Editorial 1 / Silver lining
Editorial 2 / The road to ranchi
A joke called choice
Book Review / Always against the grain
Book Review / Living for today
Book Review / The hesitant first steps
Book Review / That’s our best defence
Bookwise / Too many books, too much hype
Paperback Pickings / Cosmos of an Indian storytell
Letters to the editor

The consensus seems to be that the gross domestic product growth rate this year will not touch the 6.5 or 7 per cent promised in the budget. The National Council for Applied Economic Research’s Business Confidence Index also reflects gloom and doom, since in May 2001 there has only been a marginal improvement over the index for January 2001. There is no evidence that economic slowdown has reversed, even though a 6 per cent GDP growth is better than most countries in the world. This year’s concern centres around service sector slowdown (50 per cent of national income) and drought-ridden agriculture (25 per cent of national income), whereas the gloom over the last several years have reflected concerns over industry (25 per cent of national income). The budget attempted to stimulate industry through interest rate cuts and the finance minister plans to meet representatives of the automobile, cement and construction industries to work out a turnaround plan. The Confederation of Indian Industry’s perception-based survey through the Associations Council assumes significance in this context. The Ascon survey is fairly representative of the state of India’s manufacturing. The survey has a 2000-01 component and almost 25 per cent of Indian industry reported a drop in production and sales in 2000-01 compared to 1999-2000. More important is the survey component that deals with expectations for 2001-02 and in general, if perceptions are to be believed, 2001-02 is not going to be that bad. Out of 62 industry segments polled, 37 expect 2001-02 to be better. Ten expect growth rates to remain more or less the same and only 15 expect a deteriorating scenario.

Among sectors expected to do well are drugs and pharmaceuticals, aluminium, housing, information technology, electrical components, petrochemicals, processed food, sugar, telecom equipment and telecom cables. Doing well has to be interpreted in a relative rather than an absolute sense. That is, these sectors expect to do better in 2001-02 compared to 2000-01. Conversely, some sectors that expect to perform worse are threatened by import competition (automobiles, consumer electronics, tea). Nor is leasing and hire purchase expected to do well and that does not augur well for capital investments. Slackening investments have been a danger signal and it is a moot point whether further growth can be fuelled through exploiting unutilized capacity. In that sense, there is a paradoxical element in the results of the survey. Perhaps expectations of higher growth should be interpreted as no more than expectations and nowhere is this more evident than in exports, where companies generally expect better export prospects this financial year. In view of the global slowdown, this is extremely unlikely and the commerce ministry seems to have withdrawn the 18 per cent dollar growth rate target announced at the time of the exim policy. Commerce ministry data do not include software exports, affected even more by the slowdown, and the National Association of Software and Services Companies has lowered growth targets by almost half compared to last year. Therefore, industry complaints about downturn and squeeze on profitability are difficult to reconcile with the relatively optimistic picture presented by Ascon, even though the optimism is relative to what transpired last year. Indeed, India’s macro fundamentals are in reasonable shape and other than the stock market, the bane seems to be negative sentiments, compounded by Tehelka, Bharat Aluminium Company and the stock market scam. A convincing round of privatization should set this right and perhaps that is what Ascon is hoping for.


This might be the ultimate test of Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav’s legendary inventiveness. And he will certainly pull out all stops. Mr Yadav is about to go to jail, and if this were Beur Central Jail in Patna then there would have been nothing to worry about. Beur Central is to Mr Yadav what Chequers is to the English prime ministers, a rather sumptuous setting for remote-control governance. But being locked up in Jharkhand is quite another matter, particularly when the ruling camp in that state seems to be making every arrangement to cut him off — as a criminal, rather than a political, offender — from his seat of power. Mr Yadav will not be able to use his cellular phone from this jail, although he has recently claimed that he does not know how to use one.

