Editorial / The world is one
Wagner among the Jews
This above all / Welcome to the campus
People / Vivek Katju
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / THE WORLD IS ONE 
 
 
 
 
Anti-globalization is radical chic. This glosses over the fact that Karl Marx was the first prophet of globalization. He argued that working men and women across the globe could liberate themselves only if they united. Inherent in this argument was the recognition that globalization was an enriching, strengthening and an educative experience. Mr Amartya Sen has recently argued that those who are now protesting against globalization in Seattle, Quebec, Prague and Genoa are themselves globalized since the protesters come from all over the world. The protesters realize that only by a globalized show of unity can their protest be effective. There is an irony in this situation which the protesters will have to accept. Men and women who are demonstrating against globalization probably have something else as their target. The target seems to be a particular economic order exemplified by the World Trade Organization. They see the WTO as an instrument through which the developed countries are fortifying their economic dominance, and perpetuating the poverty of the less developed countries. They see in the new economic order a re-emergence of imperialism.

This is not to deny that the protesters do not have their hearts in the right place. The disappearance of communism has vacated a particular space of all ideology. Opposition to capitalism has lost its coherence and its irrelevance in the absence of an alternative. The “old left’’ has thus withdrawn from the arena of protest. The red flag no longer flutters over barricades. At the same time, groups of people in the West who were communists or sympathizers have become conscious of the many inequalities and contradictions embedded within capitalism, which is the world economic order. They are concerned about the co-existence of poverty and prosperity and about the fact that the former phenomenon is pervasive in the third world and prosperity more noticeable in the first world. The protests are really against this inequality. It has little or nothing to do with globalization. These inequalities would have continued to exist even if the WTO regime had not existed. The protesters are thus probably upholding the right cause, the eradication of inequalities, but they are probably waving the wrong flag, anti-globalization. Fundamentally, the problem is not about a globalized economic order. Economic trends and technological changes — and protests against them — have shown that the process of unifying the world is inevitable and irreversible.

The direction of the protests is not without lessons for those who have been called “patrons of the contemporary economic order’’. The demonstrations call attention to the problems of poverty and deprivation. The aim of the protesters and their enemies is perhaps one and the same: making this world a more humane place for all those who live in it. If this is accepted, then the problems of poverty and deprivation have to be addressed with more urgency than they have been so far. It has to be accepted that neither the planned economies of the erstwhile socialist countries nor the market economies have engaged with these issues. A globalized and a free world offers better opportunities for such a critical engagement.

   

 
 
WAGNER AMONG THE JEWS 
 
 
BY RUKUN ADVANI
 
 
Six major composers of the 19th century were born between 1809 and 1813: Mendelssohn in 1809; Schumann and Chopin in 1810; Liszt in 1811; Verdi and Wagner in 1813. It would be ridiculous to suggest that any one of these was the most accomplished of the lot, but certainly the most spectacular, the most influential, the most infamous, and the most controversial of them was Richard Wagner.

Despite being dead for more than a century, Wagner (1813-1883) and his legacy at Bayreuth have never really been out of the news. Frequently, this has been for the wrong reasons, the most recent of which is entertainingly postmodern. Some days ago, the British-Jewish pianist-conductor, Daniel Barenboim, was in Jerusalem with the Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra. He had wanted to include Wagner in his programme but was reminded in advance of Israel’s informal ban on music by the anti-Semitic Wagner.

While speaking in Israel, however, he happened to be interrupted by a mobile phone ringing to a tune from Wagner’s Die Walküre. Barenboim reckoned that if Israelis had no objection to hearing Wagner jingling on cellphones, they had no call to object hearing fuller Wagnerian melody during his concert. So, when encored at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, he announced he would play a bit from Tristan und Isolde. A few in the audience jeered, some left in disgust, the rest stayed on and enjoyed the encore. The next day, the cultural police were up in arms, and the event has been described as the “cultural rape” of Israel. Barenboim has countered by saying that although some of Wagner’s writings are anti-Jewish, there is nothing anti-Jewish about Wagner’s music.

