Editorial 1 / Disrupting norm
Editorial 2 / Broken plea
Oh! Calcutta
Book Review / Lessons from a lonely planet
Book Review / A view from the top
Book Review / Looking back without anger
Editor’s Choice / The equation saw tomorrow and the end
Paperback Pickings / Sensible of his indulgence
Letters to the editor

At the heart of democracy is the idea of a parliament, the meeting ground of the elected representatives of the people. Without a functioning parliament, a democracy becomes a lame duck because no issue can be discussed, no decisions can be taken, no laws passed. A non-functioning parliament paralyses a government. This is clearly the purpose of the Congress. Its broader aim of discrediting the National Democratic Alliance government is served by its continuous disruption of both houses of Parliament. The Congress believes that the NDA government is not taking proper cognizance of the revelations made by tehelka.com. The guilty are not being punished and there is an attempt to underplay the importance of what has been revealed. To protest against this the Congress members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have decided to scream and shout within the House so that no business can be carried out. Every day this week the House has met and then been adjourned because of disruption. The Union budget and the railway budget will probably be passed but beyond that nothing else will get done in this session. Important legislations will languish because India’s leading political party has chosen to place the scoring of political points above the future of the country.

It is unfair, of course, to single out the Congress in this matter. Other political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, have behaved in a similar manner under similar circumstances. There looms the long shadow of irresponsibility between politics and governance. There could be no quarrel over the fact that an opposition party should try to discredit and embarrass the party in power. In a democracy, there exist some conventions of doing this. A debate can be called for and the treasury benches can be attacked during the debate. Moving forward a few steps, a no-confidence motion can be mooted. But the Congress at the present juncture like other parties in the past have chosen to defy — some would say defile — democratic conventions. They have decided not to debate. It is significant that the Union budget — perhaps the most important document to emerge out of the treasury benches — will be passed without a proper debate. Shouting and abuse run completely against the grain of democratic debate and discussion. A non-functioning parliament will not result in dislodging the NDA government. It will carry on without the routine business of running the country through its own inertia. What it will lack is initiative. But for this failure it will have a readymade alibi. It will point to the disruptive tactics of the Congress. Not allowing Parliament to work is thus self-defeating on a number of counts. It does not really weaken the government in power. Neither does it help the country in any way. What is more, it mocks at the very principles on which the Constitution of India is grounded.


To twist the law around in order to get one’s own way might become embarrassing. Presumably Mr Chetan Dass, who was hoping to get a divorce on the grounds of a broken marriage, is not enjoying the fact that the Supreme Court has struck down his petition. Mr Dass was angling to get rid of his wife in order to marry another lady, although the court found that Mr Dass’s wife was willing to live with her husband in spite of his wandering desires. Irretrievable breakdown of marriage is certainly a ground for divorce, and a ground that has particular relevance in the context of a changing society. What the Supreme Court has found unacceptable is the careful construction of the facade of a broken marriage by the petitioner. The judgment has made clear that even the desertion of the wife has to be shown to have no reason in order for the broken marriage clause to be considered. Instead, the lower courts have found evidence of the petitioner’s intention, and the breakdown of marriage cannot be seen as either causeless or caused by the respondent. The court’s ruling is important. It sets a precedent for modifying the broken marriage clause on a case to case basis, to introduce checks and balances through interpretation and judgment, to prevent exactly the kind of abuse of the law that Mr Dass was trying to get away with. The judges referred to Section 23 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. This section provides for the possibility of turning a petitioner’s plea on its head by proving the very fault he is claiming in his spouse to be his own. In such a situation, the section says, the court’s relief shall be directed to the respondent instead of the petitioner.

Protecting the innocent in the harsh and confused arena of divorce is the job of the law and its practitioners. It is a relief whenever the wisdom and percipience of the two converge in a meaningful verdict. This is only one example of the attempt to distort a fair and forward-looking provision. It is the skewed gender equation in society that is at fault here, not the law. The law regarding alimony for example, is based on the constitutional principle of equality of the sexes. In the event of divorce, the partner who earns, or earns more, is supposed to help the other. Even this provision has occasionally been distorted in an attempt to prove that the husband does not earn at all. It is always a problem if the intention is to play for advantage by clinging to the letter of the law. In cases of divorce, maintenance and children’s custody, such smart-alecky behaviour is not only heartless, it causes lasting suffering and damage. Judges and lawyers alone can put an end to such trickery by reasserting the spirit of the law together with its letter.


