Editorial 1/ Just land
Editorial 2/ Blood feud
Tourists of revolution
Fifth Column/ Swirling in the dark waters
Search for the right balance
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ JUST LAND 
 
 
 
 
They are queuing up. Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao was at the head of the queue, and has now been followed by Ms J. Jayalalitha and the Hinduja brothers, as the judiciary begins ticking off longstanding corruption cases against the high and mighty. The conviction of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms Jayalalitha, might seem deeply satisfying. For many, she represents what is most disgraceful and destructive in Indian politics. The combination of political power, corruption, reckless opportunism and barefaced confidence has often been rewarded but never publicly penalized in recent times. Ms Jayalalitha’s ascendancy was made possible only by the complicity of her political peers. Without the opportunism and corrupt political practices of other parties, Ms Jayalalitha could not have remained so much in demand. That she always dropped allies when she found them unwilling to muffle the court cases against her was never to her disadvantage in the pre-electoral calculations of other parties. But there is trouble in store for the AIADMK this time. Ms Jayalalitha and Ms Sasikala Natarajan have been given five years’ rigorous imprisonment, effectively to run for three years, in the Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation land deal case. This is not the worst of it. According to the Election Commission’s interpretation and enforcement of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, imprisonment of over two years will debar a candidate from contesting elections for six years. If the sentence against the AIADMK chief is upheld by the higher court, she is out of the Tamil Nadu assembly elections next year.

It is a feather in the cap for the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The AIADMK, of course, would be in a complete soup if Ms Jayalalitha is debarred from elections. Confident that nothing could ever touch her, she has groomed no successor. More interesting is the blind confidence of her allies. The Tamil Maanila Congress, which broke off from Mr Rao’s party because he had tied up with the AIADMK in 1996 and is now the AIADMK’s ally, will have no one to turn to. It is unlikely that Ms Jayalalitha, even when in serious trouble, will allow the TMC to project its chief, Mr G.K. Moopanar, as a chief ministerial candidate if she is not around. And it is not only the Congress which does not know what to do with its alliance with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), so rigidly virtuous where Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mr Rao were concerned, suddenly does not know what to do with this hot potato of an ally. The moral twist is inescapable, and rather funny. None of these parties had any scruples tying up with Ms Jayalalitha in the hope of winning the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ BLOOD FEUD 
 
 
 
 
The frightening violence that has been witnessed in Israel and the West Bank, over the last two weeks, threatens to derail the peace process to such an extent that it will be extremely difficult to put it back on track again. It is critical, therefore, for all those who have influence and leverage over the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, especially the United States, to exercise maximum pressure to ensure a return to the negotiating table. It must, however, be clear that the responsibility for the present crisis lies firmly on the shoulders of the Israeli government, and they must be persuaded, first of all, to provide the healing touch. More than a hundred persons have been killed during the violence, and — apart from a few — all of them were Arabs. The protests by the Palestinians, which led to the violence, were provoked by the Israeli government’s reckless decision to allow the opposition leader of the right-winged Likud Party, Mr Ariel Sharon, to visit Muslim religious sites in East Jerusalem, including the third holiest Islamic shrine. Only one motive could have inspired Mr Sharon, a known hardliner — who even tacitly supported the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the early Eighties — to make this provocative gesture: to demonstrate Israel’s continued sovereignty over the Muslim sites in East Jerusalem. Palestinian protests erupted as a direct consequence of Mr Sharon’s visit. They were limited not just to the West Bank and Gaza, as had been the case during the Intifada, but included Arabs living within the territory of Israel. What is unpardonable, however, is the use of force by the Israeli government totally out of proportion to the scale of the protests. It is believed that helicopter gunships, tanks and anti-tank missiles were used to crush the protests.

The attempts made by the Israeli prime minister, Mr Ehud Barak, to demonstrate that he was not soft on the Palestinians have backfired. Not only has Mr Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian National Authority, regained the moral high ground, which he lost after he was blamed for the collapse of the Camp David summit earlier this year, but Mr Barak has lost considerable support in the international community even among traditional supporters of Israel. In the circumstances, the Palestinians are perfectly justified in demanding an international commission of inquiry into the incidents and have rightly rejected the deadline, to arrive at an agreement, sought to be imposed by Mr Barak. Be that as it may, it is important for Mr Arafat to also realize that sustainable peace in the region can be achieved only if all the leaders of the region have the vision to go beyond tactical considerations. The continuing tragedy of the Palestinians demonstrates that there is no alternative to a dialogue and only in a strategy of forgiveness, reconciliation and compromise is there a way out.    


