Editorial 1/ Old relations
Editorial 2/ Unappealing case
Experiments with modernity
Fifth Column/What happened to those tigers?
Letters to the Editor
This above all

The significance of the visit of the Russian president, Mr Vladimir Putin, to India cannot be over- emphasised. This is the first visit by a Russian head of state since the January 1993 visit by the then president, Mr Boris Yeltsin. A second visit by Mr Yeltsin was postponed four times because of his ill health. A declaration on strategic partnership between India and Russia is expected to be signed during Mr Putin’s visit. This had been agreed upon during the visit of the then Russian prime minister, Mr Yevgeny Primakov, to New Delhi in December 1998. India’s relations with Russia may never be able to replicate those that New Delhi had with the Soviet Union, but Moscow is still an important partner and it is critical to further bilateral ties for a variety of reasons. Historically Russia has been a close ally, which has stood by India during difficult times and continues to do so even now. The Soviet Union’s veto on Kashmir in the United Nations security council, for instance, during the Fifties and the Sixties prevented the international organization from playing a more interventionist role in the dispute. Indeed, even during the Kargil war, Russia fully supported the Indian armed forces and their efforts to clear the Pakistani infiltrators from the heights they had occupied. Russia has also consistently emphasised that the resolution of Kashmir must be on the basis of bilateral talks within the framework of the Shimla and Lahore agreements, which has been New Delhi’s position as well. Besides, Russia has also been supportive of India’s candidature for permanent membership of the UN security council. The Russian leadership, at the highest level, has repeatedly expressed support for an Indian claim. Russia supported India’s candidature for the non-permanent seat of the UN security council for the year 1997-98. In 1998, Mr Primakov described India as a “strong and appropriate” candidate for permanent membership of an expanded UN security council. Again, the Indian armed forces are still critically dependent on the Russian arms industry, especially for spares. This dependence is unlikely to end in the foreseeable future. Indeed, a joint working group on military-technical cooperation has been set up to monitor Indo-Russian defence cooperation.

In the past, Russia had given assistance to India’s fledgling space programme as well. Recall that the Soviet side assisted India in the establishment of the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station and the launching of Indian experimental satellites, Aryabhatta, Bhaskara 1 and Bhaskara 2. The Indian remote sensing satellites IRS-1A/1B were launched by Soviet launch vehicles. And there are, despite controversies and American opposition, also continued prospects for nuclear cooperation. Recall that an agreement on the construction of a 2x1000 megawatt nuclear power station at Kudankulam was signed between Rajiv Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev in November 1988. A contract for the preparation of a detailed report for the project was signed in Moscow on July 20, 1998, and — hopefully — there will some tangible movement on this score in the near future.

In other words, there is still a lot that Russia can offer India, and vice versa. Moreover, relations with Moscow need not any longer be viewed, in a zero-sum context, as they were during the Cold War period, vis-à-vis New Delhi’s relations with Washington. Indeed, both Russia and India recognize the vital importance of engaging the United States, even while they continue with their quest for a multi-polar world order.    

So they do grind. The wheels of justice seem to have satisfied the Indian public on this count with the conviction in the special court of the former prime minister, Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao, and the former Union minister, Mr Buta Singh, for conspiracy in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case. For the moment it is not important whether or not Mr Rao will get away after appeal. The judgment has immense symbolic value for more than one reason. It is, first, the actual conviction of a former prime minister for corruption. The alleged buying off of members of parliament in order to defeat a no-confidence motion is a shameless abuse of office and, by implication, a brazen use of black money by the highest in the land. People are aware that such things happen, it is one of the commonest crimes among politicians, so it is all the more thrilling to have the crime proven on the biggest scale. The judicial system has shown that the principle of privilege has its limits.

For Indians, the assurance that no one is above the law had become more pointless and far less entertaining than nursery rhymes. This is the second reason that the conviction is symbolically important. The JMM bribery case was one among many cases instituted against politicians in the Nineties. It was not as if corruption had not always been identified with politics. But as an issue it took centrestage after Bofors. The slew of cases which followed — in the progress of some of which Mr Rao himself was more than encouraging — included the Jain hawala scandal, the urea, sugar, housing and fodder scandals and the Lakhubhai Pathak case. There were others too. But the people’s eagerness to see heads roll was almost invariably dampened by dismissals, acquittals, postponements and reversals. The investigation and justice systems had become jokes. This conviction is thus reassuring. People might be wondering, of course, whether the case would have gone quite this way, with the produced evidence quite so damning, had Mr Rao still been at the centre of politics. Or they might wonder why there is not yet sufficient evidence to catch the bribe-takers, why nine of the 11 accused should get off free. But in a noticeably imperfect world, Mr Rao’s conviction has meant something important.    

