Editorial 1/ Free of cost
Editorial 2/ Winner takes all
Awaiting the presidential cue
Book Review/ Djinns from a postcolonial bottle
Book Review/ Above the milling crowd
Book Review/ Travels along the pashmina route
Book Review/ It’s never quiet on this frontier
Editor’s choice/ Descent of a genius
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the Editor

It has ended well for the filmstar, Raj Kumar, his family and fans and the two governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But that does not mean that all’s well. The release of Raj Kumar is shrouded in as much mystery as his abduction, in the sense that the impulses behind both are unclear. On the one hand, the two chief ministers, Mr S.M. Krishna and Mr M. Karunanidhi, must be enormously relieved. The threatened fights between the Kannada fans of Raj Kumar and the Tamil majority in Tamil Nadu have been avoided. More important, the state governments were about to cave in to the demands of the forest bandit, Veerappan, regarding the freeing of 51 detainees in Karnataka and five Tamil extremists jailed in Tamil Nadu. The Supreme Court had put a stop to that. The two states were in a fix, and five negotiations had failed. There was no redemption in sight when Veerappan decided to let the actor go after the sixth meeting with a new set of negotiators. It is almost a magical happy ending to the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments’ problems.

Only the realities do not look too good. The final negotiation was carried out by Mr P. Nedumaran, a wellknown Tamil nationalist leader, and Mr Kolathur Mani, a follower of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The original negotiator, Mr R.R. Gopal, the editor of Nakeeran and Veerappan’s once-favourite man, was left out in the cold after five failed efforts. That Veerappan did not stick to his demand may sound good to the states concerned, but the matter is obviously not so simple. The sequence of events shows the functioning of an entirely different administration underground, to which the state administration is irrelevant and with which Mr Mani and possibly Mr Nedumaran has close links. Whether Veerappan is under the thumb of Tamil nationalists or whether he has become a passionate convert to the Tamil cause does not matter. The only thing that matters is the effective working of a parallel administration, the aims of which remain mysterious — why did Veerappan let Raj Kumar go? — and about which the state governments can do nothing. The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments have allowed the nationalists an extra inroad into everyday life by nurturing Veerappan for the past 10 years. No fool would believe that a known sandalwood and ivory smuggler and murderer cannot be captured by special forces of both states. The complicity and greed of officials have encouraged the growth of this Frankenstein’s monster through whom separatists and extremists are now encroaching into the lives of peaceful citizens. Mysteries are never comfortable to live with. People might be wondering what Veerappan and his friends will do next, now that he has let Raj Kumar go apparently without anything to show for it.    

No surprised eyebrows will be raised at the results of the Congress presidential election. Nobody will even be astonished at the overwhelming nature of the verdict. Even Mr Jitendra Prasada, who opposed Ms Sonia Gandhi, expected that he would put up a semblance of a fight. That Mr Prasada is being ridiculed and bullied is unfortunate. His token resistance to Ms Gandhi is imbued with some significance for the Congress party. In a very quixotic way, Mr Prasada, knowing very well that he would be trounced in the hustings, was trying to reassert the democratic principle within the Congress organization. The Congress is run on sycophancy. This has been the case since the time of Indira Gandhi. Mr Prasada’s completely inconsequential candidature reveals that very few Congressmen are willing to think outside the dynasty. The massive majority Ms Gandhi commands would have been justified if Ms Gandhi had been a very successful leader. There has been nothing remarkable about her presidentship of the party save the fact that under her the party returned the lowest number of members to the Lok Sabha. Ms Gandhi also has not encouraged Congressmen to think beyond the dynasty. When Mr Sharad Pawar challenged her leadership she responded with an uncharacteristic emotional outburst. Mr Prasada might sink without a trace in the murky waters of Congress politics. But he tried to make a point.

Having received a huge mandate from her partymen, Ms Gandhi must address the task of rejuvenating the Congress. In the space of a decade, the Congress has been reduced to an also-ran in Indian politics. It picks up consolation prizes in the electoral race. It is not clear from her past record what Ms Gandhi plans to do to get the Congress back on its feet. Even more unclear is what she herself stands for in terms of policies. At times, it seems that she wants to hark back to the populism of her mother-in-law; at other times she articulates policies formulated by Mr Manmohan Singh who remains one of her chief advisers on economic matters. There does not exist any well-thought-out programme to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party and the fanaticism of the sangh parivar. The Congress seems to thrive on ad hocism. The situation is aggravated by the silence and the air of mystery that Ms Gandhi rather likes to cultivate. To revive the Congress, a leader would need charisma and that ineffable ability to feel the pulse of the people. She lacks the first and has not been long enough in politics to acquire the second. A surname is no surrogate for charisma and for going to the people. Ms Gandhi has won an election inside the Congress party. But there is a world outside the Congress where success is determined by political arithmetic and the ability to mobilize the masses. Only if she delivers can she be certain that there will not be pretenders in the future.    

