiterating its call for universal nuclear disarmament. But this dialogue is being done on the basis of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and security compulsions.

Starting with the famous Strobe Talbott-Jaswant Singh series of talks, other countries have also thought fit to engage India in a strategic dialogue. With Germany being the latest such country, India now has strategic dialogue with nearly all important countries of the Western power bloc as also Japan and Russia. Australia, which had reacted sharply in 1998 and suspended bilateral defence ties, is now sending a delegation to resume these. A far cry from India having only Iraq as an ally.

It is hard to believe that such a sea change in India’s strategic space could have come about on the international strategic chess board without the government having considered all strategic options and then made the move to test. A necessary and long overdue move. And having made it, act with diplomatic deftness to neutralize reactions that were anticipated. One has yet to find even a grudging recognition of this implicit fact in the plethora of writings on the performance of this government.

Conversely, the main opposition attitude is best summed up by what transpired after the Congress delegation led by its president met Bill Clinton. Pranab Mukherjee informed the media after the meeting that that the delegation had informed the US president that India needed a minimum nuclear deterrent. This was later denied by the party spokesperson, Ajit Jogi.

Commenting on this, the prime minister recently stated that “petty political considerations resulted in this political somersault”. The Indian citizen is yet to be told of the Congress position. The party that has governed this country for over 40 years and waits in the wings to do so again must show some respect for the right to information of the citizen on whose benevolence it hopes to come to power.

In its report, the Kargil review panel has recommended a government white paper on the nuclear issue. This is a positive step towards a better understanding of the issues. National security options, specially those in the nuclear realm, have farreaching consequences and cannot be the preserve of any one political dispensation or government.

Such policies must have continuity and must outlive the government of the day. It is vital therefore that the major national political parties formally publish their perceptions and proposed policies in the national security and nuclear weapon fields. Such sharing of ideology is the only way to respect the democratic conscience of the ordinary citizen.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force    


Make the most noise

Sir — If only the conceited efforts of the Samajwadi Party leaders, Amar Singh and Raj Babbar, could provide a few drops of water to the parched throats of those affected by the drought in the country, their putting up of the “show” would still have appeared worthwhile (photograph, 10 May). But Babbar, well known actor that he is, cannot hide how he cringes under the scorching sun in his bid to demonstrate against the government’s sluggishness in providing relief to those devastated by the drought. In reality, bland faced, garlanded politicians carrying painted earthen pots, ostensibly fighting for people’s rights and putting up regular roadshows, reveal how they are no better than those they are demonstrating against. Passing the buck down the line is all part of the game — the game that is now on in full swing between the Centre and the states over who should be blamed for the situation going out of control. It is hardly surprising to see politicians and actors making so much noise with empty vessels.

Yours faithfully,
Maitreyee Das Gupta, Calcutta

All in a day’s work

Sir — The editorial, “State of burden” (April 25) hits the nail on the head in noting that while both the wages and the number of government employees have gone up by leaps and bounds, the country has benefited little from the mammoth service sector. That the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy should declare Indian bureaucracy the most inefficient and corrupt in Asia should come as no surprise to people who have faced bureaucratic malevolence.

The fifth pay commission, while recommending a hefty pay hike, had also recommended downsizing of the bureaucracy. The government, predictably, accepted the soft option of salary hikes, and ignored the hard option of cutting down flab. The finance minister can take a look at the income tax department. Formerly, this comprised income tax inspectors, officers, assistant commissioners including inspecting assistant commissioners, commissioners including additional commissioners, and the income tax board. Now, it has inspectors, income tax officers, commissioners, assistant commissioners, deputy commissioners, joint commissioners, additional commissioners, chief commissioners and the board. The main job of the department is to assess income tax and collect revenue. The job can be done by the officers and assistant commissioners of the department, in coordination with inspectors. The non-assessing officers seem to be an additional burden on the department.

The government has introduced voluntary retirement schemes for public sector undertakings. It should find similar ways to reduce the size of the bureaucracy. The government can also think of a temporary wage freeze.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — V.S. Mahajan’s “Breathing life into the services” (Feb 17) rightly points out that the administrative services need to be overhauled in keeping with the present reforms era. The modern bureaucracy swears by its loyalty, less towards the people than to the political bosses on whom they depend for their transfers, postings and promotions.

