Editorial 1 /Eastward Ho
Editorial 2 / Just in passing
Civil society in India
Book Review / Deadlier than a thousand words
Book Review / Foreign body
Book Review / Loneliness and loud silence
Book Review / To look power in the eye
Editor’s Choice / Baring the legends of guilt
Paperback Pickings / Myth of the big time president
Letters to the editor

The visit of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to Vietnam and Indonesia will do much to promote bilateral ties with two important states in southeast Asia. More important, the prime minister’s visit must be seen as part of the new thrust being given to India’s look East policy and the recognition that it is vital to further cement ties with the Association of South East Asian Nations. India is a dialogue partner of ASEAN and a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum and, slowly but surely, the Asia-Pacific region is emerging as the central pivot in the Indian view of Asian stability, and essential to the construction of a security order that will be in India’s interests. As the external affairs minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, has pointed out recently, India’s parameters of security “clearly extend beyond confines of the convenient albeit questionable geographical definition of south Asia.” This is not only because India cannot afford to ignore the possibility of the Asia-Pacific becoming a zone of increased threats, potential turbulence and unbridled great power rivalries. But also because ASEAN is seen as potentially sharing a range of common military and non-military threats and concerns, including those related to issues as diverse as energy, economics and sustainable development. With ASEAN’s expansion to include Myanmar, India and ASEAN are no longer just maritime neighbours. Deeply concerned about the uncertainties of the future, including but not only over China’s role, India would like to fashion a multilateral security order in the Asia-Pacific in partnership with ASEAN.

With Vietnam, India has shared a special relationship that goes back to the close bond that existed between Jawaharlal Nehru and the Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh. Although there was a pause in bilateral ties after the end of the Cold War, in the last two years, there has been a renewed effort to build a closer relationship. The visit to India of the Vietnamese president, Mr Tran Duc, in December 1999 provided the initial impetus and bilateral ties gained further momentum after last year’s visits to Vietnam by the defence minister, Mr George Fernandes, and the external affairs minister, Mr Jaswant Singh. By all accounts, the visit of the prime minister, Mr Vajpayee, has helped in binding India and Vietnam in a close strategic relationship that will cover a variety of areas, including cooperation in areas as diverse as trade, defence and oil and gas exploration. With Jakarta too there has been a long-standing historical relationship, rooted in the role played by New Delhi in securing Indonesia’s independence. Last year’s visit to India by the Indonesian president, Dr Abdurrahman Wahid, has done much to bring about a closer bilateral convergence on issues of contemporary significance. Although the country is at present facing a great deal of internal problems, including ethnic unrest in many parts, its enormous size, huge population, tremendous natural resources and strategic location make it a country with great strategic and economic potential.

India’s engagement with all the ASEAN countries must grow steadily. While there is an obvious and growing potential within the economic arena, concern about China obviously provides an impetus. Engagement with ASEAN, however, must be driven above all by larger considerations about stability in Asia and the belief that ASEAN and India share a range of common military and non-military threats, as well as largely similar perceptions of order in the region.


No doubt the people of West Bengal have got what they deserve. A state government which nurtures bandhs and strikes undermines work culture. And it is exasperating to be stopped from entering the workplace because some groups are on strike in protest against one of the Central government’s policies. All this is true, and no one, whether judge or teacher or labourer, can be faulted for holding this as his personal opinion. But when the chief justice of the Calcutta high court expresses this opinion from his chair, there is naturally some consternation. True, obiter dicta are not uncommon; the usage gives the judge the freedom to say more than his immediate brief demands. But the convention has some inherent problems. Judges are symbols of impartiality. What they say from their chair has enormous weight. But their personal opinions, like those of ordinary mortals, are as likely to be coloured by over-emphasis or bias. To pronounce them from the chair may damage their stature, and raise questions about their neutrality. The Supreme Court has repeatedly shown itself to be unhappy with obiter dicta.

The comments of the chief justice, Mr A.K. Mathur, were of doubtful propriety on more than one count. The judiciary and the administration reign in separate spheres. Encroachment of one upon the other is bound to upset a delicate balance. The chief justice’s remarks indirectly accused the state government of encouraging the strike against which some government employees had gone to court to complain. More directly, the judge blamed the people of West Bengal for allowing such a government to last for 24 years. The tirade had nothing to do with the petition, which was against the strikers who were preventing people from entering their workplaces, including the Writers’ Buildings, the chief metropolitan magistrate’s court, Alipore court and Sealdah court. By giving petitioners the impression that it is contemptuous of them, the court undermines the concept of impersonal arbitration. Neither is the spectacle of the judiciary asserting its superiority over the executive in any way healthy. This unfortunate episode has reinforced the argument against the convention of obiter dicta.


