Editorial 1/ Drift in a wood
Editorial 2/ Quick turnover
Bulging granaries
Book Review/ Revealed through mere letters
Book Review/ Who wants to be a cog in the wheel?
Book Review/ Head for desire
Book Review/ Adventures in words
Bookwise / Right time, right press
Paperback Pickings/ Parking ticket for the prime minister
Letters to the editor

There exists an assumption among certain sections of Congressmen that the leadership of the party is sacrosanct. Only individuals belonging to a particular family can lay claims to it. Hence the hue and cry over the possibility that Mr Jitendra Prasada might challenge the authority of Ms Sonia Gandhi. Mr Prasada’s proposed challenge is being equated to an act of effrontery. It is impossible to know, of course, Ms Gandhi’s own feelings on the matter. But it is clear that people around her are not too happy. In this context, it is important to recall the last time there was a semblance of defiance of Ms Gandhi’s position and power. In 1998, when Mr Sharad Pawar queried Ms Gandhi’s claims to be the Congress president, great drama ensued. It brought out the only public display of emotion on Ms Gandhi’s part. It may have been a clever piece of calculated histrionics but the message was clear. Ms Gandhi believes that through marriage she has certain unquestionable rights over the party of which both her husband and mother-in-law were presidents. From that reaction, it would not be unfair to conjecture that she cannot be too happy with the noises that are emanating from Mr Prasada.

It is important to sketch the context from which the disaffection with Ms Gandhi’s leadership has emerged. The Congress, ever since Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee became prime minister, has become a non-player in Indian politics. This is not only because of the poor numerical representation in the Lok Sabha, but has also to do with the fact that it is losing its turf to the Bharatiya Janata Party under Mr Vajpayee. The BJP is increasingly gaining acceptability as the natural party of governance. In its halcyon days, this is exactly how the Congress was seen. It has lost this ground which is being appropriated by the BJP without a semblance of a fight from the Congress quarters. There are reasons to believe that this plight of the party is a fallout of the leadership’s lack of direction and conviction. Ms Gandhi has allowed matters to drift and has shown no initiative to galvanize the workers. The latter accept her as a leader — of this there is no manner of doubt — but they do not know quite what to expect of her. Ms Gandhi, the enigma, may have become the principal liability of Ms Gandhi, the political leader.

Mr Prasada’s challenge, if and when it does materialize, may usher in an era of greater democratization within the Congress. The Congress does not possess an iron frame disciplinary code. It is fluid, flexible and in spirit, egalitarian. These have been its sources of strength. Some individuals, the name of Indira Gandhi comes first to mind, exploited this situation to develop a personality cult. The egalitarian spirit needs to be revived. Any leader’s right to contest for the post of party president should be recognized. The leadership cannot be somebody’s birthright. Ms Gandhi should understand that if she emerges as a winner in an inner-party election, her position will be strengthened. If, on the other hand, she is frightened of losing in a poll, then she has perhaps lost her moral right to remain president. More democracy can only strengthen the Congress, it cannot weaken the party. Most importantly, Ms Gandhi cannot sit back and let things happen. Drift can only keep the Congress in the past, drift will not allow the Congress to be a maker of history.    

Another new government in Goa. This is truly in keeping with recent political tradition in the state — splits, defections, topplings and consequently, shortlived governments. The former chief minister, Mr Francisco Sardinha, had headed a coalition government — which included the Bharatiya Janata Party — for 11 months after toppling the shorter lived Congress government with Mr Luizinho Faleiro at its head. Mr Sardinha had broken away from the Congress with the newly formed Goa People’s Congress. As happens whenever politics becomes a chequerboard of splits and crossings over, he is now hoist with his own petard. The BJP, headed by the new chief minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar, has now formed the government with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party — Mr Sardinha resigned before the confidence vote — only on the strength of defections from the Congress, the GPC and others. The political career of some of the members of the new cabinet is quite dizzying, laterally speaking. To and from the Congress, the MGP and the GPC, the legislators seem committed only to staying in power. The BJP’s strength is now 18 in a 40 member house, ever since four former Congressmen, late of the GPC, and four legislators still in the Congress joined it last week. Mr Sardinha could not have expected anything very different.