“Strategic humility,” the American vice-president, Al Gore, said in a catchy response to a query regarding international resentment towards United States interventions. That two word response is of course a far cry from his deepseated beliefs in an interventionist agenda. And it is certainly not on display in his reaction to the bizarre spectacle of a stalled presidential election and the Florida vote. He has not displayed any of the humility within his country, so the moot question then is whether he has the inclination to demonstrate it outside US shores? There are many Indians who believe that he wouldn’t express any such humility in the pursuit of his own foreign policy agenda. And there are, therefore, many Indians who look forward to a US administration led by the junior George Bush. “At least he is not rigid in his positions,” is the common refrain.

India-US relations are poised at a critical juncture. After years of approaching each other from opposite camps, so to say, the US and India broke the ice in late 1998. There had certainly been tentative moves since the beginning of the Nineties. The level of dialogue had improved greatly as compared to the past. The Afghanistan war was over, and behind them was an era in which the two countries had virtually been in different ideological positions.

But at just about the same time India got bogged down with the troubles in Kashmir, and the US in the breaking up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate. The first Clinton administration left its India policy specifically, and south Asia policy generally, to the minds of its lower level bureaucracy. That didn’t help take matters forward.

What was going forward, however, was a new India. An India was taking shape, thanks to the simultaneous opening of the economy and the satellite television boom, which believed in a very different future for itself. The India that was being born was a curious mix of the internationalist and the nationalist. It believed in its role in an international environment, was comfortable with taking the challenges and the knocks that came along. But it was also a deeply modernistic nationalism that was driving this new India, not a harking back to the “golden age of India” kind, but a belief that India can achieve a golden era if it put certain things in order.

The electoral politics of India enabled this new India to express itself in the 1998 elections. And again in 1999 when it re-elected the National Democratic Alliance government and the state government of Andhra Pradesh. The latter is of course the most vivid expression of this new India. And in between these elections India conducted a series of nuclear tests and fought a limited war on the heights of Kargil against the Pakistan army. Both events are as expressive of this new India’s resolve as are the various software millionaires who appear everyday. And it is these two events that have changed the course of India’s relations with the US.

The nuclear tests shook more than just the villages around the test site. In far away Washington they awoke the US establishment out of its long slumbering policy. The ice that appeared between the two countries was indeed the thickest ever, but now that the US administration was awake to a country called India they talked. And in a matter of six months the ice began to thaw, and by the time the Pakistan army had climbed the snowy peaks of Kargil, the ice between New Delhi and Washington had pretty much melted.

Once again the new India demonstrated its resolve to tackle its problems its own way, and prepared for a war to dislodge the Pakistanis. While the war was being fought in Kargil there were preparations for elsewhere too — should push come to shove. The satellites of the world saw the build-up happening, and ultimately it was the Pakistan army that blinked and sent Nawaz Sharif to get his knuckles rapped by the American president, Bill Clinton. To heap ignominy on injury Clinton called the Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, during that meeting to confirm that rapping.

The Kargil war and Pakistan’s scurrying for peace, was the icing on the cake as far as India-US relations were concerned. That is a cruel use of a metaphor, but that is how unpleasant the business of foreign policy and international relations is. The coalescence of interests that had been discussed over the months was now beginning to take shape. And in a sense it was really the two “t” words that gave it the final impetus that it needed — trade and terrorism. On both counts, new India’s positions were in consonance with that of the developed democratic world. These two issues gave the relationship that institutionalized framework it had lacked all along. And it is on the institutional level where the relationship currently rests, what with seriously considered joint working groups between the two establishments. Ironical indeed that it takes the US ambassador to Pakistan to declare that “Gore or Bush US policy is not going to change towards south Asia, in general, and Pakistan in particular”.

In this institutionalized framework there must, nevertheless, be place for personalities to influence policies. And that is where the differences between a possible Gore and George Bush junior administration come in.

The vice-president has been deeply overshadowed by the Clinton charm. As far as foreign policy is concerned he has had a limited role, and, but for pressing the intervention button in Yugoslavia, hardly influenced policy. And it is this interventionist trait that needles the Indian mind, just as it does a number of nations. In a sharply divided election he will have to play along with the two lobbies that have taken their votes away from him — environment and labour. The green lobby went truly Green Party this time, and in the labour dominated strongholds the junior George Bush cut a lot of votes.

