Editorial 1 / A laboured step
Editorial 2 / Beg to differ
Hedgehogs into foxes
Book Review / Will to resist the civilizing mission
Book Review /Everyday gods
Book Review / Attention, women at work
Book Review /Modernity’s many effects
Bookwise / Shoddiness for a pittance
Paperback Pickings / Art of the state in duotone
Letters to the editor

A statement of intent is not necessarily a guarantee that the intentions will become reality. But such a statement can be read as a sign of the way in which the government’s mind is working. Thus Mr Yashwant Sinha’s tentative steps in the Union budget to reform labour laws should not be mistaken as a transformation of labour laws, but as the first step towards such a transformation. The essential goal of labour market reforms should be greater efficiency and greater competitiveness of labour. One aspect of this goal is the removal of obstacles in the way of hiring and firing of labour. In India, there exist innumerable such obstacles, not just in comparison to the advanced capitalist countries of the West, but even in comparison to conditions prevailing in east Asia and China. For example, in India a unit employing more than 100 workers cannot retrench workers without the permission of the court and the state government. The finance minister, Mr Sinha, has proposed in this year’s budget that the ceiling should be raised to 1,000 workers. This is a modest proposal but Mr Sinha has balanced this by improving the conditions of the severance package: workers must now be compensated for 45 days for every year of completed service, rather than for 15 days, as it is now. The attempt at restoring balance on the part of Mr Sinha is an indication of the difficulties that lie in the path of reforming labour laws. There are grounds to fear that even this small start may be halted because of opposition.

The word, “modest”, in the previous paragraph was deliberately used to qualify Mr Sinha’s proposal. It is difficult to fathom why in an economy driven by the principles of laissez faire, a state government or the judiciary should be allowed to decide on how many workers an entrepreneur should have or can retrench. It can be argued from one point of view that this can be a matter of negotiations between employer and employee or between the management and the labour union. But in India, things were taken a step further, the state and the judiciary were brought into the picture and their sanction was made mandatory for retrenchment of workers. This was an example of the enlargement of the state’s area of activities which was typical of the era dominated by Jawaharlal Nehru’s ideas of socialism. The law relating to retrenchment, lay-offs and closure goes back to 1948 and section 5(b) of the law was added in 1970. The law, as it stands today, is a block against owners of units to add to their labour force. They are frightened of the hassle they will have to face if they want to reduce the number of workers. Mr Sinha has changed something but he has, in principle, not withdrawn the shadow of the state from the arena of management-worker relationship.


The new age census has collided dramatically with its own best intentions. After gaining plaudits for the much publicized intention of listing disabled people for the first time, its movers and shakers are tying themselves up into sailor’s knots over the listing of sex workers. It is perhaps fitting that the state should stumble over its own exposed hypocrisies the moment it tries to erase inherited biases. The state is now educated enough to consider disabled persons human beings up for counting, but is unable to place sex workers under any heading but beggars/vagrants/street children. Faced with unanswerable protests, the strong men in control have come up with the mewling suggestion that sex workers state their profession as “singing and dancing”. The hitch, they seem to argue, is purely technical. Since the state does not recognize sex work as an economic activity and because it is illegal, a government paper cannot record sex workers’ economic activity or list their profession. Innocent as this sounds, it is really the fulcrum on which the state’s double standards are neatly balanced. The protests of the sex workers and of the organizations fighting for their rights, security and healthcare, have been forthright and simple. One, if there is a beggar in the transaction, it is the client and not the sex worker. Two, sex workers not only earn like industrial workers, collectively they contribute enormous amounts in times of the nation’s crisis such as Kargil or the Gujarat earthquake. The issue of course is the old one. A large section of the population — and the forthcoming Millennium Mela in Calcutta will indicate how big — must first be identified in order to be derecognized as earning human beings, so that an even larger section of the population may remain safely respectable.

Now that the state’s hypocrisy, representative of the habitual mendaciousness of “respectable” citizens, is out in the open, the sex workers’ gathering planned in Calcutta will find a new edge. There are basic human rights at issue here. Among other things, sex workers are asking for security, protection from harassment by criminals and the police, control over their own earnings by destroying the clout of middlepersons, education and life choices for their children, and so on. Their vocal presence may be uncomfortable for many, but they cannot be wished back again into that dark underbelly of society where they have been forcibly confined for so long. The debate over legalizing prostitution should be taken seriously, and its central concern should solely be the wellbeing of a section of ruthlessly exploited persons. Society and the state should own up to the enormous injustice of allowing and participating in a wideranging economic activity while pretending that its agents are either non-existent or non-human or simply evil.


