Editorial 1/ Promises to Keep
Editorial 2/ Almost through
That dreadful state
Book Review/ Who art forgotten
Book Review/ A time to kill
Book Review/ Simple scripts for diverse subjects
Book Review/ Matter of politics and metaphors
Book wise/ Some still take things seriously
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ PROMISES TO KEEP 
 
 
 
 
A manifesto is a text announcing intent. Circumstances and compulsions can come between the translation of intent into praxis. This does not reduce the importance of a manifesto. It stands by itself as a statement of vision. The manifesto of the Trinamool Congress which was released on Wednesday is significant because, in a real sense, it is the party’s first pronouncement about what it wants to do in West Bengal if it were to come to power in the state. Its previous election manifesto in 1999 addressed the Lok Sabha polls and was to a large extent concerned with carving out its own identity as a political party which had broken away from the Congress. The manifesto for the assembly polls in May has to it a greater urgency. The stakes are higher, the enemy real and substantial. Inevitably, the presence of the Left Front and its long innings in power have a defining influence on the blueprint that the Trinamool Congress has put up on the drawing board. The Trinamool Congress’s identity is inextricably linked to its relentless opposition to the policies of the Left Front. There is one special area where the Trinamool Congress has clearly demarcated its own policies from those pursued by the Left Front. This is the sphere of education, where the left has done terrible damage. The Trinamool Congress wants to introduce English from Class I and to free education from any kind of political interference. The manifesto has not gone far enough to call for a withdrawal of the state from the sphere of education, but a desire to remove political interference is an indicator of the respect for the autonomy of educational institutions.

The emphasis on English fits well with some of the other important aspects of the manifesto. It is clear that the Trinamool Congress is eager to devote its energies to promote investments, industries and information technology. The success of such projects is, to an extent, dependent on familiarity with global trends and developments. English provides access to the world. But the more important factor in the success will be mobilization of resources. Here, the manifesto aims at wooing non-resident Indians. There is the hope, not clearly spelt out, that Mr Purnendu Chatterjee, one of the investors in Haldia Petrochemicals, will have many emulators. There is a touch of naivety in such a hope. For one thing, not too many non-resident Indians have at their disposal the kind of funds that Mr Chatterjee manages. For another, investment, with the singular exception of China, is not driven by appeals to ethnicity. Investment runs after profits, not emotions. It is significant that foreign direct investment in India is now declining. The Trinamool Congress would have been better off trying to attract domestic capital to West Bengal.

The keenness for investment articulated in the manifesto is offset by the enthusiasm exhibited towards public sector undertakings and the promise not to promulgate any anti-labour steps. The manifesto is tellingly silent on the sick industrial units. Any aware reader of the manifesto will not fail to relate these aspects of it to the policies pursued by Ms Mamata Banerjee, the numero uno of the Trinamool Congress, during her stint as minister for railways. There exists in Ms Banerjee’s outlook a predominant streak of populism which sits uneasily with the dream to put West Bengal on the global economic map. Many will agree that it is time for a change in West Bengal. There is a query mark still on the author of that change.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ ALMOST THROUGH 
 
 
 
 
Ms J. Jayalalitha, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the different members of the AIADMK-led front who joined it with varying degrees of opportunism might have stirred up a storm with their sighs of relief. It is a pity that the nation cannot join in. The electorate has been reminded once again that certain principles are meant for another kind of world altogether. The Election Commission has repeatedly suggested that candidates who have been convicted, or ideally, been charged and have cases pending against them, should be barred from contesting elections. This has never happened. The green light given to Ms Jayalalitha by the Madras high court in spite of her convictions in the Tansi land deal case merely underlines this sad knowledge.

The judgment points out that the relevant provisions in the Representation of the People Act have in view only those candidates who have been sentenced for not less than two years. Although Ms Jayalalitha would fall in this category, her sentence has been suspended, therefore the question of conviction is irrelevant. This judgment does not resolve the problem of her conviction under the Prevention of Corruption Act, but it does lay bare the incredible laxity of the RPA on this issue. There is absolutely no reason why a candidate against whom even a chargesheet has been framed, let alone one who is already fighting a case or has been convicted and sentenced to jail, should be allowed to become a people’s representative. The disqualification can be given different time limits, according to the seriousness of the proven misdemeanour. A readymade series of loopholes in the legislation itself makes nonsense of any effort to sever the links between criminality and politics. The softheartedness towards criminal behaviour is not a weakness of the political culture. It is actually a perverse form of strength which helps the political class nurture its own interests, irrespective of the party in power. Ms Jayalalitha can talk about her statutory right to contest. The people’s right to a clean polity is hardly the issue.

