Editorial 1/ East and West
Editorial 2/ Normal deaths
One way towards progress
Book Review/ A small village in England
Book Review/ Evening sonatas
Book Review/ Little gems from the coastline
Book Review/ Encountering memory
Paperback Pickings
Bookwise/ To copy or not to copy
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ EAST AND WEST 
 
 
 
 
The question about the relationship between investments and interest rate cuts has significance for both the United States and India. In India, the budget diagnosed the investment problem as one emanating from liquidity, as opposed to structural problems, and banked on interest rate cuts to restore growth stimulus. It is doubtful if this alone will suffice, since there does not seem to be much demand for investments. The slowdown in the US is important for the global economy and the Federal Reserve Bank has banked on interest rate cuts to ensure that the economy soft lands and does not plummet into recession; recession being defined as a situation where the gross domestic product declines in two successive quarters. There have already been two cuts in January/February, contributing to pressure on the Reserve Bank of India to slash the bank rate and reduce the cash reserve ratio. Yet another Federal Reserve cut is expected later this month, although the present rate of GDP growth in the US of 1.4 per cent cannot yet be described as recession. Like in India, the US authorities argue that core inflation is low and the prime lending rate of 8.5 per cent perhaps offers scope for further reduction. The point however is twofold. First, consumption boom in the US has largely been driven by a wealth effect arising out of the capital market. The decline in the Nasdaq, especially of information technology stocks, has adversely affected this consumption and there are no immediate signs of reversal. Second, the eight-year boom in the US has been driven by substantial investments, including in IT. While this has led to significant productivity increases, including in traditional manufacturing, excess capacities exist. When the economy goes into a downturn, the obvious corporate response is to tap excess capacity, cut costs and downsize, rather than invest in fresh capacity.

The new economy is not recession proof. Nor is it axiomatic that corporates will have to continue to invest in IT to retain competitive advantage. Just as the hype over IT snowballed, the downturn also seems to be snowballing. While slackening demand for hardware might not adversely affect India as much as it does east Asia, software is a different matter and there is already slackened demand for software professionals on H1-B visas. The US is also the major destination for conventional manufactured exports and the recent impressive export growth owes much to a pick up in global demand, including the US. However, the impact varies from sector to sector and for some sectors like garments there is evidence to show that reduced incomes actually help Indian exports, since there is a switch to low-value items, which India generally exports. But overall, the US slowdown is bad news.

Two other aspects also need to be mentioned. First, globalization means a closer link between Nasdaq and the sensitive index and the recent downward movement of the sensex was initially triggered by the Nasdaq. While some IT companies have no steady revenue streams and hence there are valuation problems, the downturn has also adversely affected Indian IT firms where there are no such valuation problems. Second, a reduction in interest rates in the US can in principle stimulate foreign portfolio investments into India and exert upward pressure on the rupee. However, this is unlikely in the short run. The moral of the globalization lesson is that domestic economies can no longer be insulated from global developments. This has desirable effects, but also a flip side.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ NORMAL DEATHS 
 
 
 
 
When children were dying mysteriously in a state-run hospital in Calcutta a few months ago, the health minister thought it was “nothing unusual”. Now, eight women had to die — mysteriously again — after childbirth, in the last 14 days, all of them in Calcutta’s MR Bangur Hospital, before the coincidence struck a hospital official as “definitely unusual”. Four of these deaths were after Caesarian sections had been performed on the mothers. The usual inquiry has been promised. This time, the health minister, Mr Partha De, has asked for “some time”. Everybody seems to have forgotten about the dead children from the earlier episode. That inquiry is presumably continuing, or has been quietly shelved.

A couple of points need to be made again, in relation to these episodes, about the combination of abysmal inadequacy and inhuman callousness in the state’s healthcare system. First, Bangur is a 500-bed district hospital for South 24 Parganas. It had been recently refurbished under the state health systems development project. However, it remains severely short-staffed and under-equipped, unable to provide certain basic services. Second, the entire process of inquiries, apart from being interminable and always inconclusive, remains shrouded in bureaucratic obfuscation. These are conducted by the hospital, or at best the government, authorities themselves, leaving infinite room for irregularities and suppressions. The concept of the patients’, or their survivors’, rights as consumers seems to be entirely absent in such situations. The victims of government healthcare are perhaps too poor, unaware of their own rights and too stricken by their medical crises to persist with the authorities in demanding what they are entitled to. The obverse of this silent victimhood is an undertow of (often politicized) violence that could be faced by hospitals or individual doctors from people who consider themselves to have suffered from wrong treatment or negligence. Both reactions show the hopeless failure of the state to provide its people with services that most civilized societies have the right to take for granted.

