Editorial / Too much of a good thing
Hedonism in adversity
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

Any clarification is welcome, if it helps to lay out the exact scope of one of India’s hardworked laws. The Supreme Court has ruled that any person who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew is covered by the Hindu Marriage Act. The reforms that the Hindu code has undergone over the last 50 years have gradually made it applicable to all sections of the Hindu community. This Supreme Court ruling, however, has brought Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs under the purview of the Hindu marriage laws, and has also enumerated the other groups that will be included: Brahmos, Lingayats, Vaishnavas, and followers of the Prarthana Samaj and Arya Samaj. The order is important because the petition that brought it forth was made by an Oraon woman who wished to challenge her husband’s decision to marry a second time. In effect, therefore, scheduled tribes will be “deemed to be Hindus” for the purposes of the Hindu Marriage Act.

There is a positive side to this. The Hindu Marriage Act has standardized certain basic practices and has laid out a rationale of uniformity, at least within the group or groups which come under its purview. Customary practices of small groups, such as tribes and special sects, which come into conflict with the consensual notions of civil society, can be combated by the use of such a law. There is, of course, another side. Outside the courts, there may be some hairsplitting over the indirect inclusion of scheduled tribes or of Sikhs, for example, under the Hindu nomenclature. That the widening of a law for beneficial intent should raise questions at all is a symptom of a much deeper problem. The Hindu Marriage Act, however wide its purview, would still cover a segment of the population. India is overburdened with different codes of law governing the basic actions, decisions, rights and duties of existence in a civil society. The lack of a central notion of law or enforcing authority that the British found when they came to India has still not been entirely corrected.

The traditional heritage of a variety of socially regulative and normative rules and specific punishments for violating them in each separate group provides the silent rationale for the different sets of laws. Both Hindus and Muslims have separately tried to modernize their laws. The Shariat Act of 1937 brought some uniformity to the Muslim population as a whole. It declared that Muslims preferred to be governed by the canon law of Islam. But, like the many Hindu laws, this has remained undefined in terms of what a modern civil society needs in a pragnmatic or secular sense.

The issue to be addressed is far wider than the question of the uniform civil code. It is not the persistence of personal or family laws alone that needs scrutiny. There is the disturbing inability to get rid of traditional systems as layers within an apparently updated law — the vestiges of mitakshara and dayabhaga in Hindu inheritance laws for example. The root of the problem is the lack of segregation between the spheres of the civil and the religious. Both during and after British rule, there have been continuing efforts at reform. Yet reasons of governance and perhaps the temptations of the line of least resistance have prevented an overall and consistent separation of the ground covered by religion from the ground that should be covered by civil law. There is no reason why such a move should threaten the plurality of a thriving republic. The variety of codes does not serve the cause of plurality, it merely helps divisiveness. It makes the idea of equality of all citizens before law quite meaningless, because there are different laws for different groups of citizens. This strikes at the very idea of justice. Different spheres of applicability endanger the premise of human rights. And without that, no civil society can survive. Strengthening older laws is fine. But making them strong and wide will not help resolve the deeper problem of multiple codes.


The years between 1961 and the early Seventies were a time of transition in the nature of both the Hindi cinema and the new- ish republic of India. Hindi films moved from the rhetoric of innoce- nce and idealism to a curious modern hedonism which, from naive beginnings, became more and more knowing till it became indistinguishable from the vigilante cynicism that came to characterize Ami- tabh Bachchan’s films in the Seventies.

While looking up the landmark films of this decade, I realized that many of the films that I associated with the haloed Fifties — Chaudhvin ka Chand, Mughal-e-Azam, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam — were, in fact, made in the early Sixties. Around 1964, Hindi films stopped talking about goodness and its travails and and began attending to the good life and its rewards. The metaphors changed: Guru Dutt’s films sought their melancholy truth in the language of dust, blood, vines, doves, dru- nkenness and ashes; Shammi Kapoor’s films weren’t in search of truth at all, they were looking for Modern Happiness, and their props, which were also metaphors, were appropriately different: exotic telephones, hill stations, frosted lipstick, flash cars and stretch pants. If these two styles of cinema had to be exemplified by one film each, Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Junglee (1961) would be my choices.

But Junglee, pioneering and wonderful though it was, was merely the first swallow; the summer came three years laterNineteen sixty four was the year when the sensibility of Hindi cinema changed perceptibly and, I think, irrevocably. Till then, despite Junglee, the cinema of rectitude, tragedy, nobility and sacrifice, the cinema epitomized by Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), Bandini (1963) and Shaher Aur Sapna (1963), held sway.

