Editorial 1\War and peace
Editorial 2/Fee for all
Profitably engaged
Letters to the Editor
Shadow chase/Book review
Bland tracts for the times
Sorrowing into song/Book review
The great little soldier/Book review
Importance of being earnest/Editor’s choice

The Kashmir insurgency claimed its first state cabinet member this week when a landmine killed the power minister, Ghulam Hasan Bhat. This reflects an upsurge in militant violence, both quantitative and qualitative, in the past three years. Militant groups like the Hizb ul Mujahedin, which took credit for Bhat’s death, bear little resemblance to the Kalashnikov touting insurgents of the early Nineties. Today’s arsenal includes rocket launchers and worse . This has accompanied a change in tactics. Militants have shown a willingness to launch full fledged frontal assaults on Indian security installations. The suicide bomber’s attack on the Badami Bagh cantonment in Srinagar is further evidence the insurgency is becoming more brutal and, arguably, more desperate. A key reason for this ratcheting up the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, of course, is the fact that many of the insurgents are no longer local Kashmiris but Pakistani and Afghan mercenaries. Often veterans of the Afghan wars, these militants are willing to be more aggressive.

The positive side of the increased foreign presence in the Kashmiri insurgency is the increasing alienation of local Kashmiris from the militants. Among others, a fear of being killed by the Islamicists is one reason members of the All Party Hurriyat Conference have expressed a willingness to hold talks with New Delhi. It has long been a hope of New Delhi that Kashmiri members of the APHC would break with the insurgency and seek a political settlement with the Indian government. This belief has gained strength along with Kashmiri and Central disenchantment with the corruption ridden regime of Mr Farooq Abdullah. Recent elections have shown that the National Conference has lost even its traditional support base among the rural Kashmiris of the valley. The APHC, and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in particular, is believed to hold sway in Srinagar and other urban centres. With the JKLF’s chairman, Mr Yasin Malik, and the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, making cooing noises at each other, the ground is being prepared for some sort of engagement between the two sides. India’s goal is a regime in Srinagar that represents Kashmiri nationalism but does not advocate secessionism. Obviously some autonomy concession is required, and the extent of autonomy will be the core issue of any talks. The process is slow and dangerous. It does not lack for opponents. The Hizb ul Mujahedin is only among the more extreme critics. Mr Abdullah has publicly derided the APHC and urged the government to implement the autonomy package his government put forward in January. He will argue that if he is given the necessary political concessions, he will be able to fulfil the role New Delhi’s wants of his successor. But Mr Abdullah is seen as a stopgap measure, useful only if the latest peace move dies in a hail of bullets or storm of politicking.    

It is said that ideas and proposals before their time inevitably provoke opposition. But the recommendations for a rationalization of the students’ fee structure made by a subcommittee of the Jadavpur University executive council is surely not an idea before its time. Rational fee structures have become an urgent need in the higher education institutions of West Bengal. The vice-chancellor of the University of Calcutta, Mr Ashish Banerjee, had said, soon after joining, that he was planning to raise students’ fees. Jadavpur University should be lauded for proposing a viable fee structure, not assailed, as it has been, by student protests against the proposed raise. Subsidies for state funded or state aided higher education have long lost their meaningfulness in a morass of anomalies. The larger picture shows that non-merit subsidies, that is, those on food, fertilizers and education beyond the elementary stage, were five times higher than merit subsidies until very recently. The picture has not greatly changed, particularly in higher education. The loser in this policy is always primary education. The students protesting against the university for planning to deprive poor students of higher and technical education exemplify myopic and misdirected concern. They might spare a thought for the thousands of underprivileged children who remain either illiterate or drop out of school because there are neither enough schools nor the necessary educational facilities, including teachers and classrooms.

There is a general feeling that higher education in institutions like the University of Calcutta and Jadavpur University should be available at prices which would not buy a kilogramme of mangoes. Specialized institutes for technology, science, management, fashion designing or catering, however, can demand the earth and get it. Even students who go to the august institutions which have had the same fee structure since 1956, pay enormous amounts for special tuition. Sensible politics which can, whether the protesting students believe it or not, also be called people-friendly politics, would demand a rationalization of the old fee structures. This would mean an immediate accrual of funds for the maintenance and upgradation of an institution. Simultaneously, the university would be able to generate funds for full scholarships or freeships which could be given on the basis of a means test. At the other end, this kind of self-sufficiency on the part of universities would release more state funds for elementary education. It is amazing that those being highly educated at the cost of the state cannot grasp the principle behind a simple goal: those who can will pay, those who can’t will study anyway.    

