Editorial 1/ Too plain
Editorial 2 / Very trying
Expanding horizons
Book Review / Everyday flights
Book Review / Scrutiny of political legacies
Book Review / Fundamental plots
Fair men meet foul days
Bookwise / Is good editing dead?
Paperback pickings / Modern India for the
Letters to the editor

In an ideal world, new states would signify new hope. This is obviously not an ideal world. Each of the three newborn states, Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand, is beginning its history with discontent, division and even violence. The birth of Uttaranchal appears to be comparatively less sanguinary, if the beating up of the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr Digvijay Singh, on the eve of the birth of Chhattisgarh is taken into account. But given the long battle for statehood, the deaths, bloodshed and politicking that make up the background for the formation of Uttaranchal, the adamant attitude of the Bharatiya Janata Party high command in foisting Mr Nityanand Swami on the state as its chief minister seems rather reckless. It is not merely that the Uttarakhandis, as the people still call themselves, resent being governed by an “outsider”, or a man from the plains. The nomination of Mr Swami is unwelcome to many of the BJP legislators of the region. Starting off a new administration with inbuilt seeds of dissent does not sound intelligent, whatever may be the high command’s calculations regarding the comparative percentage of votes from the hills and plains when the delimitation of new constituencies is completed. There is, in the nomination, a two-pronged insensitivity. The new state has been born of a movement conducted by people who felt deprived, and put it down to their ethnic and cultural differences with the Hindi mainstream. The political appropriation of the movement was inevitable. Even then, a certain amount of respect was due to the movement. Mr Swami’s chief ministership does not fulfil this need. Besides, it was important to have a chief minister who would be perceived as a “son of the soil”. The Congress chose a tribal chief minister for Chhattisgarh, never mind other repercussions, and the BJP itself is trying to do the same for Jharkhand. Mr Swami unfortunately does not fulfil this need either. To make the new state prosperous, a universally acceptable person would have helped. The task before the chief minister of this resource-starved, infrastructurally weak state is enormous. Distractions through opposition will not help him.

The situation before the political parties is ripe for exploitation, and they are simply using it. The new assemblies in the states are being formed according to the number of legislators the parties have in the region after being cut off from the parent state. But this strength was decided in the assembly elections that last took place in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. State formation was one of the main electoral planks. The new states, as distinct entities, have not had the chance to elect their governments. This leaves the dominant political parties with an open field. They can impose whomsoever they like. They might have to learn, though, that this is not an easy game. Imposition may not always produce the desired results.    

There is a hint that the new chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadev Bhattacharya, is going to act like a realist rather than as an indoctrinated ideologue. This is evident from his admission that it is not possible for the administration alone to solve the problem of violence in the districts. The problem is a political one and needs to be handled at that level. This is not to suggest that the administration should surrender their responsibilities. It is a recognition of a prevailing reality. As a first step towards addressing the political problem, Mr Bhattacharya has offered to hold talks with the Trinamool Congress. This is the only substantive step that has been proposed by the Left Front to solve the problem of terror in rural West Bengal. Mr Bhattacharya has also not allowed his ego to prevail over his priorities. He has not insisted that he will only parley with the leader of the Trinamool Congress, Ms Mamata Banerjee. He made it clear that he is willing to talk to any person who is sent as the representative of the Trinamool Congress. This suggests a certain degree of openness on the part of Mr Bhattacharya which cannot but be welcomed. The outcome of the talks cannot, of course, be predicted, but at least the chief minister has struck the right attitude and the right chords.

Mr Bhattacharya’s admission has embedded within it a far more frightful truth which, one hopes, Mr Bhattacharya will have the courage to face as chief minister. An escalation of violence should be quelled by the administration and the police. It should not, under normal circumstances, go beyond the concerned district magistrate and the superintendent of police. At most, it should reach the home secretary. The very fact that the problem has to be handled at a political level indicates the deterioration not just of the bureaucracy but also of the overall condition. Bureaucrats, especially the police, have been made so subservient to political bosses that they are frightened of taking action without a clearance from Alimuddin Street. This allows a small problem to get blown up. Three decades of left rule has broken the backbone of the administration. All clashes thus take on a political colouring. Mr Bhattacharya’s talks with the Trinamool Congress may produce a truce, but it will not lead to a long term solution. To achieve that, Mr Bhattacharya will have to work to undo some of his “achievements” as minister in charge of police. This is a tall ask from a chief minister who is new to his job and still in awe of his predecessor. But if Mr Bhattacharya wants to be remembered, he must try to break out on his own. That is the best he can do. As the poet, T.S. Eliot — one of Mr Bhattacharya’s favourites? — said, there is only the trying.    

