Editorial 1 / Wrong guy
Editorial 2 / Burning desire
Eating out of our hand
Fifth Column / Another session on another state
Book Review / Caught in the thrall of time
Book Review / How the ladies fare in the screen test
Book Review / An asylum not too far away from home
Editor’s choice / Queen who did not rule
Paperback Pickings/ A passage, rather than a place
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / WRONG GUY 
 
 
 
 
Rumours, historians say, spurred on the revolt of 1857. Rumours, it would appear, have driven sections of the Nepalese people to violence and demonstrations against the Indian matinee idol, Hrithik Roshan. The evidence shows that Roshan has not made any statements which can remotely be considered to be derogatory of the Nepalese. Yet in Kathmandu his films are being boycotted for days on end and his effigy is being burnt on the streets. The protesters have even called a general strike. This reaction is inexplicable and inexcusable because it is clear that Roshan did not make any of the statements which he is supposed to have made. He appeared in one interview which was shown on television on December 6. The tapes of this revealed nothing that was objectionable. He has given another interview which is yet to be telecast. Thus, it is difficult to understand the basis of the agitation which has now brought Kathmandu to a standstill. In one sense, Roshan may be paying a price for his popularity. He may be having unknown enemies who are fomenting trouble through lies and misinformation. The flip side of popularity in the entertainment business is envy. There are reasons to believe that there are operators in the Mumbai film world who will stop at nothing to procure their ends. Roshan may be at the receiving end of one such heinous plot.

If one sets aside foul play, the extreme nature of the response and the scale of violence have to be seen from a different perspective. This is the touchiness of the Nepalese regarding India and Indians. Nepal is a completely landlocked country which has India’s presence — political, economic and cultural — looming over it. This is more than the shadow of a big brother. Nepal, in many ways — and these are all related to its geo-political location — cannot do without India but it cannot be completely comfortable with this situation. It is easy to understand why the Nepalese feel that their identity is under perpetual threat from India and Indians. Hence, the sharpness and the quickness of their reactions to what they perceive as a criticism or a slight. The agitation against Roshan is a spin off from this complicated and tortuous process of Nepalese identity formation. Students and young men have reacted swiftly to a rumour that Nepal was insulted by Roshan. Their minds or their mentality was ready to believe such a rumour because it fits with their expectations. They did not bother to check the veracity of the allegations. The agitation against Roshan is an index of the suspicion that lurks in Nepalese minds about India. The violence against Roshan is the symptom and not the disease.

There is a recognition of this dimension in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu. In an unusual gesture, it has issued a statement to pacify protesters and to clarify that Roshan is innocent of the charges that are being levelled against him. But attitudes cannot be changed through official briefings. Attitudes have behind them years of history and demonstrations of cultural, economic and political superiority. This is beyond the ken of any diplomacy. All this is not to condone the violence and jingoism on display in Kathmandu. But to underline that despite the fan following of the singer, the song is more important. Roshan is innocent but that should not reduce the significance of the anti-Indian feelings of which he is now the victim.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / BURNING DESIRE 
 
 
 
 
Every now and then, Uttar Pradesh provides particularly horrific pageants of Indian modernity. Ms Radha Bai of Banda district decided to obey “sati maiyya” when the exacting goddess commanded the widow, in her dream, to throw herself into her husband’s funeral pyre. The police, however, managed to stop her from doing so, even as villagers thronged the sight to watch her transfiguration into divinity. This is — shockingly — a progress. In 1999, the police had been mysteriously passive in letting a Dalit widow commit sati voluntarily to a full audience, which, in turn, is a progress from Roop Kanwar being coerced into self-immolation in Rajasthan in the late Eighties. Outlawed in 1829, the impulse to the act, and its associated iconography, persist in a society in which ignorance, poverty and gender and caste discriminations drive widows to commit what the rule of law must regard as suicide.

The incident illustrates how an instrument of the state, here the police, must intervene in what is, at one level, a private decision based on an individual’s religious faith and notions of conjugality. Yet, the widow’s volition has to be regarded in relation to that other collectivity, the spectating community. Its beliefs, attitudes, desires and fantasies are just as constitutive of the woman’s will as her own “devotion” to her departed husband. The violence of her act is an ingrown form of a complex web of coercive factors which is as destructive of human volition as direct physical coercion. This is the terrain the state has to discipline and punish in many segments of modern Indian society. Usually, in Uttar Pradesh, the police is solidly and menacingly part of this terrain, implicated in all its brutal inflections of caste, gender, economic and political power. The rule of law has to operate both within and upon notions of natural virtue and justice which would be deeply at odds with the fundamental assumptions on which enlightened legalities are founded. Perhaps the case of the Dalit sati has made the police warier of passive collusion. It is significant that, in this instance, Ms Radha Bai’s dead husband used to be an advocate, representing an institution that is rather precariously imposed on an ancient and resilient habit of existence.