How can India best reap the fruits of global economic interdependence by engaging the industrial countries? The areas of common interest present great opportunities for advancing the common good. These include the liberalization of insurance, telecommunications and other infrastructure areas. They also include India’s need to attract venture capital, portfolio investment, investment in research and development services and the software sector.

These opportunities should become the basis for resolving the disagreements over the relationship between trade and environment, trade and labour and the rising protection being given to the textile sector.

India has sent unequivocal pro-trade signals by abolishing quantitative restrictions on 714 lines in April 2000 with the promise of removing the remaining 715 tariff lines by April 2001. This is a policy two years ahead of India’s World Trade Organization commitments. This is likely to lead to imports of liquor, agricultural commodities, textile goods and a wide range of manufactured goods.

Most significantly, this move should spur retail trade. This has already taken off in southern India with the arrival of big chains like the Food World supermarket. The replacement of import controls with tariffs is a signal the Indian producer — Indian or foreign — cannot hide behind import controls any more. The producer should adjust to efficient production with the help of tariffs or concentrate on production in efficient sectors.

Insurance and telecommunications are important for international and domestic private investment. The Indian government has capped foreign capital in private insurance at 26 per cent and the first private licence might be granted by November 2000. National long distance telecommunications service will also be opened up to private parties.

There is a rush for service providers in the internet market. The United Kingdom based Worldtel, led by Sam Pitroda, and Reliance Telecom, are coming together with the help of the Tamil Nadu government, which has a 26 per cent equity stake, to provide community internet centres. Royal Dutch Telecom, with 45 per cent equity, and Wipro are coming together to form Wipronet. Enron Communications of the United States, National Grid of the UK, Energis and Vivendi Telecom of France are interested in this area. In the mobile telecommunications area, the Birla-AT&T-Tata combine has the potential to provide services to much of southern India. The manufacture of telecom equipment is still hidden behind tariff walls and could easily attract foreign investment.

India needs more roads, better ports and much greater power. It wants to add 5,000 kilometres to its national highway system by 2005 and 11,000 kilometres by 2020. India also needs to increase its power generation capacity from 100,000 megawatts to one million megawatts. In all of these infrastructure areas, the Indian government invites 100 per cent foreign equity up to $ 300 million. The power sector has shown courts can be critical but not entirely obstructive. While Cogentrix has pulled out, Enron found the courts ruled in favour of the Dabhol Power Corporation 24 times.

Venture capital and portfolio investment are flowing into the information technology, communications and entertainment sectors. Venture capitalists typically incubate business sectors by providing finance and infrastructure to young entrepreneurs at an early stage of product development.

The Israel-US bilateral industrial development fund is an instructive example for India. A pair of companies, one from the US and one from the Israel, can apply for support. The fund supports approximately 40 projects a year with an average funding of $ 1.2 million for 12 to 15 months.

In order to attract capital, the Central budget has announced a concessionary 20 per cent tax on the income distributed by a venture capital fund. India seeks to attract portfolio investment by increasing the foreign equity cap for foreign institutional investors from 24 to 40 per cent. The FIIs have been bullish and India hopes to attract between $ 3.5 to $ 4 billion in the current financial year.

The quality of Indian science has been appreciated the world over. But the lack of industry-academia interaction has retarded technical development.

Foreign corporations are realizing there is a vast potential to be tapped here that would lead to reduced cost of operations.

In the software area, International Business Machines has opened up a major facility at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Du Pont is seeking the help of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Relations for locating Indian laboratories that can house Du Pont’s projects. GE found its Bangalore centre matches the “six sigma” standards of virtually zero defects. Next, GE wants to expand operations in Hyderabad.

The software sector has proved to India that trade is good for any country which has a comparative advantage in an industrial sector. India has performed extremely well in the International Standards Organization tests as well as the tough tests of the Software Engineering Institute’s capability maturity model. India’s graduates have moved on to high value added tasks after its engineers performed extremely well in dealing with the Y2K problem.

However, India needs better international rules regarding labour mobility so that Indian software service providers can easily service consumers . To give one example, over 60 per cent of India’s software exports go to North America and about 60 per cent of those exports require Indian providers to be present abroad. If India’s exports are to continue to grow at the compound annual rate of 50 per cent, the country needs more work visas to the US.