It is generally accepted that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an outsider to Indian politics when he arrived in 1915 from South Africa. However, his activities abroad were keenly watched and he was quite wellknown in India. He did not enter the Indian political arena by the “back door”, as suggested by Judith Brown. In fact, he received a hero’s welcome.

Between 1915 and 1920, Gandhi moved from the periphery to the centre of Indian politics. In 1921, when the Noncooperation movement began, Gandhi was chosen as its supreme commander. By 1921 the Gandhian alternative had fully emerged. How did such a thing happen? Judith Brown, in Gandhi’s Rise to Power, has worked out the steps by which Gandhi climbed to the top position within the Congress.

India in 1915, as Judith Brown sees it, was caught in a politics of limitation. The Western-educated leaders of the three presidencies were not making much headway. Neither the moderates nor the extremists were capable of breaking out of their narrow groove. Outside the closed ring of gentlemen’s politics, there was a large section of half-educated and illiterate people with no one to lead them. Various groups in the backward regions felt threatened by the changes occurring under Western impact. Gandhi stepped in to bridge the gap between the English-educated politicians and the less educated mass of common men and women.

The people of the outer orbit were attracted to Gandhi because he was so different from the English-educated leaders. His simple attire, preference for swadeshi goods and his overt religiosity made him more acceptable to the common people.

It would be incorrect to look upon Gandhi as ushering in the era of mass politics. Gandhi first began his experiments with his own methods in local areas like Champaran, Kheda and Ahmedabad. Those activities brought him countrywide fame as a powerful leader. It was through the Rowlatt satyagraha that he made his entry into national politics. Although the movement failed to attain its objectives, Gandhi effectively utilized the Khilafat issue and the Punjab “wrong” to advance his political standing.

Finally, Gandhi gained hold over the Congress by rallying to his side the delegates from hitherto backward regions like Gujarat, Bihar, Central Provinces and Uttar Pradesh. He got solid backing from the Khilafatist Muslims and Marwaris. Thus Gandhi successfully stormed the citadel of long-established gentlemen politicians and emerged as the top leader of the mainstream nationalist movement.

Politics is limited everywhere. In India it had not reached a deadlock when Gandhi arrived. During the war years of 1914-18, the political scene was changing fast. The moderates and extremists patched up their differences, the Congress and the Muslim League made a pact and the Home Rule leagues built up a network of active centres in different parts of India.

Right from the days of Associations, the internal conflicts within the educated politicians were pushing politics outside the closed circle. Amales Tripathi has referred to the competition between the British Indian Association and the Indian Association which led to the forming of branches of the latter outside Calcutta. Newspapers and pamphlets were carrying the nationalist message beyond the metropolitan cities and active groups were being formed in the districts. Through the Swadeshi movement of 1905 and Home Rule League activities later, the so-called limited politics was throwing out ever widening outer rings. Gandhi himself utilized the network laid out by the Home Rule League.

Gandhi went to Champaran after long persuasion by Raj Kumar Shukla to investigate the problems of indigo cultivators. Gandhi’s movement from local struggles in Champaran, Kheda and Ahmedabad into national politics was not pre-planned. It is not that Gandhi wanted to try out his methods of satyagraha in local pockets first before putting them to test on a national scale. Actually he was pushed by events over which he had little control.

Why was Gandhi accepted in 1921 by established leaders despite their earlier misgivings about him? The acceptance of Gandhi into mainstream politics was not complete and unquestioned. The national leaders were keenly aware of the fact that Noncooperation would jeopardize council entry. Yet they finally yielded to Gandhi and accepted his plan of action because circumstances forced their hands. Gandhi’s intervention in Indian politics since the Rowlatt satyagraha emerged as the all-important factor. For a short period of time it determined the course of mainstream politics.

To explain the events of 1919-22 in terms of charisma is to simplify history. Perhaps the word, “expectation”, gives us a better clue. There was expectation in the air. A man, however exceptional, does not exude charisma. It is the public which expects him to do a miracle. In 1920-21, all eyes were fixed on Gandhi. The promise of swaraj in one year cast a spell. Even the revolutionaries were willing to suspend activity for a year.

