Editorial 1 / Try again
Editorial 2 / Arresting dress
A thing like one of us
Fifth Column / Too vague for dreams of growth
Book Review / Take a look at the leftovers
Book Review / Right blend of anecdote and image
Book Review / The dusk of the cricketing gods
Bookwise / Everybody likes a bad book
Paperback Pickings / Three parties, two religions,one state
Letters to the editor

It was the lift off to triumph that was not to be. The failure of the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle to lift off is a great setback for Indian Space Research Organization as well as for the Indian attempt to get a slice of the satellite launching business. The failure comes at an inopportune time since after Pokhran II, Isro’s research programme has been seriously hampered by the sanctions imposed by the West. Reports say that most of the hardware for the craft, like motor cases, heat shield, engine components and electronic modules, were made in India. A successful launch of the GSLV-D1 built from indigenous resources would have given Isro, and therefore India, a different kind of clout. A successful launch, western experts believe, would have provided India with a platform to test a range of military technologies, including missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Pride in the success of a home-grown product has now been replaced by gloom in its failure. There is more to the aborted lift off from Sriharikota than a military and a technological setback. There are grounds to suspect that more than the boffins in Isro, the accountants there are more upset at the lack of success.

For one thing, the project has cost Rs 1,400 crore over ten years. For another, the failure puts to an end, for some time, expectations of returns on the money that has been invested in the project. India’s recent successes have all been with Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles. These were Isro’s first commercial ventures. But PSLVs allowed India to enter only the lower end of a billion dollar market. The more lucrative part of the business involves heavy satellites in very high orbit. The predominating presence in this market is Arainespace, a French company. If the launch from Sriharikota had been successful yesterday, India could have made a bid to compete in this market. This is not to be in the immediate future. A share in the high end of the market would help fund Isro’s research programmes. It would be prudent, at this stage, to concentrate on PSLVs and to maintain that impeccable record. This will restore credibility of Isro and provide the key to commercial success. There is a tendency in India to see the space research programme always in military and strategic terms. These aspects are not unimportant. But they have to be grounded, in an era of growing competition and declining government resources, on commercial viability. That is why it is paramount that the PSLV success story is not ignored. It is evident that there are some snags in the launching of GSLVs. Until these are removed and the technology mastered, Isro will have to fall back on PSLV and the business it brings. Isro’s success is modest and quiet. It is yet to lift off.


The more tender the religious sentiment, the less the scope for normal freedoms. And that seems to be the hard lesson that the filmstar, Ms Sonali Bendre, who dared to wear a “thigh-length, saffron-coloured dress with Hindu symbols” for the cover photograph of a magazine in 1998, is gradually coming to learn. So far it was paintings, beauty contests, Valentine’s Day celebrations, selected films and television programmes that were the target of the self-appointed cultural police. The vandalism, violence or government writs that they find handy weapons usually have a mishmash of motives behind them. This heady mixture of uplifting impulses contains intoxicants like majority religious sentiment, Indian womanhood, Indian culture, Indian morality and so on. Now the government — and, of course, at its behest the police — will teach the population how to dress. That is rather intriguing in a country where successive governments have failed to clothe large numbers of their people who would like a couple of garments now and then. The charge against Ms Bendre has none of the vagueness of the attacks against films or beauty contests. She, the photographer and the designer of the dress have been naughty enough to deliberately and maliciously hurt the religious sentiments of a particular community. This is a charge under Section 295(A) of the Indian penal code which carries a threat of upto three years’ imprisonment. In other words, this is simple, unalloyed “religious sentiment”, evidently growing more tender with every passing month.

But the lawmakers behind Section 295(A) probably had things like communal riots or incendiary speeches in mind. Harping on the religious sentiments of the majority and the consequent intervention into every sphere of existence have some undesirable results. In this case the results include trivializing of the law and the justice system and an unintended ridiculing of the very religion which is afflicted with such hypersensitivity. It is not clear from the charges whether the colour of and symbols on the dress were the cause of such distress, or whether it was the fact that a filmstar was wearing it on the cover of a magazine, blatantly uninterested in religion, and, last of all, whether the brevity of the dress compounded the sin or was a sin in itself. The whole thing becomes even more confusing when it happens in a land where the flaunting of male natural treasures is permitted, even worshipped, as long as the majority religion sees it as a sign of renunciation under its own umbrella. But religious sentiment abhors logic. And it courts political correctness, often the polite name for pusillanimity. The original charge against Ms Bendre was made under the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party state government. It is being acted upon two years later, when a Congress coalition is in power. Those were the more innocent times when the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was called draconian.


