Editorial 1 / Cast as Bandit
Editorial 2 / Building Blocks
Bumpy road to peace
Book Review / Chasing a millennial dream
Book Review / Poem unlimited
Book Review / About a home turf
Book Review / What ails the seven sisters
Editor’s Choice / Money is god, Rothschild his prophet
Paperback Pickings / Divided lives brought
Letters to the editor

There is an unfortunate symmetry in the life and death of Phoolan Devi. Her debut in public life was paved with violence. She died, shot by assailants, on the streets of New Delhi. One could say, that she died as she lived. The violence that made her famous had occurred in a remote and backward part of Uttar Pradesh. Her death occurred in the country’s capital when she was returning home from the Lok Sabha. There is a journey embedded in the story of her begining and the story of her end. That journey says as much about Phoolan Devi’s remarkable and mercurial life as it does about the nature of Indian politics and the character of north Indian society. She was born poor and into a Dalit family. She, like all of her caste and sex, was a victim of discrimination, exploitation and rape. The details of Phoolan Devi’s early life and her travails are unclear. She herself, once she became famous and was sought after by journalists and biographers, narrated many different versions of her own early experiences. She particiapted in the making of the legend that transformed her from Phoolan Devi to a bandit queen. What stands out in all those different versions is the violence to which she was exposed and the abuse that she had to undergo. The complex motives of human action are beyond the ken of historians. It is conceivable that she became a bandit to seek revenge; it is possible that she chose a career in violence because that seemed to be the most decent option open to her. Having made the choice, she became a queen in a man’s world. There is also some evidence to suggest that Robin Hood-like she robbed the rural rich to help the poor. It is significant that in her own area she was referred to as bagi, or rebel: an indicator perhaps that banditry was a form of rebellion against injustice. She was an anti-heroine on a grand scale, a character out of a Cecil B. DeMille or a David Lean movie.

Her banditry led to arrest and imprisonment. When she emerged from prison, Phoolan Devi decided to join politics. She was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1996 and again in 1999. It is a comment on the state of Indian politics that a person with as many as 30 criminal cases against her became a legislator. In rural Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit woman who had fought upper caste oppression with violence was touched with a certain aura. Phoolan Devi enjoyed this special status and cocked a snook at all forms of conventional morality. As a representative of the people, she spoke consistently for the poor and their uplift. She had courage and chutzpah but her presence in the Lok Sabha was an uncomfortable reminder of the incongruity of democracy in a caste-ridden society.


The appointment of Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri as IndonesiaF’s fifth president has generated new hope that economic and political stability will return to Indonesia, the world’s fifth largest country. It would be unrealistic, however, to believe that the new president could bring about a dramatic change in the near future. Indonesia’s problems are far too complex to be resolved instantly, but a determined and imaginative political leader can eventually help create the conditions that will eventually put the country back on track. Ms Megawati faces a number of challenges that will require astute political and economic management. The most critical test that the new president faces is to revive the country’s economy, and to restore investor confidence in Indonesia. The Indonesian economy has continued to dither since the Asian economic crisis of 1997, and economic confidence because of the political instability is still nowhere near what the country enjoyed in the Seventies and Eighties. A new package from the International Monetary Fund is in the offing, but much will depend on the manner in which the government is able to convince the international financial institution that it is prepared to take hard decisions, including the disposal of sick public sector assets. No less serious is the challenge that Indonesia faces from a host of separatist movements and tensions between its various religious and social groups. The most powerful is the violent separatist movement in one of Indonesia’s wealthiest provinces, the north Sumatran state of Aceh. Alienated from Jakarta, and inspired by the independence of East Timor, the separatist movement is threatening to throw Indonesia into deep political turmoil. Less serious, but with as great a potential for generating widespread political havoc, are communal tensions between Muslims and Christians in Maluku and a small but significant separatist movement in West Irian. In other words, Indonesia’s very survival as multicultural state is still in question.

Ms Megawati enjoys one great advantage and this will be her biggest asset. She is the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, who is still widely revered and respected. Not surprisingly, her party won the most votes in the 1999 general election. However, there is still little to suggest that Ms Megawati is a particularly gifted politician. Indeed, as vice president, she did not seem to reveal a great talent for political astuteness. She may, however, still prove to be a good team leader, and much will therefore depend on her choice of advisors and of the people who form her cabinet. It has to be admitted that the legacy of Ms Megawati’s predecessor, Mr Abdurrahman Wahid, was not altogether negative. His biggest achievement was to stabilize democracy and take unpopular measures to keep the army out of politics. Ms Megawati needs to build on this legacy and take measures to push Indonesia further in the direction of economic and political reform.