 
 
TOURISTS OF REVOLUTION 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
The media has no use for what members of the near extinct tribe of tourists of revolution have to say. This is because most of the popular places on their itinerary where the socialist society of the future was being licked into shape now lie in ruins and even the job of clearing the rubble remains unfinished. The only major revolution that has survived has moreover managed to do so by undergoing a thorough brainwash to make it embrace the market, welcome ever larger investment of foreign capital and privatize increasing segments of the public sector.

How do the thinning ranks of the old communist fraternity view what the inheritors of the Maoist legacy have made of the Chinese economy? It is this question which lends some interest to the report of Harkishen Singh Surjeet, secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), on his recent visit to China published in the weekly he edits. The interest of the story he tells lies more in the light it throws on the mentality of the old believers unable to cope with the angst of having to disown their past than on what is going on in that country.

How can an old believer in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism admit that the Chinese Communist Party has kept its tight control over its domain, when so many other fraternal groups have perished, just because Mao Zedong gave up the ghost in good time and Deng Xiaoping, denounced by him as “capitalist roader no. 2”, was the chief man in control? It was under the new dispensation that the country began a slow but steady transition to capitalism.

Surjeet’s silence on the issue cannot obscure the fact of reversal of policy. China’s liaison with the market was no hush-hush affair. Over the last 20 years it has blossomed into a happy marriage. The Chinese leaders themselves recognize the anomaly of “one country, two systems”. The communist label their party still flaunts has not prevented it from setting up special zones, where private enterprise flourishes, increasing income disparities, regional as well as personal, and spawning a new bourgeoisie whose upper crust does not feel embarrassed in the least to indulge in conspicuous consumption.

Surjeet felt thrilled at being told by his guide during a visit to a town that the row of apartments, with airconditioners peeping out, were occupied by workers. And he was overcome by a sense of socialist pride when he learnt that already over 20 million Chinese citizens had cell phones compared to a measly two million in his own country. He could not possibly compliment his hosts on the celerity with which they were managing the transition to capitalism and presiding over what, according to their own canonical texts, was a counter-revolution.

As a distinguished guest of the ruling party he could only congratulate it on the new affluence, even tactfully forgetting to mention the spread of consumerism in the midst of areas of poverty of which, prudently enough, he also failed to take any notice. That is what gives his bid to sell the new China packaged as a going communist enterprise a cynical edge, betraying the failure of his party to understand why the dialectic of history had played a dirty trick on the very ideologues who invented it.

It is true that China has been able not only to achieve a much higher rate of growth than India but also to sustain it for almost two decades. But this success story cannot be isolated from its political context which makes the comparison highly dubious. The question why the ruling party in Beijing thinks it necessary to retain its complete monopoly of power, suppress every voice of dissent, ban all strikes or mass protests and strive for a cosy relationship not only with the United States but with a military regime sponsoring fundamentalist terrorism cannot be brushed aside as irrelevant. The only plausible answer is its fear of popular unrest exploding in its face as happened in 1989.

Friendly tourists of the Chinese revolution may ignore the country’s transition to capitalism. But how do they explain the fact that already by the early Nineties, the private sector in the manufacturing industry accounted for a larger output than the public sector? Even sympathetic but serious students of the Chinese pattern of growth cannot but take due notice of the new distortions and contradictions it has produced. It is not the enormous political costs implicit in a dictatorial regime but the exorbitant economic and social costs of the transition which, according to a recent article by Utsa Patnaik and Sriram Natarajan in a journal held in high esteem by left academics, have to be added to the debit side of the balance-sheet.

The two writers claim that. even at a conservative estimate, “70 million persons in the rural areas today cannot meet their basic needs and about 29 million are absolutely poor”, that “search for work” is a mere euphemism for unemployment, that casual workers in the towns have no social security, that the urban areas already account for seven lakh beggars where once there was none and that to get registered as a permanent worker in a city costs 5,000 yuan, which is equivalent to what a poor labourer earns in 25 years. Surjeet was lucky not to notice the seamy side of growth which might have depressed him even more than the sight of Mamata Banerjee.

Ironically, the Marxist-Leninist tourist of the revolution, much like the ideologically illiterate visitor, is dazzled by the spectacle of the new skyscrapers, the superhighways, the neat look of the streets, the orderly traffic, and the long queues of cars where once there were only cycles, and has no stomach for exploring the dark side of the new prosperity which is partly obscured by official Chinese statistics which, as Patnaik and Natarajan point out, are seldom subjected to the kind of close scrutiny by trained economists as India’s.

