Editorial 1/ Wired unity
Editorial 2/ Omnibus problem
Small state of mind
Talking in bed/Book review
New responses to old queries /Book review
Vintage stuff from past master/Book review
Memories of a modern war/Book review
Goodbye typewriters, hello desktop/Bookwise
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ WIRED UNITY 
 
 
 
 
The most farsighted report on the tangled web of India’s broadcasting, information technology and telecommunications sectors has been issued and quietly ignored. One of the constellation of committees set up by the prime minister to review India’s wired industries, was asked to look at the convergence of telecom, internet, cable and broadcasting television. Mr Fali S. Nariman, the committee head, issued the panel’s report last week. Its recommendations are sweeping, radical and completely sensible. Mr Nariman has approached the problem with a simple and accurate premise. The driving force in these sectors is technology — not finance, government or industry. Technology is rapidly merging the programming and services that is to be found in a household’s television set, its telephone and its computer. Today, television sets are linked to the web, the internet provides telephony and cellphones are email senders. The Nariman report logically argues the existence of separate regulatory bodies for each of these sectors is meaningless. Instead, it takes the whole kit and caboodle and distinguishes three basic parts. One is content — the programming, advertising and information stored and broadcast on all these systems, from soap operas to computer files. Second is carriage — the services, networks and wires used to carry this content back and forth. Third is spectrum — the regulation and apportioning of the electromagnetic spectrum that is the only finite source of the information age. It recommends an overseeing bureau for each part of this troika. It then puts them all under a single super regulator made by merging bits of the Union information and broadcasting ministry and the telecom regulator. The report echoes the recommendations made last year by a committee headed by the industrialist, Mr Ratan Tata.

Converging technology will inevitably lead to converging of regulation. It makes sense for India to take the future in its hands and jump ahead of the world in this matter. At present, regulating the wired world is grossly cumbersome. The department of telecom was broken up into three sections. The telecom regulator has been split into two. There is talk of further bodies for television, radio and so on. It will be a matter of time before they begin squabbling with each other. Is internet radio broadcasting or infotech? Is internet telephony telecom or cyberspace? To top it all, digital regulation is increasingly difficult to oversee. The government panels have shown considerable vision. Unfortunately, an inherent conservatism and, more importantly, a ministerial and bureaucratic desire to not surrender turf and pelf has ensured that convergence is imprisoned in the realm of theory rather than practice. As some observers have noted, the Nariman report points to the near abolition of the ministries of telecom, infotech, and information and broadcasting. Unsurprisingly, two of the concerned ministers have been unenthusiastic about the report.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ OMNIBUS PROBLEM 
 
 
 
 
Respect for basic traffic conventions is the exception rather than the rule in Calcutta. As witness to this statement one could cite innumerable examples but the most recent one is the most telling. A very well known school in south Calcutta has withdrawn all its buses because the police objected to the buses being parked in front of the school and causing traffic jams. Every school has an obligation to the neighbourhood in which it is located. This obligation dictates that the buses, when parked, should not block roads. This is not a problem that affects just one school. It has a broader dimension related to urban planning. In south Calcutta, within a radius of about a mile and a half there are a number of very good and popular schools. Every morning before school begins and every afternoon when it gets over, traffic outside these schools come to a standstill. There are too many cars and too many buses and of course there is a crowd of children. One immediate solution suggests itself to this problem. Schools can be shifted from the more populous parts of the city to the less populous parts. This will ease traffic congestion within the city and also give schools more space. In modern urban planning there is a strong tendency to move away from the centre. Even business houses are moving away from the city centre. The idea of the City, as represented by the Square Mile, in London is a thing of the past.

This is not to say that moving schools away from the heart of Calcutta will solve the traffic problems of the city. The growth of cars in Calcutta is completely disproportionate to the increase in the surface area available to vehicular traffic. Added to these is the utter disregard most Calcuttans have towards conventions that globally regulate the movement of traffic and pedestrians. Traffic lights are violated with aplomb; nobody pays the slightest respect to zebra crossings; subways are hardly ever used; “no parking” signs are ignored and so on. Police fight a losing battle because they do not have enough powers to immediately penalize an offender. Periodic drives are not enough, there has to be sustained and daily effort to train the people to follow conventions. Calcutta, “chance directed” a la Rudyard Kipling, is an unplanned city par excellence. In more leisured — and perhaps more gracious times — this was its charm. But to become a modern metropolis, it needs to plan its future and also to undo past wrongs. One step in this direction which can be immediately taken is to make car owners pay the full commercial price for the many services that the state provides for them, police services being the most obvious example. This might even reduce the number of cars and thereby the possibilities of traffic snarls. This may not be easy in a state pandered by state subsidies. But the alternative is disaster.    