Economic history is a technical field and monographs within the area are not exactly my cup of tea. Some years ago, however, I read an excellent work of this genre titled Artisans and Industrialisation. The author, Tirthankar Roy, was attempting to demonstrate that during the early 20th century Indian artisans had devised some pretty astute tactics to prevent their crafts and themselves from being wiped out or marginalized by imports from Britain. Underlying his data was the idea that entreprenurial survival strategies play a more important role within the lives of the threatened and oppressed than is allowed by mainline economic historians who over-argue the case for a de-industrialization of debilitating proportions during late colonial rule.

Roy argues for a more rounded economic history which, while looking at raw statistical data, looks equally hard at the social conditions and community psychologies inextricably linked to such data. Implicit in his book is the notion that hedgehogs become foxes when their lives and livelihoods are under threat. His argument is not calculated to please the old orthodoxy of Marxist historiography which, though no longer dominant, maintains a substantial presence in India.

The same argument within a different context appeared some years back in a book of essays titled Contesting Power, edited by Gyan Prakash and Douglas Haynes. The volume consists of several fine scholarly essays, but one essay interested me in particular because it is not written in academese and discusses the lives of courtesan-prostitutes within my hometown, Lucknow. Titled “Lifestyle as Resistance”, it is by Veena Oldenburg and its argument is provocative to the point of seeming calculated to rile another kind of orthodoxy — the passé feminists within gender studies.

Oldenburg’s view is that courtesan-prostitutes are not as oppressed as is made out by those who look at them from a distance. They may seem the ultimate victims of patriarchy and a feudal culture but it is untenable to believe, as Marxist feminism would have us do, that this is the central fact of their lives. Her anthropologically oriented study of these women, involving detailed interviews and a fieldworker’s close understanding, shows that the economic oppressions we normally presuppose as the central facts of victims’ lives may actually be quite deliberately made marginal by the victims.

Therefore, women who seem neither brainwashed nor hegemonized into agreement with their oppressors should be allowed to give their own opinion of what is central to their lives. Following this line of reasoning, Oldenburg shows that these courtesans, even while suppressed and aware of their victimhood, manage to have fun with each other and develop sustaining bonds of friendship and solidarity. They sing songs and fool around, they enact plays which mimic and mock their oppressors, they hoodwink their patrons whenever they can. In short, they live less restricted lives than we believe. The problem seems to lie less in their lives than in perspectives which blend limited understanding with politically correct sentiment.

It was intriguing to find the same general argument taking aesthetic shape within a little-known yet wonderfully poignant novel which appeared in English translation some years earlier. That novel, titled Paraja and written by the Jnanpith winner, Gopinath Mohanty, is a work of fictional anthropology which shows an Oriya tribal community gradually ensnared into servitude by moneylenders. The novel has been long recognized as a classic in Orissa, but such are the social hierarchies of language within our country that neither the Oriya version nor its excellent English translation have received the notice they deserve.

The economic operations that affect the daily emotional, cultural and lived experience of characters in Paraja are analogous to those described with social-science elegance by Tirthankar Roy and literary panache by Veena Oldenburg. The oppressive moneylenders in Mohanty’s novel stand in for the colonial state in Roy’s monograph and male patrons in Oldenburg’s essay, while the oppressed tribals resemble the resisting courtesans and artisans.

The chief interest in these diverse works by Roy, Oldenburg and Mohanty lies in showing how human beings work out politically limited yet personally meaningful methods to evade despotism. Individuals carve out spaces for themselves wherein restricted and transient forms of happiness become human assertions of resistance to social, imperial or cosmic power.

Such writings fall within the tradition of a historiography associated with James Scott and subaltern studies, who have documented cultures of resistance. They question economistic historical interpretation and reveal the complex dimensions of human ingenuity within communities that have been forced to resist the oppressions of state in everyday forms rather than over apocalyptic moments.

Such arguments do not convince diehard Marxists. Indeed, the Marxist’s own propensity towards everyday forms of resistance to anti-Marxist scholarship is so strong that it sometimes assumes the ostrich-like pose of ignoring the universe which lies outside class conflict and Kapital. Every argument has its limitations, yet the notion of everyday resistance makes definite sense in relation to daily life.

We live in daily fear of the power of the corrupt state within which we live. The best unexpressed middle-class reason for migrating is eternal freedom from its clutches. So it seems entirely credible, as more and more writers have shown, that we have well-evolved subconscious and workaday methods of evading or resisting this stranglehold of our times.

