Editorial 1/ End of great game
Editorial 2/ No mother, no cry
The Russians have landed
Fifth Column/ Every year the rivers flow red
Book Review/ Majestic service
Book Review/ Twilight of the gods
Book Review/ Apocalypse then and now
Book Review/ Life is worth living after all
Editor's Choice/Historian tailormade for style
Letters to the Editor

The Putin visit has led to an agreement on strategic partnership and an assorted eleven other agreements have been signed on everything under the sun. During the Yeltsin period, relationships were less than cordial and this attempt at normalcy is welcome. However, the emphasis is now on commercial relationships rather than on political ones and therein lies the dilemma. At one level, commercial relationships mean defence imports from Russia. At another level, there is civilian trade, which has completely collapsed following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. In 1990-91, the former Soviet Union accounted for 16.1 per cent of India’s exports. The figure is down to 2.1 percent for Russia now. In 1990-91, the former Soviet Union accounted for 5.9 per cent of India’s imports. The figure for Russia is down to 1.3 per cent now. While it is true that a figure for the former Soviet Union should not be compared with a figure for Russia now, the decline has essentially been driven by what happened with Russia rather than by what happened with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Historically, Indo-Russian trade was governed by a system of rupee trade that was centrally planned and administered, with accounting in Indian rupees. When the former Soviet Union collapsed, rupee trade also disintegrated. Trade switched to a system of settlement in convertible currencies, with a proviso, because a legacy existed in the form of Indian debt owed to Russia. At that time, there was a debate about the appropriate rupee-rouble rate and quantification of the exact amount of Indian debt. Unsatisfactorily, from the Indian point of view, the figure arrived at in the course of President Yeltsin’s visit in 1993 was Rs 32,000 crore of debt, to be settled through Indian export of goods worth around Rs 1,500 crore a year. As of now, there is thus a double channel for exports to Russia — the debt route and the convertible currency route. However, actual trade flows reveal that 80 per cent of exports take place through the debt route, which is due to end in 2004. Therefore, once the debt channel is over, prospects for Indian exports are none too bright and the reasons are easily identifiable.

Thanks to rupee trade, junk was exported to Russia — sawdust mixed in tea and non-Basmati rice masquerading as Basmati. There is no reason for Russians to import such products if payment is in convertible currencies. This is not to deny that potential exists for Indian exports: pharmaceuticals, fast moving consumer goods, tea and coffee are obvious examples. However, quality-conscious exporters have not historically exported to Russia and the trade was dominated by fly-by-night operators who thrived on arbitrage made possible through misalignments in exchange rates, and such misalignments also encouraged switch trade. Post-disintegration, reputable exporters have stayed away because of logistical (Odessa port no longer belongs to Russia and the Bandar Abbas route via Iran hasn’t taken off), distribution (controlled by the mafia) and payment (not all exports were through letters of credit and insurance was unavailable) problems. Conversely, most imports from the former Soviet Union were by the public sector. Post-reforms, public sector investments have declined in India and are not always in areas where Russia has the necessary expertise. As is evident, many of the problems relate to endemic transition-type problems in Russia. It is impossible for a Putin visit to eliminate these constraints, or similar ones that plague cross-border investments. Consequently, any euphoria on commercial relationships should be restricted to defence.    

Less food, poorer health. This is a piece of ancient knowledge, but it is always disturbing to have it reestablished through a conference on child care and survival that shows exactly how low nutrition affects the lives and deaths of Indian women. The chain of gender injustice is linked through the blood. A United Nations population fund report revealed an increase in the death of teenage mothers between 15 and 19. This is both a symptom and the disease itself. The conference reiterated the well established fact that in general, Indian girls are underfed compared to the boys in the family. Teenage mothers, already undernourished, tend to suffer from anaemia because of their age when pregnant. This is life threatening, and they also bear undernourished children. Underage marriages are common throughout the country. No girl should be married before 18 according to the present law, yet statistics show that 26 per cent of girls are married by the time they are 15 and 54 per cent by the time they turn 18. The chain is linked in intricate ways, but clipped together by social discrimination. It is no wonder that the maternal mortality rate in India has shown no decline for the last 30 years.

The conference discussed strategies and searched for means to implement programmes like the integrated child development scheme more effectively. The irony is that such efforts are progressively emerging as the only rays of hope. Society remains obdurately stuck in its ways. The devaluing of women begins from foeticide and infanticide where possible, continues with poor food, poor health care and little education when the girls are left alive and ends with early marriages which lead to more tragedy. Quite successfully, Indian society has managed to bring down the number of girls below six to 73 million while the number of boys in the same age group is 77 million. Until society begins to change its ways, programmes by themselves will not achieve enough.    