 
 
SMALL STATE OF MIND 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Early this year I had pleaded, in these columns, that those claiming to be leaders formulate, for those they lead, a sense of the larger identity we share instead of feeding their more petty, more insular, emotions. That was in the context of the growing demands for Uttarakhand, Vananchal and Chhattisgarh, and one certainly was not trying to stop the unstoppable; some things, as King Canute demonstrated to his crowd of flattering courtiers, will happen, in spite of you. But the argument for an awareness of a larger identity still holds. In fact, the emergence of these three new states makes the argument much more urgent.

Is the emergence of these three states something to celebrate? Those in the regions now termed states will certainly organize noisy festivities, but do they have good reasons to do so? Belonging to these new states will mean a new set of rulers, staying perhaps in cities relatively more accessible geographically — Raipur or Bilaspur are easier to get to for those in the new state of Chhattisgarh, and Ranchi is certainly more accessible to those in the new state of Vananchal than Patna. But geographic proximity does not always mean you can get to the rulers and that more easily than if they were far away. It may be just as difficult, and, in all probability, just as expensive. The reason is obvious enough.

These rulers are no enlightened statesmen; had they been, they would have led their constituents wisely and instilled in them that sense of a larger identity that would have made the need for such states superfluous. They are petty chieftains, who are determined to arrogate the symbols and emblems of power they have coveted for so long and which they felt they could not get in any other way.

Now they can ride in white Ambassador cars with the national flag flying from the bonnet, a red light flashing from the roof and a police pilot and escort with wailing sirens. Now they can dispense favours, patronage, and receive, with appropriate, seeming indifference, the servile adulation of flatterers. Above all, now they can make money.

Shibu Soren, it is claimed, took a large amount of money to vote for the P.V. Narasimha Rao government — several crores, going by published reports. Were he to become chief minister of Vananchal, will he deny himself what he will then consider rightfully his? Will any of his cohorts, or the little people who rule in the other new states do anything less? In their defence it needs to be said that there is very little else they can do. All these new states will begin with very little in terms of revenue; with what they get nothing worthwhile can be done for the wretched people in whose name these states have been formed. That being so, they might as well appropriate whatever is available. They, at least will then live well, and thereby set an example to their fellow inhabitants of the new states.

This is what happened in Jammu and Kashmir, and led directly to the terrorism and violence that has wracked the state for all these years. This is what happened in the Northeast; it is common knowledge that most of the funds that the states in that region had for development swelled the coffers of those who were in power — houses, travel abroad, luxury and sybaritic lives for them and their children. All of it has contributed directly to the insurgency that exists today.

The fact is that the states are too small to raise the resources they need to meet the requirements of good government; there is not enough to maintain a modern, well trained and educated police force, not enough to provide schools and medical clinics, not enough to build good roads and bridges, there is simply not enough for anything worthwhile. Central support is also inadequate, and usually presupposes some kind of matching expenditure from the state. Add to this the bunch of local thugs and dadas who will become ministers and chief ministers and the result will be no different from that in other small, unviable states. Will outside agencies, always eager to destabilize whichever part of the country they can, stay their hand? Look at where two of the three new states are located and the answer is clear.

This is the first step towards a gradual balkanization of the country; there already are demands for other states, and some existing demands will grow in strength, like Gorkhaland. And who will deny them? If Sikkim, which is the size of one of the subdivisions of Darjeeling district, can be a state, why can’t Darjeeling district become a state, like Vananchal, Uttarakhand and the rest? This is what the proponents of statehood will stridently point out, and the Central government, realizing the depths of its own pusillanimity, will cravenly give in.

Little states will mean little or no government; the Centre will then have to find funds for them, prop them up, and come to terms with the immense complexity of the politics they will generate. It is no great step from these to such notions as a Greater Eelam, which the Pattali Makkal Katchi is already talking about, the true union of Tamils in Sri Lanka and India. These are not to be taken lightly; the demand for the new states was initially the subject of much amusement, and those who were amused then must be suffering from stomach ulcers now.