That the prime minister’s statement in the Lok Sabha has failed to dispel the general public feeling of his government’s utter ineptitude in handling the Agra summit is not surprising. From the word go its approach was one of taking recourse to dodges or refuge in silence, while leaving it to the cheerleaders to allay public fears and anxieties by creating euphoria over what was supposed to be a bold initiative. In the interval between the blaze of pre-summit publicity and the post-summit damage control exercise, high spirits have given place to rank confusion.

The government has to answer many more questions than the prime minister cared to in his all too laconic speech. Though it was able to sell the invitation to Pervez Musharraf as a daring move, it was quite cagey about the compulsions which had made it go back on its earlier position that there would be no talks until Pakistan put an end to cross-border terrorism. The public had been also left wondering what made the government let Pakistan have its way in rejecting offhand the proposal for exploratory talks at an official level, which was the normal diplomatic practice on all such occasions.

It was because of the unstructured nature of the whole business that the government had to suffer the double humiliation of seeing its distinguished guest hold a closed-door session with a clutch of separatist Hurriyat leaders and of his hailing them as the only true representatives of the Kashmiri people. Agreeing to a dialogue at the top level, without precise knowledge of what the other side was up to, was bad enough. What made it worse was the lack of extra care in dealing with a man who had publicly berated the Lahore declaration, masterminded the Kargil operation and organized a coup from a plane to seize power from a government with a two-thirds majority in his country’s national assembly.

The prime minister owes an explanation to the public for the bizarre play that was enacted at Agra where, while the Indian government kept the media at a distance on the plea of the need for confidentiality with regard to ongoing negotiations on sensitive issues, Musharraf managed to hijack the summit with his televised breakfast meeting with Indian editors. He used the opportunity to tell a worldwide audience not only that Kashmir was the only issue which stood in the way of normal relations between the two estranged neighbours but also that those reviled as terrorists by India were in fact freedom fighters engaged in a war of liberation.

Whether it was the media coup which sealed the fate of the summit or the unproductive haggling over both the semantics and substance of the drafts is of little account. The summit proved to be a sterile exercise in the end. There was no way of reconciling the positions of the two countries either on the presumed centrality of the Kashmir issue or on cross-border terrorism. What the talks at Agra revealed was not only how wide the gulf was between the two countries or the best way to go about confidence building but, what was even more perturbing, that the two countries were playing different language games which made for mutual incomprehension.

The government is mistaken if it thinks that it is going to get away with the hash it has made of the Agra summit. Many people are asking how, knowing fully the dismal track record of the person they were negotiating with, the Indian delegates let themselves be taken for a ride. And though the prime minister’s acceptance of the Pakistan president’s invitation to visit Islamabad means that the so-called caravan of peace, a phrase used by the foreign minister, will continue on its journey, what lies before it just now is an unending stretch of desert, with no sign of any oasis on the map.

The first problem before the government is how to clear the clutter of claims and counter-claims provoked by the failure of the two sides to produce an agreed joint statement. How difficult it is going to be is apparent not only from the different ways in which they are interpreting the event, which some in this country prefer to call a non-event, but from the confused reactions on the morrow of the summit among the policymakers. There can be no other conclusion from the foreign minister telling the press that the summit was by no means a failure, and that the two countries would pick up the threads of the talks where they were left at Agra, and the official spokesman of his ministry rubbishing soon afterwards all that had happened at the summit and asserting that the new round of talks, if and when it was held, would have to start from scratch, which meant resuming the dialogue on the basis of the Shimla agreement and the Lahore declaration. On third thoughts the prime minister seems to have reverted to his foreign minister’s earlier stance.

Whatever construction government or opposition leaders put on the Agra summit matters little. What counts now is the adverse fallout of the fiasco which has already begun to cast a shadow on the future. It has claimed its first victims, with the murder of 13 pilgrims to Amarnath and of 15 civilians in Doda by the militants. It will be poor comfort to their families if the dead are called martyrs to the cause of keeping Kashmir an integral part of India. Thanks to the summit, the Taj at Agra got a fresh look and the famous dargah at Ajmer a new road. Does it matter if the road to peace in this sorry business also got a new blockage warning the unwary that the way ahead was dangerous, and those trying to proceed further ran the risk of being ambushed?

Many keen observers of the scene here never had any illusion on this score. They had already told the government that, in case the summit proved a failure, it would have to be prepared for a surge in cross-border terrorism. What lingering hopes the policymakers in New Delhi may still entertain about the future of the infructuous dialogue with the Pakistan president, they should have a clear idea by now about the high stakes Islamabad has acquired in cross-border terrorism. While telling the world that the Kashmir problem could not be solved militarily, intensified terrorism enabled the Pakistan government to carry on a proxy war which served two purposes.