The expectation that the state visit of the president of Russia would result in the increase in both content and form of defence cooperation between the two countries has been fulfilled. In the past, this cooperation has been limited to one-sided purchase of arms by India and has not extended to the operational or strategic levels. There is little to suggest that this pattern is set to change, notwithstanding the emphasis that the president of India, K.R. Narayanan, gave to a potential strategic partnership between the two countries, during his address to the joint houses of Parliament in February.

Some major defence deals on the anvil have been finalized. Notable amongst these are purchase of the second hand aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, along with a contract for its major refit, purchase of 20 carrier borne MiG 29 aircraft to complement the carrier, the T-90 battle tank purchase and licensed manufacture of the Su-30 MKI aircraft.

By any yardstick these are programmes of major strategic implications not only in terms of their military value and their financial burden both in Indian and foreign exchange, but more significantly on the very long-term dependence that this will entail on the Russian defence industry. An industry which has seen a sharp decline in its fortunes and whose future is by no means certain.

A brief background of Indo-Soviet defence relationship will shed light on the basis for abundant caution. The watershed can be traced to early 1962 when Krishna Menon as defence minister opted for the purchase and licensed manufacture of the Mig 21— a combat aircraft that was then deeply respected by the non-communist alliance. There was a temporary setback during the Indo-Chinese conflict in late 1962 when the former Soviet Union paused to consider their future commitment to India, a friend, vis-à-vis China, a brother. Once the decision to continue was taken, there was no looking back. In some ways this relationship was mutually beneficial, but history may well record that on balance India has come out the loser.

At the height of the Cold War, Soviet arms industries were producing huge volumes of arms to satisfy the insatiable appetites of both the Soviet armed forces and their communist allies. There was a surplus in the rupee trade between the Soviet Union and India in our favour — due to export of tea, coffee, sugar, shoes and other consumer goods. In an endeavour to balance this, Indian armed forces were encouraged to purchase Soviet arms and this they did, sometimes with undue abandon. Rupee payment terms and long term military credit further fuelled this appetite. While this arrangement helped India maintain and modernize its large armed forces through periods of resource and foreign exchange crises, it did have many negative long term consequences which Indian planners were compelled to gloss over.

First, over-dependence on only one source for military supplies. By the late Eighties nearly 70-80 per cent of all military hardware with our forces was of Soviet origin. Second, weapons systems designed and produced in a non-competitive environment invariably carried a tag of poor efficiency of operation and high costs of ownership and life cycle. Finally, dependence on a highly centralized and top-heavy bureaucratic Soviet system of production and support, which was unresponsive to customer needs. The result was gross under-utilization of highly expensive weapons systems and assets by our forces, an ethos that over time came to be adopted as a norm.

Not surprisingly, when the curtain fell over the Soviet Union, the huge military-production complex, the burden of which partly contributed to its economic collapse, found itself at the bottom of the economic heap. Overnight, factories producing frontline combat aircraft scrambled to produce refrigerators alongside. Factory managements that had never learnt to operate on commercial lines were forced to change attitudes and look at bottom lines. Overnight support costs to our forces increased manifold. The downside left the Indian armed forces completely starved of critical spares and vital support, leaving a gaping hole in their operational potential and compromising national security.

By the mid-Nineties, while the Russian military industry was still in the process of reorganizing, the problems being faced by an economy in transition were only just beginning to bite. Today, the Russian armed forces are still not in a position to order arms, leaving their factories starved for orders. Consequently, the Indian forces are by no means out of the woods. In open seminars with the private industry, the service chiefs have repeatedly gone on record pointing at the failure of the Russian support system and its negative fallout.

It is therefore surprising that in the mid-Nineties the Indian government chose to put its eggs again in the Russian basket in the form of two major contracts for which international alternatives were possible. The SU-30 MKI deal, the largest in Indian military history, committed the Indian air force to a combat aircraft that is yet to be fully developed at India’s cost. And the MiG 21 upgrade on which depends the already delayed life extension of the MiG 21 fleet. At the time, informed observers had commented on the risks to national security of these premature commitments. Today both programmes are badly behind schedule and already subject to the comptroller and auditor general’s observations.

The Russian military-production complex still faces a multitude of problems. It is starved of orders and support from its own armed forces. The reputation of being an unreliable supporter of weapons systems puts future customers on guard. And the need to quote in foreign exchange puts it in direct competition with its Western counterparts. It will therefore be many years before the Russian military-production complex can ever hope to become competitive in the international arms market. It is therefore baffling to learn that India proposes to get into even bigger and more vital arms manufacture commitments with the Russian industry at this uncertain juncture.

