Editorial 1/Committed role
Editorial 2/Trial run
What began in Geneva
Letters to the Editor
State of the art/Book review
Love and life in the time of HIV/Book review
Long debates on short stories/Book review
German messiah in occupied China/Book review
Editor’s choice/Book review

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/COMMITTED ROLE 
 
 
 
 
A bundle of irrelevant recommending bodies does not make for efficiency. It is a good time, therefore, given the changes in socioeconomic reality and the general restlessness in the polity, to look again at the reasons behind the existence of a body like the law commission. The term of the present law commission, the 15th since the first was formed in 1955, is about to end, and the 16th one is being constituted. The context demands a reassessment of its function. The higher courts have been reinterpreting laws and reorienting their application in their rulings quite often in recent years, in order that the old laws be implemented justly and with relevance in a changed society. There is also a countrywide debate now on the necessity of reviewing old laws and throwing out obsolete ones. This has been declared to be the chief aim of the law commission about to be formed. More specifically, there is disagreement between legislators and the national human rights commission regarding the acceptability of the newly formulated anti-terrorism law meant to replace the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. There is controversy over the immigration laws in the northeastern states. And there is the much-discussed Constitution review panel, the agenda of which is still not clear to most. It is important to ask whether the law commission has a helpful role to play in this confusion, and if so, how. Unless it has this or another discernible function, it is pointless reconstituting it.

One of the remarkable features of the Indian law scene is the abundance of competent, even brilliant, lawyers, and the peculiar absence of a philosophical approach to law as an academic discipline. Yet it is through the understanding of how laws relate to society and the ideals of justice in a democratic republic that an intelligent, just and flexible code of laws can be formulated. The law commission, ideally, can fulfil this function, by making transparent through its recommendations the theoretical basis and functional premises of legal provisions. It is not as if that this does not happen from time to time. But there is no systematic expectation of this from the commission. There is a practical side too. One of the first jobs a law commission could undertake is evolving a system by which litigation is disposed of quickly and with least expense. More important, similar bodies in other countries have developed ways to ensure that only a fraction of the cases filed reaches the courts. Their priority has been to see that people are not unduly hassled, that disagreements are settled before they reach the courthouse. Given the huge backlog of cases in Indian courts, surely this is something the law commission should consider. Yet it is more of a bureaucratic body, a necessary convention, which suits both the ruling government and the appointees. The declared aim of the 16th commission suggests a useful role. It is now up to the appointees to make the law commission relevant.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/TRIAL RUN 
 
 
 
 
The Malaysian prime minister, Mr Mahathir Mohamad, has shown that wiliness and luck can still allow a ruler to reject conventional wisdom and flourish. During the Asian currency crisis, Malaysia took the most regressive stance. Mr Mahathir imposed capital controls, making the ringgit nonconvertible and trapping foreign capital in the country. Then, rather than loosen political strings during the crisis, Mr Mahathir made it clear the United Malays National Organization would continue to dominate politics. He put his deputy, Mr Anwar Ibrahim, on trial when the latter dissented to both policies. Doomsayers predicted Malaysia would suffer when it eventually lifted capital controls. Foreign capital would flee the country. They also warned that the popular Mr Ibrahim would inspire the first real political opposition to UMNO. Instead, Mr Mahathir has survived and come out stronger than ever. Malaysia rode out the currency crisis in self-imposed isolation. Mr Ibrahim was convicted in April last year to six years in jail for abuse of power. This week the second trial of Mr Ibrahim, for sodomy, unsurprisingly produced another verdict of guilty — and a sentence of 11 years in jail. Mr Mahathir lifted capital controls last year in September. There was no capital flight or stockmarket crash. With the economy registering an 11.7 per cent growth the first quarter of this year and foreign reserves standing at $33 billion a year, Mr Mahathir is sitting pretty.

