Editorial/ Captain who sank the ship
Mixed up and modern
Letters to the Editor
People/ Salman Rushdie

If a moralist like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was to read the confession of Hansie Cronje, he would see in it enough evidence to launch a jeremiad against greed and its pitfalls. Indeed, Cronje’s testimony before the commission investigating corruption in sport in South Africa reads like the story of the fall of a simple man driven by the desire to make easy money. This apparent simplicity should not deflect from the enormity of the wrong perpetuated by the sacked South African skipper. Nor should it be allowed to hide certain aspects of the testimony. Cronje admits that there was at least one occasion on which he spoke to the entire squad about an offer made by a bookie which involved throwing away a match. The team turned down the offer. But the incident should have made them aware that their captain was in close touch with bookies. This should have alerted them and made some of them articulate their refusal to play under a captain who dealt with bookies. That this did not happen is an indicator of the atmosphere which prevails in pavilions and dressing rooms in the world of cricket today. Any proposal to make a few extra bucks is deemed worthy of discussion. In other times, the very idea that a plan to throw away a match in return for considerations could come up in a team meeting would have been taken as an insult by cricketers. But the South African team actually discussed the offer before rejecting it. This by itself is a sign of the changed values in the playing arena.

The lapse in values is also suggested in the manner in which Cronje, even at this stage, attempts to introduce a distinction between taking money and throwing away a match. Throughout his testimony, he admits that he took money a number of times from bookies and passed on information to them but he takes care to emphasize that he always played his normal game once he was on the field. Here Cronje is really testing the credulity of cricket lovers and revealing himself to be a master dissembler. The implication is that taking money is less of a crime than fixing matches. There is enough in Cronje’s evidence to show that once the bookies had got their nails into Cronje they began to exert more pressure on him. The nature of this pressure is unknown but Cronje would have been super-human if he had continued to play his normal game under that kind of pressure.

For Indian cricket lovers, cricketers and cricket administrators, Cronje’s testimony is a little short of devastating. The deposition states clearly that Mohammad Azharuddin introduced Cronje to a bookie. It is easy to dismiss Cronje’s statement as rubbish, as Azharuddin has done, and to ask for proof as some officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India have done. Shady deals with bookies leave behind no documentation; bribe givers do not ask for receipts. This is not a matter of legal niceties. At issue here is the integrity of players — an intangible, but nonetheless an important, concept. A player, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion in matters like betting and matchfixing. There are no reasons for a player to keep the company of bookies and punters. It is obvious that there are cricketers who are now under suspicion. In this realm of public credibility, the legal principle of innocent till proved guilty is irrelevant. In India, the entire matter is being submerged in the world of proofs and in what is admissible evidence in a court of law and such like. These things only help to cover up reality. India has already had one enquiry which gave all concerned a clean chit. The present enquiry has made no progress and it shows all the signs of becoming a perpetually ongoing one. South Africa has shown that it is possible to move swiftly. But in India there is a proneness to fight shy of too much reality. The tortuously long legal process only feeds this tendency.    

New York, London and Paris are our only world cities. They are truly cosmopolitan world centres with their inescapable and global mix of races, classes, cultures, religions, languages and ethnic groups. A recent visit to both New York and London brought this home rather forcefully. New York is almost a third world city and any trip on its subway would seem to confirm this. Non-whites far outnumber whites, even more so than in the London Underground. But of course, one reason for this is that the race-class symbiosis in the United States is much stronger than in the United Kingdom and white New Yorkers are much more likely than blacks, Latinos and many recent immigrant groups from Asia and Africa to travel by cars and taxis, because they are on an average considerably better off. After all, New York is still part of the US, which is the car society par excellence.

Apart from a few urban centres like New York and Chicago, metro mass transit systems are very poor. Inter-city transport is dominated by car travel, with trains in particular being both expensive and their service erratic. Being a car society is also the main reason why the US is still a radio society, with flourishing local radio stations of all kinds tuned into by a vast number of commuters.

But London provides a far more genuine and a deeper cultural mix than New York. In New York, the cosmopolitanism is a somewhat uneasy amalgam. Whatever the daily contact in travel and work, most non-white ethnic groups go back to their rather separate milieus and compartmentalized existences.

No amount of cross-cutting in food cultures, radio music, the common celebration of television and sports spectacles, or visits to organized ethnic spectacles (films and plays) really alters this “packed insularity”. Of all the advanced industrialized countries, Britain is the most densely urban with over 95 per cent of its population living in towns and cities. In no other country (apart from the city states) is there so high a proportion of the populace living in one city as is the case with London, which houses one-fifth of the total population of the country.