   

 
 
THAT DREADFUL STATE 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Will no one do anything about that dreadful state, Bihar ? Is it only worth sensational news reports, tales related breathlessly at gatherings of the great and the powerful to incredulous listeners sitting around, Scotch in hand, waiting to make their clever little remark on what’s happening in that state, and painstaking, constipated analyses by that breed of curious people known as political commentators? This is not a grotesque freak with two heads, or a tail; this is an Indian state , a fairly large portion of the country where governance has virtually collapsed, where the people are subjected to suffering, deprivation and harassment for no fault of their own, where bandits and thugs not only flourish, but actually rule. And yet the country carries on — business as usual, politics as usual.

Just consider what has happened there in the recent past. A thug who happens to be Laloo Yadav’s brother-in-law, Sadhu Yadav, brother of the chief minister — our matronly bhabhi who is secretly pining to get back to making her rotis and dal — this man and his goons barge into the room of the principal secretary in the department of transport, a senior officer who would rank just below the chief secretary, and force him to sign a transfer order, or, more correctly, to cancel an order he had passed a few days ago. Force him to do it; that means they threatened him with physical violence, or with some veiled threat which was even worse, and made him do what the officer would never otherwise have done.

Then consider what happened in Siwan. The local member of parliament, Mohammed Shahabuddin, who has some 27 criminal cases — mostly murder and attempt to murder — registered against him, has a police officer thrashed by his goondas, and then, when the police go to his house to arrest him, which they still haven’t done, there’s a gun battle which leaves 14 persons dead. The MP bays for the heads of the district magistrate and the superintendent of police, and almost immediately the two are removed from their posts. He is then quoted as saying that he will not rest till he has killed the SP, and even today he’s roaming around with his thugs, not only freely, but with Laloo Yadav cringing before him like a whipped dog, and even the politicians at the Centre making deferential noises.

Hard on the heels of this disgusting example of pandering to an established criminal comes the report carried in several papers that, although smallpox has been eradicated several years ago, in Bihar the smallpox eradication campaign continues — not that anything is being done, but there’s a large staff drawing salaries, travelling, if you please, god knows to what purpose, and the amount spent on this totally useless office runs into over two crore a year, a sum which has been regularly spent for all the years after the disease has been eradicated and the work connected with this wound up all over the country over a decade ago. And this is not all; there is another report that Bihar even has a set of officials who are supposed to be looking after cholera eradication, a disease which has stopped being endemic over 20 years ago, and occurs only sporadically, usually in the wake of a natural calamity, and then dies down again. There has been an even more astonishing story; that the legislature has been adjourned to allow members to attend the wedding of a legislator in Mumbai.

A former colleague who had to visit Patna came back with an alarming account of what happened there; he had gone for a meeting with the head of a department, and went to that officer’s room at the appointed time, but found him being harangued by some political characters about some licence or some permission he was to give, or had not given. When he offered to come later, the officer said to him wearily that it wasn’t necessary — they would transact their business in the midst of all this because, he said, this is what goes on all day, every day.

One can go on — just a few days ago two young ladies were subjected to the most indecent harassment by some self-declared followers of Pappu Yadav right up to the time these thugs got off at Patna: the girls were asked to perform some naach-gaan for their benefit, and had pornographic magazines shoved in front of their faces which they were ordered, abusively, to read. A young couple were given more or less the same treatment in another train, and when they got off at Arrah and complained to the police, they were told airily that such “small” incidents happened all the time. Inevitably, the birth rate is not only among the highest in the country; it shows no signs of coming down, despite the dedicated efforts of some nongovernmental organizations in the field. The government does nothing; how can it, when it’s resources are spent in maintaining small pox and cholera eradication offices?

While the southern states have, nearly all of them, reached replacement levels, that is zero growth rate, Bihar continues to produce more and more and more children, whom their parents cannot feed or clothe, who get hardly any education and, in time, migrate in their thousands to the more prosperous states adding to regional tensions.

These migrations apart, the truly dark development is the systematic exodus of bright young people, who could have changed the nature of the state. Very few of them will go back to work in that state. A few will get into the IAS or IPS and go back, and either be ground under the feet of politicians like Shaha- buddin or learn to conform and bend in whichever direction their political masters want them to. The large majority, who enter one of the many professions open to the intelligent and enterprising, will seek their fortunes elsewhere in the country, and abroad. And thus, over the years, the quality of those who stay behind get worse and worse; it’s like a vicious spiral, dragging this most wretched of states further and further down to levels of chaos and darkness which cannot even be imagined.

The tragedy is that the state has become a political plaything of different parties; every one of them, the Congress, the Samata Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the rest use the MPs and MLAs to jockey for power. No one’s really bothered about the people, and issues like development.

