Editorial 1 / No win plight
Editorial 2 / Beyond mayhem
Of mice and men
Book Review / This stagnant wind of feeling
Book Review / Just do it
Book Review / Making of a modern nation
Book Review / How the Europeans won
Bookwise / Guide to contemporary collections
Paperback Pickings / A wedge through those lives
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / NO WIN PLIGHT 
 
 
 
 
A meeting of nine Congress chief ministers in search of an agenda. That would be the best way to describe the meeting of all Congress chief ministers that was summoned by Ms Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi. Of the 10 Congress chief ministers, nine attended: Mr A.K. Antony was conspicuous by his absence. The purpose of this meeting remains unclear since nothing of consequence was discussed or decided upon. The chief ministers seemed to be agreed upon the need for liberalization and disinvestment, and there was a general agreement that Congress in Uttar Pradesh, when the assembly elections are held there, would be like the Bharatiya Janata Party, a participant and not a contender. Not even secularism, the Congress’s stock-in-trade, was discussed, as is evident from the absence of a statement on Ayodhya. The meeting by virtue of its purposelessness was symptomatic of the absence of direction in the Congress. Within the Congress, there are chief ministers like Mr Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh who is doing good work in his own state but unfortunately for the party, Mr Singh’s views do not extend to the national perspective. Conversely, Ms Gandhi’s leadership is accepted by most, if not all Congressmen but she lacks the wherewithal to extend her views, such as they are, to the provincial and local levels. A meeting of the chief ministers and the party president could have worked towards building bridges over the gaps that separate locality from province and the latter from the nation. But no such thing seems to have been accomplished.

A perennial problem of the Congress has been the satrap-like attitude of regional leaders. But in the past, when the central party leadership was strong, conflicts between satraps were arbitrated by the Congress working committee or by the Congress president. But now there have been unenviable instances in which the Central government — the CongressFs arch-enemy, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance — has been called upon to settle disputes between Congress chief ministers. This covert declaration of autonomy by provincial Congress leaders would go a long way to explain the plight of the Congress. Ms Gandhi has a thankless task thrust upon her. Her principal asset is her surname, her lineage through marriage. But this is not enough to bring satraps in line. To do that she needs electoral success which in turn is predicated upon a united party and the loyalty of the regional leaders.

Ms Gandhi could not have been pleased by the chief ministers’ complaints against party legislatures. The chief ministers argued that Congress members of the legislative assemblies often hindered the proper functioning of the government. Such behaviour by the MLAs and the growing sense of autonomy that is being displayed by the regional leaders are not without a positive aspect. It is a sign that the Congress is breaking out of the authoritarianism that Indira Gandhi had practised within the party. Decision-making seems to have become decentralized. This may not be good for the Congress’s electoral prospects but it is a sign that inner party democracy may be resurfacing. Greater democracy may appear to be a threat to Ms Gandhi’s authority but without a reassertion of democracy it may be impossible to revitalize a party close to becoming moribund. Catch-22 would be the spin doctors’ description of the situation.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / BEYOND MAYHEM 
 
 
 
 
The blame for the mess in Manipur must squarely lie with the Centre which is now trying to wriggle out of its responsibility by saying that the flare-up in Imphal was sparked off by a “misunderstanding” about the truce extension with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). The argument is flawed on several counts. Even assuming that the Manipuris did “misunderstand” the truce extension in so far as it involved their state, the Centre should have anticipated the possibility of this reaction and done its part to allay such misgivings beforehand. The Centre’s apparent failure to have done this is more galling because the state at present is under its direct rule. If the Manipur governor, Ved Prakash Marwah, had failed to alert the Centre to such a violent backlash to the truce extension as Imphal witnessed earlier this week, the responsibility again lies as much with him as with the Union home ministry. The Centre should have anticipated strong reactions especially in Manipur because, unlike Assam and Arunachal Pradesh where too the governments and the people have strongly resented the move, there are Naga-dominated districts only in that state. Before agreeing to the NSCN(I-M)’s demand for the extension of the ceasefire area, the Centre should have paused and pondered over the Manipuris’ fear of losing not only these districts to a “greater Nagaland”, but also their ethnic position in a truncated territory.

The mess is likely to get stickier because the Centre may not find an easy answer to the demand by members of the Manipur assembly, now in suspended animation, who have threatened to resign en masse unless the agreement with the NSCN(I-M) about the ceasefire extension is scrapped by next month. Any step in that direction would put the Centre on a fresh confrontation course with the Naga rebels who would then threaten to walk out of the entire ceasefire agreement and resume their insurgency all over the region. But the Union home ministry can try and salvage the situation in Manipur by making Mr Thuingaleng Muivah agree to an amendment to the agreement which would allay fears, not only of Manipur but of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, about their territorial integrity. The NSCN(I-M) too should have no problem with such a clause, given its conciliatory statement in the wake of the Imphal mayhem.