Defence industries worldwide are undergoing monumental changes. Escalating cost of weapons systems and reducing defence budgets are forcing efficiencies and heightened competitiveness. Economies of scale and reduced costs are vital for survival. In this rapidly changing scene, the Indian defence industry remains frozen in a bygone era. Rather than modernize managements and infrastructure, reorganize and rationalize to achieve international competitiveness and form joint ventures for economies of scale and pooling of talents, the government seems content to pursue licensed manufacture to further diplomatic interests — a recast of the socialist and Cold War mindset.

Strategic partnerships and defence cooperation must be two way streets whereby research and development, defence industries and armed forces of participating countries stand to benefit together. Before committing the nation to massive licensed manufacturing projects with Russian military industry, Indian security planners would do well to define the strategic outlook for our own defence industry and introduce changes in policy, organization and mindset that will prepare it to face existing and emerging challenges.

Only then can we articulate and define strategic partnerships that will enable joint or multiple defence production programmes that will be both mutually and strategically constructive. The long term stakes are too high for diplomatic handshakes to guide future paths.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force    

Floods, an annual tragedy in several parts of India, continue to inflict huge losses on its population, property, cattle and crops. Although flood control remains an important item on the national agenda, the tragedy keeps recurring. And government hamhandedness with regard to water, soil and forest policy continues to persist.

It is curious that despite drought in northern Rajasthan, vast parts of West Bengal are being ravaged by floods. While heavy rains and the currents in the Bay of Bengal have been cited as the main reasons for the current floods, it should be remembered that rivers flowing from the Himalayas and other heights have shown erratic behaviour year after year.

That tree plantation should be resorted to in a big way and destruction of forests should stop to prevent the overflowing of the rivers are things that have been forgotten. The government’s forest conservation methods have not succeeded and its policy of joint forest management remains a one-sided bureaucratic affair.

Joint forest management has been left to a body which has representatives of the World Bank and five other foreign agencies, but hardly includes environmentalists or grassroots level experts. It appears that India’s forests are going to be managed mostly for the purpose of social and commercial forestry with the help and for the benefit of foreign agencies, including multinational companies.

Unmanageable forest

Afforestation as a method of flood control is not on the agenda. Neither is administration concerned with the requirements of the people living within or near the forests. Although the scheme of joint forest management was launched to associate the local people with forest management, the objective has been defeated since foreign agencies, not the local population, are being depended upon. Obviously, contractors and the local mafia will collaborate with the former for their mutual gains.

Dense forests in the hinterland of coastal areas have also been destroyed. Take, for example, the rain forests near the sea coast in parts of Tamil Nadu. While policymakers should have ensured rivers, tanks and other sources of water were shaded on all sides by trees, the opposite has been done. All such sources of water have been silted and have become shallow. These lapses have further contributed to the recurrence of floods as also to the erosion of the nation’s biogenetic resources.

There has also been largescale erosion of precious fertile soil near the rivers. While projects like the one in Alwar, Rajasthan, where the lost river, Arwari, was restored, have not been taken up by other states, projects like the one on development of watersheds undertaken by the Andhra Pradesh government have done more harm than good.

A way with water

Others, like the development of mini-watersheds on a smaller scale through planting trees and rechar- ging ground water, successfully undertaken by the Gujarat government, have not influenced Andhra Pradesh’s cyber chief minister.

The government of Gujarat, however, continues to waste enormous amounts of funds on mirages like the Sardar Sarovar and the Narmada Sagar dams. In India, studies have revealed that despite the big dams, the actual area under irrigation has decreased. Water harvesting on a small scale, careful construction of railways, roads, bulwarks and bridges to maintain the necessary drainage and maintenance or revival of traditional sources like wells and tanks would have helped irrigation. Floods could also have been avoided.

Till the last century, India had developed a system of maximum use of water so that Jaisalmer, one of the driest areas of the country, was self-sufficient in food. That system was destroyed, thanks to the British. Even after the Raj, India followed the same policies, disregarding traditional wisdom.

Else it would not have been necessary to have intensive farming that requires heavy doses of fertilizers and ever larger quantities of water. India needs to think over its pattern of agricultural development to make it more conducive to the benefit of local communities who should be given control of land, water and forest in their respective areas. Only then will the degradation of nature stop and with that the return of floods.    

The Great Indian Elephant Book: An Anthology of Writings on Elephants in the Raj
Edited by Dhriti K. Lahiri Choudhury,
Oxford, Rs 595

Few animals have captured the imagination of people living in or coming into south Asia as the elephant. It was first captured and tamed centuries ago, and became an animal to be trapped alive rather than be hunted down with bow and arrow or firearms long before the British unfurled their flag in Bengal. Elephants had long been metaphors in Sanskrit poetry or the objects of kingly attention, as when Jahangir, the great Mughal, dictated a note on the difference between the Indian elephant and its counterpart from across the Indian Ocean.

