Editorial 1 / Not so fast
Editorial 2 / Splitting image
Border tragedy
Book Review / In defence of the villain apparent
Book Review / Unequal men
Book Review / At ease among ethnographers
Book Review/ Ageless wonders
Editor’s Choice/ Holy trail of blood
Paperback Pickings / Our trauma is better than yours
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / NOT SO FAST 
 
 
 
 
Haste for a fast track is likely to slow everything down. That is the message that the chief justice of India, Mr A.S. Anand, has given in no uncertain terms to the Centre and the law ministry. A pet project of the Union law minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, regarding the setting up of “fast-track courts” has been rubbished by the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court. The court was responding to a public interest litigation which brought up the issue of detaining undertrial prisoners for indefinite periods. Mr Jaitley’s plan of setting up 1,743 fast-track courts, of which 448 are already functioning, is aimed at disposing of the backlog of undertrial cases “on a priority basis”. The Supreme Court’s objection is on two grounds. The first is a pragmatic one. To begin building new courts all over the country and then finding presiding officers are long-winded processes likely to hinder speed rather than increase it. The objection implies that the simpler way to go about reducing backlog is to use the existing infrastructure in a positive way and not try to create a new, supplementary one. The second ground is technical. The law ministry made its decision and the Centre granted the required funds without involving the judiciary in any way. Yet the judiciary will have to be involved, in the appointment of judges, in the devolution of responsibility, in the decisions regarding the “priority basis”. The chief justice tartly rebuked the government for first creating a mess and then requesting the judiciary to clean it up.

Although there is much to be said about the second point, it is the first that is more worrying. The justice system in India is painfully dilatory not because it lacks buildings in which to dispense justice. Far more alarming is the slow appointment of judges, which means an overload for the judges who are there. Lack of accountability of lawyers, which leads to indefinite and endless postponement of hearings, long recesses for the courts, the absence of a screening system which allows cranky complaints to reach the bench, all contribute to the uncontrollable piling up of cases. These are problems that can be directly dealt with. All they need is political will and cooperation among the law ministry, legislators and the higher judiciary. Of course, this would also mean a serious effort to eschew the edginess that has become routine in all exchanges between the executive and the judiciary. Mr Jaitley’s idea has two very positive points. One, it aims to reduce the backlog of undertrial cases, and that is truly urgent. And two, it projects a time frame of five years for the functioning of these courts. But like all attempts to cut the Gordian knot, the plan is vague about the adminsitrative mess it will cause and ultimately leave behind.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / SPLITTING IMAGE 
 
 
 
 
With the panchayat elections having run their predictably bloody course in Bihar, the goings on within the Rashtriya Janata Dal are again back in focus. But the sense of an imminent upheaval seems to have gone somewhat flat. Is the party moving through dissidence towards a radical inner transformation, or will this be yet another occasion for the party chief to stage another robust triumph? Both Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav and the new rebel leader, Mr Ranjan Yadav, have come up with certain definite actions and achievements. The build-up to Mr Ranjan Yadav’s expulsion seems to have led to the split in the party’s Lok Sabha wing. But, there is much uncertainty regarding who will end up backing Mr Ranjan Yadav’s rebellion at both the parliamentary and legislatorial levels. There are even a few missing rebels, whose final allegiances are far from predictable. But what looms over Mr Laloo Yadav is the shadow of imprisonment. Normally, that would not have been a problem at all. Mr Yadav’s governance adapts itself marvellously to the rigours of Beur jail. The problem, this time, is in the possibility of his incarceration in Jharkhand, from where his ability to control state and party is going to be seriously constrained — not least because Jharkhand happens to be enemy territory. The Bharatiya Janata Party would definitely have an upper hand over Mr Yadav on such a terrain.

The person to be most adversely affected in such a situation will be the chief minister, Ms Rabri Devi. Being at the helm of a vertically split party without the guidance of her husband will not place her in an enviable position. Her colleagues had never been comfortable with the idea of a female chief minister, and the caste configurations within the RJD are far from simple. The Yadavs are themselves vertically differentiated (with Mr Ranjan Yadav lower in the chain of being) and there is an emergent upper-caste element in the party, headed by its national spokesperson, Mr Shivanand Tiwari. Both these factions could claim a bigger stake in the party. Although the NDA’s stance with the new rebel RJD (Democratic) is not entirely unwelcoming, Mr Ranjan Yadav would perhaps not opt to be part of a coalition in which Mr Nitish Kumar and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan could well queer his pitch. But ousting Ms Rabri Devi and returning to an internally transformed RJD is perhaps now a dimly visualizable possibility for Mr Ranjan Yadav. But such a party will never enjoy the same sort of support base as that over which Mr Laloo Yadav has repeatedly proved his command. So a purged RJD will also mean a party considerably depleted of its electoral strength. This is why Mr Ranjan Yadav’s dissidence is still difficult to envisage as running its course to an effective and successful end. Mr Laloo Yadav may be temporarily put away in Jharkhand, but Mr Ranjan Yadav would have to work very hard indeed to tot up eight more lives to match his adversary’s formidable resilience.