   

 
 
OF MICE AND MEN 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
One does not know if Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reads The Telegraph regularly. The doubt is located in the arcane world of democratic centralism where the reading of “bourgeois” newspapers might be forbidden. But if he reads the paper — or if his secretariat sends him the clippings of news items which might be of interest to the chief minister — he would have noticed that the Metro section of The Telegraph on June 7 carried a report on the havoc rats are causing in Madhusudan Mancha in south Calcutta.

The report quoted one theatre lover who had been severely bitten by a rodent; there was also an account of how on the same day a leading actress of the Calcutta stage had stopped dead in her tracks when she found a rather large-sized rat staring at her from the middle of the stage. The report also noted that those in charge of the hall had been blasé about the whole thing. (Their amazing alibi was that people, despite food being prohibited in the hall, carried in edibles and this accounted for the proliferation of rats. These poor men are unaware that movie and theatre halls across the globe allow edibles and there rats are nowhere to be seen). Rats biting people during a play is par for the course, seemed to be the prevalent attitude.

Mr Bhattacharjee needs to take cognizance of the report for various reasons. He is a theatre lover. Madhusudan Mancha, like Nandan, was part of his effort to raise the cultural level and consciousness of the city by adding to its facilities. He can now see or read for himself what is happening in some of the institutions he has nurtured. After the report about rats attacking the toes of theatre-goers, how many will summon up the courage and enthusiasm to go and see a play in Madhusudan Mancha? How many theatre groups will put up plays there after they learn of the rat raids?

There is cause for concern here as Mr Bhattacharjee will immediately recognize. Theatre groups have a difficult time surviving in Calcutta. There are various reasons for this but what is important is that all the factors leading to the decline of good theatre in Calcutta will be aggravated if theatre halls come to be infested with rats.

The issue has broader ramifications. The conditions prevailing in Madhusudan Mancha are symptomatic of all that ails Calcutta institutions. These institutions were all created by some people with a certain kind of aim or vision, and then they have been allowed to go to seed. One has to think of Rabindra Sadan, the University of Calcutta, Presidency College, the various government hospitals, Writers’ Buildings and so on. Nandan is a partial exception may be because Mr Bhattacharjee visits it regularly. The word partial is used advisedly because there are reports that crime and soliciting are on the rise there and that within the movie halls, projection is not of the highest order.

The point acquires a certain urgency because Mr Bhattacharjee in his quiet and undemonstrative way is trying to refurbish the image of Calcutta and West Bengal. He said during his election campaign that given the chance, he would concentrate on building a new and better West Bengal. On assuming office, he has been true to his word in the setting out of his priorities. It is clear that in terms of policies, he is willing to break from the past. The first sign of this is the re-introduction of English in class I. This not only goes against past policies in primary education but also against the received wisdom of the Bengali left which upheld the mother tongue as the vehicle for primary education.

His constant emphasis on the need for investment in the state, if West Bengal is to climb out of its present rut, is also against the leftist anti-capitalist gospel. His industry-friendly face makes a refreshing change in a world weary of stale rhetoric. As does his disarming willingness to admit past mistakes. All these make people look beyond their despair and cynicism. An enormous am- ount of hope rides on Mr Bhattacharjee.

He will be aware that the transformation he has in mind cannot completely ignore existing institutions. He has to build on some of the existing ones, and create new ones. He will also be conscious that he, whatever be his intentions, has to work within an existing framework which he cannot change overnight. That framework includes the political priorities of his own party and the various pressures operating within the Left Front. It also includes the opposition and its maverick leader who does not know the meanings of decorum and responsibility. Against all these Mr Bhattacharjee will have to work to clean up existing institutions and to create and nurture new ones. As he proceeds he will come up against vested interests, created by various political parties, including his own, and the complete indifference and cussedness of some persons towards their own duties and responsibilities.

The point can be illustrated by going back to the incident with which this piece began. It is not possible that those who are responsible for looking after Madhusudan Mancha are unaware of the havoc rats are causing within the auditorium. What have they done about this problem? It does not need a great deal of money to get rid of rats, so the lack of resources cannot be the crucial issue. It boils down to callousness; callousness towards ones duties, towards the environment, and towards the institution from which one earns a living.