A concern with civil society in India in relation to language and religion must engage first of all with the concept of “civil society”. The concept readily suggests a sphere distinct from the state. This is a sphere that is public rather than private in the sense of family or household, typically conveying public participation in voluntary associations, professional associations and the like. The concept became popular in connection with the east European experience that showed up free association outside the influence of the state or the ruling party, dissent against the totalitarian state and a way of expressing this dissent as an effective opposition as in the case of Solidarity in Poland.

Through civil society thus was expressed a desire on the part of the people to restrict the intrusion of state power in public affairs and to create space for voluntary activity that was free from coercion. It highlighted abuses of extensive political intrusions and the effectiveness of collective action.

This understanding of civil society is useful, but it overlooks the fact that as far as the concept is concerned this is only part of the story. The concept was discussed even before the recent movement against communist governments in eastern Europe was launched. It was in discussion in the 18th century and later. Indeed, the term is taken from the Italian societas civilis that draws from the older Greek conception of the polis, the Greek city-state that allowed for direct political participation. It is worthwhile to note that in its classical form civil society emphasizes political society rather than its restriction.

Analytically, five features need to be identified in the shifting meaning of the concept in the history of European political thought: citizenship, civility, conflict, consent, and contest. Citizenship was an important criterion in the Greek polis and the Latin term civitas referred to the rights of citizens within a state. Less distantly, Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America emphasizes the role played by the institutions of civil society such as associations in fostering citizenship and democracy. Civility is related with the behaviour suitable for “good citizenship”. In the writings of Adam Ferguson in the 18th century the view of civil society as a state of civility is particularly emphasized. It is based, in his view, on government according to objective laws rather than personal whims.

Conflict is the point that finds accentuated expression in the writings of Karl Marx. He uses the term die bürgerliche Gesellschaft, civil or bourgeois society, to refer to the emergence of a particular society from feudal society and to its character. This is characterized by atomistic individuals pursuing selfish material ends in conflict with each other. Unlike G.W.F. Hegel, Marx locates the determination of the state in civil society. The formal equality in the heaven of the political world is located in the real inequality of earthly existence in society.

The earthly existence of this civil society, its anatomy, is specifically sought in political economy. Consent brings us to Antonio Gramsci. He draws a distinction between two superstructural levels: “civil society” and “political society” or “the state”. While the one acts on the consent of the masses, the other acts with the apparatus of state coercive power. Intellectuals play a crucial role in fabricating consent for the dominant class through institutions such as church and school. If consent is secured it may be challenged as well, and that opens the door for cultural struggle.

Contest operates at more than one level, from partial criticism to the development of fully formed counter-ideology and movement. This feature of civil society has attracted much attention in view of the east European experience as noted above. It is more and more recognized that to protect and expand rights connected with citizenship institutions of civil society are needed. Thus, freedom of speech requires newspapers, journalists and the reading public. Any right needs to be pursued in an active manner to actualize it.

Language has played an interesting role in the arena of civil society in India. While its role in conflict has been noted, the role it has played in promoting citizenship has not been fully appreciated.

It is true that Hindi has attracted controversy right from the time of language discussions in the constituent assembly and its imposition has been resisted by people who do not speak it, especially in the South. The agitation in Madras in 1965 opened the eyes of the nation to the problems of neglecting regional sentiments. Over the years policy-makers came to admit under pressure from civil movements that India is a multilingual society with all the languages spoken here having a right to grow. The very issue of language nomenclature is interesting in this respect. It was realized that the more widely spoken Indian languages listed in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India were not just regional languages but Indian national languages. During the debate on the official language bill, 1963, Jawaharlal Nehru assured the nation that there was no question of one language being more of a national language than any other.

The eighth schedule originally specified 14 languages. Demands were made for the inclusion of more languages. One such demand was made for the inclusion of Nepali. This demand was fulfilled after several years of struggle. The role played in this respect by the Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Bhasha Samiti, a Darjeeling based cultural organization for the promotion of the Nepali language, is noteworthy. The case for the inclusion of Nepali was based on the desire of Indian Nepalis to be fully integrated in Indian national life without any sense of insecurity. The persistence of insecurity could not have been beneficial.

There are reasons to believe that the process of consensus formation that was evident earlier may be under strain under the new order. The manner in which the language problem could be handled is not the manner in which a major current conflict is being handled. It is best illustrated by a recent development in the sphere of religion.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s comment on December 6 attracted much attention. He is reported to have said: “The construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya was an example of the manifestation of nationalist feelings. This task is not yet over.” It was reported later that he further amplified the statement of the previous day by talking about two solutions: “The court gives its verdict and everyone accepts it. Second, Hindus and Muslims sit together and arrive at a negotiated settlement”.