   

 
 
ONE WAY TOWARDS PROGRESS 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Listening to my friend and some time batch-mate, Yashwant Sinha, present his budget, I felt a great deal of sympathy for him — it could not have been easy preparing the budget — and this has only partly to do with the fact that he is a friend. It’s really the sustained tension of balancing income and expenditure, a difficult enough proposition on its own, but made infinitely, intolerably worse by the pressures that must have been brought on him from various quarters. Political compulsions, the importunings of influential people and groups who choose their spokesmen well, people who come in the garb of friends and well-wishers and then skilfully broach what appears to be a national calamity. The fractious National Democratic Alliance would make this a nightmare; their pressure would range from pleadings to peremptory demands, even threats.

So what finally emerged? A budget with a clear, no-nonsense objective, one which would be, or could be, steadfastly stuck to for the next few years to achieve the long-term goal everybody wants, a prosperous India? Or a budget laden with compromises, which were bravely justified, even though one seethed with resentment within? Sinha can take some comfort from the fact that he is not the first, nor will be the last finance minister who will have had to compromise with what he firmly believed needed to be done to set the country on a course from which it would, some agony notwithstanding, emerge better off, more stable and with built-in processes of growth.

There are a whole lot of opinions on this subject, elaborately detailed by experts and I certainly have no pretensions on that score. But I certainly can, like many who have to live in the country and make the best of what is available, point out what is staring everyone in the face. You cannot wail about the falling rate of growth, or the persisting stagnation in production in several sectors, if you don’t provide the infrastructure they need.

Half a century has passed since progress became the prime objective of the country, a word which encompassed many things which we need not detail here. Half a century — and still, today, going by road from Delhi to Mumbai is a perilous prospect, only marginally less perilous than it was in Mughal times. There are stretches where the road barely exists; other areas where a four-lane track suddenly becomes two narrow lanes. And, all the way through, the road surfaces are paper thin — one shower and it turns into a pot-holed, slushy death trap. The highway — pardon the word — is a pathetic apology of a road, and, after half a century, is something that can’t be compared to the highways in other Asian countries. And they don’t qualify to be called roads in the sense in which the word is understood in the West.

Leaving aside loud statements about swadeshi, and our pride in being Indian, and who cares what roads are elsewhere, the plain fact is that transporting goods and products here is a perilous business. Like casting your bread upon the waters and retiring to pray. Add to that the power systems in most of the country which look like cartoons drawn by Hieronymus Bosch. These are systems where the voltage suddenly drops, or suddenly goes so high as to burn out motors and other electrical equipment; where there just isn’t power at any voltage for hours together, where there are poles but no wires, or poles and wires which are connected to nothing.

But there are formidable numbers of “workers” in these parodies of power stations that litter the countryside like garbage cans, and all of them are marshalled into aggressive unions; unions of what, one wonders: goondas and ruffians, who think nothing of sabotaging a power plant if their “just demands” are not met.

And our ports; antiquated, slow, overcrowded, staffed by people who are lazy and, again, all formed into unions whose basic agenda is to ensure they get paid for no work. Very little has been done to modernize them, expand them to meet the demands of the future, much less to make these workers get down to work.

But assume we had a good set of highways — in the international sense, not the hypocritical lying sense currently in use here — and assume we had power, and that our ports were big enough and modern enough to handle large volumes of incoming and outgoing cargo. How would the goods move to and from there? In the kind of trucks we have now? For years, one hears, two big swadeshi business houses successfully stalled the entry of modern trucks into the country, and made anyone who wanted a truck buy their obsolete, relatively small vehicles. They made crores, of course, and transporters tried to do the same by making these wretched vehicles carry huge overloads. Result: accidents, breakdowns, the paper-thin roads chewed up by weights they were never meant to carry. Anyone who has travelled down one of the busier roads knows how many carcasses of overturned, smashed trucks they come across, products spilled all over, destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

As for that leftover of the colonial age, the railways, the less said the better. They will have impressive statistics for you, and never mention the horrors of trying to book a wagon, the endless time it takes for its arrival, and the pilferage on the way. As a young officer, one was made familiar with a special kind of crime, wagon-breaking. Anyone who’s worked in the industrial areas around Calcutta or in the Calcutta police knows about this; and there’s no reason to believe it’s any different in other parts of the country. In plain terms, the railways just aren’t up to the task.