A President Gore will have to regain those lobbies if he is to govern, especially given the divisions in the US congress. And these lobbies will demand international interventions that are certain to get the hackles of most nations. Indians identify these two interests of the vice- president as potential bugbears between New Delhi and Washington.

Which certainly is not the case with Bush. The most striking prospect of a Bush presidency is the fact that he inherits a foreign and security policy team from that of his father’s administration. Lest many have forgotten, US diplomatic and economic successes of the Nineties owe more to that Bush administration than to the first Clinton term. The junior Bush declares that the Europeans can quite easily do the Yugoslavia intervention with their own resources.

The source of that statement cannot but be General Colin Powell, the former joint chief of staff, for only a soldier would know the limitations of military power. He is a frontrunner for secretary of state. And if that were the policy then India would welcome it wholeheartedly. India, after all, has always believed in regional solutions to regional problems. The single greatest success, however, of the senior Bush administration was undoubtedly that the Israelis began to talk peace with the Palestinians. One of the forgotten facts of that period, soon after the Kuwait war, was the aid squeeze applied by Bush on Israel and which compelled it to talk.

The fact that Clinton threw it away for the sake of some New York votes is another matter. The same team can be expected to apply the same terms, and that is a good thing, for India and the region. What is not good for the US, on the other hand, is to appear unable to elect a president without courts and controversies. What this does to the moral authority of the presidency is anybody’s guess, and beyond repair by a Gore or a Bush. The world is having a laugh, and there are many Indians amongst them.    

By Sagarika Ghose,
HarperCollins, Rs 295

Let’s observe a minute of silence for the victims of postcolonial angst. It was probably during her sojourn in Oxford that Uma picked up that thing about a non-colonialist (and therefore non-contaminated?) space being an impossibility in the contemporary context, but she never recovered from the knowledge. It is especially painful since her boyfriend, who won’t sleep with her, is Irish. Add to that the fact that this freshly-returned daughter of a civil servant in Sagarika Ghose’s The Gin Drinkers cannot think of love without thinking of television commercials (or is it the crisis of legitimizing emotion in a consumerist society?)

It’s a fatal combination. Sample this. Uma wants out of Sam, who looks like Daniel Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans (without the glasses) and who has followed her to India, a confession.

This is what she thinks she will do. “She better tell him what she had decided to tell him. Tell him of her true feelings, how desperately she needed to know if he felt anything for her at all.”

This is what she ends up saying. “Sam...You know. I believe. I believe love’s just a product. All emotions have been coopted by industrial houses. Nostalgia, integral to the use of cellular phones. Sentiment, bound by images of coffee. The spirit of adventure, linked inexorably to fizzy drinks.” And a spade is a long phallic symbol, a digging tool with a broad metal blade designed to be pushed into the ground.

Uma’s speech, like so many other things in the novel — like a drunk Deekay, the activist screaming in English, “You chhootiyas, yaar. You got no commitment. You can’t live in a f...ing country like India and just...just...f... around” — could be excellent caricature, but one suspects that Ghose writes such things with a straight face. In this a comedy of manners about the capital’s cocktail circuit, it is never quite clear when the joke is on. Ghose, the first-time novelist, seems not to know if she is inside the ring or outside.

We do not dare laugh at Uma or Deekay. Instead, in all seriousness, we turn to the theme of the book. It is a novel about knowledge, a post-modern rendition of the Aeschylus myth. People like Uma, the community of gin drinkers, guard knowledge, the preserve of the elite. (Is knowledge transmitted through gin? No, not really. “Gin is liquid colonialism.”) It is around them that the real action takes place — a small whodunnit involving the kitab chors — the book-stealers, the ultimate subversives, whose story is the most interesting part of the novel.

The kitab chors steal the rarest of books from the rarest of places — the census records of India from the Rashtrapati Bhavan; the Wells and Taylor edition of the complete works of Shakespeare from a khus-scented Golf Links villa; and Questionings on Criticism and Beauty by Arthur James Balfour written in 1909 from the house of Bharatnatyam dancer Mrs Visvam. They are led by a subaltern Prometheus, who will steal knowledge to disseminate it among the country’s dispossessed.

Somewhere along the line, Uma’s love life, which was running into the Scylla and Charibdes of the politics of race and nation-state, like the other strands of narrative in the novel, frees itself and meanders into the grand project of redeeming knowledge.