Over the second half of the 19th century, after the operatic successes of Rienzi, The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser in the 1840s, Wagner was as musically dominant as Beethoven had been over the century’s first half. He was at the same time an opportunist, careerist, profligate and philanderer, who was republican when it suited him — during the revolutions of 1848 he wrote propaganda for the radical press — and a monarchist the rest of the time. This was mostly because he considered himself the ultimate artistic monarch of all humanity and partly because, in 1864, Ludwig II of Bavaria became his devoted patron.

In the entire history of Western music it is difficult to think of a musician whose character was as loathsome and personal life as despicable. One critic describes him as being “heartless to a degree that would have made a Roman emperor shudder”. According to another: “He was a short man, about 5’5” tall, but he radiated power, belief in himself, ruthlessness...As a human being he was frightening. Amoral, hedonistic, selfish, virulently racist, arrogant, filled with gospels of the Superman (the superman naturally being Wagner) and the superiority of the German race, he stands for all that is unpleasant in human character.”

Along the same lines, but on a much grander and earlier scale than the politically retrograde but poetically superlative Philip Larkin, Wagner’s lunatic ideological positions, racist politics, and rotten mix of megalomania and narcissism in personal life discoloured his achievements as an artist — which are on nearly the same scale as the composer he worshipped, Beethoven. The polarization of views over Wagner’s music was always severe, and in his lifetime German music lovers were either classicist Brahmsians or romantic Wagnerians.

This dilemma was subsequently compounded by Hitler’s special preference for Wagner as the musical avant garde of the Nazis, which corresponded with Mussolini’s adoption of Pietro Mascagni, the composer of Cavalleria Rusticana, for Italian Fascist purposes. Hitler might not have had such an easy time roping in Wagner were it not for the fact that the composer had given extremely explicit utterance to his venomous view of Jewry. The chief essay by Wagner in this context, titled “Das Judentum in der Musik [Jewishness in Music]”, was published in 1850. It attacks Jewish musicians, specifically Mendelssohn, for lacking the cultural roots and resources required to compose stupendous music.

Wagner wanted to leave no one in any doubt that he, as a true German of ancient stock, was composing music to fulfil an ideological dream. This is rather ironic, for 20th century research on Wagner’s antecedents suggests that his putative stepfather, Ludwig Geyer, was both his real father and a Jew.

The further the artist’s medium from verbal representations of nature and society, the more complicated it becomes to offer conclusive judgments about the degree of interconnection and interpenetration between his ideology and his art. It is not entirely easy, but not altogether contextually difficult either, to demonstrate that Larkin’s view of marriage, women and labour is not particularly pleasant, from the poem which begins, “Oh, no one can deny/ That Arnold is less selfish than I./ He married a woman to stop her getting away/ Now she’s there all day/ And the money he gets for wasting his life on work/ She takes as her perk.”

But it becomes more complicated if you try to unearth Salvador Dali’s sadistic relations with women from his paintings, because paintings “speak” of the world with greater indirection than a poem. Orwell, in an essay on this subject, describes Dali as possessing “a diseased intelligence”, and as having “as good an outfit of perversions as anyone could wish for”. But in coming to these conclusions, Orwell utilizes Dali’s autobiographical writings to understand his paintings [“Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali”].

Wagner was neither a pervert nor straightforwardly repulsive like Dali, but what really complicates the issue of the relationship between politics and art in his case is the medium — that is, music-drama (Wagner’s term for something transcending traditional opera). This is not a form which “speaks” of the world in a language translatable into everyday statements, which is precisely why Wagner sought to back it up with explanatory and programmatic writings.

It is in fact impossible to arrive at disparaging judgments of Wagner just by listening to his music, without recourse to his fictional, autobiographical and critical writings. On the other hand, anyone with an ear for the classical music of Europe or an instinctive appreciation of Western melody who has never read Wagner’s sometimes deranged essays is unlikely to have much problem in developing a deep love of what is essentially Wagnerian — his music.