First, it helped to soften the Indian government’s resistance to its demands. Second, the search for terrorist hideouts by security forces in Kashmir’s towns and villages, the casualties suffered by the civilian population in cross-firing and the privations resulting from disruption of economic life, resulted in further alienation of the local population from India.

It is quixotic to hope that Pakistan is going to give up a strategy which, from its point of view, has yielded rich dividends by making it more difficult for New Delhi to deal with guerilla bands, who have hundreds of targets to choose from at any given time, and to contain the growing unrest in the state. The only realistic course for India is a new determination to exact a much more exorbitant price from the terrorist groups than it has been able to do so far and vastly improve its intelligence so that it gets the right kind of feedback from the population which today suffers both from the depredations of the terrorists and the government’s counter-insurgency measures. The state government has also to be more energetic in attending to the people’s grievances.

If the Agra summit failed it was because it was both premature and ill-designed in the total absence of any positive response to its confidence-building measures, its agreeing not to have any preparatory discussions to find out whether there was enough common ground between the two countries to provide a basis for fruitful talks and its misjudgment of the constituency of the man it was dealing with. He is president by the grace of the very military establishment which finances, trains and arms the various terrorist outfits.

The next time the Indian prime minister meets the Pakistani president, he should be equally blunt and tell him that, being a Mohajir, he should be the last man to talk of a war of liberation, knowing how the army he heads had ru- thlessly suppressed the Mohajirs’ struggle for greater autonomy and fought relentlessly to stifle the voice of both Baluchi and Sindhi freedom fighters.

A man who has seized power from a duly elected government, dissolved the national assembly and forced his country’s supreme court to take an oath of loyalty to him, needs some elementary lessons in democracy himself. Indeed, before he arrogates to himself the right to say who voices the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, he should give his own people an opportunity to elect a government which enjoys their trust.


Edited By Romila Thapar,
Viking, Rs 395

Time past, time present and time future appear to have merged in this collection of essays marking the turn into this millennium.

Spurred by the “millennial dream” of an ideal state, 14 of the country’s foremost scholars and specialists have explored the challenges before a 21st century India thirsting for a just and democratic society.

Each of the writers — all big names in their respective fields — has picked out one problem area to comment on. If award-winning journalist P. Sainath has chosen the “age of inequality”, economist Kaushik Basu has opted for the “prospect of prosperity” and Mahesh Rangarajan the “future of the environment”. Bina Agarwal singles out the “idea of gender equality”, Gopal Guru focuses on “Dalits in pursuit of modernity”, N.R. Narayana Murthy concentrates on “making India a significant IT player” while N. Ram throws light on the “great Indian media bazaar”.

What is striking, however, is the almost “classical” structure of the essays. Most of them have a clear beginning, middle and end. In an effort to crystal-gaze into what this millennium holds for India, the writer harks back to the past, works his way up to the present and then moves ahead into the future.

For instance, Narayana Murthy starts by defining what a computer is, traces the inroads IT has made into virtually every sphere of Indian life and ends with suggestions on how to make India a significant world player. Likewise, N. Ram begins his story of the great Indian media bazaar from the time of radio and no television, charts the rise of the electronic media and holds up tips for the future.

The themes evolve out of the concerns of the 20th century. In one form or the other, the essays dwell on the question of identity, social and economic inequality, democracy, the role of marginalized groups like the Dalits and minorities, the meaning of culture, education, communication technology, the media and environmental problems. Each of the essays then give suggestions on how best to grapple with the problem to realize the millennial dream of an ideal society. This does not, however, mean that the essays are futuristic and depict an abstract utopia. They are firmly grounded in the present and look to the future only inasmuch as the future draws from the present. What they stress is the potential of men and women to strive for a just and democratic society without waiting for a Christ to descend from the heavens and work a miracle.

As Romila Thapar says in her introduction: “The intention of the essays is not to present a blueprint for a utopia, but to create an awareness about the interlocking dimensions that contribute to the making of a better society.”

The essays also follow a diagnosis-prescription-cure pattern. Commenting on the subject matter of the collection, Thapar singles out the question of identity as one of the key concerns of the 20th century. According to her, this was born out of the confrontation between colonialism and nationalism, and worsened by the clash between nationalism and exclusionist nationalism (Islamic fundamentalism and Hindutva). Her diagnosis is that such a mindset puts a premium on intolerance and encourages fragmentation of society.