But it was Pax Britannica that was to see the art of elephant capture and slaughter make inroads into the numbers of the wild herds. Even though it was never quite so negative in imperial lore as the tiger, with which it often shared a grassland or forest home, the great mammal was initially killed with a ferocity that was all new to India.

By the time the sun set on the empire, the debates on how best to eliminate elephants to make way for cultivation or tea estates had given way to a new set of debates. Successive generations of foresters and catchers argued how best to capture them alive. Long before wildlife conservation entered everyday vocabulary as a term, laws were passed to protect the wild herds that would supply fresh captives to work on plantations, forest blocks and shikar escapades. Dhriti K Lahiri Choudhury has put together a collection that gives us vignettes from the rich and varied encounters between Elephas maximus and humans in the British era.

It is fashionable today — and rightly so — to look with distaste upon colonial writings of shoot-to-kill forays into the forest. But for decades, the hunt governed ways of seeing nature, and as this anthology reminds us, all shikar-lovers were not an insensitive and bloodthirsty lot. In any case, their works give us a record of past attitudes and feelings about nature as much as culture. The selection here is careful and gives a sense of rich variety.

For those who rarely venture beyond the bounds of India, there are fine essays on Burma and that southern redoubt of the great mammal, Ceylon.

The men whose articles figure here were as varied as the terrains inhabited by the elephant itself. F.W. Champion was an early pioneer of the use of the camera in the wild, shooting animals on film in the areas that now comprise the Rajaji Park. Far more than the more famous and fêted Jim Corbett, he was the first of a new wave of writers and observers of nature’s ways, who replaced the gun with the camera, the skinning knife with the notepad. Nor does the collection leave out other fine observers and first rate naturalists.

G.P. Sanderson, Champion’s predecessor by a generation, was to head the official kheda operations, catching elephants in Mysore and in the Chittagong hills. The books from which the collection draws give a glimpse of the richness of the wildlife of different regions: Mervyn Smith on Chhotanagpur, the ex-planter, Randolph Morris, on the southern hill ranges, and H.S. Wood on the Northeast.

There is the usual mix of rogue hathi anecdotes, including one of a runaway beast that terrorized Baiga adivasis (tribals) in a central Indian district before being shot dead by a civil officer. The only writer one misses here is the forester, E.O. Shebbeare, but the possessors of his copyright are known to be more than unduly jealous of their hold on his works, depriving readers of savouring extracts from his long out-of-print book, Sundar Mooni. There are touching portraits of individual animals that were intimately known to their owners.

Far more than any other animal in India, the elephant was seen as both wild and tame, for it stood at the crossroads where nature and culture meet. The tiger, in comparison, was seen almost entirely in a negative light in colonial times, with few voices in ruling circles speaking out in its defence.

Though the author does not say so, even Rudyard Kipling composed an ode to the elephants that hauled the great guns of the British Indian Army in the Indo-Afghan wars. Princes coveted the great animals as mounts, paying huge amounts to purchase those that conformed to their norms. The British were quick to incorporate the animal into their own processions and occasions of state. By the mid-1820s, the Calcutta stud already had as many as 300 elephants.

Yet, attitudes to the wild changed slowly. Initially huge bounties in cash were given out to induce hunters to shoot and kill animals that were a barrier to the growth of agriculture. It was only in the 1870s that the change came about. “Rogues” and errant animals continued to be shot, but it was destruction of their forest home and captures that actually took a heavy toll of their numbers in the wild.

Elephant-hunting with the gun did not die out. As the editor shows, it remained important as a means of establishing some men as “super gentlemen among their peers”. New weapons in the late 19th century began to decisively tip the scales in favour of the hunter and against the hunted. This is an excellent collection, well nigh indispensable for wildlife addicts and also for all that wish to gain an insight into the working of the imperial mind. After all, the killing fields of the Indian forest and the great roundups of wild herds, both now a thing of the past, were central to the age of empire. This is a fine anthology of elephants and the Raj, but because of the editor’s perceptive essay at the outset, it is so much more than just that.    

The Art of War: War and Military Thought
By Martin Van Creveld,
Cassell, £ 20

“Mutually assured destruction”, the American nuclear strategy for fighting the hypothetical World War III, is the logical culmination of the German military theory, which evolved in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The chief protagonist of the German military thought is Carl Von Clausewitz. There is a consensus among the Western strategists that der totale Krieg, or total warfare (which signifies total mobilization of society and economy) was also the product of Clausewitz’s theory.

In The Art of War, Martin Van Creveld, professor of history at the Hebrew University, attempts to historicize the origin and nature of Clau- sewitz’s ideas. He feels these ideas were an integral component of European political thought. He also compares the situation before and after the French Revolution in order to portray the extent of break with the past.

