Editorial 1/ Open and general
Editorial 2/ Indefensible
Questions of identity
Book Review/ Butchered glory
Book Review/ Into the great wide hills
Book Review/ Nature’s spokesman
Book Review/ The past seldom relies on the truth
Editor’s choice/ Every inch a queen
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ OPEN AND GENERAL 
 
 
 
 
The announcement of the export import policy is due at the end of the month and some unnecessary controversy will centre around the removal of quantitative restrictions on imports. QRs have been illegal under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade since 1947. Despite being a founder-member of GATT, India managed to use QRs because of a balance of payments caveat and India’s present BOP position no longer justifies the use of this escape clause. Contrary to popular impression, the World Trade Organization, which came into existence in January 1995, is not the villain of the piece. Therefore, barring a small prohibited and negative list (and such prohibitions are still possible provided there is adequate justification), everything will move to open general licence from April 1, 2001. That is, the announcement will be incorporated in the exim policy. India now follows an eight-digit harmonized classification system, and according to this, between 10,500 and 11,000 tariff lines are described. Before reforms began in 1991, 8,000 of these were on QRs. The present figure is 715, since some items were moved to OGL consequent to reforms.

Again, contrary to popular impression, this does not mean unbridled import competition. Relevant duties are possible and because of the Chinese import threat, India has begun to experiment with measures that can amount to non-tariff barriers. Examples are standards, maximum retail price on labels, levying of countervailing duty on MRP for consumer goods, minimum import prices and import of designated items through specified ports. Exim policy is bound to refine this list. Some such measures may be WTO-incompatible and their consistency will be tested only when disputes crop up at the WTO. On tariffs, India has binding or ceiling commitments at the WTO, but not all items are covered. For example, consumer goods do not have bindings and high import duties are possible. There are two sectors that primarily confront an import threat. First, there is agriculture, where the threat perception is not based on reality, barring a few items like edible oils, soya, dairy and poultry. Bound rates are high enough and the recent budget has hiked some applied rates. Nevertheless, there will be a few items that will be hit. Second, there is the broad category of manufactured consumer goods, often reserved for production by the small-scale industry sector.

Despite the fact that consumers gain from lower duties, vocal lobbies like automobiles and liquor have clearly won the fight on higher duties. In the case of automobiles, there is also the issue of the indigenization requirement the government imposes through memoranda of understanding with producers. A dispute with the United States and the European Union has been pending before the WTO and the government has postponed the problem by invoking QRs. That will no longer be possible after April. Unfortunately, lobbies that claim to represent small-scale industries do not realize that without de-reservation, the threat to this sector is real rather than imagined. Traditionally, exim policy has been important because it tinkered with import licensing. Since this is now irrelevant, the present exim policy should be the last. The Union commerce minister, Mr Murasoli Maran, is likely to announce export targets and single out thrust sectors and export destinations. The commerce ministry’s credibility on export targets is low. Five years ago, a target of 100 billion dollars was set for 2000. Identification of sectors and destinations means nothing because fiscal incentives are no longer possible. More important will be the ministry’s attempt to devise a WTO-compatible scheme of export incentives and reduce transaction costs through improved procedures.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ INDEFENSIBLE 
 
 
 
 
Anybody questioning defence deals is “anti-national”. Among the entire range of governmental reactions to the Tehelka revelations, this summary pronouncement by Mr Jaswant Singh, the new defence minister, is perhaps the most outrageous. Outrageous in placing the military establishment and the ministry of defence beyond the inquiring spirit of democracy and, equally, in identifying the armed forces with the “nation”, an unquestioning acceptance of the former’s sacrosanct status with nationalism. The overriding importance of national security is a related idea floating about the tainted air of New Delhi. According to this logic, the defence citadel ought to be even more transparent and accountable, if inspiring confidence and security in Indians be its sacred duty. Neither transparency nor accountability should be in conflict with the classified nature of some defence-related information. A mystically enforced notion of secrecy can only foster the worst kinds of shadiness, resulting in the debasement of the entire institution in the eyes of the nation.

Perhaps Mr Singh’s reflex absolutism has something to do with the prime minister’s equally indefensible warning to media persons at a recent seminar to accept certain natural restrictions when it comes to probing military matters. In another forum, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee seems to have admitted that the defence establishment could afford to be more transparent. But the media, although the “watchdog” of every other democratic institution, should know its limits when trying to keep vigil over this particular bastion. The unabashed tenuousness of this logic — quite astonishingly counter-productive, if damage control is Mr Singh’s and Mr Vajpayee’s aim — can only endorse the intimations of fathomless murk the Centre is so determined to sweep away.