There is no use hoping that local leaders will suddenly have misty notions of a greater reality and, with a great cry, see the light of enlightenment. They will continue joyfully filling their pockets, with no thought for the future. But somewhere, some group of political leaders who are truly concerned about the integrity of this young nation-state, will surely raise its voice against this fragmentation.

Localized resentments mean a failure of leadership and governance somewhere; it means that the seeds of a separate existence have been sown, perhaps unwittingly. This is where it begins; not with the local people, but the actions of those who rule them.

In the Northeast, the rest of the country is referred to as “India”; is that surprising, when every senior official working there not only does not identify himself with the state but counts the days when he will finish his tenure and return to the safety of mindlessness that New Delhi provides? If these officials feel they are working in a hostile environment, then the reasons why the environment has turned hostile need to be identified, surely. They will not be difficult to find.

Multiculturalism has remained a political and academic catchword for the last 50 years; and far from trying, even at this stage, to comprehend what it truly means, new definitions of culture are being worked out by zealots, which look inwards, to a pettiness that will ultimately be what this country may eventually shrink to, leaving vast areas which do not accept this definition to seek their salvation in other directions.

And, sadly, the instinctive reaction of the leaders who make up the ruling group is much more concerned with their immediate, very mundane political manoeuvrings, alignments and appeasements. The disease that has tormented Jammu and Kashmir is within the state, not outside it; it is the way the state has been governed. But that is a subject they coyly avert their eyes from, as from an uplifted skirt. The epitaph of the country may well be this false sense of prudery.    


 
 
TALKING IN BED/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY AVEEK SEN
 
 
Gertrude and Claudius
By John Updike, Hamish Hamilton, £ 10.99

Novelists, unlike academics today, are allowed to wonder about the number of children Lady Macbeth had. So are common readers and playgoers. Part of the peculiar pleasure afforded by Shakespeare is the extent to which we can bring to his works a healthy — and unhealthy (Shakespeare doesn’t seem to mind) — curiosity about people and their lives. He teases us into all sorts of speculative games. Would Othello and Desdemona have been happy together if Iago hadn’t happened? Could Rosalind, or Beatrice, have saved Hamlet? How did Hermione spend her sixteen years in limbo? Did Portia resent Antonio? Did the Friend really care? Such questions are not mere whimsies. They could become ways of playing out the myriad recognitions and possibilities the plays and poems confront us with. They move outwards from the confines of art into our everyday lives.

John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius — the celebrated American writer’s 51st book — imagines what happened before Hamlet. The Prince, though pervading the atmosphere of the novel, is “scandalously absent”. At the centre of this pre-play fantasia are his mother, Gertrude, and uncle, Claudius, apart from King Hamlet, eventually murdered, and Polonius, the counsellor, trailing his daughter, Ophelia. Updike’s foreward — like Virginia Woolf’s mock-academic preface to Orlando — bristles with titles and dates. His novel follows Shakespeare’s three main sources: Saxo Grammaticus’ late 12th century Historia Danica, François de Belleforest’s 16th century adaptation of Saxo, Histoires Tragiques, and the lost revenge play from the 1580s, the so-called Ur-Hamlet.

The novel thus seems to be rooted in a literary tradition. This declared lineage also creates an illusion of the work being prior to Shakespeare. As if Updike provides Shakespeare with a web of characters, images, words — an “unconscious” — out of which the dramatist would later create his own masterpiece. The novel, in three parts, starts out from a Nordic “chilly kingdom”, reconstructed with self-parodying authenticity, and stops at the threshold of Shakespeare’s tragedy. “The rest”, as Fengon (Claudius’ counterpart) says, “is performance”.

This progress from Saxo to Shakespeare is traced through a process of changing names. Gertrude is first called Gerutha, then Geruthe and finally Gertrude. Claudius is Feng, and then Fengon, before he becomes Claudius. All the other characters go through such transformations. Yet each of the three parts begins with the same sentence: “The King was irate”. In part I, this King is the father of the young princess Gerutha, angry with the daughter’s reluctance to marry the “unsubtle” Horwendil (Hamlet’s father in Saxo). In part II, it is Horvendile, angry with his 29 year old son for lingering in Wittenberg. In part III, an irate King Claudius commands the Prince to return to Denmark from his “insolent self-exile”.