What happened in 1964? Two watershed films were made: Sangam and Kashmir Ki Kali. Both were hugely successful and both made by veterans of the Bombay cinema who began their careers in the late Forties: Raj Kapoor and his one-time assistant director, Shakti Samanta. For both directors these films were their first foray into colour. Both films were set in locales that would become the defining staples of Sixties cinema: foreign countries and hill stations. The next year was to see this new trend consolidated by Waqt, the mother of all lost-and-found melodramas, a great, overblown film which helped define the fantasized lifestyles of the newly rich.

This is not to say that the films in the earlier style were no longer made. They were, but they no longer defined the form. Symbolically, the death of the earlier kind of cinema happened as late as 1969 with Satyakaam, the last, rigorous celebration of idealism and saintly innocence in Hindi films. Contrast this film with three other films made in 1970, which, instead of examining the consequences of idealism, use idealism to give the narcissism of their male stars a justification. The films were Mera Naam Joker, Anand and Prem Pujari. The first and third marked the beginning of the end for two stars who had dominated Hindi films for nearly 20 years, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand and the second featured the only two superstars the Hindi cinema has had: Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna.

It is interesting and, I think, revealing, that this new hedonistic cinema became dominant at a time the republic had entered a period of great material austerity, when compared with contemporary consumerism. Nineteen sixty four wasn’t just the year Sangam and Kashmir Ki Kali were made; it was also the year Nehru died — it was, as the newspaper headlines of that time must have said, the end of an epoch. After Nehru, who? was the question on everyone’s lips. There were names that answered that question: in real life, after the Shastri interregnum, his successor was his daughter Indira Gandhi; in reel life, his son was Shammi Kapoor.

It was strange and yet appropriate that life and cellulloid threw up such unlike inheritors. Indira Gandhi, even more than her father, came to stand for the state-controlled, rigorously regulated economy. It was the high noon of autarky, the proud emblems of which were the unchanging contours of the Ambassador and the Fiat. It was a time of planning, socialism and, by the late Sixties, nationalization.

In this context, the new Hindi cinema, the cinema of Junglee, Kashmir Ki Kali, Sangam and Waqt, became a gigantic peepshow, through which the still mainly middle-class audience of the Bombay film industry lived at secondhand a lifestyle lived Elsewhere. Bombay began to produce a wholly voyeurist cinema, where the object of desire could be anything from Dutch tulips to fancy telephone instruments. Social historians of the future will record that the Indian fetishization of things foreign was achieved through the cinema of the Sixties for an audience that could only enjoy them vicariously, handicapped as it was by low salaries and high customs barriers. The films of the Sixties created a fantasized not-India. It was ironic that less than 20 years after decolonization, so many films were set in hill stations, settlements invented by the British to escape the sub-tropical reality of India.

In the Sixties, the cinema hall was the only place in India’s mixed economy, where private enterprise dwarfed the public sector. The state was represented (in reversed order of appearance) by the national anthem at the end of the film, the censor board certificate before it began and the Indian News Review. The Indian News Review was always in black-and-white in a decade when Hindi cinema had gone Technicolor, it featured glimpses of war, of important people and, more important than important people, of sport. Regardless of whether the game shown was tennis or cricket, the sound of the ball being hit registered on the soundtrack as a gunshot. But this was the only footage a Sixties audience ever saw of real life and so the Indian News Review was an indispensable part of the movie-going experience.

Its only competition in the real life (that is, the public sector) stakes was the news on a fledgling Doordarshan or the Films Division documentary (also shown in cinema halls before the main feature), then in its heavy industrial phase, dominated by dramatic shots of large tilted vats pouring molten metal in Bhilai Steel Plant. Thus an austere, monochrome, tightly edited capsule of real life was followed by a lush, colourful, three hour spread of fantasy. The Indian News Review was a necessary part of going to the movies but it didn’t sell tickets; it rode piggy-back on the main feature.

It is not a coincidence that Junglee, Kashmir Ki Kali, Sangam and Waqt were in colour, or that colour became mandatory for commercial films in the Sixties. The technology of colour had been used much earlier, as early as 1952 with Aan, and then in 1953 for Jhansi Ki Rani. But till Junglee, colour was confined to spectaculars and costume dramas. So why did it become mandatory in the Sixties? Because lifestyles couldn’t be sold in black-and-white, because the apparatus of Modern Hedonism — sports cars, powder pink bedrooms, the sights of Paris or Tokyo — had to be seen in colour. Colour was the Indian middle-class’s guarantee that it was in touch with the real thing.