Having done that, she suggests a remedy — secularization. This, she says, would entail integrating the state with the demands of civil society and democracy, equality before law and equal access to law, gender justice, provision for education and health facilities, the right to practise the religion of one’s choice and so on.

She concludes: “The turn of the millennium could truly be an age for optimism…. We have to choose to create a society that internalizes the practice of social ethics, where human equality, rights and justice protect individual freedom and are priorities in social activity. This could be our investment for the generations entering the new millennium…. Do we have the courage to make these choices and work with what we have chosen? Only then can we say that there is a millennium coming our way.”


By Frank Kermode,
Penguin, £ 4.99

It is a fantasy secretly nurtured by most Eng Lit academics who have managed to remain interesting human beings. To be locked in with the Complete Works of Shakespeare, a Shakespeare concordance, the multi-volume OED and a laptop, and be released only after the completion of a book on Shakespeare. A book without footnotes and without a survey of state-of-the-art Shakespeare criticism. For those who have not remained interesting human beings, or have grown unused to simply sitting down to read a Shakespeare play (as Keats once sat down to read King Lear), this could well turn out to be a terrifying prospect, particularly if the book has to address intelligent readers and not specialists. But then, if liberal humanism comes not as naturally as leaves to trees, it better not come at all.

One could imagine Frank Kermode’s Shakespeare’s Language to have been written in such fantasy circumstances, although its actual conditions of production must have been considerably less minimal. Kermode, former King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University, is one of England’s most distinguished literary critics. Indian scholars and students would remember him most for his Arden edition of The Tempest, and also perhaps for his masterly Renaissance Essays on Shakespeare, Spenser and Donne, and for the monographs, Romantic Image and The Sense of an Ending. His unabashed, invariably elegant and versatile belletrism would be familiar to readers of the London Review of Books.

Shakespeare’s Language clears its ground in one brief sweep: “This book is addressed to a non-professional audience with an interest in Shakespeare that has not, I believe, been well served by modern critics, who on the whole seem to have little time for his language; they tend to talk past it in technicalities or down to it in arcanely expressed platitudes.” Kermode’s primary concern is with the evolution of Shakespeare’s dramatic verse, and not with his work in the theatre. The introduction works through the early plays and poems towards the years, 1599-1600. This, according to Kermode, is a turning point, at which Shakespeare “moved up to a new level of achievement and difficulty”. He associates this moment with Shakespeare’s company moving into the Globe theatre, with the writing of Hamlet and of that intriguing masterpiece of a poem, “The Phoenix and Turtle”. The rest of the book devotes a chapter each to the “Globe plays”, starting with Julius Caesar and Hamlet, through Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure, the tragedies (including Timon of Athens) and the late tragicomedies, to finish with Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Kermode’s approach to Shakespeare brings to the plays a lifetime’s reading and scholarship, ranging across the entire Western canon and exposed to the best in most humanities disciplines. Yet this remains a vast hinterland, glimmering behind and occasionally filtering through the rich weave of his writing, which interlaces Shakespearean shreds and patches with masterful readings, connections and retellings. These remain “close” to the verbal medium of the plays, the “chimings and interchimings” of particular words, but are always ready to hazard leaps and plunges into larger structures and associations. In this, Shakespeare’s Language is a wonderfully post-academic book, dispensing with most modern critical pieties which attempt to take Shakespeare “down a peg”. For Kermode, acknowledging the fact of Shakespeare’s greatness in no way threatens his position, firmly “on this side of idolatry”, as Ben Jonson had said. Kermode admits that the question of “intrinsic or attributed value” is a difficult one, “but in the end you can’t get rid of Shakespeare without abolishing the very notion of literature”.

At the heart of Kermode’s book is a long and magnificent chapter on Hamlet, “literature’s greatest bazaar: everything available, all warranted and trademarked”. The Hamlet-music works, for Kermode, through a profound obsession with doubles, antitheses and repetitions of all kinds. This is rhetorically figured in the compulsive use of the hendiadys, the expression of a single idea by two conjoined words: “disjoint and out of frame”, “wild and whirling words”. There are also the joined opposites — the “defeated joy” of Claudius’ “incestuous and adulterate” marriage. These couplings are of the very essence of what Hamlet grapples with — its “forms, moods, shapes of grief”, its “antic desperation” and “disgusted irony”.