Even with the pathetic condition of the roads, and the grossly overloaded, obsolete models of trucks, industries prefer to use road transport. So here we have it: a finance minister who has to contend with continuous pressure of all kinds and produces a budget which like those of all his predecessors is, in the final analysis, a compromise, even as his ministry’s Economic Review paints a gloomy picture of the economy.

How can one expect growth if the means aren’t there? Roads, ports, vehicles that can haul big loads, adequate power? The transportation of goods and products, which is the way to progress, like the movement of money, like the movement of information, both of which have changed for the better? And then of course, overshadowing everything else, is the bureaucracy. Acknowledged to be among the worst in the world, bloated, spread, like slime, over virtually every area of public life. Thousands upon thousands of people paid out of public funds just for being there, and if they can, to muffle attempts at progress in a plethora of words and procedures. Some parts of it are essential, to be sure; but the rest needs to be ruthlessly cut away.

Someone has to do it — get down to basics, and firmly, if necessary brutally, ensure that the infrastructure is put in place within a definite time-frame, which includes cutting down the bureaucracy without fear or favour, starting at the top. Someone has to define himself what infrastructure means, not get it defined by someone else, and get it in position. History may revile him for being short-sighted, for not having paid attention to this and that — but a beginning will have been made, a direction will have emerged.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ A SMALL VILLAGE IN ENGLAND 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
SARRATT AND THE DRAPER OF WATFORD
By John Le Carré and others,
Village Books, £ 9.75

There is hardly any lover of the lore that has grown up around the Circus and George Smiley who is not familiar with Sarratt. It is the place where new entrants to the Circus receive their first briefing and training; it is the place where Bill Haydon, the Circus mole, was imprisoned and then found on a bench near the cricket field with his neck broken; it is the place where Jim Prideaux was taken on his return from Moscow. The Nursery at Sarratt was maintained on the military budget.

In le Carré’s world, Sarrat becomes emblematic of the decline of Britain: “Sarratt was a sorry place after the grandeur that Smiley remembered. Most of the elms had gone with the disease; pylons burgeoned over the old cricket field. The house itself, a sprawling brick mansion, had also come down a lot since the heyday of the cold war in Europe.”

Only those who know the nooks and crannies of the English countryside will be aware that Sarratt actually exists. It is in no way connected with the British secret service. It is a tiny village in Hertfordshire which has grown up around the Church of the Holy Cross, which goes back to the 12th century. The village, from all accounts, is picturesque and unspoilt. The river, Chess, runs through the parish which has meadows and has a network of paths. The village captured le Carré’s imagination and became a part of his fictional world.

The Church of the Holy Cross and Sarratt Village Hall are in urgent need for restoration and repairs. The people of the village struck upon the idea to produce this book, whose star would be le Carré himself, and the sale proceeds of which would be donated to the good cause of restoring and repairing the two buildings. The result has been a wonderful little book hugely enjoyable for all those who have entered and loved the strange and sublime ambience of le Carré’s Smiley novels.

Le Carré recalls here how he came to know Sarratt. It began in the ski slopes of the Bernese Oberland in 1949. It was here that he met Dick Edmonds, whose family owned the store, Clements of Watford, Drapers. Le Carré was 18 years old then and he and Dick became lifelong friends.

It was Dick in his Roadster who introduced le Carré to the Hertfordshire countryside. Le Carré was looking around for a world he could inhabit. “Thus Sarratt, as we passed through it, impressed upon me as some kind of secret haven, a forgotten piece of real England just round the corner from subtopia...And it is no wonder to me at all that when twenty years later I came to select a birthplace for my own secret England, I should have lighted upon Sarratt’s pretty village green and cosy redbrick cottages...and Sarratt’s exquisitely beautiful Church of the Holy Cross, and imagined them as the keepers of an English mystery of which I was some kind of undefined inheritor.”