Arguably cities are the most important economic units. Not only are they manifestations of concentrated population and wealth, they also ensure the smooth facilitation of economic and commercial activities. And how does that happen? Cities ensure low distances between people. This facilitates the smooth interchange of ideas and thoughts. And the intermingling of old ideas generate new and improved ideas.

New ideas require a range of inputs before they can be translated into action. The concentration of people also allows the availability of different kinds of people and resources — with different skills, abilities, and characteristics. So cities also facilitate turning ideas into actions. But that is not all.

Cities can also be described as a large concentration of people living in 24-hour market places. The ideas and actions require and generate commodities that need to be traded — and cities provide the necessary mass for trade to occur. As a result, not only do cities grow; they also ensure the growth of the area around. Historians are increasingly coming to the conclusion that not only industrialization, but also major advances in art, education, health, architecture, and even agriculture, first happened in cities. These later trickled down to the surrounding areas — and so civilizations such as Mohenjodaro prospered.

The history of great civilizations is essentially the history of great cities. There was, and continues to be, a direct relationship between human progress and well-functioning, dynamic and prosperous cities. What makes a city well- functioning and dynamic? First and foremost, it is the attitude of the people living in it. Attitude generates abilities and together the two make great cities and great economies.

In other words, if people care about art then great art happens, if people care about education, then great education occurs. And if people care about progress, then progress occurs.

Calcutta had attitude. For more than 50 years, Calcutta ruled over south Asia. Major advances in all areas had the undeniable stamp of Calcuttans all over them. And because of Calcutta, all of eastern India prospered. Not only mineral based industries, but also great engineering companies came up in and around Calcutta. Companies were set up, many failed, many others prospered. New ideas were tried; entrepreneurs were not scared of making mistakes. Manufacturing boomed, trade boomed. With economic progress, advances in education, art, research — all occurred.

From nothing but pure marshland Calcutta became the intellectual and economic capital of India. The British even shifted their political capital out to Delhi — but that did not affect Calcutta.

Greater awareness of the world around also impacted the way the government functioned. Both the bureaucracy and the politicians presided over relatively well-run administrations. And this is not only true of West Bengal — the impact was felt all over east India. Bihar in the Fifties was considered the best-run state in India.

And then, somehow, Calcutta lost its attitude. Some people blame it on the leftists. They may have contributed, but the rot had set in much earlier. Perhaps it was the superiority felt due to past achievements, perhaps the new generation of Calcuttans just forgot what dynamism means, perhaps Calcutta fell too much in love with itself. What really happened is for sociologists to fathom. But what is evident is that Calcutta just stopped trying. And thus begins the fall of Calcutta from the Forties and Fifties.

Slowly but steadily, Bombay started eating into Calcutta’s predominant position. Now it was Bombayites who were putting up aircraft manufacturing units, thinking of setting up nuclear power plants. New educational institutions and research and development facilities were now being set up in Bombay, and not Calcutta, that still boasted of the best education in the country. But the days of Calcutta were numbered, as should have been evident to the people of Calcutta. Perhaps it was Calcutta’s narcissism that blinded it.

Not just Bombay. No one could have guessed that the most dynamic city in the country would soon be New Delhi. The aggressive Punjabi refugees from Pakistan were taking over the city. And did they have attitude! From chalta hai, the buzzword in New Delhi became ho jayega. The refugees did not have the skill base of Calcuttans; neither did they have the education, nor did they know the new city and the people living in it. And they most definitely did not have any financial resources to set up factories and businesses. But they somehow managed it. They were motivated by just one objective — to be successful.

New Delhi soon became the major market for electronics, pharmaceuticals, semi-engineered products. It had no skill base in textiles — but somehow it became the centre of garment exports from the country. Good educational institutions further added to Delhi’s glory. Economic progress, design and art prospered, and today, New Delhi boasts of the most music shows and art galleries in the country. And that in a city considered to be uncultured by most Indians.

Meanwhile Calcutta languished, the dynamic get-going Calcuttans were leaving the city for Bombay or New Delhi or even the south. Its great academics and artists were among the first to leave, then the manufacturing community in the Seventies, and today the core of Calcutta — the top-end of its highly educated middle class.

