Editorial / Enigma variations
In memoriam
Profile / Nazim Hassan Rizvi
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / ENIGMA VARIATIONS 
 
 
 
 
Slightly altering a very wellknown phrase, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee can be described as an enigma wrapped in craftiness. The enigma grows out of the aura of mystery that surrounds the prime minister and his utterances. Take the string of recent statements about the Ram mandir in Ayodhya as an example. Nobody is quite sure why Mr Vajpayee decided to make these statements at this particular juncture. He could not have been unaware of the furore his pronouncements would create not only among the opposition parties and the secularists but also within the National Democratic Alliance. He could not have been oblivious of this because he knows that his endorsement of the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign would surprise all those who support and respect him. Mr Vajpayee never associated himself with the campaign even when it was at the height of its popularity. He distanced himself from the rathyatra of Mr L.K. Advani which prepared the ground for the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. Thus Mr Vajpayee’s endorsement of it in 2000 made everyone sit up and take notice. Was this a new Mr Vajpayee? Has the liberal mask finally slipped from the face of a diehard Hindu fanatic? Or was this the quintessential Brahmin speaking: elliptical, saying one thing, intending another.

Speculations abound. Mr Vajpayee may be a lot of things but transparency is not one of his virtues. He has not been nurtured in the school of politics which believes that straight talking is a commendable quality in a politician. It would be advisable, indeed, not to take anything that Mr Vajpayee says at face value. Mr Vajpayee’s actions and statements are all well thought out pieces of a design. Nothing is said or done in a fit of absentmindedness. Mr Vajpayee is a master in the crafty art of politicking. If one accepts this as a premise — and there are no reasons for not doing so — then his recent utterances on the Ram mandir can be read in a different light. From the time he became prime minister, Mr Vajpayee has been trying to free the Bharatiya Janata Party and the NDA government from the influence of Nagpur. His actual hidden agenda — contrary to the “hidden agenda” the secularists accuse him of harbouring — has been to reduce the importance of and to marginalize the extremists within the sangh parivar. He has tried, with varying degrees of success, to focus on governance and stability rather than on ideology. His critics within the sangh parivar have argued that the fading of the saffron element is equal to the loss of the BJP’s unique selling point. There has been a pressure on the prime minister that he should reclaim the Hindutva agenda for the BJP. By declaring the Ramjanmabhoomi movement as a manifestation of national sentiments, Mr Vajpayee appears to be doing this. Suddenly, Mr Vajpayee seemed to be the voice of Nagpur. The results were deadlock in Parliament and howls of disapproval from allies in the NDA. Mr Vajpayee thus showed extremists in his backyard that a Hindu agenda would erode governance, weaken the NDA and might eventually lead to loss of office. Mr Vajpayee has told Nagpur and the saffron flag wavers that Hindutva in the present age of coalition politics can go thus far and no further. He has announced in his uniquely elliptical way that for the BJP to remain in power, Mr Vajpayee cannot speak as the prime minister of the BJP.

All this indirectly emphasizes the importance of Mr Vajpayee in Indian politics and for the BJP. For the BJP, it is he alone who keeps the party in office. The BJP — and for that matter the entire sangh parivar — cannot afford to overlook this. In Indian politics, there is no other acceptable leader who seems to stand on the middle ground. Secularists may lament this but they have to accept this as the reality. Mr Vajpayee cannot give up saffron but at least he accepts that there other colours on the Indian flag.

   

 
 
IN MEMORIAM 
 
 
BY RUKUN ADVANI
 
 
Imagine an episode of Mastermind India with the quiz master, Siddharth Basu, inviting the next candidate to position himself on the electrifying black chair. The candidate who shuffles into position is lean and austere. He looks as if he has been forever learned, forever middle-aged. He wears a dhoti-kurta and oozes bhadralok-ness. “Your name please?” asks Basu. “P.K. Ghosh”, the candidate replies. “Occupation?” “Book printing.” “And your special subject?”, “Typefaces and typesetting.” For a moment the quiz master looks aghast, then collects himself and says: “P.K. Ghosh, you have two minutes on the entire history of typefaces and typesetting, starting now.”