   

 
 
EATING OUT OF OUR HAND 
 
 
BY RAHUL MUKHERJI
 
 
India must apply economic statecraft more effectively either as a substitute or as a complement to the threat or use of military force. Economic statecraft deserves more focussed attention for securing India. Consider the following questions. What happens when a relationship based on gains from trade is replaced by a withdrawal of trade? Second, how does economic statecraft compare with military force as a tool of statecraft?

Economic statecraft was used for military ends in the pre-World War II period. Hitler involved Germany’s east European neighbours in a relationship of dependence. Germany bought goods from the neighbours at a price higher than the world market price and sold its goods at a price lower than the world market price. The economies of eastern Europe became so highly dependent on Germany that it was not easy for them to find new trading partners when Germany threatened these countries with its economic and military might.

Trade dependence that generated vulnerability in the above story has the following characteristics. First, it should be very difficult for the target countries to find substitute markets or goods. For example, if Russia is sanctioned by the United States with a cut-off of wheat supplies, it should not be able to find alternative markets in Argentina. If the Argentinean supplies become available, then the Russians will not change their behaviour despite the sanctions. Ultimately, US grain producers are likely to pressure the US government to call off the sanctions. This is exactly what happened to the grain embargo of the late Seventies. Similarly, the US sanctions after the nuclear explosions of May 1998 did not work because India could live without the benefits of a pre-sanctioned era.

Second, the target country should be in dire need of the goods that the sender of the sanctions has hit the target country with. If it were a good that people can live without, then the sanctions would not be effective. For example, let us assume that in a hypothetical world the French have sanctioned India but India can find substitutes for all French products except perfumes. If it is just French perfumes, Indians may learn to live without them. If however, we replace perfumes with foodgrains, India would be very vulnerable to French influence.

Third, how much pain the target country can take will determine whether the sanctions will be effective or not. For example, Sino-US trade has made China more dependent on the US, than the US is on China, in pure economic terms. But, an authoritarian China may bear economic hardship with greater ease than the US. If this were the case, then the US will not sanction China, despite the greater economic vulnerability of the Chinese.

Economic sanctions have earned less credit than they deserve as a tool of statecraft. This is because the effectiveness of sanctions has been measured in terms of the explicit goals they were supposed to achieve. The victory of the US in World War II was the unintended consequence of Hitler’s quest for universal dominance. Military operations may sometimes exaggerate the success of operations not because the intended goal was achieved, but because something very drastic occurred in history.

The success of sanctions should be measured in terms of opportunity costs rather than costs. For example, if we decide to buy a Maruti-Suzuki 800 car, we incur a cost of about Rs 2,00,000. Opportunity cost measures the price we would pay if we had not purchased the car. If the same person drove a scooter, this would mean much cheaper petrol but greater risk of respiratory disorder, a low level of comfort while driving and, greater vulnerability to accidents. If he opted for travelling by bus, this cost would amount to much cheaper travel costs, but much greater time taken to perform the same tasks, and, a low level of comfort. In cities like New York where public transportation is efficient and comfortable, the opportunity cost of buying a car is low. Few people living in New York buy cars. However, most people who can afford cars in New Delhi, buy cars.

This is not to suggest that sanctions will be effective at all times. The US sanctions on Iraq helped the military effort, even though it could not drive Saddam Hussein back without the help of force. Likewise, the ends achieved as a result of the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 may not have been achieved if India had merely sanctioned Pakistan.

There are times when the opportunity costs of sanctions are too high. For example, if India’s distrust of Nepal led it into a war, this would achieve very little. Thirteen months after India partially closed its border with Nepal in retaliation for its purchase of anti-aircraft guns from China, the king of Nepal surrendered power to a pro-democratic government that agreed to consult India on defence matters. Economic statecraft succeeded in no uncertain terms.