The Gin Drinkers passes the readability test and to be fair to Ghose, Uma notwithstanding, she can sometimes achieve a blend of pathos and satire, as with Anusuya (sic), Uma’s endearing dipsomaniac mother, the original gin drinker. “Anusuya wandered out at sixty degrees, shaking her head but turned back into the room, like a suddenly rampaging bull and knocked over Uma’s bedside lamp.”

Ghose is the lady of observations. When she does not crowd her story with politics, she can conjure personalities with a jab of her pen: “Lady Lichfield, with a face-like a well-bred spaniel”. Madhavi, the deep thinker. Dhruv, the market-freak academic.

But she tends to overdo things, which makes her style border on self-parody. This is Sam. “Like a sexy Mohican-Mujahideen. Man in all his violence and angst. Man stretched to his limits. Man betrayed by life. Passionate. Wrung out.” This is gin. “Gin with angostura bitters. Gin and lime. Gin with soda.”

When the drama of language is dependent on too many full stops, it makes for bad reading.

Ghose also has a tendency to write in capitals — self-contained staccato phrases intended to make statements. “The Third World Student In a Western University.” “The Machismo Of Poverty.” Shouldn’t a novel be case-sensitive?

Also very disconcerting are the sudden descents into the bizarre from a narrative which otherwise is firmly realistic. Uma takes up a job at a department store called Aladdin, for which she has to dress up in different ways. One day, she is Scheherazade reclining on a Persian rug. Then she is a Rajasthani folk dancer among plastic sand dunes. Then she is dressed as a Naga woman, weaving a bamboo mat.

What does all this mean? That Uma is a successful brandname? That she represents the commodification of the indigenous pre-modern?

For, that is what seems to be wrong in the novel finally — everything has to mean something, given our contemporary context.

Let’s observe a minute of silence again for the victims of postcolonial angst.    

By Amiya P. Sen,
Oxford, Rs 195

The general editor tells us that Swami Vivekananda is one in a “series of short biographies of men and women from the late 19th century to the present day, who have contributed in discrete ways towards building modern India.” Its publication is timely, given that we live in a time without very many stalwarts. But this was not always the case. India has produced more than her share of heroes till not so long ago. When one-dimension personalities from the entertainment world are looked up to, it is time to try and take a fresh look at someone whose thoughts and ideas remain relevant today, providing guidance and direction for times to come. Amiya P. Sen, a wellknown historian, provides a concise, authoritative introduction to the life and work of a man of vision. It is aimed at the non-scholastic readership, something that makes Swami Vivekananda an easy read even while it deals with complex topics. To convey Vivekananda’s thoughts in the simplest possible way, Sen relies heavily on the former’s “inimitable” language. Rather than being outmanoeuvred by the paradoxes in Vivekananda’s life, Sen brings them into focus. He thus departs from hagiography. Following Vivekananda’s own teachings, Sen judges by strengths and not weaknesses. The biography begins with a chapter titled “Situating Swami Viveka- nanda” — relevant because contemporary Indian society and by extension, that of Bengal, was riddled with incongruities and paradoxes. By the late 19th century there were sharpening polarities where, on the one hand, there was a handful of journals devoted to the propagation of popular science, and on the other, there were irrational claims that Vedic Aryans knew all about electricity! While some Indians did pioneering research on society and culture, others turned their backs on such projects. Vivekananda’s life itself reflected these paradoxes. While he had a deep love of Sanskrit and Indian culture, he was also deeply influenced by Western philosophy and its traditions. Sen also points out the similarities and differences between the views of Bankimchandra Chatterjee and Vivekananda. For example, Bankimchandra in Anandamath says that British rule in India would last so long as Indians did not perfect themselves in “knowledge, virtue and power”, and “Vivekananda too, by and large came around to this conclusion, though...he was less apologetic about the alleged ills of Indian society and more aggressive in denying them.” Of immense value to readers is the detailed discussion of Vivekananda’s religious philosophy of Vedanta. The author explains that, “Literally speaking, the term Vedanta means ‘the end of the Vedas’ But there is scope for a certain ambiguity for this could mean both the closing section of the Vedas, as well as its very essence. It is in the latter sense that it is more often used.” It is to the author’s credit that a complex religio-philosophical idea has been dealt with in such a way that even a lay person may understand its rudiments and in turn, understand Vivekananda better. The influence of Ramakrishna too, is very simply put. Vivekananda was, above all else, a humanist and he maintained that four key words summed up the Hindu sacred books. These are: abhaya (fearlessness), ahimsa (non-violence), asanga (non-attachment) and ananda (bliss). The author gives detailed explanations of all four. Vivekananda’s views on various topics have been discussed to make the reader familiar with his worldview. Vivekananda’s views on women and marriage immediately comes to mind. The author does not single out the Chicago congress of religions and Vivekananda’s journeys in America Rather, he helps readers understand the man in all his strengths and weaknesses. Sen never fights shy of pointing out the aspects of Vivekananda which might be shocking to many. One comes to realize that there are other aspects which have made him a towering figure despite the inconsistencies in his character. Above all, his commitment can never be questioned. Sen has very thoughtfully included a chronology and a glossary, which should be of help to the general reader. The book will go a long way to help unravel a personality who has all the traits of a hero, to a generation which is pathetically short of similar figures.    