The main reason the BJP has given for its discontent is its conflict with Mr Sardinha over Mayem village. Since it was declared “evacuee property” after the Portuguese left Goa, the BJP wished to hand it over to local villagers under the Tenancy Act. It accused Mr Sardinha of protecting the interests of Mr Antonio Pereira, who claims to be the legal descendant of those who left. Mr Sardinha, however, has expressed fears that the BJP is deliberately communalizing the issue. But whatever the professed reason, the BJP has got what it wanted. Mr Parrikar had worked quietly and determinedly since 1994 to expand the BJP’s base in the state. It is just that he has succeeded. In all this excitement, the things that remain unresolved are problems directly related to the happiness and peace of the people. Among these are the rapidly dropping levels in the exchequer and the simmering disturbance over the primacy of languages. Mr Parrikar has neat set of problems to deal with.    

Most of the public attention for the Indian economy is captured by the travails of the rupee, the fickleness of the Bombay sensitive index or the plight of Indian industry. Only major crises in agriculture seem to figure amongst newspaper headlines. Unfortunately, the Indian farmer is back in the news, and headlines are full of the plight of farmers, particularly of those in Punjab. Another year of a bountiful harvest has resulted in an embarrassment of riches. Huge stocks of grains are piling up at the mandis, and the Food Corporation of India simply does not have sufficient storage capacity to procure the entire harvest. The situation in Punjab is complicated by the fact that this year’s harvest has been of inferior quality, falling below the minimum quality specified by the FCI.

The farmers’ lobby has always been strong in India. If anything, the current political equations have only increased their strength. Since the Akali Dal cannot afford to antagonize farmers, it has exerted enormous pressure on the Central government to bail out the farmers. The National Democratic Alliance government in turn cannot afford to ignore the pleas of the Akali Dal since the party is an important constituent of the NDA. Not surprisingly, the Central government has announced that the FCI would lower its usual norms of procurement.

Readers may recall that the problem of excess stocks has occurred several times in the recent past. It is also natural to wonder how Indian agriculture can be producing too much food at a time when we cannot provide adequate nutrition to roughly one-third of the population.

The hard-boiled economist’s answer must be that our total production of food today is too large relative to the market demand for food. The poor who do not get enough to eat are simply unable to pay for the food they so desperately want or need. They are priced out of the market since they do not have the incomes or purchasing power with which to back their demand for food.

The private misery of the farmers is compounded by the tremendous social costs associated with the excess stock of foodgrains. The government has to pump in a huge sum of money into the economy in order to procure these stocks. To the extent that these stocks lie unutilized in the warehouses of the FCI, there is no matching supply of goods circulating in the economy. This can fuel inflationary pressures in the economy. And of course there is also a tremendous wastage in the form of rotting grains. Since all this coexists with an inordinately large section of the population not even getting one square meal a day, there is something obviously wrong with the entire food policy in the country.

The current government has announced a series of measures to liquidate the excess stocks with the FCI. These include efforts to export foodgrains even at a loss since international prices are considerably lower than those prevailing in India. In addition, the government will also try to increase domestic consumption by offering additional quantities of grain to the poor and non-poor at subsidized prices. The government has also said that foodgrain would be allocated for various welfare and employment-oriented schemes as well as for the food-for-work programmes run by different state governments.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem. The magnitude of the problem indicates that either the government’s proposals will not make any significant difference or they have to be run on a scale which cannot be sustained in the long run.

Consider, for instance, the suggestion that the FCI explore export markets. First, there is hardly any chance of the FCI finding buyers for the defective grain produced by farmers in Punjab this year. At best, this might be sold as cattle feed at a fraction of the price at which the grain will have been bought from the farmers. External markets may exist for small quantities of grain of normal quality. But as I have mentioned earlier, the prices at which they can be sold will be significantly lower than the procurement price. In fact, the more the FCI tries to sell, the lower will be the international price since India will be a “large player” in this market. So, the net result is that the export of foodgrains can be effected only at a considerable loss to the exchequer.

A seemingly better solution is the second option suggested by the government — increasing offtake from the public distribution system. The government seems to feel that it can increase purchases from the PDS simply by increasing the availability of foodgrains in the fair price shops. This ignores the budget constraints of the poor. They may not have sufficient purchasing power to buy additional quantities of food, even at the current levels of subsidy.