It is significant that the most recent arrest warrant against him has come from a lower court that is unable to grant bail. Therefore, setting off a legal tussle involving the higher courts would be the most immediately available shift for Mr Yadav, although it might take a while for a higher court to grant him bail, while the clock ticks away in prison. Perhaps a cleverer move would be to stage a performance. This is what seems to be up Mr Yadav’s sleeve, and what better than invoking the Gandhian mystique in marching valiantly to jail. Mr Yadav’s padayatra, through his electoral hinterland, would be both perfect populism as well as a gesture of respect to the judiciary that turns humiliation into lawful nonchalance. But personal triumph apart, Mr Yadav’s exile from Bihar, if it could be made long enough, would leave Ms Rabri Devi stranded, politically quite clueless without her husband. Her party colleagues are not likely to show a great deal of camaraderie, and this might be opportune for the rebels, led by Mr Ranjan Yadav. But Mr Laloo Yadav has recently been talking about his eldest daughter quite a bit, and it is best not to put anything past his indomitable resourcefulness.


The elections in five states have once again demonstrated that democracy is alive and well in India, that the will of the people can be exercised freely to elect their representatives, some of whom will lead them to a better life. As they have for the last 50 years. Behind the process is an ethical principle; that this exercising of one’s choice by voting, the basis of democracy, is a Good Thing. Democracy itself being a Good Thing.

But even in theoretical terms there’s a good deal that’s not so good, or worthy of nurturing and preservation. True, many have given up their lives for what they thought was freedom, that is, the establishment of democracy of the parliamentary variety, but there have been people who, staunch defenders of the values of freedom themselves, had reservations about majority rule. John Adams, in his Defence of the Constitution of the United States of America said that if the majority were to control the government, “debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on others; and at last a downright equal division of everything be demanded and voted”.

The French writer and diplomat, Benjamin Constant, also voiced the fears of many when he said that to an individual it mattered little whether he was tyrannized over by a single despot or by the totality of those who composed his society; he was oppressed just the same.

True, both these writers belong to the 19th century, but then, so do de Tocqueville, Thomas Paine, Bentham and John Stuart Mill — whose voices, raised for majority rule, we still hold on to today. Time does not necessarily invalidate an argument. In any event it is, as one said, a theoretical objection and that is not what this discussion is about, sadly. What we’re really looking at is what passes for the great glories of freedom and the choosing of someone in whom we have great faith — someone of integrity and wisdom, who will lead us on to a wonderful future. It would be very funny, were it not so wretchedly tragic.

The true face of democracy as we can see it in what is happening in these four states is one that is ugly and malevolent. In these — as in the elections to other states in the past and in the future — democracy has become the preserve of those that are for the most part evil, and of those who, not perhaps evil themselves, pretend it doesn’t exist and loudly declare that it does not. If there is any booth capturing — our little contribution to the ever-evolving English language, like the verb to gherao — it is by the others, always the others, the dark side of the Force. If there is any killing, those killed are our innocent loyal workers, those killing are the others. We are eternally innocent, as Anouilh said of the police; we are the ones who uphold values, we are the Ajit Panjas of the world.

In Assam what matters is how many you can kill — not face to face, not people armed like you, but innocent people, who have no weapons. The more of such people you can kill the more macho you are — a terrorist, no less. In Tamil Nadu you scream hysterically for a woman who has been convicted of corruption, like a thief; that is what democracy means in that state — not freedom to choose wisely but to be part of mass frenzy, of collective manic devotion to Jayalalitha, no matter what she does.

It isn’t very different in West Bengal, except that no one can say that Mamata Banerjee is corrupt. But erratic, whimsical, contrary, petulant, wildly angry - she is all of these, and what she wants is not very clear to most people. One wonders if it is clear even to her. She wants the Communist Party of India (Marxist) out, she wants the Left Front out — and then? If she really is in control, all it’ll take is one budget like her railway budget for West Bengal to come apart at the seams. And then, of course, it’ll be the fault of the Centre — so, more agitations, demonstrations, with more adoring crowds crowding round her, the saviour who will usher in the golden age.

The point is — where in all this is what we said was right in the beginning, the choosing of wise, enlightened representatives ? The process of choosing is vitiated and in several places stained with blood and no choice at all; and those who come through are, many of them, either with criminal backgrounds, or persons who have links with criminals. And the few who are neither have no voice, they count for nothing. Where is the selection of the wise, the reasoned exercise of one’s judgment in determining who among the candidates one can really have faith in? One cannot expect ideal situations anywhere, least of all in politics — but surely one can expect something which approximates to a shadow of the ideal?