The richly worded delays in Hamlet’s unfoldings are punctuated by the great soliloquies. They signal, in Kermode’s reading of the play, a moment of arrival in Shakespeare’s journey from rhetorical mastery and inventiveness to “the speech of silence”, essential to the later Shakespearean development of “character”. This is a movement from the hard, bejewelled eloquence of Titus Andronicus and Love’s Labours Lost (where verbal indulgence has to feel death’s cold touch in order to become “living art”), to the inwardness and reticence of the Globe plays. The movement of speech towards silence is paralleled, often within a single play, by an “intense brooding” on a word or a cluster of words, by which “certain words are thawed out”, or there is “the bursting through in action of what seems a merely verbal trick”. This is evident not only in Lear’s cruellest or Macbeth’s most apocalyptic moments, but also in Shakespeare’s mature fascination with scenes of recognition in the last tragicomedies, scenes which “became almost the principal reason for writing plays”.

This brings Kermode to the Statue Scene in The Winter’s Tale, which embodies for him a supremely Shakespearean transition: “a transition from the silence of the stone to the good nature of Hermione”. Kermode reads the language of this scene as “animated by an intense activity of the mind”, which produces “benefactions of sense”. This brings to a culmination “a new kind of intellectual enterprise” that had started with Hamlet. Kermode’s Shakespeare is therefore a “thinker who did his thinking in dramatic dialogue”. Yet his sweet prince, even in his most purely reflective and solitary moments, is never quite allowed to forget the theatre which brings him to life. Similarly, during the final magical moments of The Winter’s Tale, “there is no attempt to escape theatricality: it is simply evaporated”.

Shakespeare’s Language is a difficult book about the mastery and transfiguration of difficulty in art. Hamlet, and Hamlet, hold the key to this achievement, from which “we need not expect matters to be made easy for us”, and by which “we are challenged to make sense, even mocked if we fail”.


Edited By Francis Xavier Janim Ribeiro,
Haldankar, Rs 350

Goa, the only state in India to have a professional league, the first state to get a sponsor for their local league (Du pont in 1993), and the first state association to set up its own football academy, can now lay claim to another creditable first. To celebrate over forty years of existence, the Goa Football Association (formed in 1959) has brought out a comprehensive book, tracing the history of the game in the state.

There are brief accounts of football in pre-liberation Goa, the early clubs, inter-village matches and the visit by Benefica, the famous club of Portugal in 1960. Football was brought to Goa by a priest, Reverend Williams Robert Lyons, in 1883. The first documented match was in 1900 at Panjim. However, the bulk of the book deals with how football has progressed in the state after liberation, with its well structured youth programmes sponsored by Kanan Devan Tea, the Sesa Football Academy, marketing agent Procam Sports, and league sponsor Zee-TV.

This well documented book of about 200 pages, in 25 different chapters, provides a history of all the clubs, the famous coaches, increasing sponsorship, detailed accounts of star players — Andrew D’Souza of Vasco, the first from Goa to represent India in 1967, dashing winger Visitacao Lobo, the first professional Francis D’Souza (played for Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting from 1980-85), Brahmanand Shankhwalkar, the first Goan to get the Arjuna award, midfielder Mauricio Afonso, Bruno Coutinho and promising Roque Barretto — and adds endless nuggets of valuable information. There are also detailed accounts of all the famous administrators ranging from Augusto de Noronha of the Thirties to current secretary, Agnelo Alcasoas. This section also shows the democratic nature of Goan football. Unlike most state associations in India, officials never hold the same post for more than two terms.

The book is a football lover’s delight. The chapter, “Goa at the Nationals”, provides detailed account of Goa’s performances from its debut in 1963-64 to the present. This chapter highlights Goa’s first ever triumph in the Nationals, joint-winner with Bengal in 1982-83 and its first outright win a year later at Madras. There are also detailed accounts of Goa in the junior, sub-junior and women’s Nationals and a list of all the league champions of Goa.

Three players from Goa have captained the senior Indian team, Brahmanand, Bruno and Afonso. The Indian junior team has been captained by Lawrence Gomes and Seby Antao, and three women, Yolanda D’Souza, Rekha Karapurkar and Juliana Gurjao have been Indian captains. Besides, the skippers of all the international tournaments from Goa have been listed. The performance of Goan clubs in each major tournament is also well presented. The chapter, “Constellation of Goa stars”, provides brief sketches of about 100 famous players of Goa, goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards, from the Sixties to the present.

The chapter, “The Elite of Goan Football” traces the history of the clubs. Vasco is the oldest registered club, founded in 1951. Dempo is the first Goan team to win a major trophy — the Rovers Cup in 1975. They are also the only Goan club to win an international trophy, the Pomis Cup at Male, Maldives in an invitation tournament in 1991. The insights on the leading players are absorbing and form the best part of the book. We learn that Bruno Coutinho, like Maneka Gandhi, is an ardent lover of animals and looks after strays. His hobby is fishing. Roque Barreto was an orphan who survived on one square meal a day, and Brahmanand was taught football by a doctor, Remi- gio Pinto from Taleigao, who neglected his profession to coach young players.