India has nuclear weapons, and India has a navy. This just about sums up the cause of the attraction that some of the major powers of the world feel towards India. Of course India has one of the largest economies, and which is also amongst the fastest growing in the world, and it has a large pool of trained scientific manpower particularly in the information technology field, all of which is fluent in English. It has one of the largest middle classes in the world, and which, in a couple of decades, will be the largest in absolute terms. It has a functioning democracy, warts and all, and a rule of law that is the envy of all former colonial societies.

In 50 years, India has come a long way, and there is a worldwide confidence that it is heading in the right direction for the next bit of the long haul ahead to put it amongst the top in the world. All these are necessarily part of the attraction. But in the world of realpolitik, where security counts for more than just brownie points, the possession of nuclear weapons and the sheer presence of India’s navy make that much more of a difference in its attractiveness.

This is not to belittle the presence, and contribution, of the army and the air force. But in the world of global trade, its strategic aura and in its sheer reach, India’s navy scores above its sister services. The “silent service”, as it likes to call itself, is not so silent, after all, when it comes to registering its presence on the world map. India’s geography seems to have suited the navy just as much as it has thwarted the growth of the army and the air force onto the world stage. The perennially pernicious neighbour has kept the army busy in a proxy war for the last decade. While every casualty is an avoidable loss, the proxy war has cost the army more than its fair share of battle losses. In some ways, it has diverted attention away from other aspects of modernization and future wars.

The air force has all along been handicapped by a vision of itself as a tactical military force, and its warfighting doctrines reflect that near-sightedness. There is, finally, a change underway. But for that change to be actualized to its logical end, the doctrines have to precede hardware, and not the other way around. Once the air force makes that decision, then there is really nothing that can prevent it from becoming an able air arm of India’s presence regionally, diplomatically and militarily. Until that happens, India will have to continue to rely solely on its navy. And as the recent visit of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, underlined, the navy remains the focus of attention as far as India is concerned, and as its relations with Russia underline.

In the next five years, the navy should be a three-aircraft-carrier service, have 16 non-nuclear submarines, eight top-class destroyers, 19 frigates, 25 corvettes and 21 amphibious warfare vessels. The support elements too are expanding just as rapidly, and this is just the surface and sub-surface combat vessels. An increase in the air-arm too is underway. And by the end of the decade India’s navy could well have the largest regional presence, other than the United States navy if it continues with its current force deployment. That is critical to understanding the growth of the Indian navy and the national security outlook, which fuels and propels that augmentation. The answer, once again, lies in geography.

The location of India, astride the most important global trading routes, and in the vicinity of the principal petroleum producing nations of the world, makes its armed forces of particular significance. And when the naval elements of the military are geared up for that role, it makes for even greater worth. This is where the if comes into play, and a question mark that hangs over the continued deployment of the US military assets in the Indian Ocean region. The compulsion to remain is of course the security of energy supplies, as good a reason as there can be.

But the forces that argue against this are equally compelling. In an era of diminishing defence budgeting, how much expenditure can be sustained for overseas deployment is an open-ended question. The cost factor is vital to US defence projections and its parliamentary procedures. The US Congress scrutinizes every dollar spent, and in an age where European responsibilities are expected to remain high, and east Asian responsibilities even higher, there are critics of west Asian deployment. While an isolationist period is not necessarily on the cards, but one which questions the scale of deployment vis-à-vis necessity is certainly underway. And they are encouraged by incidents like Aden, USS Cole and the deaths of 17 unarmed sailors. US deployment in the Arabian Sea has made its personnel into extremely high value targets for the international terrorist network that encircles the region. The deployment is a constant attraction for their actions, so to say. When incidents like Aden happen, they only encourage those who call for a cutback in deployment. So, if there is to be a cutback, how is it to be supplemented, how it is to be phased, and who is to monitor these are some of the queries that do the rounds whenever the issue is raised. And the answer to all of these, currently and in the long term, is India and its navy.

The basic tenet of India’s national security philosophy of having regional solutions to regional problems fits perfectly into this space provided by the anti-deployment argument.