Iwas reminded of this by newspaper reports on two instances concerning atmospheric pollution in Delhi. The first relates to diesel trucks within city limits during daytime: the state has decreed trucks can ply only after dark. Meanwhile the number of shops requiring supplies has grown massively, even as the road-space available to trucks has shrunk. It has become more and more difficult, therefore, for supplies to reach shops within the limited offloading hours available. In this situation, how may an oppressed shopkeeper retain a smile on his face when facing his customers, how may he maintain domestic equanimity instead of persecuting his wife in turn when he gets back home?

Well, an everyday form of resistance is at hand. It seems that conglomerations of shopkeepers have banded together and hired buses to serve them as delivery trucks. Since there is no restriction on the movement of buses during the day, supplies are merrily being made by vehicles which possess the licence of a bus and look like buses from the outside. This seems as shrewd a variant as there’s ever been on the hedgehog becoming the fox when his livelihood is at stake.

By the time the state makes up its mind on how to overcome such insidious subversion, other strategies of resistance will have come into play. And then, as routinely happens, resistance will shade into bribery. This will ensure a somewhat larger space of resistant happiness encompassing both bribers and the bribed, oppressors and the oppressed. As everyday resisters we all know the state puts up roadblocks only in order to extract tributes.

The second case is more curious because it involves the state being cast, for a change, in the role of the oppressed. In this instance the Delhi government is the oppressed — or the spokesperson of the classes being oppressed — and the Supreme Court is the “oppressor”. The “oppressor” has decreed that polluting industries, owned by people whom the government supports for electoral reasons, must be relocated outside city limits. To resist this injunction the state has resorted to a technique known as “foot dragging”, that is, resistance via procrastination. And, irony of ironies, the state’s leading law court finds itself pulling up the state for dilatoriness.

For the man on the street such as myself, who fears and loathes the Indian state as much as the fellow next door, only more, it is gratifying to watch the state being harassed by the judiciary. Reading newspaper reports of this democratic disbursement of oppression makes me feel like a Lakhnawi tawaif who has newly learnt the resistant art of singing an ode to joy.


By L. Atola Changkiri,
Spectrum, Rs 340

There are no prizes for guessing why head-hunters among the Nagas preferred women victims. But just in case anyone is unaware, her long tresses could be used “for garnishing the warriors’ insignia, and secondly, it reduced the birth rate in the enemy village.”

This is one of several interesting sidelights on Naga traditions and customs in L. Atola Changkiri’s book on Anglo-Angami relations. Tracing records philologically, ethnologically and through history, the most engrossing chapters are possibly the epilogue and introduction (in that order), where the author sloughs off research material in order to project her own views.

The interaction between the British and the Nagas was by no means a peaceful or symbiotic one. Stormy at the best of times, the East India Company’s policy of non-intervention since 1832 (after the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826) continued till Lord Dalhousie’s tenure as governor-general. But internecine feuds and skirmishes forced the authorities to amend this policy. In the 1850s, the British annexed the territory of a semi-independent ruler of North Cachar Hills, Tularam Senapati, which had till then been used as a buffer zone against the Naga raids.

The major portion of the book delves into the causes of Anglo-Angami conflicts and the resultant fallout till the eve of Independence. It maps the administrative arrangements made by the colonial government in the Naga Hills as well as the protracted skirmishes with neighbouring Manipur. The boundaries of the Naga Hills district were fixed in 1867. Exactly a decade later, the government of India outlined the need to “civilize the Nagas” and acquire effective control over them.

Mozema village, which, along with Khonoma, was one of the most powerful Naga bastions, was set ablaze in 1877-78. Recording the incident, Colonel Keating, the then chief commissioner of Assam, observed, “A severe example had been made of Mozema, and the other villages received a very impressive lesson and warning.” In 1879, it was Khonoma’s turn. The fall of Khonoma, in March 1880, marked the collapse of the Angami challenge. But it was not a humble submission at all. This was a mighty battle in which the Angamis displayed exemplary war skills and succumbed only after the British cut off all supplies to the fortified zone.

Changkiri has lucidly explained how the administrative policy of the British was based on a “common anxiety to secure the allegiance of the dictatory hill tribes” and to maintain law and order. Though the British had nothing much to gain from the Naga Hills, they had to subdue the Nagas to protect their own economic interests in the Assam Valley, prone to Naga raids.