Mr Mahathir’s survival is not as exceptional as it may seem. The ripple effect of the currency crisis rocked good and bad economies alike. Malaysia, Taiwan, Hongkong and Singapore were sound economies cursed by incompetent neighbours. All four have recovered quickly even though they followed different curative policies. If Malaysia locked itself into a cell, Singapore opened itself even more to the global marketplace. Both countries came out smelling of roses. Mr Mahathir, helped by a well publicized rhetorical battle with currency speculator, Mr George Soros, played on populist sentiment. Mr Ibrahim was a tougher case. The sodomy charge, which had been dropped last year, was a response to the surge in Mr Ibrahim’s popularity after the first conviction. A sodomy charge, Mr Mahathir felt, would more effectively ruin his former deputy’s public image. That remains to be seen. Mr Mahathir also kept his party in line by ensuring that much touted financial sector reforms bailed out various UMNO backers and his personal cronies. But the ultimate source of his survival has been his ability to get Malaysia’s economy back on line again. Prosperity has always underpinned the closed politics, open economy thesis of “Asian values”. Almost alone among the Asian tigers, Mr Mahathir continues to uphold this duality.    


 
 
WHAT BEGAN IN GENEVA 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
It is tempting, especially if you are in New Delhi, to interpret the conversation of the United States president, Bill Clinton, with the Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, last week as evidence that India and the US have buried their past and are now on the road to close friendship and partnership. Many Indians will see this as a logical corollary to Clinton’s successful visit to India in March. To the average Indian mind, the best rationale behind such an attitude is, perhaps Jawaharlal Nehru’s call in the Fifties, albeit to the country’s nascent tourist industry, to welcome a visitor and send back a friend. Those Indians who look at Clinton’s visit through this prism and link it to any future success of Indo-US relations forget the lessons of history.

Twenty-two years earlier, Jimmy Carter too made a visit to India that was short neither in paraphernalia nor in atmospherics, notwithstanding New Delhi’s proximity to Moscow forged in the Seventies. But in 1978, unlike in 2000, it was clear to Indians even before Carter left New Delhi that the welcome received by the president had made no impact whatsoever on American policy.

We will write a stiff letter to prime minister, Morarji Desai, the stubborn old man, on India’s nuclear policy when we get back to Washington, Carter had told an aide, unaware that thousands of Indians were listening to his words because a microphone close to the president had been switched on by mistake even before the function attended by Carter had begun. Indo-US relations have taken a turn for the better and the potential for this relationship in the decades ahead is immense. But this has happened not merely because Clinton made a high profile visit to India.

The upward turn in Indo-US relations is the result of a process that began 10 years ago when both New Delhi and Washington realized that the time had come to look afresh at their engagement with each other. Indeed, this process itself had many false starts and those setbacks actually offer valuable lessons in how the current euphoria in Washington and New Delhi could still be belied. Actually, Clinton’s visit this year was the result of a gradual, often difficult, improvement in Indo-US relations in the last decade, not the other way round. Of all the pitfalls that Indo-US friendship faces, the biggest is the fundamental asymmetry in their relationship.

For India, irrespective of which government is in power, the US represents the biggest priority in foreign policy. But to say that the reverse is by no means true is to merely state the obvious. In dealing with the former Soviet Union, it was enough to have periodic visits at the highest levels, orchestrated by public demonstrations of support for such exchanges. What is more, the success or failure of those visits was judged by the number of treaties and agreements signed by the two governments. The very nature of the US political system, where decisionmaking is a consensual process spread across various elements of the state, prevents replicating in Washington what was possible in Moscow.

This makes it imperative that New Delhi have clearly defined goals and objectives in dealing with Washington in very specific areas that it considers to be important, never mind the “vision statement” endorsed by Vajpayee and Clinton setting out the broad parameters of future Indo-US ties.

Vajpayee’s forthcoming visit to Washington is an appropriate occasion to take stock and judge whether this has been the case with Indo-US relations. It has been one of the quirks of diplomacy throughout history that “turning points” in relations between states are often not the ones that receive the public spotlight or come under scrutiny. The turning point in ties between Washington and New Delhi after the end of the Cold War came during a short flight from Geneva to Zurich and was preceded by a crucial meeting in Geneva between two key men in the respective administrations of Vajpayee and Clinton.

In June last year, at the height of the Kargil fighting, Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, travelled to Geneva for a hastily arranged and unpublicized meeting with Sandy Berger, national security adviser to Clinton. The meeting was low key, but its results were electrifying, not only for India, but for all of south Asia.

The meeting led to a chain of events: for the first time, the Americans proclaimed the sanctity of the line of control in Kashmir, they sent General Anthony Zinni of the US central command to Rawalpindi to convince General Pervez Musharraf that his attempt to alter the LoC must be abandoned, and finally, Clinton summoned the Pakistan prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to Washington to make him agree to a withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the heights of Kargil.