   

 
 
QUESTIONS OF IDENTITY 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Many of us will remember an eccentric character, festooned with the flags of different countries and sundry other banners and slogans, who travelled from city to city on a cycle; he proclaimed himself a citizen of the world, and declared that he was taking a message of peace and love to all his fellow citizens. He was seen as a curiosity, an eccentric, amusing man, and probably ended up either in some asylum or the other. Or perhaps he gave up his dotty notion and became just another ordinary dull person, like the rest of us.

I find myself thinking of him time and again. Citizen of the world — he must have really believed in the idea, to him the world must have been as real an entity as India or Jhumri Tilaiya. To him his identity as a citizen of the world was not funny, but a true, felt thing, even though all of us thought the notion was ludicrous. Now one isn’t sure what is ludicrous; accepted notions of identity are becoming difficult to define, or to continue to be generally accepted.

We thought being a citizen of the world was funny, but not being a citizen of India. India was real, was a legal and cultural entity, our home, our motherland in praise of which soulful songs were sung, for whom thousands died. But what about Asia? Do we feel distinctly Asian at any stage, in any circumstance? Does Asia evoke a rational and clear response as a space that identifies us as Asian. No, on all counts. For other aliens, like Europeans, it is easier to identify us as Asians — though, to be more correct, they see the inhabitants of southeast Asia as Asians, and us as south Asians, whatever that means. They give us an identity which we don’t accept any more than we accept the notion of being a world citizen.

The Europeans do, however, see themselves as Europeans, even though they may not relate to Europe quite as much as to their country. But that too is changing; a European identity is emerging, and the future may see the inhabitants of Italy, Greece, France, Germany and all the rest of the European Union as Europeans first, as they still see us as Indians, and as Italians, Greeks, the French or Germans second; just as they see us as Gujaratis, Biharis, Punjabis and Bengalis only after having established the basic fact that we’re Indians.

But, leaving aside what others think of us, just how do we think of ourselves? What identity do we relate to most? An automatic, unthinking answer would be to say “As Indians” and until a few years ago, one would have accepted that without question. Now, one is not so sure. The notion that we’re Indians is still there, of course.

But our netas — who regularly trumpet their love for Bharat mata, and talk about desh seva and other noble sentiments — are increasingly looking elsewhere for new definitions. Some have done so openly; they have sought their primary identity in smaller areas of the country, and in communities which to them are more important than the larger, more nebulous, community of Indians.

Subash Ghising repeatedly proclaims himself a Gorkha, and is striving to get this identity for his fellow Gorkhas; Ajit Jogi, having for several years hung around the Congress, has suddenly discovered himself as a tribal, a Chhattisgarhi, and brazenly seeks to establish this at the cost of one of the key industries in what is now his state; the Pattali Makkal Katchi leader, S. Ramadoss, has made it amply clear what he considers his identity to be: to him his community, the Vanniyars, the shared identity of those he considers his brethren in Jaffna and in Tamil Nadu, is more important than being Indian, an identity he clearly has no time for.

These are among the more open ones; but beyond them are the others, who profess themselves Indians first and furtively seek other identities in secret conclaves, in the quiet instigation of hatred and communal violence, not just between Hindus and Muslims, but between other communities as well. There are those who look to their castes and, whatever they may say, sharpen their identities and that of others of the same caste in those terms — as Yadavs, as Jats, as Vokkaligas, Lingayats and the rest.

These are not just political ploys, manoeuvres to gain political power, having acquired which they will suddenly shed these identities and stand forth as patriotic Indians, who are humble servants of the nation. In politics, as in everything else, there are no free lunches. What these power-brokers will realize, as some have already done, is that one has to pay for the identity one seeks, whatever the cost.

It is in this context that one is not very confident when asserting a common identity. Events generated by those salivating for power have begun, in some cases, to go out of control. It wasn’t easy in the best of times. How many people from the northeastern states have been stared at, jeered at for their looks by the riffraff who pride themselves on being sevaks of Bharat mata? One has only to ask the students from Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya in Delhi University or in Calcutta to find out. The answer will not be pleasant to hear. The effort, it seems, must be for them — the people from the Northeast — to integrate; the coarse, parasitic inhabitants of the cow-belt and elsewhere have no role to play.