With this fall of Calcutta, we see the fall of eastern India as a whole. Others have lamented the low growth achieved in the eastern part of the country. They generally ascribe this low growth to poor administrations in the bulk of the eastern states. I differ from this view.

Eastern India has suffered because Calcutta has not delivered what a large city should deliver. It has not provided an environment where new ideas have come up, where ideas have been converted to action, and where markets have operated smoothly. Calcutta has lost its attitude and India has lost a formidable engine of progress.

Some might argue that the author is going overboard in ascribing the poor growth of eastern India to Calcutta. They should compare Calcutta and New Delhi. Delhi is surrounded by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Both these states are famous for their corruption, their inefficient administrations, their historical lack of industrial skill base (Haryana), the non-professional attitude of their business communities. Replace New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana with West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa in the above sentence, and it will still be true. So the basic manufacturing conditions are not highly different. But New Delhi, western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have boomed whereas West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa have not.

So what is the difference? Calcutta. Calcutta has just not been able to take on its responsibility. It has been too embroiled in its problems. It is too busy worrying about minor issues to bother about the big picture. And so, disagreements over minor wage increments take months to be sorted out, employees and employers negotiate unendingly over the fine print in employment contracts. A key bridge takes decades to build, the metro even longer. Large resources are spent over sprucing up the streets for a foreign visitor to Calcutta, whereas governments in cities such as Hyderabad have been putting in effort to be attractive economic destinations.

So what should Calcutta and Calcuttans do? First and foremost is the attitude. And we have seen some of that in recent times sporadically. The creation of one-way roads is a small yet extremely important signal — that Calcutta is willing to figure out different and innovative ways out of its problems.

The second is private participation. The latent entrepreneurial talent in Calcutta needs to be set free — and that can be done by putting as much of the public sector on the block as is possible. Not only that, many activities undertaken by the government, such as civic services, can be subcontracted out. Bengal provided India with its first entrepreneurs, and it will provide them again if the government lets it.

The third is the revamping of its educational institutions in general and the University of Calcutta in particular. Some of the need for better education will automatically be taken up by private institutions, but Calcutta University would still need to provide the backbone. Timeliness of exams and results and change of curriculum and courses to suit current requirements are essential. And even more essential is that this happen within a short span. The quality of high education is still the foremost in Calcutta, but it is outdated.

The fourth is related to transport. New ideas come from the mixture of old ideas. And the intermingling of ideas occurs with the intermingling of people. A city where people can interact and intermingle will have no dearth of innovation and inventiveness. But despite the metro, Calcuttans still cannot move around easily. That requires a very serious programme of creating a transport system with a wide coverage. Note that transport need not be public funded. What is important is that it be there.

The last is related to construction and real estate. The experience of cities that have succeeded in revamping themselves — whether it be Pittsburgh or Jaipur — shows that real estate reform is essential. And the foremost is defining and assigning property rights clearly. Only the owner should have the right to decide what to do with the property — not the courts, and not the tenants.

The dynamism of Calcutta is extremely important; and it has a responsibility to the rest of the country. It is high time that the city puts its act together and quickens the speed of progress.


By Rukmini Bhaya Nair with Ramnik Bajaj and Ankur Meattle;
HarperCollins, Rs 395

Rukmini Bhaya Nair has a problem; she cannot decide whether the IIT-ians are deficient in matters cultural or not. On the one hand, she takes it upon herself to initiate the 45 budding technologists of her HU484 classroom in IIT Delhi into the rites of “culture”. On the other, she picks as her tools texts from Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, Tagore’s Civilization and Progress, Martin Heidegger and Michel Foucault, among others, all of which are texts for advanced social and cultural studies. For students with little interest in things outside the realm of numbers and machines, these can be at best, awe-inspiring, and at worst, not worth the effort.

By herself adopting an exclusionist stance, Nair makes her contention in the book paradoxical at several levels. First, by investing her students with mythic qualities — be it the “myth of modernity”— through naming the band of IIT engineers as Tvashtris and Ribhus, she is merely massaging the well-inflated ego of the aspiring technology graduates, who already consider themselves a class apart from the swarming “bachelors of engineering”, for they have the privilege of becoming “bachelors of technology”.