Detailed household level data suggest that the limited purchasing power of poor households is indeed a binding constraint — a large number of poor households are not utilizing their existing quota. So, the only way to increase the offtake from the PDS is to lower the issue price even further. This will increase the already large food subsidy bill even further, thereby raising the issue of sustainability.

Is it feasible to utilize a much larger volume of foodgrains in rural works programmes? The essential idea behind food-for-work programmes is to employ workers in the creation of rural infrastructure, using the excess food stocks to pay workers in kind. Unfortunately, this solution also has some fundamental problems. If the main purpose of such schemes is to provide additional employment, then the projects which can be carried out must be highly labour-intensive. This places a constraint on the kind of infrastructure or assets which can be created. Typically, these will be assets which are not particularly durable — roads which are washed away during the first monsoon being a good example.

On the other hand, if primacy is given to the creation of durable assets, then the projects which will be chosen cannot be very labour-intensive. So, for any given volume of non-food resources which the government is willing or able to deploy in the rural works programmes, only a small labour force can be employed. This will in turn imply that only a small fraction of the excess food stocks can be liquidated in rural works programmes, given the overall scarcity of non-food resources with the government.

The major problem with the government’s food policy is the high procurement or guaranteed price to the farmers. The procurement price today is way above the market price. It is the interference with market signals which is the root cause of the problem. A lower guaranteed price would force farmers to allocate their land in line with market demands. A smaller area of land would be devoted to foodgrains as farmers diversified in favour of high-value products such as flowers, fruits and vegetables.

This would actually benefit the entire rural sector and not just the rich farmers. A more prosperous agriculture would result in larger employment and increased incomes in the hands of the poor. An increase in incomes of the poor and hence in their demand for foodgrains would provide farmers the incentive to reallocate their land so as to enable them to supply the “right” quantity of food.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    

Edited by Nayantara Sahgal,
HarperCollins, Rs 395
By Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit,
HarperCollins, Rs 295

Letters reveal more about the author than any other kind of writing, especially when they are written to someone close. Before Freedom is a collection of Jawaharlal Nehru’s letters to his sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, written over 40 years.

The book opens with a 20 year old student writing to his nine year old sister: “I am sending you a little teddy bear and a few other things...I love teddy bears.”

It closes with a letter from a 66 year old prime minister: “Today is Buddha Jayanti day and the full moon of Vaisakh will rise again as it did 2,500 years ago on the Buddha...May we prove worthy of the greatest of our countrymen.”

In the intervening years, much changed in the lives of the siblings and in the world they occupied. The letters, thus, form a huge canvas on which Nehru paints a self-portrait — and brings to life, the son, the father, the husband and the brother.

The turbulent external environment in the country naturally permeates the letters. But it is the routine exchange of notes between a brother and sister and what it reveals about them and the family that is more interesting.

After a visit from his nieces in jail, Nehru writes: “All of them — Rita especially — reminded me of how my hair was all going grey, a fact of which I was fully conscious. Chand, very tactfully, said that this of course was no sign of old age!”

Some years later, the subject crops up again. “Indu is 27 1/2. I just can’t grasp that and each time I have to calculate from the date of her birth in order to assure myself... Now I am 55 1/2 — astonishing. I do not take kindly to this rapid passing of time.”

The letters are always lively. In one written to his niece, Rita, after the birth of his grandson, Rajiv, he says: “The babe, I understand, has got powerful lungs and makes a lot of noise. He is rather perverse, but then the poor fellow has had little chance to learn manners so far. Let’s hope he will learn to behave himself soon. He is nearly two weeks old now and he ought to realize the responsibilities of age.” The book reminds us that people who become “icons” also have human faces. And if the letters we write are a mirror of what we are, then Nehru must have been an interesting man to know. He was certainly very close to the sister he addresses these letters to and reveals himself to her in crucial ways.

On a new year’s eve, he writes: “I write to you again so soon because I feel like doing so. The old year is passing as I write — it is almost the stroke of midnight — and the desire to write to you on this coming of the new year became strong within me. To send you all my love.”