But now all this has come home to roost. As the earlier common identity of being Indian begins to fray at the edges, the identity itself is being looked on with anger, with contempt, with indifference. And no one seems to be bothered. Power-brokers continue their suicidal efforts to build power bases on caste and community lines; and the worst aspect of this is that some of these have now become part of the ruling coalition. What notion of India do they have? Of a common Indian good?

The number among the rulers and would-be rulers, who look on the country as of prime importance, is getting fewer and fewer. Perhaps the seeds of the present decay in our identity as Indians started with the carving out of linguistic states, something many wise statesmen of the time counselled urgently against. But it has been done, and turning the clock back is virtually impossible, because it is from that one act that the notion of other identities being possible, of power stemming from being a member of a particular caste, rather than being an Indian, began to grow. The descent into the chaos of caste, community, separatist violence and petty regional considerations is, today, not as far away as one thinks.

What appears to be a viable, integrated country could fall apart if the trends now working like viruses in the body politic grow unchecked. A far cry from that dreamer on an old cycle, who dreamt of himself as a citizen of the world, to whom these issues obviously meant nothing! An endearing, comic character, festooned with flags, with an identity which was amusing, but one that keeps coming back, as the darkness of the newer, destructive identities begins to grow, and the notion of the country looks more and more ragged, even out of date.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ BUTCHERED GLORY 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
SAVING WILD TIGERS: 1900-2000 THE ESSENTIAL WRITINGS
Edited by Valmik Thapar,
Permanent Black, Rs 295

The dawn of a new century is a good time to look back on battles to save the tiger. All the more so, because the last hundred years saw the most serious threats to their existence as a free-living species in the wild. For much of the time, killing it or wiping out its forest home is what people became alarmingly proficient at. But a sea change in attitudes to the world of nature found expression in the struggles to protect and preserve it.

From an animal to be reviled and hunted down, the tiger was transformed into a symbol of hope of a new compact with nature. Valmik Thapar’s collection is a tribute to the men and women whose efforts may yet turn the tide. In putting together a selection of the best works on the subject, he offers insights to readers who would be hard put to search for the original writings.

Pax Britannica was a watershed in the history of the Panthera tigris, not only in India but in other parts of Asia as well. Ditto for the Dutch in Indonesia and the French in Indochina. The use of new firearms pushed back the frontiers of the jungle, but there were voices of dissent. As the tiger became a rare sight across much of its former range, it won new admirers and defenders.

Two remarkable naturalists saw eye to eye when it came to the tiger. One was Jim Corbett who called the tiger “a large-hearted gentleman”; an adage which readers of his man-eater hunt would do well to recall. The other was the even more remarkable, if still unsung, forest officer, F.W. Champion, a pioneer of wild animal photography. The editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, Stanley Jepson, himself no mean big game shot, also became an advocate of conservation.

Such penitent butchers, for that is what they were, could only achieve so much at a time when it was a mark of manly valour to bag as many tigers as one could. In independent India, the tea planter, Edward Pritchard Gee, accomplished more. His book, The Wildlife of India, published in 1964, attempted for the first time to put a number on how many tigers still survived in the wild. Before the decade was out, the legendary biologist, George Schaller, offered new insights on the tiger as predator in the Kanha Park, central India. Hunting anecdotes and shikar stories made for the serious business of observing, recording and studying nature.

As things turned out, such studies were the forerunner to the great contest to protect the tiger in its natural habitat. Thapar’s collection is at its strongest on this score. India’s leading role in mobilizing support for an end to the skin trade and the launch of Project Tiger in the early Seventies have pride of place in the collection. So too does the onset of a serious crisis two decades on, as economic pressures and conflicts with local people raise doubts about the future.

The tiger is, of course, not an exclusively south Asian animal. A fine account of the extinction of the Bali and Javan tigers of Indonesia by John Seidensticker is a grim reminder of its fate elsewhere. In war-ravaged Indochina, the species is threatened due to the loss of habitat and over-hunting of its prey. Specially funded programmes have enabled a partial recovery in parts of Russia, where the collapse of the Soviet Union had unleashed largescale havoc.

The volume would have gained enormously had some of the accounts been edited and shortened. Further, the gaps in the story are glaring; in particular, the record from China which has seen a major attrition of habitats and numbers. Also, the Soviet Union, a failure on so many fronts, actually anticipated many Indian debates and strategies of tiger conservation by more than twenty years, a fact that finds no mention in the book. The result is a rather skewed account in which virtually all the pieces are by Europeans and Indians, with a few Americans.