The first question asked is: “Which of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works drew inspiration for its title from a typeface?” This is easy: before the questioner has finished his question, P.K. Ghosh has uttered his answer: “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. The second question leads on from the first: “Name the source of inspiration for this title.” “The Strand Magazine issues of 1891-93 were set in the Baskerville typeface”, says P.K.Ghosh. “Correct”, says Basu, then wastes time with a clarification: “The Sherlock Holmes stories were first serialized there.” “Everyone knows that”, says the expression on P.K. Ghosh’s face.

It starts getting tougher: “Which originating genius of type design was born French, worked in Venice, died in Rome, and published books by Eusebius, Pliny and Virgil?” “Nicholaus Jenson”, says Ghosh. He is then asked questions about the gods of typographical elegance — Claude Garamond (1490-1561), Giambattista Bodoni (b. 1740), and the two best-known classic English typecasters, William Caslon (b. 1692) and John Baskerville (1706-1775). He is asked about Monotype and Linotype and all the type-foundries and typecasters that created variations on the faces first punched onto metal by classic creators of print. P.K. Ghosh knows it all. At the end of his two minutes he has scored 25 points with no passes.

In the small world of Indian publishing in English, teachers and scholars often become inhouse editors. P.K. Ghosh of the world-famous Eastend Printers, who died in Calcutta a few days ago, was the only man with the temperament of a scholar and the memory of an elephant to have become a typesetter and printer as well as an editor. Among wordsmiths there was no one remotely of his calibre while he was alive, and there is no one like him today. In his line of business, there will never be anyone like him, ever.

Such hyperbole reminds me of the music critic who, when asked whom he considered the greatest pianist of the 20th century, said: “Vladimir Horowitz was the greatest pianist ever”, and then added: “No, I’m being too pusillanimous in not including pianists yet unborn.” The point here is not the critic’s incorrectness in disposing off Sviatoslav Richter, Freidrich Gulda, Martha Argerich and Artur Rubinstein with enthusiasm of such singularity; the point is the correctness of sentimental overkill when describing someone quite incomparable.

I didn’t know P.K. Ghosh well enough to find out how he happened to become a legend in his own lifetime, but he looked to me like an astonishingly attractive atavism, the reincarnation of someone from the era which began with missionary scholar-printers like Bartholomaeus Zeigenbalg and continued at Fort William College via Carey, Halhed, Marshman and Ward. Resembling something that emerged after his time from an unhatched egg laid by that school of scholar-typesetter-printers, P.K. Ghosh knew everything worth knowing about his profession, from its origins in handsetting and immovable type until the time of the hot-metal technology which Ghosh himself used. But that was not the end of it. The mechanics of his trade, which comprise an entire universe of knowledge, were not large enough to fill up his mind. He would have delighted William Morris: his professional life seemed to have fused the pleasures of craftsmanship with the requirements of work and livelihood.

He did in fact delight William Morris’s biographer, E.P. Thompson. The last book that P.K. Ghosh handled for Oxford University Press, India, was Alien Homage: Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore, Thompson’s elegiac memoir on the troubled relationship between his father and the poet. This book includes supplementary scholarly material provided by Uma Dasgupta, some of which required Bengali fonts. It is the only book by E.P. Thompson to have been originated and printed in India, and I think one of the reasons for Thompson’s decision to place it with OUP, Delhi, quite apart from his father’s association with Oxford University, was that he had heard of the legendary Bengali printer to whom his typescript would be assigned.

