Editorial 1 / Pieces of hope
Editorial 2 / Nightmare city
The new American president
Book Review / A family and a fractured country
Book Review / Mastered lives
Book Review / Defending the blue waters
Book Review / Sacred and profane love
Bookwise / To err is authorial
Paperback Pickings / Learning from the Other
Letters to the editor

The extension of the unilateral ceasefire by the security forces until Republic Day will lend further momentum to the incipient peace process in Jammu and Kashmir. Clearly, the enthusiasm with which all shades of public opinion in the state, including separatist leaders, had responded to the ceasefire during Ramadan has played an important role in the decision to extend it into the new year. Such a move does carry the risk of making the security forces more vulnerable to militant attacks, may even erode the morale of a section of the forces, and could lead to a regrouping and consolidation of militants. But the long term benefits — given the overwhelming Kashmiri sentiment against violence — are far greater than these short term costs. Ultimately, not only will the unilateral ceasefire firmly isolate forces that are continuing to perpetuate violence, but may help create the conditions under which the Kashmiri people — rather than security forces — will stand together to fight those who continue to spread terror and violence. Bringing peace to Kashmir, at least at this stage, is not about goals and the final product, but about gradually creating a process in which all the main actors have a stake, and which cannot easily be derailed by the number of vested interests who have made a business out of the conflict in Kashmir

The prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, has also signalled — more clearly than ever before — that India is willing to re-engage Pakistan if Islamabad takes concrete measures to create the environment in which a meaningful dialogue, as envisaged in the Simla agreement and the Lahore declaration, can be pursued. In addition, New Delhi has indicated that it will initiate exploratory steps so that a composite dialogue with Islamabad can be resumed. For this purpose, the government must be willing to use informal channels of communication, and indeed New Delhi should even be willing to let leaders from the All Party Hurriyat Conference travel to Pakistan to explain to the political leadership and militant groups the follies of continuing with their policy of sponsoring terror. Pakistan has indeed announced a partial withdrawal of its troops along the line of control, and earlier, it had declared that its armed forces would unilaterally cease fire along the LoC. These are positive steps that have led to a de-escalation of the almost routine firing on the border. But they remain, at best, only piecemeal measures. What is most needed for the resum- ption of a serious bilateral dialogue is a visible change in the ground reality in Kashmir. That can happen only once there is a reciprocal ceasefire by all militant groups that Pakistan has sponsored and trained and which are increasingly now being manned by Pakistanis.

The Centre’s new Kashmir initiative requires patience and determination, and should continue to be handled by the top political leadership of the country. More incremental confidence-building measures may be needed in the near future, including the issue of travel documents to Kashmiri leaders who wish to go abroad, the release of political detenues — some of who have languished in jail for the last decade — and a more explicit invitation for a dialogue to individual separatist leaders. Even if the Centre’s gestures continue to be ignored, it has little to lose. For increasingly it will become clear to the Kashmiri people and the international community that forces in Pakistan and a section of the separatist leadership alone stand between Kashmir and peace.


There are incidents which suddenly bring out the everyday horror of living in Calcutta. The death of three year old Riddhima Basu, on her way to school in her father’s arms, is one such. The fact that her father had picked her up in order to protect her in the most crowded stretch of Gariahat is an added irony. This stretch, difficult to negotiate at the best of times since the construction of the flyover was begun, is pure chaos in the morning. Schoolchildren and parents need to pass through a forest of traffic, threatened by racing buses, one of which grazed Riddhima’s father’s arm, causing her to fly out under the vehicle’s wheels.

The chaos is the result of a lack of coordination among the various departments of the city’s administration. Buses racing one another have caused numerous accidents, yet nothing effective has been done to penalize and deter drivers from such uncontrolled speeding. The system of incentives for covering the route in the shortest time is often the cause of these deadly races. This system needs immediate change. Equally responsible for the chaos is the ineffectuality of the traffic police, as far as pedestrian and vehicular discipline is concerned. While buses stop where they want to, pedestrians, no sticklers for road safety rules anyway, are forced to get off the pavements because of the encroachment of temporary stalls. The good that was achieved by Operation Sunshine has been nullified by the constriction of walking and road space at Gariahat because the flyover is being built. Whatever good the flyover might do in the future, the chaotic period of its construction demanded far greater planning. Given the laxity and callousness for which Calcutta is famous, the combination can result only in tragedy. All it needs for the catastrophe is a few thousand children and their parents trying to reach school on time in an urban nightmare. Although the chief minister is right in asking that stern steps be taken against reckless drivers, Riddhima’s terrible death is the result of the convergence of a number of failures. Punishing reckless drivers is the most important step, but only the first one in a series of desirable changes.