If the tiger is to survive, we need to know a lot more about debates elsewhere in Asia. This cannot exclude countries where it has vanished or has almost disappeared like Iran and China. And it should take aboard those that see captive breeding as the key tool as opposed to protection in and with its natural habitat. These can then be set against the experiences of countries in south Asia like Nepal, Bhutan and India.

These caveats should not deter the reader. The fact is that this is an invaluable addition to the shelf, and all the more so because the editor has gone out of his way to publish superb black and white pictures of most authors taken in the field. The bibliography at the end should also whet the appetite.

At a time when so much seems under threat, a perusal of past debates can surely be an eye-opener. The younger generation in particular will enjoy this book. It celebrates a genre of writing distinct from that of the shikar tales of yore. The central theme is the work being done towards enabling the coexistence of the tiger and people. Paradoxical as it may sound, this may require their separation in certain select tracts to minimize conflicts for living space. Two leading Indian wildlife biologists, Ullas Karanth and Raghunandan Chundawat, drive this point home forcefully.

The road ahead will require intelligent choices, but at least we have the insights generated by field level studies. Permanent Black has done a fine job in publishing this collection, and one hopes it gains the wide audience it richly deserves. Better to light a candle for the tiger than curse the darkness that threatens to snuff it out of existence.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ INTO THE GREAT WIDE HILLS 
 
 
BY ARNAB BHATTACHARYA
 
 
GARUDA AND WINGED HORSES: A JOURNEY THROUGH SIKKIM
By Somnath Guha,
Srishti, Rs 145

The roving eye of the camera has already ensured that there will no longer be any uncharted territory on earth. Today’s globetrotter hardly needs to venture out of his drawing room to visit places. With the explosion of channels on satellite television even children have become increasingly accustomed to what can be called techno-travelling. The omniscient camera, potentially more equipped to capture more details than the human eye, is also devoid of any sentimentality and naivete.

But Somnath Guha’s book, Garuda and Winged Horses, may also stake a claim to readership simply on this score. To the inhabitants of the plains, the hills primarily stand for adventure and scenic beauty. Guha’s book contains a fair share of all this and more. First, it gives a vivid description of the political turmoil in Sikkim which started in the days of the raj and culminated in the anti-monarchy agitation of 1973, leading up to the signing of the historic May 8 agreement with India.

Second, there is embedded in the text an ethnographic narrative highlighting the salient features of the dominant religion and some community festivals in Sikkim. Guha also comes up with effective and sensitive character sketches. These touch on numerous chords of human emotion.

Moreover, the language used in the travelogue, flexible and evocative, appears as if it was especially devised to express the swiftly changing moods associated with a hill journey.

Some specimens can be quoted from Guha’s book to demonstrate these qualities. The adventures of the journey is brought alive in “Highway Hiccups” where Guha records his experiences of trekking towards Gangtok: “At my back were the hills, deep below the ravines. I even ventured to look down. The tyres were precariously right at the edge of the path. A couple of inches away and we would fly into space.”

Another heart-stopping incident which takes place at Djongu is recounted with breathtaking details in “Djongu.com”. Guha almost has his heart in his mouth as he sportingly takes it upon himself to cross a tenuously hanging bridge over a rocky riverbed. His anxiety is palpable in his language: “I looked below and thought the rocks were stretching upwards to gobble me up, as if the trickling stream had suddenly developed into a gigantic whirlpool.”

The beauty of the Sikkim rockscape comes alive in “Two Lakes, One Story” where the author imaginatively explores the scenic qualities of two lake regions in Sikkim. He provides an interesting insight into the fundamental difference between the natural perspectives of these two regions.

Guha’s book presents a colourful pageant of characters. Among them, Ram Chandra Poudyal stands out easily as exceptional. A curious combination of a politician and a sadhu, R.C. Poudyal once became famous in Sikkim for his doomsday pronouncements. At one time an active politician, Poudyal militated against the Chougyal (the monarch of Sikkim) in the early Seventies. During his last meeting with the author, he was engrossed in scriptural studies, waiting for a metaphysical vision. The depiction of his eccentric behaviour is compelling because it is genuine.