If one can overlook the myriad errors in punctuation, spelling and prepositions, the book offers an insight into the way the warrior tribes were first enlisted into the army. Their bravery is legendary; even during the Kargil war, Naga soldiers took on the enemy barefoot, armed with khukris. The chapters on the Naga attitude to health reforms and schooling (especially the role of the missionaries) also make for a spellbinding read.

As in all good dissertations, Changkiri adds an informative appendix. This helps the reader to connect with hitherto-unknown facts and dates.

The author has deliberately chosen to end the work with independence, when a new imbroglio was initiated regarding the “annexation” of Nagaland with the Indian Union.

The epilogue stands out as a masterly conclusion. Changkiri observes that “the professed policy of the British Indian administration was not to interfere with the indigenous way of life of the hill people, but in practice, a colonial pattern of administration was gradually inducted into [sic], which ultimately resulted in socio-economic transformation of the Angami society.” That, in a nutshell, sums up the period under study.


By Manil Suri,
Bloomsbury, £ 16.99

Flashes of history, dream-visions, unfulfilled passion, failed love. Reality merges with fantasy in The Death of Vishnu, a sensual treat, throbbing with poetry. The debut novelist, Manil Suri, journeys into the lives of a group of everyday people in Mumbai. But he does not simply narrate his tale, he smells it, tastes it, touches it, breathes it. He enters, sometimes briefly, sometimes intimately, their struggles, their moments of epiphany, their extremes of joy and anguish, silently, with a loving hand.

Vishnu, lying on “his” landing of an apartment building, is the central character of the novel. Once the odd-jobs boy of the building, he is now dying, from neglect and alcohol. He still remains the prime bone of contention between the Pathaks and the Asranis, his closest neighbours. He is a pawn in the hands of Short Ganga, the domestic help for the residents of the building. He is, to another neighbour, Mr Jalal, the epitome of silent suffering.

Vishnu’s memories flood back to him, stimulated by smell, by colour. “The light shines through the landing window. It plays on Vishnu’s face. It passes through his closed eyelids and whispers to him in red.” That red then transports him back to Holi, “when he is nine”. The red of the dye he is covered in. And the blood on his forehead, from a wound inflicted by his intoxicated father.

Though Vishnu never physically leaves his landing during the course of the novel, we visit his childhood, youth, future and subconscious, in one effortless movement. Vishnu remains rapt in his mother’s storytelling, still a young man in love with Padmini, a prostitute he could never hold back; the dying man who still craves for the romantic wilfulness he sees in Kavita, the Asranis’ teenaged daughter.

Space and time are fluid in The Death of Vishnu. At the outset of the novel, Vishnu is in a state of unconsciousness, but soon, unable to bear the “noise”, he leaves his body: “The spell of gravity is broken, a sensation of buoyancy infuses him”. He begins his ascent of the staircase, floating, leaving the petty trials behind him: “He may have lost the sense of touch, he may have lost the comfort of weight, but he has gained as well. He can see now, clearer, deeper, than he has ever seen before.”

Then comes Mr Jalal’s startling vision, where Vishnu appears to him in a dream, to “reveal” himself as God, taking on demonic form. “I am all living things, I am creation itself,” he says. Mr Jalal has mastered books of philosophy and religious texts. But he has never experienced the intensity of faith, because of the continuous intrusion of reason. In his attempt to reach enlightenment, he has tried to immerse himself in pain and hunger, eventually giving up on them both. Then, he descends to Vishnu’s landing, to sleep by this suffering soul. “Tell them down there to recognize me for who I am. Before it is too late … For I have come to save and destroy the universe,” says Vishnu, in the dream. Words that are the fuel he required for his faith. Mr Jalal tries to execute these commandments, which ultimately leads to disaster.

We still see flashes from Vishnu’s life, but at the same time, we see him grapple with issues beyond: “But what, suddenly, has made him a god?...Or was he a god all along, just did not know his power?” Is it worth living beyond the pleasures of the flesh?

The characters in The Death of Vishnu are caught in a constant tussle between who they are, and what they dream of becoming. Mr Jalal’s missionary zeal lends Mrs Jalal the opportunity to overcome her “plainness”, giving her the chance to stand by her husband, even if it means sacrificing her own life. Kavita Asrani would like to run away with the Jalals’ son, Salim. Eloping with the handsome, forbidden Muslim would be in true Hindi-film style, or so she thinks.

Only Vinod Taneja stands apart, engaged in a search less frantic than subliminal. His loneliness has no antidote, for he is alone, after his wife died of cancer, nearly two decades ago.