Purely as a business, book publishing is exciting, infuriating and different from every other for two basic reasons. This is, first, because there is no such thing as a “standard” book. The term used to describe a book within the publishing industry is “title”: each book is an individual “title”, as opposed to a standard “product”. This distinction denotes the kinship between the realm of books and the living world of individuated, named, human beings. Equally, it conveys the distance between the realm of books and, for example, the world of indistinguishably churned out factory ware.

Metaphors from gynaecology are common in the profession, suggesting the idea that editors, when they hand over a new book to the author and their sales force, “deliver” it from some maternal womb. The metaphor is extendable: publishers of a decent size actually combine the functions of a maternity ward with those of a large school and an old-age home in which their various wards — their “titles” — are housed and cared for until they retire or die. Even now, in the heyday and grand climax of Kaliyuga, children are sometimes taught to treat books as they might an elderly relative, to be reverential and apologize if, by accident, they drop it or treat it with less than customary respect.

Publishers who remainder or “job-off” titles that have slowed down are usually perceived as insensitive and overly commercial. Although most publishers are now less attentive to these “human” dimensions of the book, expectations within the book world are still akin to those within humane social living. For people who read and buy books, it seems instinctively possible to sell off an old fridge even while treasuring an old, unread, dusty tome.

Could the same respect be accorded to data-storing gadgetry which is sometimes a good substitute for the book — an old PC or a CD-ROM, for example? Not likely; first, because such gadgets belongs to the world of products: a realm riddled with technological wizardry, but free of human mystery and chemistry; second, because producers of PCs and CD-ROMs, by building obsolescence into their products, force us to treat them as dispensable, to buy new versions as quickly as possible, thereby discouraging any human propensity towards the anti-utilitarian value placed upon an age-old affection; and third, because the “idea” of the book has transcended the material shortcomings of individual titles and escaped into something like an aesthetic or transcendent dimension, whereas the PC and the CD-ROM have not.

As an “idea”, the book remains in proximity with the sacred in a way that most inanimate objects do not. Has this something to do with the “feel” of a book, the fact that even non-elite sections within most cultures have been trained for centuries to respond to it in tactile ways, to both possess and be possessed by the book — in contrast with children now, who are not thus trained in relation to PCs and CD-ROMs? Is it to do with the notion that paper and binding are the skin and epidermis within which lurk the matter and soul of a book? There seems no doubt, as poststructuralists would say, of this being a strong case of our predisposition to books having been culturally structured and endowed with a pedigree. Whatever the cultural and psychological complexities, treating things like one of us is easiest done with books. This is the first reason that makes the book business more complex, more human and more unpredictable than every other.

The second business-related distinction between publishing and factory production is that, given the individuality of each title, there is no reliable “standard” forecasting tool available to the profession. Publishers do not deploy professional market surveyors in the way that large businesses generally do; they substitute statistically accurate market surveys with intelligent hunches and “gut feelings” among experienced staff who have developed human antennae to feel the best way forward.

This entails making regular marketing trips to check on the response among wholesellers, distributors, retailers and individual customers to books that they and their competitors have published. While these are in one sense like par-ental forays into a school to check on the wellbeing of existing children, the business purpose is to determine the directions and nature of future progeny as well as to discover what price the market seems willing to pay for some titles but not others. Yet even after years of experience, publishers report that the market’s response to individual titles is more of- ten bafflingly disappointing or pleasantly surprising than predictable. The publishers of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (a work much turned down before being finally accepted) were justifiably dazed by the pessimism of their forecasts: they had not realized that the world was so flush with desire for a wholly incomprehensible book.