This denseness is the necessary, but not sufficient, condition for genuine cosmopolitanism and real racial-ethnic-cultural integration to take place. Global youth culture, itself disproportionately influenced by youth behaviour in world cities, is one major marker of modern cosmopolitanism and here the influence of London in the last forty years has been greater than that of New York, though not of the US as a whole.

London also reflects and shapes Britain to a much greater extent than New York does the rest of the US. In the imagination of the contemporary youth — and not only the youth — in Britain, London, substantially because of its cosmopolitan air and its racial mix, symbolizes “decadence” and “self-indulgent” freedoms in a way that New York does not to anywhere near the same extent. Los Angeles or the suburbs of the super-rich in southern California are as potent symbols of decadence and self-indulgence, if not more so. If in the US “decadent freedoms” are associated more with wealth, in Britain it is associated more with the “cultural excesses” of extreme urban intermingling. It is in London not New York that one will find more numbers of, and more variations on, the “Benetton family”.

The reference is to the Benetton ads featuring people of African, Asian and European origin. So this time around, one met Joe, a Malaysian Chinese (therefore darker-complexioned than the average Hong Kong Chinese) married to Sandra, a white Scotswoman, who had a black West Indian daughter from a previous relationship, who in turn married a white Australian and gave birth to a brown-skinned daughter and a baby boy who happens to be blonde and blue-eyed.

On their recent holiday in Italy, the Italians could only be utterly befuddled by Chinese grandfather, black daughter and white infant travelling together and referring to one another as family members. Yet such complicated admixtures are by no means uncommon in boroughs like Hackney in London.

Perhaps of particular interest to us should be the different general character of the Indian diaspora in the US and Britain, New York and London. In Britain and especially London, the social, personal, cultural and political connections between Indians and other non-whites (and even whites) are far stronger than in the case of the US and of New York in particular. But at least the denser melting pot of New York has a stronger humanizing influence on the Indian diaspora than in most other places in the US.

New York also shows another kind of Indian, from a poorer and more deprived background, less privileged than his more elitist professional counterpart. These Indian migrants therefore have to struggle collectively with fellow Indians, south Asians, non-whites and fellow white class compatriots to improve their conditions of living — witness the famous taxi strike of recent times in the City led by organized south Asian taxi-drivers.

British Indians, for the most part, came from poorer backgrounds, or if they were from east Africa, experienced downward social mobility after arrival, and have a wonderfully rich history of collective struggle against all kinds of injustices. Not surprisingly, in Britain and London, Asians and Asian-dominated activist groups have been in the forefront of anti-racist struggles.

The monitoring group based in London, which helped co-ordinate the campaign around the landmark Steven Lawrence case, is probably the most advanced anti-racist institution of its kind anywhere in Europe and has no parallel in New York. This campaign forced the British government to acknowledge, for the first time ever, the existence of “institutionalized racism” in the police force. Can we in India imagine getting this government to accept the existence of “institutionalized communalism” in any of its state apparatuses?

The difference between such British Indians and the large bulk of upper-class, upper-caste, Indian professionals in the US is glaring. The character of this category is beautifully summed up by a recent book just released in the US called The Karma of Brown Folk by a young Indian scholar-activist, Vijay Prashad, in Connecticut. The title is a deliberate reference to W.E. Du Bois’s The Soul of Black Folk, where Du Bois poignantly and caustically asks American blacks, “How does it feel to be the problem?” Prashad asks much of the Indian diaspora in the US in an altogether more cynical tone, “How does it feel to be the solution?” It is a brilliant quip, which aptly sums up the average professional Indian American.

When on visits to India, the “Americanness” of this lot makes them feel superior to ordinary Indians and even to those from their own social background. When in the US, their “Indianness” (often Hindutva-inspired) makes them feel superior to ordinary Americans, including their social peers. Either way they can’t lose. It says a lot about the character of much of today’s elite residents in India that both the location and the life patterns of this category of Indian Americans are their guiding ideal.

One of the most powerful impressionistic differences between the US and Britain is the sense of great geographical space that the former evokes not just generally but in the way people live and towns are planned. Not surprisingly, the US really has only three real cities — New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The others, even Los Angeles, are more town-centres with agglomerate suburbs. Britain has many more genuine cities of various sizes. London, at least, also leaves the impress of another kind of space — of the mind and of ever-expanding possibilities in cultural and social life.