Now that the presidential election battle in the United States has ended, raising many critical issues of partisanship that should be of concern to the nation, it is important to review here the foreign policy implications for India under the new American president. This protracted battle, the manner of its resolution and the division that is clearly visible at all levels will leave the president-elect, George W. Bush, with reduced power and credibility. It will be difficult for him to act decisively at home and abroad.

Moreover, it needs to be remembered that foreign policy is not a matter of mere syllogism in which a conclusion is inferred from two premises, nor is it a game that is played by just one player. Multiple players and contingencies shape foreign policy that is best viewed as a dynamic process, more so in a world that is changing fast. It is useful to keep this in mind in considering the foreign policy perspective that Bush is going to bring to the White House. To assess policy implications for India, it is necessary to review his general approach and major concerns.

It is often overlooked that country- specific policy makes sense in the context of an assessment of the overall foreign policy perspective. This assessment should not look at India as a passive agent but as an active agent that will contribute to the definition of its role in the changing world.

A good textual source to begin with is provided by the three presidential debates that took place in October between the vice-president, Al Gore and Bush, even though it is clear from these debates that domestic policies attracted greater attention than foreign policy.

An important point that came up for discussion in the very first debate that took place at the University of Massachussetts, Boston, on October 3, was regarding the use of American force. Bush asserts that he will be guarded in his use of force. He will use force only if he is convinced that it is needed against territorial threat to the nation, possible harm to the people of the nation, threat to defence alliances, and threat to “our friends in the Middle East”.

He wishes to be satisfied moreover before using force that the mission is clear, the armed forces are fully equipped to win, and an exit strategy is in place. He is concerned about overextending the armed forces. Even though the US has the strongest military force in the world, he fears there is going to be a serious problem ahead in the absence of a clear perception of the role of the military. He believes that the role of the military is to fight and win wars, not to engage in “nation-building” missions.

This is related to his understanding that the US cannot be “all things to all people in the world”. He develops this point further in the second debate that took place at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on October 11. His argument has four dimensions that need to be identified. There is first of all the issue of rebuilding the military, not to drain it by committing troops abroad unnecessarily. There is then the most important concern with the interests of the US that are best served by peace, especially in west Asia, and free trade.

He is also thinking about the manner in which the nation is perceived by other nations. And what he says here deserves to be quoted: “If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. If we’re a humble nation but strong, they’ll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we’ve got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.” The role of the US is not to go around the world and say “this is the way it gotta be” or “we do it this way; so should you”. Then there is the issue of priorities. He is clear about his priorities: “The Middle East is a priority for a lot of reasons, as is Europe and the Far East and our own hemisphere.”

West Asia featured in these debates in an important manner. Bush assures Israel that he is going to stand by it. It is also important in his view to reach out to modern Arab nations. Bonds of friendship with them are going to be important for many reasons. These bonds will help in handling situations such as are occurring in Israel now and also in dealing with Saddam Hussein. These bonds are needed because of the energy crisis. The importance that is given to west Asia is in sharp contrast to the attention given to south Asia that just does not feature in these debates.

Bush has been criticized by Gore for his isolationism, retreating within national borders and ignoring the leadership position in the world. Gore’s position has a humanitarian side to it, for he is for intervention when there is a case of genocide. Thus, his regret is that there was not adequate intervention in Rwanda. But in assessing Bush’s position it is important to realize that Gore’s perspective is not confined to human concerns. It is a perspective that is drawn from the understanding that the US has come to be a “model” for different nations of the world, “a model for what their future could be”.

Like it or not, “the United States is now the natural leader of the world”. The policy of “forward engagement” that he advances to address international problems before they become crises might easily become an instrument of international domination while serving a useful function in handling new challenges such as posed by terrorism. Against his commitment “to push forward what America is all about”, Bush’s emphasis on the US being “a humble nation” comes as a relief.

Since Bill Clinton’s visit to India and Atal Behari Vajpayee’s return visit to the US, a strong impression has been created that bilateral relations between the two countries are assuming greater importance than ever before. These leaders have emphasised the common experience of the two countries with democracy and the potential for better trade and cooperation.