Research on economic sanctions has pointed to some propositions worthy of note. First, the cost of the sanctions to the sender country must be much less than the cost of the same to the target country. Second, the expectation of war or armed conflict raises the relative gain perception in an adversary. In this situation, the sender will worry not only about how much it is gaining, but also how much more it is gaining with respect to its competitor. It will therefore be more eager to destroy its target competitor via sanctions, even if the difference in cost between the sender and the target is not very high.

The target, on the other hand, is also likely to be in an adversarial mode and concerned with relative gain under these circumstances. It will not easily acquiesce to the sanctions. The expectation of future conflict sets in motion two opposing tendencies. First, it makes the sender keener to sanction even if the sender’s cost is not much less than the target’s. Second, it is likely to result in fewer concessions, as the target will not easily acquiesce to the sender’s demand.

The situation becomes exactly the opposite with allies. A potential sender of sanctions is less worried about the relative gain of an ally, compared with its concern for relative gain, if the same country is an adversary. Therefore, it would want to sanction an ally only if the difference in costs between the sender and the target is quite substantial. However, the ally is likely to acquiesce to the sender’s demand much more easily than an adversary’s, because it is also less concerned about the relative gain of an ally. For example, the US’s sanctions are rare but successful with Israel, but are frequent and ineffective against Iraq.

India must deploy economic statecraft to deal effectively with national security threats by exploiting vulnerability, calculating opportunity costs and using separate strategies for friends and foes. Moreover, economic and military statecraft can reinforce each other under certain circumstances.

The author is assistant professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / ANOTHER SESSION ON ANOTHER STATE 
 
 
BY STEPHEN REGO
 
 
After Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is it now the turn of Maharashtra? This question was debated in the Maharashtra assembly which began its winter session on November 27. The discussion centres around the demand for a separate Vidarbha which has been in the limelight since the creation of the three new states of Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh.

The issue was raised outside the assembly as well. The largely successful Vidarbha bandh, called by the Swatantra Vidarbha Rajya Samanvay Samiti on the first day of the session, highlighted the popular support for the demand. The demand for Vidarbha was first raised under British rule and then again before the state reorganization committee in the late Fifties. The agitation for a separate state gained momentum in the early Seventies but has since then been on the backburner.

The issue got a fresh lease of life when it was raised by the agriculture minister and a Congress member of the legislative assembly, Ranjit Deshmukh, soon after the Centre decided to form the three new states. Though Deshmukh’s move was thought to be triggered by his party’s factional politics, his campaign has generated a heated debate throughout the state.

The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, both of whom have some support in the region, while expressing support for a separate Vidarbha, have been playing a game of oneupmanship. The BJP leader, Gopinath Munde, has claimed that the Centre cannot act on the issue until the state assembly passes a unanimous resolution.

Divided they stand

The Congress has tossed the ball back into the BJP’s court by asking it to convince its alliance partner, the Shiv Sena, before such a resolution can be moved. The Shiv Sena is the only mainstream political party that has opposed the demand, calling for asamyukta (united) Maharashtra instead. The leader of the opposition and former chief minister, Narayan Rane, attempted to move a resolution in favour of a united Maharashtra recently to preempt a possible resolution favouring a separate Vidarbha. The attempt was severely opposed.

Later Rane criticized the demand for Vidarbha as being raised by Marwaris and Gujaratis. This indirect reference to the non-Maharashtrian descent of several Vidarbha leaders like Banwarilal Purohit, Satish Chaturvedi, Naresh Pugulia, Vijay Darda and Prafull Patel was condemned for attempting to give a sectarian colour to the issue.

The Nationalist Congress Party is however ambivalent in its position. While its regional leaders like Prafull Patel and Datta Meghe are for a separate state, the party’s recent state convention at Nagpur was silent on the demand. The NCP is in a dilemma because of its base being among the sugar lobby in western Maharashtra which is thought to be the cause of Vidarbha’s misery for cornering the bulk of the state’s development benefits.

Off balance

The Dandekar committee on regional imbalances noted in 1980 that the per capita development expenditure was Rs 222 for Mumbai, but a mere seven rupees for Vidarbha. Also, while per capita crop loans of Rs 76 were distributed to farmers of western Maharashtra, those in Vidarbha received only Rs 22. Many of the 125 irrigation projects planned for the region remain incomplete and only eight per cent of the total area is irrigated.

The situation has further worsened. According to a recent report, Vidarbha’s share in the total backlog of development expenditure in the state upto 1997 was 45 per cent. In irrigation alone, out of a total unspent amount of Rs 8,767 crore, Rs 4,420 crore was for Vidarbha.