Also, as the inhabitants of a world where technology has the last word, the IIT-ian derives a particular kind of satisfaction, rather than feel deficient, for having a special humanities course designed for them. They are smug in the knowledge that there would never be a similar technology module for humanities students simply because such things would be beyond their levels of comprehension. Nair, on her first day had reasons to feel, as a “humanities person in a technological classroom”, “marginal”. This sense of marginalization grows later, as attendance thins around mid-term.

For this too, as for everything else, Nair has an explanation: engineers as a tribe “found practically everyone boring”. Nair wills herself into believing that everyone finds them boring in turn. None of these is entirely true, and this is borne out by the last chapters of the book. As the IIT-ians begin sharing the details of their “highly stressed” lives, it is actually possible to get behind the mad rush for the GRE and the IAS prelims, or cushy jobs across the Atlantic, and unearth boys next door, who just happen to find numbers and machines more interesting than everything else put together.

Perhaps it is their other areas of interest that Nair should have tried to address. She could have taken a hint or two from the ardour with which the would-be techhies fight out the primacy of rock over pop, or analyse why they are miserable failures with girlfriends in spite of being confident and successful otherwise. Instead, Nair chooses to make the course module a curious mish-mash of almost everything, from the Narmada Bachao Andolan to Aristotle’s idea of a good society, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to Freud’s unheimlich. In other words, the course becomes too heavy even for the IIT undergraduates, in fact, more so for them, who must deal with technology for the rest of their course as well.

Technobrat is not without its moments, though. Take for instance the short note on “global boundaries” written by Ankur Meattle, one of Nair’s co-authors. It is as much a revelation to the condescending non-IIT-ian as it was to Nair herself, that, to the IIT engineer, “those endless debates about swadeshi/videshi which preoccupied many of us so deeply, were simply irrelevant” — one’s patriotism was not in question as long as one was good at one’s job. Social scientists may write tract after critical tract on the strange phenomenon of “brain drain” without really being able to get the message across to those they are supposed to hit.

In spite of the administrative limitations — it is unlikely that Nair didn’t face any — neither her earnestness, nor her research is in question. But with IIT-ians, one always runs the risk of meeting with the response, as Nair does, Arre chhodo yaar, bore hai.


By Andy Ruddock, Sage,
Price not mentioned

It is not really surprising that in this media dominated age, the effects of the media, particularly the visual media, have become a major sociological concern. A significant amount of energy in the domain of cultural studies and mass communication researches has been spent in trying to map out the interrelationship between the media and its audiences. However, none of the methodologies adopted by such studies has been absolutely fool-proof.

Andy Ruddock’s Understanding Audiences is a comprehensive repertoire of contested theories. Ruddock’s brief introduction to his book is packed with information and insightful queries about cultural studies. He starts by describing how the “real scientists” pejoratively branded cultural studies researchers as “wannabe” scientists. He then proceeds to explore the very nature of this “pseudo-science”.

Ruddock touches on the implicit dilemmas of cultural studies and points at the “maze of ambiguities” lurking in its various approaches. Some of the questions that confront the readers here are one, what constitutes “audiencehood”? Two, what is meant by the “public mind”? Three, are cultural studies researches always free from the objectivist bias which presumes that there is only one truth to be learnt about media influences?

Four, is there any validity for the sampling method that is used to rate the audience and judge its responses? Five, does not the set pattern of questionnaire manipulate responses to some extent? These are some fundamental questions raised in the introduction which remain integral to Ruddock’s analyses of theories and methods of audience researches.

In the six chapters of the book, Ruddock’s primary concern has been to trace the shifting position of the social scientist vis-a-vis media researches in recent times. In the first chapter “Theory and Method”, he demonstrates how simple Comtean positivism in cultural studies came to be replaced by the notion of “paradigm”, which is premised upon three interconnected criteria — ontology, epistemology and methodology.

In this context, Ruddock discusses Silverman’s research model, and postulates forwarded by Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn to explain the anti-reductionist and anti-essentialist stance of post-positivist cultural studies researchers. It is in view of this development that the “effects tradition” (popularly known as the “hypodermic needle” tradition) of media researches came under severe criticism.

One of the interesting methods of audience study discussed in detail in this book is George Gerbner’s Cultivation Analysis. Having set out to examine how televised violence regulates audience responses, Gerbner arrives at the conclusion that the messages in the mainstream media bring about a kind of “homogenization” of the views of audiences. Though this theory is often dismissed as elitist and as an extension of the notion of the “hypodermic needle”, it remains a cornerstone in cultural studies.