The presence of entrepreneurs and professionals of Indian origin is being increasingly felt in the US, especially in the software industry. There are reports of significant contributions having been made by the wealthy Indian community to the Democratic Party. Indeed, Gore found time in the middle of his campaign for Vajpayee during his visit and assured him that he would take forward the Clinton legacy. It is quite possible that this promise would have been kept.

Now that it is known that Gore is not going to be the new American president, there is no reason to lose hope. Beyond rhetoric and the personal charm of Clinton, it is important to recognize that in terms of the Clinton legacy India was unlikely to be of the greatest importance for the US, yet it was likely to be attractive as a large democracy with a big economic potential. So it is likely to be for Bush. Indeed, to view the matter positively, Bush is unlikely to push forward aggressively the agenda of American hegemony in the manner in which Gore was likely to do. There is likely to be less irritation regarding the comprehensive test ban treaty to which Gore is committed.

It is reported that Bush has said that he will not press for India signing the CTBT. What is likely to be of concern to him is the historical role of India as a nation outside any formal alliance with the US. He does give importance to alliances. As far as major neighbours are concerned, his attitude to China is very different from the attitude of Gore, for he sees China without “illusions” as he says. Pakistan is likely to be seen unfavourably in view of its instability and its role in promoting terrorism. The importance of Pakistan as a trusted ally is not going to be overlooked, though there are indications that the balance may be tilting in favour of India with important changes taking place globally. This tilt is likely to be less perceptible than it might have been under Gore. Pakistan will not be given up.

India has to play its role carefully. It will be in its interest to define the new relationship with the US positively and realistically, not romantically nor with prejudices. If India can moreover resolve its differences with its neighbours so that it is not mired in regional conflicts, it will be in a better position to relate with the US in a favourable manner.


By Kamila Shamsie,
Bloomsbury, £ 5.99

Welcome to the Great Divide — the division of land, men and hearts. Taking up the fractures in Pakistan’s history and society, Kamila Shamsie, plunges into Salt and Saffron, a novel of anecdotes, letting 22-year-old Aliya weave together the disjointed chronicles and secrets of the Dard-e-Dils, proud and possessive of their “royal” antecedents and the family lore they pass on from one generation to another.

Her ambition to trace the history of the Dard-e-Dils from Timur the Lame to the present days and to delve into the fissures that cleave Pakistan’s society induces Shamsie to introduce the ploy of the “not quite” twins into the family history, a strategy reminiscent of Salman Rushdie’s.

Aliya, educated in the United States, achieves the detachment required to sustain a first person narrative that bristles with sub-plots. She is fresh, acerbic and yet holds no malice when she dons the cap of the storyteller, narrating her family history, replete with idiosyncratic characters, to one and all.

Amid the clutter of tales, Aliya retains a private pain. The pain of losing Mariam Apa and, more important, the shame of losing her to their cook, Masood. Associated with her aunt, under strange circumstances, as the not-quite twins, Aliya is herself set to replay the foible of breaking class barriers.

Her new infatuation with Khaleel and the subsequent information that his parents were from Liaquatabad, the part of Karachi inhabited by “the lower classes, the not-us”, force Aliya to confront the medievalism that permeates Pakistani society and her own class snobbery.

Being a representative of the young Pakistani generation, the agony and hostilities caused by the Partition confounds Aliya. On meeting her Indian relations, Baji and Rehana Apa, in “neutral” London, Aliya wonders aloud: “How had they sustained for so long, the bitterness brought on by the events of 1947?”

But does the Partition only entail pain? Although Aliya realizes “that we didn’t support the same cricket team, this cousin (Rehana Apa) and I”, she reflects: “One person’s lament can be someone else’s elegy.”

Shamsie knows her craft well. Only her second novel, she handles the complex plot and the subtext of its socio-political circumstances deftly. The anecdotes stay in the memory, and each chapter ends with a teaser. The reader remains immersed in Aliya’s understanding of her world.

Karachi, with its complacent feudal lords and the resigned poor, is sketched with a wry humour and fondness that is evocative of Vikram Chandra’s metropolis in Love and Longing in Bombay.

But the reader’s empathy with Aliya cannot redeem the novel’s defects. Shamsie allows herself some fun with her readers, heaping minute details about the ancestry, leaping from one generation to the next in a confusing lineage that is full of marriages among close relations, indulging in mawkish sentiments which begin to appear phoney.