The use of Hindu mythology forms an intricately-woven layer of meaning. Vishnu, invisible and unable to feel, may be experiencing empowerment as man’s saviour from suffering, or he may simply be dying. His lover, Padmini, may be the womb of creation sprung from Lord Vishnu’s navel, as the lotus signifies, or she may simply be an elusive temptress.

The exploration of spirituality goes far deeper than a man’s cerebral search for a higher being. “You are Vishnu…keeper of the universe, keeper of the sun,” his mother tells him when his eye is swollen and forehead bleeding from being beaten by his father. “I am Vishnu…keeper of the universe, keeper of the sun. There is only darkness without me,” he replies — for he must be brave. “Rama and Krishna” are, after all, “a part” of him. Fables of Jeev, a spirit born and reborn until he achieved enlightenment, lay deep within Vishnu’s mind — stories he had heard from his mother when he was a little boy, carrying the promise of a better life.

Suri’s language rises to an almost Keatsian sensuality. In these middle-class households of Mumbai, Joy’s grape is a tea-soaked Gluco biscuit, “melting over” the tongue. The same intensity can be found in simple descriptions of even minor characters, such as Nathuram, the “radiowallah”, another landing inhabitant in Vishnu’s building. Though he appears but briefly, the poignancy of Suri’s descriptions linger on. When Nathuram finally saves enough money to buy his own transistor, he explains: “It took Nathuram several minutes just to pry off the staples, so determined was he to preserve every last detail of the box. Each piece of packing material inside was carefully removed and passed around for the people gathered to marvel over.”

“Learn to accept it,” may not be a unique message, but Suri brings it alive anew. Questions, unanswered but explored with deep secular insight: is religion an acceptance of love, or a rejection of reason? Is it a denial of what is real, or is it a belief in the one thing that is true? Anger, reason, blind faith, impetuousness stand between the inhabitants of Vishnu’s world and true wisdom. But through it all runs the promise of a “homeward journey”, a guiding “rope through the darkness”.


By Manil Suri,
Bloomsbury, £ 16.99

With inflexible standards to meet both at home and at work, the Indian working woman always seems to be chasing an impossible ideal. Despite constitutional safeguards and other administrative measures in favour of women, working women happen to be one of the most exploited sections of society both in urban and rural India.

Women Domestic Workers is an in-depth and investigative report on working women with special emphasis on those who work as domestic help and those working in factories.

Through innumerable statistical data and case studies collected from different backgrounds, the author, A.N. Singh, has correctly pointed out that in most instances women have been forced to take up jobs as domestic help to meet the financial requirements of their families. In most cases, before they are married, women are not allowed to go out and work, but often marriage at a very young age leads them into adverse situations.

Many of their husbands turn out to be either alcoholics or unemployed. These men of the lower-middle and lower classes of society invariably contribute very little to run the family and are usually not very keen to find out how their womenfolk are running the household or maintaining their children. (In most cases the number of children born are not less than four.) As a result, after marriage, these women have to leave home to earn for themselves and feed their children. In the process, the working women shoulder dual responsibilities — taking care of children, making meals before leaving for work and also earning to run the family.

The book also highlights that these workers are severely exploited as far as their salary is concerned and they belong to the unorganized workforce. They have no common platform like factory unions to voice their grievances. Most of them put in eight to 10 hours a day, working in at least four to five houses, and earn a meagre sum of around 700 to 800 rupees a month.

Many of them would have liked their children to go to school, but cannot send them. Often, the older children have to stay back at home to take care of their younger siblings when their mother is at work. Alternatively, many of them accompany their mothers and help out at their workplace.

The lack of education that has set in among these people and got perpetuated over several generations is also significant. Illiteracy leads to further exploitation, thus, making the possibility of uplift for these sections of society appear rather bleak in the near future.

Another significant outcome of Singh’s investigations is the discovery that most of the workers seem to be satisfied with their employers and hardly any of them ever complain about sexual abuse directed towards them — even when their employer happens to be a single man.

However, they do complain when their salaries are being arbitrarily deducted, or, about being paid on the basis of “no work no pay”. On the whole, they seem to be satisfied — especially when they get advance payments or loans for any festival or for their daughter’s marriage and so on. This “satisfaction” does not merely derive from monetary gifts. It also accrues from clothes (both old and new) or extra meals given out by their employers.