The fact is that there will always be some crisis or the other which becomes an obsession with the Central government. Right now it is the tapes and the defence scandals; scandals which are a part of the way government functions. They’ve been with us before, are with us now, and will be with us in future, committees, enquiries and all that notwithstanding.

But the contagion of Bihar is something that will spread, if it is not contained. It can be contained, if there are even one or two statesmen left in the Centre who put the needs of the country above those of their political parties. One can only hope that such personalities haven’t yet become extinct; and that they will eventually take the first steps towards sanity in Bihar before other parts of the country go the same way.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ WHO ART FORGOTTEN 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
GANDHI’S PASSION: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF MAHATMA GANDHI
By Stanley Wolpert,
Oxford, $ 27.50

The second half of the 20th century has been an era of great biographies. One thinks here of the biographies of William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce by Richard Ellman; of Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown; of Adolf Hitler by Alan Bullock and more recently by Ian Kershaw; of Coleridge by Richard Holmes; of John Maynard Keynes by Skidelsky and of both Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell by Ray Monk. This trend has by and large left Indian writers and scholars unaffected. Biography is not an art that flourishes in India despite the nation’s obsession with individuals. Nehru found a biographer in S. Gopal who showed when he wrote on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan that he could be more honest and frank about his own father than about the hero of his youth. Ramachandra Guha on Verrier Elwin is a more noteworthy attempt, albeit of a minor figure, to comprehend the complex interplay between context and the individual.

The real victim of the poverty of biography in India is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. This is unfortunate because in terms of documentation, Gandhi’s life is an embarrassment of riches. His Collected Works run into 90 volumes and cover all aspects of his life and career. There also exists in Tendulkar’s Mahatma a straightforward chronological narrative of Gandhi’s life which, despite its hagiographic tone, can serve as the first stepping stone to any biographer of Gandhi. Gandhi’s life was not without drama and was by any reckoning momentous. These should have been an inviting terrain for a biographer keen to analyse the man’s life and the times that made him and were made by him. This has not happened. This biography is as disappointing and as shoddy as the previous one by Judith Brown.

Stanley Wolpert does not have a single new thing to say about Gandhi; he does not bring to his recounting of Gandhi’s life any new angle of analysis. The approach is chronological and the assumption seems to be that the events and the man are both self-explanatory. The author says in the Preface that he was driven to finish the book after he learnt that India had gone nuclear in May 1998. This holds out the implicit hope that there would be some attempt to understand how Gandhi increasingly moved away from the movement that he had masterminded. That hope is fuelled when Wolpert opens his biography with Gandhi’s absence from Delhi on August 15, 1947. He deliberately kept himself in Calcutta as if to tell history that he was not part of the tryst that India had made with destiny. But such expectations are belied as this theme is not pursued. The understanding of Gandhi’s legacy is reduced to the testimonials important persons gave to Gandhi after his death.

Wolpert has the unenviable virtue of skimming over all the important events and aspects of Gandhi’s life. Thus, to take a significant example, the text of Hind Swaraj receives a two-page cavalier treatment. An understanding of Gandhi’s ideology hinges on this text which has been extensively analysed. Gandhi himself never wavered from the views he expressed in this text. It formed perhaps the major ground for the differences in vision between Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. In his autobiography, Nehru, already sold to the idea of a planned economy and a powerful nation-state, had rejected the ideas of Hind Swaraj as an “utterly wrong and harmful doctrine, and impossible of achievement.”

In political terms, one of Gandhi’s major achievements was the complete transformation of the Congress party. From an elite pressure group, the Congress became a party of mass protest. But in Wolpert’s book one would look in vain for an analysis of the measures that Gandhi initiated to bring about this change. Under Gandhi’s influence, the Congress became a multi-tiered party with representation at every level from an all-India body to a provincial one which led in turn to representations at the district level, the sub-divisional level, at the level of the taluk and the village. The Congress thus came to acquire a presence at every level of society. This enabled the party to link its daily routine work to a Gandhian socio-political programme. It is an example of Gandhi’s organizational genius. It was this organization which served as the basis of Gandhi’s protest against the British raj. Wolpert of course believes that Gandhi’s mass following was no more than a “ragtag army”.

Gandhian mass mobilization through the Congress party had a disciplinary aspect to it. Mass protest would be guided and regulated by trained volunteers who would act, he said in a telling phrase, as “people’s policemen”. This discipline was necessary since Gandhi wanted the protests to be completely non-violent. A disciplined non-violent movement ensured that the mass campaigns did not turn radical and violent. Whenever they threatened to do so, Gandhi withdrew the movement on ethical and moral grounds. Wolpert refuses to explore this interaction between the popular domain of politics and Gandhi’s efforts to lead and regulate it. This is more than a failure of understanding. It is fundamentally a failure of scholarship.

