Editorial 1 / From the brink
Editorial 2 / Third degree care
Farmer’s in the ring
Book Review / A view of the other world
Book Review / Pure vision
Book Review / Not as an icon
Book Review / Stories about ordinary men
Bookwise / Steal prose and make merry
Paperback Pickings / Love and its predictable tragedies
Letters to the editor

The uproar came to less than what Ms J. Jayalalitha, chief minister of Tamil Nadu and leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, had probably hoped for. The three star prisoners of the famous midnight swoop are now all free. The two Union ministers, Mr Murasoli Maran and Mr T.R. Baalu, have got their way. The cases against them have been withdrawn. This was their condition when the state police tried to get them released with the statement that the preliminary investigations against them had been completed. Mr Maran and Mr Baalu held the trump card in this situation. The Centre was furious, and would probably have invoked the constitutional law against Ms Jayalalitha if she did not get her men to release them fast — and on their conditions. This unprecedented crux in Centre-state relations was created by Ms Jayalalitha’s intense desire for the sweet satisfaction of revenge. But she was evidently conscious of having overstepped, else the freedom of the Union ministers would not have come so soon. But the greater loss to her is the freedom of her political rival and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, Mr M. Karunanidhi. That his son and Chennai mayor, Mr M.K. Stalin, is still in jail, cannot be good enough. The flyover scandal, Ms Jayalalitha hopes, will serve for both father and son. But pressure from the Centre as well as from her own allies forced her hand.

The withdrawal of the cases against the Union ministers was the Centre’s condition for not proceeding more seriously against Ms Jayalalitha. The National Democratic Alliance government has cautioned her against the misuse of constitutional provisions and has issued directives so that appropriate action is taken against the officers who assaulted Mr Karunanidhi, the muzzle on the media is removed and the hundreds of DMK workers in detention are freed. This is not as strong as the DMK and certain other partners of the NDA would have liked. It is not clear, though, what the Centre could have done even if Ms Jayalalitha had gone further in her wrecking spree. The imposition of Article 356 would not have been passed by the upper house which has a Congress majority. And this apart from the ideological objections many political parties would have to its use. Intervention through the use of Article 355 would also have been off the mark. Ms Jayalalitha did put the Centre in a spot, and it is a matter of relief that she has retreated. But means to clear the confusion must be found. Her convictions and all her outstanding trials should be followed through immediately. Otherwise the nation will be treated to the grotesque sight of one convicted politician with more cases against her trying to convict her political rival of the same crime of corruption. Authority and credibility will have to be redeemed in some way.


In the “violation of human rights” league table, West Bengal is up there with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. That these violations occur mostly in the hands of Bengal’s lawkeepers is another brutal fact which makes the state’s “oasis of peace” image difficult to keep up. Another young man has died in a lock-up within the Alipore court premises. There are obvious signs of brutality, a proliferation of conflicting explanations and the usual talk of inquiries. According to one version, Satyajit Mondal was a drug addict and had died, in police custody, of severe withdrawal symptoms. In that case, the brutality is in the complete inability on the part of the police to treat him medically. In any case, the primary difficulty in getting anywhere near the truth lies in the complete lack of credibility of the witness testimonies that prop up such cases. The reign of terror that prevails in the lock-up makes any notion of objectivity quite absurd, and inquiring noises die out in no time. The fate of the deaf and dumb girl raped in custody remains a particularly telling illustration of the extent to which such violations have become an unrufflable norm in the state.

Two aspects of this situation are significant and symptomatic. First, the most hostile reaction to this incident has come from lawyers and court clerks, provoking them to a degree of violence aimed at the police that speaks of an unfortunate rift within the state’s law and order machinery. This is another episode in the history of a long conflict between the judiciary and the police. It is, perhaps, this mutual distrust that fosters a culture of violence among the police, as they take upon themselves the task of punishing criminals whom the judiciary may not be trusted with. Second, another instant response to the incident has come from Ms Mamata Banerjee and some of her party colleagues. And this is the surest indication of the extent to which the police remains a highly politicized institution in the state, making any notion of accountability to an impartial state machinery quite unconvincing. The call for inquiries also seems to come from these politically opposed quarters. There is an unthinking assumption that alleged criminals somehow forfeit their human rights when they become part of an investigative process in which torture or “third degree” treatment is quite natural and unavoidable. This remains unaffected by such token gestures as the signing, in 1997, of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Centre has also initiated a process to make the police liable for custody deaths and rape, by placing on them the onus of proof. In a state where the public is either utterly blasé or eager to lynch suspected criminals, merely amending the Indian Evidence Act and the criminal procedure code would perhaps achieve little.