The other unexpected attraction of this book is a story by Mikhail Lyubimov, who was a KGB officer posted in London from 1961 till his expulsion in 1965, and was a friend of Kim Philby. It is a story of the young Kalra entrusted to clear a dead letter box in the cemetery in Sarratt. Lyubimov writes with panache and a dash of English humour.

William Petre weaves a story about the unearthing of a mole inside the Nursery in Sarratt. The mood is funny and mocking and has none of the seriousness with which Smiley pursued the Circus mole, Bill Haydon.

This is a book that evokes Sarratt and the mystery that le Carré has endowed on the village. You cannot expect to meet Smiley in Sarratt, the old boy now lives in Cornwall. But the chances are that you might pass, in the pretty lanes Jim Prideaux, out on his rambles. And at The Cock in the evening, you are sure to find the honourable schoolboy as he holds forth over a pint of bitter on the latest pronouncements of the juju men.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ EVENING SONATAS 
 
 
BY MALAVIKA R. BANERJEE
 
 
LICKS OF LOVE
By John Updike,
Hamish Hamilton, £ 10.99

Forty-three years after his first published work, John Updike, who will soon hit 70, should have become one of the elder citizens of the world of literature. The good news is he has not. Instead, going by the evidence at hand, he has grown into a dirty old man who writes about dirty old men who spend their last days reminiscing sexual conquests and adulterous affairs. The evolution no doubt pleases the prolific writer no end.

The short stories in this collection are about the greying of the Sixties generation, and the way they cope with life in the late Nineties. They seem bewildered by the marital fidelity of the post-AIDS generation, the omnipresence of the computer, and the end of the century. Simultaneously, they seem to realize that an increasing number of their friends is appearing in the “deaths” column. It is with affection that Updike looks at what is his own generation, smiling indulgently at the old men who spend the evening of their lives with second or third wives.

Most of the stories are vintage Updike — the punch lying in the telling rather than in the denouement — choc-a-bloc with delightfully raunchy sidelights. “How was it, Really?” shows the ageing protagonist unable to explain how his children had grown up alright while he was going through a series of marriages, affairs and remarriages. In “Metamorphosis”, an old lecher goes through a series of plastic surgeries just to feel his pretty Korean surgeon gently caress his face. In “His Oeuvre,” Updike revives Henry Bech, a hero of his earlier novels, as an author troubled by the appearance of old lovers at his readings. However, the best of the lot is “Scenes from the Fifties,” where the protagonist finally moves in with one of his wife’s admirers.

The flip side of Updike’s style is a sameness in setting and tone that makes some of the stories merge into one another: “Natural Color”, “New York Girl”, “The Women Who Got Away” and “Licks of Love in the Heart of the Cold War.” Fortunately, just when the all-pervasive theme of adultery seems to bog the reader down, Updike provides tangy little nuggets like: “When my wife learned of my affair with Maureen, she reacted with a surge of fury that surprised me, since I had been putting up with Frank and her for years” and “that’s the trouble with a full figure, it ties you to a bra.” It also helps that these short stories are spaced out between ones dealing with love of another kind — an old woman’s for her cats, a young adolescent’s for his father, and an ageing couple’s for their last-born. These short stories remind the reader of Updike’s redoubtable versatility, and his unfailing ability to tell us stories we know in an interesting manner.

The 12 short stories also serve as hors d’oeuvre for the novella, “Rabbit Remembered.” Rabbit, Updike’s most famous hero, lived up to his name and had multiplied outside marriage. The “thirty-nine-year-old piece of evidence” — a daughter — brings back memories of Rabbit Angstrom to a family that has moved on after his death. The initial rejection and final acceptance of Annabelle, the daughter, is shown in Brewer, the New England town, that is lurching towards the millennium. The memories of Rabbit cast a shadow on the family, but finally, everybody learns to deal with this last bit of irresponsibility on the part of the dead hero. Rabbit’s survivors have stayed put at the Springer house, but have moved on as far as spouses are concerned. His widow, Janice, has married her husband’s lover’s husband, his son Nelson is separated and his grandson, Roy, is wedded to a computer.