Yet what this structured, seemingly literary and backward-looking novel celebrates is sexual love, sometimes with an operatic magnificence. Gertrude and Claudius’ bed — enseamèd, celestial, sullied, solid — is “the pit of the flesh” in which elaborate “negotiations between the speechless lower parts are advanced”. Updike’s triumph is in finding a language for these negotiations in a series of highly wrought duets and arias, conversations, seductions and couplings that invokes, particularly in part II, a virtuosic range of erotic registers. From the high music of that other love triangle set in a legendary past, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, to the hard, urbane glitter of the more modern masters of wayward conjugality, Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, Noel Coward’s comedies, Updike’s own Couples, Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives.

In this, Updike turns inside out, as it were, Shakespeare’s depiction of sexual disgust in Hamlet. The “horrors” of what the Ghost tells Hamlet and Hamlet’s own compulsive imaginings provide the basis of Updike’s recreation of Gertrude and Claudius’ illicit, middle-aged passion. It is as if the novel physically restrains the young Prince, with all that adolescent obtrusiveness so famously indulged by Shakespeare, from “pulling them all into death”. He is made to hold his tongue and let them love.

Yet mother and son remain an inextricable part of each other’s sexual consciousness, in a complex and eternally unslaked relationship of rejection and participation, remoteness and involvement. This appals, frightens and thrills Gertrude. It exasperates Claudius. The unflinching exploration of this perverse bond forms the other focus of the novel. Apart from the occasional psychobabble (“He is tormented by the other half of him that belongs to his mother”), Updike’s treatment is never as crude as to suggest Oedipal incest. That would have been too easy.

The depths of the situation surface in specific images, as in the genuinely discomfiting description of Hamlet’s newly sprouted beard: “Its redness was a version of the pale coppery tint of her own luxuriant head, of her tufts elsewhere. The gauzy beard repelled her; it seemed an intimate aspect of herself lodged within him, which he had decided to flaunt.”

Updike’s Gertrude thus becomes far more than a cowed queen and “the mother of a distant son”. In the course of a brilliantly flattering tête-à-tête, Polonius points out to her how she remains “in some intimate reach, disconsolate”. In her most private moments with Claudius, “a swerving sense of largeness...returns” to her, as she feels “her life threatened with a larger meaning”. After Claudius’ coronation, she “roams the perspectives” of Elsinore, and a vague disquiet begins to dawn in her. There starts within “the unknowing queen”, at the very end of the novel, a new drama of resisted recognitions and averted knowledge. Updike knew his Henry James.

Yet, unlike James’s The Golden Bowl, this is quite deliberately not a sublime novel. There is a capricious slightness, even a fakeness, about it. The audacity of Gertrude and Claudius lies in its leaning — slimly and stylishly — against the craggy ramparts of Elsinore.

   


 
 
NEW RESPONSES TO OLD QUERIES /BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY SAHELI MITRA
 
 
Paradigms Regained
By John L. Casti, Little Brown, £ 15

A fascinating re-examination of the “big questions” of modern science — that’s what Paradigms Regained is all about. The author, John L. Casti, had addressed these eternal questions in Paradigms Lost almost a decade ago. He revives the debate once again in the light of latest research in modern science. Through queries that have stirred the human mind over centuries, Casti has reached certain breathtaking conclusions.

Human beings have always questioned the origin of life or the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. And scientists have been trying to find answers to such queries.

Did life arise out of natural physical processes on earth or was it imported from other planets via comets? Are human behaviour patterns dictated primarily by genes? Does human language capacity come from a unique, innate property of the brain or are certain animals capable of learning the skills of language if taught? Can digital computers think? Does intelligent beings exist in our galaxy and can they communicate with us and if so, in what way? Is there an objective reality that is independent of an observer? These are queries that remain unanswered despite extensive research and theorization. The final verdicts are yet to be passed. Casti brings up these questions and tries to explain in very simple terms the scientific research that they have inspired.