There have been talks about the Ayodhya movement with Vajpayee himself comparing the “movement” with the reconstruction of the Somnath temple. It was reported that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had planned to announce the temple construction schedule at the Allahabad Kumbh Mela and after that send its activists to villages across the country to create awareness. The hardliners seemed unlikely to be satisfied with anything less than a Ram temple at the site. The negotiated settlement then could only mean that Muslims would have to be satisfied at best with an alternative site for the masjid. This brings up the issue of civility. A civilized society cannot be based on the principle of denial of equal rights to a section of its citizens.

Here was then a situation where the consent was sought to be based on coercion. But this is no consent. The situation could only be dividing, not uniting. In such a situation, the option left open for civil society is to contest the politicization of religious beliefs and to develop an alternative movement, using all available organizational forms and evolving new ones as well.

What is objectionable is to turn the rich heritage of Hinduism into the political agenda of Hindutva. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would have suggested in all likelihood that the only honourable course for Hindus was to build a new masjid on the same site out of their free will and as an act of civility on their part.

There are fears that the country is likely to face the worst drought in a century, affecting six states and 150 million people. Members of parliament were so occupied with Ayodhya that nobody raised the issue of drought. It is civil society that can, through its dissent and through effective ways of expressing this dissent, show to the present government where it should be active and where it should not intrude.


Presented at the XXVIth all India sociological conference, Thiruvananthapuram, December 29-31, 2000.

The author is professor of sociology, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta 

By Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva,
Heinemann, £ 17.99

This is a brutal and brusque book. At one level, it tells the story of a few journalists living on the edge, the kind of people who get their kicks from “war journalism”. But at a deeper level, this book captures the struggle of the blacks in apartheid South Africa.

The text is compelling but straightforward. What makes this book special is the powerful photographs that come with it. The authors, along with two of their friends, make up the “Bang-Bang Club”, a group of photographers who will go to any length to take that prize-winning photograph. The results are awesome.

The best photograph in the book has nothing to do with the book’s theme. It is a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph of a vulture stalking a starving child in Sudan. A lot of photographs of dead or dying men make up the rest of the photographs. They might make one feel a bit queasy, but they capture the reality of what apartheid meant for South Africa and the world.

Some of the photographs do stand out in memory. There is one of the former president of South Africa, P.W. Botha, and his wife, Elize, being greeted by a woman in the black township of Sebokeng. The confident posture of Elize and the way the black woman is bending down as she shakes her hand captures what a thousand words cannot do.

There is another photograph of a right wing Afrikaner begging for his life as an Bophuthatswana policeman looms over him. A later photograph shows that he has been shot minutes later. This is the kind of dramatic photograph that made the Bang-Bang Club so famous in South Africa and beyond.

The last bunch of the photographs show the fab four — Greg Marinovich, Joao Silva, Ken Oosterbroek and Kevin Carter — in action. Predictably, most of them look a bit like movie action heroes. But the action is for real. And the threat of death is omnipresent. A few pictures from other troubled spots in the world like Croatia and Kabul can also be found. All this might make it seem that this is a book of award winning news pictures. That it is not. But the pictures are rivetting and make a powerful impact.

The writing gives an insight into the way news photographers operate. “Now we know a little more as the veil is lifted on the ways this remarkable breed operated, how frequently they had to be callous, to the extent of trampling all over corpses without showing too much emotion, so that they could capture that special image which would ensure that agencies wanted their work,” says Bishop Desmond Tutu in the foreword to the book.

The journey is fascinating in parts. It is the story of white, middle-class young men, who dared to venture into unknown black townships, all for the sake of the photograph.

The guerrilla tactics used during the Hostel Wars, when Nelson Mandela’s supporters were attacked and killed by Zulu warriors, is well documented. There are passing references to how the war was being secretly funded by the white regime.

As in the pictures, the authors manage to shock repeatedly with their raw and brutal observations. These men are out to tell the difficult truth and tell it well.

Incidentally, Kevin Carter, a member of the Bang-Bang Club who later committed suicide, has a song by the Manic Street Preachers named after him. One of the other members, Ken Oosterbroek, was killed by a stray bullet some time later. Ken’s death is vividly recounted in the preface to the book. Parts of the book read like an action movie script, and there is ever possibility that a movie might be made out of it someday.