Present and past, food and ancestry, love and pride seem to come together only to add to the details and to the sense of numbness. What strikes the reader is Shamsie’s attempt to tie up the strings of disappearances, reappearances and confusion with a plethora of coincidences.

The sudden arrival of Sulaiman, one of Aliya’s grand-uncles from India, at a Karachi hospital at night, suggests a leap, rather than a lack, of imagination on Shamsie’s part. It does bring the novel to its apt conclusion and satisfies the reader’s desire to know, but the element of strain is quite evident.

After the rush of facts and truths, Aliya’s dadi laughs, and the reader feels the same, when she says: “Such passion, such tragic miscommunication, such revelation…. It’s too absurd.”

Absurd it is, but all is forgiven. For who would want to spurn a good storyteller, which undoubtedly Shamsie is? We only wish that she may get a better yarn the next time.


By C.S. Lakshmi,
Kali for Women, Rs 400

This is the first of a three-part series of detailed interviews of notable 20th century women and deals specifically with women artists in the field of classical music. The range and nature of material that follow from the exercise is more than enough to validate a project of this kind. It is a very welcome addition to the growing body of sources that historians and social anthropologists are dipping into in order to come to grips with the complexity of cultural transformation in late colonial and independent India.

C.S. Lakshmi brings to the exercise an added insight, thanks to her training as a social historian. She is particularly sensitive to the nuances of the colonial experience and the nationalist project that developed partly as a response and partly as a reaction to the colonial imaging of traditional society and its artistic inheritance. Her strength is grounded in a specialized understanding of society in south India and its transformation under the rubric of the colonial regime. It is not entirely fortuitous that the bulk of the respondents belong to the tradition of Carnatic music.

The introduction makes an impassioned plea for an alternate methodology in the writing of social history, particularly of artistic communities, and their relocation in the changing milieu of modern urban India with its new brand of patrons and publicists. She argues quite convincingly for the relevance of oral history and narratives in facilitating a “feminist” perspective. But she concedes that it would be counterproductive to detach women artists entirely from the larger cultural and aesthetic context, which on occasions transcended the imperatives of patriarchy. Needless to say, such instances were few and far between, as women both from traditional backgrounds as well as from the middle class had to struggle with the constraints and constrictions of dominant male attitudes and power relations.

The interviews, as far as the author was concerned, were intended not to quantify information but to reflect the quality of their artistic experience as they lived out their lives as wives, students and performers. The meanings that were continually attached to and inscribed on women pursuing the artistic profession informed the nature of the cultural project assumed by the modern Indian middle class and introduced a number of arbitrary constraints on the pursuit of the tradition by middle class enthusiasts. The tradition was, in terms of organization, gendered, with certain aspects of the repertoire remaining the exclusive preserve of the high caste male musicians.

The polarization became even more extreme as the configurations of the nationalist discourse and project intervened to disempower traditional communities of performers like the devadasis. The tradition of classical music was thus recast in a manner that disavowed its links with an older traditional matrix. At the same time, there was a more concerted, even if arbitrary, attempt to define the realms of the male and the female in purely aesthetic terms — an effort that met with resistance from women musicians like D.K. Pattamal, whom the author quotes in the introduction.

The interviews themselves yield a delightful array of facts and impressions. We have Gangubai Hangal sharing her experiences as a young artist who grew up listening to Carnatic music from her mother, but who was drawn to Hindustani music and pursued it subsequently. We also get a glimpse of her shyness in Calcutta, where she made her public appearance in a traditional ten-yard sari and felt embarrassed at the number of men who looked at her with curiosity. There are also the deep sense of pain, that she felt at her mother’s untimely death, and her appreciation of a time that was very special, carrying distinct overtones of a milieu in transition.

We have, in contrast, Neela Bhagwat’s experience that was much more grounded in modern India, with music as an integral part of a middle class household. It was a useful accomplishment for the girls in the house and an art to be pursued with a measure of commitment, if not with total abandon. Neela brought to this her individual personality and was fully present in her decision to abide by her guruji’s exhortations, even when these were somewhat unusual. She mentions how, in her initial years of training as a Kathak dancer (dance was her first love), she was asked by Lacchu Maharaj to kiss him and then fondle his thighs. She did this with absolutely no reaction, but she thought it was exploitative. What is remarkable about Neela’s story is that she recognized the complexities and contradictions of a creative artist like the Maharaj and did not see him only as an exploitative guru, but as someone who could also be very generous with his time and teaching. The process of such an adjustment and of giving it a certain language make Neela’s story particularly modern, even if there is nothing remotely modern about men and masters making passes.