There may be some excuse for the failure of casual tourists of the revolution to probe the new areas of grinding poverty, intolerable inequalities, and the secret business deals struck between foreign investors and local party and government officials, often involving huge payoffs. There can be no alibi, however, for Marxists not to explore the causes of the sudden collapse of so many regimes which they held up for decades as models of socialist development. It is here that they will do well to study carefully Amit Bhaduri’s brilliant analysis of this traumatic event in a new book.

Though Bhaduri’s book covers a wider ground and deals with several ticklish problems on the borders of economics and history, his insight into the processes which led to the debacle of Soviet style economies should provide much food for thought to those looking for scapegoats outside the contradictions which riddled the Soviet system from the very start. It was not only the most brutal form of primitive accumulation which was the cause both of the rapid growth in the early period and the stagnation of the later period as also the rationale behind the Stalinist terror.

The main reason for the economy arriving at a dead end was that the system initially designed for extensive growth based on labour intensive techniques could not cope with the new technological revolution and the challenges of intensive growth based on high productivity levels in individual sectors. The full employment in the early period was itself achieved “at the cost of depressed real wage per worker even as the composition of output had to be biased against immediate consumables”.

“Keynes taught us that the fluctuations in income and employment in a capitalist economy are caused by separation between investment and savings,” writes Bhaduri. “Experience of socialist economies showed something worse: the separation between bureaucratic investment and demand by ordinary consumers not only leads to a continuous pressure to keep down real wages but creates an acute scarcity of essential goods.”

The capitalist system needs a regulating mechanism set up by the state to check the anarchy of the market. The kind of stagnation which plagued the socialist economies, on the other hand, could not be avoided “in the absence either of a reasonably functioning market mechanism or a countervailing centre of power provided by a political democracy.” Even the Marxist tourists of the Chinese revolution should be able to see the compulsions which have impelled the Dengist leadership to resort to the market mechanism to keep a certain balance between supply and demand without the permanent turbulence that often goes with democracy.

For the rest, whatever the rhetoric of middle class radical intellectuals most of whom have built quite comfortable niches for themselves in bourgeois societies, there seems to be no escape, things being what they are, from an ethic of austerity for the poor and a consumerist culture for the growing middle class.

As a contemporary writer rightly warns us: “We already live in an era of the self-destruction of the urban environment.” In our case, “the formless masses of urban debris” are none other than uncleared garbage dumps “presi- ded over in unmediated fashion by the requirements of urban consumption”.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ SWIRLING IN THE DARK WATERS 
 
 
BY PARIMAL BHATTACHARYA
 
 
A river has been cause for Nakul Sardar’s unending woes. On September 22, 2000 when the Bhagirathi overflowed near Kalyani, he became a refugee for the fifth time in 12 years. Since then, Sardar, along with his family, has been staying at a Kanchrapara relief camp. In 1988, when Padma wiped out his village in western Bangladesh, Sardar, a farm labourer, sneaked into India in search of a livelihood. Four years ago, he found a home in a settlement at low-lying Majher Char, and a job at a nearby brick kiln. The flood this time has tossed him back to square one.

One might call the flood a “national disaster” to squeeze out more Central funds, or a manmade disaster to attract more votes. But the rhetoric will continue till the assembly elections next year. For the real victims — 17.5 million in seven affected districts — floods are now an annual occurrence, as are the processes which culminate in the event — the subsidence of the delta, sedimentation and faulty water management, the impact of so called “development” and ecocide on the river basin, the curse of a big dam and water sharing politics with the neighbouring country.

There are as many as 52 rivers flowing from India into Bangladesh. Many of them are dammed and husbanded on this side of the border. Nearly 30 years after the birth of Bangladesh, many of the outstanding issues between the two countries continue to revolve around water sharing.

Gone with the tide

According to a Bangladesh water development board report, around 40 million people are affected because of India’s imperious handling of these rivers. Unfair withdrawal of water results in irrigation loss, crop failure, moisture depletion and increased salinity of the soil. It also invites regular flood and drought. As a result, thousands of people are dispossessed.

Entering India, many of them turn into electoral fodder, or, are branded as “infiltrators”. Successive Central governments have failed to evolve any clear cut policy to deal with this problem. Though the early history of the left is enmeshed in refugee rehabilitation, the Left Front government of West Bengal, which has a porous border with Bangladesh, has turned a blind eye since active land reforms stopped in the mid-Eighties.

