Editorial 1/Seat of honour
Editorial 2/Buttered guns
Matchmaking over Kabul
Letters to the Editor
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here/Book review
What to do with the grey eminences/Book review
It’s curtains for the old song and dance routine/B
Alchemist of colour, line and shade/Book review
From a brownstudy with love/Editor’s choice

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/SEAT OF HONOUR 
 
 
 
 
Dissidence is a wearing phenomenon, as the Bharatiya Janata Party has found in Uttar Pradesh. The defeat of its candidate, Mr Dabendra Singh, by Mr Devendra Pratap of Mr Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Party in the assembly byelection in Soron is a dramatic exposure of the damages being sustained by the BJP in UP over time. The victory was unexpected because Soron has traditionally been a saffron constituency from the Jana Sangh days. On top of that, the sympathy factor, which worked in some seats up for bypolls in the other states, should have gone in favour of Mr Dabendra Singh. He is the son of Onkar Singh, a Lodh close to Mr Kalyan Singh, and whose death caused the byelection. But this time the Lodh vote went to the RKP, separating itself from the Brahmin and upper caste votes, which comprise the rest of the BJP support. That Mr Kalyan Singh has proved that the Lodh vote will follow him wherever he goes has a lot to do with the dissidence that began within the BJP when he was chief minister. The party high command messed that one up, till Mr Kalyan Singh left and the general impression was created that the BJP has no place for backward caste leaders. The induction of Mr Ram Prakash Gupta as chief minister has not ended dissidence. Now the discontent is directed against the high command itself, since Mr Gupta was New Delhi’s choice. Soron is just one small manifestation of the damage being wrought.

Yet sympathy won the day elsewhere. In Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad, down in the doldrums in the last two Lok Sabha elections, retained Nalbari, where Ms Alaka Desai Sarma won after the murder of her husband, Nagen Sarma. The AGP also took away the Congress held Bhabanipur seat. The other sympathy wave was evident in south Bihar’s Nirsa assembly constituency, where Mr Arup Chatterjee, son of the murdered Marxist Coordination Council legislator, Gurudas Chatterjee, won over his Forward Bloc rival. The MCC is an ally of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which is jubilant at the remarkable victory of Ms Rabri Devi at Raghopur. Ms Rabri Devi’s success outstrips her husband’s in the number of votes, and seems to doubly legitimize her first entry into the state assembly. If Ms Rabri Devi were to claim her victory margin as an index of the RJD’s effectiveness in the state, she would be preempted in Haryana by Mr Om Prakash Chautala, whose son, Mr Abhay Singh Chautala, achieved a startling win in the Rori assembly seat, threatening to send the Congress into oblivion. Similarly, the Biju Janata Dal candidate and wife of the state finance minister, Ms Kumudini Patnaik, won the Aska parliamentary constituency vacated by Mr Naveen Patnaik, on the basis of the BJD wave in Orissa. Even without the UP fiasco, the BJP has not shown up at its brightest in the more notable of the byelections.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/BUTTERED GUNS 
 
 
 
 
The chief of army staff, General V.P. Malik, recently told the Confederation of Indian Industries that the military would like to open up the defence sector to India’s private firms. He said India’s private sector should make spare parts and provide substitutes for imported defence supplies. The kind of imports he had in mind were high technology force multipliers like surveillance, communications, night vision and targeting equipment. The public sector, which dominates India’s defence production, was technologically too backwards and too limited in its manufacturing ability to provide such equipment. This arouses dreams of a military industrial complex of the United States variety. But the smallness of Mr Malik’s vision, the limits of Indian corporations and the opaqueness of the defence procurement system should dispel such thoughts. It is notable Indian businessmen poured cold water on Mr Malik’s idea. Avoiding the defence market is a simply good business. There is only one buyer and often only one contract in each market niche. If a company invests in developing a certain weapons system, but loses the contract to a rival, it can neither export nor find an alternative domestic buyer. India’s lack of ad hoc approach to strategy makes it difficult to predict what types of weapons and technology a company should specialize in. Finally, the defence procurement system is wholly opaque. Purchases are based more on bribery and connections than on military necessity or security planning. Even if an Indian company leads the world in a certain weaponry it has no guarantee the bureaucratic-political clique that controls defence purchases will choose its system on merit. On top of that, Mr Malik wants the private sector role to be limited to peripheral equipment. Finally, as many Indian firms found in 1998, being even remotely connected to the ministry of defence can mean falling victim to international economic sanctions — and losing access to technology, capital and markets. Under the weight of such negatives it is difficult to see why any private firm would have any interest in defence production.