The survivors of the Bang-Bang Club put the book together. One of the authors readily admitted in an interview later that the death of two out of the four which made up the Bang-Bang Club had made their cause “sexy”. This is the kind of brutal honesty that makes this book remarkable.


By Edmund White,
Alfred A. Knopf, $ 25

Edmund White’s fiction has suffered most from being stacked, in British and American bookshops, in the “Lesbian and Gay” section, lumped together with the third-rate mush churned out by publishers like The Gay Men’s Press. White’s best-known novels — A Boy’s Own Story and The Beautiful Room is Empty — are major achievements in the Bildungsroman tradition, and are as much about human despondency and contemporary America as about sexual identity. They are in the same line as, though not in the same league with, European masterpieces like André Gide’s The Immoralist or Madeleine and Marguerite Yourcenar’s Alexis. White, who teaches at Princeton University, has also written a biography of the modern French playwright, Jean Genet, and a study of Marcel Proust. Genet’s kinkiness and Proust’s refined cruelties are very much part of his creative sensibility.

But White is an utterly contemporary writer. His novels absorb the texture of modernity — elusive, urbane, neurotic, doomed — as lived out in affluent European cities, small-town America or even northern Africa. In The Married Man, this absorption in the flavours and surfaces, the eroticism of the modern finds its perfect locale in Paris. Austin, its 49-year-old protagonist, a cultural journalist and a “Europeanized American”, lives in a two-room apartment on the Île Saint-Louis (one of the islands on the Seine), surrounded by its “dim, fog-wrapped splendours”. He meets — in a belle epoque gym — the “married man” of the novel’s title.

Julien, about twenty years younger than Austin, is an architect. A tense, melancholy man — handsome, very French and unabashedly patrician — he has been married for “quite a while”. Unselfconscious about his sexuality and, in fact, charmingly homophobic in that virile French manner, Julien is — as Austin’s queeny confidant puts it — ideal “husband-material”. He is naturally seductive, and the opening chapters of the novel provide a wittily terse account of Austin and Julien’s mutual seduction. Austin is lethargic and unambitious, two long-term relationships old, now podgy and bespectacled, needing, in spite of his essential kindness, a “constant transfusion of interest and affection”. He has, at this stage in life, “nothing to lose except his dignity, which he didn’t care much about”. (Late Auden comes to mind here.)

Moreover, unknown to Julien, Austin is HIV positive. This delightful seduction, therefore, involves them both in a “deadly game Austin had already lost and Julien didn’t know that he was playing”. Through the key moments of this game, White’s writing remains unwavering in its minutely observant poise. Austin soon reveals to Julien his positive status. Julien’s politely self-absorbed non-reaction is the first of the novel’s many authentic surprises. Then things start happening very quickly. Julien moves in with Austin, because he wants to look after Austin when he becomes ill. He also puts in his divorce papers. They make a futile attempt at moving together to America. Then, alerted by symptoms, Julien goes in for a test and comes out not only positive, but also well into the first stages of AIDS. We realize, at this point, that we know very little of his sexual history, other than what he reveals to Austin as part of an alluring, but intensely secretive, romantic posturing. The narrative remains dispassionate, amoral, but fascinated through all this. Like Austin himself, “consumed by the objective melancholy of the sadist”, as he watches his lover’s helpless post-coital exhaustion.

Inexorably, the novel moves into what it would remain with, explore and meditate on — two people working out an everyday life together in the “foothills of death”, held close to each other by something that White carefully avoids calling “love”. Austin, “enthralled by Julien’s health and survival”, identifies with the pain of Julien’s physical degeneration — “bone to bone, nerve to nerve”, but not “thought by thought”. Yet, the novel is, to the end, so much more than just a harrowing carer’s journal.

Both Austin and Julien are compulsively sociable creatures, “open to new experiences — new fashions, new arts, new countries, new friends”. White weaves into the story of their life together the lives of several other Parisians and Americans — Julien’s ex-wife, his brother and brother’s partner, Austin’s ex-lovers, pick-ups, intimate friends. This is a Paris of “caprice and pleasure…convivial, outrageous, and above all light — light as only Parisians knew how to be”. Moving through a varied pageant of European and American cities and suburbs, as the virus eats Julien’s nerves and pollutes his blood, they end up in north Africa, where Julien dies in a little hotel on the edge of the Sahara. In a masterly coda, the novel suddenly — and shockingly — expands to make room for a series of posthumous disclosures. Here again, Austin’s strange, dazed acceptance determines the tone and impact of these terminal revelations.