In one section, Guha describes a festival called Panglhabsol which has gained the status of a carnival for the Sikkimese. The festival is symbolic of the symbiotic relationship between man and nature and of the annual commemoration of the historic Blood Brotherhood Treaty signed between the Bhutias and the Lepchas who were engaged in many an ethnic strife in the past. Guha’s account in this section is rich in ethnographic details and steeped in perceptive analyses of myths and legends.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ NATURE’S SPOKESMAN 
 
 
BY AMARESH DATTA
 
 
M. KRISHNAN AND INDIAN WILDLIFE
Edited by Ramchandra Guha,
Oxford, Rs 595

M.Krishnan had been, for nearly sixty of the eighty-four years of his life, a sedulous spokesman for nature, capable of using different and effective media to speak for and about it. He painted vivid sketches of birds and animals and their surroundings, wrote picturesque verses on them, photographed them from unusual angles and described the various aspects of wild-life in India in a compelling prose that immediately drew the reader’s attention.

But Krishnan was not merely a naturalist — the range of his interests was both wide and diverse. Apart from writing his notes on the flora and fauna of the country in a scientific manner, he wrote knowledgeably about ancient Tamil literature, cricket, sculpture and architecture, and in general about our national culture.

Poor results at both the BA and MA examinations precluded him from obtaining a secure job. But equipped with a strong zeal for botanical studies, generated and nurtured by his English teacher of Botany at the Madras Presidency College, he worked his way around to a vocation of his own liking.

Eventually, he became his own man, free and able to do things in his own way — a trait which is typical of all his writings. Long before the professional environmentalists appeared on the Indian scene or people became conscious of the worth of ecological studies and conservation, Krishnan had tirelessly written about the abundance in nature and the need for preserving its wealth. He additionally brought into his technical discourse the grace and flexibility of personal essays.

Krishnan wrote with the same aplomb about how the female elephant chooses her mate, on the carved figure of the lion on Asoka’s pillar, on what should be the national animal of India and on love and the effect of the environment on it in ancient Tamil poetry. All this he did with a style of writing which was usually witty, sometimes pungent and always vivid and perspicacious. His literary panache is fascinating.

While writing about ancient Tamil literature he seemed to have discovered in it the earthiness of nature, the spontaneous playfulness of life unrestricted by artificially imposed social conventions and propriety. He quotes a few lines (in translation) from a medieval Tamil poet to bring this idea into focus. When asked by a prospective patron to write a panegyric on him the poet replied:

“How can I, who have sung of the trinity and the three kings sing also of you!/ You who have not even seen/ The red battlefields where war elephants die,/ Nor listened enraptured to the sweet pure strings of Yazh/ Nor have you fondly embraced/ Sweet-voiced, tender-breasted young love,/ And insistent words of poets have never moved you;/ Nothing you know of elegant attire or of good food;/ You neither give nor take.”

The essays taken together appear to be all of a piece, for they reveal a man who was equally amused and thrilled by nature and the relationship between man and nature.

The editor, Ramchandra Guha, has very helpfully provided the background material by way of a perceptive biographical sketch and he has done an admirable job by resurrecting these notes and essays from the piles of old newspapers and magazines and presenting them as a book.

The collection will attract readers for different reasons. On the one hand, because of the description of Indian wildlife and the familiar trees and plants of our world, and, on the other, for the insight that it offers into the scintillating mind, at once many-faceted, behind these writings.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ THE PAST SELDOM RELIES ON THE TRUTH 
 
 
BY K.K. MOHANTY
 
 
SITUATING SOCIAL HISTORY: ORISSA (1800-1997)
By Biswamoy Pati,
Orient Longman, Rs 380

In 1963, Haydn Moore Williams, who taught English literature at Jadavpur University, published an anthology of English verse. He named it Six Ages of English Poetry. The book opened with the “Age of Wonder”, and was lucidly sustained through the Ages of Conflict, Satire and Sensibility, Dream and Vision, Change, and the Age of Upheaval.

It may appear a trifle uncommon to compare Biswamoy Pati’s six essays on Orissa’s social history with Willams’s six ages, but one is tempted to try such a comparison precisely because the six divergent aspects of history as researched by the author have an uncanny similarity with the six ages of growth of literature.

In Orissa, there was no attempt till perhaps the Sixties to study history through a social or economic perspective. Historians such as Harekrishna Mahtab, K.C. Panigrahi, N.K. Sahu and others published their works under a plain caption: “History of Orissa”. An attempt to classify history was first made in the Sixties with the publications of Andhar Itihasar Sundar Kahani. The author tried to tell schoolchildren that there were innumerable unknown or little-known facts that form a significant backdrop to history. In the Eighties, Jagannath Patnaik published his Orissa Itihasara Ketoti Romanchakar Kahani. He thought he could enthral his readers by narrating sensational incidents of tyranny and autocratic temper. But then, can one construct history while keeping away from such sensations?