The debate about the progress — or lack of it — achieved by the Indian economy during the ten years of reforms continues in newspapers and magazines. Should India have started the reform process? The answer depends on who provides it. The neoclassical economist (and I am one), bred on Adam Smith, will argue that although the market process is far from ideal, it is still several notches better than the heavy-handed bureaucracy. He will argue that the current economy is in much better shape than it was ten years ago. On the other hand, the “market” is anathema to the leftist — perhaps only “globalization” brings out more leftist bile. Since the reform process combines the two almost in equal measure, the left is equally vociferous in its attacks against the reform process.

There is limited agreement about some “facts”, although not about their interpretation. For instance, aggregate data show that there has not been any sharp difference in average growth rates of gross national product during the last decade and the preceding one, the former being perhaps one percentage point higher. (Of course, the average rate of growth even in the Eighties was close to a very respectable 5 per cent.) As far as sectoral growth rates are concerned, both the manufacturing and agricultural sectors have performed quite unsatisfactorily — it is the services sector which has been the star performer.

As I remarked earlier, the interpretation of these bald facts differs remarkably. Proponents of the reform process will point out that the Indian economy was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world during the Nineties, and that this was achieved despite a very unfavourable external environment (the east Asian crisis) and critical initial conditions since the economy was on the brink of collapse in June 1991. The leftist will harp on the fact that the aggregate growth figure does not exhibit any remarkable dynamism. He will quickly jump to the “facts” that Indian industry seems unable to cope with foreign competition, and that the poor farmer has not benefited at all from the reform process.

One cannot help emphasizing that attempts to blame the reform process for the lacklustre performance of the agricultural sector is a somewhat cruel obfuscation of issues. The fact of the matter is that the reform process has more or less bypassed the agricultural sector. The most important components of reforms have been the removal of the industrial licensing system and the partial opening up of some sectors of the economy to external competition. But, neither of these changes has had much of an impact on the farm sector, which still continues to enjoy the benefits of protection. If anything, the farmer stands to gain if markets are opened up even more and farmers allowed to sell their produce abroad.

Indeed, there is perhaps only one issue on which there is some modicum of agreement cutting across ideological lines — this is the importance of giving more attention to the agricultural sector. For instance, many economists will point out that it is misleading to simply focus on the pattern of industrialization followed by the so-called Asian Tigers.

This is because all Asian countries which have achieved high rates of overall growth have also recorded impressive rates of growth in the agricultural sector, at least in the initial phase of development. In all these countries, the average annual rate of growth in the agriculture sector exceeded 4 per cent during the initial period. A striking contrast is the performance of the agricultural sector in countries that have grown relatively slowly. For instance, Bangladesh managed to achieve only a 0.6 per cent average annual rate of growth in the agricultural sector, while the Indian agricultural sector was only marginally better.

The rapid increase in the agricultural sector has played an important role in achieving a significant reduction in the incidence of poverty in the east Asian countries. The reasons for this association between rates of growth of agriculture and the rate of reduction in the levels of poverty are clear. An overwhelming majority of the poor live in the rural sector. Hence, a growth process in which accelerated rural development (particularly agricultural growth) is given due weight, is likely to effectively promote the goal of poverty alleviation. The benefits of rapid increases in agricultural growth and productivity will percolate to the small cultivator households, unless productivity increases are restricted to big farmers. Moreover, so long as labour-displacing technological progress is avoided, the increased rural activity also results in an increase in the demand for labour, so that the wage labour households also benefit from this kind of growth process.

The agricultural sector’s rapid expansion in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand was the outcome of deliberate and conscious policies, rather than a historical accident. The development strategy adopted in these countries gave high priority to the agricultural sector in the initial years of development, while policies to encourage the industrial sector were introduced somewhat later. In all these countries, public investment in rural infrastructure played a crucial role in promoting agricultural development. However, the other policies to stimulate agriculture varied across countries.

For instance, China effected a systematic reform of the agricultural sector by dismantling the inefficient system of incentives under collectivized agriculture. In Indonesia, the government promoted agricultural expansion, essentially rice cultivation, through a package of policies including price supports, subsidized inputs and credit designed to encourage the adoption of modern rice varieties, as well as support services for efficient marketing. Government policies in Thailand encouraged expansion of cultivated areas by conferring cultivation rights in cleared forest land. The Malaysian government actively encouraged the modernization and diversification of agriculture.