This is not to say it would not be beneficial to have a large private sector stake in defence purchases. Military spending entails the loss of much foreign exchange. The public sector defence sector is grossly inefficient, incapable of absorbing any technology transfers and — as shown by the Arjun tank — nightmarishly bad at producing new weapons. Getting a bit of the defence budget could help invigorate the Indian private sector. The US defence industry produced many civilian spinoffs like the transistor, frozen orange juice and the internet. It is possible for at least a start by passing some of India’s defence billions to the private sector. The first step: make the defence procurement process more transparent and more broad based.    


 
 
MATCHMAKING OVER KABUL 
 
 
BY MANVENDRA SINGH
 
 
It is a curious fate among nations these days that positions on tiny, landlocked Afghanistan are driving some countries closer to each other — and driving canyons between those who were once close allies.

For example, India and Iran spent much time recently talking about Afghanistan, and the developments within Teheran’s war devastated neighbour. India and Iran have been discussing Afghanistan over a period of time, and find a great deal of commonality in each other’s positions on the issue.

It isn’t merely the growing energy needs of India that are driving New Delhi and Teheran together. There is also a certain regional responsibility on issues such as Afghanistan where the larger subject of accommodation, stability and progress are the driving forces. At the same time, Pakistan and the United States have also been discussing Afghanistan, and for a considerably longer period of time. Their discussions are only driving the two former “strategic allies” further apart.

The recent visit by the United States undersecretary of state, Thomas Pickering, to India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan has once again highlighted the centrality of Afghanistan to any discussion on international terrorism.

So much so that the Russians have once again opened up on their position on Afghanistan. And it sounds so remarkably akin to that of the US that it would be naïve to assume there was no prior consultation.

Second things first. Pickering said, “It is hard for me to conceive of the fact that Pakistan’s continued support to taliban is irrelevant to the question of the possibility of Pakistan playing a constructive role in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice”. This as emphatic as diplomacy permits. The sound bite is also important, given Pickering’s number three position in the US state department. And now the first thing second.

“I would not rule out the possibility of preventive strikes if a real threat arises to the national interests of Russia or our allies in the region,” said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the presidential spokesman in Moscow, when describing “as a real possibility” the use of airstrikes against taliban controlled Afghanistan.

The catalyst for this emerging Russian position was a bin Laden meeting with certain Chechen militants where a commitment was made on sending volunteers to fight the Russians in Chechnya. The meeting surely could not have taken place without the knowledge of and facilitation by the taliban regime. With the Russian defence minister, Igor Sergeyev, having publicly declared that of the 1500 militants active in Chechnya 600 are “foreign militants,” the centrality of taliban Afghanistan in any discussion, debate and diplomatic activity in the region becomes clear to all. Coupled with the information on the bin Laden-Chechen meeting, Russia’s urgency becomes all the more clear.

It can be nobody’s case that a country should attack another, especially when there is no declared war between the two. Such acts smack of an arrogance that is reminiscent of an earlier era of international relations. Developing countries have always had an objection to this form of diplomacy, and particularly those of south and west Asia, exposed as they have been over the years to superpower rivalries of the Cold War.

But then what does a nation do when it is targeted by another in the form of a covert undeclared war? A war fought not in the battlefields between armies, but an undisguised war fought far away and involving the lives of innocents.

The US faced this form of attack in 1998, and retaliated in August the same year by raining cruise missiles on the training camps run by bin Laden. Since that retaliation there has not been any similar terrorist attack on US targets. So then would the Russians not be tempted, or justified, in launching a similar series? They have a case, as do the central Asian nations neighbouring Afghanistan. All are united in their concern regarding the taliban regime.

There is then the United Nations security council resolution 1267 of October 15, 1999, imposing sanctions on the taliban regime. Resolution 1267 also went on to state that “the suppression of international terrorism is essential for the maintenance of international peace and security”. No emphasis need be added to highlight the importance of this sentence.