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit reciprocated the affection. She dedicates her memoir The Scope of Happiness to the “two men I loved, my brother Jawaharlal Nehru; my husband, Ranjit Sitaram Pandit”.

Her book gives a vivid account of the family’s life before and after the freedom struggle overtook them. Like the letters, Pandit’s memoir underlines the strong family ties of the Nehrus. She is gentle even to the niece who shunned her. “Indira, to me, is another daughter — in fact, my eldest daughter...”

Pandit’s daughter, Nayantara Sahgal, who has edited the letters and written a foreword to the memoir, wishes her mother had spoken more frankly about Indira. When she first read the letters, Sahgal felt as if “she had chanced on scratches on stone revealing civilization”.

Well-written and sprinkled with entertaining anecdotes, Pandit’s memoir makes for gripping reading. Not least because it is the story of a vibrant woman who lived a happy life. “I am at peace with myself. I have lived most of my life in the sunlight and enjoyed it. Now that the twilight has come, I welcome it...”    

By K.R. Wadhwaney,
Ajanta, Rs 195

This book is a comprehensive biography of the late Lala Amarnath. It was published a month after Amarnath’s death and is a befitting tribute to one of the first icons of Indian cricket. Amarnath’s cricketing exploits have been portrayed from his early days to his retirement. His later role as selector has also been described. The book has a fascinatingly frank portrayal of numerous controversies and anecdotes from the formative years of Indian cricket.

The struggle between the nawabs and the maharajas on the one hand and the middle class cricketers on the other is represented in detail. The contest between Vizzy and the maharaja of Patiala and cricketers like Lala Amarnath and C.K. Nayudu in order to control the destiny of Indian cricket is vividly illustrated.

The book is not just a biography of Amarnath but also an account of the history of Indian cricket and an enumeration of what cricket used to be in India during its formative years. The book depicts how controversial selections have been an integral part of Indian cricket since its inception.

Kishin Wadhwaney is a former assistant sports editor of the Indian Express and this is his sixth book on cricket. Lucid and flowing prose is not the author’s forte but he specializes in culling out details and suddenly digressing into descriptions of interesting incidents which would normally have faded into oblivion. However, the author should be praised for his critical perspective as well.

Amarnath’s legendary maiden test century against England in Bombay and his controversial rustication from the tour of England in 1936 are recorded in detail. Wadhwaney shows how Amarnath was a pawn in the bitter power struggle between the maharaja of Patiala and Vizzy and how players were incited into the formation of lobbies. India’s tour of England in 1946 and the first tour of Australia in 1947 are also described eloquently.

Wadhwaney has given an account of how Amarnath impressed even the great Don Bradman with his talents. His shrewd captaincy, clever bowling on all kinds of wickets and so on were appreciated by Bradman. The book has an enumeration of the hidden agendas which led to the surprise withdrawals of Fazal Mehmood, Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Merchant and Russi Modi prior to the tour Down Under.

The portion that deals with Amarnath’s stint as a selector makes for fascinating reading. The author demonstrates that Amarnath’s keen cricketing mind made him select Jasu Patel for the Kanpur test against Richie Benaud’s Australian team in the 1959-1960 series. Jasu Patel, who took 14 wickets for 124 runs in the match, bowled India to their first ever win against Australia.

The narrative is interspersed with stories of Amarnath’s acerbic temper, intriguing nature, desire for sycophants and his fondness for “leg, peg and egg”.    

By Lee Seigel,
HarperCollins, Rs 295

This widely acclaimed book is a good read even if it is slightly laboured somewhere midway, when it struggles to maintain the tone of irony and irreverent humour it sets out with in the beginning. The author takes on the pleasurable task of running down academics and their paranoia, typical of a fragile self-esteem that operates amidst the constraints of university politics and the pressures of publishing, the ultimate test of an academic’s accountability. This indictment is not restricted to academics and their foibles alone. We have an equally mordant look at the collective myth-mania that Westerners have indulged in, as they have made their way into India in search of soul, solace and sex.