There is also a fair amount of agreement about the policy initiatives which need to be undertaken to bring about a transformation of the agricultural sector in India. The first priority must be a massive infusion of funds into the sector in order to build up rural infrastructure — irrigation facilities have to be improved and rural roads built. Small and medium farmers have to be provided with assured and easy access to credit. But, better credit facilities have to be complemented with an extension programme for technological upgradation, cropping patterns and other steps designed to improve yields.

Another area that is crying out for attention is the inadequate marketing facilities. Middlemen have flourished in the absence of proper marketing facilities. Unfortunately, this has meant a large difference between the price paid by the eventual consumer and the price received by the actual cultivator. Hence, if these middlemen could be abolished, then farmers could be given better price incentives without any increase in consumer prices. At least the larger farmers could then be induced to undertake much needed investment on their land. This is important because the government’s own resource constraints imply that private investment must supplement public investment if the overall level of investment is to be adequate.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi


By Bem le Hunte,
Penguin, Rs 295

For her first novel, Bem Le Hunte, chooses an incredibly large canvas. The Seduction of Silence chronicles the lives of four generations of an Indian family — their emotional and spiritual struggles, their miseries and triumphs, as they journey through life.

The novel opens with Rohini listening to her grandfather, Aakash — whose spirit speaks through the body of a medium — at the Spiritualist Church of Great Britain.

We then move out into the open, travelling through space and time to the Himalayas, when Aakash’s spirit was in his own body. He gets married to Jyoti Ma, who gives birth to Ram. Like his mythological namesake, Ram has to go into “exile” and his spiritual journey thus begins. He goes to Rishikesh, where he encounters “real” sages as well as the ones who come there to “shop for spirituality”. Aakash, too, follows him shortly.

Jyoti Ma is left with her daughter, Tulsi Devi, who, in turn, also leaves her mother. Tulsi Devi is sent to a convent where she meets a man who ruins her life and we witness the seduction of innocence. She gives birth to a son, Jivan, on the banks of the Ganges in the dead of night.

Tulsi Devi returns to her mother who gets her married to an old, retired colonel and they move to Delhi. Tulsi Devi is forced to give up her son to an orphanage and he disappears from her life until a miraculous reunion at the end of the novel. After Jivan leaves, Rohini is born. The apple of her father’s eyes, the bohemian Rohini gets married to Gordon, a hippie, against the colonel’s wishes, who disowns her.

Rohini and Gordon set off for London on a painted bus with a motley crowd. There, her life changes dramatically and she turns her house into a “gypsy caravan”. She gives birth to Saakshi, who grows up to be as unorthodox as her parents.

At the Spiritualist Church, Aakash speaks to his granddaughter through a medium, who tells her that he is set to return to the world in the form of Saakshi’s child. Saakshi goes to India to deliver her baby. Life comes full circle with the reincarnation of Aakash.

Silence is a potent and recurring metaphor in the novel. The silence of the divine, the spiritual, the otherworldly, that is repeatedly ravished by the noisy reality. A series of dichotomies crowds the novel — the primary among them being the one between silence and noise. Le Hunte is continuously playing with these sets of antitheses — between life and death, the real and the supernatural, the profane and the pious.

Le Hunte’s language is essentially Indo-Anglian — she uses Indian words liberally, without explaining them in a glossary. However, the narrative dictates the language as it does style, which is lucid but intense nonetheless. The narrative technique does not impinge on the plot. However, the pace of the narrative is not uniform. For instance, when Saakshi revisits her great-grandfather’s farm with her husband, nothing significant happens and Le Hunte unnecessarily spends a lot of time describing the visit, briefly disturbing the flow of the narrative.

Le Hunte, who was born in Calcutta to an Indian mother and a British father, scores with her memorable characters, some of whom make only brief appearances, but continue to haunt the reader’s psyche — one of them being Bubbly, the eunuch, who wishes to adopt Tulsi Devi’s child.

Le Hunte is preoccupied with the other world. We encounter not just rishis and maharishis but also aghoris — all trying to reach the other world using their own, peculiar methods. The magic of mysticism captivates the reader, yet it is never too removed from reality.