The imbalance continues on the industrial front too. The growth in employment between 1961 and 1990 has been 12.37 per cent in western Maharashtra and only 1.2 per cent in Vidarbha, in spite of the fact that the region has 75 per cent of the forest wealth and 90 per cent of the mineral wealth of the state and produces more than 3,000 megawatts of power.

Clearly, these disparities are fuelling public sympathy for a separate state. But statehood is still a distant dream. For, as the posturing in the assembly makes clear, none of the mainstream parties is yet willing to risk incurring the wrath of its supporters elsewhere, even if it is for the token action of moving a resolution within the house.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / CAUGHT IN THE THRALL OF TIME 
 
 
BY MALAVIKA R. BANERJEE
 
 
HAMMERKLAVIER
By Yasmina Reza,
Faber, £ 4.50

Yasmina Reza, a French playwright, begins her book with the story of her dead father’s meeting with Beethoven. The latter rebukes her father for playing one of his pieces, the “Hammerklavier” piano sonata, rather badly. After recounting this dream, Reza takes us through part autobiographical, part fictional experiences to meditate on time, death and the value of our lives. However, after going through the slim novel, all that remains is the charm of that unreal, yet amusing, encounter between a genius and his admiring disciple.

The rest of the book is a brooding, rather European, look at life, loneliness and transience. The author seems, for the better part of the book, hypnotized by the oscillating pendulum of passing time. While Reza’s technique and narrative are reminiscent of Milan Kundera, she lacks his easy style, and seems far more self-conscious.

In fact, much of the melancholy in the book stems from her awareness of time passing by and the fact that she is consciously creating a book whose worth and value will be judged by that ever-moving pendulum: “But after much thought, the question posed is that of time. In what time do we situate ourselves? In what time, the value of things and words? Time: the only subject.”

These lines, which come towards the beginning, sum the book up well. If one wants it more concisely, the words “much thought” are rather apt. However, the book does have its moments — especially ones Reza seems unaware of. In one chapter, she speaks of her mother’s habit of keeping newspaper cuttings featuring her, and says she does not do the same because of her “terror of time.”

Yet, in another delightful chapter, “The Grumpy Little Girl”, the terror seems to have left her. She is heartbroken when she loses a little souvenir of her daughter’s early childhood and cannot explain even to her daughter the joy she feels at having found it. Reza does not seem aware that these are perhaps the emotions her mother invests in her collection of newspaper cuttings. The reader is not made aware of these subtle ironies and one is left with a brooding look at time.

That is precisely the problem with most of Reza’s reflections. They are too self-obsessed, unlike in the case of Kundera’s works. While both speak of time and memories through essays rather than a narrative, Kundera’s rambling prose is never brooding, there is always some relief round the corner.

By the end of Hammerklavier, the author seems to be a young woman coming to terms with the death of her father, and the tyranny of time that it symbolizes. Stories of her father return right through the book to confirm that it is his passing that has caused Reza to meditate on transience and conclude that life itself is hostage to time.

Reza seems most comfortable when she describes literary or artistic works. Perhaps this is because all these works are outside time. It is reality that troubles Reza, and her discomfort and “terror of time” cast an unhappy shadow over most of the other chapters.

Reza’s writings are also unmistakably those of a playwright. Many chapters are monologues which seem straight out of a play. However, this is understandable because it is Reza’s first novel.

The translation seems fluid, and the prose flows freely with handy footnotes to explain the few Frenchisms that are there in the book. Hammerklavier is the latest in the semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional style perfected by Kundera and in a different, more popular way by Richard Bach.

However, her work lacks the thought-provoking quality that such writing must possess to be successful. It lapses into solipsism and melancholy at the slightest pretext. At the end of the book, the protagonists Reza talks about (most of the time it is Reza herself) seem lonely not because they are alone, but because they are too self-absorbed to notice those around themselves.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / HOW THE LADIES FARE IN THE SCREEN TEST 
 
 
BY SUHRITA SAHA
 
 
SCREENING CULTURE, VIEWING POLITICS: TELEVISION, WOMANHOOD AND NATION IN MODERN INDIA
By Purnima Mankekar,
Oxford, Rs 645

While nation, politics and womanhood are respectable academic discourses, popular culture is often looked down upon. Steering clear of this “high culture-low culture” debate, Purnima Manke- kar presents an ethnographic study of television as a creator of mass culture. Sustained by the society, it plays an important role in the realignment of class, caste, loyalty and consumption.