The job rarely attracts the best brains because the selection method allows reliance on cramming. Reservations have only made things worse. All constructive work in the bureaucracy is stalled because of the rampant corruption and nepotism within its ranks. Above all, bureaucrats are often completely obsessed with their aspiration for the top chair to bother about the quality of work they produce. During the raj, the bureaucracy was at loggerheads with the public it served. The situation is different now. Shouldn’t our administrators concentrate more on the development and welfare of the people they are employed to work for?

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Murshidabad

Sir —After working almost four decades in the semi-government and private sectors, I realize the concept of work culture is lacking in the public sector. There has been a lot of talk about progress to carry the country to the 21st century. But this can be achieved only by a dedicated work force and not by talk.

We are basically good workers. This has been proven time and again by the brain drain and export of skilled or unskilled manpower to various countries all over the world. Also, we have seen private and multinational companies operating in India with Indian employees develop and sustain a positive work culture. Why cannot the same be achieved in all the sectors?

Based on my experience in Assam and abroad I think this malady may be due to lack of all or some of the following factors: the employees’ sense of belonging to their parent organization; the freedom of the employer to hire and fire employees on merit and performance; an effective system of incentives for good performance to motivate the people. accountability; a strong and clear cut decisionmaking process, a good infrastructure.

Most of the goal-oriented organizations try to overcome these and in the process are able to build up a healthy and productive work atmosphere. I have worked with people who keep a log of the work done and the time spent on each task. These form a part of the evaluation of individual employees. These organizations also have people who lead by example, I am not talking about super-achievers, but about average people who set standards and try to meet them. By doing this they set up an individual standard for high work performance. Their colleagues then try to match them competitively and gradually build up a high work standard. It needs a few people with high work ethics to change the work environment of an organization.

Yours faithfully,
K.Ahmed, Guwahati

Paper chase

Sir — I am a final year student of bachelor of engineering at Jadavpur University. Our eighth semester examinations were scheduled to be held between May 15 and 30. Now it seems that they may be indefinitely delayed since the Jadavpur University Teachers Association is conducting a work to rule agitation from March demand for payment of arrears from the state government. The teachers have, as part of their protest, refused to do administrative and examination work, like setting the question papers and correcting answer sheets.

Many of us have to join our jobs in mid June or early July. Some students have already taken admission into other educational institutions and paid their course fees. Some even have to go abroad for higher studies. For all this, provisional certificates are required which can be issued only on passing the examination. Moreover, these administrative procedures take time.

I appeal to the state government, JUTA, and other authorities concerned to see that the deadlock is resolved as early as possible and the future of nearly 600 students and their families is not threatened.

Yours faithfully,
Arya Choudhury, Calcutta

Sir — One may be forgiven a certain cynicism on reading “Schools slap crime-blind slur on police” (May 5). Of course the heads of schools were absolutely right to protest at the Indian chamber of commerce meeting against a promise being ignored, and their students being endangered by hooligans around the schools.

One obviously nods in weary recognition of the familiar refusal of authorities “to answer reporters’ queries on what had transpired at the meeting”. So why the cynicism?

Let’s put it this way. Could we also give the same attention to the less obvious but equally destructive agencies in the students’ lives? For instance, loaded syllabi, examination pressure or the marking system.

The cause the heads of school have taken up is very important. Could we now ask them to extend their attention to a more sinister miasma that affects our kids? Which is not to pretend they are not doing anything. Only could all of this be made more public?

Yours faithfully,
Brendan MacCarthaigh, Calcutta

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

The Mirror of Class: Essays on Bengali Theatre
By Himani Banerjee, Papyrus, Rs 200

“The experience of theatre starts long before the curtain rises and the play begins. Our theatre exists in the world in which we live, and our theatre experience, shaped by that world, rises from it and returns to it. The world of theatre is not sufficient unto itself. Neither art nor experience is a separate reality.”