To get his message across, Casti has structured each chapter in the form of a mock trial. Each question of the debate is placed as a hypothesis before the jury with witnesses for the prosecution and the defence presenting evidence from various fields of scientific research. After a detailed analysis of the evidence presented for and against the motion, the author in the end comments on contesting claims and draws conclusions of his own.

This innovative and entertaining approach has simplified the difficult vocabulary of science, making it accessible even for the lay reader. The reigning theories are also illustrated with the help of suitable diagrams, charts and mathematical formulae.

The most interesting chapters are on the origin of life and extra-terrestrial beings. From the Cairns-Smith clay theory to the self-catalytic RNA-protein-DNA theory of Walter Gilbert, the author presents a whole array of theories. This includes those that have tried to establish that life originated from off-earth scenarios. Casti had spoken in favour of the clay theory in Paradigms Lost, but in this book, one can detect a shift towards the RNA world.

While on the issue of extra-terrestrial intelligence, Casti does not ignore the possibility of the existence of other planetary systems across the universe. But there has been little work done over the past years to prove that there is life on these planets.

And even if there are life forms out in the universe, it is almost impossible to comment on how we shall be successful in communicating with them. After all, communication with aliens is not as easy as had been suggested in movies like Contact.

Another fascinating area is how humans acquired language skills. The issue has been extensively dealt with by various authors, but Casti brings in a whole set of ancient languages and scripts, many of which have not been deciphered yet. Among these are the puzzling Rongorongo script found on inscriptions in a small South Pacific island and the fifth inscription on St Peter’s cross, both of which are yet to be deciphered.

Casti, however, fails to resolve the longstanding argument on artificial intelligence. He cites examples of high-tech programs like the one that has been successful in dethroning the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, or programs like BACON, that can discover laws of physics from observed data. But he finds it impossible to predict whether artificial intelligence will be successful in beating the human mind.

Paradigms Regained is an insightful exploration of scientific problems and progress.    


 
 
VINTAGE STUFF FROM PAST MASTER/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY JYOTIRMOY PAL CHAUDHURI
 
 
The Historian As An Archivist
By N.K. Sinha, Vidyasagar University, Rs 300

This book is a collection of articles written by the historian, Narendra Krishna Sinha. It also contains Sinha’s presidential address to the 1969 Indian History Congress, some book reviews and other miscellaneous pieces. In Economic History of Bengal, Sinha had studied the period after the decline of the Mughal empire, when the old political system was breaking apart and the East India Company was taking over. A new economic system was gradually developing and along with a new class of British officials, there emerged the Indian banias competing with and intriguing against one another for British favour. Siraj-ud-daula, Mirquasim, Maharaja Nandakumar — personalities Sinha has studied in this book —are the crucial figures of this period. As players in a complex political scene, they were prone to be misunderstood.

An advocate of “home spun methodology — unconstrained by doctrines”, Sinha disliked the use of labels, and seldom looked at historical personalities as “saints” or “villains”. To him Maharaja Nandakumar was a “strange mixture of fraud and honesty” and “an intriguer like all politicians of all ages but capable of noble impulses” and Mirquasim, “one of the few names that relieve 18th century Indian history of the charge of producing only cowards and traitors and intriguers and self-seekers”.

Sinha had a famous disagreement with Ramesh Chandra Majumdar on the status of Rammohan Roy. Majumdar felt Rammohan did not have much of a role in the establishment of the Hindu College; also, that it was the governor-general who decided to abolish sati by legislation; that Bengali prose owes more to William Carey, Ram Ram Bose and the pandits of Fort William than to Rammohan and that Brahmoism had little impact on Indian society.

In Sinha’s opinion, Rammohan’s contribution in all these areas can never be questioned. The Raja had always worked closely with Hyde East and David Hare for the establishment of Hindu College. But he chose to stay behind the scene because he was aware that orthodox pandits — who made sure that no financial contributions towards the founding of the college was accepted from “the son of a pattanidar under the Raja of Burdwan” — would resent his visible participation. He thus gave a free hand to the orthodox Hindus and ensured the success of the scheme.

The historian, Sumit Sarkar, partially agrees with Majumdar when, in his A Critique of Colonial India, he says, “Rammohan’s achievements were...both limited and ambivalent”.

Sinha was a remarkable storehouse of information about the availability of archival material on the Indian past. The article, “Indian historical records: the spectrum of sources and problems”, together with a few others, are invaluable guides to the future archivists.