Updike once again wins the day with his marvellous eye for detail. Whether it is the conversation at a sixty-plus bridge table or the politically incorrect jokes Roy emails his father, his touch is always evident — true to life yet vastly entertaining. The novel climaxes at the millennium hour with Rabbit’s children and their spouses – past and future — stuck in a car. Confessions pour out thick and fast within the car as revellers swarm outside. The story ends with Rabbit’s children, both legitimate and illegitimate, settling down with their respective spouses. Rabbit and his generation are finally exorcised by his children. A sign that Updike finally acknowledges the sanctity of the holy vows of matrimony? Unlikely. Perhaps it is Updike’s sly reminder that the wedding band is an inherent part of adultery.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ LITTLE GEMS FROM THE COASTLINE 
 
 
BY SHAMS AFIF SIDDIQI
 
 
ORIYA STORIES
Edited by Vidya Das,
Srishti, Rs 145

Short stories became popular around the world in the beginning of the 20th century. In a short time, it gained respectability as a literary genre. When great novelists started exploring the possibilities of this form, critics began to wonder whether one form would outdo the other. Fiction writers of different languages in India have also used this form with no less expertise. Apart from writers in well-known languages like Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali, whose works are available in English translation, there is a need to present other regional writers to readers all over India through good translations.

So when Vidya Das comes up with a short selection of Oriya stories, it is like filling up a gap which was long overdue.

Though a short volume consisting of only 12 stories of reasonable length, the book includes four important Oriya writers —Fakirmohan Senapati, Gopinath Mohanty, Kishori Charan Das and Manoj Das. To do justice to these authors, the editor includes three stories of each. But apart from the selection of stories and the writing of the introduction, the editor seems to have contributed little to the volume.

The short introduction gives the history of Orissa and of the Oriya language. It also gives a fair idea of the positions these writers occupy in the history of Oriya literature. But it still does not become the detailed introduction that was required for such a volume. Starting from Fakirmohan Senapati’s story, “Rebati”, published in 1898, and ending with Manoj Das’ “The Submerged Valley”, a story of modern times, the book tries to provide, in a comprehensive manner, a feel of Oriya literature in general and of the Oriya short story in particular.

In translation, literature of a region may seem to be replete with literary shortcomings owing to the difficulty of translating the register of a culture. In Oriya Stories, the reader gets the chance to form his opinion about the writers and the works. Some of the stories may appear to lack in form, others may not appeal because of their absence of wit and humour, but stories like Kishori Charan Das’s “Godless” and “The Hundred Sons” are sure to be liked by all kinds of readers.

The stories take the readers to the roots of Oriya life, and can even make readers glimpse life from the Oriya point of view. Some of the stories have been translated by stalwarts like Jayanta Mahapatra, Kishori Charan Das, Sitakant Mahapatra and Sumanyu Satpathy. Others have been translated by the authors themselves. But most translations leave a lot to be desired. With better translations, the stories would have had the chance of being better appreciated.

What the volume lacks also is the non-inclusion of contemporary writers. A more eclectic fare of authors and stories would certainly have added to the worth of the book.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ ENCOUNTERING MEMORY 
 
 
BY KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
IN THE LINE OF DUTY: A SOLDIER REMEMBERS
By Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh,
Lancer, Rs 595

If the term, “Panzer General”, could be applied to any Indian general, then it is Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh, nicknamed “hairbrush”. Singh, while leading the Western Command during the 1965 war against Pakistan, fought the second greatest tank battle in Afro-Asia. Just before his death, Harbakhsh Singh was able to write this memoir.

Singh was the archetypal “martial” Sikh soldier. He came from a small peasant family of the Manjha-Malwa doab, the region that was the principal recruiting ground of the British-Indian army. His was a family of soldiers. While his brother joined the princely Jind infantry, Harbakhsh joined a Sikh regiment of the Sepoy Army. He had a chequered career.

Nationalist pressure in the Thirties forced the raj to Indianize its officer corps. Hence, Harbakhsh was lucky to be allowed to join the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun in 1933. After about five years in the northeast frontier and other Indian units, Harbakhsh’s regiment was deployed in Malaysia to check the Japanese jungle Blitzkrieg.

However, there was no stopping the Japanese and in late 1942, about 60,000 Indian soldiers were taken prisoners. It was then that Harbakhsh faced a serious contradiction between the demands of professional soldiering and nationalism. First Mohan Singh, and then Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943 organized the Indian National Army from the Indian prisoners of war. Though most of the Sikhs joined the INA, Harbakhsh and his brother held out. Harbakhsh here gives a muddy account to justify his stand, even though he accepts that the British officers racially discriminated against the Indian officers. He also says that Bose was not as great a leader as M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Actually, Harbakhsh remained loyal to his oath to the King-Emperor.