It is with these words that Himani Banerjee begins the operative part of her analysis of political, and therefore predominantly left, theatre in Bengal. It is an attempt to understand the total experience. Performance and audience reaction are very important but she also includes the tea-seller and his little serving boy outside the theatre. The performance takes place at the Academy of Fine Arts, a space which is the result of “a private initiative to create a public space for art”, and therefore itself a product of certain contradictions. She identifies the cognoscenti of whom she is one — “all somehow connected with writing, teaching and theatre and about to see a play about a landless peasant who had inadvertently become mixed up in nationalist politics”. Does the middle class, producing and viewing this play, remember the satirical comment of Jatindranath Sengupta in the Thirties on the populism of their class? “Remember, brothers,/ We are not peasants,/ We are the peasants’ barristers.”

Banerjee recognizes the problem as belonging to the same category as Harriet Beecher-Stowe or any white American author, however sympathetic, trying to write about the “authentic” black American experience.

The viewing of the play at the Academy of Fine Arts is juxtaposed with seeing another play — an adaptation of Gorky’s Mother — performed at a student convention of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is a somewhat mystifying experience for the semi-rural audience which views it. What, they want to know, does “bourgeois” mean? Who is this mother? She is someone quite out of their range of experience — a “foreign” mother? In this way she posits the central problems which this theatre incorporates. It is not for, of and by the people. Who makes this theatre, who are the protagonists and to whom is it addressed? Why is it so often derivative? Is there nothing original about it? Is it in danger of being merely the working out of a formula?

The questions posited about the left theatre of Bengal are long overdue. In doing so, Banerjee has antagonized reviewers of her work at both ends of the political spectrum. On the one hand she is considered mechanically Marxist, on the other insufficiently doctrinaire. It seems to me that she has thus pitched her critique at just about the most important point. She is an insider who has experienced and enjoyed this theatre (the enjoyment runs through every page of her delightfully readable work) but questions its most basic assumptions with courage and analyses the reason for its decline.

The sections analysing Utpal Dutt’s contribution are particularly interesting from this point of view, for Dutt was arguably one of the greatest figures of this theatre. Banerjee contests Rustom Bharucha’s slick dismissal of Dutt, who according to him “harangues his audience, hypnotizes them with slogans, rhetoric, and spectacular stage devices”. Dutt was quite aware of the limitations of formula theatre and Banerjee cites his witty Japenda Japen Ja to illustrate this. In the same chapter, she demonstrates how Dutt sought to counter the masked violences of the ruling class with the open revolutionary violence of the people — by theatrically recounting historical moments of confrontation between two opposing political forces: Titumir, Tota, Kallol, Lenin Kothai, and Ajeya Vietnam were some of these plays. In a retrieval and reinvention of history, Michael Madhusudan Dutt featured in the exciting Daraon Pathikbar. He also explored in depth the issues of revolutionary theatre and theatre aesthetics in Tiner Talwar. Utpal Dutt was well aware that the tin sword of theatre becomes effective only when empowered by its relationship with popular movement and feeling and questioned the complex reasons for its failure, in a manner which show up the superficiality of Bharucha’s statement.

In the chapter “One Woman, two women, without women”, she explores the problems of women actors contesting simultaneously the roles to which they have been confined by traditional, colonial and more recent versions of patriarchy. In a fascinating account of the presence of women in the Bengali theatre she traces histories such as those of the legendary Binodini and Sova Sen, the latter through a telling interview. Barriers in their world have always been set up by the middle class: the link with prostitution in their careers is a constant feature of middle-class perception.

But this is to speak of specific attractions in a collection of essays which gathers in its sweep the historical and cultural reading of two centuries of Bengali theatre, from its inception in colonial times to the anguished globalized present, with TV audiences eclipsing those of the theatre, and the sangh parivar on a rampage with its slickly propagandist use of the electronic media. It is an analysis that will excite the theatre buff, the more theoretical literary reader as well as those lay theatre-goers who want to understand the problems of the left theatre in Bengal, for the author is at once historian, literary critic, dramaturge and sociologist. It is prefaced by a sensitive reading by Sibaji Bandopadhyay.