Writing on Sinha in the commemorative issue of Bengal Past and Present, Ashin Das Gupta had mentioned that Sinha showed how modern Indian history could be approached through British documentation, and how, through his long association with the Indian Historical Records Committee and the West Bengal Records Survey Committee, he alerted the governments about an unacknowledged responsibility: “He created a new awareness of historical research easing the situation for the researcher”. Sinha, almost singlehanded, did the job directors of archives are expected to do. The title of the book is therefore apt.

Pradip and Samita Sinha deserve congratulations for editing and compiling this volume. Young historians can now read some excellent articles on important personalities and issues published decades ago in journals like Bengal Past and Present or Calcutta Review.    


 
 
MEMORIES OF A MODERN WAR/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
Despatches From Kargil
By Srinjoy Chowdhury, Penguin, Rs 200

The year 1999 was indeed a turning point in the history of warfare. For the first time, two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, engaged in an air-land confrontation along the snowy Himalayan peaks in Kashmir. This conflict has been misleadingly called the “Kargil war”, since fighting extended beyond Kargil to Drass, Batalik and so on. The Kargil war seems to have generated an entire corpus of writings from security experts and journalists.

The latest in this kind is Despatches from Kargil by Srinjoy Chowdhury, a journalist with The Statesman. He visited the frontline, and the book contains his recollections of that experience. Structurally, the book has little to offer. Chowdhury speaks of his “heroic” journey to the dangerous battle-zones and then segments his experience according to the various theatres like Drass, Batalik, Mushkoh valley, occasionally slipping back to give accounts of earlier Indo-Pak wars.

Most of the book is taken up by the ground battle instead of the aerial war, because the author interacted mostly with Indian army personnel. His informants being mostly the junior commissioned officers, the account tends to lose balance.

Several themes could be fleshed out from Chowdhury’s narrative. First, he provides insight into the social composition of the warring Indian and the Pakistani armies. Neither the landed aristocracy of Pakistan, nor the upper middle class of India was represented in the officer corps of both armies, which comprised mainly of small town lower middle class men.

The social architecture of the armies had a dialectical relationship with the culture of command. Historians agree that the lower middle class was mostly communal and religious. Chowdhury too accepts this interpretation. He rightly argues that after 1980, in the Pakistani army’s officer cadre, the Sandhurst-trained broad-minded gentlemen were replaced by religious-minded small town lower middle class men, motivated to fight and die for Islam.

Similarly, the Indian soldiers were also motivated by religion. The 13th Jammu and Kashmir battalion’s war cry was “Durga mata ki jai”. The regiments had pandits, who worshipped Ram, Hanuman and put tikas on the soldiers’ foreheads. Chowdhury’s account thus substantiates Stephen P. Cohen’s view that the post-1947 Indian and Pakistani militaries, on the basis of their ethos and composition, could be categorized as the Hindu and the Muslim armies respectively.

Nevertheless, religious fervour by itself was inadequate to motivate men to slaughter each other. To analyse why men fight, John Keegan’s trinity — coercion, inducements and male honour — is relevant. Several gunners and para-soldiers whom Chowdhury met, agreed that they fought for izzat, pay and pension. But what about coercion, especially the court martials? The military personnel never spoke about it, probably because it was an in-house matter. Strangely, the author too is silent on this issue.

Chowdhury deserves credit for bringing to fore some of the senseless laws of the Indian army. The army’s legal system demanded that a wounded soldier cannot be given anaesthesia unless the commanding officer of his unit signs a bond. During the war, the officers remained far away in the battlefield while the wounded troops groaned in the military hospitals at the rear. The time taken by the officers to reach the hospitals was enough for gangrene to set in. So, the doctors often had to operate without anaesthesia — an inhuman practice which reduced combat effectiveness as well.

Chowdhury’s account is lucidly written, but lacks in-depth analysis. It lies halfway between a coffee-table book and a serious monograph. However, serious readers can pick up facts from it for their own analysis of wars in south Asia.    


 
 
GOODBYE TYPEWRITERS, HELLO DESKTOP/BOOKWISE 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 
As in every profession, there is a survival kit for writers and publishers. For many years, a writer’s tool was the typewriter. While many writers continue to produce perfectly acceptable copies on their manual or electronic typewriters, more and more writers have discovered the benefits of the computer. Editors too have benefited from the change; computer produced documents are less likely to contain spelling errors or overwritten words because these are immediately spotted and corrected before printing.