The surprises within publishing can have very different reasons as well. Recently, a publisher produced a very fat book on environmental law for which he obtained a subsidy that enabled him to keep the book’s price down to half of what it would otherwise have been pri- ced at. Instead of boosting sales, the lo- wer price has dampened them: booksel- lers do not want such a fat book because it takes up precious, expensive shelf space while yielding a disproportionately low return on account of its low published price. Booksellers, specially in expensive metropolitan town centres, often indirectly pressurize publishers to price books as high as possible, so that sales of even a few copies yield them a decent return on stock investment.

The book-buying individual can often be quite wrong in supposing that a good book will sell better if its price is substantially reduced: this may be true for textbooks, but even there, booksellers invariably want titles to carry an optimally high price rather than a wonderfully low one. And since most English book publishers sell to booksellers rather than direct to individual customers, the prices of their books are strongly influenced by the opinion of these powerful middlemen in the trade.

Sometimes the surprise and uncertainty of publishing can be of quite another kind again, as I once found out to my cost. I was asked to produce a series of Social Studies textbooks for classes III, IV and V from three rather raw-looking typescripts that had been written to a syllabus. My daughter being in one of those classes, I set about trying to edit and re-shape the three scripts into pictorial books that I believed she would like. When published, these books looked nice and were full of elegant English, but very few schools prescribed them. Sales colleagues told me sarcastically that my texts were “too good” for Indian schools. “Go back to Yookay and get them prescribed there”, said a Bengali colleague, “For our country kindly prepare bad books we can sell.” He jocularly added, with unintended phonetic aptness, that my textbooks were “strictly for the bards”.

Detailed discussions between schoolteachers, editorial colleagues and sales staff followed. I was asked to buckle down and prepare textbooks that were less imaginative, less pictorial, “more factual”, and desirably inelegant. This done, these “bad folio” versions were test-marketed in influential schools. The results were encouraging: the schools had wanted more rote material, more fill-in-the blanks, more question-answer formats, and now they liked what they saw. I was quickly put in my place by being asked to handle higher academics where my messing around would seem less unamusing to sales colleagues. My boss said that editors, unlike water, had to be pushed into finding their own level.

At that moment I wished I worked in the simpler, less human, less unpredictable world of refrigerators, personal computers and factory products.


On Republic Day, 2001, Atal Bihari Vajpayee revealed that the government of India had set a 10-year target to attain zero-unemployment. According to official estimates, 10 million jobs have to be created annually to achieve this goal. But Yashwant Sinha’s budget proposals do not encourage the creation of new jobs on a large scale.

Although the Economic Survey for 2000-2001 claims India to be “one of the fastest growing economies of the world”, the stagnation in agriculture, slowdown in industrial production, lack of demand for capital goods, bleak investment outlook and severe infrastructural deficiencies indicate otherwise. The budget for 20001-02 contains some initiatives for stimulating savings and investment and for export promotion and import substitution. But there is nothing in the budget to generate employment either in the urban or the rural areas. It is naive to think that the existing industries will be able to achieve a substantial increase in production and implement schemes of expansion, modernization and diversification as a result of the latest fiscal incentives and concessions.

Hard job

Sinha has failed to announce a long-term fiscal policy. Speaking of the Union budget for 1958-59, N.A. Palkhivala said: “The Income Tax Act is like a railway ticket — good only for one journey, from the first of April of one year till the 31st of March of the next, and sometimes not even for the whole of that journey.” This situation persists even now.

In this context, it is interesting to note that during the presidency of Bill Clinton, the generation of productive employment got a tremendous boost. As the United States government has pointed out, “The economy has created more than 22.5 million jobs in less than eight years — more than what was created in the previous 12 years. Of the total new jobs, 20.7 million or 92 per cent is in the private sector.”

The small scale sector in India has a vast potential for generating regular and remunerative employment. But successive Central governments have failed to tackle its problems, especially relating to the flow of adequate and timely credit. Sickness continues to plague it. Further liberalization of imports will cripple them.

Sinha’s budget has also failed to provide effective incentives to encourage exports. In many developed countries, export oriented industries offer more jobs at higher wages than those which cater mainly to the domestic market. In the US, jobs supported by the countries’ exports grew by 1.4 million between 1994 and 1998, paying about 13 to 16 per cent above the national average. But employment cannot be generated on a massive scale in isolation.