Mankekar examines serialized narratives and advertisements designed to portray specific ideas about the nation and its various aspects. Her ethnographic subjects belong to the upwardly mobile, urban middle class of New Delhi. From its inception in 1959, Doordarshan has served as an experiment in social and nationalist education, constructing discourses of development, while the state deployed themes of national integration to consolidate its hegemony and repress dissent. Mankekar feels that the telecast of Republic Day parades and Independence Day speeches reinforces this. Essential components of Doordarshan’s project of homogenization and integration included dramatization of anti-colonial struggles, and televization of myths and collective memory of communities. Mankekar debunks a few serials such as Ramayan, Mahabharat and Param Veer Chakra which actually created a “national audience”. She is correct in that the serials based on Hindu myths played catalyst to resurgent Hindu nationalism.

In spite of the initial success, the state’s attempt to Indianize television and proliferate information through entertainment and education was soon riddled with paradoxes. By the mid-Eighties, the shift in the focus of national economic policy, international political pressures, transnational cultural flows, private capital and demands of the middle class converged to transform Doordarshan into a consumerist entertainment medium.

Discourses of advertisements became explicitly linked with Western technology and frequently hinged on the objectification of the female body. Ironically, serials like Rajni and Udaan, depicting the empowerment of women, increased. However, women were portrayed not only as modern and liberated, but also as bearers of tradition. Divorce, single parenting and other Western imports started gaining popularity too.

After a systematic study of televiewing, Mankekar asserts that instead of overt “cultural invasion”, the transnational channels are catering to local tastes for greater marketability. Her view that transnational channels have only built on and accelerated the changes brought about by Doordarshan is debatable. The sheer volume and quality of programme marks a paradigm shift, especially among the urban middle class population.

A surfeit of personal details and Mankekar’s failure to link them up with her analysis, coupled with informal presentation of data, are the dr- awbacks of the book, which is, however, important as a document on television in the subcontinent.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / AN ASYLUM NOT TOO FAR AWAY FROM HOME 
 
 
BY ARNAB BHATTACHARYA
 
 
TIBETAN SOCIETY IN EXILE
By Jayanti Alam,
Raj, Rs 450

Way back in 1959, India veered significantly from its pro-China stance in international politics by providing political asylum to the 14th dalai lama of Tibet. It came in the wake of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. In 1999-2000, when the 17th karmapa travelled from Tibet to India and sought refuge, Indians had a feeling of déjà vu. In the 41 years in between, there has been a steady influx of Tibetan refugees to India. With the 14th dalai lama as its religious and temporal head, the Tibetan community in India has set up an independent government which works on a democratic constitution. This underscores the secular spirit of the Indian Constitution on the one hand, and on the other, it highlights the urge of self-determination of the Tibetan people.

Jayanti Alam’s Tibetan Society in Exile claims to be an empirical study of this other Tibet, which, apart from adapting well to the Indian conditions, has sanctimoniously preserved its traditions and is slowly working its way towards freedom, both political and spiritual. In her introduction, Alam points out seven “unique and distinctive” features of Tibet which clearly distinguish the Tibetan settlers from other immigrants in India.

The most striking among them is the Tibetans’ deep-rooted faith in Buddhist precepts. This accounts for the independent bent of their mind, their love of peace and non-violence and the absence of a “well-organized political machinery” in their land.

In the first two chapters, Alam explores the historical background leading to the present-day Sino-Tibetan relationship and delves into the cultural root of the Tibetan society, based on feudal and theocratic class divisions, though anchored to the egalitarian Mahayana Buddhism. Alam helps readers understand how far and how fast the Tibetan community in exile has moved towards a classless and gender-equal society without taking recourse to communism. In fact, the Tibetans have evolved their own form of socialism by way of appropriating some of the basic tenets of Buddhism.

The institution of the dalai lama and the democratic constitution of the Tibetan government-in-exile do not look compatible initially. The role of the 14th dalai lama is crucial here because he was the first to reconcile these apparently heterogeneous concepts. In January 1960, he outlined a detailed programme for the Tibetan constitution which ultimately came to be drafted in 1963. In 1960 itself, the Assembly of the Tibetan Peoples’ Deputies was constituted with 13 elected members, following the recommendation of the dalai lama.

In chapter four, Alam unravels the ideas and visions of the Dalai Lama, arguably the first modern man of Tibet. Alam also shows the similarities some of the salient features of the Tibetan constitution have with their Indian counterparts.