India has all along been directed by an almost xenophobic attitude toward the presence of non-regional military forces in the area. This attitude was, however, coupled with its own insular vision of itself, as merely a champion of the oppressed, a voice of the postcolonial. That India has been transformed while its economy has been irrevocably changed.

The new India thinks of itself differently, and looks at its role in the world from a completely new prism. And it is one that engages India with the rest of the world not merely in terms of trade, computing or handicrafts, but one in which diplomacy and security interests too are intertwined with those of the modern world. This India is eager to engage with the developed world, just as it has done recently with Russia as a “peer”, said a think tank in the US.

As India develops, and institutionalizes, its relations with the US, as it has done so with Russia, there is a regional role to play. In the changed global scenario, this is not a role that threatens the position of any of the established players. It is a role that merely complements the expanding diplomatic relations with Washington, and eases the psychological burden on Moscow. And it is a role that its security policies have all along envisioned, and which its navy is perfectly poised to enact.

The navy is alone among India’s services to have had a vision that stretched as far as the horizon provided by the Indian Ocean. The army and the air force have yet to develop that vision, even in a continental sense. And the navy has been aided in that vision by having an in-house research and development division that provides the tools for that vision. All sorts of hardware and software are being imagined, researched, developed and, if possible, tested for induction into the role that the navy envisions for itself. Any development that is deemed uneconomical is purchased, thus saving monies and time.

This has been demonstrated during Putin’s recent visit and the various defence agreements concerning the navy. In the Eighties, the navy had undergone a somewhat similar expansion. That uncoordinated growth resulted in years of decay and decline. But the difference this time around is that the current phase is dictated as much by diplomacy as it is by a military sense. Above all, it is dictated by an India that sees itself playing a role in the world commensurate with its vision and security interests. And those interests are guided primarily by a belief in the principal that regional solutions are best for regional problems.    

Galerie 88, Rs 1,000

Dharmanarayan Dasgupta died at a very critical juncture of his career. He passed away leaving unanswered questions about his future as an artist. He had already come into his own and made a place for himself as a modern Indian painter, even though his exposure outside Bengal was limited. But never before had his work displayed such a carefree attitude as it did during his last days. One wonders if he had intimations of death and was laughing in the face of it.

More than any of his contemporaries, Dharmanarayan’s works were shot through with a wry sense of humour and satire of the kind one encounters in a work like Hutom Penchar Naksha. It is imbued with a gallows humour best exemplified in Ganesh Haloi’s tribute to his fellow artist in a Society of Contemporary Artists publication. Before his impending death, Haloi had sent a carpenter to Dharmanarayan’s newly-acquired flat in Salt Lake. Later, the carpenter, on the verge of tears, recounted how the dying artist had one day asked him to make a coffin for himself.

His humour, at times, could be barbed and this mordant quality enabled him to hold things to ridicule. It allowed him to mock at the inherent hypocrisies, foibles, venery and sexual repression of the middle class, famously through images of voluptuous ladies dallying with their dhoti-clad, dandified consorts hanging midair. The lucidity of the lines as well as the biting social commentary were derived from Kalighat pats. Chagall blessed the couple with a free-floating magic. But only the chemistry of Dharmanarayan’s creativity could have given shape to these fantastic, oneiric images expressed through tempera on canvas — so localized, yet with an outward-looking consciousness.

When he was at death’s door in hospital, he had even liberated himself from the trammels of the painstaking medium of tempera. He gave free rein to his imagination as he drew with ink and brush on plain paper. His lines seem to be invested with a dynamics of their own as they delineated arms which were living entities, an apple with erotic overtones which was actually a watch with a fob chain, a turtle emerging from a flowered vase, a flying serpent with the long tresses of a woman, the heads of a man and a woman sprouting from boxes, tortoise fashion, boxes with severed heads, saris with snatches of poetry as their border, a tiger apparently sniffing a garland — images which seem to have tumbled out of his imagination through free association.

This tremendous outburst of creative energy was cruelly stymied by death. One can’t help wondering whether the artist would have continued a process of renewal and regeneration of his creativity had he been alive; or, having reached a peak, would he have plateaued, terminating experimentation, and churned out saleable commodities, as many of our contemporary masters are content with doing? Of course, this question would continue to intrigue us, but Galerie 88 should be congratulated on having mounted the current retrospective of Dharmanarayan, and indeed on publishing this well-produced book under review.