So after taking into account the myriad problems that emanate from Afghanistan little wonder then that every nation in the area is concerned by the taliban, its “guest,” Osama bin Laden, and the wider ramification of their activities. The nations in concern range from Iran to China.

There is one nation that is secure in its belief in the taliban and splendidly isolated from this regional apprehension, and that is Pakistan. Besides the taliban reaction to the Russian warning, Islamabad has of course been the only one to provide a negative response. Some countries have supported the Russian move, even if only privately. Others have, by the sheer strength of their silence.

Taliban and Pakistan are united in their objections to such international sentiment — and in their international isolation. It must be a terrible feeling for a nation that aspires for a leadership role in the Islamic world to be spoken to on just three subjects — disarmament, economic survival and terrorism. Such is Pakistan’s predicament today.

It is increasingly difficult for Islamabad to fudge on terrorism in particular anymore. When it does, the world gives it no benefit of doubt. If ever there was even an iota of doubt about the “Pakistan — taliban — bin Laden connection”, it should have been put to rest by the straight language used by Pickering. Pakistan is clearly held responsible for the continued refusal of the taliban to hand over bin Laden, just as it continues to be held responsible for acts of terrorism against India.

One of the more curious statements that emanated from Pakistan during the hijacking of Indian Airlines IC 814 to Kandahar, Afghanistan, last year was that Ibrahim Azhar, one of those identified by India as a hijacker, was on umra to Saudi Arabia. That was almost six months ago, and he has yet to turn up in public in Pakistan and declare his innocence. Those with him who were also charged with the same crime are also still at large.

It is obvious he has been taken away to some safe place, away from prying eyes. All the more so since he also happens to be the brother of Masood Azhar, one of the militants freed by India in the swap at Kandahar. The hijackers could not have sought his release if he did not have any connection with the group they represented.

Azhar is once again under ‘protective custody’ in Pakistan. In plain English, what it means is that he has been taken into the Pakistani establishment to prevent him from making a nuisance of himself in these difficult times for Islamabad. Or that there are those in the establishment who fear he might utter some terrible truths were he to get carried away during one of his public appearances.

The silence of all those responsible for the hijacking is intriguing, to say the least. The nexus between the hijackers and the taliban, with Kandahar as the venue, and their final escape into Pakistan is intriguing. In its isolation over the terrorism issue Pakistan can no longer continue to wish away its culpability. The world has seen through Islamabad’s thinly veiled screens. That is why, along with two distinctly related issues, the world talks to Pakistan only about terrorism.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Keep it in the family

Sir — Does Jagmohan honestly believe his sermon from the mount will be followed by his own flock, not to speak of the other black sheep in India’s political family (“Clear out, Jagmohan tells parties”, May 31). Delhi’s prime real estate has been in the clutches of its politicians for decades now and Jagmohan’s flimsy notices are unlikely to shake the roots that have been struck there. We have heard of Devi Lal making a makeshift cowshed in the heart of Delhi, of former presidents’ wives — Jagjivan Ram’s for example — permanently occupying property their husbands had been given in their official capacity, of the sons of former prime ministers “inheriting” official residences, of former ministers unwilling to give up their houses after their parties are thrown out of power, of a daughter of the Nehru-Gandhi family very conveniently being allotted a “residence” for security reasons. Lutyen’s Delhi is the property of Politicians of India Inc. Inheritances are also kept strictly within the family.

Yours faithfully,
J. Sen, Calcutta

All play and no work

Sir — The news of the recent series of bandhs in West Bengal is disturbing. It is a state that figures on the lower rungs of economic development. Although from time to time the West Bengal government makes noises about creating a favourable climate for investments, the state continues to fall behind in the race for investments. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, not to speak of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, have been fast overtaking West Bengal in every way.

One of the main reasons for this decay is the political uncertainty caused by frequent agitations, bandhs, strikes, rail rokos and so on. This is contrary to the image of political stability that the state government would like to project. Things have come to such a pass that one would not be surprised if railways or roads are blocked in localities following a quarrel between husband and wife.