Annual mirage

Sinha has promised to introduce appropriate legislation to reform the power sector. Such attempts have been made in the past on several occasions both at the Central and the state levels. But acute power shortage continues. Only 19,000 megawatts could be added during the eighth plan against a target of 30,000 MW, and in the ninth plan, an addition of 24,309 MW is expected to be generated against a target of 40,245 MW. Electricity shortages will double in the next decade if the current trend continues. Under these circumstances, is it realistic to expect jobs to be created on a massive scale?

The proposed amendment to the Industrial Disputes Act to facilitate the retrenchment of workers is another grey area in the budget. The trade unions have expressed concern at the prospect of unemployment being aggravated. The scene before the educated unemployed looks grim. The scope for new jobs in government offices is going to be restricted owing to many constraints and because of the increasing competition from imports.

The Economic Survey calls for urgent reform of the educational system. The problem of reforming the educational system has been engaging the attention of the Central and state governments ever since independence. But little progress has been made, primarily due to constant political interference in appointment and promotion of teachers. So, in the education sector too, there are few avenues for employment generation.

The authorities do not seem to realize that if people remain unemployed for too long, they will become unemployable.


By Khurhseed Jahan and Mosharaff Hossain,
University of Dhaka, Price not mentioned

The Indian subcontinent and sub-Saharan Africa between them have the unenviable distinction of being home to about 75 per cent of the world’s population who suffer from endemic hunger. Here, within the subcontinent, it is difficult to draw a line between many of the eastern states in India and Bangladesh. The causes of hunger are almost identical. The degree of its intensity is sometimes different.

This study which is third in the series on the subject by the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science — the first was published in 1975-76, the second in 1981-82 — is a valuable addition to the growing, and often contradictory, corpus of data on food, poverty, hunger and malnutrition in the subcontinent. The first two studies had covered only rural Bangladesh. This study includes the urban areas.

Nutrition, rather than food (or poverty or hunger for that matter), is the primary focus of this study. The distinction is important. Although food and nutrition are often used synonymously, nutrition covers a much wider area. The researchers have chosen to study malnutrition —“insufficient, imperfect or faulty nutrition”— rather than mere calorie intake, which is the subject matter of most of the studies on poverty or hunger. The study is path-breaking on this score. Not only do the data inform one of the Bangladesh scenario, but it also illuminates the Indian situation, which could help Indian policy-makers.

The pattern of nutrient intake has been directly measured. Sex, age, rural-urban and seasonal classifications have been given though data on the socio-economic sphere is presented with some reservation.

The study is not, strictly speaking, on poverty —“indigence, want, scarcity, deficiency or poorness”— nor, although implied, on hunger —“exhausted condition caused by want of food, craving for food, need or lack of food”. Both are related to income, acquirement and entitlement bundles on which the study has not produced much usable data.

In terms of nutrient intake, the main findings of the 1998 study are that there has been an absolute decline, between 1962-64 and 1995-96, in the quantity of per capita intake in rural Bangladesh.This was evident in all items of consumption studied — calorie, protein, fat, carbohydrate, calcium, vitamin A and C, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. The sole exception was iron and consumption in Dhaka city. Gender discrimination in consumption, even of milk for pregnant and lactating women, both in absolute terms and as a trend since 1975-76, has remained substantial.

The current study has done pioneering work on age and sex-wise energy (in terms of basal metabolic rate and physical activity level), protein, mineral and vitamin requirements. However, the adult occupational grouping will raise controversy. Although this will allow for estimating the nutrient requirement of some Bangladesh-specific occupations, it lacks robustness in that this has to be once again superimposed on accepted categories of occupations such as rural non-farm labour.

A few observations on the methodology of the survey. Random sampling without quotas for targeted occupational groups on a sample size of 1,245 households is perhaps too small for the purpose of a global estimate for Bangladesh. First, if the research design were different and the sample size the same, would the survey results have been different?

Second, the survey does present data on access to resources and expenditure. Given that it is expenditure, rather than income which matters while studying malnutrition, it is not clear how either income or expenditure data was obtained. What was the recall period? How was expenditure calculated across the four regions? These questions need to be answered in Bangladesh as well as in India.