   

 
 
BORDER TRAGEDY 
 
 
BY MANVENDRA SINGH
 
 
Separated at birth, and pretty much under strain ever since is just about how the India-Bangladesh relationship can be described. Despite the unique cultural and historical baggage that both countries share, the relationship has not entirely been one of tranquillity. This causes more angst in Indian hearts and minds than it does in Dhaka. There should be nothing surprising about this fact, but there are many who refuse to accept what the reality is. The root of this disquiet lies in what can loosely be called the “Lahori” spirit prevailing over rational thought and historical fact.

There is a belief amongst some of those displaced from western Punjab by the partition of the Indian subcontinent that relations between the two peoples can be hunky-dory since the medium of expression is the same in the divided province. A similar certainty prevails amongst some of those displaced by the emergence of East Pakistan. This community of the hopeful draws amongst its believers even some who were rooted on the right side of the Radcliffe Line. But the principle behind their conviction remains the same — a belief in linguistic similarity as the magic potion to overcome all other problems.

This passion flies in the face of world history and the evolution of civilizations. Nevertheless, Indians are not unique in succumbing to this failing, and neither is the Indian subcontinent the only repository of the culturally misled. South America is a vivid example of this phenomenon, and try as he might, Simon Bolivar could not bring the various countries united by language and church together. Understanding this factor is essential for Indians in evolving a workable relationship with two of their neighbours who parted ways at birth.

India was divided because a sufficient number of Muslims did not visualize a safe and secure future for themselves in a country where Hindus would be in a majority. It was a violent partition, as all separations must be. Language, neighbourhood or membership of the Government College debating society did not prevent those who ostensibly may have been friends from killing each other in Lahore. And the same did not prevent Calcutta from sinking into orgies of slaughter.

Memories of that period have not entirely healed for many who experienced those terrible days. To deny that reality is to bait the brutalities of the Balkans all over again. In this milieu, then, appear some who wish to gloss over the period of partition and play “the priest again” — little realizing that in the process they only further the distance in the minds.

The reality of Partition is permanent. What is also a fact is that a good many of those living in the two wings of Pakistan have in fact prospered since India was split. They have had opportunities to grow socially, economically and politically that they might not otherwise have had. That the opportunities may have been gotten through dodgy deals is another matter, but the fact is that many are better off today then they, or their forbears, had been in August 1947. Those who regard the Radcliffe Line as just another imperialist plot conveniently ignore this aspect of the neighbour’s psychology. And that ignorance lies at the root of India’s inability to reconcile itself to the dodgy in Dhaka.

East Pakistanis were instrumental in the creation of Pakistan, as important a part as their western co-citizens. And they would have been content to continue calling themselves East Pakistani had it not been for the sheer scale of ignorance and arrogance of those living in Lahore. Even after the emergence of an independent Bangladesh the resolve to lead a life separate from India remains as steadfast as ever, notwithstanding New Delhi’s role prior to and during the 1971 war. For the simple reason that they viewed themselves to be different in 1947 and continue to see themselves so since 1971. A national anthem scripted by Rabindranath Tagore is unlikely to make the Bangladeshi believe otherwise. And why should he?

There are generally two Indian reactions to Bangladesh. A large number feel that there is not enough gratitude demonstrated by Dhaka toward India for all that was done in 1971. The visible, vocal minority that sells the cultural line believes that the Radcliffe Line is a passing phenomenon, liable to be erased sooner than later. Both are off the mark since both ignore how Dhaka feels. No people are going to accept, let alone be reminded, that their freedom is owed to the blood and sacrifice of another country. The countries of Europe don’t feel that they owe a similar debt to the British or Americans. And likewise neither do the countries of the Asian south-east feel their liberty has been paid for by the blood of foreigners.

The Bangladeshis believe, and accurately so up to a point, that their liberation is a result of their own sacrifices with some Indian help. Throwing military statistics around cannot alter people’s perceptions, for nations are built along such sensitivities. After all, the Pakistan army’s surrender in Dhaka was to both the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini. Indians have grown accustomed to seeing only their military in the picture.

Dhaka also does not want the Radcliffe Line to wither away, for they believe they have struggled for it twice, before 1947 and in 1971. Bangladesh is not going to let it be erased, a fact that all Indians have to accept. Indians must also condition themselves into accepting Bangladesh as a viable, sovereign and stable nation seeking its own place under the sun, in honour, dignity and self-respect. All of which it sought prior to 1971. And they are not going to accept any bullying, or bashing, even when it comes from a Border Security Force patrol trying to violate its integrity.