The book is set in Ghosh’s favourite Baskerville — he generally preferred it to the only other typefaces (Times Roman and Bembo) that his small press could afford and, in those days, P.K. Ghosh was the only typesetter who could have handled the typographical complexities of that book. He had earlier made books for the Clarendon Press, who sent him their most complicated scripts, as well as Louis Dumont’s monograph, A South Indian Subcaste, which had involved manufacturing Tamil letters suited to his machines. So, he said, the Thompson book, which only involved fonts from his mother tongue, would be easy by comparison. The fact is that it was not easy, but that, when it came to typography, P.K.Ghosh could make the most complicated problem look easy.

His practice was to ignore his publishers’ orders that he must merely typeset and print the edited script being handed over to him. He never trusted an editor’s work, preferring to run his own toothcomb over it. It was his way of asserting that he would not be circumscribed by the machinery of print; he was determined about being the ghost in his machine.

The first time this happened in relation to a script I was handling, I was alarmed. The book was Ranajit Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (1983). The author’s language was meticulous and highly polished. Ranajit Guha was also known to be acerbic and touchy, even vitriolic. I had to inform him with much trepidation that there would be a delay because P.K. Ghosh insisted on editing his script a second time. I awaited epistolary acid by return of post. The answer came back as a telegram: if Prabhatbabu was going to edit his script, Ranajit Guha would be delighted to wait. Prabhatbabu spotted solecisms and niggling problems of the sort that only strike Bengali intellectuals: Guha accepted almost every amendment that P.K. Ghosh suggested.

As the official editor of the script, it was a humbling experience for me — humbling, yet rewarding. Between 1983 and the appearance of E.P. Thompson’s book, I killed myself editing scripts before handing them over to P.K. Ghosh and then got killed again after he reedited them all twice over.

To an outsider who occasionally inhabited Calcutta on business, as I did, Eastend was the Howards End of Bengal, a house which epitomized an old world of learning and passionate commitment to the spirit of books much more than to the bricks-and-mortar commerce of print. They were never in a hurry there. Eastend would print a book only after its master was satisfied that he had freed the script of blemish. The resident philosophy he had put into practice was that books, like Rome, were not built in a day. Impatient authors had to be allayed. In the end, when they saw the books he had printed, they agreed it was worth the wait.

Ghosh’s craft was nurtured, paradoxically, by the considerable everyday adversities of life within his city. There were electricity shortages and moisture excesses (his press was not airconditioned), metal “sorts” would wear out and have to be obtained from outlandish addresses, the moulds would moulder and new ones would have to await the next steamer. Ghosh waited. He revelled in solving problems. Striving towards perfection and solving problems were more important than generating turnover.

It was a world of unimaginable technological print-difficulty wiped out by the desktop revolution. When that revolution came, P.K.Ghosh saw the typeface on the wall. Gradually, after taking care of colleagues at his press, he wound it down. Every publisher who had the privilege of working with him knew it was the end of an era, the printer’s equivalent of Satyajit Ray calling it a day with film. For, in the humbler, invisible world of book printing, P.K. Ghosh was our Satyajit Ray and our Nirad Chaudhuri rolled into one.

He was bereft of fat and larded with learning, his surroundings were meagre save for books, he’d read the Bengali classics as thoroughly as the Western canon and the Oxford English Dictionary. He knew more about the complexities and nuances of elegant English prose and the grammar underlying it than anybody else in publishing. He was garrulous and would spend hours energetically illuminating visitors with arcane information, leaving them simultaneously shattered and enriched.

I met him just twice. The first time he told me, apropos of nothing, that the American declaration of independence, printed in 1776, was typeset in Caslon, and that his eternal regret was not to be able to print history books in Caslon because he did not possess the full range of that typeface. On the second occasion, he said that reading a nicely set page in Bembo is as effortless and pleasurable as eating a rossogolla, except that this has been true for Bembo more than 400 years whereas the rossogolla has no such pedigree.

Such charming items of “useless” information do not flow out of printing houses today. Printing standards, specially for full-colour picture books, are vastly higher than they were in P.K. Ghosh’s heyday. You can get a book looking just the way you want it by clicking mice. The pity is only that the last Indian printer-scholar is dead. Several of his successors will print material as efficiently as he did once, but none will radiate that personality and no one will harbour many of those endearing nuggets of uselessness.