Had the entire business been to do with, say, robbing a bank, or defrauding a company, the manoeuvres and the strategies employed could be justified on the basis of the extent to which they succeed. Ketan Parekh had his strategies carefully worked out; he could do one thing one day and the opposite the next. The trouble is that the whole process of democracy rests on the principle of consent, through Rousseau’s social contract. One cannot divorce ethics from politics, and that is exactly what our politicians have actually been doing during these elections.

What are the alternatives, then? A presidential form of government? Would that be free from all this refuse and garbage that attach to the election process as it is today? Very unlikely. In fact, it may be even worse, and you may end up with a thoroughly corrupt, morally depraved man as president, as in the Philippines. He, too, was seen, and continues to be seen, as the saviour by thousands of the poor; but the rest of the country did get together and oblige him to resign, and he now faces the prospect of being tried for a crime the punishment for which is the death sentence. Do we have the collective will to do that? To undo a gross mistake made by the country? We all know the answers.

Perhaps, then, we’re better off with what we have. At least we have a free press and an independent judiciary. These two are all that stands between our sinking into the morass of moral turpitude and the observance, at least, of the forms of democratic and ethical functioning. On these, then, we must place our hopes, it would seem; and on the expectation that at some time or the other the educational process, defective though it is, and painfully inadequate, will slowly change perceptions.

It is said that one reason for the astonishing fall in the birth rate in Tamil Nadu is actually a populist scheme the late M.G. Ramachandran had thought up — the mid-day meal programme in schools. In rural Tamil Nadu, given the general neglect of the girl child — as in most states — mothers saw this as one way of saving food for their precious sons and sent the daughters to school so that they were fed at the state’s expense. They were, and they also picked up some education; enough to be able to see the virtue of small families and to convince their husbands of it when they got married.

One has, consequently, to wait for something like this to happen. A combination of circumstances which may, just may, begin to give the democratic process in the country some meaning.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting


Edited By James D. Faubion,
Allen Lane, £ 25

Michel Foucault, Parisian philosopher, died of AIDs in June 1984 at the age of 57. In 1983, when there were no symptoms of the illness that killed him, he had written that he wanted no posthumous publications. One doesn’t know if this letter was the result of some intimation of his own mortality. But his heirs and friends decided that this letter was his will. After his death no archive of unpublished texts was discovered. So when in 1994, Gallimard published Dits et ecrits — some 3,000 pages organized chronologically — it was considered to be Foucault’s collected works.

The Essential Works represent an English language selection from those 3,000 pages of text. The editor seeks to present the writings that appear to him to be central to the evolution of Foucault’s thought. Volume one brought together Foucault’s writing on ethics and volume two texts on aesthetics, method and epistemology. This volume presents a selection of writings on what many consider to be Foucault’s principal concern, power.

Foucault said in 1975, “I have been trying to make visible the constant articulation of power on knowledge and of knowledge on power.” He elaborated this and stated that not only is there a need within power to discover certain forms of knowledge but also the exercise of power creates new objects of knowledge, causes their emergence and accumulates new bodies of information. There is thus a very strong relationship between power and knowledge. Power creates knowledge and the knowledge induces effects on power.

This was an extraordinarily original intervention which left most people uncomfortable because it challenged and subverted some of the fundamental and strongly-held positions in the human sciences. It questioned the premises underlying projects of social improvement, therapy and order. And it questioned the prevailing fashion of Marxism which saw ideology as false bourgeois knowledge designed to mask the evils of capitalist society. Foucault saw knowledge as being useful and necessary to the exercise of power. He developed for this purpose an analysis of discourses, “identifiable collections of utterances governed by rules of construction and evaluation which determine within some thematic area what may be said, by whom, in what context, and with what effect.”

Modern regimes, irrespective of their ideology, have been most adept at using different techniques of power. Techniques of power — and this was Foucault’s message — are ideology neutral and politically invisible. He pointed out that the liberal, democratic West has been in the vanguard of technical invention and Western experts have shared their expertise with non-liberal regimes. Critics of Foucault charged him for making a nihilistic assault on the entire project of the Enlightenment. Many of the pieces in this volume note the all pervasive presence of power, but Foucault emphasized that the exercise of power is not evil in itself; however everything is dangerous. He suggested that to detect these dangers the lure of universal suspicion had to be avoided together with the perpetual quest for foundationalist certainties. Foucault never explicated the existential dimensions of this unless one takes the precariousness of his own life to be a guideline.