This grim, but stylishly opulent, picaresque also plots Austin’s own “inner metamorphosis” as an American in Europe, confronting attitudes to sexuality, suffering and death hugely different from the North American sanctities. The author’s social and reflective intelligence meets, quite wonderfully, the challenge of depicting Austin’s bemused responses to a dim old Catholic culture, with its intriguing and impossible silences. It is only in “upper-class French life” that Austin finds “the exact shade of inclusion he had craved for”. White speculates brilliantly on the nature of this inclusion: “Maybe acceptance was characteristic of a class that made a shared randiness — which was rigorously sealed off from all outsiders — a sign of its coherence and exclusivity.”

White’s novel leaves us finally with the sense of having been touched — with an often excruciating intimacy — by the reality of two people choosing to be together. This is a difficult and embattled choice, with its own exacting costs and mysterious leaps of faith. Their shared life is also, in several senses, a triumph of the imagination: “Between two men, Austin believed, no union could ever be a matter of course. Everything had to be invented, reimagined.”


By Faiz Ahmed Faiz,
UBS, Rs 195

Mallarmé had pointed out that poetry is written with words, not with ideas. While still irrefutable, this view can be slightly extended and modified to say that poetry, in order to be effective and farreaching, must be written not with words alone, but with words punctuated with gulfs of silences. It is to this non-verbal part of the poetic language that poetry owes much of its evocative power. At the core of each poetic discourse, there is a mystic zone of silence, which, when framed by words and populated with images, constitutes the poetic landscape.

Susan Sontag explores this zone in her essay, “The Aesthetics of Silence”, where she points out two different styles of manoeuvring this silence — “loud” and “soft”. The loud style, according to Sontag, “is a function of the unstable antithesis of ‘plenum’ and ‘void’”. The soft style, Sontag maintains, is “‘reticence’ stepped up to the nth degree.”

While “soft” silence is more or less classical in approach and ironic in spirit, “loud” silence loads its plenum with brimming energy and ecstasy, foreshadowing the disturbing notion of an abysmal void. In Sontag’s words, “It is also frequently apocalyptic and must endure the indignity of all apocalyptic thinking; namely to prophesy the end, to see the day come, to outlive it, and then to set a new date for the incineration of consciousness.”

Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry is symptomatic of this loud style of silence. Faiz, arguably the greatest of the contemporary Urdu poets, weaves stark and vibrant images into the warp of his apocalyptic silence. For Faiz, the poetic process is not automatic but autotelic. It brilliantly blends the noetic with the oneiric.

The Best of Faiz is a bilingual collection of 87 poems from eight books. The English translation is by Shiv K. Kumar, a poet in his own right. The book contains the poems in their original and their Roman transcripts. But the English translations and the originals are provided on two sides of the same leaf. Had the two been on facing pages — as is customary with most bilingual editions — it would have facilitated a pari passu reading.

Faiz was committed to Marxism. But rather than a Marxist poet, he preferred to be known as a poet who happened to be a Marxist. Two recurrent motifs of his poetry are love and bondage. These two frequently intersecting motifs have one theme in common — loneliness. This serves as the transit point through which one motif flows into the other. And in most cases, Faiz’s poetic discourses, multiversant as they are, gradually merge into private dialogues with his own self. This is the reason why quite a few of Faiz’s poems conclude with self-address.

Faiz’s poetry is marked by the rupture of the traditional image-pattern by sudden unusual images. At times, he invests these images with new values and at others, posits them in different contexts in order to elicit fresh responses. As the collection progresses, Faiz’s propensity to use closed, well-knit image-structures —extended metaphors rather — in place of loose, disjunct images becomes noti- ceable. The poem, “Rendezvous”, ill- ustrates this: “This night is that pain’s tree/ which towers higher than you or me/ higher it is, for in its boughs are lost/ the caravans of a hundred thousand torch-bearing stars”.

These are some of the elements which define the contour of Faiz’s poetic landscape. In other words, these are the accents of Faiz’s “loud” silence, its apocalypse consisting in the union for the lover and freedom for the prisoner. The translator has done a reasonably commendable job here, especially since his “exacting task” entailed not only a job of transliteration, but also of transculturation. Yet, it is a pity that a substantial part of the ineffable musical quality of Faiz’s poetry is lost in the English translation, despite the translator’s earnest effort.


Edited by Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, Lloyd I. Rudolph and Mohan Singh Kanota,
Oxford, Rs 595

Paucity of indigenous sources is a problem for scholars working on British-Indian history in general and for historians of the Sepoy army in particular. For the period before World War I, we have no account by any Indian officer. The only exception is Amar Singh’s diary.