There are however some tricky trade problems that India must attend to in order to promote its trade. First, the textile sector has witnessed rising US protectionism. The level of US protection declined between 1993 and 1996 but was higher than the 1993 figure in 1999. The European Union’s level of protection, while less than the US’s, showed a similar trend. Given the importance of textiles for India’s exports, Devesh Kapur of Harvard University has argued that if this continues, then India should threaten lax intellectual property protection.

Second, labour conditions are being attached to trade to keep the trade unions happy in industrial countries. This is despite the well known empirically grounded argument that trade itself leads to a rise in wages. This proposition has been empirically validated by the east Asian experience where trade unions were weak.

If trade leads to rising wages, is it fair for the developed countries to expect high Indian wages before allowing market access to Indian products? Last, but not the least, environmental standards are being sought to be introduced as a condition for market access. This is likely to act as a nontariff barrier.

The ozone negotiations highlighted the role of the United Nations environment programme, a global environmental organization driven largely by scientific developments that highlighted the threat of ozone depletion as a major source of pollution. Global environmental organizations and not trade organizations must be entrusted with the task of dealing with ecological issues.

In sum, the opportunities for trade are manifold and India must harness them to grow. However, this engagement should enable India to better withstand the rising protectionism as the world begins to develop a greater stake in the Indian economy.

The author is assistant professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi    


Who’s afraid of economics?

Sir — Sonia Gandhi should accept economic reforms are an inevitability if she doesn’t want to lose the only intellectual stars, Manmohan Singh and Jairam Ramesh, her party still has (“Whose side are you on, Manmohan?”, May 17). The Congress should be shouting from the rooftops that it is Singh’s policies that have served as a beacon for the National Democratic Alliance government, which is largely clueless about economy. Instead, driven by a false populism and a band of fuddyduddies who give themselves socialist airs sitting in the airconditioned comfort of their New Delhi offices, Sonia Gandhi is keen to disown Singh. No one takes her padayatras and her sloganeering seriously, least of all her own partymen who are fast becoming disillusioned with her gimmicks. It is time for her to worry. Politics being all about switching loyalties, both Singh and Ramesh might soon decide that the Bharatiya Janata Party or one of its allied parties have more to offer than the Congress. And no one will blame them.

Yours sincerely,
Somesh Sen, Calcutta

Better fences

Sir — I fully endorse the views of Mani Shankar Aiyar, expressed in his article, “Is SAARC the answer?” (April 25). The last line succinctly sums it up: “We can start thinking of ways in which cooperation...becomes the leitmotif of our foreign policy.” India should have implemented this maxim on October 12, 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf enacted a coup in Pakistan. Instead, India reacted as if the coup had taken place in India itself. Despite all the ravings and rantings, India could not stop Bill Clinton from visiting Islamabad. India’s self-projected image of being the conscience keeper of the world cuts no ice.

Had India gone along tactfully with Musharraf’s endeavour to develop Pakistan’s economy and ensure stability, it might have been possible to enter into a new era of friendship with Pakistan, to the advantage of the entire subcontinent.

Aiyar may be aware that Mohammed Mokammel Haque, the executive chairman of Bangladesh’s board of investment, has recommended a Bay of Bengal growth triangle with Chittagong-Calcutta-Chennai-Colombo-Yangon as a working perimeter and a subsequent option to expand upto Malaysia. This suggestion compares favourably with Aiyar’s. India should take the initiative for formalizing such growth structures. However, as Aiyar rightly observes, only pragmatic leadership at New Delhi can create the required scenario; regrettably, right leadership is one commodity that we have not had for 52 years.

Yours sincerely,
J.K. Dutt, Calcutta

Sir — I fail to understand why Mani Shankar Aiyar is so interested in taking help from Pakistan (“Is SAARC the answer?”, April 25). He talks about Indian prime ministers and foreign ministers being obsessed with debarring Pakistan from the international arena. This is opposing the ruling party not on any real issue, but just for the sake of opposing it. . This is not a sign of a healthy democracy. How can he expect any responsible Indian to take help from Pakistan? There is no doubt regional cooperation is needed but not at the cost of threatening India’s security. Aiyar will be well advised to correct his bias for his columns to become more readable.