It has two essays by the veteran art critic, Sandip Sarkar and by the art historian, Tapati Guha Thakurta. Slim though it is, it is beautifully designed and has a wealth of rare photographs of the artist at different points of his career. It also has a virtual treasure trove of reproductions of works from the Sixties right up to 1997 when he died. Although they are not displayed chronologically, they give a fairly good idea of Dharmanarayan’s development and flowering as an artist at a glance. The reproductions, particularly of the plates, are of a superior quality.

Sandip Sarkar’s essay, “Recounting a Life”, concentrates on biographical details of the artist and how they found expression in his paintings later. He writes about Dharmanarayan’s formative years in Tripura, his proximity to nature reflected in his delicate depiction of myriad flowers, butterflies and other flora and fauna. At one point, Sarkar begins what seems to be an interesting section on the relative qualities of Dharmanarayan and Ganesh Pyne’s styles. But it fizzles out even before it begins and leaves the reader disappointed.

However, this is complemented by Tapati Guha Thakurta’s superb essay, “Framing a History”, where she makes an incisive analysis of the various phases of Dharmanarayan’s creative activity and views him in the context of the contemporary art scene. Without attempting to interpret the symbolism of the enigmatic and tantalizing images, Guha Thakurta sketches the artist’s post-independence social milieu in which there were few openings for artists, however talented. She then gives an account of Dharmanarayan’s struggle. Even in his days of penury, the rebellious streak in him, which originated in his student days, remained. Guha Thakurta also gives a brief account of his life along with the history of his work.

We get a clear picture of the contemporary scenario, the various artists and styles that left their imprint on Dharmanarayan’s work and why “Western modern and contemporary art would always leave its mark, but only through the thick filter of India’s own modernisms”. Thus, we get to appreciate better the richness of his multi-layered works and also get an insight into his consciousness.

This is best exemplified in her commentary on the “panjabi” series, in which Dharmanarayan ingeniously used the format of the Rajasthani miniature to body forth his concern for the political turmoil of the Seventies, when so much young blood was shed. She does this in lucid, jargon-free prose. One hopes that the gallery will continue its good work of promoting senior Calcuttan artists who have already established themselves, but have lived in relative obscurity.    

By Udayon Misra,
Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rs 400
By Charles Chasie,
Standard, Rs 225

Udayon Misra’s new volume on the socio-historical and political factors behind secessionist insurgency in Assam and Nagaland is a comprehensive analysis of and a probe into the parameters of the ongoing conflict in the region.

The future of the Indian nation-state, the author feels, depends considerably on how it can resolve questions of ethnicity, nationalism and sovereignty thrown up by rebel movements in the Northeast.

Regarding his choice of states — Assam and Nagaland, (expanding the ambit of the work to include Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal would have provided a clearer picture), Misra explains, “Assam’s history is amongst the best-documented in the country and its transition from tribalism to feudalism well-traced. By contrast, Nagaland is a classic case of direct transition from tribal modes of production-relations to a market economy.”

Instead of merging these disparate trends, Misra sensibly begins with a look at the “Phizo factor” by scrutinizing his political legacy and the subsequent split of the Naga National Council into the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. He metes out a similarly compelling treatment in the chapters on Assam.

Once the two states are introduced, comparisons invariably creep in, especially between the NNC and the United Liberation Front of Asom.

The Periphery Strikes Back effectively drives home the concept of “a broadly-secular Indian nationalism” generated by the struggle for freedom, and the “centrifugal tendencies based on regional, ethnic, linguistic and communal identities” which opposed it. Misra also delineates the agitation against foreigners with land-alienation as the grim backdrop.

The final chapter, “Potent Causes and Unresolved Issues,” offers no solution to the myriad questions with which the book ends. A well-documented appendix and bibliography concludes another well-researched dissertation, interestingly interspersed with quotes, the only discordant note being the avoidable proofing errors.

It would be utterly unfair to juxtapose Charles Chasie’s The Naga Imbroglio to Misra’s work, but this is inevitable given their choice of subjects. In treatment, however, the books are vastly different. While Misra’s is a scholarly style, Chasie’s is more in the form of a monologue to fellow-Nagas. It is a delightfully unpretentious work, humble in tone but sincere in approach.

Most importantly, Chasie has had the courage to offer solutions and options that are likely to displease many. Chasie’s is a tale told at random, captivating the reader with detail and wit, myth and history, an unflinching self-assessment tempered with an ounce of optimism. Those who realize the nuances of the Naga issue will admit it is an honest appraisal by any yardstick.