All this is causing immense hardships for common people. Unable to get suitable jobs, many residents of West Bengal are forced to seek employment in other states. Given a chance and a conducive environment most of these people will be more than happy to get back home. But our political leaders (of all hues) have their own ideas, and refuse to understand what is crystal clear even to the man on the street. Their irresponsible behaviour has made a joke of West Bengal — once a pioneering state in the country. We cannot allow this rot to continue forever. Eminent personalities and organizations in the state should seriously think of combining their efforts to put an end to something that has spread like a cancer in the state’s economy.

Yours faithfully,
Kaushik Sarkar, Mumbai

Sir — Mamata Banerjee’s claim that her party does not believe in bandhs is politically motivated. Why did her party call a sudden 12 hour Hooghly bandh on February 15, 2000? Banerjee also tried to make up for lost opportunity by dubbing Jyoti Basu’s reign a “jungle raj” (“Cong pips rivals to Thursday bandh”, May 23). And vowed to make up for it at the Centre. What can the Centre do? Her being the railways minister does not even stop her party workers from blocking railway tracks. She should demonstrate her disapproval of bandh politics by stopping this.

Yours faithfully,
Anjani Kumar Pande, Calcutta

Sir — How does a bandh help redress grievances? Political leaders and government officials should instead interact with ordinary people on a regular basis, through newspapers and television.

Yours faithfully,
Subhrajit Bhattacharya, New York

Sir — Marxist dadas should realize that in their 23 year reign, they have led people to take bandhs as windfall holidays. It does not matter who calls the bandh; all bandhs will be successful in West Bengal. Else why should the buses be half empty during the last bandh called by the Congress.

Yours faithfully,
H.P. Mitra, via email

Sir — This is a city that, if editorials are to be believed, is fast losing its grip on economic realities and wallowing in bandh culture. A Calcutta based company, Infar Indian Limited, decided to keep the organization working on May 25. Most employees turned up at its various units across the city — obviously deciding they had had enough of bandhs and politicians. Of course, the administration too helped. There is perhaps a lesson in this for corporate Calcutta. Instead of cribbing about the city’s work culture, they can ensure adequate assistance to employees who want to work on bandh days. After all, employees and their work culture are only as good as the management of their organizations.

Yours faithfully,
Anindita Guha, Calcutta

Death in Dibrugarh

Sir — The way the police and district administration unleashed terror in Dibrugarh on May 8 (“Two killed in Assam firing,” May 9), would put Britishers, who killed thousands of innocent people at Jalianwala Bagh, to shame. Guns were fired at every streetcorner of Dibrugarh by the police and the surrendered United Liberation Front of Asom militants.

The root of all this was the funeral procession of Seodhar and Dheeraj Paswan, victims of surrendered ULFA extortionists. Father and 15 year old son were abducted and tortured for a huge ransom. Later, the two were brutally killed and their bodies found afterwards. There were two more people, Jiban Pal and Yousuf Khan, who died in the firing when police ostensibly tried to “control” the “mob fury”. How long can one stand such injustice, when the police appear to be involved in it as well?

Yours faithfully,
Rajat Gupta, Dibrugarh

Sir — The recent killings in Dibrugarh is shameful. Everyone knows the atrocities were inflicted upon innocent people by the surrendered ULFA militants, except perhaps the police, district authorities and the press. These people have a parallel power structure with the help of the government, district authorities and the police.

Running protection rackets — hafta — they also attempt to extort property from people. All contracts of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, Indian Oil Corporation et al, are forcibly appropriated by them.

They constantly kill and kidnap. They also roam about freely with arms in the name of protecting people. No one dares protest out of fear. So these state sponsored goons continue to carry out their crimes unabated.

Yours faithfully,
Samit H, Dibrugarh

Lookalike who?

Sir — It is amazing how biased people can be. Letter writers to The Telegraph have expressed adverse reactions to the Pepsi commercial allegedly featuring a lookalike of Hrithik Roshan (“Ad wars”, May 21).

But, in a commercial for Sprite, Shah Rukh Khan was caricatured in a similar way, as were Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammed Azharuddin. Not too many people objected in letters to newspapers then.