   

 
 
PROFILE / NAZIM HASSAN RIZVI 
 
 
 
 

Quick End

It had been a good year for Nazim Hassan Rizvi. And things could only get better. In a week’s time, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, his dream film, would be released. The film would finally mark his debut in Bollywood’s A-league.

The industry buzz about the movie had been warm. The promos looked slick, the songs were climbing the charts. Neighbours had noticed a spring in his step. Rizvi thought he had finally arrived, after years of struggle in the film industry. Like the chocolate faced characters in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, his life was unfolding in soft focus.

By Wednesday, his dreams had been put through a shredding machine. His mug was on the papers, but for all the wrong reasons — arrested by the Mumbai police for his links with the underworld. The police had in its possession 12 audio cassettes of his conversations with Karachi based ganglord Chhota Shakeel. There were plans to eliminate “Takla” film producer Rakesh Roshan. The duo also discussed intimidating film-star “Hakla” Shah Rukh Khan and sabotaging his car in some way.

Some industry associates say that they can now figure out the reason for his sudden affluence. His office, at the Versova-Sameer Co-operative, Seven Bungalows, had acquired a tony look after years of neglect. The plastic chairs had been replaced by plush sofas. And he had taken to zipping around in a gleaming new Honda City, not long after he had junked his Fiat for a Maruti 1000.

The huge signing amounts for Chori Chori Chupke Chupke have also begun to make sense. Salman Khan had been signed on for Rs 1.5 crore. Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee had been signed for Rs 25 lakhs each. Rizvi still claims that “all my payments have been through cheques, except for daily labour which is paid in cash”. He has also been claiming that the Rs 12 crore that went into the making of the film had been paid by financier Bharat Shah.

Ironically, three years ago, it was Rizvi who was complaining about threats from the underworld. He had made a C-grade movie called Angaarwadi, which was on the Kashmir issue. It was his response to a Pakistani film by the same name. Rizvi shot the film in Bhendi Bazar, Mumbai because his finances at that time did not allow him to shoot in Delhi and Lahore. His idea was to show Indian Muslims in a good light. But the film had several controversial parts. Rizvi suddenly called a press conference and announced that the Chhota Shakeel gang had threatened to kill him if he released the film. He later released the film, but not before several cuts had been made in the film according to Shakeel’s wishes.

It seems that Rizvi sold out somewhere along the way. The temptation was always there, for he had been “hungry for success”. Rizvi had migrated to Mumbai more than two decades ago with stars in his eyes. But his big break never happened. He hung around for years near the big studios but all he could land were bit roles in movies. By the beginning of the nineties, Rizvi was beginning to lose hope.

It was then that Nazim Rizvi decided to make his own films. His maiden venture called Apaatkal was released in 1993. It was a C-grade movie and was soon forgotten. But Rizvi knew by then that his future was in producing movies. Money began to trickle in, but he remained a modest man. A chain-smoker, he would never touch booze.

Neighbours near his Versova office have been surprised by the turn of events. Mukesh Duggal, another film guy, who lived in the same building block was killed in 1997, allegedly by the Chhota Shakeel gang. But Duggal was a different sort of man. He was the sort who would throw wild parties and had goondas visiting him at all hours of the day. “When Duggal was here, we had a problem as anti-social elements used to visit him and he had these odd-hour parties. Women could not go out alone in this locality. But Rizvi never had many people visiting him till a few months ago. Even now, he was no nuisance, like Duggal used to be,” says a resident of the area. “He was a quiet sort of guy. He would come in by 10 am and leave by six or seven,” says another.

The only aberration in all these years are the occasional fights that Rizvi picked with journalists. When one of his C-grade films was panned, he threatened the editor of a trade magazine. A journalist who criticised his film was also heckled.