Wolpert has chosen to write a biography of Gandhi and has done so by ignoring practically every single important work done on Gandhian politics and mobilization. He follows in this respect his distinguished predecessor, Judith Brown. It is not without significance that most of these works have been done by Indian scholars. Thus, Wolpert writes on Champaran without reference to the work of Jacques Pouchepadass on Gandhi in Champaran; on the Kheda satyagraha with no mention of the work of David Hardiman; as he ignores techniques of mass mobilization, Gyan Pandey’s research is ignored. Reading Wolpert on Chauri Chaura, a reader would think that Shahid Amin had shed no light on the episode. On the Gandhi-Irwin pact, the article of Sumit Sarkar is not mentioned. An awareness of Ranajit Guha’s insights into the disciplinary aspects of Gandhi’s mobilization is non-existent in Wolpert’s book. As is Partha Chatterjee’s analysis of Gandhi’s ideology as the moment of manoeuvre for nationalist thought in India. Many other additions could be made to this list. It would appear that Wolpert’s approach to history and biography writing is that of a parachutist. He has jumped on the terrain and has assumed that it is unworked. This can hardly be described as the attitude of a scholar.

Wolpert has, however, the gift of innuendo. In his biography of Nehru, he suggested on the basis of very thin evidence that young Nehru may have had a homosexual encounter with a teacher. In this book, there are some equally meaningless pages on Gandhi’s supposed “intensely personal passion for a young, golden-haired, blue-eyed Danish beauty, Esther Faering.” Beyond a few innocent letters, there is nothing more to this “intensely personal passion”. But once again Wolpert misses an opportunity. A sensitive biographer would have used this episode to look at Gandhi’s attitude to and relationships with women who came to join him in his work and in his ashram. What was his relationship with Kasturba? His attitude to sex? What drove him to his experiments with sex? It is worth recalling that Kamala Nehru in a letter to her husband once wrote that there is nobody like Bapu but so far women are concerned he is like any other man.

The descriptions of Gandhi’s last hours and his assassination are graphic. But there is no attempt to present to the reader, the assassin, Nathuram Godse. What he represented and what he said in his own defence during the trial are not without significance for comprehending what has become of Gandhi’s legacy. A reading of Ashish Nandy on the subject of Gandhi’s murder would have taken Wolpert beyond mere description.

Wolpert’s book is a wasted opportunity. It is shallow and pedestrian. This is unfortunate because the only pedestrian thing about Gandhi was the fact that he loved to walk.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ A TIME TO KILL 
 
 
BY KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
WARFARE AND WEAPONRY IN SOUTH ASIA: 1000-1800
Edited by Jos J.L. Gommans and Dirk H.A. Kolff,
Oxford, Rs 675

Armies and warfare constituted two crucial components in the shaping of the contours of South Asian history. Before 1947, armies were not only the biggest government employer but also consumed the largest slice of the government’s revenue. The military expenditure and employment in the army was even higher if one goes further back in time.

Despite the important roles played by the armed forces in the evolution of state and society in the subcontinent, there are very few serious academic monographs dealing with warfare and state formation in pre-British India. In an attempt to make up for this lacuna, the general editors of the “Oxford Themes in Indian History” series have brought out a volume of essays written on these themes.

In this book, the two Dutch editors, Dirk Kolff and Jos Gommans, attempt to explain the Cinderella-like treatment meted out to Indian military history by historians of all hues. In the introduction of the volume, they correctly state that the ideological bias of the scholars is responsible for this deliberate oversight.

In order to analyse the dynamics of warfare in medieval India, the 13 essays selected by Kolff and Gommans could be categorized under two heads — the military labour market and military technology. Did revolutionary military hardware, ask Gommans and Kolff, contribute to the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire?

B.N.S. Yadava’s essay points out the link between the cultural ethos and the use of military hardware. He asserts that the Rajputs could not use state-of-the-art technology like poisoned and barbed arrows against the Turks in the 12th century owing to the former’s views about chivalry which emphasized “humane warfare”. On the other hand, the Turks were not handicapped by such mind-sets. The Turks’ battlefield effectiveness was exemplified by their mounted archers, known as the ghulams.

Another contributor, Simon Digby, asserts that the ghulams, equipped with superior bows, iron saddles, and riding the most powerful horses that were bred in central Asia, were able to shoot arrows from horseback even when galloping at high speeds. The result was that the elephant-dependent Hindu armies had no chance against the mobile warfare practised by the Turkish mounted archers. The mounted bowmen encircled and eliminated the slow moving Rajput forces from a distance by spraying them with arrows.