In the absence of any initiative from the government or local bodies, the immigrants squat on whatever space they can find on the margins of towns and cities and the peripheries of villages. Often, successive evictions push them further into the uninhabitable but ecologically critical areas like the marshes, canals, the low-lying vested land, the drainage basin and the flood plains of rivers.

Unsettled existence

Over time, the settlements interfere with the ecosystem and natural hydrology of an area. This contributes to the factors which induce periodic flooding. The settlers are affected the most. Stagnant, germ infested water and other post-flood miseries continue to plague them long after the relief departments have gone back to sleep.

There are an estimated 10 lakh people living in shanties on the four drainage canals of Calcutta. What it means to the city and to its drainage system was driven home during last year’s floods. But certain things need to be put in perspective. The term “illegal immigrant”, for example, fails to take note of the historical and social affinities, contiguity and the economic imperatives. The viewpoint of the migrants has to be taken into consideration. One should also think of the services the canalside squatters provide to the city before they are bulldozed. They give us cheap labour and recycle our garbage, they subsidize life in a thousand ways. Environmental concerns must be wedded to the concern for the dispossessed.

Starting this year, state universities have made environmental studies a mandatory subject in the degree course. Sardar is not aware of this. Perhaps the lecture room he is occupying with others will see a tired lecturer reel out environmental theories before bored students. By then, Sardar will have rebuilt his home and found work in the kiln. But the bricks he will bake will build more roads and dykes for unplanned “development”, causing more floods. Even as people in India move back to the remnants of their homes, across the border in Bangladesh, another flood has rendered a few million homeless.    


 
 
SEARCH FOR THE RIGHT BALANCE 
 
 
BY SHIBASHIS CHATTERJEE
 
 
The acute funds crisis faced by the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, one of the nation’s premier social science research institutes, has to be viewed not merely as yet another instance of an ideologically motivated political intervention in the matters of higher education, but primarily as concrete evidence of a much wider and pervasive threat to the practice of the social sciences in India.

The crisis of the Centre is unquestionably a very serious development. Yet, clamouring for an immediate financial rejuvenation of the beleaguered institution, important as it is, can only serve a limited purpose. The ostensible financial insolvency of the Centre presents an opportunity to put social sciences back on the national agenda, covering both academic and extra-academic dimensions.

To be fair, in the era of techno-capitalism and globalization, the crisis of the social sciences has assumed global proportions, and it will be unjust to treat the Indian case as exceptional. Many established and reputed social science departments all across the globe, have combated dwindling funds. However, given the tradition of public-private partnership and their linkages with higher education in most advanced societies, reduced funds and budget cuts have not forced these departments to pull down their shutters.

Moreover, newer ways to generate funds for teaching and research in the social sciences are ceaselessly investigated in the West, and large private business houses and endowments have not necessarily adopted a partisan attitude towards innovative ventures to keep the social sciences afloat.

The relationship between the state, market and the social sciences is an exceedingly complex one. Generally speaking, all social sciences study specialized aspects of social living and individual behaviour from their respective vantage points. Undoubtedly, such studies are mediated through and influenced by the policies of the state and the market and their continuous interaction. Professional learning and research in these too, as in all subjects, require considerable financial support from the state, public and private institutions, general support from the ruling political forces, and a climate of public sympathy for the cause of higher learning. Although there is a view that the market is naturally antithetical to the prosperity of the social sciences, historical evidence, borrowed primarily from the West, does not corroborate this view.

The social sciences have become self-conscious, confident, specialized and structured disciplines only since the middle of the 20th century, and their success has generally come about in the West, both in terms of the availability of talent, native or acquired, and the volume of funds generated through public and private initiatives. By contrast, in the erstwhile Soviet Union and the command economies of eastern Europe, while science and engineering leapfrogged in development, the social sciences were consigned to relative obscurity. Therefore, the argument that the market is structurally hostile to the development of the social sciences is decidedly a weak one.

With the advent and dominance of the ideas of neo-conservatism, such as Thatcherism and Reaganomics, fundamental shifts occurred in the vocabulary of the social sciences vis-à-vis the state and the market. Accordingly, there was a slow but perceptible change in the understanding of what constitutes socially desirable and useful knowledge and education, an understanding underpinned by a purely instrumentalist conception of knowledge. This resulted in the apathy of the state to put funds into social science scholarship. The private sector’s decision to “invest” in the social sciences came to depend more on the prospects of net cash returns and less on the need for an unequivocal commitment to enrich culture.