Foucault’s lecture on “Governmentality” at the College de France in 1978 and 1979 is reproduced here. Governmentality can be said to be the “conduct of others’ conduct’’. Through a series of institutions, procedures and analyses, power has as its target population and as its principal form of knowledge political economy and as its essential technical means apparatuses of security. The state from the 18th century onwards has become increasingly governmentalized. The state has survived, Foucault said, because of governmentalization. This lecture marked a shift in Foucault’s interests from specialized practices and knowledges of the individual person to the exercise of political sovereignty by the state over an entire population.Foucault never waved a political manifesto. But he suggested ways to question and subvert conventional wisdom.


By the Beatles,
Cassell, £ 35

It is getting better all the time for the Beatles. Last year, the group hit the top of the charts with a compilation of old numbers. This year they have been repackaged as a boy band for Generation X-ers in one more effort to further the already stratospheric sale of their albums. The group has had a multi-million dollar industry built around it for many, many years. And there have been countless shows, movies, top 10 and top 100 lists featuring them. The last year and the beginning of this year have been particularly fruitful because of the millennial frenzy to bring out lists of all sorts. And true to form, the Liverpool lads have found themselves in quite a few for no one ever seems to tire of them.

Somewhere in the middle of all this has come the launch of The Beatles Anthology, the story of the fab four in their own words. There have been a sufficient number of experts dishing out stuff on them for years. But this is the first book in their own words, their own voices. There is the odd quote and anecdote from Neil Aspinall, the road manager, and George Martin, their producer. But most of the book is made up of what George, Paul and Ringo have to say about their past. John’s voice has been culled from interviews he had given in the past.

The book is a curious melange of the coffee-table and the autobiography. It is a heavy tome lush with sophisticated artwork and rare pictures. The layouts are a feast for the eyes. Strewn all across the book are pictures of memorabilia and souvenirs — ranging from ticket stubs, posters to letters — that any Beatles fan would die for.

The book has much in common with the documentary released by the group a few years ago. This was the time when the Anthology albums were being released. It might seem at times that this book was the script for those documentaries.

The early part of the book is the most interesting. In this part we can find Ringo’s reputation as a gang leader of sorts. It is here that John Lennon confesses: “I grew up in Hamburg not Liverpool.”

And we get an honest confession about Ringo’s recruitment as a Beatle. “We really started to think we needed the ‘greatest drummer in Liverpool’, and the greatest drummer in our eyes was a guy, Ringo Starr, who had changed his name before any of us, who had a beard and was grown up and was known to have a zephyr zodiac. So we made Ringo an offer to join us …” say the rest. Fittingly, John Lennon, who started it all, gets to begin and end the book. Paul gets around to admitting that he was a John fan. But he also says that John was responsible for the group breaking up. That John’s mind had began drifting as early as 1966 and Yoko Ono just brought things to their logical conclusion.

The more the book heads towards the late Sixties, the more predictable the story becomes. Thousands of articles have been written about this phase of the group that is, on their last days.

What the book does is throw up a few more anecdotes on the playful ways of the Beatles. Paul admits that he might have judged one too many beauty contests in search of “birds”. There is also a mention of building a Beatles fort on a Greek island.

The book fails spectacularly on one front. It is short on the tensions that characterized the group in their last days. In fact, some parts of the book seem to be an airbrushed version of reality. The Beatles Anthology is the ultimate fan handbook, crammed with gorgeous pictures and everything else that a follower would love. Serious critics will be well served elsewhere. At the same time though, the book has an archival quality that few can deny. It might have all the feel of a richly produced scrapbook but never before has so much information on them been put together in a single book.

The book has one quality that has endeared the Beatles to so many people. It radiates freedom and good times.

In the era of organized merchandizing of music groups, the Beatles — though they are being marketed with a vengeance now — with their natural effervescence and chemistry, still represent the best that the world of rock has to offer.