By Sujoy Gupta,
Tata McGraw-Hill, Rs 1,295

It is amazing, but true, that it has taken well over 150 years for the first truly authentic book to be written on Assam tea. Assam’s first tea plantations sprouted in the 1840s and after over a century of tumultous ups and downs, Assam tea came to hold its own in the global tea market only in the second half of the 20th century.

To a great extent, the story of the rise of Assam tea, globally, is also the story of the consistent efforts of the Williamson Magor group since the Sixties to maximize the quality of its produce, which is considered par excellence in tea markets in India and abroad. With over 60 gardens in Assam, the Williamson Magor group is the natural leader in Assam’s tea plantations sector and corporate writer and historian, Sujoy Gupta, has done well to weave his story on Assam tea around the pioneering husbandry and manufacturing initiatives of this group.

Happily for connoisseurs of tea, the author has done a superb job. He not only tells the tale accurately and well, but also gives the reader page after page of lavish and magnificent illustrations. The photographs for this book are truly impressive and were exclusively shot by Vivek Das.

After tracing the early history of Assam tea — including a recapitulatiion of the selfish, imperialist role played in Assam by the British in the 19th century — the author goes on to describe with great accuracy the individual steps that have to be taken to manufacture quality Assam tea.

Prima facie, the steps sound very unromantic and extremely boring for those not in the tea industry: withering, rolling, fermentation, drying, sorting, grading and so on. Yet this is precisely where the author wields his magic pen to create chapters where the stupendous human effort in paying attention to details comes alive.

Interspersed in the narrative are anecdotes and real-life incidents that depict the hard life that Assam planters have always had to face. We all know that the best teas are made in the field. These planters, up at the crack of dawn, have braved the weather and other elements to ensure that their teas retain the number one position.

In a spontaneous gesture that acknowledges these planters’ collective contribution to the supremacy of Assam tea, the author has aptly chosen to dedicate this book to “the indomitable spirit of tea planters in Assam”.

This book is very accurately researched. As a veteran tea hand myself, I can only say that I was thrilled to see a book like this. The process of learning about tea never ends and I must confess, it has taught me a lot.

Assam tea is a product that has done India proud worldwide; the product is keenly sought after in our country as well. This book, in turn, does Assam tea proud. And does so powerfully, gracefully and accurately — almost like a Tendulkar cover drive!


By G. Rajaraman,
Har-Anand, Rs 95

Meticulously researched and well documented, G. Rajaraman’s maiden book provides a comprehensive account of the genesis of match-fixing and how it threatened to erode the image of cricket and cricketers.

Fittingly, the book starts with a chapter on how the match-fixing scandal erupted. Inspector Ishwar Singh in the R.K. Puram police station in south Delhi was doing a routine job, listening to all the telephone calls following extortion threats to a businessman. He became suspicious when he heard the London-based Indian businessman, Sanjeev Chawla, speaking to the South African cricket captain, Hansie Cronje. The South Africans were touring India at that time. Singh sensed that such a liason was fishy and secured the permission of his superiors to tap the calls made to a cellular phone that Chawla had given Cronje.

The opening chapter talks about how the Delhi police recorded enough evidence to make cricket officials realize that match-fixing was indeed a reality. The frenzy of March-April 2000, the investigations launched in both South Africa and India, the allegations made by I.S. Bindra, the Manoj Prabhakar exposure and the insinuations made by umpires are presented in a racy style.

The book also focuses on the cricketers involved and the findings of the investigation committees. The author describes in great detail the fate of cricketers like Cronje and Mohammed Azharuddin who have been banned for life.

The highlight of Rajaraman’s book is that it provides a historical perspective to match-fixing. Using facts adeptly, he shows that betting and bribery existed from the days of W.G. Grace in the 19th century. The author who is the editor of cricketnext.com has done painstaking research to show that in India the earliest attempt to bribe a batsman into throwing away his wicket was made in 1935, in the final of the Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup at Hyderabad. Lala Amarnath was offered Rs 10,000 to ensure that he did not perform in the final against the Freelooters. Playing for the Retrievers, Amarnath did not oblige and instead made an unbeaten century despite some hostile bowling by the West Indian legend, Learie Constantine.