In his attempt to expose the “moral-psychological underpinnings of nationalistic movement” Chasie is categorical that “there could be no military solution to the Naga political problem.” Candid about their aspirations, he succinctly sums up the dilemma, “While most Nagas want ‘their way of life’ and sympathize with the ‘underground cause’ they cannot abandon the overground political leaders. They also want peace and economic benefits. At the same time, they are fed up with extortions and the highhandedness of various underground factions. Neither can they reconcile to the ‘fact’ of becoming ‘Indians’ without having had a say.”

The works come at a time when the Naga issue is at a crucial phase. To be able to analyze an evolving and sensitive subject is not easy, but both Misra and Chasie have managed a remarkable degree of objectivity in dealing with a theme so dear to their hearts.    

By Vikram A. Chandra,
Penguin, Rs 250

Vikram A. Chandra’s The Srinagar Conspiracy is a spellbinding spy-thriller with all the essential ingredients for a success. For example there is a choking suspense towards the end, a plot structure which incorporates skilfully intertwined subplots, a storyline which is neither too complicated nor too simple. Throughout the book, one gets the impression that there are too many loose ends thrown up here and there, but, they are all expertly tied up in the end.

Topographic details which abound in the novel contribute to the creation of a vraisemblance. The narrative pace is discreetly monitored. It is slowed down at times and quickened up at other times. Simultaneously, Chandra displays an admirable skill in reaching different emotional chords in the reader.

The tension begins when everybody gets the impression that there is an assassination threat on Bill Clinton who is scheduled to visit India on a short tour. The intelligence officers suspect that the killer weapon is going to be a stinger missile, to be launched by Jalauddin, an Afghanistan-trained militant of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is a pro-Pakistan terrorist organization.

In India, an extensive search is carried out to track down Jalauddin who is supposed to be hiding in some obscure part of the country. Major Vijay Kaul is entrusted with the responsibility of finding him.

But the search leads nowhere, because the plot is actually hatched by Abu Fateh, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, with the specific purpose of catching the Indian forces on the wrong foot. The plot is meant to create a false alarm in order to disguise a more sinister conspiracy. The Indian intelligence officers would not have known of this had Habib Shah, the once energetic and now disenchanted leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, not divulged the secret to Major Kaul, his one time friend and confidante. Habib, of course, had his own reasons for this disloyalty.

It now transpires that in reality the life of the Indian prime minister is in danger and not that of Bill Clinton. It was further learnt that the attack would come in the form of a cameraman whose camera would detonate explosives. But, who could this cameraman be?

An urgent meeting is summoned at the office of the home minister. The home minister, top officials from the intelligence bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, the special protection group and others gather together to discuss this intriguing question. It is here that Major Vijay Kaul gets in touch with Varun Mathur, the daring television journalist, who is supposed to give him a clue.

The name that crops up first is that of Gopal Krishnan, who was once the general secretary of the Student Islamic Movement of India and was arrested in 1997 for his alleged links with the Inter-services Intelligence. What follows thereafter is truly gripping.

Those who look for obvious heroes and villains in a novel will not be disappointed by this book. Habib Shah, the JKLF leader, is the undisputed tragic hero in the novel, who is shown as a good man led astray by false ideals and crooked companions.

The first part of the novel, which is a trifle too long-drawn, describes his rise and fall, his love and anger, his hope and disappointment. Jalauddin is the classic villain who becomes a bit predictable with his vices. The description of Yasmin, Habib’s beloved, offers the author a chance to add lyrical touches to his prose.

Superb blending of fact and fiction has been Chandra’s forte in this spy-thriller. In laying out the mise-èn-scene in the Kashmir valley and in conjuring up the characters, Chandra demonstrates a dovetailing of fact and fiction. All these things are done with a unique sense of proportion and a meticulous care for authenticity.    

Edited by David Killingray and David Omissi,
Manchester, £ 45

Western imperialism in Afro-Asia has so far been studied in the light of global capitalism. However, the Nineties represented a swing in this pattern. Scholars are now accepting the crucial role played by the armed forces in the tortuous process of colonialism and decolonization. The book under review focuses on these issues.

David Killingray and David Omissi are experts on African and Asian warfare. This book is a collection of 11 essays which depict the interaction between the Western armed forces and colonial societies. The imperial armed forces are portrayed as platforms where collaboration occurred among various indigenous groups. This edited volume also marks a paradigm shift vis-à-vis the erstwhile theorization about Western technological superiority in warfare.