Yours sincerely,
J.S. Sen Gupta, Shillong

Sir — “Mani Talk” is interesting reading. But one wonders whether his apparently lighthearted references to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh members as “knickerwallahs” are not merely to undermine the organization. Besides, Aiyar could not convincingly explain why he thinks the A.B. Vajpayee government is going to fall soon for veering away from the ultra-rightist leanings of the RSS.

Yours sincerely,
Bhaktibhushan Das, Barrackpur

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar’s fortnightly column is little short of garbage. The so called thinktank of the Congress is replete with people like Aiyar, which makes it easy to explain the party’s recent setback. There can be no reason why an esteemed daily like The Telegraph should carry useless articles like Aiyar’s and put its reputation at stake.

Yours sincerely,
Sajan Kumar, Calcutta

Read between the lines

Sir — Francis Wheen, in his book, Karl Marx has said, “Only a fool could hold Marx responsible for the Gulag: but there is, alas, a ready supply of fools” (“Fate of a life”, April 7). I take it that Wheen holds that neither the Bolshevik revolution nor the Bolshevik regime had any Marxian parentage. Indeed, Marx continues to be a ready supplier of pseudo-intellectual ammunition to many power hungry desperados throughout the world, I believe that the Bolshevik party’s relation with Marxism was nominal. The Marxist surname was adopted by the Bolsheviks as a new brand name for the old nihilist wine.

I have studied Marx’s life and works. However, when I tried to compare my notes with some “Marxists” (mostly trade unionists) they parroted a Bolshevik perversion of Marxism.

At last, I stumbled upon the review by Rudrangshu Mukherjee which offers a peephole glimpse of someone who has grasped the essence of Marxism, given Marx’s deliberate attempts to tire and confuse those who might like to probe him.

Yours sincerely,
H.P. Gangopadhyay, Calcutta

Sir — Contrary to what Shams Afif Siddiqi says in his review, “Aryans and their unsettled origins” (May 12), neither did the Indo-Aryans come to the Indic land all at once nor did they settle in a single place. It has already been archaeologically found that there had been two lines of advance during successive times to the north and south of the Thar desert. In the south of Thar they were seen as an intrusive element contemporary to the Harappan culture. Later, during the post-Harappan Jhukar phase, they came and penetrated deep into the Indian peninsula around 1300-1000 BC. This time they brought bronze and iron technology with them. The second line to the north of the desert, which lasted till around 1500 BC, was first seen in the Harappa Cemetery H culture. Then it was seen in the eastern expansion between 1500-1100 BC and is associated with copper hoards and ochre pottery. A third phase in this second line of advance is characterized by the painted gray wave and the use of iron. These waves came from the direction of Iran and consisted of ancient Aramaic speaking people. No evidence of civic planning, architecture or the complex art of the Harappan civilization can be linked to the Indo-Aryans of this period. In fact, the cattle breeding civilization of the Aryans took India a step backward from the urban Harappan modes.Writing had disappeared and did not reappear till the middle of the first millennium BC. Cities were reinvented which lacked the elaborate order of their Indus Valley predecessors. In the Indic subcontinent (which consisted of the Indic-Aryan belt, eastern Gangetic plains and peninsular India), Bactro-Gandhar (today’s Afghanistan and Pakistan) was an intrinsic part.

The most important bodies of Indic literature, the four Veda Samhitas, of which the Rig Veda is the oldest, were composed and perpetuated by them. The Rig Veda seems to reflect the culture of the Aryans during their settlement in India and even earlier.

Vedic beliefs were not universally accepted. There had been notes of dissent through the ages. Later, Buddhism, Jainism and other schools of thought articulated ideas which rejected Vedic presuppositions.

The Upanishads had been the result of the resurfacing of pre-Vedic ideas. Later, the Upanishads came to be considered the philosophical portions of the Vedas and despite apparent contradictions with the latter, merged into Hinduism. But the Upanishads remain the fountainhead for the heterodox thinking of Indic religions other than the Vedic.

Yours sincerely,
Nanak Ganguly, Calcutta

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

When we Were Orphans
By Kazuo Ishiguro, Faber, £ 10.99

Reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, his first in five years, shortly after having re-read Marion Mainwaring’s Murder in Pastiche is a disconcerting experience. For there is no doubt that the first impression produced by Ishiguro’s book is that of pastiche raised to a fine art, combining irony, parody and paradox to a bewildering degree. In this respect it is not unlike his previous novels. As in The Remains of the Day or The Unconsoled, Ishiguro takes a social type or a literary genre and produces his own version of the same thing — a respectful, apparently quite solemn, imitation, but always with that slightly discomfiting edge of self-consciousness, even of ridicule. Having dealt in this unnervingly serious way with butlers and Kafka, Ishiguro turns in this book to another myth of modern life, the Great English Detective.