Francis Ribeiro and his team of journalists and project director Noel da Lima Leitao deserve praise for their meticulous research and presentation.


By Gulshan Sachdeva,
Konark, Rs 350

It’s hard to find a better example than the Northeast for illustrating the unbalanced development in India. Much has been said and written on the reasons for its backwardness. Unfortunately, most of the existing accounts fail to probe deep and end up suggesting greater Central patronage as the only solution for rejuvenating the region. In this regard, Gulshan Sachdeva is a welcome exception. He rightly points out that the region is certainly not a financially neglected one. Rather, it is one of the more favoured territories.

The troubles of the Northeast lie in the region itself. By identifying the precise nature of the problems, the present work climbs a notch above many of its predecessors. It has a straightforward no-nonsense approach and relies strictly on facts. The author holds the state governments responsible for failing to generate internal financial resources. Poor financial health of states arises from either systemic difficulties in revenue mobilization or lack of sustained efforts for generating revenue. The Northeast, unfortunately, seems to have suffered as much from systemic disorders as from insufficient initiatives at the state-level.

Certain policies of the Northeastern states have indeed been baffling. The region has heavy potential for power generation. Yet, none of the states has identified power as a priority area. Inviting private investment in this sector would not only create infrastructure, but would also inject fresh blood in the capital-starved region. Moreover, practically all the states have wafer-thin tax bases. Prudent fiscal management always emphasizes upon expansion and consolidation of the tax bases. The tribal population in the area has remained untaxed. The states have made little effort in exploring other sources of revenue and relied solely on Central government support.

The book categorically points out the strengths and weaknesses of the region. Compared to the plains, the Northeast is a more labour scarce region. The impressive literacy rates indicate a commendable educational infrastructure. Unfortunately, the infrastructure has failed to create an efficient pool of skilled labour, ostensibly due to lack of training facilities. Given the skill shortage, the region has to introduce flexible labour policies by permitting inward migration. So far this hasn’t happened due to the fear of the tribals getting reduced to minorities. Sachdeva rightly observes that lack of skilled labour has resulted in the failure of most of the labour-intensive schemes launched in the region. Rigid labour laws, combined with ineffective land tenure systems, limited initiatives in promoting infrastructure and pitiable law and order conditions have created the perfect recipe for economic disaster.

The author provides valuable insights into the possible commercial integration of the region with neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan. The strategic geography of the Northeast offers it scope to grow into an important trading hub by providing a gateway to the southeast Asian markets. Even if a part of the ongoing unofficial border trade with some of the neighbours were formalized, the larger objective of integrating with ASEAN would get a shot in the arm. Although sweeping in vision, this idea could possibly be implemented. What more could the Northeast have asked for?    

By Niall Ferguson,
Penguin, $12.95

The most complex things of the world, in the hands of master practitioners, are surprisingly simple. When the 3rd Lord Rothschild was asked to define banking, he said, “Banking consists essentially of facilitating the movement of money from Point A, where it is, to point B, where it is needed.” Sounds elementary but it does not even offer a glimpse into the elaborate network of institutions and informants that the Rothschilds established all over Europe. Moreover, it utterly underplays the difficulties involved in moving money from one point to another at a time when transport facilities were primitive, and letters carried by messengers on horses the only form of communication.

Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the London branch of the house in the early 19th century, began his business career in England as a textile exporter. But he soon came to specialize in various financial services. The London branch, N.M. Rothschild & Sons, has had an uninterrupted existence down to the present day. But it was one of a group of Rothschild houses, which were run as a family partnership. The power, influence and wealth of the family reached an unprecedented height between 1820 and 1870. During this period, there were five distinct establishments: Frankfurt (M.A. Rothschild & Sohne; in Paris (de Rothschild Freres); in Naples and in Vienna; and in London. The histories of the five houses were irretrievably interwoven. They formed, Niall Ferguson says, “the component parts of a multinational bank.”

In the long 19th century — from 1815 to 1914 — it was easily the biggest bank in the world…The 20th century has no equivalent: not even the biggest of today’s international banking corporations enjoys the relative supremacy enjoyed by the Rothschilds in their heyday — just as no individual today owns as large a share of the world’s wealth as Nathan and James as individuals owned in the period from the mid-1820s until the 1860s.’’