Biswamoy Pati’s book appears particularly interesting for his matter-of-fact reconstruction of a sensational event. The murder of Banamali was certainly a major incident but not many — including the educated and well informed — know much about it. In a scholarly fashion the author interprets the murder as a “collective action” that was the direct offshoot of “popular culture”. Banamali Pati the naib (estate manager) of the zamindar of Balanga was also a pioneer of Orissa’s theatre. He was killed in 1928. Twenty years later, in 1948, M.K. Gandhi was assassinated in a similar manner. This led to a social upheaval. Banamali was not a major figure in Orissa but his murder contains elements of sensation and popular upheaval in Balanga too.

Ten years after this incident, Baji Rout — a ferry boy of Dhenkanal — fell to police bullets. And in the same year, a political agent, Major Bezelgette, fell to mob fury in Ranpur. These were isolated incidents, but what is common to them was the undercurrent of restlessness in pre-independent Orissa. This suppressed anger, which became an unguided missile, played a major role in changing society. This was also the age of sensation and of upheaval.

Baji Rout has been bracketed with Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose of Bengal for his bravery. But did Baji really refuse to ferry a group of policemen who shot him dead in the boat?

The eminent journalist and literateur, Surendra Mohanty, clarifies in his autobiography, Patha O’ Prithivi, that Baji Rout was killed by a stray bullet. If this is true, then Baji’s bravery and its links with social discontent in Dhenkanal become immediately suspect. What remains then is the historian’s imagination.

Apart from the discussion about the “murder” of Banamali, in which the author tries to rediscover the various facets of the social history of Balanga, the other essays on health and medicine in colonial Orissa, literature and society in the 19th and 20th centuries, images in Oriya literature in the Thirties, social history of the Kalahandi famine, and popular memory in Orissa throw useful light on several trend-setting events in the last two centuries. The topics are carefully chosen and the interpretations, though not exhaustive, are indicative of elaborate fieldwork by the author. From a scholarly point of view, this book may get as much response as Mayadhar Mansinha’s Saga of the Land of Jagannath.

The writing of history, by and large, has not been a ponderous exercise in Orissa. Pati’s research is a definite break in this tradition.

   

 
 
EDITOR’S CHOICE/ EVERY INCH A QUEEN 
 
 
 
 
ELIZABETH
By David Starkey,
Vintage, £ 7.99

Elizabeth I was a queen in a man’s world. And for those who believe that lives of kings and queens change the history of peoples, it was the reign of good queen Bess which shaped the destiny of the English people and put England firmly on the path to glory. She has never been short of admirers and many historians believe that she was England’s most powerful ruler. But nobody has investigated the blending of her persona with the politics of her time. David Starkey sets out to do this in this biography and does so with aplomb.

This volume begins in the reign of her father, Henry VIII, and ends in the 1560s when her reign was little more than a decade old. Starkey suggests that this volume’s sub-title should be “Apprenticeship” to be followed by another volume, “Queenship”.

What Starkey brings out and highlights in this volume is the extreme uncertainty that Elizabeth faced as a child and as a young woman. When her father was infatuated with the beauty and sex appeal of her mother, Anne Boleyn, she was the princess and inhetrix of England. When this phase passed and Henry’s interests turned elsewhere, she saw her mother executed, she, herself was disinherited and made a bastard. Her fortune turned when by her father’s will she was nominated successor to the throne. During the reign of her step-sister, Mary, she was an accused traitor on the verge of execution and imprisoned in the Tower. But she was destined to become Queen.

At the heart of Starkey’s riveting account of an extraordinary career is the conflict between two sisters, Mary (Henry’s daughter by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon) and Elizabeth. Mary was 17 years older than Elizabeth and not entirely devoid of affection for her sister. What separated them was religion.

Mary was a devout Catholic. Henry abandoned her mother because the Pope would not sanction the divorce. So Henry broke with the Church of Rome and declared himself a Protestant and the head of the Church of England. This enabled him to marry Anne Boleyn. Mary never forgot that Elizabeth’s mother had been responsible for the plight of her mother and the arrival of Protestantism in England.