Indians have been quick to place the blame squarely on Dhaka without first analysing the negative role played by the BSF. The fault lies largely within, and India must be graceful enough to accept it as that. Indians must also use this opportunity to come to terms with the reality that Bangladesh poses. It is, after all, the country that could have the fastest economic growth rate in the subcontinent, the country where social indicators have shown remarkable changes in the last decade. If Bangladesh were to come to terms with its geography, then there is really nothing stopping Dhaka from becoming an economic powerhouse.

For that, however, it has to come to terms with its psychology as well. The nation is split between the East Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, united, of course, in their animosity or antipathy toward India. But the reality is that there is still a fairly large East Pakistani opinion in Bangladesh, and it is large enough to shake the state. Some of them could well have engineered the episode with the BSF. Maybe they did not, but the fact is that they exist and they are most in abundance at a cricket match, currently the favourite barometer for measuring patriotism worldwide. This reality too cannot be changed, and coupled with the recent tragic happenings on the Indo-Bangla border the country should not miss the opportunity to initiate a debate on the validity of India’s role in 1971.

The question to be posed within is whether it was in India’s supreme national interest to have helped renaming East Pakistan. After all, precious little has changed there, and it is also a fact that had it not been for 1971, there very likely would not have been a Khalistan movement, and neither would there have been an insurgency in Kashmir. West Pakistanis testify toward that. But first Indians have to learn to accept the realities.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / IN DEFENCE OF THE VILLAIN APPARENT 
 
 
BY CYRIL ARIJIT GHOSH
 
 
TWO NOVELLAS
By Paul Zacharia,
Katha, Rs 120

Paul Zacharia’s Two Novellas, translated by Gita Krishnankutty, is an unusual package. In the space of two short stories, Zacharia accomplishes an enviable task of treating a range of human issues, including love, confession, guilt, sexual repression and faith.

In “Praise the Lord”, all of a sudden Joy finds himself useful to his friend, Sunny, whose application for the post of public prosecutor will be considerably enhanced if Joy can provide two escaping lovers with temporary shelter.

Joy is willing to help, less out of a generosity of spirit than out of the desire to see “lovers face to face”. This far, in his world, the only imaginable problems have been the Kerala Congress splitting, Sunny’s false witness letting the cat out of the bag, the AIDS epidemic and so on.

But, Joy’s biggest confusion in this scenario is his unfamiliarity with the entire situation. He is unaccustomed to life being lived the way Sam and Annie have chosen to live. His experiences are devoid of such escapades. Even his sexual activities are limited to nocturnal sessions with his wife, Ansy, in the privacy, and concealment, of his bedroom, while the children are asleep.

His wildest sexual foible has been the voyeuristic longing for a white woman on a Goa beach — followed by the bewilderment at the possibility of conversation-making. Would it be, “I lowe you?”

And, all the while, “Ansy and I are a mere husband-wife couple living together as good mates. Let alone love...”. Meanwhile, to his dismay he discovers the absence of a conjugal life between the guests. With increasing incredulity the reader encounters the tale about how they met — of all places — at a Retreat. The ridiculousness of the episode is unfurled in a perfectly believable way. But, Zacharia does overstep the line a trifle when, for instance, Annie claims that “this trip is spiritual net-surfing”.

This backdrop of spirituality and faith lingers, albeit somewhat grimly, in “What News, Pilate?”. Zacharia deliberately chooses the ambiguous historical figure, Pontius Pilate, and provides for us, in the form of a letter to a friend, Pilate’s justification for his famous washing of the hands.

Given the tenuous insights into his personality that the Bible supplies us with, it is easy to end up with contempt for Pilate, and somehow holding him ultimately responsible for the Crucifixion. He often comes across as a person with little integrity, and, for all intents and purposes, cowardly.

Zacharia probes this gut reaction. He relies on the gospels for the chronology and the details of the events (for instance, the sequence where Pilate’s wife sends him word about her dream in the gospel according to Matthew; again, Pilate’s interaction with Herod, and so on) and successfully acquaints us, at some length, with a different picture: the ambivalence in Pilate’s mind, his constant struggle with his conscience, his helplessness in the face of circumstances. In desperation, Pilate writes, “A saviour must fulfil certain conditions...He must ensure that he has the political authority or the military backing or the magical powers to achieve this end.”

Later, we have Pilate’s rationale: “The way I understood it, he [Christ] was neither a rebel nor a liar but an innocent man in search of a dream, and even in the thick of danger, he was in the grip of that dream.”

But, “What News, Pilate?” goes beyond this justification. There are stories, and lives of people like Magdalena Mariam, Pilate’s wife, Julia, and his secretary, Ruth. Zacharia writes about the sexual charm Christ could have had, the debauchery of the Roman governors, suspicion, infidelity and everyday life in Jerusalem.