Towards the end of the book, Ruddock dwells on the “encoding-decoding” model of media study and goes on to discuss the post-modernist tendencies in recent times. His concluding remark efficiently sums up his effort in this book: “Knee deep in a lake of effects, audience researchers must acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of approaches to their subject.”


By Abani Lahiri,
Seagull, Rs 475

When the Bengali edition of this book was launched at the Calcutta Book Fair in 1999, some felt that this invaluable account of the Tebhaga movement needed to be translated into English. Otherwise, the present generation, which seems to be existing on borrowed nostalgia, would have no idea of those tumultuous times when scores of young men, after years of participation in the national movement, gravitated towards communism.

The oral reminiscences of Abani Lahiri, painstakingly taken down through in-depth interviews by Ranjit Dasgupta, reveal a world of idealism which is lost today. The core of the book contains memories of the Tebhaga movement, which started in 1930, and ends with Lahiri’s withdrawal from full-time party work in 1952.

What comes through strongly is the idealism of leaders like Lahiri. An incident illustrates the fact. The Anushilan Samity, of which Lahiri was a member, had wanted a repeat of the Chittagong armoury raid. But shortage of funds made the procurement of arms difficult. Lahiri had a plan and he put it into force. “I knew where the family jewellery was kept and also where the key to the almirah was. I had thought that I would only take the ring and the gold mohur (coin) that I had received during my holy-thread ceremony. But when I actually started picking up the jewellery, I thought, why take only what was mine!..The cause was sacred — the freedom of the motherland. So I picked up all the jewellery and left without informing anyone.” However, the armed uprising never took place and Lahiri never found out if arms had been procured with the money.

Lahiri was gradually attracted to Marxism and he explains in detail why the search for “a new path had become inevitable.” A part of the answer lay in the fact that parties like Anushilan and Jugantar had reached a dead end. Magistrates were being killed, but to what purpose? The “search” was not easy, but ultimately Lahiri embraced the cause and he recalls that, “In early 1932, we had gone to jail as participants in Gandhiji’s satyagraha struggle. At the end of the year we came out of jail as soldiers of the revolutionary movement.”

Lahiri was initially given the responsibility of leading the student organization in 1940 and their movement (against the Holwell monument) started in July. However, Lahiri proposed to the leaders that he join the peasants’ movement. His proposal was accepted and he went to Dinajpur.

Lahiri felt that feudal oppression and state repression could not be understood by staying in Calcutta and one had to actually visit the places to see what was going on and find out how the peasants could be mobilized. On his arrival in north Bengal, Lahiri took great pains in learning Rajbansi, the local language.

Those interested in the Tebhaga movement are aware of the different, and often contradictory, versions of the struggle. According to Moni Singh, chairman of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, after 1971, “Tebhaga was a struggle for the reform of the exploitative feudal system. The Communist Party and the kisan sabha had conducted the struggle from that perspective.” Singh says the struggle was not for the seizure of power, which would have been madness.

The Tebhaga movement is probably the most memorable struggle of the century in Bengal, barring the Naxalite movement. Yet the struggle was not all-embracing and did not draw the support of the educated urban and rural middle classes. Also, the movement did not impinge on the Bengali consciousness the way the Telengana movement had done. In Telengana, the peasants look up arms to protest against feudal oppression and to fight for Vishal Andhra. As a result, the struggle between 1946-51 became a struggle for Telugu national identity. Tebhaga, on the other hand, was limited to the Dooars in Jalpaiguri.

Lahiri admits the limitations, failures and mistakes of the movement. He also admits that his sense of discipline prevented him from protesting against some decisions made by the party. Maybe, there is a lesson here. Dasgupta’s queries are discreet, yet penetrating. He draws the veteran out and we are the richer for it. The appendices and other notes will prove valuable for the reader.


By David Bodanis,
Macmillan, £ 3.60

Biography by definition is restricted to reconstructing the life of an individual. The biography of an equation is a novel idea. Bodanis chooses what is without doubt the best known equation in the world. Even those who are clueless about physics are aware of Albert Einstein’s famous equation that revolutionized modern physics and perhaps began the process which put into human hands the worst weapon of human destruction.

Bodanis’s book is emphatically a biography of the equation and not of the scientist who discovered, or of those who took the equation forward. Here, the scientists are flitting figures contributing to the development of the three key terms of the equation, energy, mass and velocity of light.