If one’s recent trip to the US and New York was educative and enjoyable (the cultural delights of New York, from museums to galleries to cinemas and theatres, are perhaps without global peer) the trip to Britain and especially London was not just enjoyable but humanizing. For all their flaws, world cities also hold out their very special modernizing promises.

The author has recently co-authored the book South Asia on a Short Fuse: Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament    

Going potty after golf

Whenever the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, is in the capital, he spends a lot of time in his favourite haunt, the DLF Golf Club. Needless to say, he is an ardent golfer. Last time, when Abdullah was returning from Gurgaon after a round of golf, he made a rather intriguing stop.

He got off at a three-storeyed sanitaryware store on the way to New Delhi. The first two floors display Indian sanitaryware, and the Italian stuff is kept on the third floor. Farooq spent more than three hours inspecting and admiring the Italian marble potties on the top floor.

This bemused the accompanying officials no end. “What’s his problem?”, they were heard asking among themselves.

Swing back to where it matters

In a reverse turn, union minister of state for telecommunication and West Bengal BJP leader, Tapan Sikdar, is getting close to the party’s Central leaders. For a long while, Sikdar was in their bad books, as Trinamool Congress chief and railways minister, Mamata Banerjee used to complain against him for his high-handed behaviour. But with the West Bengal BJP’s organizational elections round the corner, the scenario seems to be changing. Sikdar has improved his relations after he has reportedly informed party functionaries in New Delhi of Mamata’s expected interference in the forthcoming organizational polls.

He has also told the leadership of how Mamata was backing the party’s dissident faction, led by Sukumar Banerjee and his associates. “Didi is against the current state unit president, Asim Ghosh, who is Sikdar’s man. That’s why she is desperate to get him replaced by Banerjee during the organizational polls”, said a Sikdar loyalist. He also claimed to have information about the Trinamool Congress providing funds to the dissidents “to ensure the defeat of Sikdar’s man”.

That Sikdar has scored his point was apparent after the leadership decided to send former party MP Sushma Swaraj to Calcutta early next week to dissuade Banerjee from contesting the polls. “We will see to it that Mamata’s efforts fall through and we will form a consensus on the appointment of a new state unit president”, said a key BJP functionary. Against this backdrop, relations between the two allies are bound to get somewhat complicated in the run-up to the June 25 civic elections. This is evident from Mamata’s decision not to campaign in support of the BJP nominees.

The days are not full enough

All is not well in the petroleum ministry. The two ministers of state, Santosh Kumar Gangwar and E. Punnuswamy are unhappy over the way they are being treated by the officials in their own ministry. A few months ago, the Union minister had passed an order that all files on all issues, irrespective of work areas allocated to the two ministers, should be routed through them. But no files have come to them to date. Both ministers had complained to the senior minister, Ram Naik, at the end of May. But that, too, was of no avail. Hence, both ministers are jobless and hardly ever come to their offices, as all files are going straight to Naik.

This state of affairs has sent out the wrong message. The PSUs have also started ignoring the hapless ministers. When a function is to be organized, their permission is taken before carrying their names on the invitation cards.

Gravy train for the connected

Doordarshan used to be a ticket to big money for anyone fortunate to get a commissioned programme from the national broadcaster. No longer, though. Since Arun Jaitley became the minister for information and broadcasting, DD has slashed the payment for most commissioned programmes and pushed quite a few others into the sponsored category.

However, the producer of an unremarkable daily breakfast show is fortunate not to have either his slot changed, or have the payment for the same slashed from the daily rupees three lakh to a more reasonable sum. He has been heard to boast of his connections with Jaitley and the prime minister.

Desperately seeking Sibal

Congressmen are desperately looking for Kapil Sibal, who was last known to have been poised for flight to the US and the UK. He needs to submit some proposals to utilize his rupees two crore MPs area development fund unutilized for three years. But he seems to be missing.

And so life goes on

Rajesh Pilot’s sudden demise stunned everyone, but his friends in the party feel he had a premonition of death. Two days before the accident, Pilot called up about 20 Congressmen, including Digvijay Singh and Ajit Jogi, saying he just felt like calling them up. On June 9, he held an hour long meeting with Sonia Gandhi to sort out some misunderstandings. Perhaps this is the first time Sonia Gandhi showed true leadership qualities in giving an emotional farewell to a man who could have seriously challenged her leadership, if he had lived. While his supporters shouted slogans, leaders from the Congress and other parties were in tears.