One might question the relevance of such an explicatory note about Pilate’s actions in modern times. But perhaps that is eventually not important for Zacharia.

Krishnankutty’s translation is sensitive; she has retained several vernacular suffixes, but succeeded in keeping the text from becoming unwieldy or incomprehensible. Two Novellas is certainly a stimulating read.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / UNEQUAL MEN 
 
 
BY DEBJANI BANERJEE
 
 
HIRLER’S PRIESTESS: SAVITRI DEVI, THE HINDU-ARYAN MYTH, AND NEO-NAZISM
By Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke,
Oxford, Rs 495

In the wake of genome-mapping projects making startling discoveries regarding genetic similarities across races, this book may find itself a lonely crusader championing the cause of racial segregation. It would be interesting to set up a dialogue between Craig Venter (of genome-mapping fame) and the protagonist of this book, Savitri Devi. The polemics of their conversation would follow the classical patterns of a debate on racism, with Venter contending that few racial differences are actually genetic and Savitri Devi upholding the myth of Aryan superiority and its significance in the progress of mankind. As the genome-mapping project is all set to belie recalcitrant racial and ethnic stereotypes, the provocative oeuvre of Hitler’s Priestess brings us in close contact with layered ideologies of racial hierarchy that make imaginative connections between Hinduism, Hitler, and, environmental and animal rights.

Savitri Devi was born Maximiani Porter in Lyons, France, in 1905. Her mother was English and her father was of mixed Italian and Greek descent. Perhaps this was the reason behind her life-long search for a homeland. She was initially attracted to Greece but abjured it for a more lasting loyalty to the Third Reich. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s exploration of Savitri Devi’s life takes us through the lanes, by-lanes and crossroads of her controversial life, at a leisurely pace, while paying close attention to details. The broad spectrum of his research includes the lives of Hitler, Subhash Bose, V.D. Savarkar, Zundel. The author maintains a dispassionate tone which is necessary because Savitri Devi’s charisma has a life of its own — her enthusiasm spills into the pages of this book. Her zest for activity and passionate beliefs are almost hypnotic. Through Goodrick-Clarke’s analysis it becomes clear that Savitri Devi’s is a passionate nature that wanted to believe in and die for something grand and noble. The cause closest to her heart was that of Aryan superiority — the myth that the fair-skinned, light-eyed Aryan was, in every way, the true man. By extension, she believed that only the true man deserved to survive while others should be destroyed.

Savitri Devi’s interest in India was linked to her reverence for Hinduism although she culled from palimpsestic Hindu philosophy only those concepts that fitted her race-centric beliefs. The caste hierarchy and segregation of races, promoted in order to maintain the ostensibly pure blood of the upper castes, earned her respect. Her travels throughout India were guided by her desire to explore the Aryan heritage of India. In her book, L’Etang aux Lotus, she records her admiration for Hindu India. She spent most of her life forging connections between Hindu religion and Hitler’s pan-Aryan dogmas. For Savitri Devi, Hitlerism and Hindutva were the joint heirs of Aryan wisdom. The dangers of a partisan reading of Hindu philosophy are as evident in Savitri Devi’s works as in current electoral politics in India.

Savitri Devi met and married Asit Mukherji, an educated Brahmin from Calcutta’s elite society in 1940. Like Devi, Mukherji was deeply impressed by the Aryan ideology of Nazi Germany. Marriage to Mukherji gave her access to a British passport as well as a publisher for her prolific writings. During World War II, their marital home was a hub of spying activities. British and American servicemen stationed in Calcutta were invited for dinner and drinks and whatever information could be gleaned from them was passed on to Japanese intelligence officers.

It was Savitri Devi’s life-long regret that she could not be in Europe during the World War II. However, she reached Europe later, and kept alive the embers of Hitler’s cause in the Europe of the Forties and the Fifties. Books that she had previously published for a small coterie in Calcutta were reprinted for Nazi circles. Her writings reflected her courage of conviction — she hailed Hitler as an avatar comparable to Ram and Krishna. Her impassioned defence of Hitler, it is conjectured, influenced Ernst Zundel in the direction of the notorious Holocaust denial. She established networks with the British and American neo-Nazi leaders. Britain in the Sixties was conducive to racist ideologies; the complex repercussions of colonialism had caused an influx of 60,000 immigrants from ex-colonies. The extreme right campaigned actively to send these immigrants back. Savitri Devi was arrested for Nazi propaganda. She hoped for martyrdom but was released after three months.