Christopher Banks, the hero and first-person narrator of this novel, is sent to school in England at the age of eleven, after both his parents have disappeared from their home in Shanghai. He is determined to be a great detective, and after coming down from Cambridge, sets about making himself one. And despite the consistent undercutting of his self-perceptions — as a jolly English schoolboy, as a potential Sherlock Holmes, as a perfect gentleman — by the views of others in the narrative, the odd thing about the book is that Banks does in fact become a Great English Detective in the approved manner.

“A detective! What good is that to anyone? Stolen jewels, aristocrats murdered for their inheritance. Do you suppose that’s all there is to contend with?” By the time the hero’s Uncle Philip has put this question towards the end of the book, the myth of the great detective is already sadly in disrepute. For despite Banks’s reported successes, what we see of his life seems always tinged with failure. From being an “odd bird” at school, he becomes a lonely, socially awkward man, taken unawares by circumstances he cannot control. People snub him, patronize him, seek to use him in their own narratives of self- making. By the middle of the book, detective fiction has been overtaken by fictions of other kinds: the social comedy of a young Englishwoman, Sarah Hemmings, out to marry the Great English Soldier, Sir Cecil Medhurst; the Buchanesque fantasy of a global conspiracy of evil having its centre in Shanghai; the adoption of an orphan girl, Jennifer, by Banks; the surreal search by Banks for his lost parents in the midst of the Sino-Japanese conflict of the Thirties; the encounter with his Uncle Philip, a sinister, faintly Dickensian figure who belies Christopher’s great expectations; the reunion with his mother in an asylum in Nineties’ Hong Kong.

Each one of these narratives is itself a kind of parody — or pastiche — of such stories in genres which take themselves more seriously. They are populated by characters who, in their very accuracy of representation, proclaim themselves as fake. This synthetic quality is as much a matter of idiom as anything else, most of all in the narrator’s own colonial mimicry of an authentic British voice, rendered in Ishiguro’s finely discriminating, parodically nuanced prose. Yet in their self-evident, mannered way, they are, like all Ishiguro’s characters, unhappy figures, never quite at ease with their literary false consciousness.

Banks’s own story leads him away from the social triumphs of his London career to a search for his parents in pre-World War II Shanghai, vaguely hinted at as the centre of unimaginable vice. Instead of pursuing his quarry in Europe, Banks must, if he is to fulfil his mission as a great detective, search out the roots of Asiatic villainy. But his affairs take a slightly surreal turn as soon as he arrives in Shanghai. His parents prove to be more difficult to trace than his admiring fans among the local police and administration expect. He finds that the famous Sir Cecil Medhurst is a drunkard and a boor; that his childhood hero, Inspector Kung, is a hopeless opium addict; that chivalry may compel him to elope with Sarah. He gets lost outside the International Settlement, meets a wounded Japanese soldier who may be his childhood friend Akira; escapes the Kuomintang only to be captured by the Japanese; and, in the end, learns the truth about his parents’ disappearance from his uncle Philip. This part of the story, a literary phantasmagoria involving the opium trade, a Eurasian mistress, a Chinese warlord, torture, self-sacrifice, white slavery, Chiang Kai Shek, madness and reunion, puts paid, as nothing else could, to the myth of the Great Detective.

We are not surprised, in the end, to find the hero drifting through his retirement in London, visiting galleries, reading reports of his cases in old newspapers at the British Museum, reflecting on the past with “a certain contentment”. For although he is conscious of what does not quite ring true in Sarah’s letters to him, he is slow to catch these false notes in his own existence. “Our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing for long years the shadows of vanished parents.” This observation seems to conclude the novel’s search on the aptly symbolic note. Yet the novel’s own literary orphanhood, the shadows of its absent parents, remain as disquieting, as potentially suicidal, as the character of the one true orphan in the novel, Banks’s ward Jennifer. By the end of the book, she has attempted suicide at least once. Perhaps she would have preferred to be in another story.    