Perhaps one could do no worse than quoting from the conclusion to that preface: “Though anti-teleological in temper, Himani Banerjee nonetheless has a goal: she sees and speaks from the standpoint of ‘socialized humanity’ to keep a hope alive: she looks forward to that distant future when communism, in the best sense of the term ‘community’, will take concrete shape and form.”

The book would have been even more useful if it had an index and even more attractive if it had included “stills” of some of the more memorable scenes from the plays discussed. Perhaps the author and publisher could consider these additions to future editions of this important and immensely readable work.    

Blackberry Wine
By Joanne Harris, Doubleday, £ 12.99

It is time to splurge on intoxicating imagery, that is, if you haven’t had enough of the magic realism, surrealism, et al, that has come to define contemporary literature. Joanne Harris goes a step further. She projects wine, the “layman’s alchemy”, not only to provide “a hectic clash of flavours and images” but also to take the place of the omnipresent author as the oracle, giving a taste of the events to come.

The first person narrative is provided by Fleurie 1962 — the last surviving bottle of the year Jay Mackintosh was born in — who gives a dispassionate, yet sympathetic, view of the protagonist. Jay is a one-book-wonder author whose reliving of his adolescence and characterization of the eccentric gardener and hero, Joe Cox, in Jackapple Joe, sucks him into a writer’s block for several years.

He survives the cut-throat competition of the publishing world by churning out spurious sci-fi and allowing his live-in companion, Kerry O’Neill, to build the right contacts for him despite his reluctance. Kerry, “photogenic, marketable and mainstream”, exemplifies the go-getter careerist who scores on style what she lacks in substance. Undeniably, Kerry is a caricature of journalists looking for “stories” and churning out shortlived celebrities a la Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno to sustain their own popularity and jobs.

Harris sprays the novel with one-dimensional characters to highlight the contemporary ambiguities and unease that development brings along in the guise of tourism and enterprise. There are the Clairmonts and Merles in the tiny French village of Lansquenet, who aspire to imitate the success of Le Pinot, a village of 300 souls, which is littered with holiday homes. They despise the local farmers, whose refusal to sell their land hinders the growth of tourism. Ironically, while an unremarkable church in Le Pinot becomes famous by a combination of folklore and wishful thinking, the local vintage ceases production because of the astounding success of the tourist trade.

However, the centrepiece of the narrative is Joe Cox, a semi-literate miner with green fingers and a mystic, whom an adolescent Jay hero-worshipped.

Smelling of “sugar and fruit and yeast and smoke”, Joe represents the antithesis to development. His hatred for specialization, uniformity and modernization are embodied in his garden at Pog Hill Lane, which is nurtured with superstition and astrology. Here Joe reveals to his young friend long-forgotten secrets of farming, rare herbs and plants and the home-brewed wine that Jay treasures as the “Specials”. A gifted mind, deprived of education, Joe finds material in copies of National Geographic for his “travels”, which enchant a gullible and adoring Jay.

While Fleurie 1962 provides the first person narrative, the Specials — six bottles of wine sharing secrets and laughter amongst themselves — mirror Jay’s disposition. They gradually link themselves with the existence of Joe, who re-enters Jay’s life as an astral being and feeds his subconscious with a purpose and meaning. Harris unobtrusively introduces the third person voice to gradually unfold the novel. The story has two plots with Joe as the connecting link. For the most part, the novel alternates between the two plots, between Jay’s past and present, as in a film, cutting from one scene to the next.

What mars the near-flawless storytelling are the unconvincing coincidences and the sketchy portrayal of Marise d’Api, Jay’s neighbour and love interest. Harris fails to live up to the expectations she generates about Marise, as “a haunted, lovely and dangerous lady” with a dark secret that is hurriedly revealed to Jay over a bottle of Special.

What applies to Jackapple Joe, Jay’s attempt to recreate “the childhood we all secretly believed we had” but none ever did, applies to this novel as well. A fine read about growing up and the death of a writer’s muse, it does not defy contemporary literary clichés. But as Joe would say, pick your own cliché and immerse yourself in the dense imagery of wine and gardening.    