At some points in his book, Goodrick-Clarke seems to suggest that the racist ideologies that underpin Savitri Devi’s world view evolved from her excessive love of animals. She was uncomfortable with the unquestioned anthropomorphism embedded in all thought-systems and her extremist nature turned it into a battle for eugenics that ensured the survival of only the fittest human being. Her derision for the common man added substance to her anti-man and pro-nature protests. She wrote prolifically on the cruelty being inflicted on animals and nature. In her book, aptly titled Impeachment of Man, she records her abiding concern for animals and nature and something she enigmatically calls life. Modern day animal-rights activists and environmentalists will find much in her works that will resonate with their concerns.

A biography of Savitri Devi can help trace a continuum between Hitler, Hindu ideals of the purity of castes, the pan-Aryan charter of beliefs and the modern day proponents of racism — such as, neo-Nazis, skinheads and soccer hooligans. These links, further probed, could offer food for grave thoughts on the nature of xenophobia. They bear evidence of the strong hold that ideologies of racial superiority have on the the individual psyche. An intrepid and capable person like Savitri Devi could be an asset to any movement; yet her dynamism and hunger for achievement were co-opted by forces that promote internecine conflicts for destructive ends.

Vacuous ideals of political correctness and half-chewed thoughts on secularism, communicated through pithy sayings and righteous television commercials, cannot fight xenophobia and communalism. To mobilize the Savitri Devis of our times towards positive ends, a systematic understanding of identity needs to be constructed, which does not equate difference with superiority or inferiority and rewrites the tired ideals of equality and democracy.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / AT EASE AMONG ETHNOGRAPHERS 
 
 
BY RESHMI SENGUPTA
 
 
ANTHROPOLOGICAL EXPLORATIONS IN GENDER: INTERSECTING FIELDS
By Leela Dube,
Sage, Rs 425

Leela Dube is one of the few first-generation women ethnographers in India studying the impact of caste, kinship and cultural moorings on the “girl child”. Although written over various periods during her career, the six essays in Anthropological Explorations in Gender: Intersecting Fields form a composite narrative. It appears as if Dube wants to initiate a dialogue with the absent reader, while recounting her experiences of confronting a gendered society during her extensive fieldwork in remote areas of the subcontinent.

In her adolescence, Dube would be dogged by the “derivative status” of women in the prevalent customs and rituals. The need for a critical revaluation of the biased notions seemed pertinent. And the choice of vocation followed with her marriage to the anthropologist, S.C. Dube. Anthropology for her is “a happy by-product of marriage”, which became “an integral part of the content of my marriage”.

The volume’s first essay, “Woman’s Worlds — Three encounters”, is an incisive analysis of her precarious position as a woman anthropologist tracking down unknown cultures from a woman’s perspective. On her first fieldwork among Gond women in the Chhattisgarh region, Dube faces a culture shock. The middle-class views of the man-woman relationship have no parallels in the tribal community. Accessing information under such circumstances is always an uphill task. Especially because cross-cultural exchange requires identification and empathy from both ends. Dube relates easily to the societal norms of the regions she visits by presenting herself as what she is: a woman, a wife, and, later, a mother.

During her subsequent trips to a Rajput village in Uttar Pradesh, and the Lakshadweep islands, she emphasizes these aspects to develop a personal bond with the inquisitive strangers she meets. Even while questioning the rationality of inherited notions, she sticks to the roles expected of her. She pinpoints the fissures, suggests plausible ways of bridging them and maps her own growth in the process — her transformation from a young woman striving for a foothold in an uncharted territory to a mature individual who derives creative satisfaction from her work.

“On the Construction of Gender”, “Seed and Earth” and “Caste and Women” are general deductions drawn from studies based on fieldwork. The first of them explores how the patrilineal Indian society shapes women into gendered products. Metaphoric language in proverbs and nursery rhymes demarcating separate zones for men and women is the theme of the second. The content of the third essay is explicit in its title. Caste forms the basis of an unequal power structure and determines a passive role for women.

“Who Gains from Matriliny?” is the most exciting piece in the volume. The focus here is on the Lakshadweep islands, which blends a close-knit matrilineal hierarchy with Islam. Interestingly, the island’s menfolk are averse to any change in the traditional system. Dube contends that the two disparate concepts, Islam and matriliny, balance each other and provide material security to both men and women. The last essay, “Kinship and Gender in South and Southeast Asia”, is a comparative analysis of family units in communities spreading across Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan, among others.

The object of Anthropological Explorations is summed up by Dube herself. It is an “excursion into the past”. Yet the angst is too palpable to be glossed over. Candid and extremely perceptive, her work is seminal in women’s studies.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ AGELESS WONDERS 
 
 
BY ARNAB BHATTACHARYA
 
 
IN THOSE DAYS: ESSAYS VEDIC, EPIC AND CLASSICAL
By Sukumari Bhattacharji,
Camp, Rs 395

Why should we read classics? Italo Calvino addressed this question in his book of the same name. Classics represent some basic paradigms, with respect to which subsequent ages orient their value-systems. For some, classics are to be revered, while for others, they are points of reference; but, it is impossible to break radically away from them. Classical themes and notions act almost like the Freudian pre-conscious, instinctively regulating our behavioural patterns.