The Delhi Sultanate, which came into existence due to the combat superiority of the horse archers, collapsed against the Mughal onslaught in the middle of the 16th century. Douglas Streusand’s essay claims that the Mughals won because they were able to introduce a lethal technology in the shape of cannons. By integrating artillery with horse archery, the Mughals were able to initiate a military revolution.

Apart from technology, demography was another driving force behind warfare in south Asia. Dirk Kolff, in one of his essays introduces the connection between demography, economy and warfare. Kolff writes that due to the existence of a semi-pastoralist economy in India, the marginal peasantry functioned as part-time militias to tide over unfavourable harvests. They owed their loyalty to the highest bidders.

The existence of such a vigorous military labour market enabled warlords like Sher Shah to raise an army quickly and easily. The prevalence of such warlords prevented the genesis of a centralized bureaucratic state in south Asia.

It is not clear why the period between the year, 1000, and 1800, was selected for this volume. The inclusion of M. Habib’s banal essay is also incongruous, given the overall argument of this book. He contends that the establishment of Muslim rule in India was not due to any military activities, but because Hindus of the lower castes joined egalitarian Islam.

Despite these shortcomings, this is a remarkable book. The inclusion of these long-forgotten essays will encourage upcoming scholars to address the interconnections between war, society and the evolution of the polity in a newer and more meaningful way.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ SIMPLE SCRIPTS FOR DIVERSE SUBJECTS 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
 
THREE ENGLISH PLAYS
By Gurcharan Das,
Oxford, Rs 295

“Indian writers need to examine our rich, rational tradition and not be swept by the mystical side alone,” observes Gurcharan Das, in a new introduction to this selection of plays written in his twenties. Das points out that his dramatic work lacks “angst”. “Larins Sahib”, “Mira” and “9 Jakhoo Hill” surely reinforce this claim. Three varied subjects, three distinct treatments. Even if these young plays fail to ignite emotion, they do not lack in the rational.

“Larins Sahib” explores the disintegration of the historical character, Henry Lawrence, under the influence of power. “Larins”, as Lawrence is known to the natives, is a good man who loses touch with his ideals.

An agent of the East India Company in the Punjab, he is obsessed with “the one-eyed Lion”, or the late maharaja, Ranjit Singh; according to Lawrence, “the greatest ruler Hindustan has known”. After his death, the court is riddled with intrigue and betrayal, when Lawrence is sent in. The British have just annexed a part of the kingdom after the Treaty of Lahore. Lawrence, however, believes that the key to success in the Punjab lies in keeping the people united and happy. So, he is determined to work hand in hand with the common man, as well as the minor king, Dalip Singh.

Both plot and character are reminiscent of Edward II, and like Marlowe’s work, Das has failed to show the transition of Lawrence from the likeable and real Larins to the despotic “angrez badshah”. His loyalty to Rani Jindan Kaur, with whom he shares an intense relationship; the East India Company; and the memory of the late maharaja, are not adequately illustrated.

“Mira” is wholly different in style and content. Das chooses another historical figure, the legendary Mirabai, but his treatment here is highly stylized, influenced by “total theatre”. Using song and dance, “Mira” is a play that has to be seen to be experienced. The characters speak in aphorisms; they never leave the stage, the dialogue is mostly choric in nature.

First performed at New York’s La Mama Theatre, Mira naturally lends itself to interpretation. Das realizes the complexity of capturing Mira’s journey from a loving queen to a saint; to a large extent, he leaves Mira’s soul in the hands of the theatrical company and their treatment of the play. He gives no real stage instructions.

The most gripping of the three plays is “9 Jakhoo Hill”. Set in Simla in the Sixties, Das has drawn from his own life in this human drama. It was a time when, as Das explains, the old middle-class was giving way to the new. The Indian gentry, more British than the British themselves, were bowing out to make way for the nouveau riche.

The relationship between the young woman at the centre of the play, Ansuya, and her maternal uncle, who nurtures incestuous feelings for her, is perhaps the clearest in the collection. Ansuya, her mother, Amrita, and uncle, Karan, or Mamu, live in a grand but dilapidated home. They are staring poverty in the face after the death of Ansuya’s father. She cares for her uncle, despite her occasional discomfort with the nature of his attachment.

Her Mamu is passive, while she is gradually being consumed by restlessness. She is fired by the arrival of Deepak, whom she loves deeply. His mother, Chitra, however, is a suffocating woman, and Deepak is caught between his loyalty for his mother and his professed love for Ansuya.

The slow rise to the climax is carried through, not merely threatened, as in the two previous works. Das outlines the difficulties of writing plays in English for an Indian audience, though he seems to have mastered the art of simplicity to overcome this barrier.