The study discusses different facets of the lives of domestic workers — for instance their working environment, conditions at the workplace, factors forcing the women to take up jobs, life at work and at home, effects of work on their health and family and so on. However, amid much criticism, the book ends with an optimistic note by suggesting useful approaches for human resource development and improving the work environment and the standard of living for these domestic workers.


By Yogendra Singh,
Rawat, Rs 450

The process of change in Indian society acquired a qualitatively different dimension since the last decade of the 20th century. There has been a strong tendency to integrate with the global market economy, a trend brought sharply into focus with the collapse of “Soviet style Socialism” in the former Soviet Union and the erstwhile Balkan states.

This phenomenon, better known as “globalization”, has reshaped the politico-economic and cultural space in India. Yogendra Singh’s book, Culture change in India: Identity and Globalization, presents a critical insight into changes in cultural values, institutions and ideologies, which also constitute India’s response to the challenges from the forces of globalization.

Singh begins with a conceptual categorization of cultural change in India. The study at one level is concerned with the substantive structures of culture and its relationship with social institutions; and at a more dynamic level, it deals with the process of change, especially engendered by the forces of globalization.

These changes are: revolution in communications technology and global circulation of information in the shortest time possible leading to a shrinkage of time and space, circulation of financial capital on a global scale and economies of scale through international division of labour; homogenization of consumer products and market processes both in the realm of commodity production and cultural symbols and styles; loss of nation-state boundaries and their sovereignties to “supra-national” organizations like the market.

These changes have consequences, both manifest and latent, predictable as well as anticipated. More often than not, globalization has been a unidirectional process, with the flow of goods and ideas moving in one direction, from the centre (West) to the periphery.

Also, the local is being influenced by the global and not vice versa and within the local, the effect of globalization has been uneven, thus, sharpening the already existing social stratification. Interestingly, instead of local and regional identities being eroded by the dynamics of globalization, constant interaction between them may lead to a hybridization. But the process also leads to a hardening of cultural contours and even engender new oppositions.

In this context, Singh makes a comparative analysis of the cultural response to globalization in south Asia. In India, it results not only in defining identities through a celebration of localism and regionalism but also encourages people to assert their identities through religious chauvinism.

However, according to Singh, the effects of globalization and reactions to it vary in terms of quality and degree depending upon the social and cultural structures of the concerned societies and their economic resilience. Hence, gross generalizations should be avoided.

Much on the lines of Anthony Giddens, Singh winds up by pointing out that despite manifestations of many new dimensions of change, globalization remains within the discourse of “modernity”.

What are the implications of globalization upon the teaching and research of sociology? How far could the market-driven impulses in the field of education be reconciled with the need for research and teaching in fundamental areas of knowledge which immediately may not have any utilitarian value?

Singh ends with this pertinent anxiety, which not only points out the emergent crisis in the paradigms of education, ushered in by the forces of globalization, but also serve as a reminder of the changes in the human value system — changes based on narrow utilitarianism.



Heinrich Heine, the German poet, was quite right when he said over a hundred years ago that “no author is a man of genius to his publisher.” In fact, many publishers honestly believe that it is they who discovered the author and made his book and all the author did was merely write according to their plans.

Nothing could be more untrue because just the opposite happens: it is the author (or his literary agent) who discovers the publisher and the publisher’s role is simply to give the typescript to a reliable person who is expected to recognize its merits when it is brought to him. This is the sequence of events from the birth of a book to its publication. The author takes his work to the potential publisher who might be interested in the subject — this could be anything from fiction, educational texts, down-market pulp to do-it-yourself manuals.

The publisher’s editor checks out the preliminaries for language and style and then sends it on to the panel of experts which examines it for the quality of the subject matter and other factual details.

The expert is usually provided with a set of guidelines on what to look for and comment on, especially the manuscript’s merits against competing books, if it happens to be an educational text. Fiction is a nebulous category, where hard and fast rules of evaluation cannot be applied and a lot is left to what the reader feels about a work.

For these labours, which can be quite exhaustive, the reader is paid an editorial fee. The reader’s report, which is strictly confidential — and his or her identity known only to a few — is then forwarded to the author for comments and suggestions for improvements, before being sent to the press. This is more or less the procedure for evaluation all over the world. (Some publishers insist on two readers in order to make sure they are on to something that would sell.)

Yet, despite these checks and balances, often something or the other goes hopelessly wrong. Many books, bristling with errors and infelicities of language get published year after year.