Their enduring appeal has much to do with the fact that their appeal is universal. “As a thirteen-year-old, I witnessed their first-ever TV appearance. They sang ‘Love Me Do’. I knew at once that they would become a part of my life. Shortly afterwards I made a five shilling bet with my father, who claimed that the Beatles would be more or less forgotten within a year. When the time came for him to pay up, he confessed to a liking for one or two of their songs. My mother was a devoted fan. Everyone was,” wrote the author, Martin Amis, in an article as he tried to explain the magic of John Lennon and the gang.

“The Beatles seemed not only to symbolize but to contain it all — to make history by anticipating it,” said Greil Marcus, the legendary rock critic in yet another tribute to them. Old baby boomers now pass on the Beatles like hand-me-downs. A song like “Yellow Submarine” is now a popular nursery rhyme in England though the children who sing it may not always know that Lennon and McCartney wrote it. Their importance, even now, in popular culture cannot be overestimated. This book is just a reiteration of that fact. The force is still with them.


By G.B. Prabhat,
East West, Rs 325

A first novel by a new writer is always refreshing to read. The author’s unsureness about how he would be accepted in the world of fiction comes through clearly. And this is an experience by itself for the reader.

It is often presumed that the first novel is autobiographical, though this might not be necessarily true. The flap of this particular book does not tell us much about the novelist’s life. Therefore, it is difficult to detect the autobiographical strain, if any, in the novel.

Like all first timers, G. B. Prabhat, chooses the easier-to-handle narrative technique. The beginning of the story is arresting. The first chapter is not only well written, it raises hopes of an absorbing storyline. But very soon the hopes appear to be misplaced. We seem to have placed ourselves in the hands of a writer who is yet to learn how to handle his craft.

Chains has a relatively simple storyline. A non-resident Indian, John Janakiraman, is coming back to work in India with his family after living in the Silicon Valley for a long time. For Janakiraman, it had been a hard but comfortable life in the United States. He decides to return to India after getting a job offer from his homeland.

What could have gone wrong after such a dramatic beginning? For Prabhat, the over-emphasis on the details of the business world contributes to the lack of the human factor in the novel.

As the reader plods on through the the 13 odd chapters of the novel, the sagging dramatic appeal makes him realize that the novelist has failed to give proper attention to his characters, dialogues and situations.

There are only a few characters in the novel — Janakiraman, his wife Bharati, daughter Anita, son Rahul, Janakiraman’s Indian boss, C. Lakshmi Narayan and others in the LN Group of Industries. However, even these few characters fail to come across as lively and interesting.

Since the characters fail to inspire, the narrative around them also suffers. The vitality that characterizes other works of fiction seems to be missing here.

Janakiraman faces innumerable hurdles from the moment he lands on Indian soil — its unbearable heat, beauracratic hassles, superstitions, deceit and greed in corporate life. But braving all setbacks, Janakiraman crosses one hurdle after another, only to be dis-illusioned in the end. The novel ends as a good short story would have ended.

Prabhat writes readable prose and at times he can even be witty. Chains may not appeal to critics of fiction but it marks the arrival of yet another writer who would however need a lot of hard work to shine as a novelist.


By Samir K. Sen,
Manas Rs 495

Corruption in arms dealings has been a characteristic of Indian politics since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru. Bofors and Tehelka are recent manifestations of this malaise in the Indian body politic. One way of putting an end to this would be to stop buying arms from foreign companies. Instead, the ministry of defence should depend on indigenous production by military stores. How far has India been successful in the indigenization of defence production? Air Vice-Marshal, Samir K. Sen, attempts to answer this question in the book under review.

Sen accepts that India has been quite unsuccessful in producing military stores for its needs. At present, it has 40 ordnance factories, which along with several public sector undertakings like the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and BHEL, have been responsible for catering to the military’s demands. All these organizations are quite well funded.

In the third world, India’s military-industrial complex is just next to that of China in size. Nevertheless, till date about 75 per cent of the requirement of India’s weapons system has been imported from abroad.

According to Sen, the two factors that hamper indigenization of military production are India’s political culture and historical tradition. He follows the traditional Marxist argument that the British never cared to industrialize the subcontinent. Some ordnance factories like Cossipore, Ishapore and others which were set up by the British government, merely functioned as accessories of the royal arsenals like Woolwich in Britain.