Pastoralism in Expansion: The Transhuming Herders of Western Rajasthan
By Purnendu S. Kavoori, Oxford, Rs 495

In India’s primarily agrarian rural economy, pastoralism is considered an ecologically hazardous and economically less profitable proposition. Modern researches cut across such preconceived notions and also seek to reinstate pastoralism in its proper economic perspective. This trend is evident in Purnendu S. Kavoori’s Pastoralism in Expansion, which provides a succinct account of the reasonably marginalized pastoral peasantry in western Rajasthan.

Empirical and introspective, Kavoori’s is an interdisciplinary study embracing history, sociology and ecology, anthropology and political economy. But for the “inevitable danger” of dovetailing so many disciplines that Kavoori courts, the book would definitely have been far less refreshing, less stimulating and, of course, re-readable.

Two idée fixes regarding pastoralism are exposed to critical examination in this compendious volume. One, pastoralism per se is an anachronistic mode of living. And two, sedentarization is a standard and hence an expected norm of pastoralism. The seven chapters of the book painstakingly chart out the patterns of pastoral migration (ranging from sedentariness and transhumance to nomadism).

They also delve into the “tension and ambivalence” of the relationship between agriculturists and pastoralists in some villages of Rajasthan. Other areas of concern are the commodification of pastoralism, leading to the exploitation of the primary producer, state interventionism and institutional constraints which include the hybridization programme, marketing policies and grassland development schemes. The book also talks about the challenge of neo-capitalist penetration which confronts future pastoralism, foreshadowing a new form of transhumance and an all too probable agro-pastoral symbiosis.

As a run up to to his main thesis, Kavoori posits pastoralists in a rapidly changing world, focussing on central issues like the diverse forms of interventions, the agrarian bent of resource-based utilization and state-imposed political economy which have substantially contributed to sustenance and development, and in certain cases the regression, of Indian pastoralism. In fact, this part serves both as a logical premise as well as a synoptic base for the rest of the book.

Chapter two pictorially represents the grazing patterns of a shepherd community in Jaisalmer over a period of six or seven months. The next chapter examines variables like flock size, land ownership, caste discrimination, and so on. These two chapters trace the basic parameters of the dynamics of pastoral migration. Chapter five portrays how the social and ecological aspects of pastoralism with respect to agriculture and the state, are evolving towards a new orientation.

In his Songs of Innocence, William Blake celebrates the Edenic bliss of the pastoral world in pre-Industrial Revolution England. Will pastoralism survive only as an antiquated tradition in India as well? Kavoori stresses its contemporaneity even in this technocratic era by drawing an analogy between pastoralism and the natural flow of a river, towards the end of the book. But how far is this claim tenable unless “nature” is balanced and supplemented with “nurture”?

By his own admission, the author’s answer is one of “tentative affirmation”. He is not too sure what kinds of state intervention, economic stress, new methods of exploitation concomitant with the commodification of pastoralist products that the future pastoralism will have to grapple with.

But, the transhuming trend, symbolizing the intrinsic vitality of pastoralist subsistence, will continue unhindered, primarily as a gesture of reaching out to a sophisticated world. At least, that is what Kavoori would have us believe.    

The Vedic People: Their History and Geography
By Rajesh Kochhar, Orient Longman, Rs 425

Books on ancient Indian history are dime a dozen, but an original working of the subject like The Vedic People is bound to create interest among experts as well as general readers.

The special difficulty with an academic inquiry into ancient India is the lack of archival material. But the absence also serves to increase the curiosity. Rajesh Kochhar’s book in this sense will satisfy the inquiring mind. The book makes an attempt to locate the original homeland of the Indo-Aryans before they came down from the mountain ranges to the plains.

Kochhar does not break any new ground. He probably bases his thesis upon the debris of innumerable historical thinkers before him. His originality lies in the way he synthesizes these thoughts and ideas.

