Editorial 1 / Low key
Editorial 2 / Democracy calling
Friendship, then and now
Fifth Column / Wreck the global treaties
Book Review / Romantic terra incognita
Book Review / The master through the eyes of a disciple
Book Review / Some monkeys in a concrete jungle
Bookwise / On the great Indian conspiracy trail
Paperback Pickings / The appetite, the enjoyment,the aftervoid
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / LOW KEY 
 
 
 
 
A succession of dramatic events can make a conventional speech seem a damper. After the high decibel of the Agra summit, the revival of murderous militant activity in Jammu and Kashmir and the revelations regarding the Unit Trust of India, the Independence Day speech of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was exactly that. The optimism was predictable, the assurances repetitive, the promises cast in the traditional mould. Perhaps the only striking feature was the fact that Mr Vajpayee was the first non-Congress prime minister to be speaking from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15 for the fourth time. His approach to Pakistan and Kashmir was a reiteration of already stated positions. India would continue talking to Pakistan, although Pakistan was completely mistaken in thinking that Kashmir could be “wrested” through cross-border terrorism. His expression of sympathy for the agony of Kashmir’s people was accompanied by a promise of “free and fair” elections in the state next year. This is the only area out of which something substantial can grow, if the Centre decides to try seriously to lessen the alienation of Kashmir’s people. But the prime minister’s remarks on corruption suggest no potential for new directions. The corrupt, however high in office, will not escape: the new lok pal bill is all he had on offer.

What gave some definition to the speech was the connection Mr Vajpayee made between the development of agriculture and economic prosperity. Allied to this were his reassurances about the perceived threats posed by the agreements with the World Trade Organization. He emphasized that persistent inequalities would be corrected by a “pro-poor, pro-village and pro-employment orientation” to the economic policy. While the programmes announced in the speech included in their scope all weaker sections — women, scheduled caste and scheduled tribe urban poor, and the rural poor — the tilt was very clearly in favour of the rural population. Food for work, employment, housing, roads, cottage industries and legal access were the chief concerns. Politicians have been repeatedly blamed for ignoring the development of the agricultural sector in the headiness of economic liberalization. It is not just a question of equality, but of economic wisdom. Mr Vajpayee may have been responding to that. He might have also been thinking of the states which go to the elections soon, among which the most worrying for the Bharatiya Janata Party is Uttar Pradesh. Whatever the reason, the test will lie in the implementation of plans. There was little in the speech to suggest such a guarantee.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / DEMOCRACY CALLING 
 
 
 
 
The announcement of Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, that elections will be held in Pakistan in October next year has been widely welcomed by civil society groups in the country. The elections, if held, would meet the three-year deadline imposed by Pakistan’s supreme court for the holding of provincial and national elections. Internationally, however, there is continued scepticism about Mr Musharraf’s commitment to restoring civilian rule, and with good reason. The president’s announcement did not, for instance, make clear if political parties would be allowed to contest the elections. An election without the participation of political parties could reduce itself to a farce with the army continuing to exercise real political control. Moreover, Mr Musharraf’s speech did not clarify the nature of the army’s role during the election process and his own role once an elected government was put in place. Given his recent move to elevate himself to the post of president, these questions are of great significance for all those wanting an early return of democracy to Pakistan. In any case, the history of military rule in Pakistan and of its past experience with three military dictators is not a source of much comfort. Ayub Khan, who pioneered military rule in Pakistan and stayed in power from 1958 to 1969, was forced out of office by another army officer, Yahya Khan. Yahya Khan gave up political power only after he had lost the 1971 Bangladesh war against India and split the country. There were few signs that Zia-ul-Haq would have given up political control even after more than a decade from 1977 to 1988; only his death in a mysterious plane crash forced the return of democracy.