Credit is due to Susanne Rudolph and Lloyd Rudolph, two American political scientists, for bringing to light the diary, an invaluable document lying unused at Amar Singh’s house at Kanota in Jaipur. For the Rudolphs, the diary is an exercise in “reflexive ethnography” by Amar Singh. He was trying to understand Rajput culture by distancing himself from the traditional Rajput society and simultaneously contrasting it with the customs of the British in India. For the first time in colonial India, a “native” was observing his white masters. Hence the title of the book. It was colonial ethnography — white men studying the savages — turned upside down.

Amar Singh was a compulsive writer. The editors reveal that his diary runs into 89 volumes, each consisting of 800 pages. Amar Singh’s diary is supposedly the world’s long- est surviving diary. Amar Singh started writing in 1898 when he was 20 and continued to write till he died in 1942. Here, the editors have selected entries between 1898 to 1905. However, the logic behind the selection is not clear. The entries could roughly be divided under two heads: Amar Singh’s career as a soldier and as a householder in princely Rajputana. The first is of greater interest to scholars of military and colonial history.

For constituting the Indian Army, the British introduced the martial race theory, which believed that good soldiers came from the “martial races” like the Rajputs, and that they were simple fellows who disliked reading and writing. Amar Singh’s career disproves this British perception.

In 1901, Amar Singh, the son of a minister in Jaipur, joined the Imperial Cadet Corps, a scheme initiated by Lord Curzon for accommodating the Indian aristocracy within the officer cadre of the colonial army. One great defect of the India army was that unlike the German army, it did not encourage intellectual pursuits among the officers. While stationed at Dehra Dun in 1903, Amar Singh writes, “There was not much stress laid upon studies.” Still, he continued to read 50 to 60 books every year. Military autobiographies and biographies were his favourites. Amar Singh combined the life of an intellectual and that of a gentleman officer. He wrote on September 10, 1898, “In the noontime I read...In the evening we had polo.”

Racial discrimination was one of the factors that alienated the Indian officer corps from the raj towards the closing stages of World War II. From Amar Singh’s account it is evident that he too was a victim of it. On July 14, 1901, his entry reads, “The Indians are looked upon as inferiors...I would not like to be treated as a coolie.” In 1921, owing to the racial bias of his commanding officer, Amar Singh was forced to retire from the Indian army.

Amar Singh’s account differs from other colonial accounts in that he is critical of the raj, while others, like sepoy Sitaram, highlights the positive sides of the British.

Amar Singh’s unsuccessful career also reflects the failure of the raj to integrate the feudal princes within its officer corps, which hastened decolonization. In 1942, when the Indian army faced a shortage of officers, emergency commissions had to be given to the educated babus. Had the Imperial Cadet Corps been functioning, this would have been unnecessary. In 1945, these babus were ready to ditch the raj, forcing Auchinleck to comment, “the Indian Army could not be relied upon.”


By Ann Wroe,
Vintage, £ 4.20

Pontius Pilate stands next to Judas Iscariot in the Christian rogue’s gallery. As the governor (Tetrarch) of Judea, he sentenced Jesus Christ to die on the cross sometime in the third decade of the first century. In course of Jesus’s trial, he also posed, legend has it, the question that has most bothered philosophers. He asked, “What is truth?”, and most significantly, did not wait for an answer..

Ann Wroe attempts the impossible in this book because nothing of substance is known about Pilate. He is the biographer’s nightmare. Wroe writes, “We do not even know the name his mother and wife and friends called him by. The only direct evidence we have for this man is one inscribed stone and a few small coins. All the records he kept, as he was bound to keep them, have disappeared. The only documentary sources for Pilate are a few paragraphs in the writings of Josephus, a Romanized Jew, who wrote forty years after [Pilate] was recalled from Judea; two or three pages from Philo of Alexandria...one of Pilate’s contemporaries; and those almost too-familiar scenes from the New Testament.’’.

Despite these handicaps, Wroe has written a compelling and an engaging book. But this is emphatically not a conventional biography, which tells a life story in a linear narrative. Such a narrative is impossible to reconstruct given the nature of the evidence that is available. The traces of Pilate’s life that have come down to posterity do not permit the telling of a story that has a still centre. To bypass this absence of unity, Wroe takes a different route. Her book is not about one Pilate but about the many Pilates which legends — Coptic, Greek, late Latin and Anglo-Saxon — have created. She recounts these legends and then unravels some of them..