After the meeting between Berger and Mishra, the latter left Geneva to fly back to New Delhi via Zurich. On the short flight from Geneva to Zurich, Mishra had an important co-passenger — Karl Inderfurth, the assistant secretary of state for south Asia.

At Geneva airport and on the flight to Zurich, Mishra and Inderfurth had the opportunity to flush out in greater detail the key points that emerged at the Geneva meeting. Whenever there is peace in Kashmir, howsoever distant the dream may be, that peace will be traced to this crucial Geneva meeting: because the Americans categorically declared the LoC to be inviolate, the rest of the world followed Washington’s line. It subsequently led to the new US policy on Kashmir enunciated by Clinton in New Delhi on March 21.

India’s stand, unpublicized but communicated to friendly nations, that if Pakistan was to reduce the perpetration of violence across the border, India would then not be found wanting in reciprocating in Kashmir, also has its roots in this Geneva meeting.

If and when the LoC becomes the international border in Kashmir, a process begun in Geneva at that fateful meeting would have reached its logical conclusion. With only weeks left for Vajpayee’s trip to Washington, it is necessary to closely examine the Geneva meeting and its outcome. In half a century of relations between independent India and the US, it represents one of the few instances where New Delhi had a crystal clear idea not only of what it expected of Washington but also of how to go about getting what it wanted.

The debate over Vajpayee’s Washington trip ought not to be about whether it is worth his while to spend time with an outgoing administration, but whether the prime minister’s meetings in the US will afford the opportunity to repeat the Geneva experience in the years to come, irrespective of who wins the November elections to the White House.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Bare, naked truth

Sir — This is not the first time a sarpanch has been paraded nude in this country (“Sarpanch paraded nude”, August 9). Only months ago, a sarpanch in Uttar Pradesh was stripped because she was allegedly raped, and had thus turned “impure” in the eyes of the villagers. Parading a woman in the nude before mute onlookers has always been the best way of either punishing women or making them expiate their “sins”. There is no need to bat an eyelid if the same thing has taken place in Chhattisgarh. Only, when everyone supporting the women’s reservations bill said it would politically empower women, no one seemed concerned about what empowerment at the grassroots level signifies. The incident shows that people had the temerity to humiliate a woman who ostensibly holds political power at the panchayat level. So, before we announce that holding a position in government administration is, for women, synonymous with empowerment, what about pondering where the process of political empowerment should begin?

Yours faithfully,
Sudha Sengupta, Calcutta

Moment of the tribals

Sir — The people of the 18 district Jharkhand region have been rejoicing since the Bihar state reorganization bill 2000 was placed in the Lok Sabha along with similar bills for Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal on the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament. Forty five per cent of the land area of present day Bihar will go to the new state and 25 per cent of the population. The new state will also have 81 representatives in the state assembly; 28 of these will be reserved for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Out of the 14 Jharkhandi members of the Lok Sabha, six will have to be from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The state will also send six representatives to the Rajya Sabha.

There are still a couple of hurdles the bill must cross before it is finally passed in both houses. The Biju Janata Dal, a partner of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, wants the Rajkharswan and Saraikela regions of Jharkhand to be incorporated into the state of Orissa, as they are primarily inhabited by Oriyas. The BJD has even threatened to quit the NDA if its demand is not met. The Rashtriya Janata Dal government in Bihar wants Rs 180,000 crore for developmental works in central and northern Bihar. No such demand, however, was made following the creation of Chhattisgarh. There is no way the Centre can hand out such a huge amount of money.

The Congress’s blind support of the RJD’s demand may spell doom for the bill in the Rajya Sabha. The Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United), also NDA partners, are too demanding the package. Assam was divided nearly half a dozen times to create the northeastern states but no economic package was provided for the mother state. The bifurcation of Punjab too was not accompanied by any economic package. Hence there is no reason why there should be one for the three newly created states.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — The Union government deserves congratulations for ensuring a smooth tabling of the Bihar state reorganization bill, 2000. However, the contribution of thousands of tribal activists who have sacrificed their lives for the statehood cannot be overlooked. Their movement has led to the realization of the aspirations of two crore Jharkhandis.

The true picture of the new state is yet to emerge. However, the Central government would do well to declare Jharkhand “tribal territory” and arrange for resettlement of the tribals as in the case of the northeastern states.