It is revealing to notice the circumstances in which colour was not used. It was not used, for example, in war films. India fought three wars in this decade (if we count the military operation to annex Goa) all of which were memorialized in celluloid. Haqeeqat (1964), Shaheed (1965) andSaat Hindustani (1969), are all shot in black-and-white. It was, clearly, inappropriate to dress up the tragedy of war in colour; the austerity of monochrome was more seemly. Manoj Kumar’s Upkaar (1967) was in colour, but this was not, strictly speaking, a “war film”. Most of the screen time was taken up by Manoj Kumar as “son of the soil”, and in keeping with Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan, “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”, Upkaar had more to do with the organically patriotic peasant who made the Green Revolution than with soldiers and war.

The cinema of the Sixties is important not just as a chapter in the history of Indian films, it is indispensable if we want to understand and reconstruct the mind of the great Indian salariat — its dreams and prejudices, its fears. Because in the Sixties, before Amitabh Bachchan and video recorders, Hindi films were made for a middle-class audience. Filmgoing was a relatively expensive business: Rs 3.20 for the Balcony, Rs. 2.90 for the Rear Stall. The poor went to the cinema — but they didn’t define the form, as they did, briefly, when Bachchan was king. They were confined to the 60 paise seats, for a very good reason: in the mid-Sixties, a domestic servant made thirty-five rupees a month, all found. Anything beyond the 60 paise seats represented a day’s wages.

This middle-class for which the Hindi cinema of that decade was produced was the white collar salariat, wonderfully pictured in a television serial some years ago, Wagle ki Duniya. The serial was ostensibly set in the Eighties but in fact it was R.K. Laxman’s nostalgic evocation of the middle-class of the Fifties and the Sixties when civil servants wore bush shirts and sandals and motor cars came in black and white. To be middle class in that India was to have a flat with electricity, enough to eat and ironed clothes to wear. Respectability on a budget was the daily challenge. Every tic and gesture in Anjan Srivastava’s wonderful rendering of Wagle expressed the elephantine prudence on which middle-class lives were once built before Mastercard and Visa. Wagle lived cautiously because he lived within his means.

It was for this middle-class of Satyug, this world before the Fall — which Fell with the Samastipur blast...or was it the Emergency? — that the houseboat-and-hill station Eden of Sixties cinema was made. Given hindsight, the death of such innocence should be decently mourned.



Whiteness of being

How could the new Congress of new Bharat in the new millennium walk into the old headquarters of 24, Akbar Road? Madam understands. The AICC headquarters is therefore undergoing a facelift. The plaster has been peeled off and a whitewash is being done. But the old problem of finding suitable rooms for the suitable boys still remains and it is compounded by smart boys like Kamal Nath, the new AICC general secretary, who has grabbed the best room that has a waiting lounge. The room can be presumed to be inauspicious given the fact that its previous occupants — Tariq Anwar, Pranab Mukherjee and Sushil Kumar Shinde for example — have not had much luck politically. That however doesn’t discourage the Kamal Nath camp, which is determined to turn it into the Vallabh Bhawan of Bhopal (MP’s CM’s office, that is). Top gun, Arjun Singh, vacated his room which he held as head of the AICC minorities department and Mahabir Prasad moved in. Hours later, he was asked to shift to Prabha Rau’s room to make way for the more famous successor of Singh, AR Antulay, who had taken his complaint of space constraints to madam herself. But a room with a view is not the only thing Antulay has on his mind. He, apparently, is unhappy with the charge itself and has pointed out that he has never been a leader of the minorities, nor had he become the Maharashtra chief minister on the basis of his Muslim votebank. Antulay in fact likes to be addressed as AR Antulay and not Abdul Rahman Antulay. Is the whitewash on the Congress peeling already, madam?

Secretaries in distress

What is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander. The appointment of Jaipal Reddy as the party spokesman might have been good news for newsmen. Not so for those who inhabit the media cell. Anand Sharma, assistant to Reddy, the media department secretary, Tom Vaddakkan, and his team members are arguably the most unhappy people in the party these days. Apart from the fact that Reddy is an outsider, the third front man, who is now their boss, there is another more genuine reason for despair. Reddy is very different from a typical Congress boss. He is outspoken, has no inhibitions, but what is worse, has no extracurricular activities that might keep him engaged outside office hours. At a press briefing soon after his appointment, he was heard telling scribes that he would be available to them “round the clock” and so would be his colleagues. The last bit stuck like a thorn. For a moment, Sharma and Co did not know where to look, but their dark faces said it all. What did they do to deserve a boss who works?

Taste of saffron

Pleasant surprise. The human resources development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, was recently in Halifax, Canada, in connection with a meeting of the Commonwealth education ministers. His reputation as a hardcore saffronite seems to have preceded his arrival in the capital of Nova Scotia. For, as he tells it, when he went to a rare restaurant in the seaport on the Atlantic which served a strictly vegetarian fare, they “offered me rice with saffron”. Which obviously Joshi had no heart to refuse. He gorged himself on saffron rice along with what he thinks was an apology for the Indian dum aloo. But at least the colour was right!