It is this same honesty that lends an authenticity to “9 Jakhoo Hill”, which the other two plays do not even approach. The mysticism of “Mira” may improve on performance, but it does lack in poetry, while “Larins Sahib” is far too much a product of the intellect.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ MATTER OF POLITICS AND METAPHORS 
 
 
BY SUHRITA SAHA
 
 
CULTURE, SPACE AND THE NATION-STATE
By Dipankar Gupta,
Sage, Rs 445

The chief concerns of anthropology is usually understood to be the study of kinship, village life, caste observances, rituals and so on. In Culture, Space and the Nation-State, Dipankar Gupta extends the scope of anthropology to the domain of the nation-state. Gupta begins with a conceptual treatment of the nation-state, with “culture” as a tool for analysis. He moves from sentiments about the nation-state to the structures that bind them and make the nation-state endure. The “nation” is primarily a sentiment on which the structures of the state aspire to organize a cultural life.

According to the author, a nation-state is not just about politics or governance. They influence our awareness about who we are as people and our relationship with culture. Culture is better understood, if examined in terms of “root metaphors” and their regnant set of meanings, argues Gupta. Root metaphors are multi-vocal and sacred — they have no single, unified rendition. They address diverse aspects of socio-political life. Root metaphors have the allegiance of a defined set of people. However, there are several root metaphors in every culture because human beings are multi-dimensional in their social interactions.

Gupta refers to this feature as the multi-vocal regnant set of meanings of root metaphors. The regnant set gives us a perspective on culture which neither focusses on the individual nor on consensus. It covers multiple facets of life due to the various locations of the actors and groups in a society. But, root metaphors are not only about solidarity and bonding but also about cultural conflict, dissent and struggles over authority.

Each nation-state has its own root metaphor, culture, membership and defined space. These have the ability to transcend locality and enable long-distance communication. The root metaphors of the Indian nation-state are anti-colonialism, freedom, equality, protection of minorities, liberal democracy and anti-Pakistan feelings, according to the author. The root metaphors bring into the nation-state a moral consensus, which, in the ultimate analysis, sidelines local cultures. The positive aspect of this is increased national, cultural homogeneity, a greater degree of inter-subjectivity and the creation of a public sphere.

The public sphere emerges because the rules of arriving at an “achieved understanding” are agreed upon by the members of the nation. What kind of understanding gains primacy, is a matter of politics, and, once that is settled, other agencies of the nation-state like the government, law, civil society, bureaucracy come into the scene.

Gupta conceptualizes nation-states on the basis of the twin phenomena of sentiment and structure. First, nation-states are bound by strong sentiments of cultural identity. Second, these sentiments need to be buttressed by structures of governance for greater acceptability among the people. In this book, the author offers fresh insights and analytical tools to examine a much-contested subject — the nation-state.

   

 
 
BOOK WISE/ SOME STILL TAKE THINGS SERIOUSLY 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 
What is the future for “serious” books and what are “serious” books? Broadly, they are major or important works in history, ideas, and the sociology of the left. Undoubtedly, the big publishing groups provide a less hospitable atmosphere for “difficult” or controversial books than do the newer, smaller, independent publishers. To explore what the future holds, it is necessary to know what is happening inside the big houses and the big distribution chains who virtually decide what books gets published and what do not.

It is important to be clear about two things. First, the big houses are not in the business of sponsoring revolutionary ideas or taking artistic risks. They are there for profit — large corporate profit. Second, in the last decade at least, there has been a scramble for “consolidation” at the expense of “diversity”. In ordinary words, this means the cutting down of their list to hard-core selling titles and the getting rid of slow-moving stock. With the older generation bringing in their children into the business, this process has been accelerated.

This is unlike the past, say, till the Eighties, and a little beyond, when book publishers were people who were always looking for ideas, however unpopular. Above all, they liked books. That is not to say that they were bookworms, let alone intellectuals, but they thought that books were a good thing. They enjoyed being surrounded by them, and read a lot of what they, and other people, published. Of course they worked for profit, but, it was profit made on books that were good and original.

However, now, book publishing companies are owned by people to whom ideas are not terribly important and who would not necessarily be moved or persuaded by people who felt that way. This change in their worldview, compounded by market forces, has ushered in a change in the trade.

In the mess that book publishing finds itself now, the first victim has been scholarly books, and, for that matter, first novels, poetry, essays and so on. Book publishers have always been reluctant about devoting time and money to books that sold, almost by definition, in small quantities, and in the changed scenario, they are all the more so.