There are glimpses of Salman Rushdie in Le Hunte’s use of magic realism, which serves to bridge the gap between the other world and the world we live in, but the novel does not depend too heavily on it.

In the end, with the reincarnation of Aakash as Saakshi’s child, the barrier between the two realms of being is broken and silence is restored.

With The Seduction of Silence,Le Hunte makes a promising debut.


By Ruchir Joshi,
HarperCollins, Rs 395

Photographs, picture-postcards, “the whale of memory”, pages from a lovers’ diary — Paresh Bhatt is not a man easily reconstructed. The Last Jet-Engine Laugh is a summation of three generations of trials and tribulations, loves and losses, victories and voices, all of which have gone into the making of the protagonist of Ruchir Joshi’s debut novel. Tracking times from well before independence to the year 2030, memory and history, future and fantasy are in complete synergy in this entrancing web of words.

Of all the Indo-Anglian writers trying to capture the confused language of everyday speech on paper, Joshi’s attempt is the least jarring. Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, French and German creep into the prose of The Last Jet-Engine Laugh without any affectation. He follows the speech of the multicultural upper class without apology — using no italics, sometimes not even translations. Paresh is a Gujarati boy brought up in Calcutta, who has spent much time in Mumbai, has gone to college in America, been married to a German with whom he has had a daughter. He is a man we can recognize, and quite naturally, he speaks the language of the ever-expanding “third” culture.

It is not just Joshi’s language, but also his space-time construction that scores over so many recent experiments. The “present” of the novel, if there can be one, is 2030, when Paresh is “approaching the end-game of an unsuccessful life”. The tale is told through a series of impressions, emotions, recollections. Skipping from his parents’ courtship during the independence struggle to his daughter’s venture into the Indian air force’s first “frontier” — outer space — we catch a glimpse of Paresh’s world and, almost by chance, of those around him.

There is no single narrative voice either. Mostly, we look through the eyes of Paresh, but often it is through daughter Para’s or through the diary of the lover, Sandhya. There are, however, areas where these merging narrators become hard to distinguish.

The year 2030, in Joshi’s vision, is a post-nuclear holocaust world, with no drinking water, no flushing toilets. There are “copter jams” at Rashbehari and no early-morning papers on newsprint. Water is too contaminated to drink, so “water tablets” have been devised for “hydration”. His imagined future is not unrealistic. It is high-tech, but still as human as it is today, without much “mental orphaning”. Paresh’s daughter’s addiction, from the age of twelve, was flight-simulator games, more sophisticated than anything we can imagine today, but in much the same vein. Gang wars are fought, not over money or drugs, but over rare reserves of palatable water. But for Joshi, this futuristic world is simply a backdrop to the human drama, and not an end in itself.

A photographer by profession, Paresh has hidden behind his lens on more than one occasion. He inherited the passion for pictures from his father, whose joy as a lensman died with his love for his wife. But ever since Paresh was a young man, he has revelled in light, sound and the nuances of expression. He has taken to the skies, travelled across the world, uncovered everyday junk from the corners of his kitchen, following his instincts in search of the perfect frame.

Paresh says of the monsoon glow, “jhaadoed and ghissoed” by the rain: “It comes and sits on the chairs, raising dust as it does...and settles softly but firmly on the floor...the only place I’ve ever seen this light is in Calcutta and I can’t imagine it living anywhere else.” This pale yellow light lives in the memory of anyone who has experienced it. Joshi’s exquisite eye for detail captures this vision as surely as any of the photographs described in the novel. He relishes the sensual, but he never loses his ground. Each minute description is rooted in the context of memory, always bittersweet: “It (the light) makes me forget my daughter. It makes the coffee taste different. It even drives the Gujarati out of my head.” Light and sound come back to him, with their myriad associations, tormenting and tantalizing him in turns.

Most of his childhood recollections revolve around religion and the ravages of war, both of which had framed the lives of his parents, and also been the prime reasons for the growing gulf between them. The most stirring passages of The Last Jet-Engine Laugh tell of the love between Mahadev and Suman Bhatt, but slowly the reasons for the loss of their love are revealed. Mahadev Bhatt’s strong sense of anti-violence and reason and Suman’s uncompromising patriotism and religious devotion clash in different forms throughout the novel. The figures of Subhas Chandra Bose, Gandhi and Nehru loom large over the Bhatt home, while myths, mantras and Sanskrit shlokas are constant reminders of the unbridgeable divide between husband and wife, mother and child.