Bodanis divides the book into birth, ancestry, early years, adulthood and a section entitled till the End of Time. The birth is, of course, directly related to Einstein’s moment of epiphany on a beautiful spring day in 1905 in the medieval city of Berne. In a three page supplement to his famous article that he had sent to Annalen der Physik, Einstein derived the famous equation. A new idea was born.

But the idea had a prolonged and convoluted gestation. Michael Faraday in the 19th century showed that apparently disparate forces are related and linked by the overarching notion of energy. Einstein would change all this and show that the amount of energy available in the universe was not fixed and could be increased many times over. Similarly, Antoine-Laurent Lavosier showed that different forms of mass were not only interconnected but could be conserved. But the domains of energy and mass were seen to be totally separate. Einstein linked the two, but he did so by looking at the speed of light.

The letter “c” is used to denote the speed of light (from celeritas, the Latin for swiftness.). The speed of light was first calculated by a Dane, Ole Roemer in the 17th century. Einstein began with this value and looked at light’s inner properties. James Maxwell’s equations had proved that light moved in waves. Einstein took this forward and concluded that “light can exist only when a light wave is actively moving forward”. This changed everything for the speed of light became the fundamental speed limit in our universe. The speed of light explains the transformation of energy into mass. But why did Einstein have to square the velocity of light?

There are two cameo chapters in the book. One on the development of the “equal to” sign and the other on “squaring”. Physicists, over time, had become used to multiplying an object’s mass by the square of its velocity to arrive at an indicator of its energy. “If the velocity is raised as high as it could go...it’s almost as if the ultimate energy an object will contain should be revealed when you look at its mass times c squared.”

The equation had been born. But its early years were spent away from the father, in the company of scientists like John Rutherford, James Chadwick, Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner. The equation grew in their researches which showed how the atom could be opened, and the compressed and frozen energy that the equation spoke about let out. They had found the nucleus and the particle called the neutron and had found that when extra neutrons were pushed into overstuffed atoms such as uranium, the whole nucleus wobbled, trembled and then exploded.

The adult life of the equation is better known because of its involvement in the making of the atom bomb. But as Bodanis shows, the equation has no second childhood. The researches and insights of scientists like Fred Hoyle and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar have used its principles to understand the stars, the sun and even perhaps the origins of the universe.

The equation has changed the world and our perceptions of it. It has taken human beings to inconceivable frontiers. Had its father foreseen the future?


the confessions of jean jacques Rousseau
(Rupa, Rs 195)

the confessions of jean jacques Rousseau is a recent paperback offering of this classic autobiography of the famous social philosopher. It is written with an impressive ease and frankness. But the despairing tone of a man dissatisfied with life and relationships is set early on in this work. He “should have been a good Christian, a good citizen, a good friend, a good man”. He “should have died at peace”. There are descriptions of childhood scars — accusations of obstinacy and falsehood from the Lamberciers, in whose custody he was entrusted in order to learn Latin and other things. As a young man, he is not tempted by chambermaids or seamstresses; he sighs for ladies — a well-preserved complexion, fine hands. He writes about tormenting friendships, his thieveries, passions and politics, his collaboration with Diderot, the writing of the Social Contract and Emile. His illnesses, change of religion, persecution and exile, alongside his taste for the history of music. In the concluding pages, he self-consciously, albeit unnecessarily, claims that he has “written the truth”. Rupa, however, could have provided readers with the translator’s name.

i will lie down in peace
By Usha Jesudasan
(EastWest, Rs 150)

Usha Jesudasan’s i will lie down in peace is a touching account of how her late husband, Kumar, devoted his life for leprosy patients, contracted a terminal illness, and, later, converted his painful confrontation with death into a positive and healing experience. A lovingly written account, perhaps even a bit maudlin at times, the book manages to convey the confusion, bitterness, pain and loneliness Usha and her family confronted.