Gandhi’s immense popularity had made him almost irresistible. The government did not know what to do with him. At the same time he was an embarrassment to the Indian leaders. He was not planning to capture the Congress and turn it to his will. His attitude changed sharply after the release of the Hunter Commission report in May 1920 on Punjab incidents. This was something which Gandhi could not bear. He came out openly against council entry. The die was cast. Gandhi made up his mind to launch satyagraha.

Gandhi knew that he had to take the Congress along with him. To get the Congress to pass the right resolutions was a practical problem. Gandhi overcame this by using Khilafatist and Marwari votes. To achieve this electoral victory within the Congress, Gandhi had to bargain hard. The Kathiawar bania in him rose to the occasion.

We all know Gandhi’s calculations went wrong. Satyagraha did not bring about swaraj in one year. People did not remain non-violent. When violence erupted here and there, Gandhi suspended the movement and finally called it off to the great dismay of his followers and onlookers. Gandhi’s action came in for attack from all sides. The Gandhian style of politics was discredited though not altogether discarded. After the collapse of the Noncooperation movement, the predominance of the Congress in national politics came to an end. The unity of mainstream politics was broken. Noncooperation failed, but it broke the spell of fear of British authority among the common people. The British in India lost the mandate of history.

Twice after the failure of Noncooperation Gandhi was called upon to lead the national struggle, in 1930-32 and again in 1942. He remained a public figure of great stature right up to independence but the Gandhian alternative in Indian politics was marginalized.

What kind of a new India did Gandhi envisage? It is generally believed that Gandhi presented a critique of Western civilization in his Hind Swaraj (1909). He was a radical social thinker who was opposed to the profit-oriented competitive society. He rejected English education as it was prevalent in India but not Western thought as such. Gandhi was not medieval in his outlook, but very much a modern man though not of the Rammohan Roy school of modernity. His Ramrajya was a just social and political order conceived in terms of categories of Indian thinking.

The author is former professor of history, Calcutta University    

The search for a regional identity in Asia against the rising tide of post-colonial “Asian nationalism” has been a recurring theme in contemporary studies in international political economy. Region building in Asia has so far been patterned around and limited by state-centric cooperation.

Recently I had the opportunity of attending a seminar, in Seoul, on capacity building through regional initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region, organized by the United Nations economic and social commission for Asia and the Pacific.

The Asian economic crisis which erupted in 1997 has put severe strain on the east Asian “tiger economies”. The Asian Wall Street Journal forecasts a steady but slow recovery for the Pacific rim but during the trip I could see anxiety about the future on the faces of my fellow Asians. Unemployment and the lack of social safety nets have been traumatic for many families.

Seoul is a highly industrialized and Westernized metropolis. South Korea is a showcase of Western capitalism and “trickle down” economics. Having embraced globalization with a peculiar gusto it has leapfrogged from poverty into becoming one of the most industralized economies of the world. South Korea’s troubled past was torn between Sino-Japanese savage colonialism and a bloody civil war. But the country is finally coming to terms with it.

Getting better

The demilitarized zone on the border between the two Koreas is a tourist attraction and boasts of a world peace park. At the moment the South Korean economy is recovering from the crisis, although the reform of the large family-owned business conglomerates is still a long way. The director general, ministry of culture and tourism, our host, explained the various incentives given to foreign investors in South Korea under the foreign investment law. The South Korean government is making a paradigm shift from control and regulation to promotion and support.

Under the new policy, complete autonomy is given to local governments and the institutional framework of investment has been liberalized by doing away with many of the pre-existing regulations considered obsolete. In the special foreign investment zones there is no corporate tax for the first seven years and 50 per cent exemption from local taxes for the first five years.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, regional initiatives like the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation and the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Community have not progressed beyond the levels of rhetoric. The greater Mekong sub-region comprising China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar shows some promise as a potential grouping.

To regions, with love

Meanwhile, the fiercely nationalist identities fuelled by jingoism are defying “creeping regionalism” under myopic leaderships in many of these countries. ESCAP is pushing for regionalism through infrastructure projects — the Asian land transport development programme and the trans-Asian rail link connecting Asia with Europe through the southern corridor in the continent. The ASEAN, however, continues to be a success story — spurred by the Singapore-Batam-Johore growth triangle, increasing intra-ASEAN trade and the forthcoming United States-ASEAN summit.

In Bangkok, my host informs me that the financial crisis has affected every Thai household. His limited income as a government official is unable to support the house mortgage with the real estate and the share markets dropping to record lows. To supplement the household income his wife has joined the direct marketing chain selling consumer products of Amway — the American way.