The kind of pre-Napoleonic European warfare practised by the Prussian king, Frederick the Great — acquiring some border fortresses or a province at best — was limited compared to the upheavals ushered in by the French Revolution. This was replaced by “unlimited warfare” when Napoleon Bonaparte — Clausewitz’s “god of war” — entered the scene. Napoleon’s levy en masse gave rise to a police super-state and a mass army. With this, Napoleon sought decisive victory in the battlefield, which meant complete annihilation of the enemy and total absorption of his kingdom.

However, the French Revolution did not signify Stunde null (zero hour or complete break with the past) for the 19th century European military thought. Elements of continuity from antiquity remained. Van Creveld traces the idea of decisive battlefield victory to the Greek concept of decisive victory at sea: thalassocratia. The Battle of Salamis, where the battle fleet of Xerxes was wiped out in one afternoon by the Athenian triremes, could be compared with the virtual elimination of Francis Joseph’s Habsburg Army at the field of Austerlitz within five hours, by Napoleon’s grande armee, about 2000 years later.

However, the element of discontinuity tends to overshadow the elements of continuity in pre and post Napoleonic warfare for Clausewitz. This is because, writes Van Creveld, of the influence of Hegel and his concept of the “otherness of the past”. History from cyclical became linear since Hegel, and this enabled Clausewitz to differentiate between medieval and modern/ Napoleonic warfare.

The hallmark of Napoleonic warfare, in Clausewitz’s paradigm, is the focus on decisive encounter for annihilating the enemy. This influenced Schlieffen’s concept of vernichten or the strategy of annihilation. Both the second and the third Reich tried to pursue this strategy with disastrous consequences. Moreover, Clausewitz’s emphasis on manoeuvre tactics influenced the Wehrmacht’s Blitzkrieg.

The uniqueness of these European wars is brought out by Van Creveld by contrasting Clausewitz with the Chinese military philosopher, Sun Tzu. Clausewitz urges the generals to engage the enemy in bloody battles but Sun Tzu encourages the warlords to avoid battle if possible. While Clausewitz emphasises the use of brute force (Gewalt), Sun Tzu gives importance to espionage and diplomacy. Van Creveld concludes that in the 21 century, Sun Tzu’s principles are more useful especially given the importance of misinformation and disinformation in the era of “information age warfare”.

Van Creveld’s master-narrative is disturbing at some junctures. For instance, he overlooks that the concept of decisive victory in battle was discovered by the ancient Greeks in the course of hoplite battles in the land. Like the Battle of Platea (between the Greeks and the Persians), the Battle of Stalingrad is the also characterized by the presence of heavy drilled infantry.

Again, Van Creveld constructs a bipolar model by contrasting occidental military thought with oriental military philosophy. Why he selects Chinese military thought as the sole representative of the latter is unclear. Kautilya’s Arthashastra elucidates ways to win war through guile rather than by force. And from 12th century onwards, Islamic scholars, observing high speed cavalry warfare by the central Asian steppe nomads, produced military manuals which are masterpieces of mobile warfare techniques. Is it then necessary to give the credit for introducing the philosophy of manoeuvre warfare to Clausewitz?

Van Creveld must be congratulated for his grand survey of military thought from the Hellenic period to the nuclear age. By analysing the main features of Clausewitz’s thought, Van Creveld also illustrates the exclusivity of European warfare and its limitations.    

Dragon Fire
By Humphrey Hawksley,
Macmillan, £ 9.99

Mumbai is in ruins. Delhi too is devastated. India’s prime minister, Hari Dixit, refuses to leave the burning ship and dies in the capital. Yes, the atomic holocaust, engineered by China, has taken place in India. China is one up on the United States and becomes the superpower after a nuclear war which drags in all the major countries of the world. All this happens in Humphrey Hawksley’s Dragon Fire. The book has come out at a time when the political situation of southeast Asia, especially the relationship between India and Pakistan, has become volatile.

A BBC journalist of repute, Humphrey Hawksley is known in this part of the world through his broadcasts from all over Asia and China, where he opened the BBC’s television bureau. As a television journalist, he has easy access to the corridors of power. His hobnobbing with political kingmakers has certainly contributed to this futuristic novel, where characters often trip over the threadbare line separating reality from fiction.

Hari Dixit, India’s prime minister in the novel, is a ringer for N. Chandrababu Naidu. Dixit’s Pakistani counterpart, general Hamid Khan, immediately reminds the reader of Pervez Musharraf. Hamid Khan’s coup bears close resemblance to the actual coup staged by Musharraf. Hawksley admits in his prologue that developments in Asia are moving so fast that on several occasions, his writing was overtaken by events.