As a medical student, Kumar habitually donates blood. Accidentally, on the 18th occasion, he gets infected with the hepatitis virus. The malady soon develops into chronic hepatitis B, and an irrevocable condition which leads to cirrhosis of the liver. Kumar successfully keeps this information concealed from Usha, but not for too long. After his death, Usha draws sustenance from the poems he leaves behind.

benares: the sacred city of the hindus in ancient and modern times
By M. A. Sherring
(Rupa, Rs 195)

M. A. Sherring’s benares: the sacred city of the hindus in ancient and modern times is a lugubriously constructed history of this ancient city, replete with footnotes and reams of appendices and at least three embarrassing typographical errors on the back cover. Sherring makes convoluted insinuations: although “there is no known specimen of architecture existing...the date of which carried us back beyond the third century before Christ”, Indian antiquity predates that period. Alas, he has not the foggiest idea about the Harappan Civilization. And, to make matters a trifle more suspect, he launches into extremely slippery terrain with a description of the legend of Dasasamedh and sundry other myths. His comments about the Bengalis and the famous Bengali Tola in Benares are also dubious inasmuch as the tone repeatedly sounds patronizing without any understandable cause.



Death of a visionary

Sir — In the passing away of Dewang Mehta, the chief of National Association of Software and Services Companies, the Indian information technology industry has lost the most successful lobbyist for the fledgling Indian software industry (“Nasscom chief Dewang Mehta dies in Sydney”, April 13). Mehta was one of the most active supporters of the software industry in India and the undisputed spokesperson of the Indian IT industry on the international platform. Before the recent Union budget, he had lobbied hard and successfully for a 100 per cent tax holiday to internet and broadband service providers if they set up their services before March 31, 2003. He thereby ensured more investments and proliferation of the internet. He was also the moving force behind the exemption of the onsite services from income tax with retrospective effect and facilitated tax holiday for mergers and acquisitions for listed companies and was confident of achieving the software export target of $ 6.24 billion for 2000-2001. Dewang Mehta is no more, but his vision of making India the IT superpower should inspire all Indians, and those associated with the IT industry in particular, to try and achieve his dream. That will be the real tribute to the tireless worker and the ideals that he stood for.
Yours faithfully,
Vivek Dayal, Mumbai

In the silence of the hills

Sir — The leadership of the Gorkha National Liberation Front has finally withdrawn the indefinite bandh it called on April 9 in Darjeeling. One can well imagine the kind of hardships the people of the region had to face during the period when life came to a standstill in the hills. The bandh was largely imposed by force, while the GNLF thugs went about generating fear among the people. In fact, leaders of the GNLF have actively participated in and directed the entire show.

In the light of these facts and the evident irresponsibility and lack of accountability on the part of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, the government of India and the government of West Bengal should immediately dissolve the DGHC and take the councillors into protective custody. No person should be allowed to hold the population to ransom by misusing the machinery of the state. A public interest litigation against the bandh lodged in the courts by a concerned lawyer on behalf of the citizens of the Darjeeling hills would have greatly helped matters.

Yours faithfully,
Suraj Sharma, Darjeeling

Sir — The bandh in Darjeeling called by Subash Ghising and his associates was not an isolated event. It may be recalled that about 12 years ago, before the DGHC had been constituted, Ghising had paralysed north Bengal’s economy by calling strikes every other day. The editorial, “Stop in the hills” (April 10), has dealt with this core issue.

Ghising, who is the chairman of the DGHC, has been receiving more than adequate funds from both the state and the Central governments for the development of the hill areas. Yet, hardly any development has taken place.

Because of the strike in the hills, the operation of 72 tea gardens, all educational institutions, business complexes had been jeopardized. Ghising’s ultimatum to the West Bengal government that unless N.T. Moktan and two other persons were arrested the strike would go on sounded like blackmail. It is essential that the police of north Bengal is extra-cautious about the activities of Ghising and his associates.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Nothing special

Sir — Sarmila Bose may be right with regard to the great potential of Bengal (“This isn’t the time Mister Clinton”, April 6), but she should realize that it is difficult to equate the Clinton visit to earthquake-ravaged Kutch with that to communist-ravaged Bengal. One is crippled by a natural calamity. The other is suffering from the collective action of the majority of the people of the state. Bose, while predicting the defeat of the left in the assembly elections, forgets that politics is unpredictable and that there may be little change in Bengal after all.

Bose might look at Brinda Karat’s article, “A message from Kanpur” (April 4). Karat wished that West Bengal had loaned its chief minister to Uttar Pradesh for a week in order to avoid the terrible suffering the state underwent recently. One should not forget the ordeal of 1972-77 and several other recent unfortunate events in different parts of the country. Is Bose mistaking a mirage for an oasis?