Despite the grief, however, the race for Pilot’s OBC Gujjar legacy has already begun. In a desperate bid to hold on to his support base, Sonia Gandhi has decided to field Pilot’s wife, Rama, from Dausa. An astute politician, Rama was seen handling the crowds and addressing Pilot’s supporters at his funeral. Another contender is Avatar Singh Bhadana, the MP from Meerut. Attired in a Pilot- like turban, this Jat leader from Haryana fancies himself heir to Pilot’s political legacy.    

Poetry makes nothing happen

Sir — Was the victory in the Panskura byelections so great that one could make a song and dance about it? Or poetry, for that matter (“Poetry outpour from victor’s pen”, June 12)? Admitted, the credit goes to Mamata Banerjee much more than to the candidate, Bikram Sarkar. But hadn’t the Keshpur violence already prepared the grounds? The civic polls have already proved how ineffectual much of Banerjee’s soundbytes were, though the few seats the Trinamool Congress won were all gains, since the party did not exist the last time around. It is time the Union railways minister concentrated on the ground realities. Or she might still be writing poetry when the state is down in the dumps.

Yours faithfully,
J.B. Chanda, Asansol

Good governance

Sir — The report, “Governor to meet Jadavpur teachers” (May 9) was another instance of the present governor of West Bengal, Viren J. Shah, choosing to be different from his predecessors. He has also declared recently that he would not sit idle at his official residence, but visit different places in the state. True to his word, he has already visited the disturbed areas in Midnapore and Hooghly.

Do-little governors are well liked by the ruling politicians. There have already been cries against “judicial activism”. The governor’s interest in matters of state might soon be ridiculed as “gubernatorial activism”. However, in the eyes of the common people, both judicial and gubernatorial activism are welcome to fill up the political and administrative vacuum.

Yours faithfully,
Haridas Chakrabartti, Calcutta

Sir — It is heartening to know West Bengal has a governor eager to step out of the Raj Bhavan to visit districts and gain direct knowledge of administrative matters. But it is unlikely that the governor will be successful in his mission, given that he will have to spend his time in the district circuit houses surrounded by district officials and leaders of political parties. One hopes the governor’s mission does not turn out to be futile.

Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banerjee, Bolpur

Sir — Viren J. Shah’s recent visits to Midnapore and Hooghly have triggered speculations that the governor may now begin interfering in the functioning of the state government. But Shah’s gesture is dynamic, since no conscientious governor can decorate his chair while the state goes to the pits. Following Shah’s example, governors need to show greater dynamism in carrying out their functions. The Constitution should also ensure greater power and independence for them.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — While in the opposition benches, all parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, criticized the Congress for appointing ardent Congressmen like Kumudben Joshi, Chenna Reddy, Ramlal, Romesh Bhandari and others as governors to carry out the party will in the states. The criticism is valid.

However, the BJP is seemingly getting Congressized. Two active BJP politicians have already been appointed as governors. Active politicians can never make good governors as they cannot be expected to shed their party leanings overnight. The BJP should stop playing the patron to its partymen and offer such prestigious and responsible posts to the intelligentsia instead.

Yours faithfully,
V. Ramachandrudu, Hyderabad

On home ground

With a great sense of expectancy, an Indian father brings his British-born and educated son to India. The man desperately wants his son to feel a sense of recognition in the land of his father’s birth. Will the son make a gesture by wearing Indian dress, for example?

“I can’t tempt him into Indian national dress,” admits this father.

The boy protests: “It’s just not my style.”

He prefers to stay in his “young Londoner’s uniform of T-shirt, cargo pants and sneakers”. The dilemma is typical for any Indian father who has had to bring up children in foreign lands. Only in this case the father is Salman Rushdie, who is introducing India to his 20-year-old son, Zafar.

In the 10,000-word account of his recent homecoming — published last week in three parts in The Times, in the New Yorker and other prominent publications abroad — Salman reveals he can be quite an agreeable and vulnerable human being when he stops being Rushdie, the self-important and sanctimonious darling of the literary glitterati in London and New York. Although Midnight’s Children, widely recognised as a landmark in the literary landscape of Indian writing in English, has been dedicated to Zafar, he has not read more than the first three chapters. “In fact, apart from Haroun and the Sea of Stories and East, West, he hasn’t finished any of my books,” his father says sadly.