Starkey shows that Elizabeth survived Mary’s reign when Protestants were oppressed and some burnt at the stake through her extraordinary intelligence and political acumen. But these qualities were buttressed by the strong education that she received at the hands of a series of unusually gifted tutors, all from St John’s College, Cambridge. She was a cultivated lady and she used her sophistication not only for survival but also to further her own political ends. As a young woman she exuded confidence that she was born to be a queen. Under Mary, who was unpopular because of her pronounced Catholicism, Elizabeth covertly built up her support base and selected for herself a group of trusted counsellors.

Starkey ends this volume with Elizabeth ensconced in the throne and well on the way to putting her unique imprint on English life, especially on foreign policy and on religious issues. Her handling of the bishops, many of whom had not accepted Protestant doctrines and church rituals, showed a certain mastery and flexibility. It is a remarkable book about a remarkable life.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

Mouldy tales with a few blank pages

THE STORY OF NOBLE ROT
(Penguin, Rs 200)
By Uzma Aslam Khan

Uzma Aslam Khan’s The Stort of Noble Rot takes its rather fine title from the mould that rots muscadelle grapes, giving to the wine made from them a special sweetness. Khan’s writing is also consistently fine, placing her book with interesting new Pakistani fiction, like Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke. Khan writes a sparse, yet sensitive, prose and is particularly good with unconventional erotic writing attentive to the woman’s pleasure. The novel narrates the tragedy of economic disparity, focusing on the connected lives of a poor carpenter’s family and the wealthy Masoods in Karachi. Unforgivable on the part of Penguin is a series of blank pages at the beginning of the novel, leaving large chunks of it unprinted. This becomes the most frustrating flaw in a book that is rather engaging.

LONGMAN DICTIONARY OF CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH
(Longman, price not mentioned)

Longman Dictonary of contemporary Engilish is a new edition of an excellent guide to written and spoken English. It comes with a CD-Rom of the full contents of the dictionary and 55,000 spoken pronunciations. The dictionary guarantees wider coverage, easy access and prints frequency graphs of usage. It also distinguishes between “English, British and American” usage.

NEWS AND NEWS SOURCES: A CRITICAL INTRODUCTION
(Sage, £ 17.99)
By Paul Manning

Paul Manning’s News and News Sources: A Critical Introduction is a lucid, well-researched and theoretically wide-ranging guide to the relationship between news media and their sources in contemporary liberal democratic, capitalist societies. In looking at the people and organizations that seek to appear in and shape the news, Manning concentrates on both ends of the power spectrum, the hegemonic as well as the marginalized. Although most of the material is from Britain, Europe and the United States, this is a comprehensive introduction to the sociology of news that will be of help for students of media and communication studies and of politics.

TAO TEH CHING
(Shambhala, Rs 150)
By Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu’s Tao Teh Ching is John C.H. Wu’s translation of this ancient Chinese classic, possibly written by an elder contemporary of Confucius. Confucianism and Taoism complement each other in counterpointing an ethic of action with one of not doing too much. The foreword explains how “every Chinese wears a Confucian cap, a Taoist robe and Buddhist sandals.” In English, the “primal simplicity” of Tao, “the hidden reservoir of all things”, can often sound quite unwittingly and intriguingly funny: “When the world is in possession of the Tao,/ The galloping horses are led to fertilize the fields with their droppings”. There are also such gems of highly assured riddling as “Know the masculine,/ Keep to the feminine,/ And be the Brook of the World.”

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Back to the front

Sir — It’s a comeback worth remembering (“Plenary pride of place to Chanakya”, March 20). The presence of the former prime minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao, at the 81st Congress plenary session in Bangalore, was a welcome surprise. That Rao has found his way back to the centrestage of Congress politics is no mean achievement. The Congress president’s remark that she would henceforth seek Rao’s guidance has already succeeded in reviving the spirits of party delegates and workers alike, who hope that a collaboration between the two may help the Congress regain power. But for that, a little more than this would be required. One thing is for sure — the personal charisma of Rao will not suffice. The Congress will have to come up with nothing short of a miracle if it wants to recapture power at the Centre. This would include a more positive attitude towards economic reforms and a more aggressive stance on disinvestment and other pressing issues — corruption, for instance.
Yours faithfully,
Debalina Roy, via email

After such knowledge

Sir — The Tehelka tapes have decisively exposed the existence of corruption in high places while giving us a rough idea of how defence deals are actually cracked. It is regrettable that the bribery charges involve some of the most important and respected politicians of our country. That even the prime minister’s office has not been spared is an indication of how deep the murk runs.