Social Movements in Contemporary India
Edited by Shibani Kinkar Chaube and Bidyut Chakrabarty, K.P. Bagchi, Rs 250

Subalternism is evidently no longer contemporary in Delhi. In this “undertaking” of the department of political science, Delhi university, the editors make clear that there is “no intention to cultivate a post-modernist subalternism in order to understand the struggles” (emphasis mine). What they produce in their understanding of “social” movements is a collection of rather insipid essays that could well be badly edited newspaper articles. In fact, some of these are so heavily borrowed from clippings and research papers that a reasonably long paragraph has every sentence ending with the name of the source — the context of “Chhattisgarh: nationality movement and the oppressed” for example.

The aspect most thoroughly probed in each of the social movements selected as case study is political content. As Chaube herself points out, social movements cannot be devoid of politics, for they “ultimately involve power”. It is probably for this reason that the Communist Party of India almost singlehandedly organized the slum dwellers’ movement in Calcutta, and then put it to the best political use — to cultivate its future vote bank. Sanjoy K. Roy in “Slum-dwellers’ movement in Calcutta” notes, albeit with some exaggeration, “the movements of the 1950s continue to yield positive results on which the democratic progressive political forces in the state thrive even today.”

The conjunction of social movement with power is most obvious with relation to the women’s movement in India, which receives sufficient attention in the collection — as many as three essays are devoted to the gender cause. Women’s movement in the country, which is described as “not anti-men or extreme feminist”, is supposed to have addressed India’s many layered reality, and given a major thrust to gender issues. Reservations in local government for women, “though not a sufficient condition” is argued to have been a major step in women’s empowerment. Susheela Kaushik however believes that the women’s movement cannot survive if it is not linked to broader social movements. In fact there is a limit to “how feminist” “feminists (can) get to be”. With the women’s bill being pushed around from one parliamentary session to another, one cannot but agree with Kaushik. Who would have guessed the revulsion for bal katis was so phenomenal.

Probably the best essay which dilineates the connection between social movement and its political side is “Development, democracy and ethnic consciousness: the Punjab case” by A.S. Narang. Exhaustive in its sweep, Narang unravels the intricate chain of developments in the growth of Sikh separatism. Another chapter is as exhaustive, but ends in a subtle appreciation of the Hindu right movement. This is “Religion and social movement: the case of Vishva Hindu Parishad” by Geeta Puri which through its discussion of VHP organization, agendas and action explains the VHP’s intention of linking up India’s conservative forces with the modernized Indian elite. Quite predictably, it blames Congress secularism for the growth of the Hindu right.

The political flipside is no less obvious in the movement of the disabled, although in environmental movements, the face off with power or the political establishment is stronger. The disabled’s movement might have attracted the right attention, but is there really cause for optimism? Government lipservice to the cause is obvious from the fact that only a handful, the sightless, receive government concessions. As Jagdish Chander points out, this is to prevent “unity” among the disabled. Getting the government to see the point might be more excruciating for activists in environmental matters which directly affect party interests.

Like the write up on “Jharkhand consciousness”, most of the articles disappoint. Shoddy editing further mars the quality of the book. This obviously is a case of noble intentions going to seed.    