Beyond a point, no one who really listens to music cares about the personal character or the politics of the man who wrote it. The possibilities of experiencing music as the only form unsullied by real life are considerable: it is more possible and credible to separate out the chaff-politics from the grain-art in relation to music. Lovers of Larkin cannot quite escape his views because they sometimes lurk like shadows at the fringes of his words; and it is difficult to disagree with Orwell on Dali because he pinpoints the threads which connect the personal psychology of sadism with its transformation into surrealist art.

In both Larkin and Dali there are irrefutable shreds of political contamination which eat into the art. But it surely makes no difference to any serious listener’s experience of Cavalleria Rusticana to know that its composer was a Mussolini sympathizer. Ottorino Respighi, ArturoToscanini and Bruno Walter, who managed to stay clear of dictators, made music no better than Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, who did not.

Politicians use music and musicians for their own ends. Lovers of music instinctively know they cannot, following the same logic, like or dislike composers for their politics. Musicians are often political innocents who sensibly or instinctively keep clear of politics: Mozart is a case in point. Research on the sociology of music shows that the posthumous iconic status of composers depends upon the nature of the regime in power. Beethoven was almost as comprehensively appropriated into the Nazi pantheon as Wagner, yet when the Berlin wall crashed in 1989 his music was deployed to signal the Brotherhood of Man. To protest against Wagner’s music because he was idiot enough to despise the Jews is merely to accept the twisted logic of politics. It is to fail to recognize the paradox that a man can be an utter swine and yet musically a god.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL / WELCOME TO THE CAMPUS 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
True to our national character we pick up the silliest customs of the West and give them an oriental twist. Among the harmless are celebrating birthdays with birthday cakes, candles and singing “Happy Birthday to You”, New Year’s Eve parties, getting drunk and singing “Auld Lang Syne”. A later addition is celebrating St Valentine’s Day by sending cards declaring love and inserting ads carrying amorous messages in newspapers. However alien and silly they be in the Indian setting, they are harmless.

Ragging new entrants in colleges is not. It was borrowed from England, where new boys joining schools were taken over by seniors as fags and asked to do menial jobs like polishing their shoes and ironing their clothes. At times youngsters were also subjected to buggery. Some of the practices were carried to colleges. Ragging in all its forms vanished from English schools and colleges a century ago. We Indians took it up and continue to indulge in it with sadistic zeal. In my days, in the two Indian colleges I went to, it seldom went beyond quietly affixing placards reading, “I am a first year fool” on the backs of new entrants or making them sing and dance. In hostels, they were often subjected to humiliations like being forced to strip, masturbate and even satiate the lust of seniors.

The victims often suffered trauma and were mentally maimed for life. College authorities usually turned a blind eye to these happenings and explained them as harmless ways of rubbing edges off newcomers. It took many tragic incidents for them to realize they were far from harmless — at times ragging induced victims to take their own lives. It was after such a suicide committed by an engineering student of IIT Kharagpur in 1991 that, on a petition filed by the deceased’s father, ragging was made a cognizable offence punishable with fine of Rs 25,000 and three years rigorous imprisonment. The University Grants Commission formulated rules which included expulsion from college to put down this unwholesome custom.

It came as a surprise to me that the practice of ragging is as common in girls’ colleges as it is in boys’ and takes equally sadistic forms at times leading to suicides. I should have thought a simple word of warning by the principal to all his students at the time of admissions that anyone caught ragging would be immediately expelled from college, with a few notices at prominent places in hostels would be enough. Apparently not. So the police have to be summoned and arrests made in centres of learning.

By the time I joined college in England in 1934, the word, “ragging”, had disappeared from university vocabularies. On the contrary, new entrants were shown round the college and hostels by older students, told of extra-curricular activities in which they could participate. It was a most cordial welcome.