Why do military rulers cling to power even while making promises of a quick return to democracy? Quite clearly, because generals learn to enjoy absolute political power, and are unsure of their personal fate if and when civilian rule is restored. The maxim, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, holds particularly true for armies in power. Even the most non-political of army officers — and there are very few in Pakistan — are seduced by the authority that they command when they are in power, and are unwilling to return to the anonymity of the barracks. Nevertheless, military dictators need to keep making promises of the eventual return of democracy to keep a flicker of hope alive within civil society, and they may even be persuaded to put up a democratic facade. Ayub Khan flirted with the idea of basic democracy, which was really military rule by another name. Zia-ul-Haq, after initially promising elections within three months, installed puppet civilian regimes that he thought provided him with enough democratic legitimacy to continue exercising real power. Be that as it may, the Pakistani people and the international community can only hope that President Musharraf proves to be different from his predecessors, although there is little evidence at present to suggest as much.

   

 
 
FRIENDSHIP, THEN AND NOW 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
The domestic situation is precarious enough, Kashmir looms as a giant threat; it however never rains but pours. Suddenly our government is being forced to take cognizance of other developments in the wide open world. A cause for particular concern is the treaty of neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation signed last month by the Russian federation with the People’s Republic of China.

This treaty brings back to mind a similar document of concord that the Soviet Union had signed, but with India, way back in 1971. That was D.P. Dhar’s finest hour. Indira Gandhi had almost made up her mind to intervene in the liberation war in East Pakistan. The only reservation felt was with respect to possible subsequent moves by China: would the northern neighbour play a spoilsport and actively side with Pakistan in the ensuing confusion? The country’s flank had to be protected; the potential threat had to be countered with the arrangement of a counter-threat. The treaty with the Soviet Union was akin to serving notice on China: watch out, our Soviet friends would not stand by as mute witnesses in case you intend to embark on some monkey business for harassing India.

The Russian federation is the successor state of the Soviet Union. Till very recently, the mandarins in New Delhi were living under the illusion that everything was hunkydory, we might indulge in all kinds of philandering, the Russians would not mind; after all, Russia is no friend of China; even if our relationship with the middle kingdom continues to worsen, we could therefore count on Russian empathy, thanks to the treaty of eternal friendship entered into with them 30 years ago.

Besides, so went the argument, we could be as chummy as we want to be with “our natural ally”, the United States, Russia will not mind. Russia will not mind because, much like us, the Russian federation too is beholden to the American administration for economic support and sustenance.

All these calculations have obviously gone awry following George W. Bush’s insistence on implementing the nuclear missile defence programme. Russia has ample reasons to worry over the NMD, as China too has. It was admittedly sheer foolhardiness on the part of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to come out with an effusively laudatory statement on the NMD within 24 hours of the announcement of the US president’s writ. Sensibility in foreign relations is linked to the degree of sensitivity nurtured by policy framers towards nuances of thoughts and emotions of other powers.

If India would go all the way with the US in matters pertaining to defence, something needed to be done and immediately, to neutralize that development. India’s fawning response to the proposal of the NMD shield has sounded the death knell for the 1971 treaty. The Russian federation would have to choose between India and China should the latter too decide to engage in hostilities; the Russians could not, quite clearly, come out in support of both warring countries. They would exercise their option, and they would exercise it according to the commitment implicit in the most recent international treaty rather than what is etched in the faded document of 1971. According to reports, several clauses in the treaty of neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation indicate that it is in fact much more China-friendly in comparison with the India-friendliness of the 1971 treaty.

Even if morality has no place in foreign policy, flexibility has. The Russian federation has opted for flexibility. New Delhi cannot do so. It cannot do so for reasons easily identifiable. It cannot break out of the tyranny of the two fixed coordinates of its policy frame, China and Pakistan. This twin fixation has rendered our international relations into a mummified object. No yielding of ground to Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, and no yielding of ground to China with respect to Aksai Chin. We cannot even admit to ourselves the hard reality.

Whatever their other inclinations, few, very few, Kashmiris are enamoured of the government of India any more; were the army and security forces not around, we would simply be blown away by the wrath of the people inhabiting the valley, never mind the instrument of accession signed by Maharaj Hari Singh 54 years ago.

Similarly, however hard we might try, it would be awfully tough to convince the world that crucial issues of economic and strategic interests to India are involved in the geography of that arid plateau of Aksai Chin. On the contrary, the belief is now fairly widespread that we are acting in the manner we are because our ego would not allow us to behave otherwise.