Small Remedies
By Shashi Deshpande, Viking, Rs 395

Small Remedies is a brooding novel, richly interwoven with memories. To the past belongs two dazzling women, who are at the core of the novel. At a time when women’s lib is not even a rumour in her milieu — the British are yet to go — Savitribhai Indorekar, grande dame of the Gwalior gharana, dumps her wealthy, conservative, Hindu background for a life with her Muslim lover-cum-accompanist, for her music. About the same time, the other woman, Leela, breaks loose from her cramped middle-class existence for a life in the Party, sticking to her “ayah-type” sari, her Marathi and her factory workers in Bombay with a sustained passion. The two free spirits invite an easy reading of Shashi Deshpande’s latest novel as yet another feminist primer. But Shashi Deshpande wouldn’t like that, anxious as she is known to be to avoid being labelled. More important, dark and intense, the novel is preoccupied with an older theme. It is because of Madhu, Leela’s niece and Bai’s biographer, that the two older women meet, in Madhu’s house of memories. But Madhu — the archetypal Deshpande protagonist: urban, middle-class, educated, female — is running away from her present. She has just lost her 17-year-old son, her only child. The death violates her; it is an obscene gesture from fate, a taboo, something which can barely be spoken about. As she goes mad with grief, her friends force her to take up writing the life of Savitribai, the renowned vocalist who wants to go down in history as the perfect success story. But Madhu remembers her as the glamorous, cold, remote mother of her childhood friend Munni. From Bombay, Madhu comes to Bhavanipur, where Savitribai lives. At first, still sterile from her grief, Madhu remains estranged from everything. She doesn’t even know how to write Bai’s life. There are too many conflicting narratives. But slowly, inexorably, other lives start claiming her. There’s Bai and her quaint household over which she reigns like a bad-tempered queen. There’s the young couple with whom Madhu is staying, whose warmth is infectious. And always, there’s Leela. She is dead. But even the party-worker — who had wondered always about the Brontës, whom her literature-loving husband was always talking about — is a constant, radiant presence in Madhu’s turbulent stream of consciousness, saving her from drowning in chaos. A host of other memories come crowding in too, like threads in a finely-worked tapestry — of a time when happiness seemed within reach, when Madhu lived life as an “independent woman”, making no concession to society, of her husband and son doing the surya namaskara together, of her father teaching her how to dodge the evil spirits. She would have to walk straight for a few steps and suddenly turn, and “they” could be fooled. As Deshpande weaves together strands from past and present, like the strains of music mingling in Bai’s house, the novelist reveals her control over her craft. There are no sudden awakenings, but the healing begins for Madhu, gradually, imperceptibly. It becomes clear that there are no easy cures, no ready remedies — only small ones. And there is no turning away from life. Deshpande writes without special effects. The realism is stark, not magical, and there is none of those invisible footnotes which seems to crowd the pages of so much Indo-Anglian fiction, explaining the nuances of Indian culture. Small Remedies — also the title of a book of “tips” on children’s illnesses given to Madhu — is a keenly observed novel. Madhu is awake to the smallest rhythms in the lives of the young couple she is living with. “When she is louder than usual, adding more flourishes and colours to her behaviour, I see that he becomes aware of what she is doing, I have a sense of his throwing a protective mantle around her, guarding her from my possibly critical look.” It is as if a bit of life, of considerable pathological interest, has been put under a microscope, but not without humour. Joe, Leela’s husband, even laughs at death. He would exclaim “Alas, poor Yorick!” at his post-mortem classes in a hospital. Some complaints, at the end. It is not explained how Madhu turns into a baby-worshipper who sees everything through “the thick haze of motherhood”. And why is Deshpande so naive in her declamations against social evils — religious intolerance, narrow-mindedness et al? But the small blemishes do not take away much from Small Remedies, a novel of quiet strength. It may not be the ideal wedding gift, but one can turn to it at less happy times.    

Napoleon On the Art of War
Edited by Jay Luvaas, Free Press, £ 13

Napoleon Bonaparte, described both as the “Corsican ogre” and the “child of the revolution” by different historians, remains an enigma even today. All scholars agree on one point: he was a military genius. His views on warfare remain an important subject of research for military historians today.

Jay Luvaas, an American historian, culls Napoleon’s thoughts about warfare from the latter’s correspondence with his generals to show that he was a great military thinker. Luvaas’s work differs on a crucial point from David G. Chandler’s The Military Maxims of Napoleon, published a decade ago. While Chandler gives his own commentary on each of Napoleon’s principles of warfare in order to assess their relevance today, Luvaas makes no comments, leaving readers to judge for themselves. Nor does Luvaas attempt to place Napoleon’s military principles within the wider canvas of post-Enlightenment Western military thought. Readers can thus use Luvaas’s information on Napoleon’s military thought mainly as reference material.

Chandler’s volume relies on the published version of Napoleon’s correspondence, dictated by the emperor during his captivity at St Helena to justify his actions to posterity. This somewhat reduces the value of the correspondence. However, the use of Napoleon’s unpublished correspondence with his various marshals, hitherto confined to the various French archives, somewhat redeems the methodology.

What makes Luvaas’s work useful is that, unlike Chandler, he attempts to organize Napoleon’s military principles in accordance with themes like generalship, tactics, and strategy. The general commented in 1799 that there is nothing ideological about the art of warfare. Napoleon focused on planning, circumstances, common sense instead.

This differs from Lenin and Stalin’s division of the art of combat into bourgeois military philosophy and socialist military philosophy. While Enlightenment military theorists searched for rigid rules of combat, Napoleon pointed out the role of the unforeseen and of the contingent, and the need for commanders to profit from accidents.