Authors who have been accustomed to the typewriter and are reluctant to change should reconsider for their own survival. A desktop typewriter running a good word processing programme can be the greatest boon to the writer since the dictionary. For ease of manipulating the text — every writer has to do this — for formatting pages and correcting spelling mistakes, the computer outperforms the typewriter. Many word processing programmes will count the number of words, offer synonyms from a thesaurus, construct an index and give a choice of typefaces to print out the material.

Writers are reluctant to work on a computer initially because they believe it presents an insurmountable learning curve. But that is no longer true. Modern computers are very user-friendly and knowledge of the keyboard makes the switchover from the manual typewriter to a personal computer even easier.

But the switch is not merely for working ease and better presentation but because publishers today insist on manuscript submissions on a computer disk. This saves the publisher valuable time and money. He simply downloads the finished manuscript to his computer system and produce the final product. Authors submitting their manuscript on a disk should however inquire about the computer format the publisher uses and the desired mode of receiving the material. For, not all systems are compatible with each other.

Publishers who insist on submissions on disk could also ask for electronic submissions by modem. Modems are computer components that can be used on phone lines to send computerized files to other computers with modems. This is an extremely fast way of sending the manuscript to the publisher and has thus become popular in international publishing.

Let us assume a publisher in Britain, America or elsewhere in the English-speaking world wants to have a work co-published with an Indian publisher, that is, have it typeset and printed in India. The typescript will be electronically submitted, complete with illustrations and design specifications. The Indian publisher will then download the material on his own computer system, send the “proofs” and receive corrections electronically and return the final product on a magnetic tape to the original publisher.

This kind of collaboration is now in vogue simply because typesetting costs are so much lower here than in the West or even Hong Kong or Singapore. But first, Indian publishers and writers have to be familiar with simple word processing systems and the software that comes with it.

All this amounts to saying that in publishing and communication, computers are an essential tool, as essential as the horse and the cart were to transport in times past. It is not possible to traverse the entire way from the manuscript to the finished book in the same old ways as before.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Family inheritance

Sir — A baby just born and his future is already under a cloud (“Cong looks for luck in baby boy”, Aug 30). He has a political party 115 years old, peopled by men who have turned grey mastering the art of wheeling-dealing, looking up to him for survival. He is half a Nehru-Gandhi and will eventually have the onerous task of living up to the “family name” thrust on him. He is the grandson of Sonia Gandhi, son of Priyanka Gandhi and will probably have a Z security ring thrown around him for life. He is the newest flower on a stem of the most famous family in the country and will have his adventures zealously mapped by the press. Not an altogether pleasant start to a new life. For once, let us hope, the soothsayers are right — that the baby will have “remote” associations with politics. But if mom goes to the rescue of the madam of 10, Janpath and a dying party breathing its last, it is doubtful the future will remain as bright as it has been predicted.

Yours faithfully,
Amitabha Maiti, Calcutta

North by northeast

Sir — The raging craze about the television serial, Kaun Banega Crorepati, on Star TV is understandable. While the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire was a pioneer in the “rewarding entertainment” business, there was no way anybody from India could take part in the contest.

Kaun Banega Crorepati has filled that void for Indians. However, for people from the Northeast, KBC too remains a distant dream. A large number of contestants from the Northeast register themselves as probables for every episode after clearing the preliminary stages of the contest by telephone. But they hardly find a berth among the final 10 contestants in any episode. The organizers claim that the final 10 contestants are randomly selected by the computers. It is a pity that the computers only select people from the metropolises — and that too not many from Chennai.

Can the organizers of KBC not process the selection of the final 10 contestants in such a manner that there are two contestants from each of the five zones of the country — north, south, east, west and northeast? Secondly, introducing a telephone number at Guwahati will be a right step in facilitating the participation of viewers of this region.

Yours faithfully, Amalendu Roychoudhury and others, Guwahati

Sir — The 60 member Indian contingent for the Sydney Olympics has been announced, and it is a pleasure to find that there are at least three sportspersons from the Northeast in the contingent — S. Suresh Singh, Ng Dingko Singh and L. Brojeshwari Devi. But it is unfortunate that newspapers, while giving coverage to the event, have not treated these three sportspersons at par with those from the rest of the country. The Northeast edition of The Telegraph should publish the achievements of these sportspersons.