After independence, apolitical soldiers were in great demand for the Indian army, because Nehru feared that a politicized army would be a threat to the newly emerging civilian government. Harbakhsh’s career flowered in this environment. Immediately, he was deployed in Kashmir to meet the challenges of Pakistan’s proxy war. He boldly asserts here that the Pakistan-trained guerrillas enjoyed the support of the valley’s Muslim population and this made the Indian army’s task difficult.

Failing to “liberate” Kashmir in 1948, the Pakistan army launched its biggest conventional offensive in Punjab in 1965. At that time, Harbakhsh Singh was in charge of the Western Front. From commanding a platoon of 30 men in 1936, to being in charge of several lakhs of soldiers, he had come a long way. However, he faced a crisis. Following the Cento treaty with the United States, the Pakistan army was equipped with the latest Patton tanks and the German anti-tank Cobra missile. The Indians had technologically inferior Centurion tanks. At Khem Karan, one of the greatest tank battles after Zitadelle was fought.

Ironically, superior technology proved to be the bane of Ayub Khan’s troops. The Pattons with their computerized range finders proved too much for the semi-literate Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistanis were defeated but not destroyed.Harbakhsh accepts that the Indian infantry did not perform well. There were desertions in the Gurkha and Garhwali units. But Harbakhsh’s anger is mostly directed at the Indian air force for failing to provide close air support to his units. Due to the absence of interdiction strikes, Pakistan was able to shift the armour by rail from Khem Karan to Lahore. However, Harbakhsh gives only the army’s point of view. It must be understood that CAS is a complex operation requiring intense training.

This is one of the few interesting and informative memoirs ever to come out of the brass hats of India. Harbakhsh Singh does not waste time in narrating glorified accounts of the individual regiments unlike most military autobiographers. His bold discussions on the Indian military’s weaknesses are laudable. In this, his autobiography emphatically contradicts Bernard Shaw’s statement that “all autobiographies are lies, I mean deliberate lies.”

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

The moment of the boomerang

COLONIALISM AND NEOCOLONIALISM
By Jean-Paul Sartre
(Routledge, Rs 195)

Jean-Paul Sartre’s Colonialism And Neocolonialism makes available, for the first time in English, a collection of essays published in French in 1964. These essays formulate Sartre’s critique of French policies in Algeria in the Fifties and Sixties. They not only inspired subsequent French critics of colonialism, but also had an impact on the conduct of the Algerian war itself. Sartre’s engagement with racism and négritude began in 1948 and extended to the triumph of revolutionary China in 1949, the colonial wars in Indo-China, Morocco and Algeria, the Cuban revolution and the Vietnam war. The best essays are responses to the work of other writers and artists, such as the preface to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Chinese portfolio (1954), to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, and his essay on the political thought of Patrice Lumumba. For Sartre, Lumumba and Fanon are the “two great dead men [who] represent Africa. Not only their nations: all their continent.” He also uses Fanon to suggest, controversially, the link between colonialism and violence. Fanon’s work represents “the moment of the boom-erang, the third stage of violence”, which returns to hit its perpetrators. Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer and Terry Williams are excellent translators, although Robert Young’s introduction reads a trifle blandly after Sartre’s edgy prose.

HUNGRY FOR TRADE: HOW THE POOR PAY FOR FREE TRADE
By John Madeley
(Penguin, Rs 200)

John Madeley’s Hungry for trade: How the poor pay for free trade is written around the conviction that “all policy, including trade policy” must reflect the concern for “overcoming poverty and ensuring food for all”. Madeley uses the collapse of talks at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in November 1999 to present a sustained critique of the idea that trade liberalization would necessarily benefit all. Focussing on the issue of food security and on the work of a number of nongovernmental organizations working on similar principles, he shows how free trade has failed the most vulnerable members of the global society — the poor. He also explores the puzzle of “countries that have millions of hungry people...exporting food to countries where people are already well-fed.”