What goes wrong? Let it be said loud and clear: it is the publisher who is responsible for all the shoddiness in our books. For two reasons. First, the editorial fees paid to experts is pathetic; in fact, it is so abysmally low that a reviewer would be ashamed to accept it. Second, the reader’s report (assuming it is done properly) is not given the care and attention it deserves. In real terms this means that the author has to be persuaded to consider the recommendations for change because this would make the book more relevant or even interesting to the reading public. Of course, the publisher’s reader is not infallible and can be faulted (publishing histories are full of cases when bestsellers have been initially rejected) but, by and large, readers do end up making recommendations that enhance the value of the book.

But the fatal flaw in our books is language and style and this can’t be tidied up by the expert — and certainly not in lieu of the kind of money that is paid. This has to be done by in-house editors. The detailed task of reshaping, revising or rewriting cannot be done by outsiders; if it has to be, then the fees have to be substantially hiked. As things stand today, this is unlikely. because Indian publishers tend to look upon books as physical objects that have to be dressed up and hyped rather than ideas that are intangible.


By O.P. Sharma
(Mapin, price not mentioned)

O.P. Sharma’s Vision from the Inner Eye: The Photographic Art of A.L. Syed is a beautifully designed collection of 93 duotone photographs taken by the official state photographer for the royal families of Palanpur in Gujarat. He perfected his art — using a humble Rolleicord camera and his own techniques of developing the negatives — on the princely ethos of the Twenties, accompanying the nawab of Palanpur in his travels. He also photographed the royal families of Baroda and Saurashtra, and those of what are now Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Kashmir. Apart from the nawabs, maharanas and rajmatas, there is the “local colour” series, capturing moments from the everyday life of rural and metropolitan India. These are full of “grace and charm”. But Syed never quite steps out of his role as “state” photographer, as the admiring testimonials from royalty, politicians and bureaucrats attest. There are some quaint Sixties photographs of Sadhana, Saira Banu and Nimmi.

By N.R. Madhava Menon, David Annoussamy and D.K. Sampath
(S.C. Sarkar, Rs 200)

N.R. Madhava Menon, David Annoussamy and D.K. Sampath’s Judicial Education and Training: A Primer is an important textbook to have come out of the school of criminal justice and administration at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Calcutta. The joint effort of a judge, an advocate and an academic, it puts together some basic study materials for the training of newly recruited subordinate judges. These are founded on the elementary principles of civil and criminal procedures with which a munsif or magistrate will be intimately concerned on assuming office. These are then adapted to the special demands that “a complex, pluralist, democratic” society places on the judge, who has to be “imbued with the constitutional philosophy of equal justice and social justice”. With the interpolation of social science data, inquiry commission reports, academic research and media stories, this primer may be used to open up new possibilities in judicial education and training.

By Jim Powell
(Orient Longman, Rs 190)

Jim Powell’s Postmodernism For Beginners is a volume in the “documentary comic book series”, copiously illustrated by Joe Lee, presenting a good history and survey of an unavoidable contemporary idea. From Foucault on power to Deleuze and Guattari on rhizomes, from Madonna to teledildonics, postmodernism can take on a vast range of expositions and embodiments, all of which are touched on in this roller-coaster ride through a theoretical, cultural and political terrain. If modernism is form, purpose, design, hierarchy and presence, then according to this guide, postmodernism is antiform, play, chance, anarchy and absence, respectively. It is possible that Chaucer’s dream poetry and cyberpunk sci-fi may be equally postmodern.



Wall of silence

Sir — Given its premises, the bill on domestic violence in all likelihood will remain a “Bill of wrongs” (Feb 26) to be brought in Parliament and sent back each time, much like the bill on reservations for women. It supposes that women will be able to recognize domestic “violence” when it occurs and then allow the legal machinery (and even supervisors) to step into a space which is probably the most anxiously guarded sphere of life in India. One recent study illustrates the dilemma most poignantly. It says that more than 50 per cent of the women surveyed thought that being beaten up by husbands was the most normal thing in a marriage. A greater percentage of them probably believe it is most normal to be humiliated for not being able to bear children. Most women in India have no inkling of the meaning of human dignity. With a target population as uncomprehending as this, can the bill hope to prevent the physical and “mental” abuse of women who themselves continue to remain oblivious to its implications?
Yours faithfully,
Jayita Ray, Calcutta

Of policemen and judges

Sir — Who is policing the police in Assam? Policing in the region has been no different from a paramilitary operation. But in the last couple of years, police practices have become noticeably less restrained. Miscalculated policies pursued by successive governments in Assam have denied farmers, workers, and the average middle class of their basic human rights. The police focus on punishment while ignoring the social cause of crime.