The construction of the colonial armies mirrored the process of colonialism itself. Killingray asserts that the European overseas empires were racial constructs where physical differences, mainly the colour of the skin, marked out the rulers from the colonial subjects. This notion also influenced the recruitment in the colonial armies in the guise of the “martial race” theory. The theory spread from India to Indonesia and also to Africa. Jaap de Moor, one of the essayists, writes that in Indonesia, the Dutch mainly recruited the Ambonese, a “martial race” of the archipelago, who were credited with innate loyalties towards their white masters.

The Dutch authorities encouraged this community to develop a self-image of having age-old military traditions. Interestingly, the British followed the same policy towards the Gurkhas and the Sikhs in India.

The imperial powers needed some white soldiers as well to keep the colonial mercenaries under their supervision. These white soldiers were not only costly but they were more vulnerable as well, especially in the tropics. Douglas M. Peers, in his essay, shows the steps taken by the British in India before 1857 to protect the white soldiers. The greatest threats to their health were alcoholism and venereal diseases.

In the end, the colonial soldiers proved to be a double-edged sword for their colonial masters. One of the contributors, Frank Furedi writes that the British and the French were forced to recruit a large number of Africans to meet the massive manpower demands during World War II. Simultaneously, the imperialists also feared the consequences of demobilization after the end of the war.

The British feared that the African soldiers’ consciousness was completely transformed by their experiences during the war. They had witnessed the shameful surrender of the white troops in Burma and north Africa which in turn had reduced the prestige that had been enjoyed by the white men earlier.

Further, the Africans became conscious of the rights enjoyed by the people all over the world and the discrimination practised by the colonial rulers against the blacks. Therefore, largescale revolts by the imperial ex-soldiers were considered inevitable by the imperialists in the immediate aftermath of the World War II.

The collection of essays in this edited volume gives scholars a fresh insight into the understanding of Western imperialism and its necessary corollary — colonialism. Some of the arguments, especially those made in the case of African imperialism, could also be applied in the Indian context. For example there is an urgent need to study the role of demobilization of the sepoys and sowars in accelerating the transfer of power in India during the stormy days of 1947. Research on such lines would enable Indian historiography to liberate itself from the staleness of the Congress-raj discourse.    

In the Fifties, the English scholar, F.L. Lucas wrote that “with nearly 20,000 volumes published in Britain alone, there is a danger of good books being buried under the bad. If the process went on indefinitely we should finally be pushed into the sea by our libraries. Yet there are few of these books that might not at least be shorter, and all the better for being shorter; and most of them could, I believe, be most effectively shortened, not by cutting out whole chapters, but by purging their sentences of useless words and paragraphs of useless sentences.”

What is the situation 50 years later? Is it too late because we have already been “pushed into the sea”? What has gone wrong with the editorial process in publishing houses and why are the number of copies of each book sold coming down?

What is happening is not so much the death of the reader but his bewilderment. When thousands of new titles are thrown at you, how do you pick and choose? It would be a miracle if 500 publishable books — in all subjects — were published every year. It would also be miraculous if 50 of them were good and worth buying.

With our attention-span continuously overloaded or to use the latest marketing lingo, “ targeted” by the powerful visual media, how much can we put into our heads.

After a while we are compelled to opt out because there is just so much we can take and no more. The competition for eyes and ears and mental space becomes stiffer and stiffer as more and more books are being churned out with the new printing technologies that have cut production time by nearly half of what it was a couple of decades ago.

Publishers are overpublishing because, over the years, many good editors have been fired, or have left for better prospects, and have not been replaced. There is also an obsession with turnover and profits which pervades and warps the ability to distinguish good books from bad ones. Most publishers claim that the market should decide the fate of books. It is like carpet bombing: fire an array of bullets and sooner or later you are bound to hit something or other.

Readers, unable to find their way through the forests of junk fiction and made cynical by the hype by which every book is garlanded eventually give up. They buy a couple of prize-winners every year and that’s about it.

If publishing a first novel has become “a gamble against reality,” according to George Steiner it is because of the indiscriminatory, scatter-gun approach.

Publishers who are constantly patting themselves on the back with each new arrival keep saying that a new, businesslike spirit of ruthlessness has finally arrived in publishing. That is true. But what is needed is the most discerning kind of editorial ruthlessness. There is a need to return to judgment and not accept anything and every thing that comes along. Only what is genuinely good ought to be encouraged.