If both Pakistan and China are to be regarded as permanent adversaries, and even the Russian federation turns against us, the only alternative left to us is walk into the American parlour. This precisely is the central point of Jaswant Singh’s foreign policy craft. But the matter is not that simple. Even if the consideration of other factors is laid aside, are we sure the Americans will be willing to bear the burden of 1.1 billion mostly horrendously poor people? They too have their domestic constraints. We are no Thailand of the Fifties with a population of barely 20 million. The cost of feeding us, and, on top of that, defending us against Pakistan, against China and against the Russian federation as well might be a bit too much even for the fabulously affluent superpower.

The chances are that the Americans would be ruined in the process. Realpolitik has diverse aspects; the conclusion might well be reached that it was not worthwhile to back India against the formidable triumvirate of Russia, China and Pakistan. That apart, could the Americans be sanguine that favouring New Delhi to the hilt would ipso facto imply the solid support of the heterogeneity that constitutes India? Quite a few things must be wrong with a foreign policy that sets India against not only three principal entities in the Asian continent but also against her small neighbours.

This is where we, the people of India, who supposedly gave ourselves a Constitution half a century ago, might like to chip in. Should not our foreign policy experts have the humility to accept the challenge of the following conundrum? Nepal has a northern neighbour, China, and a southern neighbour, India. Even were the matter of religion to be ignored, Nepal has much greater affinity with India, historically, culturally and linguistically, than with China.

And yet how come the Nepalese people would rather offer cheers to China than to India? Also, how come we are in jitters that all would be lost if the Awami League fails to make it in the forthcoming elections in Bangladesh? The folly, dear policy-framers, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / WRECK THE GLOBAL TREATIES 
 
 
BY GYWNNE DYER
 
 
It’s perfectly all right for the United States to slap the rest of the world in the face if the rest of the world is wrong, or just to defend its own vital national interests. But it should be done for NATIONAL interests, not private ones, and it should be done in ways that cause the least possible offence. That is not what’s happening now.

Consider only the past month. In the second week of July, the George W. Bush administration told Congress that its ballistic missile defence project would “bump up against” the constraints of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty “within months”. Never mind that it’s a stupid idea; just look how it’s being done. The ABM treaty allows either party to withdraw unilaterally on six months’ notice, but no such notice has been given. The US, it appears, is just going to breach the treaty illegally.

In July, a United Nations conference aimed at curbing the global trade in small arms was wrecked by US negotiators. The US, which produces over half of the world’s small arms, took a lone stand in blocking any restrictions on private gun ownership, and vetoed an African-backed proposal to ban arms sales to “non-state actors” (the guerrilla groups who are ravaging so many African countries). “The US should be ashamed,” said the south African envoy, Jean Du Preez. Late in July it was the turn of the 1972 treaty outlawing germ warfare. For six years, 56 countries have been negotiating a supplementary treaty that would create verification rules and international inspectors to enforce what was previously just a pious pledge not to produce biological weapons.

And so it goes

Fifty-five of those countries had agreed on a draft protocol, and suddenly, on July 25, the US declared that it could not agree since US pharmaceutical plants would be open to inspection under the treaty. This kind of inspection was foreseen from the beginning of the negotiations, but suddenly US concerns for commercial secrecy outweighed everything else.

And so it goes. Early this month, Thomas Novotny, the lead US negotiator for the past decade on the framework convention on tobacco control, suddenly resigned his post. He is not returning calls, but colleagues say that it was over frustration at the sudden US switch from a policy that sought to restrict cigarette advertising and marketing to one that basically echoes the tobacco industry’s positions.

In part, this dismal record is merely an intensification of a trend towards US hostility to international law that was already marked under the last administration. It was not Bush who refused to sign the treaty banning anti-personnel mines, or tried to strip the international criminal court of any real powers, or began the US campaign to sabotage the Kyoto accord. It was that hero of internationalism, Bill Clinton.

Maladroit tactics

The notion that international treaties and international law are by their very nature disadvantageous for the US, which as the richest and most powerful country can simply enforce its wishes unless treaties and laws get in the way, has spread far beyond the ideologues of the far right who first articulated it in the early Nineties. It now has a major impact on the Pentagon’s thinking, and is an unexceptionable concept in mainstream Republican circles.