The government that is in power in the state lacks the most basic understanding of political rights and favours authoritarian forms of governing. Quite naturally, policing of public demonstrations has changed. There have been numerous instances when peaceful protests and rallies have turned violent due to the highhandedness of the state police. Where a lathi charge or use of tear gas would have sufficed, bullets have been resorted to. Police tactics, instead of calming the people, provoke anger in the crowd. We often read of how protestors have injured policemen by throwing bottles and stones. Police action is supposed to be a “response” to this mob reaction. Yet, in most cases it is the policemen who begin the assault.

The media is so habituated to violence, that information such as this is no longer thought to be newsworthy. In fact activists of various political parties and organizations have to resort to arbitrary actions like entering the houses of members of legislature or putting up roadblocks, if only to grab some media attention. These are desperate times and actions such as these are minor crimes when compared to the atrocities that the police commits in the name of maintaining law and order.

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Payeng, via email

Sir — Patricia Mukhim’s article, “Has peace evaded Shillong altogether?” (Jan 30) was thought-provoking. Mukhim has voiced the feelings of thousands of admirers of this city, many of whom are now scattered in different parts of the country and abroad. One can hardly feel the charm of this city, its hospitality and the sophistication it once exuded.

Vicious elements have destroyed the serenity and tranquillity of Shillong. The people of the region prefer to keep themselves insulated from the misdeeds of insurgent youths. Responsible members of society remain preoccupied with their own security and prosperity. However, in keeping with the rich traditions of the matriarchal society of the region, there are also people like Mukhim who have taken up cudgels on behalf of the people. To restore the past glory of Shillong, people have to come out of hibernation and join hands with the likes of Mukhim.

Yours faithfully,
Sudeshna Das, Guwahati

Sir — Certain facts need to be set right with regard to the report, “Row over Tripura convictions” (Jan 5). On December 6, 2000, the law secretary went to Ambassa and attended a meeting of the recently constituted district monitoring committee. The district magistrate, superintendent of police and other officers of the district and police administration were present besides other members of the committee. No judicial officer of the district was present in the meeting.

When the law secretary was in the Ambassa circuit house, where the meeting was scheduled to be held, S. Paul, the additional district and sessions judge happened to drop by on his way to Kamalpur, where he has been transferred from Agartala. He was waiting at the circuit house for his police escort for the journey to Kamalpur. He did not participate in the meeting, the venue for which was shifted to the district magistrate’s office later. Paul met the superintendent of police for arrangement of his police escort and left. No other judicial officer was present. Moreover, Paul is not a member of the district monitoring committee. So there is no question of his participating in the meeting.

Yours faithfully,
M.V. Subba Reddy, director, directorate of information, cultural affairs and tourism, Tripura, Agartala

Our correspondent replies:

M.V. Subba Reddy has not commented on the basic thrust of the report. The contention was that the conviction rate in Tripura was and still is abnormally low and the state government was trying to improve this through interactive sessions involving both the executive and the judiciary. These sessions have drawn protests from a large section of advocates who believe that according to the Constitution, the judiciary in India is an independent entity and it cannot be seen to be collaborating with the executive. However, it is accepted that the law secretary did not meet any judicial officer.

Sir — The alleged “Irregularities in Tripura pumpset deal” (Jan 14) relate to a purchase order for 750 pumpsets supplied by Mather and Platt (India) Limited against an order placed by the public health department of the government of Tripura. The pumps offered by us to the Tripura public works department are tailormade for the contract and the material used was exactly what the department asked for. The pumps have been duly certified by the approved inspection agency.

The pump weight and the dimension are not part of the tender specification and are not mentioned anywhere in the purchase order. The pumps were delivered within the stipulated delivery period. It may be pertinent to mention here that the public health department of Tripura has placed an order for identical pumpsets with the company.

Yours faithfully,
T.K. Das, deputy general manager, finance and accounts, Mather and Platt (India) Limited, Calcutta

Our correspondent replies:

T.K. Das fails to note that the issue had been formally raised by the state Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary through a formal statement made earlier and again on February 11 when he repeated the allegations. A public interest litigation has been filed in the Guwahati high court, Agartala, on February 7 on the matter. Since the matter is sub judice it is unwise to comment on it. But I would like to say that there was a difference of opinion among the engineers on the quality of the pumps supplied since these had double markings. This, according to the water resource department, can be attributed only to the rejection of the pumps by another government, company or organization.

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