But Rizvi’s employees still refuse to believe that he is involved with the underworld. “Sahab acche admi the,” was all that his watchman would say. But all evidence collected by the police points to the contrary. He had been in regular touch with Chhota Shakeel and reported every development about the film to him. Rizvi had even made several trips to Dubai to keep the gangster updated. He had been informing Shakeel about the box-office performance of Mohabbatein and Mission Kashmir, and discussed giving copyrights of his latest film to Kishan Kumar. He also had a talk with Shakeel about buying off Venus Music.

Many more of Nazim Rizvi’s associates will be questioned over the next few days and the investigations are likely to throw up more dirt. Rizvi’s gossamer celluloid dreams are over. His nightmares are just beginning.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

End of Ram

If the opposition, still firing from the ramparts of Parliament, delude themselves into believing they have their men with tails between their legs, it better think again. For one, it has failed to dampen the enthusiams of their primary target, the Union home minister, LK Advani. When parliamentarians tore their hair over demands for his resignation, an unfazed Advani told journalists in his office, from where he watched the Lok Sabha action live on television, why he would have been only too happy to oblige. The opposition’s baying in fact prompted an instant desire in him to quit the ministry and undertake another rathyatra to spread “cultural nationalism”. That in fact could be the answer to all problems. Given that assembly elections in five states are due next year, the cultural nationalism juggernaut could be multipurpose — bring back the BJP on its own steam, get the drifting party back to the sangh fraternity and free it from the clutches of allies. Move over Ram, cultural nationalism is here to sway the masses. Are the opposition benches listening?

Finding her voice

She is no gungi gudiya. No, we are not talking about the mother-in-law, but the bahu. Fresh from her slaying of dissident Jitendra Prasada, Sonia Gandhi is leading the chaos in Parliament and riding the crest. Her confidence in herself has grown so alarmingly after the victory in the Congress presidential elections that she is reported to be disregarding advice from her senior counsellors like Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh. The wise old men forbade her from pressing the vote on the Ayodhya issue in Parliament and the demand for the resignation of the Babri trio. But it was the young blood in the Congress that convinced madam this was her only chance to corner the BJP and its allies, who do not have a simple majority in the upper house. The lady smiled and obliged. Now, after having a rough time in the house, the young Congress is accusing the aging Congress of being hand in glove with the rulers. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi wants a probe into LK Advani’s one time allegation that two senior Congress leaders had pleaded with him not to resign after the Amarnath killings. The timing is important. When madam is also shortlisting members for the Congress working committee, Das Munshi’s target seems pretty obvious. So there’s a pattern in this madness as well?

Move over,samajwad

End of an affair? There is no love lost between the Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and his one time lieutenant and former telecommunications minister, Beni Prasad Verma. The two are not even on talking terms. Verma, who is an MP from Barabanki, has not been attending the assembly for the last two sessions. He is seen only when there is voting on some issue and there’s a party whip. Is there a third party involved? Predictably, yes. The souring of relations is over the number two man. Officially, it is Mulayam’s blue-eyed boy, Amar Singh. But Beni believes, given his stature and seniority within the party, he should have been the one. Mulayam’s unhappiness with Beni is over the fact the latter did not allow Amar Singh to enjoy the crumbs of the telecommunications office when Verma held it. Beni is reportedly looking for a party to switch over to. If there are vacancies, please inform him.

Keep the fire burning

All fire and brimstone. Seems like Uma Bharti never has a chance to get away from her fiery self. The party’s West Bengal unit lighted the keg the other day. Bharti was scheduled to address a public rally at Burdwan sometime last week. But the programme could not be held as party leaders in Calcutta were not available at the party office in central Calcutta to confirm the programme. BJP sources allege party officials, including Bharti’s private secretary in New Delhi, tried frantically to contact the office in Calcutta two days before the rally was supposed to be held. But no leader was in the office to receive the call. Irked by this callousness, Bharti has not only cancelled the programme, but even decided to take up the matter with the all India president of the party, Bangaru Laxman. Remember, Laxman himself has had a not too pleasant experience in Calcutta. Party dissidents in the state, who have already floated a rival platform, are having a whale of a time over the issue. As usual, they are blaming the present leadership in the state for the mess. Why not pack them off to reform schools?