But what happened after 1947? Why have countries like China and Israel, which did not experience large scale industrialization in the 19th century, been able to overtake India in the indigenization of defence production? Sen blames Indian politicians for this. The problem started with Nehruvian idealism which still maintains its sway over the political establishment.

Defence and development are regarded as contradictory in our country. Defence expenditure is still believed to be wasteful. As a result, there is no long term strategic planning for weapons production.

Whenever any crisis threatens India, the defence expenditure goes up temporarily owing to ad hoc buying of weapons. This happened not only after the Indo-China war, but also after Kargil. Developing a weapons system is not only time-consuming but also very costly. One way of defraying the cost is to sell these goods to foreign customers. However, this is out of the question owing to New Delhi’s moralistic foreign policy.

Furthermore, the policy of giving all the top slots in the research laboratories under the Defence Research Development Organization to IAS officers creates a stultifying working atmosphere. This is because the ignorant babus try to boss over the scientists and the engineers. Though the IAS personnel are not equipped to take technical decisions, the Indian government has given them the power to make policy decisions.

However, there is one caveat in Sen’s argument. He forgets that in particular the Indian Air Force is against indigenous production of military goods. This is because unlike the Chinese Air Force, the IAF has always demanded the procurement of state of art technology from abroad.

Sen’s attempt to point out the defects within the Indian military establishment is praiseworthy. His argument that bureaucrats ought to be replaced by scientists and technicians should be taken seriously by the policymakers.

The impact of this book will be felt now that India is preparing to restructure the ordnance establishment in order to face the challenges posed by modern day warfare.



“Globalization had become unavoidable,” a critic said recently, “because the nation-state had become too small for the big problems of life and too big for the small problems of life.” Applying this concept to the Indian book world would mean that the national market had become too small for serious and scholarly books and needed an export market (preferably the American market) to become economically viable.

Similarly, the market for the small-time publisher of down-market fiction or simple examination-orientated textbooks could only be found in local area networks because the all-India market was too difficult to reach owing to the lack of distribution outlets and the cost of sales outside the local turf. Either way, this is bad news because economies of scale can become compromised. One cannot help wondering — is there a way out?

The answer lies in quality. First, much greater care will have to be taken to ensure that the language, style and subject-matter are up to the mark. Books would have to be judged by their usefulness or by their entertainment value. Information is a more important consideration because books are not the only source of entertainment.

Second, while design or layout was never a consideration before, they now became crucial factors with the advent of computer-aided-design. With more sophisticated software, better photographs and with the added advantage of down-loading photo quality illustrations from the internet, packaging has now been prioritized over product.

The price factor has often been touted as an important constraint to individual buying. However, this is true only to a certain extent. Moreover, lower prices, say by 25 to 30 per cent, lead only to a marginal increase in sales. From the publisher’s or the retailer’s point of view, this is not worth all that trouble. Individuals buy books because they need to, and once in a while on an impulse.

However, there are certain ground realities that must be faced. First, writers and publishers must realize that they are involved in an activity that was no more than a minority interest even some time back. If you add this to what George Steiner said about the “illiterate computer-obsessed child of tomorrow”, then perhaps we are talking about the death of reading.

Second, publishers are over-publishing more than 5,000 new novels in the United States alone when it would be a miracle if 500 publishable novels could be written in a year. And it would be extraordinary if 50 of them would be good.

As a result, in one publishing house after another, good editors have either been fired or have not been replaced. An obsession with turnover has displaced the ability to distinguish good from bad. Too many publishers are allowing the market to dictate terms to them. In any case, public tastes are so fickle that it is impossible to tell what’s in, what’s out.

Unable to find their way through the maze of bad books and made cynical by the hype with which each book is announced, readers have been forced to give up. They may buy a couple of prize-winners, perhaps one or two books by writers they recognize and then move on. Over-publishing and too much hype has in fact driven readers away. Perhaps, the threat of globalization and the loss of markets will drive publishers to editorial ruthlessness and force them to exercise some kind of judgment. The alternative is extinction.