But the question that still remains is where do you get the editors from? Compared to the print and visual media, editorial salaries in book publishing are a pittance. There is simply not enough talent being attracted.

May be the responsibility lies with the new consumerism or a moribund university system that produces functionally illiterate graduates. So, as long as the “objective conditions” remain as they are, we have to make do with what we have.    

By Manjula Padmanabhan
(Duckfoot, Rs 180)

Manjula Padmanabhan’s This is Sukil is a collection of comic strips created in the Eighties, originally for The Sunday Observer, by a maverick writer and artist. The series centres around a woman called Suki, largely a self-caricature, although the author subsequently distances herself from her creation. “Bratty, irresponsible and smart-assed”, apart from being “lazy and unemployable”, Suki’s original readers loved to hate her. Padmanabhan does capture a certain kind of modern Indian voice — urban, clever-clever and quite fond of itself. And the last is, perhaps, the problem with these cartoons. There are too many words in the speech bubbles, tending to crowd out the images, cluttering the page. There is, also, too much fuss about the author before and after the main matter — prefaces, letters, introductions. But her own observations on the life and art of the cartoonist are interesting: “Their work demands that they maintain continuity in their own lives, in order to keep track of all the elements that must remain in place in their characters’ lives.”


Edited By Zoya Hasan
(Sage, Rs 250)

Zoya Hasan’s Politics And The State In India gathers seminal articles on the modern Indian state by an international panel of eminent political scientists, sociologists and economists. Sudipta Kaviraj, Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee and Achin Vanaik are some of the contributors to a series of valuable discussions on the processes of formation, consolidation and erosion with regard to the state. These essays also provide many perspectives on the historical evolution of the modern state, the challenges to it from liberalization and globalization, its political culture, ethnographies and on bureaucratic corruption. A useful book for postgraduate students, as well as bureaucrats, politicians and policymakers.


(Penguin, Rs 200)

The Best Of Sudhir Dar is a selection of cartoons spanning forty years of the career of an artist who has been described by Mad Magazine as a “Tasty Indian Nut”. It traces Dar’s development from his initial Statesman days — when he was instructed by its last British editor, Evan Charlton, to do “pure humour” without politics — through his Hindustan Times stint (“just stick to politics”), to his “This is it!” series, his daily dig at “just everyday life”.


By Robin Cook
(Pan, £ 2.50)

Robin Cook’s Abduction is the new thriller from this bestselling master of medical suspense, complete with glossary and bibliography. Like Andrei Tarkovsky’s terrifying film, Solaris, this novel is set on the “misty calm” Atlantic Ocean, “whose surface resembled a vast expanse of beaten pewter”. A mysterious transmission from the bottom of the ocean leads a crew of oceanographers to the borders of the unknown.    


Infertile shift

Sir — The recent cabinet reshuffle has a few important pointers regarding what drives the government at the Centre, and also the nature of Indian politics (“Sports for Sangh’s Uma, promotion for Jaitley”, Nov 8). Among all the ministries affected, the loss to the ministry of sports and youth affairs seems to be the greatest, with Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa having to give way to Uma Bharti. During his tenure as the sports minister, Dhindsa had ensured that the report of the Central Bureau of Investigation on matchfixing saw the light of day as soon as possible. With Uma Bharti at the helm, with her well chalked out priorities of carrying on with her “politics of protest”, the follow up action on the CBI report now looks remote. But bureaucrats and ministers have always been shifted from their posts when they have tried to genuinely serve the people at the cost of exposing the unscrupulous deeds of those in power. So, Dhindsa will have to be content with his “reward” of the chemicals and fertilizers ministry.
Yours faithfully,
Shamim Mustafa, Calcutta

Region on edge

Sir — The problem of insurgency in the Northeast has become intolerable. One tribal community after another has been demanding independence or secession from the Indian Union. In many ways this demand may be justified. The indigenous people of the region are distinct from the mainland Indians linguistically, culturally and even physically. But it should not be forgotten that every tribe here is also different from each other. Today, we have been taught by our local leaders to treat anything Indian as abhorrent. The day is not too far away when we will not be able to stand the presence of even our fellow tribesmen.

It is claimed that peace and tranquility will return once we are liberated from the Indian Union. Ironically, when the Northeast gets its independence, it will still remain dependent on India for a number of reasons. For one, there are bound to be civil wars in this region. And this time the same people will have to beg for the Indian army’s presence to stop them from fighting each other.