Yours faithfully,
Saima and Fouzia Mushtaque, Calcutta

Sir — The Pepsi commercial has earned the wrath of Rakesh Roshan, it seems. But advertisements are made for the promotion of products and do not intend to snipe at individuals. Take the Clinic All Clear advertisement, where Salman Khan and Govinda have been caricatured by Shah Rukh Khan. Salman Khan and Govinda have not objected and there’s no reason why Hrithik Roshan, or his father, should.

Yours faithfully,
Sonam Sharma, Calcutta

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

 
 
ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY YAJNASENI BHATTACHARYA
 
 
An Obedient Father
By Akhil Sharma, Viking, Rs 395

Two things dominate this first novel by an Indian investment banker from New York — sex and shame, and they make for a revolting combination. What binds the novel together is the nauseating and graphic account of a father who repeatedly has sex with his 12-year old daughter and his attempts to run away from that reality.

Ram Karan, a 57-year old inspector in the department of physical education in the Delhi school system, supplements his meagre salary by collecting bribes for Mr Gupta, a small time Congress boss. However, his life and career are remarkable only for their lack of dignity. What makes it worse is his realization that he is no good. “My panic in negotiations was so apparent that even people who were eager to bribe me became resentful.”

As he struggles to support his now widowed daughter, Anita, and eight-year old grand-daughter, Asha, the old demons come back to torment him. His awareness of Asha’s burgeoning prettiness signals the beginning of a frighteningly familiar journey. “I wondered whether I was finding beauty in Asha because her youth was a distraction from my own worries, like turning to a happy memory during distress.”

This sexual tension combines with the precarious political situation Karan finds himself in as Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated and Mr Gupta seriously considers joining the BJP. Even his flat is a microcosm of the hell hole his world has become, its narrow confines and wretched surroundings stifling all human warmth.

One is left gasping for relief as page after grim page lays bare a lifetime of violence and sexual abuse. One of the adjectives used to describe the novel is “funny”. One wishes the description were accurate. Even Karan’s bumbling attempts to terrorize the supercilious principal of a missionary school — one of the “funny” bits, presumably, are oppressive. The scenes that remain fixed in the mind are ones of violence and guilt. Karan’s visits to prostitutes, his elaborate and brutal seduction of Asha, and the memories of his childhood. “Violence was common. Grown men used to rub kero- sene on a bitch’s nipples and watch it bite itself to death,” he says of life in his village. Or this: “But for four or five nights there was the same horror. The details of what we did, Anita...breathing as though there were sand in her lungs, were so terrible that whenever I finished I felt as if I were swallowing my tongue.”

As descriptions of this nature abound, the novel becomes something to plod through, full of depravity for depravity’s sake. One begins to wish that Karan was caught out, if only to provide the reader with some respite. When his wife finally does find out, her reaction is cathartic but ineffectual. She ends up helping her husband conceal the crime, leading to Anita’s frighteningly calm realization, “Back then I felt Ma believed that I had partially seduced Pitaji. I thought Ma’s aimless anger came from having to sacrifice herself for someone like me.”

Anita, whose narrative alternates with that of her father, is a scarred, traumatized wreck, though, as Karan rationalizes, “there was nothing that marked her as damaged”. On her wedding night, terrified by her husband’s clumsy attempts at sex, she wonders “whether it would hurt as much as it had with Pitaji”. She constantly traces her sorrows back to those few nights of agony. “I always knew,” she tells her father. “Everytime you touched me, everytime you made me touch you, I knew.” She is the shadowy backdrop to Karan’s desire for Asha, constantly watching out for the slightest hint of trouble, monitoring her father’s every move.

As Ram Karan is denied dignity even in death, the abiding image of him is his own description of his wasted life, “All those years gone so quickly that even describing them doesn’t take long. Big things do not happen to you and so you think time is not passing. You jiggle the years in your pocket thinking you are a rich man, and suddenly you have spent everything.”    


 
 
WHAT TO DO WITH THE GREY EMINENCES/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY SHAMS AFIF SIDDIQI
 
 
India’s Elderly: Burden or Challenge?
By S. Irudaya Ralan, U.S. Mishra, P. Shankara Sarma, Sage, Rs 475

On the one hand, India’s population has crossed the billion mark and the country must find the resources to feed this enormous population On the other, the country faces a challenge from another quarter that it must face with imagination — the steady increase in the numbers of the elderly. The book under review is the first of its kind to throw light on the subject and examine it with sympathy and foresight.