By Justine Hardy,
John Murray, £ 16.99

The book is not about the Capra hircus, the Himalayan goat, whose throat and belly nurtures the pashm of pashmina shawls. It is not only about a venture to educate slum children in Delhi by cashing in the Vogue-promoted fad for pashminas among the vacuous rich ladies of Notting Hill. The travelogue is about Kashmir in India and India in Kashmir. And it is about pain.

Pakistan hardly figures in Justine Hardy’s account of Kashmir’s sorrow. A meeting with Omar, however, typifies what ails Kashmir. The Pakistani taxi-driver has “no view” on Kashmir but when he does open up, he speaks “with a passion that verged on the edge of hatred”. “It is a crime to try and make Muslim people part of a Hindu country,” he said.

Not that Indians arouse any fondness among the Kashmiris. Hardy ruthlessly evokes the ugliness of the relationship between the army and the local people — “The soldiers do not want to be there and the Kashmiris do not want them there.”

While Hardy attributes the harshness of the army to fatigue, the rest of the country, represented by the nation’s capital, cannot be absolved for its demonization of Kashmiris caught in the tug of war between two hostile neighbours. Moving around the posh Khan market, Manzoor Wangnoo, who shares all the Indian middle class traits — spendthriftness, Maruti-fixation, and passion for “kerket” — is, nevertheless, given a short shrift by the shop assistants. His flowing beard and flowing feron are telltale signs.

Indeed, “Muslim” is a much-hated word. Even as far as in Notting Hill, where rich ladies, sometimes vacuous, mostly sad and lonely, fail to understand Hardy’s association with the “bunch of terrorists up there”. Her first pashmina customer wonders: “And are the slum kids Muslim?” Hardy, though, does not hide her sympathies for Kashmiris. She makes clear their desire: azadi from India, from militancy.

There are moral ambiguities, too. The cultural divide is vividly portrayed over ethical questions — cruelty against animals versus education of slum children, pollution of Dal lake versus pov- erty in Kashmir, the pampering of the rich versus the feeding of the poor. None, however, is answered satisfactorily.

The narration begins hesitantly with luxuriant but insubstantial me- taphors describing pashmina shawls that “blew into my face like down, its softness between childhood and rose petals”. Chronology is abandoned in the first ten pages, as Hardy leads the readers through a jerky journey of pashmina, Delhi slums and a meeting with a New Yorker, drunk on money but short on humanism.

While Hardy poignantly echoes the pathos of Kashmiris caught in the crossfire of greedy neighbours, humour is not in short supply, especially in her caricature of Notting Hill ladies and the Wangnoo brothers, her suppliers of pashmina shawls. Hardy is scathing in her description of her patron, “New York”, a domineering woman, who was the “scruffiest dressers in the neighbourhood” though it “was one of her redeeming features”.

On the other hand, she expresses mild reproof and even wonder at the ways of Manzoor Wangnoo, who exemplifies all that a British would find absurd in a South Asian: lack of punctuality, constant carping against the “push, push bad London”, distress about the fact that a girl “paid money” to have a silver stud on her tongue — Hardy raises a laugh but she does not merely carve out a comic figure. She paints the distress of a Kashmiri father forced to send his children to the UK at great expense — “What place is there that is good place for my childrens?”

As Goat travels from London to Delhi and Kashmir, Hardy’s pashmina shawls cannot shroud the aches of the lonesome migrants. While the London ladies are imprisoned by opulence, Lila, an ethereal beauty, is a minor actress in the Kashmir tale, who mirrors the disfigurement of her home by militancy, jealousy and hopelessness. And Manzoor Wangnoo, like his fellow men, is reluctant to admit that his valley of peace has become a war zone.    

By Charles Allen,
John Murray, £ 10.95

The North-West Frontier was a British obsession. About 70 per cent of the British-Indian army was stationed in that region every year, the Raj launched expeditions in an attempt to bring the unruly tribes under control. And yet, scholarly attention for understanding the dynamics of British interaction with the frontier tribes is lacking.