Suman’s single-mindedness is mirrored in her only grandchild, Para. Paresh’s relationship with Para is the one thing which keeps him grounded, but at the same time it is complicated by intense worry over her high-risk job in the air force. All he has left is his daughter, though he knows better than to suffocate her with his concern.

Joshi’s sense of humour, alternately sarcastic and ridiculous, should not go without mention. Such as in the obituary episode, in which Paresh receives a call from the “obituary-incharge” of an online newspaper (the only kind there are left). The Bangali babu, Mr Tekkit, whinges: “let us prey-tu-god jey nothing happens to Poresh babu, but for all eminent people we have to be prepared.”

The Last Jet-Engine Laugh may not appeal to everyone. The imagery, at times, is forced, the language may not sit well with many. But within the elements of science-fiction and the often rambling narrative lie moments of pure vision. Every snippet, each episode, however innocuous or irrelevant it may seem, has a place in Joshi’s intricate view, through which little escapes.


By Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji,
Paschimbanga Bangla Academy, Rs 70

For Bengalis, Tagore is both a difficult and an easy subject to write about. Those who are conscious of their critical faculties find it difficult because of the process of iconization that Tagore has undergone. An entire race jumps on a writer if he dares to utter something critical, or worse, dismissive, about Tagore. Those not cursed with reason find it easy because there is nothing as unproblematical as bhakti. Worship is the most prevalent idiom for writing on Tagore.

It is here that the book under review, originally written in 1943 and then lost and forgotten, marks something of a departure. Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji, during his lifetime, was a formidable intellectual presence in Calcutta and Lucknow. He trained as an economist and taught it with extraordinary flair. Lectures by DP (as he was fondly known) opened up students’ minds to history, to literature, to art and to music. He was an erudite man who was a connoisseur of Hindustani classical music. He was a raconteur par excellence and a novelist who experimented boldly with form and style. His reflections on Tagore therefore cannot be without interest.

Mukerji never openly questions Tagore’s greatness. It is left as the fundamental premise of the book. But some of his observations while evaluating the overall impact of Tagore are of some significance. He wrote, “...his lyrics canalised Bengali literature mainly into one channel; his abundant use in prose of metaphors, analogies, and similies stood in the way of the logical, argumentative prose of statement; his music and dance led to an epidemic of musicians who did not know the difference between Bhairabi and Asawari, and of dancers who were deaf to rhythm”. What could be more devastating? DP concludes this paragraph with the tantalizing statement, “The author knows what he [Tagore] thought of them.’’ If Tagore knew the kind of influence he was exerting on some aspects of Bengali creativity, what did he do about it? Did he do anything to puncture the cult that was growing around him. Even the redoubtable D.P. Mukerji is silent on these aspects.

Mukerji places Tagore’s faith in spontaneity at the centre of his creativity. In literature, in music, painting and dance, “he was always keeping a jealous guard over the purity of the creative urge”. He was not blind to the virtues of discipline. Tagore’s own life had a singular rigour to it. But the emphasis was always, or so Mukerji would have his readers believe, on the self. Self-control, self-discipline, self-possession and self-development: “Tagore sized up the problem of artistic creation as one of releasing the dormant energies of the person...He was impatient of the ‘drudgery’ of craftsmanship. Take the whole raga, understand the spirit, the rhythm, and the rest will follow — that appeared to be his message to the artist and the critic; deliberate willing, and conscious artifice never gave the clue to the whole, to the guiding motive and the binding religion of a work; personality alone could do so. It was laissez-faire in Art.’’

Mukerji’s slim volume is actually an essay. It is full of insights and penetrating analyses, all of which are not fully elaborated or substantiated. There is an all too brief reading of Chaturanga which shows that he was capable of making detailed textual analysis. The section on Tagore’s music, not surprisingly, is rich. The text bears the stamp of the time but remains the best introduction to Tagore in English.


By J.P. Das,
HarperCollins, Rs 195

In India, the popularity of short stories is increasing with time. With life becoming both routine-like and hectic for most, readers are looking more and more towards a literary form that they can enjoy over short single sessions of reading. And this trend is possibly going to be augmented with time.

But one wonders if the short story will supersede the novel in popularity or if the two will coexist at an age characterized by technological advancement, which seems to have an uncanny knack at striking at the very roots of the written word. Meanwhile, of late, regional works coming up in English translations are not only providing good reading material, but also demonstrating that regional literature has come of age in India.