Sukumari Bhattacharji’s In Those Days is a thorough study of several classical texts. Bhattacharji’s tone, on quite a few occasions, is deprecatory. More often than not, her textual analysis merges with a perceptive social criticism of the period in which the texts were composed. Bhattacharji carefully delineates the social forces which prompted the interpolatory variations of core texts and created divergent moral standards in society.

Essays compiled in this volume were written “over the past thirty-five years or so.” Predictably, they cover some “common areas” which explain their “apparent repetitiveness”. The 21 essays, either published in journals or presented at national or international seminars, give the impression of being arranged without any plausible thematic design or chronological order, since there are no indicators of the dates or years of their composition — but, they do not lack scholastic rigour. The issues discussed in the essays range from the oral nature of Vedic literature and Sanskrit lexicography to the philosophic themes inherent in the Samhitasand the Upanishads.

Essays such as “The concept of Truth and Satyakriya in the Ramayana” and “Concept of conjugality in the Mahabharata” reflect the author’s deep social concerns, especially regarding the social status of women. In the first essay, Bhattacharji indirectly repudiates Ram, the epic hero, for lacking in rectitude, particularly in his treatment of Sita, once abducted (therefore sullied in his eyes) by Ravana.

In the second essay, however, Bhattacharji ascribes the lopsided concept of conjugality to the Bhargava interpolation of the Mahabharata, which highlights, and thus valorizes, only the patibrata (devoted to the husband) nature of a married woman.

In the ninth essay of the book, Bhattacharji seeks to explain the reason behind this Bhargava interpolation in terms of successive foreign invasions into India, resulting in social upheavals and the emergence of the nouveau riche in Indian society, which set upon the task of deifying the Brahmins and subjugating women.

The shorter essays could well spark off fruitful debates. Essays in this category are “Words denoting separation in Kalidasa”, “The Cloud as messenger: a study of the Meghaduta”, “The Vidusaka and the Fool” and “Sanskrit drama and the absence of tragedy.” The author’s analysis of how the Vidusaka ceased to be a social critic and of why serious Sanskrit plays (Sudraka’s Mrcchakatika notwithstanding) stopped short of becoming great tragedies are thought-provoking.

Given that the book is Camp’s first English publication, one would have expected the publishers to be more careful with the editing. The numerous spelling mistakes — “widows” have become “windows” — and errors in syntax and punctuation, with which the edition is replete, only bring out the publishers’ nonchalance about such matters.

   

 
 
EDITOR’S CHOICE/ HOLY TRAIL OF BLOOD 
 
 
 
 
DEATH IN HOLY ORDERS
By P.D. James,
Faber, £ 6.50

P.D. James locates St Anselm, the theological college which is the site of her new thriller, in a desolate stretch of the East Anglian coast. Lashed by strong winds and the silence broken by the roar of the waves, life in St Anselm is governed by monastic routine. The familiar pattern of prayer and study from lauds to compline is disrupted by not one but four deaths. And one of the deaths, it is clear from the start, is a case of murder. The other significant aspect is that the murder and the last death take place when Commander Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is actually staying in the college.

Dalgliesh’s visit followed the death of a City millionaire’s stepson, an ordinand, who had died on the beach near the college. The father had refused to accept the official verdict of suicide and had pressed for more investigation. Dalgliesh, who was going to East Anglia for a holiday, had decided to look into the matter informally. It gave him a chance to go back to St Anselm where, as a teenager, he had spent his summer vacations, of which he had wonderful memories. When he left London very early on an autumn morning he had no idea of what was in store for him in the house of god. Out of London, he took delight in the beauty of nature evoked unforgettably by James’s prose: “the first pink gash in the night sky had widened into a clear whiteness and the fields and hedges had lightened to a luminous grey in which trees and bushes, with the translucent delicacy of a Japanese water-colour, gradually gained definition and took on the first richness of autumn. It was, he [Dalgliesh] thought, a good time to look at trees.”

The situation that James creates is a set-piece for a detective story. All the principal characters cloistered in a closed environment; the murder takes place, not unpredictably on a wild and stormy night; the evidence points to the presence of a serial killer; and many of those involved have something in their past that they would rather hide. But who reads P.D. James for the joys of a conventional thriller? Her charms lie elsewhere.

She creates ambience and emotions: “The courtyard, lit only by the dim wall along the cloisters, was very dark...he saw that two figures were standing together. One, he had been introduced to and the pale head shining under the wall light was unmistakable. The other was a woman. Hearing his footsteps, she turned towards him and their eyes met and for a second held as if in mutual amazement. The light fell on a face of grave and astounding beauty, and he experienced an emotion that now came rarely, a physical jolt of astonishment and affirmation.” Her sure touch enables her to etch her characters, even those who make only fleeting appearances. Here, the lawyer, Paul Perronet, “with the face of a comedian rather than of a lawyer”, is described to the last detail, down to the pink bow-tie with blue spots.