As the plane takes off from Bangkok, where we had stopped, I reflect on the successes and failures of the Asian tiger economies. The financial crisis of 1997 has indeed taken its toll on the Asian capitals from Seoul to Jakarta. However, the “Asian recipe” — export led growth, Confucian values and guided democracies — has been a success in many ways. Even crony capitalism has delivered the goods. Crony socialism, on the other hand, has failed. “Guided democracies” have stood the test of time.

Unfortunately for south Asia, misguided bureaucracies have failed. India is paying a high price for resisting globalization. The cost of this resistance might be much more than the cost of compliance.    


A poet, so what?

Sir — Feroze Varun Gandhi’s profile, published under the title, “As good as it gets” (Sept 30), is very much what is supposed to be — a “profile”. A vague and garbled piece of writing which most emphatically does not give us the “full view” of the person and certainly does not explain why anyone should spend a Saturday morning reading about a 20-year-old’s fascination for poetry. If he was not Maneka Gandhi’s son, surely, no one (that includes newspapers) would have been even minimally interested in a book of poems written by someone who has just come out of his teens. In the event the book had already been released and his poetry were found to be genuinely impressive, it would be natural for a discriminating press to give him coverage. But none of this is applicable in this case. Just the fact that he has been able to get the likes of M.F. Husain, Manjit Bawa and Anjolie Ela Menon to do the illustrations for his book should, ideally, not be reason enough to shower such attention on Feroze Varun.
Yours faithfully,
Puja Mehta,via email

Sir — The frequent lambasting of Maneka Gandhi in The Telegraph and recurring statements about how human concerns are more pragmatic show that you do not consider the hard facts of animal cruelty worthy of print. Animal cruelty documentation is encyclopaedic and stomach-turning. Here are some pertinent statistics regarding the issue that has been mocked in the editorial, “Horse nonsense” (Sept 26).

Racehorses, that figure in the “animals for entertainment hit-list” for activists, have a drug problem. Many have been turned into junkies by their trainers and even by veterinarians, who frequently provide drugs to keep horses on the track even when they shouldn’t be racing. Horses are forced to race with hairline fractures that would, without drugs, be too painful to permit them to run. As a result, injuries and chronic lameness are common.

Centuries of selective breeding have made thoroughbreds increasingly fragile. They go 45 miles per hour, weigh 1,000 pounds and have ankles only as big as humans. The thoroughbred racehorse is a genetic mistake. It runs too fast, its frame is too large, and its legs are far too small. As long as mankind demands that it run at high speeds under stressful conditions, horses will die on racetracks.

Horses which fail to bring in winnings are rarely rewarded with an easy retirement. It is more likely that they will suffer an unceremonious early death. Horse racing is no longer legal in Belgium because of its inherent cruelty. Spurs and whips have always been goading tools. That there can a be misuse of the whip in the heat of competition is more imaginable than not. The whip is the visible face of the cruelty of horseracing and so it has been targeted. As one horse trainer said when a horse with a broken leg needed to be put down, “Its part of racing. They give their lives for our pleasure.” This is completely unacceptable.

Yours faithfully,
Mohan Shivdasani, Calcutta

Sir — The Telegraph has said it after all. Animal rights figure in your pragmatic and practical mind as a “ nuisance” created by “a lunatic fringe of sentimental activism.”

Please remember that there is a Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and that the government of India deemed it fit to legislate on the issue .Why is it that those attempting to uphold these laws are considered bordering on madness by the media? By labelling this as being “inspired by Western extremist organizations with a completely different set of realities”, the editorial once again resorts to the “Western influence” whipping-boy, which is something best left to the “moral police” in Mumbai.

Compassion, like cruelty, is a universal force. It is a counter-attack, without which abuse would spread. It is a necessary balancing force and inherent in the nature of sane, ethical people. That animals are sentient beings is no sentiment and animal activism makes good horse sense.

Yours faithfully.
Nirguna Awatramani, via email

Floodgates of misery

Sir — Massanjore and the Damodar Valley Corporation dams were primarily constructed to alleviate flooding during heavy rains. One can look back in history to the times of World War II when devastating floods in the Damodar basin cut off Calcutta from the rest of the country for more than a week, delaying war effort, prompting the British to consider erecting dams along the entire valley.