As Zafar is introduced to the sights and sounds of India, many of which find echoes in Rushdie’s novels, the boy can only think of his mother. “If Mum was here she’d insist on coming to that,” he says of the son et lumière at the Red Fort. Claire Luard, Rushdie’s wife before Marianne Wiggins and Elizabeth West, died in November last year of breast cancer, aged 50. There is just the trace of self-justification in Rushdie’s comment: “Zafar and I spent most of her final hours by her bedside. He is her only son.” In 1974, Salman and Claire had spent four months in India, “roughing it in cheap hotels”. Now, “what began as a little father-and-son expedition acquires an extra dimension”.

The story of how the author came to be in India is, briefly, as follows: last year, to the great credit of the Indian government and Jaswant Singh in particular, Rushdie was given a five-year multiple entry visa. He chose the occasion of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize to make his first visit to India since August, 1987. In the long years of exile, during which he fought the Iranian fatwa, Rushdie made common cause with the fashionable gora folk of London such as Harold Pinter and Martin Amis. However brilliant he might be as a writer, the British public has never warmed to him. Somewhere along the line, the Bombay boy, who attended Cathedral school before he was packed off by his father to Rugby at 13, lost touch with his basic Indianness.

In his overlong account of his return to paradise — it is safe to assume he was paid by the word — he writes almost like a foreigner encountering the country for the first time. He is discomfited on arrival by the “Delhi heat” and notes that the Hindustan Ambassador is “a car that is itself a blast from the past, the British Morris Oxford, long defunct in Britain”. He is put out that “the Ambassador’s air-conditioning isn’t working”. He observes how “Coca-Cola is back with a vengeance”, the “one million trucks blocking the road”, and offers the reader his unremarkable views on Indo-Pakistan relations, Bill Clinton’s trip, the disarray within the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress Party, the unprincipled Congress-Laloo alliance in Bihar, and that in Delhi “it’s hot; almost 110°F, above 40°C”.

Parts do read like a schoolboy essay penned after a cursory reading of the Indian press or picking up a rickshawallah’s gossip. He also plays to the gallery by mimicking the way his police minders spoke English: “Sir, there has been exposure! Exposure has occurred!”

Oh, how his white friends must be chuckling! Perhaps Salman should take up writing sketches for Goodness, Gracious Me, the TV comedy which allows the Brits to laugh at browns without having to write the gags themselves.

Despite all the agonising over the heat, he fails to steer Zafar away from rotten shrimps, which knock the poor boy out for part of the trip.

The portrait of Rushdie as a Vilayat-returned is, alas, not an engaging one. Nor can he gracefully accept literary defeat on the big night. He reasons that “the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize goes to J.M. Coetzee, thanks to the casting vote of the spectre at the feast, the stone-faced Indian judge Shashi Deshpande”. It does not occur to him that the judges might have felt that the South African’s Disgrace was actually a better work than his own The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

In marked contrast, he is able to communicate his genuine sense of wonder (“The sky is on fire with stars. I go into the back garden by myself. I need to be alone.”), as only Rushdie can, at being back in Anis Villa, the family home his paternal grandfather, Mohammed Din Khaliqi, had built in Solan in the Simla Hills. He named it after his son, Anis Ahmed, who later took the surname Rushdie. He, in turn, gifted the house to his son, Salman, on his 21st birthday.

Thanks to the efforts of Rushdie’s lawyer and now friend, Vijay Shankardass, the house had been wrested back from the clutches of the Himachal authorities. As Rushdie reacquaints himself with its high-pitched pink roofs and little corner turrets, the house — “more beautiful than I remembered” — and India reclaim the returned prodigal son.

Both the police and Rushdie are mightily relieved that only 200 protesters — “and 200 marchers, in India, is a number smaller than zero” — gather in Delhi. Unlike V.S. Naipaul, who was in India at the same time, Rushdie says he does not see the rise of Hindu fundamentalism as a great outpouring of India’s creative spirit. “I see it as the negation of the India I grew up in, as the triumph of sectarianism over secularism, of hatred over fellowship, of ugliness over love.” In Delhi, “what bursts out is not violence but joy”. The actor Roshan Seth, recovered from serious heart problems, welcomes him back with a hug and the words: “Look at us, yaar, we’re both supposed to be dead but still going strong.”

While gifted young Indian writers say generous things about the significance of his writing for their own work, he turns round to see Zafar speaking fluently and movingly to television about his own happiness at being in India. “My heart overflows,” confesses the father. “There are few such moments in a lifetime. Forgive me for saying too much about this one. It is a rare thing to be granted your heart’s desire.” He concludes: “India is the prize.”

What’s more, Zafar has consented to wearing white pyjamas, though not kurtas — “still, progress of a kind”, his father notes.    


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