The increase in the population of the Jharkhand region before and after industrialization, urbanization and the opening of mining is remarkable. There was nearly cent per cent land acquisition against seven per cent job reservation. Now that the area has achieved statehood, 70 per cent job reservation for the scheduled castes and tribes is desired in public and private sector undertakings and other government departments.

The Chhotanagpur Territory Act, 1908 and the Santhalpargana Territory Act, 1940 must be followed strictly to safeguard rights of the landowning tribals.

The constituencies of Ranchi, Dhanbad, Hazaribagh, Jamshedpur, Giridih, Bokaro and Bermo should be reserved for scheduled tribe candidates since most of the inhabitants of these areas are tribals.

Legislations should be passed for allowing foreign direct investment with as little Central interference as possible. There are enough competent tribals in this land who can provide effective governance for their own state. The Central government should also review the state cess fund and the royalty paid to the government for the minerals of the region. It should also make a goodwill gesture by remitting Rs 20,000 crore to the new state exchequer for development work and setting up of infrastructure.

Yours faithfully,
Abha Roba, Bokaro

Sir — The nation has played a game of political footsie by creating three new states (“Three times lucky”, Aug 7). The new states of Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand have been created in the hope that a greater devolution of powers will speed up development in these areas and benefit the people.

However, the message will not be lost on the other aspirants of to statehood like Gorkhaland, Vindhyachal, Coorg, Saurashtra and the rest. They are likely to intensify their demand of statehood. There is also a message in this for the Kashmir valley. They too can, if they negotiate with the A.B. Vajpayee government in right earnest, reach an honourable settlement with the Indian government.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Failed camp

Sir — The Camp David talks between the president of Israel, Ehud Barak, and the chief of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, have ended in failure, mainly because Israel refused to accept the Palestinian demand for Jerusalem as its capital. Historically, Jerusalem was where the Jewish nation was born. The Jewish people have forged their identity with respect to Jerusalem. As such, their claim on Jerusalem is entirely valid.

But the Palestinian Muslims’ claim is tenuous and based solely on a history of conquest. On the very site of the Jewish temple, the Muslims built the Al-Aqsa mosque. However, what remains is a portion of the Jewish temple, known around the world as the wailing wall. In 1948, when Israel became a nation according to a United Nations resolution, and Palestine refused to set up its own state, skirmishes ensued, and Israel beat back all the opposing armies. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Between 1948 and 1967, when East Jerusalem was under the occupation of the Islamic forces, the Jews were not allowed to visit their places of worship, but since 1967, when Israel integrated East Jerusalem, it guaranteed full freedom of worship to Muslims and Christians. This must be remembered, for it will make the case stronger for Israel’s claim on Jerusalem.

Yours faithfully,
T. Mani Chowdary, Secunderabad

Sir — The United States seems extremely magnanimous in the way it has been brokering peace between Israel and Palestine since 1978. It has so far spent several billions of dollars to hold peace talks in Camp David, as well as for resettlement of people in the two lands.

Given the money that the US has spent on the talks and other peace efforts, it would have been more cost effective if it incorporated the two states as its 51st and 52nd states. States like California and New Mexico and Texas were acquired from Mexico through war. In that way, the addition of Israel and Palestine will only be a continuation of the “historic” process.

Yours faithfully,
K.H. Surana, Faizabad

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph, 6 Prafulla Sarkar Street, Calcutta 700 001
Email: ttedit@abpmail.com

Readers in the Northeast can write to:

Third Floor, Godrej Building, G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007    

 
 
STATE OF THE ART/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY SHIREEN MASWOOD
 
 
The New Cambridge History of India Volume I, Part 7: Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates
By George Michell and Mark Zebrowski, Cambridge, Rs 1,500

A comprehensive history of Deccani art and architecture has been long overdue. The book under review seeks to fulfil expectations of the lay reader and arouse the curiosity of the informed scholar about the cultural traditions of the Deccan. Covering a time span of 500 years from the 14th century to the end of the 18th century, the volume follows a direct chronological approach within a simple format. Commencing with a brief survey of political events, the authors divide the work broadly into sections dealing with architecture and art respectively. George Michell examines the principal monuments, both secular and religious, while Mark Zebrowski studies the major artistic traditions in miniatures, textile designs, metalwork and stone-crafted objects. Both contribute to the chapter on decorative styles and to the concluding analysis.