Thus was formed the DVC in line with the Tennessee Valley association of the United States. Lack of maintenance and loss of forest areas adjoining the catchment areas have caused massive erosion. This has led to unprecedented silting of the dam reservoirs during heavy rains over the last half a century.

At present, these dams have very little storage capacity left in their reservoirs. Sudden discharges, which flood the lower basins, become necessary to save the dams. The drainage system has been callously neglected. Rain water along with discharges from these dams burst the loosely erected bunds and breach barriers in the countryside year after year.

The costs of giving out doles for rehabilitation and loss of good crops, and compensation for animal and human lives are enormous. There has been little thought on the part of the authorities to undertake desiltation of the reservoirs. There is no political will. When floods occur, VIPs fly over the affected areas to dole out grants and chirah and gur are dropped from helicopters. Villagers suffer, elections come and go with people being forced to elect their representatives on the basis of false promises. Slowly, the episode fades in memory till the entire sequence is repeated in the next season.

This is happening year after year. When will our society wake up to these perils and act?

Yours faithfully,
Bachaspati Goswami, via email

Sir — As an Indian I want to know what the rights of an average Indian are. This question arises because of the grave situation the people are facing in Midnapore, Birbhum, Nadia and other parts of West Bengal, where the police and other law enforcing authorities have lost control over hooligans and have succumbed to the political pressure of both the left and the Trinamool Congress.

We are disillusioned with the concept of social and economic justice articulated in the Constitution. Do we not have the right to know what Jyoti Basu and Mamata Banerjee are doing for the flood-stricken people in the affected areas of the state? It seems that power and not the people is the first priority of our leaders. Dictatorship is probably better than democracy. At least there is someone the people can blame in the former.

Yours faithfully,
Sayan Banerjee, via email

Ransomed services

Sir — I fully endorse the views of Ritabrata Gupta in his letter, “Bad connection” (Sept 22). In an independent country nobody has the moral right to stop an essential service and put the whole country to ransom. The telecommunication agitation against privatization should be condemned. We all know that in government departments the employees do not perform their duty sincerely. The trend is to extract maximum money without work. As a result the cost of services is going up and it is the tax paying citizens who have to put up with the nuisance.

Sincere workers will get their due even if the sector is privatized. Good staff is an asset to any organization. The government should not give in to the diktats of its staff. The principle should be no work no pay.

Yours faithfully,
G.L. Jagatramka, via email

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:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007


In dark girls I saw your body

Similes and metaphors that were used by our poets to describe different parts of a beautiful young woman’s anatomy leave me bewildered. Her long black tresses are usually compared to naagins — she-cobras or a hive of black bees. Except for both being pitch black in colour, there is nothing attractive about the cluster of snakes and a swarm of bees, both of them capable of stinging with fatal results. Eyebrows are compared to an archer’s bow — dhanush. Nothing very wrong in that because many attractive women do have arched eyebrows.

Eyes are usually compared with a deer’s eyes and sometimes with lotus blossoms. Young deer do have large, limpid eyes but among animals by far the most beautiful eyes belong to giraffes — long eyebrows, almond-shaped and lustrous eyes. When one looks at giraffes it is impossible to ignore their long necks.

The same applies to ostriches: they too have beautiful eyes but their long necks put them out of reckoning. A woman with too long a neck is often dismissed as shaturmurg (camel-fowl). I find comparing beautiful eyes to still waters like the pools of Hebron more appealing. Comparing cheeks and lips to rose petals is acceptable but I find the Indian obsession with the lower lip somewhat baffling.

A hanging lower lip is far from attractive as it often bares the gums which are not a pleasant sight. Comparing teeth to a string of pearls or jasmine buds is conventional and acceptable. When it comes to bosoms, our poets were clearly out of their depth: they thought of doves or pigeons caught in a net, or half-ripe mangoes. Surely domes of some of our ancient monuments would have made better models.

A flat belly with a cute belly-button have been lauded by poets all over the world. But the elephant’s (hastini’s) walk evoked paeans of praise from Sanskrit poets. I have followed elephants in processions and wondered what they found so engaging in their gait. The little I found common between them and fat women was dispelled by the cannon-ball sized dung they dropped after every few minutes.

Our king of poets, Kalidasa (4th and 5th centuries AD) paid fulsome compliment to his beloved in the following words:

“In dark girls I saw your body;/ In the startled looks of does your eyes,/ In the moon your cheeks,/ In liquid peacock plumes your hair;/ The play of eyebrows,/ In the bright rippling of rivers,/ But never, O fiery one,

Did I find these/ In the same place before.”