About the only roughing up that took place once a year was by gangs of students from one college raiding its rival college and robbing or disfiguring its emblem. My college emblem was Leo, a red lion fixed above the entrance gate. The emblem of the London School of Economics was Phineas with a long beard. King’s College boys would suddenly storm into LSE, carry off Phineas and cut off his beard before returning it. A few days later, LSE boys would raid King’s College, carry of Leo and return it after removing its testicles.

Vanity in rhyming verses

Poetry is the greatest form of literature because it is more evocative of emotions than the best prose or fiction. it is closer to music than any other form of writing. it also does not need great erudition to write it because it springs from the heart and not the brain. Most people start composing rhyming verses while still at school: they are rarely good but are admired by loving parents and spinster aunts. Poetry has few buyers and publishers do not risk their money on publishing poetry books. Most people who have to read a certain amount of poetry in school and college do not do so in later life.

Editors of journals do not take poetry seriously. Few newspapers which care to publish it use it as space-fillers. The only real outlets for aspiring poets are poetry magazines; India has hardly any worth mentioning. In this dismal scene, most Indian poets publish their works at their own expense through what are known as “vanity publishers”. There are quite a few of them in our country. They charge their authors enormous amounts to let them see their names in print, have no distribution system and reviewers take no notice of them because their books are not available in bookstores. I glance at some which are sent to me but rarely bother about them. Most of them are puerile outpourings of juveniles in rhyme, with lines cut to different sizes to pass off as poetry.

One such was Simantini (boundless) by Priyasi, which landed on my table a few days ago. I read the first poem, then the second, the third and then the entire collection. Her themes are love, disenchantment and the wretched lot of women.

“For two square meals,/ a roof on her head/ and some respectability/ What she did not get?

A lifetime of subjugation,/ Slavery, abuse and force,/ Glorious edifications./ Wife, mother, maid,/ Drudgery, monotony,/ anonymity.”

When a person expects to fulfil her life’s aspirations through a relationship with another, disenchantment is bound to follow:

“In the/ Pregnant moments/ of our thoughts,/ so much was said.

The finality/ of the / statement / I love you,/ killed something of it./ The more times/ we say,/ the more it falls/ short./ So much love,/ so few words.

When all has been said/ So much will remain unsaid / So come, my love/ let us not cage/ our love,/ in the straight-jacket/ of words.

Let the eloquence/ of wordlessness/ speak for itself, / Let’s just love/ and leave the rest./ More will be said,/ When nothing/ is said.

The book says absolutely nothing about the poet. She is reluctant to talk about her private life. I could extract no more than that she was born in Lucknow 46 years ago and that her father was an officer in the Indian Air Force.

She went to schools in different cities where her father was posted, took her master’s degree from a Delhi college and has held jobs in the public and private sectors. She lives in Delhi with her husband and two daughters. She has a collection of poems in Hindi and is planning to write a novel.

Word imperfect

Dr Amarinder Bajaj of Pitampura, New Delhi, has drawn my attention to misprints on signboards she has spotted. One reads: “Rukmani Devi Pubic School opens today.” The letter “l” is missing in the world “Public”. A room in a school set apart for teaching fine arts has a board reading “Farts”. And finally, a lady named Anu has opened a new boutique which announces itself as Anus Boutique.

   

 
 
PEOPLE / VIVEK KATJU 
 
 
 
 

In the Fire

He is still stricken by the fever he caught at Agra. More anger than fever maybe, but the heat still casts its spell on his face even a week after Agra. Here is the Pakistani official sitting red-faced in his foreign ministry office on Constitution Avenue, as he talks about how Vivek Katju hijacked the Agra talks.

Immaculately dressed in cream-coloured sherwani he could barely conceal his Agra angst. His agitation shows as he lights a cigarette and goes on to give his countdown on the Agra breakdown. In the excitement, his tea is getting cold but he doesn’t seem to care. “And the likes of Katju in your MEA talk of violations of the LOC?” He gets up from his seat, walks over to the large map that hangs on a wall alongside his desk and opens a veritable fusillade. “You have been violating not only Shimla but the 1991 agreement between the two countries — and not only in the Kashmir valley but in the Rann of Kutch as well.” Next moment, he calls an assistant, asking him to fish out a copy of the 1991 agreement on “advance notice on military exercises, manoeuvres and troop movements”.