The authors’ central thesis is that the evolution of an idiom which is quintessentially Deccani is the result of diverse external influences, which came in successive waves, and the ongoing responses of indigenous tradition thereto. The influences have been dealt with in detail and the dynamics of their absorption explored intelligently. This approach may be a help, but caution has to be exercised as it could lose sight of the ethnic fountainhead of the artist’s creativity.

The intense impact of west Asian culture, the close identification of local ruling groups with Irano-Saracenic religions and political traditions and symbols, the regular migration of scholars, theologians, sufis and others appear to have informed the varied dimensions of Deccani culture. This was facilitated and reinforced by the ability of the Deccan sultanates to hold their own first against the Delhi sultanate and then the Mughal empire. Interaction with the north has, however, not been ruled out entirely, as borne out by surviving monuments of Mughal influence in the Deccan. The authors have posited the concept of a “hybrid” tradition of Deccani Muslim culture, which unfortunately remains a mystery, partly because of inadequate documentation (which is inexplicable, unless there existed a hidden political agenda), and partly because of a wide dispersal of different works of art. At the same time, a case is made out for the creation of “new and intrinsically Deccani idioms”.

The main body of the text is a study of Deccani art and architecture in some detail. Michell covers architectural traditions of surviving monuments, both sultani and Maratha. Deccani forts and palaces initially bore the imprint of Tughlaq stylistic and technical features. The impact of Iranian traditions maturing in the ceremonial gateways and steeply pointed arches and recesses and in the axial alignments of urban planning is felt particularly at Bidar. The Nizam Shahis and Adil Shahis made necessary additions to originally Bahmani structures. An interesting technological detail is mentioned with reference to water management. The techniques of cutting the channels into rocks, complete with masonry roofing was imported from Iran. Several Bauris or water tanks at Aurangabad and Bijapur and the Panchakki water mill are excellent examples of this inducted technology.

Daulatabad and Aurangabad provide evidence of Mughal building activity. While both secular and religious structures tended to conform to standardized architectural patterns of north India, they are not always archetypal. This precluded the possibility of local traditions being dwarfed by a dominant north Indian tradition. Michell also deals with Maratha temple and fort architecture. Maratha architects freely used Mughal style cusped arches, fitting them into niches and spires of their temples. This was perhaps part of an 18th century project of inventing a pan-Indian imperial idiom at the height of Maratha power. But to refer to the Ajnapatra as “a textbook on martial tactics and fort building” is to limit the scope of this normative treatise on statecraft and administration.

In the sphere of surface decoration, there was a gradual movement from geometric and floral motifs inherited from the Delhi sultanate to more naturalistic, local patterns. Later Bahmani and Nizam Shahi buildings display a new range of Iranian and occasional Turkish traditions in calligraphy, stylized plant forms and arabesques. Interestingly, calligraphic panels tended to select Quranic passages which emphasized the Shia profession of faith. More important, names of patrons and details of construction are also inscribed. If this is read with a tendency among some artists of inscribing their names on paintings, then it certainly marks an assertive departure from the preferred anonymity of earlier times. By the mid 15th century, innovative tendencies helped to assimilate and transform foreign influences into a native language of culture.

Zebrowski’s survey of Deccani painting corroborates Michell’s observations regarding stylistic multiplicity. Diverse yet parallel idioms coinciding with sponsorship and patronage established a correlation between style and dynastic ambition. Paintings commissioned by different dynasties reveal clearly distinguishable modes. Besides, Deccani miniatures of the 17th century Bijapur and Golconda ateliers affirm a quintessentially Deccani lighthearted spirit. It is the mood , rather than the narrative, which dominates the image, especially in the late 16th century Ragmala series, which Zebrowski ascribes to a hybrid Rajasthani-Deccani school of painting.

The illustrations and the text of this volume have been meticulously compiled by two established art historians. Good indexing, a comprehensive bibliography, an impressive array of 16 colour plates and 200 black and white illustrations, dynastic lists of Deccan rulers are a boon.

What might have enriched the volume is an engagement with the artist or artisan and his social milieu. Brief and scattered mention is made of the dispersal of artists. But was there anything similar to the bazar art that flourished concurrently with the court ateliers in the north? The coexistence of such a non-organized sector of artistic output might have allowed the artist a private space for his aesthetic and creative expression and encouraged the growth of a more sustained popular culture. This would have drawn into focus the dynamics of a market operating in the exchange of such art and the issue of resources available for such an enterprise.