By R.K. Narayan
(Penguin, Rs 295)

R.K. Narayan’s The Indian Epics Retold is a valuable omnibus edition of three of this important writer’s works — his separate retellings of Kamban’s 11th-century Tamil Ramayana and Vyasa’s Mahabharata, and a collection of stories about “outstanding personalities” from the Hindu epic and mythological traditions. This last collection is called Gods, Demons, and Others, and when Narayan told E. M. Forster about it, Forster’s twinkling response was, “So who is left?” A wonderful inclusiveness, bringing together what feels like an entire cosmos of stories, is what this omnibus edition makes available, to not only Narayan enthusiasts and scholars, but also to anybody interested in the classical and contemporary worlds of Indian storytelling. About to embark on his retelling of Valmiki, Kamban had felt “verily like the cat sitting on the edge of an ocean of milk, hoping to lap it all up.” There is this sense of an immense relish in Narayan, as he confronts this sea, or perhaps unending river, of stories. The Ramayana has, for him, timeless “lessons in the presentation of motives, actions and reactions”; the Mahabharata fascinates him specially because of the role Vyasa himself plays in the narrative: “Throughout, the author lives with his characters, and this is the greatest charm of this work for me.”

By Vishwas R. Gaitonde
(East West, Rs 250)

Vishwas R. Gaitonde’s A Thief in the Night: Understanding Aids is a thoroughly researched and informative book that has freed itself from many of the prejudices and reticences that dog the Indian HIV/AIDS campaign. But the book remains too expensive to reach many of those who need this sort of information most urgently.There are important sections on the economic and legal aspects of AIDS, and a list of AIDS control societies and of NGOs active in the HIV/AIDS field in India.

By Dr Spencer Johnson
(Vermilion, Rs 95)

Dr Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese is a “personal development” book that seems to have inspired such disparate entities as Bausch & Lomb (as in the contact lens solution) and the United States military. It’s about two mice, called Sniff and Scurry, and two “littlepeople”, called Hem and Haw, living, in a maze, a life of endlessly pursuing Cheese. Cheese, in this parable about the wisdom of relentless adaptability in the age of dead ideologies, could mean any object of desire — a job, love, a good game of golf. One has to learn to change in order to survive, and one mustn’t be too “complicated” or be held back by inconvenient “beliefs”. The sniffers and scurriers move on robustly; the hemmers and hawers tag along or fall out. But what this book leaves out is that sniffers and scurriers, with or without cheese, could be rather uncharming creatures, and hemmers and hawers can also be rather nice people, even if the US military wouldn’t have them.



Those behind the scene

Sir — So those speaking the language of Hindutva do need interpreters after all (“Centre builds ‘national cause’ shield for Mishra”, May 9). At least that is how the Bharatiya Janata Party seeks to explain the inclusion of the Hinduja brothers in Brajesh Mishra’s talks with the Labour government in the United Kingdom, which, according to it, had taken a very tough line on the Pokhran blasts and therefore needed to be “cajoled”, should we say? Who served as the go-between with the United States, which took an even stronger stand on Pokhran? The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, must surely give them his heartfelt gratitude for the mediation ultimately brought the US president to India. If it is mediators like Hindujas who are behind the so-called success of the BJP’s foreign policy, the party ought to stop bragging about its own “initiatives”. More important, it should let the Hindujas off the Bofors hook instead of dangling them every time it feels the leader of the opposition needs to be taught a lesson.

Yours faithfully,
S. Soundararaj, Calcutta

Bordering on cruelty

Sir — While going through Brijesh D. Jayal’s “Fair game in uniform” (May 1), one cannot help ask why India’s neighbours should harbour such tremendous hatred and ill-feeling towards it. The answers are not difficult. Pakistan’s warped attitude towards India has its genesis in its deep-rooted inferiority complex. Despite its desperate attempts to match India’s prowess, mostly with China’s clandestine support, Pakistan cannot forget that on three previous occasions, its army has been battered by the Indian forces. Now it probably realizes that it can in no way match India’s defence standards. The frustration, coupled with the hatred nurtured in Pakistan’s political circles against India, manifested itself in the ruthless savagery of Kargil.

Bangladesh on the other hand is a small nation with a hurt ego. That its liberation from Pakistan’s clutches came with India’s help is ironically behind this mindset. Indian sugar, spices, rice, wheat, pulses, tea, automobiles, machinery, crockery flood Bangladesh either by way of imports or smuggling. The hurt has transformed itself into a feeling of antagonism towards India.