The other interviews offer equally interesting insights into the collective experience of learning and performing music in a new environment. We have artists conceding to the pressures of family life and obligations to give up a full-time career in music, others who had very supportive partners and yet others who had obdurate fathers.

The one common feature that strings these experiences together is the kind of absolute attachment they placed on the teacher who, with all his whims, became central to their lives. It is difficult to explain this attachment. In a recent interview that I had the privilege of conducting with Salem Neela, an important radio artist at the Trichy radio station in the Sixties and a student of Salem Desikacahar, Neela frankly confessed that he was an absolute terror who could reduce her to tears at will, but who was a fount of such artistic wisdom that she forgot all the slights as she strummed the tanpura and got ready for yet another lesson. Indeed, in a realm that is decidedly ethereal, with all sorts of curious aesthetic and emotional interchanges, the reality of gender as a discriminating and crippling attribute could be very easily overstated.


By G.M. Hiranandani,
Lancer, Rs 1,195

Globalization is not only reshaping the Indian economy and culture but is also influencing the armed forces. The transition, in the case of the Indian defence forces, is from a purely continental approach to a maritime one. Till recently, the Indian armed forces, following the ideas of the German geo-politician, Karl Haushofer, was chiefly concerned with fighting land battles. The underlying assumption was that it was of primary importance to a nation’s security that it dominated the heartland of the continent.

However, the rising importance of maritime trade during the Nineties is forcing the military establishment to think about the protection of the nation’s lines of communications in the seas. We are therefore witnessing a throwback to the Mahanite military tradition which claims that the prosperity of a state depends on the control it can exert over the oceans.

An attempt to analyse the maritime aspects of national security is Rahul Roy Chaudhuri’s Sea Power and Indian Security. Since Roy Chaudhuri’s focus remains on the economic and political aspects of sea power, the military-operational context of naval power is not discussed in detail.

The book under review, Transition to Triumph: History of the Indian Navy, by the retired vice admiral, G. M. Hiranandani, attempts to fill this gap. Hiranandani owes appreciation for conducting about 250 interviews with officers of all categories to get a “feel” of the combat scenario. Hiranandani’s book is an attempt to legitimize the expansion of the navy in the future by elaborating on the sailors’ contribution to national security in the past.

Hiranandani concentrates on the period 1965-1975 because these 10 years proved to be a crucial turning point in the history of the Indian navy. Its whole structure along with its weapons systems and functions changed.

First, since the late Sixties, India started building state-of-the-art warships. The Mazgaon Dock churned out Leander class frigates when the British dockyards were building them for the Royal Navy. But, there was a limit to what the British, and the West, would supply to India. Besides, the West came close to Pakistan, and its navy was lavishly modernized by advanced American weapons.

In desperation, India turned towards Russia. The Kremlin reciprocated India’s positive attitude. Thus began an Indo-Russian entente which continues even today. The most famous acquisitions from Russia were the missile boats, which during the 1971 war bottled up the Pakistani forces inside Karachi harbour. By all estimates, 1971 was the Indian navy’s “finest hour”. Both in the Arabian Sea and in the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Navy reigned supreme.

The most critical test for the Indian navy came from the American task force, which entered the Bay of Bengal towards the end of the Bangladesh War. The entry of the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier into the fray was Nixon and Kissinger’s war by proxy, a repetition of 19th century British gunboat diplomacy. But the Indian navy refused to be bluffed into submission.

Frankly, the bipolar division of the world worked favourably for India. A Soviet task force shadowed the American task force. But, what will happen in the present unipolar world? The view implicit in the book is that to prevent such a future threat, the Indian navy is required to be a blue water navy equipped with aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines.

In the final analysis, Hiranandani’s work, a product of methodical research, would be a valuable reference book for anyone interested in the Indian navy. The only flaw is that the author is too self-critical while asserting his personal views.


By Margaret H. Case,
Oxford, Rs 395

The author, with a doctorate in the history of India from the University of Chicago, is one of the few American scholars drawn to this country by its religious traditions and spiritual culture. The editor of numerous books on Indian subjects, Margaret H. Case was, for several years, the Asian Studies Editor at Princeton University Press.

Seeing Krishna is spun around the lives and lilas of Krishna and Chaitanya, widely believed to be an incarnation of Krishna. It is an advancement on the pioneering studies of Vrindavan bhakti by David Haberman and John Stratton (Jack) Hawley, who encouraged Case in this enterprise.