The only long general study of the Indus frontier is Olaf Caroe’s The Pathans. The “New Military History” of south Asia, as represented by Step- hen Cohen’s The Indian Army ignored the frontier activities of the British-Indian military. Others like Jeffrey Greenhut and David Omissi followed Cohen’s line to analyse how north Indian society shaped the Sepoy Army.

Only towards the end of the Nine- ties have military historians become conscious of the linkages between Indus frontier and the limits of Bri- tish military power. While T. R. Moreman (The Army in India) and Alan Warren (Waziristan) concentrate on the unsuccessful imperial military actions against the Indus tribals in the post 1857 period, the novelist turned historian, Charles Allen, attempts to show how a handful of daring British military officers tackled the frontier problem before the 1857 mutiny.

After the annexation of the Khalsa kingdom in 1849, the task of guarding the Indus frontier fell upon the Bri- tish. Allen traces the activities of a group of military officers stationed in Punjab. They constituted the “Punjab lobby” and its members were the Law- rence brothers, Herbert Edwardes and John Nicholson. Establishment of a “free and fair judiciary”, argues All- en, aided the Punjab lobby in maintai- ning moral authority over the tribals.

Another technique of civilizing the savages was to induct the tribes into the frontier militias, thus placing the burden of maintaining law and order on these very lawbreakers. The leadership of some officers like Nich- olson resulted in a personal bond between the tribals and the sahibs, which held firm even during the Bengal army’s rebellion in 1857.

Allen’s assumption that the actions of a few British military officers shaped the course of British-Indian history is similar to that of Philip Mason who, in A Matter of Honour, argues that the landed gentry’s younger sons, who joined the British-Indian army, constituted the backbone of the Raj. Since, in Allen’s framework, only a few imperialists at the top were calling the shots, he depended on their private papers, which in turn magnifies the parts played by the protagonists. The long-term causative factors and the broader historical perspective, are totally missed by Allen

Not being self-sufficient in producing food, the frontier tribes were forced to raid the plains of Punjab in search of grain and cattle. Another source of their income was the toll collected for allowing the traders to use the mountainous passes. The Mugh- als had to follow this humiliating practice for safe passage of their troops between India and Afghanistan.

Allen is unaware that the Raj continued this practice for keeping the passes open for the British-Indian military. Population explosion among the tribals in the 19th century heightened the food crisis leading to more frequent raids. Hence, the larger than life activities of Allen’s heroes seems to be futile in the long run.

Allen deserves praise for focussing attention on imperialism’s interface with the frontier. However, the work is not critical of the imperial rhetoric on British achievements on the frontier. Despite Allen’s assertion, the frontier was never secured. Tribal guerrilla war began from 1849 and continued even after 1947, when the British-Indian empire was in a limbo.    

By Ray Monk,
Cape, £ 14.60

At the age of 60, Bertrand Ru- ssell told his friends, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, “I am too old to write anything but potboilers.” This from a man who in his youth had transformed the entire terrain of the philosophy of mathematics. Nobody could accuse Russell of lacking self-consciousness.

The second volume of Ray Monk’s biography of Russell tells the story of this incredible decline. Monk is relentless in his documentation and analysis of how one of the finest minds of the early 20th century had lost its lustre by the Twenties and had become overwhelmed by causes and the need to make quick money. The latter pushed Russell to write what he himself recognized as potboilers: simplistic and slipshod presentations of some of the major issues of the 20th century.

Once asked by a principal of a respectable girls’ college in the US, why he had given up philosophy, Russell had replied “Because I discovered I preferred fucking.” This was a typically Bertie Russell answer calculated to shock the prim and the proper. It contained, nonetheless, a grain of truth. Russell confessed once to Virginia Woolf that when “my passions got hold of me” serious intellectual work came to an end. His womanizing and its fallout, in terms of children and divorce settlements, forced him into jou- rnalism, lecture tours and the writing of popular books. All this left no time for serious philosophical reflection.

There was, however, another deeper reason, as Monk points out. This centred around the contribution of another philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose biography Monk has also written. Monk is thus best placed to paint the Russell-Wittgenstein relationship, which moved from student-teacher to one of unspoken hostility. In 1913, Wittgenstein destroyed, albeit temporarily, Russell’s philosophical self-confidence through his attack on Russell’s theory of judgment. The confidence returned only to be assaulted in 1919 when he read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. This work convinced Russell that the view of logic, on which his own on the philosophy of mathematics was prem- ised, was fundamentally flawed.