At the onset of the novel, the mise-en-scene is Tibet. At 0500 on Thursday, May 3, 2007, a lone Antonov-32 transport, flying in the wee hours of morning over the Himalayas, is bound for the infamous Drapchi prison in Lhasa. In their attempt to free Lama Togden, a breakaway wing of the Chinese special frontier force press the panic button. To the west there is another scene. Encouraged by China, Pakistan sends Afghan war veterans and sophisticated weapons across the line of control. And the world wakes up to a horrifying three sided war — India versus China and Pakistan.

Nuclear arsenals are being marshalled. Flagrantly disregarding the US and Japan, China begins a nuclear war against India It is called Operation Dragon Fire. Delhi and Mumbai are devastated. Twenty million Indians are left to fend for themselves. India surrenders and China becomes the acknowledged superpower.

The novel is written in a picaresque manner — one episode snowballing into another. There is no marauding hero, though. Instead, nations play the role of pugilist heroes. But the problem of an episodic novel is that the reader might easily lose his way in the labyrinth of events. This is exactly the case with Dragon Fire. Also, there are no strong characters to provide a backup. In this respect, Dragon Fire fails as a novel.

The characters are prototypes, they do not vibrate as, say, a character in a Frederick Forsythe spy-thriller. The heads of state are either busy talking to their sidekicks about strategic alignments or giving orders to annihilate enemy countries. But is life like this? At times, the atmosphere of espionage becomes too stifling. In his eagerness to produce a bestseller, Hawksley has made things look simpler than they are. The unipolar world order has been debunked, though it would be a mistake to see it as China rising after the eclipse of the US.

In this age of globalization, strategic alliances are made and unmade by the chiefs of multinational companies, while the states’s power is on the decline. In Hawksley’s novel, the MNCs are conspicuously absent.

Hawksley is in his element when he speaks about the bureaucratic machinery and military logistics. This is where his extensive research comes in handy and also where the novel rises above the run of the mill thrillers. But the novel as a whole, its apocalyptic overtone notwithstanding, makes for tiring reading.    

Recollections: An Autobiography
By Viktor E. Frankl,
Perseus, $ 12

Autobiographies are personal documents. Viktor Frankl’s is intensely so. Yet it is universal in appeal — a beacon to those who have given up all hope. Viktor E. Frankl, professor of neurology and psychiatry at Vienna University, is the author of 31 books on philosophy, psychotherapy and neurology. He has also developed the “third Viennese school of psychotherapy”, known as logotherapy. Out of Recollections emerges a remarkable man, a humanist above all else, with a rare strength of character. This not only works to preserve his sanity in trying times but also works to the benefit of mankind, removing unknown fears within and restoring balance where there was none.

Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna in 1905 when the Austro-Hungarian empire’s sun was setting. His mother was descended from an old Prague family and his father was a highly placed civil servant. The elder Frankl was a man of principles and his son admits to taking after him. Frankl’s wife and father and other members of his family perished in concentration camps.

Recollections can be read just to find out how Frankl copes with his personal tragedy and the horrors of the holocaust. Yet he chose not to take the easy way out by refusing the American visa which he was granted just before the Pearl Harbour bombing. And the world is richer for his decision; had he emigrated, we may not have had the benefits of logotherapy.

Frankl had a ringside view of tumultuous events, in politics, philosophy and science, in the Twenties. While still in high school, he decided to focus on psychiatry and qualified as a psychiatrist. He generally succeeded in instilling in the mind of his patients his own strong belief that life holds a meaning . The autobiography provides some moving examples of this.

Frankl and the next of his kin were routinely deported to concentration camps after the German annexation of Austria. They were at the very vortex of the holocaust. Frankl survived, in his own words, through the “two basic human capacities, self-transcendence and self-distancing” which were “verified and validated in the concentration camps.”

According to him, “those who were oriented toward the future, toward a meaning that waited to be fulfilled — these persons were more likely to survive.” The views finds support in the cases of the prisoners of war in Japan and Korea. Recollections stresses the need for a positive attitude even in the most adverse of situations. Frankl rubbishes the idea of collective guilt — something that made him intensely unpopular after the war. But it won him unexpected admirers as well.

Frankl’s disagreements with Alfred Adler led to the development of logotherapy or, “existential analysis”. Logotherapy consists of a group of values which helps one find a meaning in life — “even up to the last moment, the last breath.” Only then can suffering be turned into a human triumph. Frankl cites a number of examples from his own life and those of his patients. The author’s path-breaking book, Man’s Search for Meaning, has sold over nine million copies all over the world and has brought hope to countless people — including those in prison.

However, Frankl is anything but a grim psychiatrist. His lectures are laced with wit and humour. This book abounds with examples of this. Instances of his method of indirect approach are sure to elicit a chuckle even from the most serious of readers. Both Frankl and his current wife, Elly, are keen mountaineers. Undoubtedly, there is a streak of the adventurer in him, otherwise he would not have found himself at the controls of a plane at the age of 67.