(Translated by Tambimuttu and G.V. Vaidya)

The Telegu poet, Kodali Anjaneyalu, has a very sensitive description of a bride decked up for her first love-encounter with her groom:

“With the silky lashes of your eyes which your mother/ Has painted with collyrium, with utmost tenderness,/ You thrust forth tendrils of silk-soft dependence:/ Heavenly bride when you lean your looks/ Full of blushes as flowers, liquid as their honey/ Towards your wedded husband, how can I help blessing you/ And your groom: May the night of spring/ Come on swift wings and bring for you swoons of voluptuousness!”

(Translated by Tambimuttu and R. Appalaswamy)

In his preface to Indian Love Poems, Tambimuttu has beautifully summed up the dilemma created by the creator when he made, “woman as man’s companion”.

“In the beginning Brahma created man. But when he came to the fashioning of woman he found that he had no more solid materials left.

“So Brahma took the clustering of rows of bees, and the joyous gaiety of sunbeams, and the weeping of clouds, and the fickleness of winds, and the timidity of the hare, and the vanity of the peacock, and the hardness of adamant, and the sweetness of honey, and the cruelty of the tiger, and the warm glow of fire, and the coldness of snow, and the chattering of jays, and the cooing of the kokila, and the hypocrisy of the crane, and the fidelity of the chakravaka, and compounding all these together, Brahma made woman and gave her to man.

“Eight days later the man returned to Brahma: ‘My Lord, the creature you gave me poisons my existence. She chatters without rest, she takes all my time, she laments for nothing at all, and is always ill, take her back,’ and Brahma took the woman back.

“But eight days later the man came again to the god and said: ‘My Lord, my life is very solitary since I returned this creature. I remember she danced before me, singing. I recall how she glanced at me from the corner of her eye, how she played with me, clung to me. Give her back to me,’ and Brahma returned the woman to him.

“Three days only passed and Brahma saw the man coming to him again. ‘My Lord,’ said he, ‘I do not understand exactly how it is, but I am sure that the woman causes me more annoyance than pleasure. I beg you to relieve me of her!’

“But Brahma cried, ‘Go your way and do the best you can.’ And the man cried: ‘I cannot live with her!’ ‘Neither can you live without her!’ replied Brahma.

“And the man went away sorrowful, murmuring: ‘Woe is me, I can neither live with her nor without her.’”

Novelist’s message left unread

I read Indrajit Hazra’s first novel, The Burnt Forehead of Max Saul, at one go: it is only 152 pages. I enjoyed reading it because it is well-written, the episodes about which he writes are entirely fanciful and rib-ticklingly comic. However, at the end I was left with an uneasy feeling that I had perhaps missed the message, if there is one, that the author wished to convey.

Since most first novels are partly autobiographical, I tried to find clues from his life. Hazra is 30 years old. He was born in Calcutta and for a while was a musician with The Great Elastic Rubber Band. He migrated to New Delhi and is currently on the editorial staff of The Hindustan Times.

One of the characters in the novel plays the jews harp and water bowls in a band. Another, the narrator in the novel, is like Hazra, a journalist. Hazra is married: his wife, Diya, to whom the novel is dedicated, works with Viking-Penguin. Max, of the novel, is also married. But for some obscure reason, he sets out of his home to look for a woman named Sarai who leaves his home never to return.

He goes looking for her but loses interest in the pursuit and gets involved in a series of escapades which include pilfering books from a bookstore and getting nabbed, helping a friend get out of the clutches of the police by putting him inside a derelict grand piano lying in the police station, leading an abortive revolution in which many people are killed, bashing in the skull of the owner of the band with an iron rod because he fired his friend, the jew’s harp and water bowl player, and getting away with it.

Ultimately he is left with a mongrel which attaches itself to him as a companion and is preferred to his wife — reminiscent of Yudhishtir refusing to enter paradise without his pet dog.

I admit a second time I was not able to decipher what Indrajit Hazra was driving at. What kept me going was the likelihood of a secret design which eluded me because of a refreshingly new style of writing. I can give many illustrations but will limit my-self to one which may elucidate what I mean:

“As a child, it was a matter of great joy and pride the day I came to know that 5.45 was the same thing as a quarter to six. It was divine knowledge and it made the whole exercise of timing oneself easy and wonderful. A greater breakthrough was made when I came to realize that when one touches one’s lips to another set, babies don’t happen. In fact, even the tongue isn’t the carrier of life.”    


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