Ferguson sets out to explain this phenomenal success and influence. The key to this, according to him, lies in the nature of public finance in the 19th century. The Rothschilds made a very large part of their fortune either by lending to governments or by speculating in existing government bonds. Most 18th and 19th century governments had huge budget deficits which they had to meet. The other problem governments faced, especially the British government during the Napoleonic wars, was the transfer of huge sums of money to the Continent. The latter demanded innovations in the system of cross-border payments. It was this need that the Rothschilds met and thus transformed themselves from small time traders and bankers to the running of a multinational financial partnership.

The emergence of another economic instrument in the 19th century — the government bonds, especially, the high yielding British bonds — helps to explain the proximity of the Rothschilds to political circles and the influence that flowed from that closeness. Apart from economic factors, bonds were dependent on the ability of the bond-issuing states to continue to pay the interest on the bonds. Successful trading in bonds, in the volatile atmosphere of the 19th century, required a close knowledge of political events and economic trends and policies. Rothschilds, because they were lenders to governments and bankers, had an edge in this regard over their rivals. They spent an enormous amount of time and energy in maintaining the best possible relations with the political figures of the time.

This barebone summary does scant justice to the rich material and acute analysis that Ferguson presents in this book. He presents analysis that is based on previously unknown documents, including those kept in the KGB archives. This is a family saga as well as the story of an economic triumph: the rise of a family from the Frankfurt ghetto to a status that made them equals of the European aristocracy.


Edited By Ahmad Salim
(Swankit, Rs 250)

Ahmad Salim’s Lahore 1947 structures the memory of Partition through place. The site is the “Paris of the East”, Lahore. The firsthand narratives collected in the volume are by writers from the two Punjabs who crossed the Wagah border headed either east or west. Tragedy and loss are the running themes, yet the moods of the writers range from the ebullient to the grimly determined. What comes through is a sense of vitality, a desire to resurrect the past with all its horrors to both confront and share it. The compositions are in English or in translations of Urdu with a distinguished and unusual list of writers including Khushwant Singh and Amrita Preetam. The italic style, however, is irritating.

By Kimberley Chawla
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Kimberley Chawla’s Travel Health: A Guide For The Indian Subcontinent is an amazingly useful handbook for the domestic and foreign traveller in India. The smart format makes the information easily accessible and that is perhaps the book’s most important feature. Chawla is exhaustive in her account, going professionally through preventive measures, symptoms, description, effect and methods of cure and palliation. It is difficult not to be impressed with a neat little volume which tells you about every ailment from camel sickness and dhobi itch to heart attack and appendicitis with separate sections on the needs of pregnant women and HIV-infected travellers.

(Roli, price not mentioned)

Manjit Bawa in his own words is part of the publishers’ Pocket Art series and its colour values are characteristically good. The reproductions successfully convey the mysterious luminescence and strange peacefulness of Bawa’s work. It is interesting to have the artist himself speak about his beliefs in the first 16 pages of the book. But it is the colour plates that are the most valuable, because they serve as both a meaningful introduction to and a handy portfolio of Bawa’s work.

By Henry B. Lin
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Henry B. Lin’s The Complete Guide To Feng Shui is for those who ask, “Where should I bury my grandparents so that my family will be rich and noble, or more specifically, to have a great diplomat, a great educator, or even a president or first lady born into my family down the road?” No doubt such questions can be asked, for there are many things in heaven and earth. But it is quite incomprehensible that a publisher of repute should seek to answer them with practical guide to feng shui, the ancient Chinese tradition of shaping fate by harmonizing surroundings. That feng shui has “spread like wildfire” across the world is more a sign of modern insecurity than an acknowledgment of ancient Chinese wisdom.



Blessing in disguise

Sir — The recent arrest of a seventy year old man for his attempted rape of a handicapped eighteen year old girl in Madhya Pradesh, though horrific, was a relief to know about ("Rape-bid grandpa strikes fear", July 20). The report was a clear indication that sexual and other crimes that are prevalent in rural areas are at last being reported and brought to justice. Though sex crimes are common in villages, they are rarely reported for fear of social ostracization as well as other pressures. After all, it took a film to bring the rape and ostracization of Bhanwari Devi in a small village in Rajasthan before the eyes of the world, which is yet to respond adequately. Victims believe that they will be persecuted and harassed by the police as well as the justice department and reporting their cases will only add to their miseries. One hopes that this report will serve as an eye-opener to victims while acting as a warning to offenders and will soon lead to a reduction of similar crimes.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Guha, New Delhi

Fatal obsession

Sir — It is disturbing to notice Ramchandra Guha hopelessly repeating himself in his columns in The Telegraph. For instance, bashing Bengal and Bengalis has become routine for him. But what irks more is his repetition of facts and anecdotes. For instance, in “Rooted Cosmopolitans” (July 22), he recounts almost word by word what he has already written about Nirad Chaudhuri in his collection of essays titled An Anthropologist among the Marxists (which itself is collated from his earlier writings).