Seigel’s protagonist is Leopold Roth, a Sanskrit scholar and a full-tenured professor of Indian studies. Roth suddenly finds himself obsessed with the idea of a sexual liaison with an American-born Indian student. Driven partly by an eroticized personality and onanistic tendencies, Roth suffers from the continual yearning to enjoy a more tactile and prescient engagement with his academic pursuit and passion until it becomes a haunting desire to seek an Indian woman and explore with her the mysterious terrain of Indian sexuality.

Roth finds his opportunity when an attractive American-born Indian woman enrols for his summer course on Indian erotics. Lolita Gupta is not even remotely interested in the course herself but suffers it out of deference to her parents’ wishes and their preoccupation with roots. For Roth, the opportunity is heaven-sent as he devises a number of ploys, mostly juvenile, to get closer to his student, even smuggle her out to the subcontinent and into his bed. Roth’s fantasy is played out to the accompaniment of the Kamasutra’s stirring poetry, but the sense of fulfilment is ephemeral because the young woman bolts one night. Worse is to follow when the professor’s escapade is inadvertently made known before the university authorities by Lolita, and Roth loses his job, his wife and his mind. Deliverance comes in the form of a bizarre murder with the postscript to Roth’s story written by his faithful student, Anang Saighal.

What saves this rather simple narrative from banality is its close intermeshing with the pretensions and preoccupations of the academic world, the frailty of its practitioners. The latter are only too human, overlook the most glaring deficiencies and perpetuate all sorts of nepotism and opportunism but cover them up with the gloss of academic credibility.

Seigel is particularly funny and effective when he presents his readers with Gupta’s term paper on the Kamasutra with Roth’s extravagant comments in praise of the same. Or, on another occasion, when he celebrates, almost to an absurd extent, the omnipotence of the footnote in academic research. Seigel’s command over the language is intended not just to impress and even exhaust his readers, both of which he does, but also to make a self-conscious statement about postmodernism and its engagement with and deconstruction of texts.

It is this element which makes the narrative dense and a trifle pompous even if the author intended otherwise. It is when he assaults, quite brutally, the eccentricities and markers of the contemporary world, with its dependence on computers and cut-and-paste icons to redo and recycle redundant prose, that Seigel’s writing is at its best and leaves his readers in chuckles. The section on the various versions of the Kamasutra, adapted to a wide array of readers – Japanese, French, German and Zambian, to name a few — all in user-friendly modes, to fit their cyber programmes and networks is particularly charming.

Although fiction does not require a validating agenda, one is, however, never quite sure of Seigel’s intent. Yet, there are indications that Seigel is anxious to put some things on record. For instance, the complexity and angst of the contemporary Western academic as he struggles to redress the travails of orientalism, the tyranny of publishers and that of the university authorities with their “publish or perish” policy. In the end, Seigel betrays his own orientalism when he firmly grounds the more exalted emotion of love in his wife’s capacity and emotional reserve and the more heady appeal of sexual energy on the mysterious Indian woman. For him, the ultimate love that Roth’s wife, Sophia, is capable of is beyond encapsulation in a book and something that Vatsyayana, the author of the Kamasutra, could never really contemplate.    

Picador, Price not mentioned

A selection of writings is rather disconcerting. It leaves the reader with the feeling of having watched a series of movie trailers. Besides, the sincere reader also runs the risk of being unfair to the writer, something he does not like to do. A lot of good writing gets “going” from, maybe, the fifth page, or the second chapter. A piece in a selection may simply put the reader off to such an extent that he would not touch it if it came to him in full. He would have missed some good reading, probably, and the writer a good reader.

Given all these negatives, the Picador selection does very well. It is a collection of writing which forms a large part of the Picador autumn list, and says as much about the quality of the writers Picador is publishing as the range of Picador’s interests. Of the non-fiction pieces, perhaps the one likely to attract the greatest interest is the extract from Michael Herr’s Kubrick, in which the author talks about his longtime friendship with the famous film director. Some of the individuality of the man comes through in the extract, woven deftly into a candid and humorous account of Herr’s first meeting and telephone conversation with Stanley Kubrick.