One such translation, The Pukka Sahib and Other Stories, by the popular Oriya writer, J.P. Das, gives us some idea of contemporary Oriya literature. Das is a poet, playwright, fiction writer, art historian and critic. But, as the preface clarifies, he is more of a short story writer than anything else. That he is prolific in this area is indicated by the fact that three of his collections have already been published in English translation.

There are twelve stories in this one, none of which is unnecessarily long or short. The translator, Bikram K. Das, has written a preface in which, apart from informing us about his choice of stories, he gives us an insight into the writer’s life and a brief assessment of the stories. His translation has a distinctive flow of language, which sometimes makes us forget how tedious translated works can sometimes get.

The world of J. P. Das’s stories is peopled with simple, straightforward characters. They are neither too ambitious, nor do they set for themselves goals which cannot be achieved. They are ordinary, real-world people.

Jayaram’s highest ambition in the story, “The Ashram”, is to start a factory. But, when the endeavour gets tied up in too much red-tape, Jayaram escapes to a baba’s ashram and makes himself content with starting a bakery.

Bhaskar, in “Swati will come”, when faced with the possibility of the meeting the lady (Swati), decides to stay away from this encounter and chooses not to see her at all. Raghupati, in “Empire”, is a district magistrate who is held in fear and awe by the entire office but when he is slighted by his own peon, he gives up on his arrogance because he knows that this man can cure his ailing daughter. Das draws from his experience of being a civil servant and creates some of his characters in a world where files, hierarchy and decorum become important components of daily life.

In at least three of the stories, the urban middle-class character is shown to be a person who has retired from active service. But, this superannuated man quickly learns how to adjust to the changes.

Irony is inserted into the texture of the stories themselves. The depiction of the world of the middle-aged or retiring individuals have some wonderful moments of light-heartedness. Arguably, the title story is the best of the lot.

But strangely enough, wit and humour seem to be lacking in Das’s stories. He consciously plans surprise endings but this becomes a bit obvious, thus taking away from their beauty. But undoubtedly, the most impressive thing about J.P. Das’s work is the manner in which he uses irony.



For an author, or for that matter a publisher or lawyer, the whole issue of copyright is in such a mess that it defies rational analysis. In the attempt to protect creators of original works, copyright law has so many clauses and sub-clauses — with electronic publishing and the internet there are more clauses added every now and then — that it is difficult to wend your way through the jungle of legalese. All the same, the law is clear on three points.

First, copyright protection lasts your lifetime and another 50 years. Second, copyright protects “original works of scholarship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. Titles, ideas and facts are not copyrighted.

Third, plagiarism is defined as an attempt to steal and pass off the ideas and words of another as one’s own or to use a created production without acknowledging the source.

What the second and third clauses amount to is that borrowed ideas are not a violation of copyright, the words in which they are expressed are. But the trouble arises when an author says that quite often the words that the original author uses are crucial for the elucidation of the concept and, therefore, such usage should not be construed as a violation of copyright. This is “fair usage” and there is justification in this assertion. But the crucial question is: how many words can be used and how should the original author be compensated?

The rule of thumb is that no more than 200 words in continuous usage in prose can be used provided due permission through an exchange of letters is received and an acknowledgement is made in the book when it is published. (Poetry is another matter altogether.) If anything more is used, proper copyright is required and a fee has to be paid to the original author and/or publisher.

What happens in practice in India where copyright is quite often not respected is that the author breaks up the continuity by interspersing his own sentences or clauses and thus gets around the copyright requirement. And it is not just 200 words that are used but many, many more which are culled from different sections of the book.

Properly, what this amounts to is not just plagiarism but plain theft which is nothing but piracy — a cognizable offence, which is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. (It can be mentioned here that before the revision of the copyright law in 1997, the provision of law was rather loose.)

Scissors-and-paste is a common feature of Indian scholarship and academics are perhaps the guiltiest lot in this respect. In book after book, this kind of lifting can be traced — some authors do not even change the tense or the examples used in the original. Sadly, the disease has spread beyond the purely educational texts to doctoral theses, research papers and, in one case, to a complete work of fiction.

For instance, two relatively recent research papers published by a leading research institute devoted to defence studies were traced and found to be straight lift-offs from foreign journals. (Ironically, one scholar was rewarded with an associate professorship in Jawaharlal Nehru University.)

It is perhaps because of the sheer volume of publishing today that some scholars believe they can get away with this. It is no doubt difficult to police copyright theft but it can be done with a little persistence.