Till 1919, Russell had seen logic as the study of objective and eternal truths. Wittgenstein convinced him that logic was purely linguistic; logical truths were only tautologies. This shook Russell’s very intellectual being. Russell’s philosophical work was inspired by the possibility of arriving at truths that were demonstrable, incorrigible and knowable with absolute certainty. He saw logic as such a corpus of truth and he wanted to prove that mathematics, as a branch of logic was not open to doubt. But if logic was not a body of truth, but “different ways of saying the same thing”, then Russell’s philosophical quest disappeared. He abandoned the philosophy of mathematics and never took up philosophy seriously again.

There was thus, as Monk rightly notes, an element of tragedy in the second half of Russell’s life. He was philosophy’s fallen angel. Russell saw himself increasingly alienated from the world around him: “A free-thinker in an age of dogmatism, a rationalist in an age of unreason and an aristocrat in an age ruled by the mob.” Happiness eluded him; his family life fell apart and tragedy pursued him beyond the grave when his favourite granddaughter, Lucy, committed suicide by setting herself on fire. Monk calls this “the final visitation” of the ghost that haunted Russell throughout his life.    


Memories of cursed midnights

By Urvashi Butalia
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Urvashi Butalia’s The other side of silence: voices from the partition of india is a startling and unforgettable illustration of the need to speak. Silence perpetuates tragedy through memory, which is why Partition is still a living wound and not a closed chapter as official documents would like to have it. Butalia’s achievement, already known to wide readership in its hardcover version, is the result of years of intense and dedicated research using personal interviews, oral testimonies, official documents, diaries and memoirs. The voices express grief, despair, resignation, anger, leading to the feeling that Butalia mentions early on in the book in the context of administrative problems: “Partitioning millions is madness.” The careful organization of her vast material is an achievement in itself. Committed and immensely moving, the book is a must for every Indian.

by Andrew Huebner
(Anchor, £ 9.99)

Andrew Huebner’s American by blood is a classily written first novel in which the action begins the day after General Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn. A desire for revenge drives three young soldiers to pursue retreating Red Indians. But the results of the yearlong chase are unexpected, and the young men discover new things about themselves and other human beings as the magnificent landscape of the Wild West unfolds around them. The violence and colour of the period and the region come alive in the story, although the subject is very much a coterie interest.

By Nicholas Sutton
(Motilal Banarsidass, Rs 250)

Nicholas Sutton’s Religious doctrines in the mahabharata undertakes the important scholarly task of locating and analysing the different strains of religious doctrines in the Indian epic. On the one hand, it is a descriptive catalogue of religious ideas, on the other, it attempts to show how the Mahabharata answers the most significant questions of mankind, ethical, philosophical and ultimately religious. The identification of the different branches of Hindu religious thought is particularly useful, because they are seen to be woven into the same story. The fact that the composition of the epic is layered may matter less in this case than the fact that the total impression it gives is one of inclusiveness and plurality of belief.

By Kathryn Haig
(Corgi, £ 5.99)

Kathryn Haig’s a time to dance is a fast-moving romance in which five young women join the army in 1968. The friends’ lives, begun lightheartedly enough with a sense of adventure, become interwoven in particular ways through their very different characters. Twenty five years later, this strange and unexpected interweaving brings forth threatening results that augur ill for their stability. An accomplished romance writer, Haig has pulled off another entertaining read after Apple Blossom Time.    


Teachers examined

Sir — “Harvard joke haunts JNU faculty” (Nov 13) tells a horrifying tale. On the face of it, Amrik Singh’s reform proposals for the Jawaharlal Nehru University proclaim that they are in favour of excellence. Singh wishes to ensure that recruitment and continuation in teaching jobs at JNU be determined by the amount and quality of the research output of teachers. This is all very well. It is widely known that there are few academicians who do justice to their research grants. It is also true that JNU is a research centre and for this purpose it is important to make sure that research work of staff members is not compromised in any way. But who will judge whether adequate and good quality research is actually being carried out? And, in this evaluation, would it be possible to eliminate the personal enmities from which the academic world is far from immune? Who will ensure that on the basis of the new system of evaluation, meritorious academics are not forced out of their jobs due to their ideological or other predilections?
Yours faithfully,
Samiran Dasgupta, Calcutta

Fatal divisions

Sir — In his article, “Comparing chauvinisms” (Nov 5), Mukul Kesavan examines majoritarianism and its dominance over minorities among our Asian neighbours. He argues that the minorities in these countries are more economically solvent than the majority. The largest single minority community in India, that is Muslims, are poor and backward unlike the Hindu majority.