He promises to give a copy of the final draft at Agra, which, he says, came close to being accepted. A couple of more cigarettes later, he cools down: “Anyway, the process has started. We’ll continue with the peace talks.” No doubt, though, the ghost of Katju, joint secretary (JS) in charge of the Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan desk in the ministry of external affairs, will probably loom large over future talks.

Actually Katju, the bureaucrat Pakistan loves to hate, an emotion only intensified by the Agra summit, is on his way to new shores — as the ambassador of Myanmar. A position widely seen as a promotion, a post for which even the present ambassador to Israel was lobbying hard. However, Katju’s detractors aren’t limited to Pakistan alone. If the rustling grapevine’s got it right, the dour JS’s departure will leave behind more than a few smiling faces in South Block as well.

Described variously as “extremely hawkish”; “a quintessential bureaucrat” and “very patriotic”, Katju has built up a reputation of being an extremely tight-lipped hardliner who isn’t particularly popular in the foreign service.

The hardliner part of him is ascribed to his Kashmiri Pundit background. The grandson of Congressman and lawyer Kailashnath Katju who was a member of the first cabinet of independent India, “Katju comes from a very prominent family of Allahabad, where the singular motif is honesty,” says a close friend of Katju’s for the last 37 years, Dr Amar Pal Bhalla of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

There is something about Katju that seems to excite passions. For a low-profile bureaucrat — in fact, till Islamabad named him as one of the agent provocateurs not too many people in India had heard of him — the sentiments he evokes are suprisingly strong. He is either disliked intensely, or supported stoutly. And with two conflicting and equally strong schools of thought on what makes Katju tick, his ideology remains quite a mystery.

Does he, for instance, hate Pakistan with a visceral passion, as some insist? Legend has it that once he even asked an economist how India could destroy Pakistan’s economy. And when a friend suggested that India give aid to Islamabad, he laughed and said: “You liberals! You meet some Pakistani liberals, you think the entire country is like that.”

And just when you had begun to think of the man as an inveterate Pakistan basher, a former member of the Prime Minister’s Office has this to relate. During the Lahore initiative, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was keen to make a trip to the Minar-e-Pakistan as a symbol of peace. Quite a few in the government advised him against doing this — and Vajpayee said as much when he made a small speech at the historic venue. “But it was actually Katju who advised the Prime Minister to visit the spot,’’ says a former colleague.

There are some, like the ex-PMO official, who see him as a “very professional bureaucrat” who has been unfairly maligned because of his Kashmiri Pundit lineage. A senior IFS officer, known to be particularly spartan in his praise of fellow-officers said: “Katju is an outstanding officer and it is unfortunate that he is often misrepresented because of his background.”

Whatever, under the present government his hardliner image can only be an advantage for Katju. Apparently, the very morning a daily reported that Islamabad held L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Katju as those responsible for the Agra failure, the home minister called Katju up. “A laughing Advani,” according to a Katju associate, “told him over the phone: ‘Now you have been grouped with me’.”

Bhalla, who practically grew up with Katju, feels that too much is read into the bureaucrat’s ‘tight-lippedness’. “He does his job very well which is the important thing and keeping things in strict confidence is an essential part of his job, given the sensitivity of the region he handles. After all he isn’t supposed to brief the press,” he adds.

It was, some would argue, this reticence which is allowing Pakistan to get away with labelling Katju the “worst hawk at the delegation level talks at Agra.” But the fact is that Katju — more than perhaps even Advani and Swaraj — succeeded in getting the Pakistani hackles up. A senior aide to the Pakistani president said: “It was Katju all the way. He made your foreign secretary look utterly helpless. What’s worse, he seemed to be doing Advani’s bidding rather than your foreign minister’s. It was really a shame the way he sabotaged the draft-making process at Agra.”