In the final analysis, it is the intellectual integrity of the scholar that matters and this must come from within and nowhere else.


By Karen Roberts
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £ 9.99)

Karen Roberts’s July is a romantic novel set in contemporary Sri Lanka. Against a backdrop of ethnic violence, Priyanthi, born into a Sinhalese family, falls in love with her brother’s best friend and son of their Christian Tamil neighbours, Niranjan. This tragic historical setting is perhaps the surest trap for an inexperienced author, providing opportunities for lethal clichés at every level of language and plot. Roberts manages to avoid only a few of these traps, and her narrative unfolds, as a result, with extraordinary predictability. The writing is unskilled: “For ever afterwards, smoke would remind people of the day the world indulged in its furious orgy of madness. The day that people allowed the howling maniac who sullenly dwells in all of us waiting for a whiff of opportunity and a moment of weakness to escape.” This is what the “historical” writing is like. There is also a “personal” register, doing the Human Tragedy bit with similar inelegance: “Despair does not sit comfortably on the smooth countenance of youth. Its weary fingers claw restlessly at the dewy skin that stretches tautly over loss, and struggle to enter the white whites and opaque blacks of unseeing eyes.”

Edited By M.T. Ansari
(Sage, Rs 250)

M.T. Ansari’s Secularism, Islam And Modernity: Selected Essays Of Alam Khundmiri is an illuminatingly compiled tribute to a complex individual. Khundmiri was a Hyderabadi Marxist activist, whose political commitments were inseparable from historical and philosophical enquiry. The result is a fascinating conjunction of modernism and the more traditional intellectual heritage of Islam. Khundmiri’s foci of interest are, according to Ansari, “Islam, reason, self, time, morality, law, knowledge, modernity, secularism, Indian Sufism and, definitely, Iqbal.” Ansari’s introduction is excellent, offering a truly critical appraisal of this hybrid thinker — “the flavour and flaws of his vision” — which is also a sophisticated piece of intellectual history, exploring “modern Indian Islamic subjectivity” and the “politics played around it”.

By Paul Adair
(Cassell, £ 3.25)

Paul Adair’s Hitler’s Greatest Defeat: The Collapse of Army Group Centre, June 1944 chronicles the success of the first main offensive in the series that Stalin planned for the summer of 1944. This was intended to bring about the destruction of Army Group Centre and the liberation of Byelorussia, the last area of the Soviet Union still under German occupation. Although the Germans were characteristically thorough in their preparations to repel the invasion, its effect on them was catastrophic. Removing nearly 30 divisions — over 300,000 men — from the German Order of Battle, the invasion ensured that Hitler’s war effort was doomed and broken. A slim and readable piece of military history.



Trial by fire

Sir — The contempt shown by the former president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, for the United Nations war tribunal, which has been set up to try him for “crimes committed against humanity”, is unlikely to do his case any good. His flair for drama and his stonewalling tactics will not help him as he will still have to face trial next year. The editorial, “Crime and power”, (July 5), has rightly questioned the role of the United States in indicting Milosevic. The extent of Milosevic’s involvement in Serbian ethnic cleansing, that had resulted in the deportation of thousands of Kosovo Albanians, is debatable. Given that both sides in a war commit atrocities against one another, and every international crisis is followed by allegations of human rights violations, Milosevic’s supporters may be justified in arguing that he is no guiltier than the US soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Milosevic is probably paying the price for refusing to be a puppet in the hands of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the US.

Yours faithfully,
Prakash Singh, via email

The general is coming

Sir — This is with respect to Achin Vanaik’s article, “The General comes to the Taj” (June 29). Vanaik’s vitriolic outbursts, which at times border on hysteria, are unworthy of someone who claims the tag of an intellectual. His leftwing perspective is as distorted as the rightwing viewpoint he so despises. His attempts at placing the United States, Israel and the Indian security establishment (the radical left’s favourite whipping boys) in the same bracket as an international terrorist like Osama bin Laden and his taliban disciples reek of ideological bigotry and are both irresponsible and dangerous.

It is after all only in the US that bin Laden’s men could get a fair trial for a crime that killed hundreds of people. Israel still has Arab members of parliament who have the freedom to urge enemy countries to unite and destroy the state of Israel.

Nuclear weapons are indeed dangerous and detrimental to the security of south Asia. But a more balanced critique, devoid of sensationalism, is required to free the region from the fear of holocaust.