With the coming of the information age and the much publicized celebrations of the ends of ideology, philosophy and history, the raison d’être of the humanities came to be challenged in the very citadel of its strength. Nevertheless, the social sciences put up a brave front against this neo-conservative onslaught, and even succeeded in mounting some limited counter-offensive, without either having to rebut the market, or sacrificing their own, hard-earned autonomous identities.

There is a strong opinion in India that unhesitatingly passes harsh judgments about the quality, or the lack of it, of our social sciences, by a mechanical use of Western standards. Social sciences have increasingly come to be viewed as “unproductive” subjects (even the University Grants Commission echoes this sentiment), the inability of which to open up professional careers justify their obsolescence and closure. The state is, therefore, asked to gradually roll itself back from the social sciences — economics perhaps being the sole “honourable” exception — thereby pushing these disciplines, and the departments and research centres that practise them, towards an inevitable inanition.

Unlike in the West, the private sector or the market forces in India apparently have no sympathy for the social sciences nor any perspective of high culture which would encourage them to fill in the void created by a retreating state. Given this hostility of the forces of the market, the social sciences in India cannot survive without the patronage of the state. This argument, however, would seem self-defeating to those who wish to nail the social sciences on that very ground: their inability to find or attract alternative sources of funds independent of the state.

What this argument misses is the centrality of a cultural context of investment in the social sciences across the globe. Some cultures are receptive to the idea of a free growth of knowledge of all kinds — natural sciences, bio-sciences, engineering, information technology, management sciences, literature and the social sciences — and are sensitive to their widely divergent needs. In these cultures, market forces are not definitionally inimical to the development of the social sciences.

On the other hand, cultures wedded to a unidimensional idea of the homo economicus cannot allow market benevolence to come to the rescue of the social sciences. A society which views education as nothing more than business is disastrous for the social sciences, irrespective of the quantum of wealth of its domestic private sector or the smooth performance of its economy.

India belongs solidly in this latter category. To put the record straight, the institutionalization of the social sciences in India has been extremely unplanned and chaotic, with little bearing on local specificities and professional needs. The quality of many social science departments leaves much to be desired, and the ideas that there should be better quality consciousness and regular internal assessment fall on deaf ears.

The increasing diversity and the specialization of the social sciences, each explicitly formulating its curriculum in a professionally appropriate idiom, have further complicated the situation, particularly in the last two decades. Underdeveloped infrastructure, woefully inadequate research grants, insufficient faculty strength in many cases, extremely unfavourable teacher-student ratio in the colleges, and poor academic standards matched by a depressing lack of motivation among a vast majority of the students, have all conspired to lower performances in the country.

Two issues must be addressed squarely at this critical moment. First, there has to be a recognition of the fact that it is not possible for a fairly organized academic discipline to radically refashion its explicitly formulated curriculum to accommodate vocational interests and thus give up its epistemological identity. Second, there must also come an equally urgent realization that the social sciences will never be directly vocational unlike, say, engineering. The potential of acquiring a job after training in a discipline does not inhere exclusively in the content of its syllabus; it depends considerably on how the state and the market forces respond to the substance of the discipline.

In the Indian context, the most immediate requirement is the creation of a new policy, which will generate meaningful professional opportunities for social science talents in all the sectors of the economy. For it is neither desirable nor practicable to go on multiplying the number of university departments, research centres or posts to absorb all human capital born out of the social sciences. But it must be recognized that the task of matching talent with employment opportunities cannot be the exclusive or primary responsibility of a social science department. Unless the state and the market become active partners of the social sciences, the crisis facing these disciplines would only deepen in the coming days.

A free, democratic society committed to fair terms of social cooperation must achieve a balance between science, technology, literature and the social sciences. Our collective commitment to freedom, equality, democracy and rights involves a free debate about the meanings of all these entities.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

In all unfairness

Sir — What is bugging the Bharatiya Janata Party? That a woman is talking about her love life, or a sadhvi still retains human emotions or that this woman and sadhvi is undermining the male leadership of the party (“BJP blushed after Uma’s sweet nothings”, Oct 10)? Probably all of them and the last especially. For a party with Hindutva as its USP, having a frontranking member, and that too a woman, talk so candidly about her private life is sacrilege. The sangh parivar, remember, is a demonstrably male bastion. Women are coopted, but in restricted roles. That is not to say political ambitions in the fairer sex have been discouraged. Bharti, with her superior oratorial skills had, in fact, been an asset for the party. But that is probably where the problem began. Like the party, Bharti had sold her Hindutva. To suddenly come out with secrets that undermine the “Indian values” that the parivar preaches is political suicide — for the party and for Bharti herself. Don’t be surprised if the party starts avoiding Bharti’s shadow.
Yours faithfully,
Pranabesh Chatterjee, Calcutta