Though the author’s focus is the people of the Vedic times, he interprets mythological texts in a manner others before him have not thought of. He also consults sources other than history. Keeping the Rig Veda at the heart of his discussion, he examines texts on natural history, geomorphology, linguistics, archaeology and even astronomy.

The subtitle should not be taken too literally. The book touches upon the geographical locations of the times and explores some important rivers, places and events that find their echoes in mythological texts. If Kochhar does not give further details of the lives and manners of these people, it is because very few details are available. Thus the book relies on interpretations of the Vedas, Puranas, the Ramayana, Mahabharata and even the Avesta.

Kochhar takes up the question of the river Saraswati, mentioned in the Rig Veda, and finds similarities with Helmand river in Afghanistan. He does not agree that the Saraswati can be identified with the Ghaggar river. Kochhar also feels that the Rig Veda was not composed in India but somewhere in Afghanistan after 1700 BC and that the Vedic people and the Harappans are not the same. He is of the opinion that Indic speakers who settled in south Afgha- nistan between Helmand and Arghandab composed the Rigvedic hymns.

The Vedic peoples came into contact with the later Harappans in 1300 BC in north India. Kochhar’s findings about Ayodhya are interesting too. He does not think that the present day Ayodhya is the city Rama ruled over since the modern Ayodhya is of relatively recent origin. “Rama’s Ayodhya must then be placed on its [river Sarayu’s] bank and Rama himself must have lived in Afghanistan.”

Kochhar’s scientific analysis of data makes his arguments reasonable. The marshalling of diverse materials into a unified whole by the simplicity of his prose makes the book readable. He succeeds in presenting the technicalities of a difficult subject in a manner that even the general reader will find interesting.    

Two simple facts on the present day operations of the Indian book trade. First, other than core textbooks and reference books, there has been a sharp decline in individual buying of general books like fiction, scholarly studies on topics of contemporary interest, or infotainment books. The decline is reflected in the numbers of each book published and the numbers sold.

Except for a few titles, the first print is not more than 1,000 copies (in some cases just 500) and sales, after a two year run, wind up at about 600 copies, plus or minus 50. Of this 600, around 60 per cent goes into libraries in universities and colleges or is taken by bulk purchasing agencies like Raja Ram Mohun library, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, or district and club libraries. Individual purchases account for the rest but these are scattered throughout the country.

Second, because of the fall in individual sales, the library has become the life line of the Indian book trade. If libraries have funds allocated for book purchases, then the trade scrapes through; if they don’t (as often happens), then it goes into a spin and withholds its dues to publishers, distributors and printers.

What is the future of the library system (and of the book trade itself) in the light of the emerging information and communication technology revolutions? Is the system as we know it now in a state of terminal decline?

There has been a distinct fall in library use and book stocks and library hours have become, in many universities, a 10 am to 5 pm routine. The situation is so alarming that some years ago, the chief librarian of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Girija Kumar, proposed to open the library to the general public. But the academic council tossed the proposal aside. A similar situation, or worse, exists in other universities and colleges, especially in the Hindi belt, where what goes by the name of “library” is a cruel joke.

Library funding has declined or at least is inadequate to acquire new titles and replenish old stocks because book prices have doubled since the mid-Nineties. It is difficult to say how the situation can be remedied but professional educational institutions will have to hike fees and allocate more funds for developing libraries.

The library today does not mean just books, it also means the computer and the world wide web where books can be read on the screen. The National Academy Press in the United States has its entire content of 1,700 titles on the web. Since technology is now part of the library system, computers will arrive sooner rather than later. But will the infrastructure costs of setting up computer networks be worth it?

For elite institutions where entry is through all India competitive examinations and therefore the best get in, the answer is yes. For the others, it doesn’t really matter because there are few takers of books (whether in print or on the screen) anyway.

Given the ground realities and progress of technology, what does the future hold? Contrary to popular conception, the web has not resulted in a drop in sales worldwide; it fact, they have gone up. The reason is simple: the portability of the book and the high infrastructure and annual running costs of the network. The new technologies are no threat; they may even be an asset because they would increase awareness and prompt some to buy books. But in India where the library scene is bleak, it means there will be a steady decline in general or scholarly publishing.    


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