Given the constraints that book publishers find themselves in, the larger and more disturbing question is whether there is any future for serious books at all? Is there a “third way” by which small, specialized publishing houses, with high ideals and standards, perhaps in combination with university presses and research grants, can provide a way out of the impasse? Can there be a technological fix, using the internet as a worldwide book market-place? The answer to these questions is a guarded “Yes” because all this is already taking place.

If one looks around, serious literature is being published by smaller houses, and not by the conglomerates for whom small print runs are not viable business propositions. The web will provide an answer too; the writer, Stephen King, had a partially successful solo flight.

Authors can key in specimen chapters which could be picked up by publishers and/or agents. There will soon come a time when authors could dispense with the conventional publisher and bookseller as middlemen. Not an ideal solution but it is better than being left out in the cold.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

The trouble is our lives are polyglot

CIVIL LINES 4: NEW WRITING FROM INDIA
(Permanent Black, The Hindu, Ravi Dayal, Rs 195)
Edited by Rukun Advani, Mukul Kesavan and Ivan Hutnik

Civil lines 4: new writing from India edited by Rukun Advani, Mukul Kesavan and Ivan Hutnik is a slim and trendy object for the postmodern Delhi coffee-table. The editorial packaging smacks of the recently canonized Stephanian school of clever Indian writing in English. The flavour is Granta-meets-undergraduate-rag: predictably irreverent, occasionally entertaining and faintly self-important. A fair amount of decoding is required to extract simple information about the contributors. The introduction expends considerable acrobatic energy in stating the fact that there has been a gap of three years between Civil Lines 3 and 4. It goes on to print a send-up in verse of that “robustly bogus subject”, “the nature, methods, purpose and relevance of Anglo-Indian or Indo-Anglian...fiction”. The context to all this is the more or less inconsequential ideological battles between the likes of Pankaj Mishra, Vikram Chandra, Meenakshi Mukherjee, Rukmini Bhaya Nair and so on. This issue collects travel writing, short fiction, poetry (original and translated), tongue-in-cheek cultural studies and some comic writing. The contributors include Kai Friese, Shashank Kela, Sheila Dhar and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.

WOMEN AND DEVELPMENT: THE INDIAN EXPERIENCE
(Sage, Rs 295)
By Mira Seth

Women and Development: The Indian Experience by Mira Seth starts out as the personal introspection of a civil servant and policy-maker on the origins and foundations of women’s development issues in India — “How things came to be what they are at present”. It becomes an assessment and evaluation of the efforts made to accelerate women’s development since independence. Seth starts with a survey of the various ideological trends in the position of women from the Vedic times, through the epics, the Puranas and Manu, right up to the 19th-century liberal ethos, out of which much of modern reformist thinking emerged. She then goes on to survey the legal background to Indian policy-making and planning. There are further chapters on the “girl child” and on women’s issues in the spheres of education, health, employment and crime.

UNHEARD VOICES: STORIES OF FORGOTTEN LIVES
(Penguin, Rs 250)
By Harsh Mander

Unheard Voices: Stories of Forgotten Lives by Harsh Mander collects real-life stories of contemporary India’s invisible and forgotten victims of development and change. These are street children, sex workers, women, Dalit and tribal survivors of atrocities, riot victims. They have been displaced by big development projects, or have survived recurring famines as in western Orissa, the Bhopal gas leak and the Orissa supercyclone. In seeking to retain the authentic voices of these subjects, Mander brings out the spirit of resilience and optimism that drive these people who doggedly resist despair.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Good timing

Sir — The visit of the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to Iran could not have been better timed (“One voice, two goals for India and Iran”, April 11). Not only does it afford him time away from domestic problems, but it has also come after the government of India had scored diplomatic points by taking appropriate initiatives to usher in peace in the Kashmir valley. By signing the Teheran declaration with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Khatami, Vajpayee will also be sending a loud message to Islamabad. It is now up to Pakistan to reciprocate or risk international isolation. Moreover, cooperation with Iran will also help woo the militant groups. The government of India has already extended the ceasefire three times, a move that has been appreciated by the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan. Vajpayee is well aware that cordial relations with Iran will also go a long away in promoting a secular picture of India to the Muslim world as well as satisfy the minority communities in India.
Yours faithfully,
Fatema Khan, via email

Judgment day

Sir — I am surprised at the obvious attempt of the ex-bureaucrat, Bhaskar Ghose, to politicize my frustrated quitting of the 48th National Film Awards body. Ghose in his article, “Dispensable honours” (April 7), righteously questions why I had not quit earlier rather than on the day of the deliberations.