Footnote /Bihar comes home to roost

West Bengal is a nightmare for its visitors. Two recent political tourists to the state would confirm this. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, Laloo Prasad Yadav, came with his wife and chief minister of Bihar, Rabri Devi, on a one-day visit to attend the felicitation ceremony for the former West Bengal chief minister, Jyoti Basu, at Salt Lake Stadium. Things started going wrong the moment they stepped into a city hotel. Rabri was the first to arrive. Not knowing they were booked into the seventh floor VIP suite, the hotel staff bundled off the lady to a fourth floor suite. The husband arrived a little later with a dozen faithfuls and went into a fit upon not finding his wife. All hell broke loose as partymen ran helter-skelter and Laloo threatened to take the place down. He even ordered his men to look for alternative accommodation. At this crucial moment, a partyman spotted the lady wandering aimlessly on the fourth floor and immediately informed Laloo. Confounded by the faux pas of the hotel management, Laloo apparently cut short his visit and returned to Patna. Did we hear anyone say Bihar is any day better than Bengal?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 
Sir — This is sportsmanship at its worst. A “player of the century” does not even have the courtesy, much less the spirit, to share the stage with another player who is senior to him not only in age and experience, but also, in all probability, in talent (“Stage too small for prize pair”, Dec 13). Diego Maradona, in fact, betrays his class when he screams about his own greatness. He should realize there can be no grounds for comparison between a legend and a footballer both of whose craft and character are suspect. Try remembering Maradona’s allusions to “the hand of god” and his history of drug abuse. Thankfully, Pele needs no intervention, whether divine or human, to sell himself.
Yours faithfully,
J.B. Thakur, Calcutta

Learning priorities

Sir — One does not know what to make of the government’s decision to introduce the 83rd constitutional amendment bill which proposes to make education a fundamental right. If implemented properly, this will no doubt guarantee education for a number of poor and underprivileged children.

But not much good has come of the various attempts made by various committees set up in the past for the spread of education. One of the promises made by the Kothari Commission which was set up in 1966-67 was that six per cent of the gross domestic product would be spent on child education. But four decades have passed since then. The six per cent promised amounts to virtually nothing today. Not only has the government not increased this percentage, the actual amount spent on education has fallen drastically.

The government must first decide whether it wants to spend on education. It would also be worthwhile to remind oneself of the appalling statistics in our country. Nearly 56 per cent children do not attend schools and 59 per cent of them are girls.

Yours faithfully,
Poulami Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The government’s decision to reserve 20 per cent of the seats in private schools for poor children is indeed a novel idea (“Quota for poor in private schools”, Nov 21). The mammoth task of imparting education to poor children cannot be borne by the state alone. Also, state participation alone cannot guarantee the success of this ambitious project. Citizens, parents and educationists must make a collective effort to impart education to all those who cannot afford it. Every state must draw up its own plan according to its needs and make sure that it does not deviate from it. If Kerala could do it so can the rest.

Yours faithfully,
Sunanda Mitra, via email

Day of awareness

Sir — The “World Aids Day” on December 1 is no cause for celebration, particularly for a country like India which has achieved the rare distinction of having the second largest AIDS population in the world. The annual update of the United Nations programme for AIDS shows about 5.3 million people have contracted the virus this year while another three million have died from the disease.

AIDS prevention and cure should get utmost priority. Everyone, including children, should be made aware of the menace. The Centre’s recent plan to introduce an AIDS education programme at the class X level in schools is laudable. Voluntary organizations have started creating awareness in rural areas, but the government response is still inadequate.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

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
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company