His views on the art of command is elitist: “In war, men are nothing; one man is everything. The presence of the general is indispensable. It was not the Roman army that subdued Gaul but Caesar...” This contradicts the Marxist military philosophy and the current sociological military studies undertaken in the United States which emphasize the motivation and mentality of common soldiers.

While current military studies focus on small group dynamics, Napoleon dealt with manoeuvrings with big battalions for fighting great battles. This indeed is his greatest contribution to Western military theory.

Karl von Clausewitz, the father of modern Western military thought, argued that the object of warfare is to smash the enemy in decisive set-piece battles. Thus emerged the concept of Niederwerfungstrategie — complete overthrow of the enemy, after Kesselschlacht — pocket battle for total destruction of the enemy’s force.

Napoleon’s military maxims help one understand the evolution of Western warfare, which culminated in the trench battles of World War I and the disastrous encounter battles like Stalingrad during World War II. Despite Napoleon’s assertion to construct a grand theory of warfare, Luvaas’s volume shows that he depended on European military history as exemplified by commanders like Gustavus Adolphus, Frederick the Great, et al, in order to construct his military theory. Whether any attempt to construct a global military philosophy is at all viable , however, remains questionable.    

Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography
By P.D. James, Knopf, $ 25

A strand of post-modernist scholarship has recently described autobiography as “mirror talk”. The writer talks not to her readers but to herself to face her own anguish, to clarify her own thoughts, to come face to face with herself. This definition would apply to this book by the best-known writer of detective stories though Dame Phyllis would blanche at the thought of being called a post-modernist. She is most emphatically not one and would, one assumes, like to be shorn of any intellectual pretensions. But the definition holds because this fragment of autobiography is written up in the form of a diary for one year, the author’s 77th.

The narration of one’s life-story through a diary for one year of one’s life was tried out as a genre with great success and aplomb by the actor, Alec Guiness, in his My Name Escapes Me and its sequel, Positively, the Final Appearance. P.D. James’s motive for keeping such a diary came from a line of Samuel Johnson from which the title is also taken, “At seventy seven it is time to be in earnest”. James turned 77 on August 1 1997 and she kept a diary for exactly one year. The diary is a reflective one and not a mere record of her daily activities.

A diary, by definition, is a spontaneous piece of writing. But it is clear from this text that this is not since there are signs that it has been embellished by quotations, some of them long ones, which the writer could not have written off from memory. Other agents than Mnemosyne have been at work on the text and thus enriched it from being a mere record of events.

The word autobiography in the title is apt since the persona of James comes across to the reader. She — to turn around the title of another memoir — would be a nice person to know. She is self-assured and fond of meeting people; well-read in the genre of which she is a master and in English fiction; she is profoundly religious in a very high church Anglican way; she is fond of nature, especially of that rare beauty one comes across in the English countryside; and most importantly perhaps she has a mind of her own and is not afraid to express her views strongly but in a non-abrasive manner.

What most readers of James’s novels do not know is the struggle involved in her early life. She came from a family that was placed at the lower end of the middle class. Her mother became mentally ill when James was in her teens. She could not go to university even though she was a bright girl in school. Her husband also spent long periods in an asylum for the mentally ill. James had to earn and she became a civil servant. She recounts these circumstances without any hint of bitterness. Indeed, bitterness, one suspects, is not a word in the James lexicon.

She writes lovingly about her husband, his sense of humour and the days of married life they shared. James, herself is a loving mother and grandmother but not by any reckoning a doting one. She conveys, without any sense of self-importance, the busy life she lives, lecturing to various societies, giving talks, signing books and travelling across Britain and the United States. It is in her accounts of her talks that readers encounter a very self-conscious craftsman and a mind that is seeped in English fiction. She recollects her early days as a writer and her life long relationship with Faber.

This is a book suffused with hope and contentment for “I do know myself to be greatly blessed”. Her readers too will see this book as a special gift because it brings to them a rare sensibility which struggles all the time to remain ordinary. That sensibility is captured in the following passage: “in the lane outside the park gates, I stood for a moment in complete silence broken only by the note of a single bird and the susurration of the breeze in the wayside grass. It was one of those moments of happiness and contentment which give reality to death, since however long we have to live, there are never enough springs.” She is a woman who notices such things.    


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