Frankl is also a prophet. A prophet who warns against the horrors of a meaningless and frustrated life . His ideas are of particular interest to readers who have experienced the horrors of partition, the dangers of a nuclear household and the loss of family values. Many will find it palpably easier to face crises in life if they share even a fraction of Frankl’s views.    

Troublemaker: The Life and History of A.J.P. Taylor
By Kathleen Burk,
Yale, $ 35

“Extreme views weakly held” was A.J.P. Taylor’s response when he was asked about his strong political views in his first job interview at Corpus Christi, Oxford. Taylor was then only 29 years old. But that reply could serve as an apposite description of his life. A man of extremes, he loved to provoke and was himself easily provoked. He stated his views with brio and changed them frequently. He was the best known historian of his generation but did not earn for himself the respect of his peers. He was a serious academic who became famous as a television personality. He was rich but beset all his life with financial worries. He craved love and affection but failed to cling to them for very long. He loved teasing out historical paradoxes and lived out many in his life.

This is an extremely well researched and written biography of the historian by his last research student. It complements, and in terms of the details unearthed, is an improvement upon Adam Sisman’s A.J.P.Taylor: A Biography which was published in 1994. The very fact that two biographies have appeared within ten years of his death is testimony to the public attention and popularity that Taylor continues to command.

Taylor grew up near Manchester, the only son of affluent but left-wing parents. He went to Bootham School in York and then as a scholarship boy to Oriel College, Oxford. Oxford in the Twenties was the arcadia so unforgettably evoked in Evelyn Waugh’s Bride- shead Revisited. “Blow it up after I have gone down” was Taylor’s comm- ent on Oxford while he was a student there. It sums up his love-hate relatio- nship with the place and his contrariness. Oxford lay deep in his heart and he craved the university’s recognition. He never overcame his bitterness at being passed over, through a shrewd piece of intrigue and networking, for the Regius Professorship and his greatest joy came when he was asked to give the Ford lectures.

Taylor was a dedicated teacher. He was a conscientious tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford and his lectures, always delivered at the unearthly hour of nine in the morning, were always full. But his real fame rested on his books and reviews. He produced, his biographer writes, “on an average two books of solid worth each decade for forty years” and one review every week. He was prolific, but many of his books were not based on archival research but on printed sources.

More than the research and the history, Taylor once confessed that he found writing more interesting. It was this, and a dash of envy, which made other professional historians dismiss Taylor as too smart and glib and too superficial and journalistic. Taylor’s coruscating prose makes it impossible to put down his books. He believed in writing narrative and excelled in it. Short one-verb sentences expressing opinions that pleased no one and surprised all were trademarks of the Taylor style.

Here is an oft-quoted example: “1848 recapitulated Germany’s past and inspired Germany’s future...Nev- er before has there been a revolution so inspired by a limitless faith in the power of ideas: never has a revolution so discredited the power of ideas in its result. The success of the revolution discredited conservative ideas; the failure of the revolution discredited liberal ideas. German history reached its turning-point and failed to turn. This was the fateful essence of 1848.”

The pairing of opposites is vintage Taylor. But there was more to him than his style. He showed the importance of power in diplomacy and brought out in narrative the interaction between structure (profound forces) and event (accident or human agency). He dared to defy conventions and wrote diplomatic and political history when social and economic history were becoming fashionable. He was a troublemaker among historians and his own favourite book was The Troublemakers: Dissent over Foreign Policy, 1792-1939. But no other mischief-mak- er did his work in such limpid prose.    


Turning over a new leaf

Sir — Suchandana Gupta’s article, “Middle age catches up with revolutionary” (Oct 3) tells us the story of Badaranna’s “conversion” from the violent life of a Naxalite to one of ostensible respectability as a police constable. It has been reported that Badaranna married five years ago and has desired raising children ever since. Apparently, this last sentiment has led him to surrender in order to try leading a normal life. This is all very commendable, of course, but there is something quite frightening in this transformation. Besides, what is surprising is that although he does not seem to be too perturbed by the actions he has committed in the past, the police is thinking about recruiting him as a constable. The reason being provided is that he will be able to lead them to Naxalite hideouts. What seems not to have occurred to those who celebrate this change is the thought that if a person has once changed the course of his life on an impulse, he might do the same again on an equally unaccountable impulse.
Yours faithfully,
Ravi Goenka, via email

Faith and falsity

Sir — In a recent statement to the press, the former defence minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, urged that the people and the political leadership of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan should review the partition of the subcontinent by the British colonial rulers and work towards building friendlier relations and peacefully coexist with one another.