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Pal, Calcutta

Sir — What makes Sarmila Bose think that a change in the West Bengal government would merit a visit by a dignitary from the United States, and that too a former president? She would be deluding herself if she believes the white world will stop associating itself with the work of a white woman among the natives. Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity are the city’s unique selling point. Bose had better acknowledge that.

Yours faithfully,
Pabitra Acharya, Calcutta

There’s always a first time

Sir — It has been stated in the report, “Defence chief” (April 7), that Admiral Sushil Kumar, the present chief of naval staff, is likely to be appointed as the chief of defence staff. It has been further stated that “never before has the chief of defence staff’s job gone to a wing of the services other than the army”. It would be worthwhile to point out here that till now the post of the chief of defence staff did not exist in India and therefore the question of the army having held this post does not arise.
Yours faithfully,
Subrata Bose, via email

Sir — Kudos for covering an issue as sensitive as that involving war widows (“Biting the bullet”, April 14). As the word “widow” has a stigma attached to it in our society, the army would do better to change the word when identifying the unfortunate women and refer to them as “lady wives”. The article covers mainly the jawans’ families. Coverage should also be given to those disabled in war and how they are facing life.

Yours faithfully,
Soma Chanda, Calcutta

Disabling insensitivity

Sir — We, the disabled people of Tripura, are facing a lot of trouble owing to the carelessness and indifference of the authorities in the state’s health department. For instance, there is a medical board in G.B. Hospital, Agartala, which is supposed to issue disability certificates to disabled persons from the west and Dhalai district of the state. The board has been issuing these certificates every Wednesday from the superintendent’s office, which is on the first floor of the hospital building. But there are no pavements or sloping elevations to facilitate the movement of wheelchairs to the first floor. To top this inconvenience, the certificates have to be collected from the same place one week after the date of issue, which implies another arduous visit to the building.

A non-governmental organization and I personally have urged the authorities several times to look into the problem, but in vain. The insensitivity with which the issue of disability is treated in Tripura is astounding.

Yours faithfully,
Subir Datta, Agartala

Sir — Although World Health Day is celebrated with great fanfare in India, “equal rights for the disabled” is still a distant dream. The mentally challenged are the worst sufferers. The Indian Lunatics Act had grouped the mentally ill with the “insane” and only in the Mental Health Act of 1987 has there been made a marginal distinction.

Among the mentally challenged, persons with autism or cerebral palsy should have priority, since it is impossible for them to function without support, the reason why they are helpless when old. Sadly, the Indian Constitution gives them no protection. The Disability Act of 1995 gives preference to patients who have lost a limb, but are mentally sound. Categorized as “mad”, the mentally challenged do not come under the normal marriage acts either. Society does not care enough to functionally equip them so that they are better able manage their lives. The organizations trying to help out these people are perpetually short of funds, which is why several of the plans never see the light of the day.

Until the Disability Act is revised and public awareness grows, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the mentally challenged in India.

Yours faithfully,
Reena Mukherjee, Calcutta

Spice of the competition

Sir — Survival of the fittest. Spice and Command, the two main cellular phone service providers in Calcutta also believe in Darwin’s dictum. That alone explains the fierce rat race now going on between the two. The companies are trying each and every way to get as many new connections as possible.

During last year’s festive season, the rates for incoming and outgoing calls of the two service providers were 80 paise and rupees nine per minute respectively. Then they made it three rupees for incoming calls and six rupees a minute for outgoing calls. Now they have come up with the offer of Rs 2.25 per minute for incoming calls and Rs 4.50 per minute for outgoing calls for cashcard holders.

On top of that the companies are charging an additional sum of Rs 60 a month for caller line identification. Most shocking is the fact that they have also increased the price of the cashcard to Rs 650 from the earlier charge of Rs 525.

The methods these service providers are using to attract new subscribers are questionable. In the end, the companies may find they are losing much more than what they are gaining.

Yours faithfully,
Praveen Ramachandran, via emai

Sir — Mobile phones have become an inseparable part of urban existence. It is increasingly being felt that mobile phones somehow enhance one’s status. Like every invention, a mobile phone too has its advantages and disadvantages. It is a tool for communication during times of emergency, and it should be used as such. There is no reason why it should be used when not required, for instance in restaurants and theatres, causing inconvenience to people around. Mobile phones should be used with discretion.

Yours faithfully,
S. Sundaresan, Dubai

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