Perhaps the best reflection of the success of the Tibetan society and government-in-exile is the position accorded to women. The migrant Tibe- tan community has come to recognize women as the main productive force and to honour their economic and sexual status.

   

 
 
EDITOR’S CHOICE / QUEEN WHO DID NOT RULE 
 
 
 
 
QUEEN VICTORIA: A PERSONAL HISTORY
By Christopher Hibbert,
HarperCollins, £ 15

No other royal personage captured the popular imagination in the manner that Queen Victoria (1837- 1901) did for the better part of the 19th century. She came to the throne just after her 18th birthday, and after her husband’s death in 1861, she became a recluse preferring to stay away from London in her castles in Balmoral and Osborne. Yet, she left her imprint on an age.

Hibbert, who excels in the writing of popular history (Indian readers will recall his racy volume on the revolt of 1857), does not dwell on this paradox. Rather, he writes a straightforward biography which borders on the adulatory. But Hibbert’s research is good and his choice of anecdotes impeccable. This is emphatically not the portrait of the age which bears Victoria’s name. Hibbert stays true to the sub-title he has given to his volume.

The length of Victoria’s reign can be measured by the fact that 20 governments served under her. She adored her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne who taught her almost everything about her duties as a monarch. She delighted in his company, and was jealous when he dined with anybody else. Robert Peel she hated because he created, according to her, the first crisis of her reign. This was what has come to be known as the Bedchamber affair: Peel, as a Tory prime minister, insisted that the ladies of the royal household, all of whom were married to Whigs, should be removed. The queen refused to do this and Peel interpreted this as an expression of her lack of confidence in a Tory government. Victoria won the round but the consensus was that “she [had] made herself the queen of a party”. She never again made a mistake of this nature and her reign marks a watershed in the transition from monarchy to constitutional mon- archy. This shift was hastened by the untimely death of Albert, her husband, who had sought to monitor affairs of state. Once she retreated into the domestic privacy of Balmoral and Osborne, the power and influence of prime ministers like Lord Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone and Lord Salisbury only increased.

As a recluse, she preferred first the company of her ghilee, John Brown, and then of her Indian munshi, Abdul Karim. Nobody else enjoyed the queen’s trust as much as these two did in the period that they were the recipients of her trust and affection. Hibbert rules out any sexual angle to the relationship with Brown. This is an assertion on Hibbert’s part and not the product of a detailed dissection of the available evidence.

The fact remains that Victoria wanted to be interred with a portrait of Brown. (The portrait, during the funeral, was deliberately hidden by a bouquet of flowers.) What she wrote to her munshi will never be known as after her death, all his papers were burnt in his presence before he was sent back to India.

The iconization of Victoria, which Hibbert loyally records, remains a mystery. Maybe by retreating to Balmoral, she preserved the magic of monarchy while surrendering its substantive powers to able ministers.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS/ A PASSAGE, RATHER THAN A PLACE 
 
 
 
 
PILGRIMAGE: ONE WOMAN'S RETURN TO A CHANGING INDIA
By Pramila Jayapal
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Pramila Jayapal ‘s Pilgrimage: One woman’s return to a changing India is an Indian-born American woman’s personal account of travelling through India for a couple of years from 1995. Jayapal was funded by a US-based institute of current world affairs to write about “contemporary societal issues” in India. This rather vague rubric is exploited by the author to produce a travelogue that reflects on the relationship between her personal and professional lives, and on the role India plays in them. This is not merely a personal, but also an intensely sentimental, journey. Jayapal is simply not skilled enough as a writer to prevent this earnest sentimentality from turning her book into a collection of boring clichés on self-discovery. Interestingly, she ends with an account of her applying for US citizenship: “There was nothing I needed to do to be Indian, to prove that I was inextricably linked to this country.” This is her “real lesson” from India.

SHOLAY: THE MAKING OF A CLASSIC
By Anupama Chopra
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Anupama Chopra’s Sholay: The making of a classic is a very readable book on the legendary Indian film, released in 1975. Sholay ran for over five years in the theatres, and Shekhar Kapur thinks that “Indian film history can be divided into Sholay BC and Sholay AD”. Chopra tells a dramatic and entertaining story from the birth of the idea, through the casting, the actual filming for over two years to the first few anxious weeks after the release. There are many skilfully told stories within this larger story: the choice of Bachchan over Shatrughan Sinha or of Amjad Khan over Danny Denzongpa; the budding romance of Hema Malini and Dharmendra during the shooting that earned the spot boys some extra money and almost killed Amitabh.