Our political fathers and foreign policy experts might theorize that all this is the handiwork of hardcore Muslim fundamentalist elements who have infiltrated the rank and file of the civil and defence establishments of both Bangladesh and Pakistan. Then why hasn’t the same happened with India’s Hindu neighbour, Nepal, and the southern one, Sri Lanka?

The reason could lie elsewhere. India is a middle-ranking democracy and middle-rankers become the object of envy for those who do not fit this stratum. It has happened with Egypt in Africa, with Mexico in Latin America and France in western Europe.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — Brijesh D. Jayal’s “Fair game in uniform” reflects the view held by Indian citizens. Politics and power transcend national security concerns and yes, Indian security forces have been battered by its neighbours on several occasions lately.

The status of the Indian armed forces started declining soon after independence. The confused priorities of the power-hungry and corrupt have added to the problem. It is the duty of political leaders to act in a way so that neighbours ill-disposed towards India do not get the opportunity to humiliate our border forces. Yet, tragically, our legislators have no time to discuss these issues in Parliament, even when our men were being butchered on the border.

In a democratic country, the armed forces are under the authority of the nation’s executive. That is why it becomes so important that the latter act responsibly. Unless that happens, our armed forces will continue to experience humiliating situations.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Sir — Brijesh. D. Jayal rightly points out the failure of the government to protect the borders of the country. It is because politicians in this country are so busy with petty politics of the kursi that Border Security Force jawans have to be killed. Parliamentarians were so engrossed in their verbal duels that they did not even feel it necessary to observe a silence in the memory of the soldiers killed. Neither any minister nor the leader of the opposition condemned the barbaric act of the Bangladesh defence forces in Parliament.

Yours faithfully,
Mukesh, via email

Sir — The front page photograph of The Telegraph on April 26 showed the mortal remains of our soldiers hanging on trees in Bangladesh as if they were things for display. We wish to make our country a superpower, yet we do not know how to respect our martyrs.

Yours faithfully,
Neeraj Chander, Burdwan

Sir — Manvendra Singh is right in castigating those who are yet to come to terms with the reality of Partition (“Border tragedy”, May 4). While Bengalis dream of a united Bengal, their Punjabi brethren share similar sentiments about a greater Punjab and politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav enjoy their fantasy of a greater India encompassing Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The upholders of greater India attribute Partition to imperialist designs. They overlook the fact that the British were only instrumental in it. They merely exploited the communally charged atmosphere of the pre-Partition days when there were already deep fissures between Hindus and Muslims. Not only did Muslims aspire for a homeland of their own, many Bengali Hindus preferred a partition of Bengal. When linguistic and cultural affinities had failed to bind Hindus and Muslims of Bengal and Punjab together, it would be too much to expect a sudden change of heart, especially after they have been segregated into separate nations.

Singh has rightly noted that the opportunities which these people have got in their separate nations would probably not have been available to them. The presence of Muslims is minimal in most spheres of the country. And with the sangh parivar fanatics spewing venom, is it conceivable that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis would think of reuniting with the Indians?

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Snorting evil

Sir — Bollywood has been under the control of underworld for a long time. The infiltration of cocaine and other narcotic elements was only inevitable (“Bollywood cocaine cloud spreads”, May 7).

What is surprising is the involvement of Fardeen Khan. He is a relative newcomer to the industry though he belongs to a moviemaking family. With his recent release, Pyar Tune Kya Kiya, he has not only proved his mettle as an actor, but has amassed an enviable fan-following. Young people have already started regarding him as a role model. Being branded as a cocaine-user will destroy his reputation forever. He deserves exemplary punishment.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The reports of Fardeen Khan being caught red-handed while buying cocaine from a drug peddler has made a lot of hidden facts about the rich and the powerful surface. Filmstars, with one or two box-office hits to their credit, are as spoilt as the sons of rich businessmen. While the likes of Khan carry on with their vices and bask in their newfound glamour, the drug mafia are only too happy to rake in the moolah, which they, in turn, invest in Bollywood films. The law needs to come down firmly and swiftly to end the unholy nexus between the underworld and films.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

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

Maintained by Web Development Company