The facts of Chaitanya’s life have been elaborated in song, story and drama. Perhaps the most striking feature of this hagiography is the parallel drawn between Chaitanya’s life and that of the young Krishna in Vrindavan. An example of this, according to Case, is Chaitanya’s decision to become a sanyasi and abandon his young wife and old mother. The emotional poignancy of this event parallels that of the relationship that Krishna shared with his friends, family, Radha and even the gopis in Vrindavan.

The author’s interest in Krishna and Chaitanyaite Vaisnavism, an important branch of Hinduism, was fostered by her long association with Goswami Maharaj, reputedly an avatar of Chaitanya, and his son Shrivatsa.

The venue for this interaction was Jaisingh Ghera, the Goswami family’s home and ashram in Vrindavan, and which the author calls her second home. She gives a compelling account of the rituals of service offered to the deity and recounts the cycle of plays (astayama lila), a theatrical enactment of a day in the eternal life of Krishna. The text is enriched by translations of relevant passages in the Bhagavata Purana and summaries of the script of the plays.

The most fascinating experience of the author at the Maharaj’s ashram dates back to November, 1992, when a large black bee appeared in front of a group of devotees three times in a row. The devotees believed that the bee was Krishna himself, who could not bear the separation from his beloved Radha and was manifesting himself thus.

The author has often been asked if the bee was really Krishna. Her answer has been, “It all depends. In the context, yes.” A critical comment on the book confirms: “This is a vivid account of how a group of Hindu devotees in north India saw Krishna appear in 1992 and of the historical, social and ritual context that lends credence to the belief that this event was in fact an appearance of the god (Krishna).” Krishna manifested himself in Vrindavan, it is said, for two reasons: first, he wished to relieve the sufferings of the earth (this is the background to his appearance in the Bhagavata Purana) and second, to experience for himself the sweetness of Radha’s love for him (this is the teaching of Chaitanyaite Vaisnavas).

According to Case, this latter rationale, a conceited sentimentality, is in fact the tip of a theological and metaphysical iceberg. For Radha (together with the cowherd women, who embody an extension of her being), is Krishna’s sakti, his divine energy. The two cannot exist apart from each other, and the play of the two is what creates the world. This relationship is one of prema (love), and through prema they experience ananda (bliss). Chaitanya’s elevation of Radha to a preeminent position in the worship of Krishna was a crucial turning point in the revival of Vaisnavism.

Case concludes that faith or the pervasive devotional life of Vrindavan brings to its people “a kind of joy and acceptance of several unseemly features of life and living like filth, stench, illness, erratic public services, wretched poverty etc., typical of India, which, after all, often cannot be changed.”


Pick up any book by well-known Indian publishers and you are bound to come across several mistakes. There are simple spelling mistakes and inconsistencies of all kinds — confusions about English and American spellings, indentation of paragraphs, mixed-up type sizes for chapter openings, italicization of foreign words and phrases, poor indexing, wrong facts — apart from infelicities of language and grammar that do not make for easy reading. Who should be accountable for this — the author or the publisher — and why?

By convention, it is the publisher’s responsibility to take care of all the minute details of language, style and subject matter. The author’s responsibility ends the moment he hands over the typescript to the publisher, after which the onus lies with the publisher’s copy editor to prepare the copy for the printer by eliminating typing errors and standardizing the design, layout and all the rest. Of course the author is supposed to assist the publisher, clarify doubts and read the proofs before printing starts.

But the final responsibility lies with the publisher because the author is not conversant with the publisher’s house style and can seldom be a good proof reader of his own text. Traditionally therefore, the rap has to be taken by the publisher, a point that has been emphasized by the two standard texts on copy editing, The Chicago Manual of Style and Judith Batcher’s Copy Editing.

But in India, it is not as simple as “either-or”. For one thing, many manuscripts submitted by authors are not “clean” (to use publishers’ jargon). There are typing errors, simple mistakes of facts like names, dates, figures and so on. And this is apart from poor language and grammar.

Because of the pressures of time, publishers have begun to farm out typescripts to professional freelance copy editors and proof readers. To an extent this has improved the situation, but this improvement has not been enough because the same percentage of mistakes can still be detected in the finished books.

The reason for this is that there are not many good professionals around, and those who are there do not have enough time to take care of everything. There is no substitute for “in-house” copy editors who have a stake in producing good books. Freelancers, some of whom do one-off jobs, can seldom fit the bill.