Politicians have always been known to be corrupt. It is the involvement of top-ranking military officials that is most shocking. It seems that the malaise has permeated throughout the military establishment.

Corruption of any kind is condemnable, especially if it threatens the sovereignty and integrity of the country. Instead of finding scapegoats and hiding behind facile excuses, the government should come clean on all accounts and clean up the administration. The resignation of the defence minister is a step in the right direction and should be followed up with an inquiry into all defence deals. This will set up a healthy precedent for future governments. It will also help the Vajpayee government regain some credibility.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — The Tehelka exposé is not surprising. It is common knowledge that when contracts are awarded by the Central or a state government to a private company, money invariably changes hands. It is unfortunate that corruption has become a way of life in our country and unless the right kind of incentives are offered, no work gets done in most government departments.

It is wellknown that most of the liaison offices are based in New Delhi. This helps the middlemen exercise their influence on different departments of the government in order to get work done. With a lot of cash at their disposal, these men are able to influence politicians and senior diplomats to toe their line. To stop the disease from spreading, the government could, as a first step, ban its employees from acting as consultants after retirement. But more drastic action will be required to cleanse the setup.

Yours faithfully,
A.S. Mehta, via email

Sir — The seriousness of the Tehelka revelations notwithstanding, the fact that the media coup could have been masterminded by the opposition, as alleged by the government itself, cannot be written off. A scandal before the state elections would go a long way in undermining the credibility of the Vajpayee government, while furthering the opposition’s cause at the same time. The reaction of the Congress in particular to the Tehelka episode is quite revealing. The party looks like it is a bit too eager to get back to the political hotseat. And Atal Bihari Vajpayee seems to have made matters worse for himself by persisting with the investigation into the Bofors scandal.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, via email

Sir — The Tehelka tapes have sucked the country into the vortex of one of the greatest scandals since independence. It is time for us to accept the fact that we cannot expect our leaders to turn away from the lure of big money. One can only hope that they would refrain from behaving in a manner that would compromise the security of our country.

Accepting donations for the party is a practice that is prevalent in the West. It is also not particularly unethical. Both the party presidents who have resigned should have been more forthcoming on the issue. In fact, it has often been suggested that political parties should be entitled to donations which correspond to the number of seats it has captured in Parliament. It is however imperative that every government should be accountable to the people.

Yours faithfully,
Nitin Sanghvi, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Candid camera” (March 15), while raising some interesting points, fails to note that unlike P.V. Narasimha Rao and Rajiv Gandhi, Vajpayee does not stand directly implicated by the Tehelka tapes. The manner in which tehelka.com conducted its investigations is rather unusual. The timing of these revelations also raise questions. Why were the tapes released at a time the government was negotiating the Bharat Aluminium Company deal? While the investigators have denied that the tapes were politically motivated, they have also been unable to explain why Priya Ranjan Das Munshi was the only politician from the Congress to be invited to the screening of the tapes.

Yours faithfully,
R.H. Putran, Calcutta

Sir — Corruption involving defence matters is nothing new. When the Chinese attacked India, Indian forces could not move to Bomdilla in Northeast as there were no proper roads, and worse, the special type of jeeps that had been purchased for that purpose were found to be unsuitable. Investigations into the scandal produced nothing concrete. The Bofors investigation has been just as inconclusive. Yet the leader of the opposition has been demanding the resignation of the Vajpayee government even before the matter has been properly investigated.

Yours faithfully,
Amar Lahiri Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir — In the din of the Tehelka revelations, we are forgetting a few facts. First, the finance ministry has not ordered an inquiry into the bank accounts of the Bharatiya Janata Party. No inquiry has has been undertaken to reveal the extent of money lying in the party account of the Samata Party. This despite the fact that its treasurer himself reveals commissions and kickbacks of crores of rupees from defence deals. If the prime minister is honest himself, the least he could do is order the inquiries.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh K. Rathi, via email

False code

Sir — Women have often been blamed for crimes that have been perpetrated against them. However, to state that women are in fact responsible for inciting this violence is going too far (“Dress decoded”, March 13). The truth is that men have often subjugated women while claiming to be protecting their interests. They have even suggested that women endanger their own safety the minute they step out of their homes. But confining women within the four walls has not protected them from violence.

It is often argued that a woman is her worst enemy. Such a viewpoint is both simplistic and prejudicial. Our society indulges men. Men get away with rape, molestation and eveteasing while a woman is held responsible for any crime committed against her.

Yours faithfully,
B. Ghosal, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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