In fact, the economics of architectural and artistic exercises has not been touched upon. Even approximate estimates of costs involved might have helped to assess the relation of expenditure to public revenues. Again, shifts in patronage from the core areas to peripheral sites of power have been alluded to, but without specific reference to the equations between patron and client. Perhaps these questions are not central to this volume, and any book which generates interest enough to raise queries is certainly an excellent read.    


 
 
LOVE AND LIFE IN THE TIME OF HIV/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY AVEEK SEN
 
 
Sex, Lies and Aids
By Siddharth Dube, HarperCollins, Rs 295

“It’s not enough to know just a little bit”, a middle-aged Mumbai professional dying of AIDS tells Siddharth Dube. This book is Dube’s lucid, compelling and indefatigably researched attempt to stem the tide of denial, prejudice, ineptitude and bigotry that characterize Indian attitudes and policies on AIDS. As a journalist and international health policy analyst, Dube’s “overwhelming concerns” have been throughout public health and poverty. This larger view of the political and economic determinants of private behaviour maintains the balance between passionate commitment and tough-minded pragmatism in Dube’s survey and critique.

AIDS statistics in India are notoriously unreliable. But at the beginning of 2000, the best estimate is 50 lakh HIV positive Indians: about 10 times the number in end-1991 and one-eighth of the global total. Of the 16000 people contracting HIV every day across the world, 3500 are Indians. Only Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand have a larger proportion of their population infected, out of the 19 south and southeast Asian countries. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are in the thick of true epidemics (two out of every 100 adults infected), with Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Nagaland and Manipur following right behind.

Dube’s image for this alarming scenario is of a fire in a “tinderbox forest”: “Imagine that you live in a village by a large forest. Imagine that you realize that for some reason a devastating forest fire is likely, which will certainly destroy the village and kill many people. Imagine that only a few other villagers also see this is likely to happen. And then imagine that the others just scorn your fears, saying that they have far more urgent things to worry about”.

Dube’s prime concern is with establishing the fact that AIDS in India remains a sexually transmitted disease and can be contracted by “every sexually active Indian — poor or middle class or rich, woman or man, aged fifteen or sixty, in school or college, working or unemployed”. It also implicates everybody shaping their private, professional, social and medical lives: family, employers, doctors, bureaucrats and politicians, all of whom are responsible for India’s grave mishandling of the situation for decades. The comforting and benighted mindset that AIDS is “a disease of deviants, the marginal and the poor” will have to be shed, together with a cluster of equally dangerous attitudes that gathers around this myth.

Why does India top world HIV figures? asks Dube. He enumerates India’s “multiple vulnerabilities”. These include society-wide discomfort about anything to do with sex, refusal to accept that many men frequent sex workers or have sex with other men, lack of information for young people about sexuality, safer sex and sexually transmitted diseases, extreme poverty and illiteracy, the terrible oppression of women, lack of basic health care and the laws and public attitudes leading to the oppression of vilified groups (sex workers, men who have sex with men and drug users).

But Dube’s book also seeks to dispel the repressively punitive and apocalyptic thinking that results from the association of AIDS with sexuality. And this is not just a question of changing attitudes, of sincerely believing that “nobody, absolutely nobody, deserves to get HIV/AIDS”, but also of enjoying an informed and vigilant sexual relaxedness, resisting the moral conservatism of much of India’s government-sponsored AIDS campaigning.

This is best reflected in a series of dispassionate and nonjudgmental portraits of 12 Indians, sick or dying with AIDS, coming from every walk of life and from various parts of the country. But perhaps most remarkable is the book’s annexe, “A Kama Sutra for the Age of AIDS: How to have Safer Sex”: an unsqeamish and delightfully polysexual guide that is the best expression of the Dube’s level-headed subversiveness. The illustrations are by Mario Miranda. It is grimly ironic that Indians might be forced to shed their profound discomfiture and two-facedness about sex by a deadly epidemic.    