The same story is repeated virtually unchanged for many other well known institutions. Why is it that special orders have to be issued to the staff of Calcutta University to arrive on time when the UGC team is visiting? The answer is that most of the staff don’t give a damn about the institution. Work culture is an elusive thing and it cannot be ensured through administrative fiats or through ministerial exhortations.

There is something absurd about some of these fiats also. Teachers of Jadavpur University have to now undergo the humiliation of signing attendance registers. The petty bureaucrat who thought this one up will perhaps explain how this will ensure that teachers who habitually do not take classes or teach below standard will perform their duties adequately.

It would be unrealistic to expect Mr Bhattacharjee to clean the Augean stables. He could make a start though by looking at some of the institutions he himself inspired. Most important, as he goes about his work, he could be a little more conscious of rodents. There might be some lurking in the street running west opposite St James’s Church off Lower Circular Road. Like Elsinore’s famous prince, he might discover that what he mistook for a rat has human form. Be careful of rats, Mr Bhattacharjee, because they might eat into your dreams and infect your responsibilities with rabies.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / THIS STAGNANT WIND OF FEELING 
 
 
BY BHASWATI CHAKRAVORTY
 
 
TRANSLATING PARTITION
Edited By Ravikant and Tarun K. Saint,
Katha, Rs 250

Over the last few years, the “literature” of Partition has come to mean a great deal more than literary texts. To reach the heart of “madness”, fact, memory, fiction, interpretation, history spill out of their compartments and merge into one another, creating new “truths”. Perhaps fiction can touch most closely on the sense of cataclysmic disorder, of violent disruption of meaning that events like Partition or the Holocaust unleash into the realm of human experience.

In Joginder Paul’s “Thirst of Rivers”, an old woman, exiled from her haveli, cries in her mind into her past: “Yes, I have gone mad. Please let me go mad, otherwise I’ll really go mad.” This terrible cry is an expression of the complete breakdown of all known categories of meaning, which is why, as the editors point out in the introduction, madness becomes a reiterated trope in Partition literature. Therefore, central to the collection of eight stories in this volume is Sa’adat Hasan Manto’s “Toba Tek Singh”, a place which becomes identified with Bishan, the lunatic who dies in no man’s land between Pakistan and Hindustan because no one can tell him on which side this homeland of his has fallen.

The story’s centrality is marked by the prologue poem, “Toba Tek Singh” by Gulzar. Madness pursues almost all the characters in the stories in different guises, as they lose their loves and families. The few who understand whence the catastrophe has fallen call the politicians and departing rulers mad.

In such a collection, everything crosses boundaries. In The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India, Urvashi Butalia quotes James E. Young writing on memories and testimonies of the Holocaust: “Whatever ‘fictions’ emerge from the survivors’ accounts are not deviations from the ‘truth’ but are part of the truth in any particular version. The fictiveness in testimony...[involves] the inevitable variance in perceiving and representing these facts, witness by witness, language by language, culture by culture.” This constant crossing over, between fictions and “truth”, history and chronicle, experience and commentary, is basic to the design of Translating Partition.

The most important crossing is one of languages: all the stories except Attia Hosain’s are translated. The unforgettable world of Partition fiction is opened up to a vast readership. Parallel to this translation runs the desire to translate an unspeakable experience into any language at all, a desire shared by the storytellers and historians alike.

Therein lies also the weakness of the volume. It attempts too much. The stories represent some of the best known authors. Besides Manto, there are Kamleshwar and Bhisham Sahni, to name two. But the four essays on four of the stories would have better suited a volume of criticism, even though these are meant to place the stories in context. What could have been retained from these essays are the discussions on the difficulties of translation, which are often illuminatingly specific.

From one point of view, the effort to understand what Partition meant demands such a context, because that is “Partition literature” in its totality. But so powerful is the short fiction of Partition, that the editors’ introduction, annotated bibliography and list of select fiction would have been enough to make this an important addition to Partition literature.

This objection extends to the section called “Partition Overview”, which could have done with pruning. Saumya Gupta’s discussion of the role of Vartman as an example of the regional press provides a relevant crosslight, as does the short piece by Naiyer Masud on Partition and the Urdu short story. This ties in with the theme of language politics that runs through the collection and is pointed up by the difficulties of translation that the writers record.