MASTERMIND INDIA 2000
By Siddhartha Basu
(Penguin & BBC, Rs 195)

Siddhartha Basu’s Mastermind India 2000 will be a delight for Indian quiz enthusiasts. It contains all the questions, and answers, used over the past year in the Indian incarnation of Mastermind, the world’s most prestigious quiz show. Describing the series as an “austere quiz classic”, Basu’s elegant preface outlines its principles and ethos: “an excellence of awareness, in a testing trial of speed and accuracy, where the only rewards are honour, pride and recognition.” The silver trophy given to the winner — engraved with a “Tree of Knowledge and Life” in the Vijayanagara tradition — has become the “holy grail of serious quizzers”. The array of specialized subjects is fascinating: ancient Greek philosophers, freemasonry, Woody Allen, the Falklands wars and the Younghusband expedition to Tibet, among many others.

HINDI NATIONALISM
By Alok Rai
(Orient Longman, Rs 150)

Alok Rai’s Hindi Nationalism is a passionate defense of Hindi that seeks to salvage the language from the politics of nationalism, communalism and regionalism. Rai’s Hindi is a hybrid everyday language that had evolved in north India by the 19th century, but which is then transformed into a Sanskritized and de-Persianized language by an upper-caste elite nurturing hegemonic ambitions. This is a tragic process and Rai’s account of it is marked by a deep sense of loss — “lost moments, blocked potentials, lost ideals”. Another excellent volume in the “Tracts for the Times” series.

SHIVA 3000
By Jan Lars Jensen
(Pan, Rs 195)

Jan Lars Jensen ‘s Shiva 3000 is a science fiction thriller set in India in the distant future. Religion and mythology seem to have run amok. Two strangers set out across the subcontinent in quest for very separate destinies. Rakesh wants to kill the Baboon Warrior and Vasant is a royal engineer, mysteriously abducted and set adrift in a rudderless airship. Their fate becomes even more uncertain when the Sovereign in Delhi is murdered by the First Wife. There is also an awesome Jagannath, and a serpentine Naga.

FRIENDS IN SMALL PLACES
By Ruskin Bond
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Ruskin Bond’s Friends in small places is about people he “can never forget” — “friends, lovers, relatives, chance acquaintances, strangers, or other people’s friends and relatives”. It collects Bond’s best cameos of people who “stand out of the commonplace”, because of their “pride in themselves”. His granny and father, an old kite-maker, a wayside inn’s khilasi, an epileptic boy who sold trinkets for a living prove that people, in their different ways, are full of surprises.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Drinking problem

Sir — Anand Soondas’s report, “Blasphemy charge against Coke” (Dec 25), was hilarious. It has been “discovered” that “Coca-Cola” means “No Muhammad no Mecca” in Arabic, and that too, when held against the mirror. Obviously, Lucknow’s Muslim religious leaders and clerics, who have issued the fatwa on Coke, have nothing better to do than see mirror images of soft drink bottles and slam fatwas at the drop of a hat. Maulana Kalbe Jawwad’s statement that Muslims across the world are going to be urged to boycott the brand until the company withdraws the “offending” words, also sounds bizarre. Does he really believe a bunch of clerics can browbeat a giant multinational company into changing the name of its brand? Also, what about the millions of bottles of Coca-Cola that have been consumed by Muslims in the last 75 years of the existence of the brandname? How will this puritanism be enforced with retrospective effect? Or is that a convenient non-issue?
Yours faithfully,
Prem Gangjee, via email

Fall from grace

Sir — Anti-Hrithik Roshan demonstrations in Nepal were programmed and timed perfectly, like an Inter-Services Intelligence operation. A success story such as his is bound to generate intense hatred and jealousy in some quarters in Mumbai and the Gulf nations. It is so easy and simple for hired professionals to plant a canard and whip up people’s frenzy without leaving a trace of its source.

Some people in Mumbai must be hugely enjoying the success of their “Mission Kathmandu”. I saw Hrithik Roshan’s Rendezvous with Simi Garewal on December 6 on the Star Plus channel. There was absolutely no reference to Nepal or Nepalese people in it, either by Garewal or by the star.

I can’t but be shocked at the loss of two young lives over this rumour. On his part, Hrithik Roshan must have been hit hard by the incident. He should realize that some of his friends in Mumbai wear masks.