This sentiment should be genuinely respected. The ills which the people of the subcontinent are facing today are not solely a legacy of the colonial experience. Indeed, it cannot be denied that some decisions regarding Partition, both on the part of the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress were capricious and irresponsible.

But the people of the subcontinent have a shared history that goes back thousands of years. There can be no natural divides among these people except, perhaps, on the basis of language, and certainly not on the basis of religion. The political elite in Dhaka, New Delhi and Islamabad should understand this and attempt to forge better ties with one another.

Yours faithfully,
A.B.M. Shamsud Doullah, Dhaka

Sir — The recent upsurge in communal violence in the country speaks poorly of our governance. India cannot be ruled by fundamentalists. How a conservative pro- Hindu nationalist party can conceive of retaining Kashmir or the Northeast despite their wellknown hostility towards Muslims and their new found zeal for Christian-bashing is a mystery.

The people of West Bengal have proved their secular mindset by repeatedly rejecting the Bharatiya Janata Party and preventing them from getting a foothold in the state. The BJP-led coalition government has so far been a disappointment and if it continues to toe the line of Hindu nationalism for too long, this country cannot hope for long-lasting unity.

Yours faithfully,
U. Roy, Calcutta

Sir — We live in an unsafe and largely uncertain world today. Disasters of various sorts meet us in our everyday lives. Communal violence, crime, accidents, natural calamities await us at every corner. If the government in India is going to attempt to combat this problem in a meaningful way, it should create a “task force” comprising commandos and medical staff.

This unit should be trained in the use of arms, medical equipment, first aid kits and so on. They ought to be trained in crisis management and be ready to be deployed in any part of the country and act in an emergency. Such an outfit will make life much easier for the average citizen.

Yours faithfully,
Jimmy S. Ardesher, Calcutta

Sir — Law enforcement in India routinely makes us feel despondent. Compare this with China which can boast of a flourishing economy and a democracy that is far more genuine than India’s. The Chinese state can pass a death sentence on a top politician if he is found to be guilty of corruption. How many times has the Indian state acted similarly? Why is it that our law enforcement agencies simply do not have the competence to nab criminals placed in high office?

In India, seldom do politicians go to jail. One exception, if it really happens, will be P.V. Narasimha Rao’s imprisonment. But most politicians can easily get bail. They seldom face trial or they are tried in absentia. Several accused in cases like the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and the Christian-bashing spree are not only roaming scot-free but, ironically, but some of them are also getting elected to political office. Are we expected to believe that the police has been unable to prove the guilt of the accused?

Yours faithfully,
Rina Chawla, Haldia

Durga, model 2000

Sir — I do not know whether to condemn or condone the fact that Hinduism is perhaps the only religion in the world in which detractors can make fun of the pantheon of gods and goddesses they worship, or of the religion itself, and get away with it. Only a few years ago, we had an artist who was so confused between the secular and religious worlds that he put actresses and goddesses on the same pedestal. Now we have an advertisement in the print media which shows Durga forsaking her weapons for televisions, clearly implying that she finds admiring herself on television a far better preoccupation than killing demons.

The West Bengal state police department and the Calcutta police, probably enthused by all this, have advertised against the forcible collection of chanda during the “ Durgau (sic) Puja ” (The Telegraph, Sept 19, page 8). And now we have another advertisement on television which has the goddess endorsing a brand of tea. I am sure the next will be Durga reading the latest Harry Potter.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir — Congratulations to Amit Chaudhuri for the excellent article, “Ambiguities of worship” (Oct 1). As a secular bystander, I hardly take any interest in Durga puja. I can now celebrate this puja with the insight I got from his article. The mythic narrative of Durga puja subverts the authority of the originator and the linear flow of time. I think it also has the potential to subvert the usual patriarchal discourse of power.

Yours faithfully,
Manoj Kumar, Patna

Televiewing the war

Sir — Given the current turmoil in Sierra Leone, the article, “A taste of jungle foul” (Aug 25), was both timely and significant. I remember a BBC newscast where a local woman in Sierra Leone was saying, “As our former colonial masters of the past, we feel safest with the British in Freetown.” But this report smacks of manipulation. The so-called free press hardly seems free of bias. The Freetown episode should make people cautious while watching current affairs programmes, even if presented by foreign agencies. There is a tendency, especially among educated people from third world countries, to blindly accept everything fed by the “respectable” Western media.

In the instance of Sierra Leone, the role of the BBC was no different from that of the British tabloids during the Kosovo conflict. “Our boys gonna clobba slobba”, screamed their headlines, while the concerned British airmen never really got a chance in the war theatre. Indians do not seem to take sufficient pride in their soldiers. Few in this country remember the seven Indian soldiers killed in a bomb blast in Somalia. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri’s article, therefore, deserves all the more praise.

Yours faithfully,
Prosenjit Roy, via email

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