 
 
LONG DEBATES ON SHORT STORIES/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY ARNAB BHATTACHARYA
 
 
English and the Indian Short Story
Edited by Mohan Ramanan and P. Sailaja, Orient Longman, Rs 325

Historically, the origin of the Indian short story can be traced back to the likes of Kathasaritsagara, the Panchatantra or the Jataka tales as well as the rich tradition of folktales and legends. But as a specific genre of fictional prose, it is more or less a postcolonial development in India. It would be unfair to undermine the Western influence on the stylistics and narratology of Indian short story writing, even if we consider the conscious and sincere effort by the Indian authors to indigenize and appropriate the Western models.

English and the Indian Short Story is a compilation of 16 articles selected from papers presented at a national seminar in 1994 at the department of English, University of Hyderabad. The articles cover a wide area, touching on a cluster of allied themes. Obviously, “English” here is an amorphous signifier, which connotes not only the language used in translation and in original writing, but also the Western-cum-English socio-linguistic culture, the political economy implicit in the English speech-pattern, the colonial hegemony purveyed through its use in the Indian society. These issues are integral to Indian short stories, both in English and in vernacular languages.

The introduction, cogent and comprehensive, makes a frank admission: “It is obvious that no strict classification of the papers will satisfy because there is so much overlap.” But the “overlap” notwithstanding, the focus keeps shifting, with a discernible trail of thought tying them together. As a result, the book generates a sense of thematic progression in spite of being a collection of separate articles by different authors. This, of course, argues well in favour of the organizational aspect of the book.

The article by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, entitled “The Malayalam Short Story — Evolution, Influences, Original Perspectives” is different in its thematic orientation. She takes her stance in defiance of K.M. George’s observation that “the impact of the West is clearly visible in the blossoming of the modern short story”. She discusses the linguistic and narrative tradition of the Malayalam short story with all its cultural overtones in order to highlight its “highly individualistic and indigenous strain”.

T. Sriraman’s “Indian Englishes and the Indian Short Story in English” is an interesting study of English as a crucial socio-linguistic factor in determining the class-relationship in a given Indian society. In this context, he discusses such Indo-Anglian short stories as Khushwant Singh’s “A Bride for the Sahib” and Shashi Tharoor’s “The Village Girl”, which portray the festering of marital relationship through gaps in communication, leading to emotional lacunae between husband and wife, who use different English speech patterns.

M. Sridhar and Alladi Uma’s article “Problems in Translating ‘Sati Savitri’” and Sudhakar Marathe’s “English and ‘Country’ short story in India: A Responsibility” emphasize the regionally coloured and culturally loaded indigenous expressions imbued with subtle dialectal variations. Marathe’s six-point formula for enhancing the standard of English translation of Indian short stories merits special mention.

Though insightful and reasonably thoroughgoing, the feminist essays by Tutun Mukherjee, Ranjana Harish, D. Murali Manohar and Rekha Pappu give the impression of being loosely integrated into the volume in view of the general thematic design of the book.

The concluding article by S. Viswanathan provides a concrete “location chart” delineating the ubiquitous “operativeness of ‘English’ in its linguistic and literary identities” in Indian short stories. In the ultimate analysis, the rich variety of essays in this book makes the editor’s claim that “this volume hopefully will initiate a debate” appear rather modest.    


 
 
GERMAN MESSIAH IN OCCUPIED CHINA/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
AMARESH DATTA
 
 
The Good man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe
Edited by Erwin Wickert, HarperCollins, $ 26.95

Born in 1882, John Rabe of Hamburg, Germany, came to China in 1908 to work for a Hamburg- based business firm. In 1911, he joined Siemens in Peking. With the exception of a few breaks, his stay in China spanned more than 30 years. Even when China declared war on Germany in 1917, he was able to convince the authorities of the long term usefulness of the Siemens office in Peking and was allowed to stay on unlike many other Germans who were ordered out. This was made possible by his genuine concern about the Chinese and his unconditional acceptance by the people around him.

A man of no special distinction, Rabe’s wanted nothing more than to be an honest businessman. But his humanity came through in his actions, and in his congeniality, common sense and sense of humour. And these endeared him to the people across socioeconomic barriers, even though he did not learn Chinese (he knew English and French very well). The humanitarian side to his nature was never revealed so well as during the six months between October 1937 and March 1938, when the Japanese occupation of northern China was accompanied by brutal killings, rapes and largescale torture and devastation.

By then, Germany under Adolf Hitler had signed the anti-Comintern pact with the Japanese government and had also decided to withdraw all military advisors from China. Though Rabe did not know what was actually happening in his own country, he had to accept, willy nilly, the National Socialist government of Hitler. Yet when he sensed that massacre of thousands of Chinese civilians was a grim possibility, he, with his American friends, immediately built up a safety zone in Nanking, then the capital of China .