Yours faithfully,
Samanth Duvvuru, Dallas

Sir — The ambivalent stance of the Indian government was displayed by the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he congratulated General Pervez Musharraf after the latter was sworn in as president. The appointment followed the overthrow of the then president of Pakistan, Rafiq Tarar, the dismissal of the central and provisional assemblies and the adoption of the titles of joint chief of staff and president by Musharraf.

When a similar situation occurred in Fiji — the duly elected government of Fiji was ousted in a coup — India joined the international uproar against the action and demanded the restoration of democracy. Has India forgotten the stand it took?

The prime minister is living in a fool’s paradise if he believes that by giving Musharraf a red carpet welcome he can solve the Kashmir issue. For the last 50 years, politics in Pakistan has revolved around a one-point agenda — supporting those who stew trouble in Kashmir, export Islamic jihad and create cross-border tension by giving arms and ammunition to anti-national elements, train them for subversion and circulate fake currency notes in an effort to destabilize the Indian currency.

Musharraf was behind the Kargil invasion. If Vajpayee believes the general will suddenly sing a different tune from that in the past, he is totally mistaken. After all, the general’s own position depends on his anti-India stance. It is to be hoped that the prime minister and his advisors are fully aware of the fragility of the situation.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee seemed to take pride in being the first to congratulate the self-appointed “president” of Pakistan. But it is possible to see the “visionary diplomat” aspect of Vajpayee as a mask. Is it not too much to expect that the prime minister will ask Musharraf whether he will refrain from promoting anti-Indian activities on Pakistani and Indian soil? Neither can any pragmatic solution to the Kashmir issue be expected. Then why the ceremony? Why is India taking a diplomatic stance and accepting an undemocratic government that is hostile towards India? Shouldn’t there be a precondition that Pakistan must abandon all kinds of terrorist activity before any diplomatic negotiation takes place?

Domestic non-governance and ineptitude have compelled Vajpayee to play this peace card with Pakistan. It seems that his own survival is more important than the country’s.

Yours faithfully
Aditya P. Chatterjee, via email

Sir — In a desperate bid to divert attention from the inefficiencies of the National Democratic Alliance government, Atal Bihari Vajpayee is giving prime importance to the proposed visit of the Pakistani president. The mastermind of the Kargil fiasco must be glad to be addressed as “president” by none other than the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy — even before he was sworn in. It is a wonder that the Indian media has chosen to remain silent on the build-up to the arrival of Musharraf.

Of prime concern and conjecture is — what will be discussed during the visit of Musharraf? Vajpayee seems to hate to share matters of “national interest” with the nation and is showing every sign of trying to divert attention from inefficiency in other spheres by obscuring it with the hype of “bilateral good relationship”.

Yours faithfully
Sagarika Das Gupta, Calcutta


Sir — It is ironical that at a time when the West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has, at regular intervals, been emphasizing the importance of accountability in the administration, the minister for transport and sports, Subhas Chakraborty, should be accused of giving shelter to anti-social elements (“Subhas stings and sighs at party trial”, June 30”). That the minister is involved in the scandal can no longer be denied by even his most ardent supporters. The episode has once again exposed the nexus between politicians and petty criminals which has been one of the many factors responsible for the deterioration of law and order in the state.

Instead of putting up flimsy defences, Chakraborty should accept responsibility for his actions. It time for him to stop behaving in an immature manner. By refusing to take action against Chakraborty, the chief minister has severely compromised his own image as well as that of his party.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti Ray, Hooghly

Sir — The editorial, “Shame and Scandal” (June 30), has rightly pointed out that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has two choices before him. He can decide to brazen it out by denying Subhas Chakraborty’s involvement in the stadium scandal. This may prove to be difficult given that the evidence against Chakraborty has been mounting steadily. By asking Chakraborty to step down, Bhattacharjee would have been able to silence his critics who are already casting aspersions on his integrity.

Bhattacharjee’s refusal to take action against Chakraborty is a volte face from the statements that he had made last November, after taking over from his predecessor, Jyoti Basu. He had then urged the police to adopt a tough stand against criminals. Bhattacharjee should realize that he must take adequate steps to clean up the administration. His inability to do so will not only afford political rivals like the Trinamool Congress with an opportunity to begin a smear campaign against him but will also endanger his image as an honest politician.

Yours faithfully,
S.K.Chanda, via email

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