Above all, there is the presence of Adam Dalgliesh, handsome and sensitive, the most unlikely of police officers. He is withdrawn, seemingly in perpetual mourning of his wife, who died at childbirth. He is a poet of some recognition. He is an extraordinarily good detective who has the complete respect and loyalty of his team. That “face of grave and astounding beauty” that Dalgliesh saw in the dim-lit quadrangle draws him at the end of the book. On the beach after the mystery has been solved, standing shoulder to shoulder looking out over the sea, the introvert detective speaks his mind, “I would very much like to see you again if the idea doesn’t repel you. I thought — I hoped — that we might get to know each other.” Her response and her hand give him hope.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS / OUR TRAUMA IS BETTER THAN YOURS 
 
 
 
 
THE HOLOCAUST AND COLLECTIVE MEMORY
By Peter Novick
(Bloomsbury, £ 4.99)

Peter Novick’s The Holocaust and Collective Memory is a book that few historians would have the courage to write. It brings fearlessly acute questions to bear on the centrality of what we now call the Holocaust to modernJewish identity and history. Using Maurice Halbwach’s notion of “collective memory”, Novick traces the processes by which the Holocaust gets transformed into a symbol of everpresent evil from being a series of specific historical events. Novick focuses on the fact that this started happening only in the Sixties, and by the Seventies it had become central to American public discourse. It is also important for Novick that this happened mainly in America, and not, as one would expect, in Germany or in Israel. Novick’s argument does not shy away from the most important question that would arise from this account: “Is it good for the Jews?” This inevitably leads to the nature of the link between Jewishness and victimhood: “There is a sense in which Emil Fackenheim was right to say that for Jews to forget Hitler’s victims would be to grant him a ‘posthumous victory’. But it would be an even greater posthumous victory for Hitler were we to tacitly endorse his definition of ourselves as despised pariahs by making the Holocaust the emblematic Jewish experience.” It would have been particularly illuminating to have this brilliant historian’s views on the vast body of fiction and poetry, American and European about the Holocaust experience, “authentic” as well vicarious — Paul Celan’s poem, “The Death Fugue”, and Sylvia Plath’s fantasy Jewishness in “Daddy”, written in the early Sixties, for instance.

THE SINGING BOW: SONG-POEMS OF THE BHIL
Translated By Randhir Khare
(HarperCollins, Rs 295)

The Singing Bow: Song-poems of the Bhil translated by Randhir Khare is an anthology of song-poems from the Bhils, India’s second largest scheduled tribe, scattered across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. These are songs “carved out of legend and history” (confrontations with the Rajputs and with the British), singing of “axe-echoing jungles” and “mahua-sodden marriages”. The translator’s view that the “Bhils are all heart” is dubious and is reflected in the particular flavour of “contemporary Indian-English” into which the songs are rendered.

UNDERSTANDING HARAPPA: CIVILIZATION IN THE GREATER INDUS VALLEY
By Shereen Ratnagar
(Tulika, Rs 220)

Shereen Ratnagar’s Understanding Haraappa: Civilization in the Greater Indus Valley is a thorough and lucid attempt to present the salient aspects of the Harappan civilization for the student and lay reader. Sensitive to the ways in which archaeology creates knowledge, Ratnagar provides an illustrated outline of the archaeological evidence within a social and economic framework. Excellent sections on trade relations, Harappan material culture, social formations and religion, and a very helpful bibliography.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

You could still chase the dream

Sir — Habib Beary’s “Back home after bad American dream” (April 24) has a discouraging message for Indian software professionals hoping to go to the United States. But if one analysed the two cases discussed by him, one wouldn’t find anything seriously wrong with the dream. In the first, the NIIT-an is reported to have worked in the US for about two years at the annual compensation of $ 100,000. Assuming that he saved at least one-third of his salary (which is quite possible), the professional has brought back $ 66,000, which amounts to almost Rs 30 lakhs. This man can easily earn around Rs 30,000 per month as interest, if he invests carefully that is, without having to do anything in this country. What more can one expect? There is undoubtedly a recession in the software sector of the US economy, but it is still better than the Indian scenario. However, if one wishes to travel to the US, one should be prepared to face the reality with the determination to win in the end.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakrabarty, Calcutta

Suspicious neighbours

Sir — My family is originally from West Bengal but later moved to Bangladesh. I cannot prevent myself from reacting to the inflammatory article written by Chandan Nandy (“Look beyond the border”, April 26). Though the article has made good points, it is contradictory.