People in the Northeast claim that they are self-sufficient. This is a farce. We do not produce enough to sustain even a quarter of the population of the region. Right now, by the grace of the “Indians” we receive all sorts of financial aid. What happens after independence?

Actually, all said and done, we will be doing India a great service if we part ways. We really have nothing to offer to the rest of the country in terms of either raw material or human resources. The amount spent by way of counter-insurgency can easily be saved and the strain on the Indian economy be eased. India should think on these lines and free Northeast happily.

Yours faithfully,
U. Wanbanjop Dkhar, Shillong

Sir — There is probably not a Manipuri who has not been outraged, shamed and sickened by the manner in which the state government of Manipur has submitted to an order announced by the Revolutionary People’s Front that all Hindi movies, music and other Hindi entertainment programmes on television should be indefinitely banned. How could unarmed civilians disobey the order of the rebels? Hence all movie halls, audio and video shops have had to remove Hindi films, Hindi cassettes and compact discs. Those who delayed had to face the consequence of having their Hindi cassettes, CDs go up in flames.

Cable network had also stopped beaming Hindi entertainment channels. Now the cable network in Manipur has been totally shut down by the state police. Till today, the government has remained a silent spectator to these goings on. One has to thank the stars that DD1 and DD Metro channels are still being aired and have not been touched by the RPF.

Does this prove what P.A. Sangma said in a seminar in New Delhi — that politicians are hand in glove with the insurgents? Or could it be that our police is too untrained to combat the situation?

If the state government of Manipur and its police force have failed to safeguard the rights of the people, what use are they to the people they govern? The state government should have the grace to resign.

Yours faithfully,
Sanju S., Imphal

Sir — One cannot figure out why Victor Banerjee brings in the minority community in his article, “Proud of its calling” (Oct 14). If he wished to remove some misgivings about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, he should have concentrated on the performance of the organization. Talking about the minority community was thus out of context.

If someone does some good work, the word spreads automatically. There is no need for the media to remove misconceptions or misgivings about any particular organization.

Yours faithfully,
A.B. Pankaj, Dibrugarh

Sir — That the Central Bureau of Investigation report on matchfixing has blown the lid off a great scandal is hardly surprising. Ever since the Hansie Cronje tapes were made public and the former South African captain confessed to his taking money from bookies, it was confirmed that there were more skeletons in the cupboard than one could imagine.

People whom diehard cricket fans like us adored, and even worshipped like demi-gods, are no better than crooks who “sold” their country at the altar of Mammon. We would not be the least surprised if the investigating agencies tomorrow say that that the Armani suit-clad, Gucci watch-sporting Hyderabadi hero indulged in other anti-Indian activities as well.

Yours faithfully,
Prithivi Khanikar, Guwahati

Sir — I have been an ardent follower of the game of cricket. Till recently, I had been a great fan of Mohammed Azharuddin. Ever since he announced his arrival in international cricket with three successive centuries he had become the darling of the nation. His elegant batsmanship, quicksilver fielding and, above all, his amiable and winsome demeanour gave him worldwide recognition.

Despite repeated allegations of matchfixing levelled against him in recent years, Azharuddin had remained unflustered, and so had many of his fans. Most of them must have been flabbergasted to find that such a gentleman would stoop so low as to get involved in betting scandals. But now, after the CBI report and his confession, it seems that with cricket anything could happen.

It is revolting now to even see Azharuddin’s unremorseful face on television. The same Azhar once quoted his late grandfather’s ideals at the drop of the hat and sermonized about simple living.

Yours faithfully,
Agha Saeed Islam, Jorhat

Sir — The people of the Northeast really appreciate the publication of the Northeast Telegraph supplement every Tuesday. The articles in the supplement are well balanced and informative. But we regret that till date not one article on Arunachal Pradesh has been published. Arunachal is an integral part of the Northeast. We would also like to see this supplement in colour.

Yours faithfully,
A.R. Choudhury, Guwahati

Sir — The power theft in the steel industry of Assam has reached alarming proportions. This cannot be possible without the help of the officers of the Assam state electricity board. Since ASEB is making huge losses every year, the matter needs to be inquired into. The misuse of power is a matter of grave concern since the poor are suffering because of the irregularity. Power theft is a heinous crime and the state government should take serious action to stop this crime.

Yours faithfully
Mridul Phukan, via email

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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Calcutta 700 001
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Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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