It is estimated that the elderly population of the country will touch 177 million by 2025. Undoubtedly, this will have an effect on the economic and social life of the country. But there is also a silver lining in the overcast sky. If the government succeeds in tapping the potential of the vast experience of this segment of the population they may prove to be an asset rather than a liability. Many factors like improved health care have increased the life span of the average Indian. The situation must be turned to the advantage of the entire nation.

The book packs in a lot of information on the subject. The authors rely on extensive surveys, case studies and group discussions held all over the country, in villages as well as in cities. Along with the statistics, the book also depicts the human side of the problem and the neglect with which society treats these people who were once of service to the nation. The elderly are generally looked upon as a burden by the family as well as the country.

Divided into seven chapters, the book goes into the demography of ageing, policies and programmes initiated by the government, living conditions of the elderly and their own opinions as well as recommendations for future action.

There statistics are broken-down according to states, sex and marital status. Even informal categories like beggars have not been left out. There are sections on pension, gratuity, provident fund and other security schemes as well as government health schemes and other voluntary organizations for the aged.

But the most interesting part deals with the life histories and perceptions of the aged themselves, which includes their ideas on happiness, on growing old and so on.

The book’s one drawback is that it relies too much on data. This makes it read more like a census report or a ready reckoner, heavy going for the lay reader. The authors could have made it accessible to a wider readership by including essays from various fields. Though a laudable attempt, the book will be of use mainly to institutions, government agencies and experts working in the fields of gerontology and demography.    


 
 
IT’S CURTAINS FOR THE OLD SONG AND DANCE ROUTINE/B 
 
 
BY ARNAB BHATTACHARYA
 
 
Playwright at the Centre
By Shanta Gokhale, Seagull, Rs 795

While Bengali proscenium theatre can claim to be the oldest in the history of Indian theatre, Marathi theatre is richer on account of its versatility and experimentation. It was in the 1840s that Ramnarayan Tarkaratna came up with the landmark production, Kulin-Kul-Sarvashwa, in Bengal, while Vishnudas Bhave heralded the sangeetnatak with Sita Swayamvar, in Maharashtra, produced at the behest of the raja of Sangli. From then on, the two traditions ran parallel to each other and defined the course of Indian theatre in the next 150 years.

In Playwright at the Centre, Shanta Gokhale charts the growth of Marathi drama from 1843 to the present. The book centres around the rich tradition of writing plays in Maharashtra and points to the over-emphasis on the inviolability of dramatic texts, which undermines the visual and choreographic aspects of plays.

The introduction is pegged as a “rapid journey” through 100 years of theatrical tradition. It is interlaced with insights and analyses of specific texts. Gokhale delves into the sociological factors which pitched Bhave into the limelight as the author of refined musical plays which drew on the “Bhagwat Mela” tradition, breaking away from ritualistic cults like dashavatar and tamasha, a raunchy, low-brow form of entertainment.

But, the popularity of sangeetnatak suffered with the emergence of a university-educated audience more in tune with Western models of drama. This resulted in new “bookish” or prose plays being written. In the final phases of sangeetnatak, music was over-emphasized and drama, all but consigned to obscurity.

Organizations like the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh and Indian National Theatre tried to resuscitate sangeetnatak, providing an ersatz experience of the golden age. The book also quantifies the contribution of fringe groups like the Progressive Dramatic Association which spawned the Theatre Academy — producers of Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghasiram Kotwal.

Marathi theatre of the Eighties and Nineties is comparatively lacklustre. Gokhale includes comments by modern playwrights like S. Manohar, Premanand Gajri and Shafaat Khan and evaluates their place in the history of Marathi theatre.

The book may be of enduring value but is not without flaws. Some attention could have been directed at folk or children’s theatre to make the survey more holistic. Also, the points of concurrence and divergence of the mainstream and offbeat theatre traditions, in terms of theme and treatment, have not been properly delineated.    