Yours faithfully,
S. Dasgupta,Calcutta

Sir — It is quite possible that Hrithik Roshan was about to go for a shooting in Nepal, which has provided the backdrop to the filming of several Bollywood films. It is also possible that the star’s underworld enemies have hit on this novel idea to undo the star by making him the enemy of the people who love him. After all, after the recent public revelations about the underworld, the dons are probably considering it too risky to have the blood of this superstar on their hands. Presumably, a public outrage would finish off Hrithik Roshan more neatly than the bullets of supari killers.

Yours faithfully,
N. Gokhale, Calcutta

Sir — Hrithik Roshan’s alleged comment on Nepalis only goes to prove that Bollywood heroes might have ample brawn but no brains. Why do they have to risk their lives and earnings trying to show off what they don’t have? Remember, Madhuri Dixit not too long ago had claimed Nepal was a part of India.

Yours faithfully,
S. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The points raised in the article, “Well groomed bride” (Dec 23), seem to be the result of an inability to digest the degree of commitment that Hrithik Roshan has shown for Suzanne Khan, now Roshan. What people in general are exposed to is the screen persona of the actor. The star does not appear to be any “pumped up piece of machismo” in real life. He is a sensitive and romantic person as he came across during the interview with Simi Garewal.

What we must realize is that for Hrithik Roshan, acting is a family profession and the fanatical adulation he has received is an occupational hazard that both he and his new wife are prepared for. Moreover, Suzanne is not entirely new to stardom and its attendant glamour.

Yours faithfully,
Shivaji Thapliyal,via email

Animal instincts

Sir — The circus has come to town but before people buy tickets for the show, they might want to think about what happens to animal performers behind the scenes.

Current animal welfare laws set only the most minimal standards, such as requiring that animals have enough room to stand up and turn around when confined. But even these basic regulations are often ignored. Animals used in circuses live a dismal life of domination, confinement and violent training. It is standard practice to beat, shock and whip them to make them perform ridiculous tricks that they cannot comprehend.

The circus deprives animals of their basic needs to exercise, roam, socialize, forage and play. Stereotypical behaviours such as swaying back-and-forth, bobbing the head, pacing, biting the bar and self-mutilation are common signs of mental distress.

Circuses that exploit animals have no place in a compassionate society. It is time for all of us to stop patronizing animal circuses and demand that the animal performers be sent to sanctuaries, where they can live their lives in dignity.

Yours faithfully,
Nirguna Awatramani, via email

Sir — Following the recent incident where a circus performer was mauled to death by a tiger (“Circus owner, two others in custody for girl’s death”, Dec 17) the government has decided to implement the ban on performance by animals of a few categories. It goes without saying the legislation will continue to be violated. Circus companies might not flagrantly disobey the government in urban areas where they will risk punitive action. But it should be kept in mind that circuses are more popular in rural areas than in cities. In the countryside, the laxity of the administration will give enough room for the companies to continue using tigers, lions, leopards and the other banned categories of animals to attract audiences. Besides, the very fact that the government is only now thinking seriously about an act passed by the Central government way back in 1997 shows its commitment to animal welfare.

Yours faithfully,
A.V. Ramamurthy, Calcutta
Sir — Taking the big cats out of circuses will take away a lot from the attraction they hold out to the common people. Instead of banning performances by these animals, and this is one legislation that will be difficult to enforce, the government could have laid down strict rules for their upkeep by circuses.

Yours faithfully,
R. Ramani, Calcutta

The bells no longer jingle

Sir — For years we have been shamelessly trying to imitate the West, and in doing so have crossed the line that separates modernity from gross vulgarity. Denigrating a religion is sacrilege, and that is what a particular advertisement on Christmas eve has done. The advertisement, “Kiss Miss Eve”, which has been appearing in The Telegraph for the past few days, has been portraying Santa Claus as a lecherous person seen in a compromising position with a girl. It goes on to say that, “ Santa won’t have the energy to deliver any presents this year”. You do not have to be a devout Christian to condemn such a grotesque portrayal of a figure revered by all, especially children.
Yours faithfully,
Arnab Banerjee, via email

Sir — Would the sangh parivar have sat idly had Hanuman, also a children’s favourite, been shown in such a poor light as Santa Claus in the “Kiss Miss Eve” advertisements splashed on the back pages for days?

Yours faithfully,
Tamal Chakraborty, Calcutta

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