Given the scenario — lack of time and lack of professionals — the ball goes back to the author’s court. It is up to the author to submit as perfect a copy as possible to the publisher. He has to do a close reading of the text, get a second opinion from experts on the subject, and then submit the copy or floppy to the publisher. Preferably the latter, because this eliminates the possibility of errors that invariably creep in when the typescript is punched in by keyboard operators.

It is important for authors and publishers to realize that when it comes to English, or regional languages for that matter, keyboard operators are not highly qualified and punch in matter mechanically only because “it is there”. What all this boils down to is a simple truth: a book is the joint product between the author and the publisher. Both have a stake and both have an equal responsibility in a good product — the author a little more so because the publisher is not adequately equipped to do so in India.


By F. Max Müller
(Penguin, Rs 295)

F. Max Müller’s India: What can it teach us is collects what were originally seven lectures delivered in Cambridge to candidates for the Indian civil service. It was published in 1883, when Max Müller was a fellow of All Souls in Oxford and the “Western Indologist par excellence”. He had never been to India, but had already completed his six-volume edition of the Rig Veda, with Sayana’s commentary. The publication of these lectures coincided with the introduction of the Ilbert Bill. The reform of the civil services was crucial to the change in the spirit and course of British imperialism in India in Gladstone’s second ministry, with Lord Ripon as the new viceroy. With their mélange of philology and romanticism and showing a profound knowledge of the classical Indian canon, Max Müller’s lectures pointed in the direction in which Ripon was trying to reform the administrative system in India, recognizing the need to put Sanskrit and Arabic on par with Latin and Greek in the ICS entrance examinations. For this Orientalist, India held the promise of a a “transfigured and eternal life”. But he also wanted “to show to the world that Englishmen who have been able to achieve by pluck, by perseverance, and by real political genius the material conquest of India, do not mean to leave the laurels of its intellectual conquests entirely to other countries”.

By Sunny Singh
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Sunny Singh’s Single in the city: The Independent woman’s handbook is a book by and for the single Indian woman. Singh aims to provide a practical guide, with “strategies, tips and skills” to “cope better” with life, without any “political agenda or ideology locked within the pages”. Singh starts with Urvashi, as a role model, from her grandmother’s village in Bihar: “Beautiful, stern, an amazing horse rider, and the village’s best shot with a rifle.” Singh goes into a wide range of circumstances pertaining to what she categorizes as public, personal and private spaces — sexual harassment, single parenting, financial management, entertaining (some good recipes for cocktails) and, of course, relationships. The tone is sensible, modulated and humorous, without being inanely feel-good. But some readers could be unduly alarmed, or annoyed, by her description of “unsafe sex” as “sex without condoms, with more than one partner, or casual sex”.

By Marc Shapiro
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Marc Shapiro’s J.K. Rowling: The wizard behind harry potter is a fairy tale account of the life of this celebrity writer. In its recycling of materials culled from newspapers, websites and TV interviews, and in its banal written-for-the-young-reader style, it is an insult to Rowling and to her extensive young and adult fan club: “What is the person who writes the Harry Potter stories like? Is she young or old? Happy or sad?” The most exciting sentence in this slim book is “Chaos is purring.” But disappointingly, Chaos turns out to be the author’s cat. His other cat is called Bad Boy.



Ideology no bar

Sir — Mamata Banerjee, true to her style, created a stir on December 14. She declared that the Trinamool Congress’s support to the National Democratic Alliance government would depend on the prime minister’s reply (“Atal puts Ram before allies”, Dec 15). The reply came in the form of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s refusal to retract from his stand. Since then, Banerjee has said little on the issue. Is this a strategic calculation or is she merely dancing to the tune of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and by extension, to that of the sangh parivar? From the amount of attention Banerjee has been paying to her home state, speculations have intensified about her ambition of ruling West Bengal in the near future. If that is true, the Ramjanmabhoomi issue would have given her an excuse to withdraw from the Centre on ideological grounds and this one would have been more convincing than the other dubious populist reasons as the petroleum price hike. Missing this opportunity might prove costly for Banerjee in the state elections.
Yours faithfully,
S.K. Gangopadhyay, Calcutta

Disturbing heights

Sir — The recent massacre of innocent people in Assam should be condemned. These developments have grave implications and have left all right-thinking people disturbed. Besides tearing up the pluralistic social fabric of the state, it has given Assam a bad name.