Apart from the memoir, there is an extract from the biography of Rimbaud, by Graham Robb, which aspires to reconcile the poet’s adventures in words and in life. “The Voice of Modern Hatred” by Nicholas Fraser records the reflections of a journalist who is seeking an answer to the questions raised by Europe’s quest of hatred from 1999 onwards. If “Kubrick” brings to life the culture of the United States in the late 20th century, Fraser vivifies one of the century’s inescapable realities. Perhaps even more disturbingly, Kay Redfield Jamison discusses an epidemic of the time in “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide”. The range of genres in non-fiction writing moves from conventional biography and memoir to reflection and intimate-scientific writing.

The fiction harvest is rich, with a number of first novels. The new name out of Africa is Moses Isegawa. The extract from his novel, Abyssinian Chronicles, opens up the world of chaos and brilliance during and after Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda through the medium of a voice that is wiser than its years, but full of curiosity and impersonal humour. A deaf-mute skateboard freak is the narrator in the extract from Kief Hillsbery’s first novel, War Boy, a moving mixture of speed, violence and tenderness. Equally striking is the voice of the narrator in Trezza Azzopardi’s first novel, The Hiding Place, a story of the Cardiff underworld of the Sixties. Place is particularly prominent in the extracts, even if it is an account of the Scottish exploration of the Darien in the 1690s in the extract from The Rising Sun, Douglas Galbraith’s first novel.

The other theme is, inevitably, love. Love, redefined through relationships never spoken of before, therefore not acknowledged, now creating new areas of sensitivity. Amy Bloom’s beautiful story, “A blind man can see how much I love you” and the extracts from Jeffrey Lent’s In the Fall and Ben Sherwood’s The Man who ate the 747 capture the poetry and madness of love that refuse to be defeated by the modern day diseases of prejudice, cynicism, ambition and cancer. Many of the authors featured in the selection are obviously worth waiting for.    


Outside pure textbook publishing, the book business, for the most part, runs on hunches. Whether the idea for a book comes from a writer, literary friends or the imagination of the editor who acquires the manuscript, it is generally expressed in these terms: “I think people will like this book. People will probably buy it.” There is no cut-and-dry method that would conclusively determine that a particular idea would definitely work or how many copies of a book would sell; it is all a general impression that this is the right idea at the right time, expressed in the right language and style.

Ideas reach editors in different ways. They arrive unsolicited everyday through the mail. They come by phone, sometimes by writers who are on the publisher’s list. They arrive in the editor’s mind because of his daily interaction with the culture in which he lives.

The acquisition editor who is responsible for securing manuscripts for his company to publish, sifts through the deluge of possibilities, waiting for an idea that strikes him as extraordinary and profitable.

Once the idea is born, the acquisition editor prepares and presents the proposal in front of a committee made up of marketing and finance personnel. Proposals’ committees, as they are called, are oftenest less interested in the editorial quality than they are in the profitability. The editor has to convince them that the proposal makes good business sense.

Publishing history is full of the rejection of manuscripts that went on to become world classics. Shaw’s plays, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki Expedition spring immediately to mind. But this history is equally full of intrepid editors who have pushed through manuscripts against all opposition.

Probably the most recent case is Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time that was rejected as too esoteric and experimental but was pushed through by the Bantam editor at his personal risk on the condition that while he would cover all the losses he expected a share of the profits, if any. Bantam agreed and the rest has become history.

But the hunch alone does not make for success. Once the contract is signed, several different wheels have to be set in motion. The editor ensures that the author does the best job he can with the book.

The promotion and publicity people plan the mailing of review copies to influential newspapers and periodicals; they also prepare catalogue copies that would help sales representatives to “push” the book in bookshops and libraries.

However great and timely the idea, there are nuts and bolts in the distribution chain that need to be tied up. No book sells on its own steam. When a book is published, it usually receives a concerted promotion push for a month or two. After that, the fate of the book — whether it will “grow legs” or sit unsold on the shelves — rests on the reading public.

It is at this point that the editor’s hunch will be put to the real test. With the entertainment industry determinedly vying for the consumer’s money, time and space, it isn’t easy to hit the jackpot these days. But unusual things happen. It is just that the timing of the idea has to be right and this has to be accompanied by a good promotion push.

But having said that, it may be added that although hunches are important, the “blockbuster mentality” remains. This is the publishers’ penchant to stick to tried and tested brand names. The reason is simple enough: it is less risky to publish authors whom the public likes. So it is best to stick to Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Danielle Steel and so on.