PALMISTRY MADE EASY
By Richard Webster
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Richard Webster’s Palmistry made easy is another instance of this esteemed publishing house’s fascination with the fashionably occult. After feng shui and numerology, both obligingly made easy by Penguin, comes this rather dour piece of mindlessness. Webster has been a publisher, bookstore proprietor, pianist, stage hypnotist, palmist, ghostwriter and magician. He is now a professional teacher and writer on what he calls “psychic topics”. He likes reading palms in shopping malls and throws “horoscope parties”.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE/ TO COPY OR NOT TO COPY 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 

Just outside the main gates of Jawaharlal Nehru University and close to the office of the Federation of Indian Publishers is a row of photocopying shops that also double up as public call offices with fax facilities. For a decade now, they have done a flourishing business, photocopying articles from journals and guide notes for competitive examinations, and, as book prices spiralled in the Nineties, whole books were photocopied and spiral-bound. There was absolutely no secret about it; for 50 paise per page, anything and everything was copied. In fact, business was so brisk that students had to queue up to get their work done, with delivery promised a day or two later.

Last week, on complaints from the federation, the police cracked down on these shops on grounds of alleged piracy and the story goes that some of them are preparing to shut shop. The basic question is: is photocopying tantamount to piracy and hence a violation of the copyright law?

There is no simple answer in “yes” or “no” to this. The culprit is not the small-time shopkeeper, but the new technology that has made it easier to duplicate material without acknowledgement or payment. Now, when every office, school and college has acquired its own copier, one hardly thinks twice before reproducing articles, chapters from books or even whole books. Why buy a book for £ 20 when you can get it for a little over Rs 100? With the spread of more sophisticated copiers, the “digital” copy is as perfect as the original, and with fancy computing, even better. In fact, frequently-used books can be “cleaned” up and made much more user-friendly.

Because it is impossible to police photocopying, the law has relented. It is all right to copy, it says, as long as you don’t make it a commercial proposition. That is, go ahead and copy but don’t make a profit by selling it. That would be tantamount to piracy and hence, a violation of the copyright law. But how to prove that the owner of the photocopying shop is in the piracy business simply because he photocopies books and also binds them? (Most photocopiers have spiral-binding facilities now.) After all, he is not reproducing multiple copies (he can do so, but it is a tedious business) and he is not keeping copies in stock to sell and make a profit on them. He is merely doing a contract job for someone else and mostly, it is a one-off deal. In other words, the photocopier is in the photocopying business, and not in the business of making and selling books.

But is there anything in the charge that the photocopier is hand-in glove with professional book pirates and have irretrievably harmed the book trade? It is difficult to prove that all are above board, but it makes little business sense for pirates to go to photocopiers to get their job done; they would rather go to printers who can process, print, bind and despatch stocks to retail outlets within a matter of days. Speed and secrecy are the essence of piracy: speed means that the entire operation is over in a week and secrecy that it is done in far-off places where the law would find it difficult to reach. For instance, piracy of school textbooks is done near the Indo-Nepal borders and books despatched to different places in India from Nepal.

Photocopying is a small-time, single-proprietary business. It cannot get into the much bigger game of piracy, that requires money and a team of crooks from production, distribution and sales. It is technology that has turned, like a vital organ grown cancerous, into an enemy. And there is little that can be done about it.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Exit with grace

Sir — It will be a matter of shame if this government is allowed to continue after the Tehelka revelations (“Corruption monster at Atal gate”, March 14). Bangaru Laxman should not be the only one to be sent to the slaughter house. The whole cabinet, lock, stock and barrel, should be forced to resign. Tehelka.com might be trying to be sensational, but its investigative journalism has its merits. It has, after all, conclusively exposed New Delhi’s venality. The most interesting part of the episode lies in its highlighting the hypocrisy of Bharatiya Janata Party members and the hollowness of their talk of national security, sovereignty, et al. The brazenness with which they accept bribes, close shady defence deals and cover up their wheeling-dealing is unbelievable. If there ever was a time since independence when all Indians needed to step in and save the nation from an impending crisis, it is now — when the cabinet and the prime minister’s office seems to be steeped in corruption. This government must go.
Yours faithfully,
R. Karthik, Calcutta

Sir — The smooth ascent of Atal Bihari Vajpayee from a humble volunteer in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to the “honest” prime minister of India was a long journey. But he seems to have been in some haste to encash his brief tenure in the chair by putting the right men at the right places. George Fernandes and Bangaru Laxman were presumably two such people.