The book could have been tighter knit, but as it stands, it represents an attempt to restore the communication between coexisting cultures and between generations that Partition destroyed.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / JUST DO IT 
 
 
BY PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
 
 
EXPLORATIONS IN PHILOSOPHY:INDIAN PHILOSOPHY ESSAYS
By J.N. Mohanty
Edited By Bina Gupta,
Oxford,Rs 495

Philosophers writing about Indian philosophy in English have an unenviable task. On the one hand, they have to reckon with the long shadow of Hegel who presumptuously declared that there could be, properly speaking, no such thing as Indian philosophy. On the other hand, there is the problem of Indian philosophy being often associated more with occult cults or spirituality than with rational argument. J.N. Mohanty, one of India’s most distinguished philosophers, has spent a lifetime battling both prejudices.

This new collection of essays carries the battle further. Its greatest success lies in combating widely held misconceptions that Indian philosophy is intuitive not conceptual, mystical not logical, that it is concerned only with practical not theoretical reason, and is based on the authority of tradition rather than reasoned argument. A few essays deal with debates in Indian metaphysics, while others still are probing reviews of the work of K.C. Bhattacharya, Bimal Matilal and so on.

The essays in the volume are careful in their scholarship and judicious in their judgments. Despite the somewhat defensive tone of the essays, they are clearly accessible and admirably unbullying. Many will serve as fine introductions to a range of issues in Indian philosophy and give a good account of its conceptual resources. While most of the essays attempt largely to dispel myths about Indian philosophy, a couple advance interesting arguments in their own right. One particular essay revises Mohanty’s own previous critique of the doctrine most singularly associated with Indian philosophy — the idea of sabda pramana. This is the claim that there is a particular class of objects about which we can have knowledge only through words and not through any other mode of cognition. While Mohanty is generally sceptical of this claim, he now concedes that it may have some plausibility in explaining how we come to have knowledge of moral rules.

Despite Mohanty’s own analytical acuity and wide range of references, this collection reads more like an elegy for Indian philosophy than as a display of its vigour. The question, “Why do Indian philosophy?” seems to cast a long shadow over these essays. Mohanty argues that there are too many reasons to do Indian philosophy. Indian debates can help shed light on longstanding problems in Western philosophy; they can raise questions that have not hitherto been raised. In a departure from his own previous work, Mohanty now concedes that one may even go to Indian philosophy for wisdom. And his final defence of the enterprise of philosophy is a defence of intellectualism as such: there is something edifying about subjecting oneself to a rigorous philosophical training.

Given that there are too many reasons to do Indian philosophy, why is it flourishing in English less than it ought to? This is due in part to reasons that have nothing to do with philosophy. The precarious state of liberal education has had a deleterious impact on most social sciences and humanities with the possible exception of history. The fact that even as distinguished a scholar as Mohanty, after five decades of impressive work, has to still write in such a defensive mode speaks volumes about the psychological obstacles that Hegel’s long shadow have produced. The awkwardness of most translations of Indian philosophy testifies to the hermeneutic difficulties of appropriating Indian philosophy texts into another context.

The interest of Mohanty’s own work and those of people like Matilal, lies in the fact that they were able to carry on the conversations across different philosophical traditions without sacrificing intellectual rigour because they were well trained in each. It is increasingly rare to find philosophers who are equally adept in nyaya, mimansa and so on as they are in Western philosophy. As Mohanty points out, every act of translation is a philosophical act. As the divorce between those adept in Sanskrit and traditional philosophy on the one hand, and those competent in Western philosophy on the other, grows even larger, philosophical creativity is bound to suffer. The former group is, with a few exceptions, either reluctant to publish or caught in the self-referential stupor of most of our Sanskrit departments; the latter group is too much on the defensive to produce something creative. It is difficult to see who will replace people like Mohanty, Matilal, P.K. Sen, K.C. Bhattacharya.

But the problem may go even deeper than simply the fact that few philosophers are now as well trained as the previous generation was. The discipline of philosophy itself, even in the West, is going through a certain identity crisis. The historicist turn, which is suspicious of the idea that there are timeless questions and timeless solutions, is very much in the ascendant. This view does not so much render philosophy irrelevant as it places it in its proper context. On this view one should not see Locke, Descartes and Kant, for instance, as answering timeless questions, but should regard them as responding to a particular intellectual crisis generated by a twin combination of Protestantism and the scientific revolution. Mohanty himself points out that in India as well, the impetus to philosophy generated by the rise of Buddhism was unparalleled. If this is correct, the practice of Indian philosophy itself needs to be placed in a wider context than Mohanty does.