Yet at the same time, all the best-selling authors were “unknowns” before they arrived. They became popular because some editors stuck their necks out for them. Ravi Vyas    

(UBSPD, Rs 295)

By Parmesh Dangwal is a recently enlarged biography of one of India’s most famous icons of women’s empowerment. In 1972, Bedi was the first Indian woman to join the police service and ever since her career has been a public spectacle of gutsy thinking and acting. Storming a notoriously corrupt and politicized male bastion, Bedi has made her presence felt at every stage of her rise to joint commissionership of police in Delhi. Her traffic control drives in the capital and her pioneering work in narcotics control in the Northeast are precursors to her most significant achievements in prison reform in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. Dangwal’s account weaves together newspaper reports, Bedi’s own writings and considerable research, to touch on such aspects of her life as the importance of tennis and spirituality in her work. But the interpretation of the facts remains anodyne and adulatory. A little more critical curiosity about this remarkable woman’s life would have made this book far more interesting to read.


(Katha, Rs 200)

By Anand

is Saji Mathew’s translation of a modern Malayalam novel. It interlaces stories within stories, history and fiction, the authentic and the spurious to create a rich and teasing narrative. Starting with the account of 18th-century Bengali silk-weavers by the historian, Romesh Dutt, Anand moves on to the story of Eklavya in the Mahabharata. This leads, in turn, to a fictitious purana and an old play which elaborate and comment on this story. “An expanding labyrinth of relations between texts, commentaries and discussions on commentaries”, this is an accomplished example of the avant garde in Indian vernacular literature.


(Orient Longman, Rs 350)

By Pratibha Ray is Bikram K. Das’s translation of the Oriya novel, Adibhumi (1993). Ray presents a living record of the social and political upheavals within the embattled Bonda tribe in the forests and mountains of southwestern Orissa. Focusing on the Bonda women, married in their late teens to 10 year old boys, Ray transforms anthropology into fiction, using her post-doctoral field work and the work of the noted anthropologist and poet, Verrier Elwin.


(Orient Longman, Rs 150)

By Jayati Ghosh and C.P. Chandrasekhar looks at South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong to reflect on the problems and prospects of different strategies of economic growth in developing countries. It shows the contradictory implications of the process of industrialization and the problems of unregulated finance making liberalized economies extra sensitive to the slightest ripple in investor sentiments.    


Driving Mr Vajpayee

Sir — The indications are there. One only has to believe them. The much hyped knee replacement in all likeness is leading to a replacement in leadership in the Bharatiya Janata Party — if not in person, at least in character. There is little doubt, the long absence of the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, from the scene of action has been assiduously put to use by the sangh parivar to change to hardline drive and L.K. Advani, Vajpayee’s anointed driver for the time, has been more than helpful. A convalescing Vajpayee can now do little more than work according to the set mode. The recent change in the leadership of Uttar Pradesh has to be seen in this perspective. Although Vajpayee’s yeah to the dethroning of Ram Prakash Gupta, whom he had defended twice before, might seem evidence of his pragmatism, it is really an example of efficient backseat driving. Advani had always wanted Gupta to go, and now, with the family on his side, it is his will working.
Yours faithfully,
D. Banerjee, Calcutta

Northeast worries

Sir — The press has the right to exercise its freedom. But readers also expect that what is published in newspapers is the closest one can get to the truth. Unfortunately, this is not so.

The report, “Nipamacha quit threat over truce” (Sept 28), stated that the people of Ukhrul, Chandel, Tamenglong and Senapati had also organized rallies, albeit in support of the demand of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak- Muivah) for extension of the ceasefire. The districts mentioned are inhabited by both Kukis as well as Nagas and the compositions of these two communities are more or less the same. However, Kukis are dead against the ceasefire extension. Hence the statement that the “people” of the districts held rallies in support of the ceasefire is an exaggeration. The information is biased in favour of one community. To air the interests of only one section of the population to the neglect of that of the rest is bound to threaten coexistence in the region.