Readers seeking a definitive version of Pilate will be disappointed. But those who are willing to go on a journey of discovery without any preconceived ideas will enjoy the exciting voyage that Wroe has to offer. One of Jane Austen’s characters wondered why history was considered dull since much of it was imagination. Wroe recreates aspects of Pilate’s life from her wide reading of the history and social life of his times. This gives to her book a “reality effect”. Thus she tells us what Pilate did on that fateful Friday — now known as Good Friday — after he woke up at sunrise. There are obviously no direct records for this, but it is not difficult to imagine, from the available documentation about Roman times, how a man of Pilate’s position prepared for his day and its appointed tasks..

There is beneath the unravelling of legends and stories an underlying sympathy for Pilate’s plight. He knew what was right: that the man called Jesus brought before him was innocent. But was it expedient under the circumstances to do what he thought was right? Could he as the Tetrarch of Judea risk an uprising of the Jews in Jerusalem? What was right under the circumstances — his perception of what was right or his duties and the preservation of peace? Also what was the truth — what was perceived then or what posterity perceived? As an administrator, he had not the luxury to ponder such questions. He decided not on the basis of some abstract moral principles, but as an agent of the Roman Emperor in Judea..

Wroe does not justify Pilate but forces readers to ponder his plight and also to see in it a fable of the human condition.


By Bob Woodward
(Simon & Schuster, $ 12)

Bob Woodward’s Shadow: Five presidents and the legacy of watergate is about the inability of Nixon’s successors — Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton — to understand the lessons of Watergate, their failure to comprehend the depth of distrust left by him. Watergate and, in a different way, Vietnam, had changed the daily lives and prerogatives of presidents through new ethics laws, a resurgent Congress and a more inquiring media. Woodward shows how these presidents were inhabiting a new world, without always recognizing this. He explains this through the myth of the “big-time president” — “the longing for someone with heroic energy, someone who can take the air out of a room, who can define an era worth living in”. This is a meticulously researched and entertainingly anecdotal book written by an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, who has also co-authored All the President’s Men with Carl Bernstein.

By Charlotte Bingham
(Bantam, £ 5.99) /dt>

Charlotte Bingham’s the Love Knot is a perfectly mindless read. The pleasures of such an activity should not be underestimated, as shouldn’t the particular skills required to produce such a book. The name sums it all up — the plot, the genre and the attendant emotions. The paths of three women — a beautiful orphan from London’s East End, a celebrated member of the city’s demi-monde and a fallen woman — cross, as they all opt for independence at a time when such a choice would risk social ostracism or even tragedy. They influence each other, and the tangles in their lives untangle in spite of several heartbreaks and scandals.

Edited by S. Venkatesh and S. Bhadauria
(Books for Change, Rs 100)

S. Venkatesh and S. Bhadauria’s Diary of the dispossessed is the third volume of selected articles written by the 1997-98 Media Fellows of the National Foundation for India. The contributors are all vernacular journalists who have featured the lives of the marginal and the deprived in Indian society. Sex workers’ children, Chhatisgarhi women, the women and children of Orissa’s Kalahandi district and disabled women in north India and Tamil Nadu form the subjects of the four emotive articles in this collection

By Bikash Bhadury
(Response, Rs 265)

Bikash Bhadury’s Managing the Workforce: Challenges for the manufacturing industry takes a critical look at the existing work culture in Indian industries, particularly the pervasive indiscipline and red-tape. Using a number of actual cases to illustrate his analysis, Bhadury identifies the root of these problems, suggests practical remedies and discusses the new challenges that have arisen because of the rise in the number of white-collar employees.



Dangerous liaisons

Sir — Debashis Bhattacharya’s article, “Mafia chase in Mega Bollywood” (Jan 10), brings up the issue of mafia involvement in the making of Hindi films for the umpteenth time. The news this time is about the alleged involvement of the financier, Bharat Shah, with the mafia. The police apparently has evidence of his conversations with Chhota Shakeel. This, then, is an open and shut case. He has been arrested under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act. But why is the media creating such a big hullabaloo about this? Bollywood is not the only place in the world where the underworld rules the film industry. It is well known that this is the case all over the world. The police should ideally keep as far away from this as possible. Organized crime has its advantages. At least the common man is not scared to death about getting swindled, robbed or lynched by petty thieves and anonymous mastans. If one does not rub the mafia up the wrong way, one remains safe. This is a perfectly functional situation.
Yours faithfully,
L. Bijuraj, via email

Tale of two faiths

Sir — It is shocking to note the manner in which and the reason why the Kashi Vishwanath temple was destroyed by Aurangzeb (“The limits of the Hindu rashtra”, Jan 3). But it will be interesting to find out the source of the fabulous tale of molestation of the Nepali queen which Mani Shankar Aiyar recounts. This story does not figure in any of the well known books of history, even those written by historians from the Jawaharlal Nehru University who are much maligned by Hindutva forces. Unfortunately, such assertions like Aiyar’s give further ammunition to Hindutva forces to rail against what they call pseudo-secularism.