While Mohanty’s case for doing Indian philosophy is cogently argued within the terms of the discipline of philosophy, it is curiously silent about the intellectual conditions that call for philosophical reflection in the first place. Coming to terms with those conditions would be necessary to overcome the defensiveness that marks Indian philosophy written in English. What will be the new challenges that will spur philosophical reflection and does Indian philosophy have the resources to meet those? Mohanty studiously avoids this question. It is ironic that one of the most self-conscious of our thinkers is strangely silent about the presuppositions of his own activity. In this volume, Mohanty is a historian of philosophy, writing in a strangely unhistorical mood.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / MAKING OF A MODERN NATION 
 
 
BY SUHRITA SAHA
 
 
REINVENTING INDIA: LIBERALISATION, HINDU NATIONALISM AND POPULAR DEMOCRACY
By Stuart Corbridge and John Harriss,
Oxford, Rs 595

In the last decade and a half two critical and apparently contradictory trends have dominated the socio-political and cultural space of India. On the one hand, there is the urge to integrate with the global market economy, a trend brought to sharp focus by the collapse of socialism in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. On the other, the decline of the Congress hegemony in Indian politics has been matched by an equally strong trend — the growth of a plethora of narrow, chauvinist “Hindu” nationalist political parties and organisations. Corbridge and Harriss try to examine this contemporary transformation in the light Indian history.

Right after independence, the battle to modernize India was fought out between several constituencies that had taken shape under the raj — big business houses, landed elites, political groups — and was contested within the Congress itself. The authors argue that from the very beginning, because of the inherent weakness of the Indian bourgeoisie, it became necessary to depend on the bureaucracy to bring about social transformation. The Nehru-Mahalanobis model of planning that emphasized on equity, growth and self-reliance, was the main vehicle of transformation.

Although India’s economy continued to grow at a steady but sluggish rate till 1980, India’s industry did not do well. After three decades of state directed development, the government felt that it was time for the private sector to play an important role. Economists and policy-makers agreed that bureaucratic controls, necessary initially, now hindered production. There stress shifted from the planning of the economy to its management.

At the political level, from the Seventies, there was growing disillusionment with the Congress. The huge size, regional spread and ideological diversity prevented cohesion in the party. Personalization of power, especially under Indira Gandhi, led to a crisis of governability.

After her, Rajiv Gandhi could not salvage the Congress’s declining popularity. Although during the Eighties, India tentatively experimented with economic reforms, one can only find “a hesitant liberalization” in the policies of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

The new economic policy of the P.V. Narasimha Rao government amounted to a paradigmatic shift. Along with liberalization of the economy, India also witnessed major political shifts from the 1990 onwards. Earlier in 1977, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh along with the Janata Party had formed the first non-Congress government at the Centre. Later, in 1980, the Jan Sangh broke away from the Janata Party over the issue of dual membership and the Bharatiya Janata Party was formed.

From 1982 onwards, the BJP along with other members of the sangh parivar started “on an extra-parliamentary politics of an openly and aggressively Hindu communal type”, which finally culminated into the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.

From just two parliamentary seats in the 1984 elections, the BJP today stands as the single largest party heading the coalition government at the Centre. However, the BJP’s electoral success is not built around the Hindu referendum alone. Complex stakes and expectations of voters in a fiercely competitive electoral politics has put the BJP strategy under tremendous pressure to make compromises.

The BJP is clearly not the political alternative to the Congress. One political vacuum created by the decline of the Congress has been filed in by numerous regional and local parties with multiple stakes. In fact, the BJP has been forced to shed its upper caste image in order to make regional alliances in many states. The coalition government, which the BJP heads today, depends on the strength of these alliances. Personal ambitions of regional politicians notwithstanding, coalition politics seems to be a positive move towards popular democracy since it is the most powerful agent in constraining the “reinvention” of India by Hindu nationalism.

This volume is an important contribution to political sociology. But it is at best a good rumination and presentation of the already existing research in this field. It lacks methodological as well as analytical originality. The books fails to answer if the rise of Hindu nationalism and economic liberalization in India are merely a coincidence or if there is a deeper underlying correlation between the two.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / HOW THE EUROPEANS WON 
 
 
BY KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
THE RENAISSANCE AT WAR
By Thomas Arnold
Cassell, £ 20

Michaelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci come to mind when we think about the European Renaissance. We all know that art, literature, science made enormous advance during the Renaissance. What we do not know is that the Renaissance also perfected a killing machine that not only destroyed feudalism, but also enabled Europe to expand its influence beyond its borders. Thomas Arnold tries to chart the trajectory of Renaissance warfare in this book.

Geoffrey Parker first pointed at a military revolution in west Europe during the Renaissance in The Military Revolution. Arnold asserts that there were in fact two military revolutions. The gunpowder revolution was followed by the infantry revolution. The gunpowder formula reached Europe from China through Arabia around 1250 AD.