And even as Pakistan’s foreign ministry officials are still frothing over Katju, close friends of the JS insist that his poker-faced image is just one side of the coin. “Actually, he is a very different person — fun-loving and quite a prankster.”

“Actually he lives very frugally,” adds another close friend. “He has been driving the same junked-up Fiat for the last eight years. All he wants to do really is serve his country...he is extremely patriotic.”

And if Agra was anything to go by, Katju’s patriotism remains unquestioned. Or, some would tell you, his Kashmiri Pandit roots run deep.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A method to their madness

Sir —It is very rarely that any decision by the Centre makes sense to the ordinary citizen. The latest decision to appoint Omar Abdullah as the minister of state for external affairs is another example of the Centre’s often illogical way of operating. The appointment is an obvious ploy by India to strengthen its stand on Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of the Indian Union, especially in the light of the failed India-Pakistan summit. This political move is highly impractical since Farouq Abdullah’s administration is one of the most unpopular to be in power in Kashmir. It seems that after the failure of the summit we should be prepared to witness more public relations exercises guided by such bizarre logic from the Indian government.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, via email

Incurable

Sir — I would like to question the statement, “This was a mistake and could happen to anybody”, in the report, “Living with a mop for two months after operation” (July 5). Leaving a mop in the abdomen of the patient was nothing short of negligence and indifference. Generally a record is kept of how many mops, forceps, needles and so on are used during an operation. This checklist is referred to again after the operation is completed. The method of double-checking is foolproof. So the nurses and doctor concerned should be punished, if not barred from practising medicine for a few years. No compensation can make up for the suffering , monetary loss and death of the patient.

Yours faithfully,
M. Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The letters written by Kalyan Ghosh and Keshab Kumar Chowdhury (“Wards in hell” May22) were reminders of the deplorable state of our government hospitals. My uncle almost lost his life because of the neglect in the government hospital he had been admitted to. By admitting him to Kothari Medical College we managed to save the situation, even though we lost a lot of money and time. In an economically backward state like ours, not many can afford a private hospital. The last thing a patient or his family needs during an emergency is the hostile staff and pathetic conditions of government hospitals. An improved work culture is necessary at all levels of hospital staff.

Yours faithfully,
D. Bhadury, Calcutta

The future of astrology

Sir — The recent decision of the University Grants Commission to introduce astrology as a science subject at the university level has the blessing of not only a professor of physics, but also the UGC chairman. Astrology, as many academicians argue, cannot be categorized as a science. If the UGC wanted to introduce it as a subject it should not have included it in the science stream. There is no logic in this. Political expediency and our quest to keep in touch with our culture have unfortunately taken priority over our education policy. One hopes that the human resources development minister will intervene and reverse the UGC order before other nations start de-recognizing science degrees from Indian universities.

Yours faithfully,
M. Akhtar, via email

Sir — The introduction of astrology in Indian universities and the uproar that it has caused is completely unnecessary. Although it cannot be called a science, it should not be banned from being taught in colleges. Astrology is very much a part of the Indian socio-cultural setup and astrologers serve the purpose of counsellors and advisors to people. It is a viable and lucrative career choice. The universities should introduce astrology as a vocational course like other vocational courses such as fashion designing.

Yours faithfully,
Chameli Pal, Calcutta

Bring it back on track

Sir — Services at the Belgachia Metro station have been deteriorating progressively. Most of the time, only one or two counters, instead of the four allotted for the purpose, remain open. This often leads to long queues. The unavailability of change at the counter inconveniences the travellers. The Metro Railway authorities should look into the matter.

Yours faithfully,
Vinit Pagaria, Calcutta

Sir — The Metro seems to have become the favourite suicide point of travellers. Can’t something be done to stop people from jumping onto the tracks?

Yours faithfully,
K. Mondal, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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