Whatever happens, this government will certainly stay on because there is no better alternative. If N. Chandrababu Naidu or Mamata Banerjee decide to play their “clean” card, they will be jeopardizing their political positions. Banerjee, especially has a lot to lose, given that the assembly elections in West Bengal are just round the corner and much depends on her alliance with BJP. It would be better if they decide to stay and demand their share.

The least worried will be the defence minister, George Fernandes. Although, there might be histrionics for all to see and he might continue to threaten to resign, Fernandes knows full well that there is too much at stake.

Yours faithfully,
Aditya P. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — Recently, in China a few officials who were caught taking bribes were given a death sentence in order to discourage such practices. The Tehelka episode points out the need for a change in the legal system of our country, because it encourages people to be corrupt. As usual, the government will form a committee “to look into the allegation” and the result, as we all know, will never see daylight.

The slow and archaic legal system in India ensures that the rate of conviction is negligible. Moreover, given political and bureaucratic influence, it is easy to prolong the arbitration of cases to suit the convenience of the accused and the well-connected. What we need is an immediate reform in our legal system. Everyone knows how corrupt politicians are, but because of legal loopholes they mostly get away with the scandals. Tehelka.com caught everyone on camera. If the public start doing the same, we can have an exciting new round-the-clock television channel.

Yours faithfully,
Tejash Doshi, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “On candid camera” (March 15), rightly observes that “the government appears to be completely immersed in sleaze and corruption”. India has been mired eternally in scandals but it still hurts us to see a dirty defence deal. The Indian armed forces are still a holy cow for Indians and one we don’t want to see afflicted by the foot-and-mouth disease of corruption. Let the law take its own course, but let it be swift without meandering too long.

However, it would do us well to remember that even in the United States, “sting operations” are conducted by law-enforcement agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to apprehend criminals. There is thus a legislative, and therefore, legal backing for such operations. Journalists in India might do “investigative journalism”, but one wonders if under the Indian law anybody, (including journalists), can hand over a wad of currency notes to a government official without running the risk of being charged with corrupting a government servant.

Reportedly, the tehelka videotapes now being circulated are edited and truncated versions of the originals which run for longer periods. It is possible that statements made by people have been taken out of context. Will the Central Bureau of Investigation please find out if the tapes have been doctored, as alleged?

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy,Durham, US

Sir — The mask of this “clean” government has been ripped off by the Tehelka tapes. Yet, despite objections the defence minister, George Fernandes, insists on carrying on.

Where is the country heading? Our corrupt politicians seem to be toying with the honour and dignity of the country. These venal politicians should not be allowed to contest elections any more so that they no longer have the chance to represent the people of India.The endless debates, the inquiry commission and its invariably delayed report will deceive the people further.

Yours faithfully,
S.A. Rahman Barkati, Calcutta

Sir — The tapes of tehelka.com reveal some very serious issues and they deserve to be acted upon fast.Kapil Sibal, the Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, is correct in saying that if there is a cognizable offence, there should be immediate arrest, irrespective of the status of those who have figured in the act. Things have to move quickly and the real culprits have to be nabbed. The opposition should come down heavily on the government if it delays matters.

It is also necessary to find out on what instinct or specific information, tehelka.com has found it necessary to launch these tapes at this time. As journalists, it can be assumed that they were guided by pure professionalism and their pursuit of the truth. But is that the whole truth?

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — Bangaru Laxman, Jaya Jaitly, George Fernandes and the rest of these people should all make television appearances and radio broadcasts and either admit their guilt or clear their names. In the event that they are guilty, they should all resign and apologize to the people of this country and promise that they will never hold public office again. This episode is the most embarrassing one in the history of our nation.

Yours faithfully,
Priyank Mishra, Calcutta

Men in khaki

Sir — The annals of the Indian police force are replete with ignominious tales. In the name of keeping law and order, they prepare the ground for further lawlessness by lavishing favours on criminals and politicians alike. A movement against this should be organized with the active participation of all conscious citizens.

Police personnel at the lower strata of the hierarchy are often helpless followers of orders emanating from the top. Nevertheless, cops have come to be viewed by common people with enormous distrust and hatred.

Policemen who openly indulge in corrupt practices should be socially ostracized. Even children should be warned about the vices of the police force so that they become conscious of the appalling state of affairs from an early age. If people fail to react to the callousness and tyranny of the police, it will be impossible to reform the men in uniform.

Yours faithfully,
Naibedya Chattopadhyay,Boston, US

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