Nandy claims that the order to attack and kill Indian jawans came from the top ranks of the Bangladesh Rifles and the Bangladesh army. If this is true, then the involvement of the Sheikh Hasina Wajed government is a well-established fact. Fingers have also been pointed at the Inter-Services Intelligence, accusing it of trying to destabilize the Awami League government. This does not make much sense. If this crisis was indeed masterminded by “pro-ISI” officials, they will have to be from the middle ranks, as most of the top BDR officials are appointed by Hasina Wajed herself.

The decision to attack the Indian Border Security Forces may have been an attempt to stop the construction of the footpath and could have come as a direct order from the higher ranks. But the killing of the jawans was probably an isolated incident.

Nandy has claimed that the Bangla-desh army has been trained by its Chinese and Pakistani counterparts. This seems to be mere speculation. It is unlikely that the writer will be able to furnish proof of the training of the Bangladesh army in Pakistan. It is possible that there are pro-Pakistani elements in the Bangladesh army but they are a minority.

Most Bangladeshis have an immense admiration and respect for their neighbours. Nandy has, however, rightly pointed out that there exists a certain conflict in most Bangladeshis vis-a-vis their Bengali identity. It is also a fact that most educated Bangladeshis are by and large secular and are not easily swayed by anti-India propaganda. But religion has of late become an important factor in Bangladeshi politics, although Jamaat-e-Islami got only two seats out of 330 in the last general election.

The relations between India and Bangladesh have always been marked by a certain cordiality. One hopes that journalists like Nandy will refrain from writing articles that fan hatred and create divisions among people.

Yours faithfully,
Arnab, California, US

Sir — It is easy to be hawkish and help in the escalation of tensions on our eastern borders. It would also be convenient to bring religion into the issue to explain the bizarre turn of events which claimed the lives of 16 BSF jawans. Maintaining peace is more difficult than waging violent wars. The recent crisis seems to have underlined this fact. The jawans were well-trained military officials. That 16 of them were butchered raises doubts about their overall preparedness for war.

It is important that the Indian authorities are able to ascertain what went wrong. Was the intrusion the result of an intelligence failure as were Kargil and the Chinese wars? Recent media reports would indicate that it was indeed so. The mysterious disappearance of an Intelligence Bureau report filed from the Shillong office points towards a cover-up. The government should ensure that our borders are safe and that the lives of our soldiers are not sacrificed.

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Durham, US

Sir — Both Pakistan and Bangladesh intensify their anti-India propaganda just before elections are held in either country. Criticizing India helps divert public attention from other pressing matters. The Bangladesh government has done exactly what Pakistan has been doing for the last few years. Bangladeshis seem to have forgotten all about the role that India played in its struggle for independence. For how long can India remain a silent spectator to treachery in the name of friendship?

Yours faithfully,
Dinesh Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Midnapore

Sir — It is only natural that the brutal massacre of 16 jawans of the BSF should arouse a strong public reaction in India. The violence on the Indo-Bangladesh border is nothing but a carefully orchestrated attempt masterminded by the opposition led by Begum Khaleda Zia and is aimed at discrediting the Awami League government. India should not let such an incident pass. A just action would be to send back all Bangladeshi refugees and their families to Bangladesh. This might even urge Bangladesh to take measures to control the influx of Bangladeshis into India.

Yours faithfully,
Madhu Agrawal, Dariba

Downside of the law

Sir — The Election Commission has done the right thing by rejecting the nomination papers submitted by the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief, J. Jayalalitha (“Boomerang and jail unseat Jaya”, April 25). It is likely that she and her party members were aware of the fact that filing nomination papers from more than two places is illegal according to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act and reason enough for disqualification. Legally, one can only file nomination papers from two places, as Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has done.

Undoubtedly, Jayalalitha is one of the most corrupt politicians in India today. There are allegedly about 45 court cases pending against her. She has also been convicted in the Tansi land scandal by a special trial court. Her fate should serve as a warning to politicians like Laloo Prasad Yadav, who have cases pending against them.

One cannot help wondering what Jayalalitha will do next. Given her resourcefulness, it is very likely that she will try to get herself elected if her party wins the forthcoming elections. Jayalalitha would no doubt project herself as the “wronged woman” and try to win the sympathy of the people.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — By rejecting the nomination papers of Jayalalitha, the EC has not only taken a stand against corruption, but has also upheld its 1997 order. This should serve as a warning to other corrupt politicians who claim to uphold the sanctity of the democratic process in the country. This nation deserves better from its leaders.

Given Jayalalitha’s perseverance and determination, it was expected that she would intensify her campaign against the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief, M. Karunanidhi. In the last few days she has accused him of being involved in a cement scandal. But her disqualification has not helped her win any sympathy, neither has her accusation that the DMK had intimidated the officers into rejecting her nomination papers helped her cause in any way.

Yours faithfully,
Vinod Pine, via email

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