Yours faithfully,
Sapam Robindra, Cachar

Sir — It is satisfying to note that The Telegraph highlighted the rock-hewn artefact found in a neglected corner of Kamakhya temple hill (“450-year-old Mughal relic fades into oblivion”, Aug 11). The report, however, needs a correction regarding Dara Shikoh. It was actually Aurangzeb’s brother, Shujah, and not Dara Shikoh who had escaped to Assam on his way to Burma, now Myanmar.

Shujah was given shelter by the king ruling then in Assam, who thus incurred Aurangzeb’s displeasure. This was one of the causes for the repeated invasions of Assam. Mohini Saikia in his book, Assam’s Muslims, has mentioned the Persian rock inscription. The location of the inscription near the spring could mean that the spring had healing properties — as otherwise khijar-e-abehayat would not have been mentioned. Khijar was a historical figure who drank from a life-sustaining stream and was supposed to have been one of the generals of Alexander the Great.

The director of the research council of Vivekananda Kendra Cultural Institute, Guwahati has stated that the above Persian inscription is the only one of its kind in the entire Brahmaputra valley. But then he has confined himself only to artefacts of the period. As a matter of fact, the link language between the Ahoms and other kings in Delhi, as also the Pathan kings in Bengal in that period was Persian. It is now seen that there are hundreds of Persian and Arabic words integrated in the Assamese language.

Persian was used in the revenue pattas given by Aurangzeb, on the recommendation of Ram Singh, the Mughal general, in favour of Umananda and Kamakhya temples. Another royal document issued by Ram Singh in respect of fishery rights to the Kamakhya temple, about 30 miles downstream from Pandu on the south bank of the river Brahmaputra was also in Persian.

Yours faithfully,
A. Rahman, Guwahati

Sir — The statement of the Assam chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, that the government is conducting inquiries into Tata Tea’s links with the United Liberation Front of Asom, post-Lohit Deuri revelations, must be accepted with a large pinch of salt. We are sure the government has all along known whether or not the tea major is involved in aiding militants. In fact, if it pretends ignorance on this score, it must also admit that its information gathering machinery is very rusty. Moreover, it was in 1997 that the Assam Police revealed that tea companies were aiding outlawed organizations. What was the government doing all this while?

Be that as it may, we are certain that with elections around the corner, what Mahanta is actually trying is to touch the sentiments of the people, while also hinting to the tea companies that it needs funds for its election campaigns. What the chief minister of Assam needs to realize is that he cannot fool all the people all the time.

Yours faithfully,
Ashit Choudhury, Guwahati

Sir — This has reference to the report, “Statehood fanatics gun down teachers” (Aug 5). The headline betrays the chauvinistic and hegemonistic attitude of the ruling elite as well as that of a section of the so-called intellectuals towards the ethnic groups of the country. To describe the Kamtapuri rebels, fighting to carve out a state from parts of both Assam and West Bengal, as fanatics reflects the futile attempts by the ruling party to delegitimize a justified movement of a powerless people to regain their self-respect and identity.

The Kamtapur statehood demand has a historical and political legitimacy and no amount of counter-propaganda can demoralize the resolute Kamtapuris. The communist regime of West Bengal has been desperately trying to disrupt the movement. The activists are being subjected to mindless political, economic, social and cultural repression. The history of Kamtapur has been erased from the curricula of schools and colleges and the language has been mutiliated.

We only expect the media to be civil and rational while referring to the rebels fighting for the cause of Kamtapur.

Yours faithfully,
Jyotirmoy Prodhani, Golakganj

Sir — The Northeast Telegraph deserves kudos. The article, “Identity crisis” (Aug 15), by Anupam Bordoloi was a thought-provoking analysis. “Quest for a solution” by Anindita Dasgupta in the same issue has also appeared at a very appropriate time. Dasgupta has rightly mentioned that perhaps no other clause of the Assam accord has been as hotly debated in recent years as the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act. Monideepa Choudhuri’s perception of Independence Day celebrations was substantial. We look forward to more write-ups like this.

Yours faithfully, Sankar Pal, Mangaldoi

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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