In the meantime, he had become director of the Siemens branch in China and virtually the mayor of the capital city. He had therefore attained a position from which he could exert some official influence. He risked his own safety, but unflinchingly used his clout by holding out his swastika armband at the marauding army officers, all for the urgent humanitarian task he had taken upon himself. He thus managed to save about 250,000 Chinese lives from the Japanese invaders.

The diaries preserve for posterity his deeds and experiences of during those traumatic six months. He was called back to Germany in March, 1938 and demoted to an insignificant position in the firm. He retired at the age of 65 and two years later, died an impoverished man, with all his good work completely forgotten. He was not allowed to publish his diaries in his lifetime, which have been discovered and published only recently.

The diaries reveal Rabe as a good samaritan as well as a man of great daring, capable of getting things done even in times of severe crisis. By nature a simple man, he was appalled by the atrocities around him and felt himself pulled by a sense of duty towards these men, women and children in danger and distress.

On his 55th birthday on November 23, he declared with rapture that the promise of the supply of two trucks with drivers, gasoline, flour and so on for the victims of the Japanese aggression, now under his care, was his real birthday gift. The diaries provide details about what happened, whom he contacted or confronted and how he went about his great humanitarian mission, and make fascinating reading. Rabe can rightly be called the prototype of Oskar Schindler of Hitler’s Germany.    


 
 
EDITOR’S CHOICE/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
 
 
Shakespeare’s Kings the Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485
By John Julius Norwich, Scribner, $ 30

That memorable classic on English history, 1066 and All That, described Henry IV as “a split king’. The reference is to the two plays Shakespeare wrote on that king. Shakespeare’s greatest history plays cover a century and a half of English history, from the reign of Edward III (1327-77) to that of Richard III (1483-85). This period was tumultuous because it was one of incessant fighting, within England and in Europe where England was engaged in the Hundred Years War with France.

Shakespeare wrote these plays when England was in relative peace under Queen Elizabeth. The war and bloodshed that England saw under the later Plantagenet kings served to highlight the benefits of peace the country enjoyed under Good Queen Bess. The history plays were written, in most part, when Shakespeare was still in his twenties. The transition from disorder to order served as a grand subject fit for his Queen. The years had their own drama and tragedy and it was this that Shakespeare tried to capture in his plays.

Norwich repeatedly emphasizes that Shakespeare was nothing if not a playwright and it would be a mistake to read him as one would a historian. Norwich excludes in this book mythical monarchs like Lear and pseudo-historical ones like Cymbeline. Only those of Shakespeare’s kings who are rooted in history are discussed in this book with the exception of King John — the play on him, “which, for all its faults, is all, or almost all, the work of Shakespeare — and Henry VIII (the play is probably by John Fletcher). This book attempts to hold up to the light of history the greatest of the history plays on the unfortunate Plantagenet rulers. The purpose is to “establish where that light shines through unclouded, where it is shaded or refracted and where — as occasionally occurs — it is blocked out altogether.”

The choice of Edward III within the bard’s canon might raise a few eyebrows. But Norwich is on sure ground here as the play has been included both in the New Cambridge edition of the plays and in the Arden edition. Moreover, Shakespeare’s hand is obvious in lines like “’Tis not a petty dukedom that I claim,/ But the whole dominions of the realm;/ Which if with grudging he refuse to yield,/ I’ll take away those borrow’d plumes of his/ And send him naked to the wilderness.”

Norwich sets the context of the plays with detailed political histories of the reigns of the various kings. These are mostly to do with battles, encounters of kings with their parliaments and lords, marriages and alliances. There are also fine descriptions of the kings and of their characters. He then recounts what Shakespeare did with this raw material. Shakespeare often collapsed together incidents, played around with time and used his imagination to fill the gaps in the sources that he used. He never claimed historical accuracy but he was never, as this book shows, too far from the facts of history.

Shakespeare brought his magic to the mixture of history and theatre and successfully amused, inspired and even educated his audiences. Even today his history plays are the best guide to the politics of medieval England. Norwich knows his history and knows his Shakespeare and he has a unique mastery over the interplay between text and context that underpins Shakespeare’s history plays.    

 

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