Siege artillery replaced the trebuchets or stone-throwing machines with significant political impact. This expensive form of warfare required a lot of investment. So only kings who allied with rich urban citizens could have access to siege artillery. With this, even fortified castles could be easily destroyed as iron shots from canons bore holes into forts’ walls. This enabled kings to destroy the baronial castles of the feudal lords, thus paving the way for the emergence of centralized states.

Field artillery and muskets also witnessed development. Initially, brass guns were produced and then, with the development of metallurgy, iron guns came into existence. Expansion of iron mining and the relative cheapness of iron vis a vis brass enabled kings to arm more and more of their plebian infantry soldiers. The growing firepower enabled the infantry to drive away the feudal cavalry.

Once the infantry-artillery combination was perfected and the feudal lords chastized, the European rulers turned their war machine against the external enemies. The 15th century found west Europe on the defensive. In the east, the Ottoman Turks assailed Europe. Balkan was already lost to the Turks, who then marched to Vienna. However, from the latter part of the 16th century, the Turks were gradually pushed to the margins of Europe. How was this possible?

The Ottoman Turks remained wedded to the nomadic pastoral culture. Hence, they failed to absorb and assimilate the gunpowder technology. They continued to rely on cavalry, even though firepower was making the “men on horseback” useless. The net result was that in Hungary and Bulgaria, the Christian infantry, armed with muskets and supported by artillery, repeatedly mauled the Ottoman cavalry armed with swords.

Some enlightened sultans realized the importance of gunpowder. But modernization attempts were defeated by the amirs who remained devoted to the aristocratic cavalry culture. The desperate sultans hired Christian infantrymen who, however, turned out to be disloyal. Further, the Ottomans failed to impart any collective training to their soldiers.

How can one explain the brilliance of the Europeans in warfare? Arnold claims that this was because of the Renaissance mentality. The scientific objectivity and the Utilitarian perspective enabled them to evaluate old ideas and innovate. One aspect of this approach to warfare in Europe, writes Arnold, was the publication of military manuals. The spread of literacy and the printing press also aided military literature. All this encouraged officers to think and write and their juniors profited from them.

The Renaissance was an age of intellectual ferment and this also affected warfare. Arnold shows that the transformation of feudal Europe into a modern global power was a long drawn process which begun with the Renaissance.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE / GUIDE TO CONTEMPORARY COLLECTIONS 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 

There are three kinds of anthologies. First, there are those that are representative, those large, over-stuffed volumes which include everybody. Poets, novelists, other scholars are there because they exist. They find a place because they are part of literary history. Hence the Oxford or Norton anthologies on English literature and their updates.

Second, there are those that are idiosyncratic. They may have a special gospel to preach as in The Vintage Book of Dissent; or the editor may choose literature to create an image of the era’s sensibility as in Aldous Huxley’s Texts and Pretexts or, more recently The Picador Book of Crime Writing. Given that it has been put to many uses, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land could be described as an anthology of this kind.

Third, there are the critical anthologies which make no claim to completeness, yet try to avoid the merely personal fad. Certain works are included because they are good or because they have added something to the subject. Critical anthologies like the numerous Blackwell dictionaries, or more recently, The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory are good examples. (At a certain level, the dividing line between critical anthologies and dictionaries on various subjects is very thin. Here, the two are used interchangeably.)

There are two questions that need to be answered. First, why has there been such an explosion of anthologies in recent years? Second, of the three kinds of anthologies, which one is the winner?

The greatest advantage of an anthology is its variety, the promise of containing something for every reader. With the reader perilously overloaded and the average attention span shortened to not more than 1,000 words, the anthology best suits the reader today. In fact, more emphasis is now laid on packaging rather than content in order to hold on to the reader’s interest.

Of the three kinds of anthologies, the first is now limited to the library reference section; in fact, publishers have more or less vacated this area which has been taken over by the floppy disk and the internet. Besides, apart from the huge investment required for these large tomes, there is also the practical problem of physical space in retail bookshops. Lack of space has led to “just-in-time inventory control”, which means a bookseller will order a copy only against a firm order with advance payment.

The second category was originally created for a niche readership or the odd-ball. Such a readership exists somewhere out there but it is too scattered and difficult to reach. Here again, for marketing reasons, such anthologies are being phased out. It is the third that matters because the readersip can be identified and targetted, either through the specialized bookshop, or advertisements in journals and direct mailing to potential customers.