Stone walls do a prison make

Sir — Just as the Indians were about to lose faith in the judicial machinery of the country, it decided to explode the myth that the top political leaders are out of reach of the law enforcing agencies, even when they are involved in criminal activity. The former prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and the former home minister, Buta Singh, have been convicted in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case. In another significant development, J. Jayalalitha, chief of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, along with her closest colleague, Sasikala, have been convicted in the Tansi land deal case.

This sudden reversal of fortune of Rao and Jayalalitha should send a message to all political leaders craving for more money and power.

The obsession with money is not confined to the top ranking individuals. There are some departments in the government where the machinery ensuring the movement of files functions only when it is lubricated with money. The law enforcing department should become pro-active, rather than wait for someone to file a public interest litigation to look into misappropriation of wealth. It requires a little bit of will on the part of the present government to weed out corruption from public life.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — The conviction of P.V. Narasimha Rao on charges of bribery has raised hopes that corrupt politicians will learn their lesson. However, what one fails to understand is why the law has let off the bribe takers, when the act of bribery involves a giver and a taker.

There is a further anomaly. In India, when a criminal is charged under more than one section of the penal code, the several sentences of imprisonement pronounced are often made to run concurrently. This results in the criminal being punished for only one crime.

In the United States, on the other hand, all the sentences for the various charges are added and in some cases, the convicted person is sentenced to imprisonment for 100 years or more. This is undoubtedly a greater deterrent to would-be criminals.

Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy, via email

Sir — Justice delayed is justice denied. But by Indian standards, the resolution of a legal case in three years is a mark of speedy dispensation of justice. Especially so when one considers that those convicted include a former prime minister and a former cabinet minister. What remains to be seen is how the Congress deals with the crisis in its ranks. As far as the former prime minister is concerned, he can pursue his literary career in the peaceful confines of the prison.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Not a flood of joy

Sir — Crores of rupees must have been spent on making this year’s Durga Puja a grand event. The big budget pujas in Calcutta cost around Rs 40 to 50 lakh each. How is such lavish expenses in a flood-ridden state justified?

True, people wait patiently for a full year to celebrate this festival. No one can deprive them of the long-awaited celebration. But I cannot help feeling ashamed of a religion which approves of the mindless wasting of money by some while others go without food and shelter in the middle of devastating floods.

Wouldn’t the money have been better utilized had there been a token celebration, simple and meaningful, with the rest of the money spent in providing relief to the affected people?

Yours faithfully,
Chiranjib Shaw,Titagarh

Sir — The days are gone when pandal-hopping in new uncrushed clothes was the favourite activity during the Durga Puja. Now it is more practical to enjoy the pujas by avoiding the bustle and chaos. Orijit Ghosh’s words aptly sum up the spirit in which the puja is enjoyed by teenagers and many of the grown ups (“Smells like teen spirit”, Oct 7).

For me and my friends, the four days are looked forward to for the prospect of hanging out with friends. An apartment or the house of a friend is selected, where there are night long sessions of adda accompanied by good food and drinks, music and dance. For us, Durga Puja is a great four day long party.

Yours faithfully
Somnath Bhaumik, Bidhannagar

Off cue

Sir — “Getting into the act” (Oct 4) may mislead students interested in theatre education abroad. The sub-heading, “If you dream of studying drama in the US, you will have to go there for auditions to gain admission,” applies only to acting courses. American theatre departments offer many programmes, of which acting is only one. Generally, degrees at the graduate level include the MA, which concentrates on theatre history, dramatic literature and performance theory; the PhD, which extends the MA further to encompass in-depth course work in world theatre, followed by a specific dissertation; and the MFA (master of fine arts), a terminal non-academic degree which specializes in practice, usually acting, direction or technology. It is not required of MA, PhD, or MFA directing or technical applicants to audition for admission.

Over the last 20 years, a few Calcutta students (MAs in English from here) have gone on to do doctorates in theatre in the US. All applied in the regular way, not having to appear in person prior to admission.

Yours faithfully,
Ananda Lal, Calcutta

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