Another fascinating chapter is that which traces the motivations for highly paid cricketers to indulge in match-fixing. He feels that high ethical standards should not be expected of a sport which has become commercialized. Rajaraman who hails from Hyderabad examines the rise and fall of Azharuddin in detail.

Finally, the book reveals how the apathy of cricket administrators, like the Board of Control for Cricket in India, enabled this malaise to grow. The postscript and the three appendices provide detailed documents about the Central Bureau of Investigation report, the Kings Commission findings and the International Cricket Council inquiries into and the penalties for match-fixing and gambling.



The World Trade Organization provisions have always been there for the book trade. Books have always been freely imported, there have been no quota restrictions (except for a brief period in the late Seventies and the early Eighties) and very little policing of what comes in, or goes out. Moreover, the import of books has not affected the fortunes of the Indian book trade or hampered the growth of indigenous book publishing. On the contrary, imported books have made a contribution to overhead costs and provided ideas to Indian authors.

Yet for all the openness, the editorial quality of books remains abysmally poor. Despite the increase in numbers, export sales of finished books that have originated in India have been very poor. In the domestic market too, the sales of good books do not exceed, with a few exceptions, more than 1,000 copies over two years or so. Of course, standards of physical production — paper, printing and binding — have improved with computerization, but the content — language, style and subject-matter — still remains the same. Declining educational standards have led to a decline in publishing.

But this in itself is not enough to explain why bad books have driven good books into hiding. At least part of the answer is to be found in the small local publisher who churns out what is described as “bazaar notes.” These notes are a lot worse than “quickies” or guide books and often take the form of questions and answers.

The question is how have these notes replaced the guides that had gained some legitimacy over time? It is here that the local publisher comes in. He takes care of the two crucial elements of successful publishing: the choice of the author and the market. The author has to have clout in his “constituency”while the market is “taken care of”by the publisher. The latter takes care of the interests of teachers, booksellers, and news agents. He is more interested in the local area networks because they are within his reach and influence.

The rest is easy because in a single proprietary ownership he can play around with the three factors that make for successful marketing and sales: trade discounts, credit terms and whether unsold copies could be returned. To teachers who could recommend the book or government officials who could arrange for copies to be purchased in bulk, proper “ incentives” are provided. The big publishers who operate on an all-India level like Oxford University Press, Macmillan, Orient Longman, McGraw Hill and some others have no such latitude to play around with discounts, credits and “returns”: their terms are fixed, take it or leave it.

But is the market big enough to support the local publisher? If “small town” is defined as the district town, it will have schools, an undergraduate college or two and in some cases a university as well. This is a big enough market, especially if the local publisher has captured it. It is important to remember that he is only looking for a firm sale of a few thousand copies. What happens in the process is that the all-India publisher who relied on quality to sell his book is edged out of the mass market. It is Gresham’s law applied to the literary scene: bad books driving out the good.


By Salil Misra
(Sage, Rs 295)

Salil Misra’s A Narrative of Communal Politics: Uttar Pradesh, 1937-39 is an account of how different political forces in Uttar Pradesh — the Congress, the Muslim League, the landlords and the HIndu Mahasabha — responded to the new political context created by the Government of India Act of 1935. This act not only reinforced the phenomenon of separate electorates on the basis of religion, but also led to a dramatic change in the nature of sectarianism in the Indian subcontinent.

This is a vivd narrative of ideologies, strategies and various forms of leadership based on confidential government documents, party papers and a wide range of newspapers.


By Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson
(Rupa, Rs 150)

Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson’s Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-minded Man is the paperback edition of a mid-Nineties biography of the poet, the writing of which was “extremely stimulating and utterly draining”. Dutta and Robinson have had the assistance and inspiration of no less than Satyajit Ray, Nirac C. Chaudhuri, Amartya Sen and the historian, E.P. Thompson. It is dedicated, rather dauntingly, to “the Best of Bengal”. The authors describe it as an “ambivalent book”, in relation to both the Western neglect and the Bengali worship of Tagore. There is also Tagore’s own ambivalence, “obliged to defend Indian spirituality when abroad, and the spirit of the West when in India”. This is a scrupulously researched and readable attempt to depict a figure who is “found everywhere in Bengali life — and yet...is lost.”