Yours faithfully,
S. Lalboy Haokip, Shillong

Sir — The caption of the front page photograph of the October 17 issue of The Telegraph (Guwahati edition) should actually have had reference to the Assam state transport corporation bus stand at Paltanbazar, Guwahati, and not the Israeli, Palestinian and the United States delegations at the summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The error is a disappointment to the Northeast readers of The Telegraph. We hope that such errors will not occur in the future as it lowers the esteem of the newspaper.

Yours faithfully,
Saibal Shobhan Deb, Golaghat

Sir — The wrong caption for the photograph on the front-page on October 17 is only an example of the casual attitude towards the Guwahati edition. It is hoped that The Telegraph will be more careful in future.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Dutta, Tinsukia

Sir — In the report, “Rail alarm after bombing threat” (Oct 13), I have been misquoted. Since this might create misunderstanding and controversy in our relations with the state police and the public, I put forward the following clarification.

Sushanta Talukdar, the reporter, met me hurriedly during lunch hour on October 12, without prior appointment. He asked me as to what security arrangements had been made in view of the bomb threat by the National Democratic Front of Boroland. I replied that he had come to the wrong person as the matter is a state subject. The railways would come into the picture only when railway security is brought into the concurrent list. Hence the superintendent of railway police and the state police could be contacted for reply.

The reporter continued with more queries, as to whether Government Railway Police strength was sufficient or not and what the Railway Protection Force was doing in the matter. I replied that while Assam has only one superintendent of railway police, West Bengal has more than three SRPs. As regards the RPF, we were doing checks at the pit lines with the help of sniffer dogs at Dibrugarh, Guwahati and New Bongaigaon. I also said that we had alerted all the staff in the divisions.

That was all I said. To say that I had stated that the railways needed control over security to effectively counter rebel attacks is but a figment of the imagination and impracticable.

Yours faithfully,
S.Z. Samuel, additional chief security commissioner, Railway Protection Force, Northeast Frontier Railway, Maligaon
Sushanta Talukdar replies:
I stand by my story.

Sir — It is unfortunate that the largest and the most trustworthy mutual fund in the country, the Unit Trust of India, has announced its plan to jettison the popular Rajlakshmi unit scheme, 1992, stunning parents and grandparents of 12 lakh children. After making a commitment to pay the assured returns on the scheme, how can an institution like the UTI renege on this promise? A few years back, the UTI had paid handsome dividends along with bonus to the investors of the US’64 scheme despite the fact that the scheme was showing a negative net asset value. It drew substantial amounts from the free reserves of the trust as a whole. Why cannot something similar be done for the Rajlakshmi scheme?

When US’64 was not doing well, our finance minister had issued circulars to nationalized banks, directing them to invest in US’64. This time there is complete silence even though Flexibonds’96 of the Industrial Development Bank of India and the Rajlakshmi scheme have been prematurely terminated.

Yours faithfully,
Subrata Sen Gupta, Jorhat

Sir — The gruesome incident at the Guwahati railway station on October 20 where trigger-happy men in uniform went berserk killing each other and also three civilians (“Soldiers in train battle”, October 21) has left the city in shock. Now to add to all our day-to-day woes, the menace posed by the United Liberation Front of Asom and former terrorists or the surrendered ULFA, extortionists, and other antisocial elements, we have protectors letting loose terror. An ordinary man’s life has become very cheap. It is hypocritical to tell the world now that we are citizens of a democracy.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Das, Guwahati

Sir — On October 15, almost all national and regional dailies carried the news that stung by widespread criticism of its demand for swadeshi church, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had climbed down on its demand but insisted that Christians should at least accept or understand that there can be salvation outside the church too.

This concept that the RSS is now trying to propagate is one which no true Christian can accept. As a follower of Christ, let me make it known to the RSS members that every Christian is bound by the commission of Jesus Christ that “repentance (with a view to and as the condition of) forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem”.

Yours faithfully,
Omar Luther King, Shillong

Sir — The seed of corruption planted five decades ago by adopting faulty means of appointing bureaucrats has now flowered, causing immense trouble to India. Bureaucrats are today the biggest hurdle to development. If Indians wish to become public servants, it is to attain popularity, social status and wealth.

The process of selecting public servants should not depend on marks attained in examinations. The public service should be made into a specialized branch of study in universities available after class XII.

Yours faithfully,
Mohammed Iftakhar Latif, Guwahati

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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

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