The evidence that specialized anthologies that limit themselves to a subject area are the in-thing for publishers is overwhelming if ones go by the number of such anthologies published in the last five years. Some titles that have done well here are as follows: Romila Thapar: Cultural Pasts: Essays on Early Indian History; The Oxford Guide to Contemporary Writing; The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy; The Blackwell Dictionary of Twentieth Century; The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations. One could go on and on.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS / A WEDGE THROUGH THOSE LIVES 
 
 
 
 
AZADI
By Chaman Nahal
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Chaman Nahal’s Azadi is one of those forgotten classics of Indian literature — Diana Athill recommends it highly in her memoirs. Soon after its publication, it went out of print — strangely, it continued to be translated into the regional languages — to be reprinted by Penguin only in 2001. The novel captures a piece of Partition history through the travails of one family in Sialkot. Simplicity and a steadfast refusal to philosophize a human tragedy of such magnitude are the strongest points of Azadi. For no linguistic embellishments can add to the experiences as they were lived, and no philosophy can even attempt to explain acts which were essentially irrational. It is enriching for the literature of a much-torn country like India to have in store documents such as Nahal’s novel, because history, unlike fate, cannot be explained away by karma. “History is made by man here and now and its disasters are avoidable.”

WHAT WENT WRONG?
By Kiran Bedi
(UBSPD, Rs 175)

Kiran Bedi’s What Went Wrong? is a collection of first-person accounts of individuals with pasts they are not too proud of. The approach adopted is that of a criminal psychologist, but the interpretations provided have nothing new to offer by way of explaining people’s errant behaviour or the ways of society. Moreover, they are often grossly generalized. What could the phrase, “wrong past”, for instance, possibly mean? All the cases studied have more or less happy endings, thanks to Kiran Bedi’s two organizations, Navjyoti and India Vision Foundation, which are committed to her “belief of moving from retributive justice to reconstructive justice”. Rather than showing light, the book is likely to entangle people in age-old moralistic presumptions more than ever

BIJOYA RAY REMEMBERS SATYAJIT RAY AT WORK
(Roli, Price not mentioned)

Bijoya Ray Remembers Satyajit Ray At Work is primarily a collection of photographs of the great filmmaker, with an accompanying biographical note written by his wife. The essence of the 24 photographs is best captured by what Lindsay Anderson had to say about Ray: “Satyajit Ray has worked with humility and complete dedication; he has gone down on his knees in the dust, and his picture has the quality of unforgettable experience.”

THE SHAPE OF SNAKES
By Minette Walters
(Pan, £ 5.99)

Minette Walters’s The Shape Of Snakes is the seventh novel from an author who is fast making a mark in the cutthroat world of whodunits. This one takes the reader to the London of 1978, when, on the day of a nationwide strike, “mad Annie” is found dead in a rain-soaked gutter. Only Mrs Ranelagh, who discovers her body, is convinced she has been murdered, but is not sure whether it is because Annie “was mad or because she was black”. Twenty years of Mrs Ranelagh’s curiosity-induced probing unravels a compelling saga of repression and betrayal.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

It takes three to tango

Sir — Is the July meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf a bilateral encounter or a tripartite tête-à-tête (Summit sneak preview for US”, June 19)? The rushing over of the Pakistani foreign minister and India’s national security adviser to Washington to brief the Americans about the agenda of the talks is nothing but a move to make the United States a party-in-absentia to the talks. The US, in a very clever step, has made it officially clear that it has nothing at all to do with the planned meeting. This is just another way of saying that it is not the US that is eager to join the talks, but the two parties involved that are going overboard to keep the only superpower in the world informed about its internal affairs. Neither India nor Pakistan features too high on the US’s priority list, so it is all the more unfortunate that the two countries do not treat it with the same irreverence. Gestures like supporting its policies on the national missile defence system can only massage its sense of self-importance further.

Yours faithfully,
Supriya Sinha Roy, Hooghly

Manipur is burning

Sir — The recent Naga ceasefire agreement between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the Centre has virtually opened up a Pandora’s box. The Northeast has always been a volatile region, least understood and neglected by national leaders, irrespective of party. Years of alienation and neglect have led to the emergence of a number of insurgent outfits like the NSCN (I-M).

The extension of the ceasefire “without territorial limits” is a wrong move because in effect it legitimizes to the NSCN(I-M)’s grand plan for the creation of a greater Nagalim by uniting Naga-dominated areas of other northeastern states as well as parts of Myanmar.

When trying to understand the Naga conflict, it is important to understand a few facts. There never was a tribal group called Nagas. It was an amalgamation of a number of tribes, first organized by the British and then by the Indian government for administrative ease. The state called Nagaland only came into being a few decades ago, the demand for a greater Nagaland does not hold water. Will the Indian government now try to annex parts of so-called Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar just to appease the NSCN(I-M)?