(Foundation for Research in Community Health, Rs 250)

N.H. Antia, G.P. Dutta and A.B. Kasbekar’s Health And Medical Care: a people’s movement is an attempt to elaborate a concept of community-based healthcare as an alternative to the WHO vision of “Health for All by 2000” as formulated at the 1978 Alma Ata convention. It advocates an integrated form of health and medical care ranging from lifestyle management, diet, folk and herbal remedies by using the most relevant aspects of all available indigenous and allopathic practices. The smallest village of 200 people will be the heart of this sytem. The referral mechanism will be decentralized, graded and supportive, with improved communication and transport. The administrative and financial control of this structure will be vested in the panchayat, and not in a distant state bureaucracy. The writing, based on grassroots-level experience, is lucid, and the entire scheme is presented to the last detail. Breaking down the distinctions between medicine and public health, this system would put equal emphasis on education, nutrition, water, sanitation and environment. This is also an attempt to use the movement towards local self-government in implementing some of the recommendations of the 1981 joint panel of the Indian councils of the social sciences and medical research.


By John Howley
(Spiritual Guides, price not mentioned)

John Howley’s India looks like a fairly reliable and informative guide, for the spiritually restive traveller, to the various forms of stimulation and solace that India could provide. The descriptions and the occasional short exegeses of Indian religious thought are shoddily written and are often very funny. Although Islam, Christianity and Buddhism are mentioned, the slant is distinctly Hindu. The “practical” sections of this book could be useful, although here too the language could turn out to be rather disquietingly mystical: “Nothing stays the same. Places change and close, a good place can become bad or raise their prices (sic), and phone numbers or addresses change.” Here is another Indian epiphany: “See yourself watching a cow in the middle of a busy city street while everyone goes politely around it without beeping their horns.”


By Krishna Datta
(Srishti, Rs 295)

Krishna Datta’s Walking from the gallows is a saga spanning four generations of a Bengali family, the Duttas. The impressive resilience of this family is frequently shown in its members walking across vast stretches of turbulent land from Punjab to East Bengal, and from Burma to India. The historical backdrop is imperialism and nationalism, the cast of characters extensive and fairly absorbing. The “family pride” element, though pushing the narrative forward, could get somewhat tiresome. Datta has had a longish career in English and Bengali fiction, but her writing remains rudimentary in this book.



What’s the message?

Sir — Only days after Atal Bihari Vajpayee had the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sarsanghchalak, K.S. Sudarshan, gunning for his government, he has another saffronite taking potshots at his tottering regime (“Govindacharya blasts govt on reforms”, March 27). K.N. Govindacharya’s case is however a little different. Unlike Sudarshan, who could force the government to a rethink, Govindacharya, who has been languishing on the fringes of the sangh parivar for quite some time now, can hardly make himself heard. His desperation must be obvious from the vehemence with which he has posted his open letter — to the party, to the academia and above all, to the media. Which is another reason the contents of his letter become suspect. The “blind alley of indiscriminate liberalization” is probably not what the words are actually screaming against. The message is quite obviously more subtle. That a deposed general secretary can be no less a troublemaker than the RSS chief. But has the missive reached the right place?
Yours faithfully,
G. Sen, Calcutta

Arms and the men

Sir — Tehelka’s recent exposure of the inherent greed of various ministers and bureaucrats seemed like old wine in new bottle. But what was truly appalling was the direct involvement of several high-ranking defence officials in the scandal. The names of Brigadier Anil Sehgal, Brigadier Iqbal Singh, Major General M.S. Ahluwalia, Major General S.P. Murgai and Major General P.S.K. Choudary at the heart of the scandal goes on to show how misplaced the confidence of the Indian populace is in the guardians of their national security.

That these men could accept money and five-star hospitality without remorse, talk about defence deals concerning national security with people “posing” as arms dealers who could well have turned out to be spies of our western or northern neighbours, render them completely unworthy of the distinction that is bestowed on them. Is this the objective which hundreds of hopefuls trying their best to get admitted into the National Defence Academy or the Indian Military Academy every year strive to achieve? Are these the same men for whom the nation donated millions after the recent Kargil war?