Secret vibes

Life doesn’t end with the rail budget. Didi got a shot in the arm when a group of all India Muslim personal law board members called on her in Calcutta recently to thank her for her bold stand on Ayodhya. The board is a representative body of various Islamic sects in the country and keeps an apolitical profile. Which is why the move to see Mamata has created ripples. The Congress has become extremely edgy and so has Mulayam Singh Yadav, an ally of the Left Front in West Bengal. Both the parties are trying discreetly to find out how didi managed to lure the maulanas, Sajjad Nomani and S Nizamuddin, who is head of Imamat-e-Sharia, Patna. Any reason why Mamata should place her trade secrets on the table?

Sahibs at work

Debarred from getting easy access to pornographic sites on the internet, babus in Raisina Hills are watching steamy films on their PCs now that joint secretaries and directors have one computer each. Please keep your eyes wide shut.

Footnote / Return of the comrade

Winter has ended and so has the political hibernation of some. Former Rajya Sabha member and senior party leader of the Communist Party of India, Gurudas Dasgupta, is back with a vengeance after disappearing for a short while following the debacle in the Panskura byelections. CPI sources say that Dasgupta may be chosen as party nominee for the byelections to the Midnapore Lok Sabha seat which has fallen vacant with Indrajit Gupta’s death. The CPI leadership is convinced that the byelections will coincide with the assembly elections in the state. Which means there has to be an even shriller campaign for the elections. The party had initially planned to have Dasgupta in the Rajya Sabha fray, but changed the decision following Gupta’s demise. Whatever the CPI might decide, the Trinamool Congress is all set to ensure the CPI nominee’s defeat in Midnapore. As the Trinamool general secretary, Mukul Roy, pointed out, the party is not bothered about who will hold out the red flag in Midnapore on behalf of the CPI. “We are determined to wrest the seat from the Left Front as we did in Panskura.” Deja vu?    


When is the next change of guard?

Sir — New millennium, new Bharat, but is it a new Congress? Sonia Gandhi may have grand ideas like sending her three cronies to learn the trade secret from the Labours in London, but it is doubtful whether the lessons, if they can be learnt at all, will be put into practice (“Sonia team to take leaf out of Blair book”, Feb 23). It is common knowledge that the Congress, and certainly the president herself, are led by a coterie of Nehru-Gandhi faithfuls. No matter how much Sonia Gandhi, like her husband, Rajiv Gandhi, might try to project the party as an organization for the young, the old will continue to hold the party in their iron grip. With the old guard firmly in place, will the new lessons be disseminated?
Yours faithfully,
J. Majumdar, Calcutta

Courting the e-word

Sir — N.R. Madhava Menon has done a great service to society by highlighting the significant advantages the judiciary can gain through what is called “e-governance” (“Paperless courtroom”, Feb 19). Already the Supreme Court has initiated major steps in the digital processing of information related to cases that are being dealt by it, and the Calcutta high court is following suit. Unfortunately, the main interface between the citizenry and the law — the subdivisional and district courts — is still untouched by the progressive thoughts of timely and transparent administration of justice.

Moreover, as in many other things, good intentions alone cannot suffice, they have to be tempered by realism. This can be achieved by wider and regular interaction between the administration on one part — which includes the judiciary — and the citizens on the other. If “cyber-dhabas” become a reality, there will be greater interaction between the administration and the people. Which means we can at least look forward to improved governance and administration of laws.

Yours faithfully,
P. Das Gupta, via email

Sir — India might at last be realizing the adage, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” The fast-track courts scheduled to start from April 1, 2001 throughout the country will go a long way in putting and end to the woes of the undertrial prisoners who are languishing behind bars without proper trial. No amount of compensation can make up for the lost years and the pyschological trauma that go with them. What is worse is that the lacuna in the system is inevitably exploited by lawyers who fleece their clients.

The experience of consumer courts has been no better. Despite the hype, consumer courts have been unable to dole out speedy justice, not to mention the insufficient infrastructure and the perennial shortage of manpower that are associated with these courts. It is fervently hoped that the fast-track courts do not end up being as meaningless as far as the cause of justice is concerned.

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Take a direct line

Sir — The railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, should examine the viability of a fast passenger train between Dhanbad junction to Berhampur court via Bandel and Naihati junctions.

Since there is no direct train on this route, the people of Murshidabad, Nadia and 24-Parganas (North) districts, working in the coal belt of Jharia and Ranigunj, have to face many problems travelling on this route.

Yours faithfully,
Anupam Banerjee, Dhanbad

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