Likewise, his love-hate relationship with the bhadralok, with Tagore only passing the test because he happened not to dislike Gandhi — Guha’s hero, is a shortsighted generalization. What about the brilliant Bengalis who travel, stay in other parts of India and still do full justice to their merit? Guha must understand that there are other kinds of Bengalis than the type he has encountered at the St Stephen’s cafe during his college days, in the libraries and seminar rooms of Indian Institute of Management, Joka and the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences.

Besides, there always have been shades to the coconut variety. The evolution has not been as linear as Guha suggests. Also, it seems very condescending for a man talking about diversity to insinuate that Bengalis, Marathis and Tamilians are the sole flagbearers of the intellect among Indians. All this comes especially as a shock because he claims to be a Gandhian. One is tempted to conclude that Guha has rightly been pilloried by Arundhati Roy.

Yours faithfully,
Gabbar Singh, via email

Sir — Ramachandra Guha grossly simplifies the issue when he claims that the Subaltern Studies project was intially inspired by the Collected Works of Chairman Mao and that now the whole endeavour sits snug in “the Universities of Chicago and Columbia”. We cannot overlook the seminal influence of two Europeans — Antonio Gramsci and E.P. Thompson — in shaping the contours of the project in the Eighties. Also, the idea of peasant movements (if that is what Guha is referring to by invoking Mao) did not only refer to the Comintern, but was also influenced by such guiding polemics as the Brenner debates.

Also, though the project has taken “cultural turns” of late, it has not been “laid to rest” in the United States academia. It has spread its tentacles in Latin America and Africa and has elicited some excellent critiques from European scholars.The scholars associated with it are fully aware of the shifts and turns that the project is taking. And finally, it has never been the sole domain of the Bengalis, which puts Guha’s whole thesis into question.

Yours faithfully,
M.O. Gambo, via email

Sir — Ramachandra Guha has rightly lauded the cosmopolitanism of Bengalis like Nirad Chaudhuri and Satyajit Ray. Chaudhuri and Ray and several others like them had generously borrowed from the English, French and Russian cultures, while cautiously retaining and taking pride in their Indian and Bengali identities. This liberal outlook, transcending national boundaries yet firmly rooted, was the defining characteristic of the Bengal renaissance.

However, Guha is wrong to interpret this cosmopolitanism as a kind of parochialism. According to him, Bengalis today have little interest in the rest of the country. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bengali outlook has undergone a sea change over the last few decades. The community is eager to maintain a distance from all things Bengali for fear of being branded communal or parochial.

In fact, Bengalis, like their counterparts from the other states, are fast shedding or disguising their Bengali-ness in an attempt to internationalize themselves. It is borne out by the radical Anglicization — even Hindi-ization — of the everyday vocabulary, food habits and ways of dressing. This trend is suicidal. Rabindranath Tagore — according to Guha, the last Bengali bhadralok — had repeatedly warned against the evil repercussions from a community’s experience of losing self-respect.

Guha need not lament the death of the Bengali cosmopolitan, only the death of the Bengali Bengali.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Whole, not part

Sir — In “ITC faces Fera fine of Rs 613 cr” (July 13), it is mentioned that “ITC has denied ever having accepted any liability on account of ITC Global”, presumably relying on the report of the directors in the Report & Accounts 2001. The news item does not reproduce the relevant portion of this report in its entirety. The critical portion is: “The judicial managers have indicated to your company that the outstanding dues of ITC Global to its creditors were likely to range between $48 million and $49.8 million (apart from the debt of approximately $9.9 million owed by ITC Global to ITC) and had sought your company’s financial support to ITC Global to enable it to settle with its creditors. Your board does not accept any legal liability in this regard and has accordingly advised the judicial managers.

“However, without prejudice, and with the intention of preserving goodwill of the international banking and other investing communities and thereby to subserve your company’s future business interests in a fast-globalizing economy, your company has proposed rendering financial assistance to the tune of $26 million to the judicial managers towards settlement of outstanding dues of ITC Global to its creditors. This would be subject to your consent and all necessary approvals from all government and other authorities, both at Singapore, and in India, and also subject to concluding a comprehensive agreement between your company and the judicial managers in this regard, which is currently in process.”

Yours faithfully,
S.H. Venkatramani, head, corporate communications, ITC Ltd

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