The United Liberation Front of Asom, always suspected for its murky politics, is once again in the eye of the storm, although it is difficult to make out who exactly is playing the bloody game this time and why. Politics has sunk to such levels that even the hand of political parties cannot be ruled out. As expected, the parties, instead of helping the situation, are busy scoring political points with an eye on the elections.

The problem of illegal immigration and even the issue of special provisions to protect and promote the social, economic and political interests of the indigenous people is a separate issue and should never be dealt with through violence. The clamour for president’s rule in the wake of the violence is also immature. It is difficult to see how president’s rule is going to help. The administrative machinery would be the same, the security forces would be the same. Moreover, a situation like this is best tackled through an elected government, although both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party might be wanting a dismissal of the state government to benefit electorally.

The Central and state governments together with the media and responsible citizens should mount a collaborative effort to stop the violence and promote social amity. Work needs to be done on the intelligence apparatus which has been failing the government. And the chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, has to show some constructive leadership in this hour of crisis.

Yours faithfully,
Pranjal Das, Guwahati

Sir — The Asom Gana Parishad government needs to pull up its socks. Merely blaming an outlawed outfit for killings in the state is not doing its image any good. How can a “dying organization” act with such impunity when the government has been crying hoarse that the ULFA has been almost wiped out? Either the government is lying or it is ineffective.

Yours faithfully,
Rita Kotoki, Guwahati

Sir — The editorial, “Aids to pleasure” (Dec 9) was thought-provoking. HIV/AIDS has become a major issue in India. The fact that sexual behaviour is related to this disease makes things more complicated. The issue of sex education needs to be dealt with in a broader perspective.

The action plan of the health ministry — to educate students from classes IX to XII — is laudable and a step in the right direction. But what about the millions of the uneducated? These people are more in need of sex education than the educated.

A concerted effort on the part of the public and nongovernmental organizations with some assistance from the government can go a long way in withstanding the onslaught of this syndrome. The issue needs to be addressed in a more humanitarian way. Something more than token pledges are needed in this regard.

Yours faithfully,
Agha Saeed Islam, Jorhat

Sir — It would appear from the press releases issued by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) that it is not fighting for the Nagas as a whole, but for the people of Nagaland alone. The Nagas have been divided into four groups — those coming from Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Some Nagas also live in northern Myanmar. For instance, 40 per cent of the Konyak Nagas are found in Nagaland, another 40 per cent in northern Myanmar and the remaining 20 per cent in the Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh.

Does this mean that only the 40 per cent who live in Nagaland are the real Nagas?.

The NSCN(K) should clarify its policy in this regard. If it considers itself the representative of Nagas everywhere, then it should stop issuing misleading statements.

Yours faithfully,
Lhipenyi, Dimapur

Sir — The letter by Neil Saini (“Rave preview”, Nov 20), on the rise of Hrithik Roshan, was absurd. One should appreciate the fact that Bollywood has finally found a superstar after Amitabh Bachchan. Though Fiza has not done well at the box office, it would be unfair to blame Hrithik Roshan for its failure. The fault lies with the audience which has stopped appreciating good movies.

Saini’s statement, “Here is a 27-year-old who has one hit and two flops,” shows he does not appreciate the fact that these failures will ultimately lead to success. Mature actors like Shah Rukh Khan have also had flops. Hrithik Roshan’s career has just started. We should encourage him.

Yours faithfully,
Tanushree Ishani, Dibrugarh,/dt>

Sir — Intolerance towards minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, is on the rise. These fanatical attacks on minorities not only negate the noble quality of religious tolerance of Hindus but is also detrimental to the unity and integrity of India.

The attacks on minorities might even be a clandestine attempt to undermine the achievements of the BJP-led government. Being part of the Mizo National Front till 1969, I can say categorically that Christian missionaries in the Northeast, especially in Mizoram, never involved themselves in our political affairs.

In fact, failure to obtain even moral support from the foreign missionaries working in the Northeast prompted us to seek support from China in 1968. Our struggle was not against any religion but against injustice, negligence and alienation from the national mainstream.

But Christianity enlightened us and helped us do away with traditional evils. The missionaries selflessly provided primary education and basic healthcare.

The recent intolerant utterances by fundamentalist organizations on the role of Christian missionaries in the Northeast are, therefore, totally baseless and would serve only the interest of the enemies of the country.

Yours faithfully,

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