 
 
ALCHEMIST OF COLOUR, LINE AND SHADE/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
 
 
The Goodricke group, India, and the Lawrie group, UK, have collected close to 40 drawings and paintings by Ganesh Pyne. And now the two corporate organizations have published the handsomely illustrated GANESH PYNE: REVELATIONS by Geeti Sen (price not mentioned). The book, divided into six sections, is organized thematically. The themes relate to the images most often found in Pyne’s oeuvre. They also help in some ways to categorize the collection. The text is linked to each work in the collection and the manner in which it relates to his oeuvre. The introduction describes Pyne’s vision — the elements of fantasy, mystery, mythology. The second section deals with the drawings. The third describes the fountain motif while the fourth comments on journeys through water. The next sections feature subjects drawn from life and people. Sen writes well, delving into literary sources to find parallels in Pyne’s work.    

 
 
FROM A BROWNSTUDY WITH LOVE/EDITOR’S CHOICE 
 
 
 
 
Dreaming by the Book
By Elaine Scarry, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, $ 26

Writers through their words invoke the readers’ imagination. This is the only thing that verbal artists understand as much as painters understand paint and composers musical sound. Elaine Scarry’s absolutely brilliant new book analyses how writers light up the human imagination. She draws on writers ranging from Homer to Seamus Heaney and brings to her aid philosophy, cognitive psychology and literary criticism. She imprints on her readers’ minds the visual power of words and captures that ineffable ability great writers have to set readers off on their own dreams and quests. In many ways this is a book that defies description and breaks boundaries between disciplines.

She demonstrates how writers use five ways to make pictures move in our minds. First is by radiant ignition. “Sprays of light can bear their own weight or lift something heavy: they can like a golden envelope, surround an object or, like a glistening worm, move inside it.” She illustrates this with passages from The Iliad.

Second comes rarity. It is a property that belongs to weightless things such as shadows or reflections, or to things that are nearly weightless like butterflies. This is an area where the mental image and the piece of the world being represented “are aligned as virtually identical because both are nearly weightless”. Solid objects are so emptied of their solidity that they appear airy, rare. Thus writers can make hair, paper, light cloth, flower petals and so on continually and effortlessly move around in the mind. Take two examples, one from Madame Bovary and the other, more unforgettable, from Wuthering Heights: (1) “At such moments they had already said good-bye, and stood there silent; the breeze eddied around her, swirling the stray wisps of hair at her neck, or sending her apron strings flying like streamers around her waist.”

(2) “I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.’’

A third mental practice describes the movement of the mind from picture to picture or across a set of objects that are a composite of some larger thing. Witness John Donne: “License my roving hands and let them go/ Before, behind, between, above, below.”

A fourth mental practice conjures up handlike images — stretching, tilting, folding. Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights describes her walk with Catherine back to Thrushcross Grange after they had strayed out into the moors, “We stretched toward home.” Flaubert describes a series of actions of Emma, “Emma reached to a high shelf for two liqueur glasses…then tilted to one side…because it was almost empty she had to bend backwards to be able to drink…and with her head tilted back, her neck and her lips outstretched, she began to laugh at tasting nothing…and then the tip of her tongue came out from between her small teeth and began daintily to lick the bottom of the glass.”

Scarry calls the fifth way “floral supposition”: literary passages that are especially good in prompting us to create moving pictures that have flowers in them. To take another example from Bronte’s novel: “‘Look miss!’ I exclaimed, pointing to a nook under the roots of one twisted tree. ‘Winter is not here yet. There’s a little flower, up yonder, the last bud from the multiple of blue-bells that clouded those turf steps in July with a lilac mist.’”

This barebone summary does scant service to the richness of Scarry’s book. She writes beautifully, weaving between day-dreaming and dreaming-by-the-book. She argues for the greater vivacity and multi-dimensionality of the latter. But great works of literature, by allowing us to enlist practices that writers deploy, enable us to act on our own day dreams.

Scarry is self-conscious enough to admit that the practices she describes are not consciously practised by writers. There exist no esoteric rites of transference like Heaney on floral supposition (“Look for a man with an ash plant in the boat”) or Allen Grossman on the secret of radiant ignition (“Poetry is a kind of sky writing”). Scarry gives to us the gift of dreaming about Homer and Emily Bronte discussing somewhere their respective preferred mental practices.    

 

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