The story owes its genesis to the book, Islam and Indian Culture, by B.N. Pande, former governor of Orissa and chairman of Gandhi Darshan Samiti. Where did Pande get this story from? He himself writes: “Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya, in his famous book, The Feathers and the Stones, has narrated this fact based on documentary evidence.”

This is what the Gandhian Congress leader, Sitaramayya, wrote in his prison diary: “There is a popular belief that Aurangzeb was a bigot in religion. This, however, is combated by a certain school. His bigotry is illustrated by one or two instances. The building of a mosque over the site of the original Kasi Visveswara Temple is one such. A like mosque in Mathura is another. The revival of Jazia is a third but of a different order. A story is told in extenuation of the first event.

“In the height of his glory, Aurangzeb like any foreign king in a country, had in his entourage a number of Hindu nobles. They all set out one day to see the sacred temple of Benares. Amongst them was a Ranee of Cutch. When the party returned after visiting the Temple, the Ranee of Cutch was missing. They searched for her in and out, East, North, West and South but no trace of her was noticeable. At last, a more diligent search revealed a Tah Khana or an underground storey of the temple which to all appearances had only two storeys. When the passage to it was found barred, they broke open the doors and found inside the pale shadow of the Ranee bereft of her jewellery. It turned out that the Mahants were in the habit of picking out wealthy and bejewelled pilgrims and in guiding them to see the temple, decoying them to the under-ground cellar and robbing them of their jewellery. What exactly would have happened to their life one did not know. Anyhow in this case, there was no time for mischief as the search was diligent and prompt. On discovering the wickedness of the priests, Aurangzeb declared that such a scene of robbery could not be the House of God and ordered it to be forthwith demolished. And the ruins were left there.

“But the Ranee who was thus saved insisted on a Musjid being built on the ruined and to please her, one was subsequently built. That is how a Musjid has come to exist by the side of the Kasi Visweswar temple which is no temple in the real sense of the term but a humble cottage in which the marble Siva Linga is housed. Nothing is known about the Mathura Temple.

“This story of the Benares Masjid was given in a rare manuscript in Lucknow which was in the possession of a respected Mulla who had read it in the manuscript and who though he promised to look it up and give the manuscript to a friend, to whom he had narrated the story, died without fulfilling his promise. The story is little known and the prejudice...against Aurangzeb persists.”

History is much tomtommed in our country and misused for nefarious ends. A person as well-read as Aiyar is expected to check the sources before undertaking voyages in treacherous seas of history. It is surprising that such an explosive assertion is made by Aiyar on the basis of rather tenuous evidence which is nothing more than hearsay. It will go a long way in refuting the Hindu right if solid documentary evidence backs arguments of the secular forces.

Yours faithfully,
Charan Rawat, via email

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar has provided an interesting analysis of Indo-Nepal relations by saying that the tone for bilateral relations between the two countries was set two centuries ago when a Nepali princess was molested by Hindu priests within the precincts of the Kashi Vishwanath temple. It goes without saying, the veracity of Aiyar’s assertions will be severely debated.

Aiyar however is right about India’s arrogant and high-handed treatment of Nepal and the resentment this must have caused. Whether India’s treatment of Nepal has anything to do with the mistaken viewpoint of Hindu fundamentalists, who believe that the former is a part of India, is another matter altogether. It is essential that the likes of K.R. Malkani recognize the sovereignty of Nepal. Only then can incidents like the Hrithik Roshan fiasco be avoided.

Yours faithfully,
Sujata Verma, via email

It’s dark up north

Sir — The recent blackout in five northern states because of power failure is a matter of deep concern (“Seven northern sisters sucked into grid collapse”, Jan 3). It was not the first time that a power grid collapsed and caused an extensive blackout. Less than a year ago, there was a similar failure in the northern grid. Long drawn-out power failures have taken place in other regions of the country too.

One of the reasons for such disasters is that the double-storeyed buildings have turned into multi-storeyed ones and the consumption levels have increased by over 10 times. If this is the situation when winter has just begun, what will be the situation during summer when the demand for electricity goes up?

With tariffs going up every year, one fails to understand why people are deprived of a regular power supply. Illegal theft of power is widespread and the government has failed to stop it. Paying consumers are made to bear the brunt.

The new year began with a reminder that India’s infrastructure cannot run on prayers much longer. Such problems occur in power grids around the world. Unlike in India, in other countries, this does not result in a “complete” grid failure. At this juncture, privatization is the best and only way out.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

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