The Centre’s decision is arbitrary since it was taken without consulting the elected heads of the states concerned, or the people. This may also drive a wedge between communities which have been co-existing peacefully for centuries. The Northeast may be finally drawn into genocidal wars. Memories of the recent Naga-Kuki clashes are still fresh.

The proud past of Manipur was first compromised by the British in the treaty of Yandaboo in the early 19th century and then again during Manipur’s merger with India in 1949. The people should try not to get hoodwinked a third time.

It is difficult to understand why the government has placed greater importance on the appeasement of an outlawed outfit rather than on the demands of the millions of peaceloving people of the Northeast. This agreement may also send wrong signals to the various extremist groups in the region, as well as in Kashmir and elsewhere, since it shows up the Centre as weak-kneed.

Yours faithfully,
Nelson Loitongbam, Imphal

Sir — The completely inept government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Centre is always caught napping whenever there is a major crisis (“Direct-rule Delhi snores”, June 19). Vajpayee was concerned when his partymen’s misadventure brought legislating in the Manipur assembly to a standstill. As soon as he could buy ad hoc peace, Manipur faded from his much-publicized “ vision”. The result: people of the entire Northeast have been put at the mercy of militants.

The violent outburst of the people of Manipur cannot be accepted, but the act should be judged only after it is put in the right context.

Yours faithfully
Shanta Kumar, Calcutta

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party will have to once again do the usual tightrope walking with its allies after the latest crisis in Manipur. The BJP has had no respite from its allies with one crisis after another endangering the stability of the alliance. Of the allies, the Samata Party, which has a political stake in Manipur, has expressed its unhappiness over the Centre’s decision regarding the ceasefire.

In view of the people of Manipur setting ablaze the assembly house in Imphal, the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, must be politically dextrous in countering the public ire that his decision has sparked off.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — June 18, 2001, is the second Patriot’s Day of Manipur. The Centre’s attempt to broker peace in Nagaland has had the effect of setting Manipur ablaze. Assam may follow suit. Anger against betrayal took thousands to the streets in protest against the Centre’s decision.

The primary reasons for the apprehension among the Manipuris are the Centre’s deviation from its earlier stand against the extension of ceasefire outside Nagaland; an ecstatic Thuingaleng Muivah’s statement in Bangkok that “Nagas want neither a greater Nagaland nor a smaller Nagaland but just 12,00,000 square kilometres area”; the statement of the well known Naga lobbyist, Nandita Haksar, that “the Centre has a longstanding constitutional promise to the Nagas in the Northeast to bring them together under one administration and it can be fulfilled with the approval of a simple majority of the Parliament”; the recent statement of the Naga Hoho president, M. Vero, that the ongoing protests in Manipur are “against the wishes of the Nagas” and the recent statement of Nagaland’s chief minister, S.C. Jamir, upholding the state assembly’s resolution of welcoming the neighbouring Naga-inhabited areas’ merger into the state if the Nagas in these states so wish.

The so-called peace process in Nagaland is the BJP’s ploy to divide the people of the Northeast. If the Centre is so interested in bringing back peace to the region, why hasn’t it entered into a unilateral ceasefire with the Manipuri insurgent groups? The BJP must bear the responsibility for any further deterioration in law and order in the state while it delays a review of the Naga ceasefire. It must desist from any more anti-Manipur moves and try to salvage its reputation in the state, or else face total extinction from there.

Yours faithfully,
Laishram Napoleon and others, Imphal

Sir — The people of Manipur have shown exactly how inept and directionless the functioning of the Vajpayee government is. The BJP and its allies have been squabbling over political power in the state but have forgotten their primary responsibility — governance.

The Union home minister, L.K. Advani, has surrendered all self-respect and extended the ceasefire to territories beyond Nagaland. Obviously, he does not much care for the people of the Northeast and their desires. Advani is only perturbed when his chair is at stake. The general ineptitude of ministers like George Fernandes and Advani always goes unnoticed because the prime minister is unable to govern without these guardian angels.

Yours faithfully,
Hrita Ganguly, Howrah

Sir — I wish to express my shock and grief at the recent developments in Imphal not just as a Manipuri living far from home, but also as a citizen just as helpless as any other. This was simply an instance of the people turning violent after years of misrule and neglect. But even if the people had turned violent, there was no need to open fire on them. There are other means of tackling mobs — even violent ones — used by all civilized countries.

Yours faithfully,
Usha Thiyam, Kiel, Germany

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
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Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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