Having once been the information and broadcasting secretary, Ghose should know that the entire process of choosing a film for awarding takes days of sitting in the dark and assessing a huge number of films, dashing out for a quick 20 minutes lunch break, nodding at the virtual strangers who are fellow jurists and flopping into bed exhausted after the day’s hectic schedule. During this process, some films were rejected outright from being in the reckoning. Imagine my shocked surprise when the very film(s) rejected appear as nominated for awarding on the day of the deliberations. Therefore, I was left with no choice but to quit on the day of the deliberations.

I assume I had been appointed as a juror for my commitment to and love for good films, I am neither a leftist nor a rightist, but when my decision is trashed on the day of the deliberations, I could not continue sitting there and be party to a decision obviously made earlier. So where is the question of quitting earlier? I would request Ghose not to cast mischievous aspersions. My decision to quit was an independent decision. With hindsight, I hope the quitting serves to create a better platform in future for the objective judgment of films that deserve awards — regardless of political colours being attributed.

Yours faithfully,
Sashi Anand, via email

Sir — Typically of our incorrigible “secular” typewriter warriors, in his pompous article, “Dispensable honours”, Bhaskar Ghose pontificates that “the national film awards should not become the distribution of patronage.” I have just one query: if sarkari patronage for the jholiwala quislings has been okay for more than 50 years, why is it not okay for the chaddiwalas now?

Yours faithfully
Abhay Warik, via email

Sir — Bhaskar Ghose asks why the jurors had to wait till they disagreed on the winners of the national film awards before they quit the jury and why they had not questioned the credentials of the other members of the jury before. Ghose seems to miss the point. The finger of suspicion could not have been pointed at the suspect members of the jury till they had been proven guilty. After all, the national film awards have been given out last year as well under the same government. There was hardly any controversy over the 47th national film awards, although it is unlikely that the sangh parivar had made no efforts to infiltrate the jury. The jurors who have quit would have made fools of themselves had they cried wolf before any irregularity had been actually detected. Saffron links do not necessarily imply nefariousness.

However, the emerging picture shows that they do. The national film awards this year were rigged to honour those who had in some way been beneficial to the parivar. Any party which has long term plans of holding on to the reins of power will try to control education, the arts and the sciences. What we are seeing is just the beginning of the process.

Yours faithfully,
Mallika Banerjee, Calcutta

Clearing the air

Sir — The Indian Oil Corporation is reportedly gearing up to supply liquid petroleum gas as fuel for vehicles in Calcutta.This will be an achievement for the environmentalists who have been striving hard to reduce the growing level of pollution from automobile exhausts. Switching over to gaseous fuel will cut down obnoxious emission by 50 per cent as compared to that produced by liquid fuel. Incidentally, because of the non-availability of compressed natural gas in this region, the high cost of transport from the Northeast and Bangladesh’s indecision about the supply of CNG to India, LPG is the only option for the city.

LPG as cooking gas comes under the administered price mechanism and is a subsidized fuel. This will substantially reduce the running cost of vehicles at least till March 2002, when LPG will be sold at market price. Even then, it will be possible to pay back the capital cost of fitting kits to the existing fuel system within two to three years.

The CNG issue has recently created a lot of turmoil in Delhi. It is hoped that Calcutta will experience a less difficult change-over.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — Before implementing any clean technology on an exclusive basis, the government should ensure smooth supply of the kit and its accessories so that in future there is no hassle.

Apart from CNG, various other technologies are available. Battery operated or electrically operated vehicles, solar powered vehicles and vehicles operated by bio-fuel or by gasohol can well check emission. An adequate supply of CNG and CNG cylinders is also needed for the large number of vehicles which use diesel as fuel.

Yours faithfully,
S.M. Ghosh, via email

In whose interest?

Sir — Letters published under the headline, “Give them a break” (April 4), portray the anguish of senior citizens who are subjected to unforeseen hardships owing to the reduction of the interest rates on small savings.A reduction of 3.5 per cent interest in the past three years on monthly income schemes and bank deposits has added to the problems of inflation, subsidy cuts, rise in medical expenses and so on. One cannot expect the aged to understand the mechanics of the stock markets or to risk their savings by investing in mutual funds.

In order to avoid such a scenario, the government could try to increase revenue by improving its efficiency, concentrate on non-plan expenditure, do something about the non-performing assets of banks, the unending scandals involving defence and other departments, improve tax collections and generally try to spruce up administration.The government has on several occasions before rolled back its decisions for political reasons. It could do the same again, in this case in the interest of the public which has voted it to power.

Yours faithfully,
N. Narasimhan, via email

Sir — It is a hard time for the fixed income group. One has either to hoard cash and jewellery for the future and invite criminals into the house or be prepared to spend one’s old age at the mercy of others. With the sharp reduction in the interest on savings the government takes away all opportunity to save without risk for the future.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, via email

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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