Yours faithfully,
Soumitree Ghose, Calcutta

Sir — Gunning for the defence minister, a civilian in kurta and pyjamas, and packing him off is one thing but making uniformed men of the defence services, some high ranking officers among them, with their rows of ribbons in full view, go through the ordeal of facing an inquiry and possibly court martial proceedings on charges of corruption is an entirely different ball game.

It is indeed a matter of deep sorrow and even humiliation for the entire nation as these men in uniform, regardless of their innocence or guilt, might have earned their medals after fighting bravely in theatres of war, for which the country has to be eternally grateful to them.

The Bofors scandal was confined to politicians in power, a subservient bureaucracy and a few brokers representing foreign suppliers but, mercifully, no man in uniform was arraigned. The journalists of tehelka.com may gloat that they have done their job as a vigilant media would in a democracy, but this too has its own downside. Exposing the venality and corruption of politicians and others in the civilian hierarchy is routinely acceptable to the public as, in its cynicism, it has come to view all civilian establishments, with the honourable exception of the higher judiciary, as heavily polluted, corrupted and diluted.

But the Indian public, in its patriotic zeal, has generally viewed the armed forces as a sacred entity entirely different from the rest of the crowd, with its own built-in discipline, code of honour and a hoary tradition, some of it inherited from the British. It will be a grievous mistake for the nation to allow this image of selfless service and sacrifice assiduously built by this great institution to be sullied by this one tehelka.com incident. If the hallowed institution of the armed forces is allowed to go the way of the rest of the civilian services, it will be disastrous for the country.

It is time that all concerned, whether in politics, bureaucracy and the armed forces rose as one man to defend the honour of our fighting forces by restoring to it the prestige which rightly belongs to it.

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Durham, US

Sir — Tehelka.com has seemingly trapped key men in the army through their camera. One thing that should be borne in mind is that the bribe was offered, not demanded. The basic problem in arms dealings that the Tehelka exposure has revealed is a longstanding one. The National Democratic Alliance did not create it. However, this government and subsequent ones have to see that middlemen are strictly kept out of arms transactions.

Yours faithfully
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — Scandals involving the armed forces seem to surface with monotonous regularity. While Indians know that all politicians are corrupt unless proved otherwise, the involvement of men in uniform leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It is perhaps time to take a more pragmatic and objective view at the functioning of the forces.

The armed forces love to remain behind a veil of secrecy. Even our prime minister pleaded for the keeping of defence deals beyond the scrutiny of the fourth estate.

However, the purdah seems to have done more harm than good. The inefficiency of the armed forces has become public on several occasions — the counter-insurgency operations in particular. The failure to limit the Kargil casualties was another indicator.

Defence operations should be made more public. The defence ministry should be done away with and its affairs looked into by the ministry of external affairs since defence preparedness is essentially an extension of our foreign policy.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Howrah

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “Your George for my George” (March 27) was both hypothetical and vague. The connection drawn between the serving prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Bofors scandal on grounds of the present prime minister being the foreign minister in 1987 and his support for a particular candidate whose name (conveniently omitted in the article) started with the letter “N”, is absurd.

Moreover, Aiyar’s usage of terms such as “defence equipment pimp” and “caterpillars of commonwealth” sound nonsensical.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Ghosh, Calcutta

Space for Mir

Sir — The triumphant mission of Mir evokes both joy and sadness (“Mir’s final plunge to the fiery oblivion”, March 23). Mir was launched on February 20, 1986 only for a period of three years, but it flew around the earth for 15 years and more. It is indeed the Don Bradman among space stations. For Mir, 16,500 experiments were conducted, 600 industrial technologies created and the station was occupied almost continuously by more than 100 visitors from 12 countries.

Mir is an example of one of the many successful operations conducted by the Russians. The precision with which the whole episode was carried out will remain a momentous episode in space history. Mir served triple the time it was scheduled for. How much good would be served if the peace policies of the world could be extended in a similar manner! Shelley’s “golden millennium” might never become a reality in the present world but Mir should be always remembered for its endurance.

Yours faithfully
Sayantoni Das, via email

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