Kesavan’s points can be refuted. If different areas are considered then there are states where Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are in a majority and in others Hindus are the majority. Populationwise there are more backward and poor among the Hindus than all the minorities put together. Besides, the Muslim community has only itself to blame for its backwardness. Its refusal to accept change and its inability to let go of age old beliefs and laws have only hindered progress. Political parties like the Congress have pampered Muslims and built into their psyche a fear of the majority while using them as vote banks. It is this alone that has lead to the growth of Hindutva.

Yours faithfully,
R.H. Putran, Calcutta

Sir — One might talk of universal brotherhood, but the shocking incident in the Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh, just 22 kilometres away from Lucknow, where people from the upper castes threw acid at a group of Dalits, was horrifying (“Seven in police net for Dalit acid attack”, Oct 27). Even though India is a free nation, people from the lower castes like the Dalits continue to face prejudice. In the Barabanki incident, the Dalits were attacked simply because the Thakurs had lost a tender for fishing rights in a nearby pond. The police and the administration refused to lodge a first information report against the upper castes. According to Article 14 of our Constitution, all citizens are equal before the law. In a developing country like India caste barriers can only be a hindrance to social development.

Yours faithfully,
Balakram Majhi, Bhubaneswar

Nemesis strikes

Sir — The Central Bureau of Investigation has done a remarkable job in investigating the truth behind the matchfixing controversy. While innumerable cricket fans have been disillusioned, one hopes this will be a lesson well learnt and a warning to future generations of cricketers. Players like Mohammed Azharuddin and Manoj Prabhakar deserve severe punishment which must include imprisonment, a permanent ban from cricket and a heavy fine. There should also be an inquiry into the role played by the officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to determine their involvement with the bookies.

Yours faithfully,
Rakesh Bajoria, Calcutta

Sir — Even while congratulating the CBI for a job well done, one cannot but feel that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Though Kapil Dev has been given a clean chit by the CBI, doubts about his innocence keep cropping up. One wonders whether he is being protected by the government. It would be very difficult to explain the amount of money that Kapil Dev has amassed without hinting at the obvious. Both Mohammed Azharuddin and Kapil come from ordinary families and the lure of megabucks probably proved irresistible for them.

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Sir — In the past few weeks events have been unfolding in the world of cricket like pages out of a bestselling novel. Mohammed Azharuddin’s confession was followed by Ajay Jadeja’s denial of all charges against him. The CBI’s report on matchfixing has dealt a big blow to cricket. It has brought to the public’s attention the sleazier side of the game.

Every time one sees a cricket match one has to wonder whether the players are playing according to a predetermined script. In the post-matchfixing scenario one has to wonder if the game will survive after all this and what can be done to redeem it. One has to wonder whether the situation will improve if betting is legalized as it is in many countries of the world. Banning betting will not serve any purpose. Though illegal, betting continues unabated. By legalizing betting the government would be able to make the system transparent. The bookies could be given licences, like stockbrokers. They would have to issue receipts. The problem facing cricket administrators today is of matchfixing. Matchfixing is quite different from betting and should be condemned. Players should be paid according to their performance. This will bring some accountability into the game. It is still not too late to save cricket from this menace.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir — One might agree with what he is saying, but it is very difficult to empathize with Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s feelings and his statement that his world crumbled and came to a stop after the CBI’s disclosures on match fixing, “To chase a crooked shadow” (Nov 4).

It seems that Mukherjee has done a complete turnaround and has presented his readers with a scathing indictment of the matchfixing scandal. In his earlier article, “Straight off the bat” (April 11), Mukherjee had accused Indians of lapping up conspiracy theories. Now he agrees with Richie Benaud’s choice of expletive for the guilty cricketers.

Then Mukherjee had voiced his disbelief that an entire team of players would sacrifice their professionalism for the sake of some extra money. He now claims feeling betrayed and stunned at the decay that has crept into a so called gentleman’s game.

If the truth be told cricket has never really been a gentleman’s game. As far as the social boycott of guilty cricketers is concerned, one doubts if that will actually happen even though the public’s memory is hardly as short as he thinks it is.

Yours faithfully,
Raj Prabha Dasani, Calcutta

Private business

Sir — Disinvestment for long has been the strategy to boost the sagging morale of the Indian economy. This is proved by the fact that within six months of the sell out of the Modern Food Industries to Hindustan Lever Limited, the production capacity of the former zoomed up by 40 per cent.

Why is it that what the bureaucrats could not do over the last 50 years, private ownership did in only six months? The answer is loud and clear. It is simply that bureaucratic practices gave way to dynamism and innovativeness, changing the whole scenario. All credit should go to the government for this endeavour.

Yours faithfully
Vikram Surana, Calcutta

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