Much of the US’s current wrecking of international treaties would be happening whoever the president was. What is puzzling is the maladroit tactics with which it is being done. Official Washington is full of clever operators whose speciality is getting what the boss wants while spreading the blame and muddying the waters so that the naked self-interest at the bottom of it all is not easily visible. But their skills are not being used.

On the contrary, it’s as if every bureaucratic or industrial interest group with access to the Bush administration gets to make policy for its own bit of the picture. Nobody is trying to cover their tracks, or transfer the blame, or minimize the fallout from unpopular US actions like the attack on the Kyoto treaty on other American interests abroad. Nobody is even coordinating the tactics, let alone imposing a common strategic vision.

It strengthens the suspicion that Bush is largely a non-executive president, and that the real decisions are being made at a lower level — a level where coordination is difficult, special interests loom large, and nobody worries much about the cumulative effect of all these separate actions.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / ROMANTIC TERRA INCOGNITA 
 
 
BY DEBNITA CHAKRAVARTI
 
 
CHARLOTTE SMITH: A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY
By Loraine Fletcher,
Palgrave, Price not mentioned

The “uncharted expanse of women’s literary Romanticism” has been the focus of most new research in that period. In Romanticism and Gender, Anne K. Mellor says, “It will require decades of research and hundreds of books before we fully grasp the complex intellectual and formal configurations of this terra incognita”. Loraine Fletcher’s Charlotte Smith is a step in this process of enquiry.

This critical biography is as compulsive as a novel. Fletcher grabs her reader’s attention from the very first line — “On a cold evening in October 1784, Charlotte Smith was waiting at the embarkation point near the Ship Inn at Brighton to board the packet to Dieppe.” The author draws on Smith’s fictionalizations of her early life in her novels. She justifies this liberty by pointing out that Smith used thinly disguised autobiographical material in her fiction, expecting her readers to get the connections. So the first part of the book is, as Fletcher admits, “a necessarily tentative reconstruction”. But it gives her biography the luxury of intricate detailing and a welcome pace.

Discussing Smith’s prowess as a student, Fletcher pithily comments, “The only thing seriously wrong with her formal education was its brevity.” She was married off “still two months short of sixteen” to Benjamin Smith — “sold, a legal prostitute”, as Smith wrote in a letter afterwards. Her father-in-law was a director of the East India Company (two of her sons later worked for the company in India, one of them stationed in Bengal). A stranger to the commercial milieu, the young Smith was disturbed to learn that the slave trade was an essential pillar of the economy. Given her own problems with a steadily increasing family, a husband she gradually found “infinitely her inferior” in every way, and continuous financial constraints, she easily made the common late 18th-century link between slavery and women’s subjection in marriage.

Smith’s letters chart the relations of author and publisher in her day. She turned to publication while struggling to keep her children from starvation. Her father-in-law died in 1776, leaving behind a complicated will that was not settled until 1813, seven years after Smith died — a famous lawsuit that Dickens later reworked as the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case in Bleak House. All her life Smith lived in “deferred hope” for the money.

Charlotte Smith was among the most popular English novelists of her time. The middle chapters of the biography, like the middle years of Smith’s life, are devoted to her novels. Fletcher calls novels in the 1790s universities for women, “the best access to ideas they had”, and examines Smith’s novels to reveal a wealth of controversial issues. The novelist extended her histories to take in the common man — the smuggler in The Old Manor House, the farmer in Desmond, a female servant in Celestina. Realizing that she must “live only to write and write only to live”, Smith often used the act of writing to “impose some shape on grief, to set it out, look at it, distance it”.

Smith’s ten novels, novellas, poetry and children’s books all show an alert, interesting mind alive to the world around her. Labelled a “Jacobin” by her detractors, along with writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, she reacted to the French Revolution passionately. She was the first novelist to use a castle or mansion as an emblem of contemporary England. In this she influenced Jane Austen, Dickens, Forster and later novelists. One of Fletcher’s most valuable chapters is her investigation into the amateur Austen’s indebtedness to the professional Smith, showing the former’s attraction for, and conscious distancing from, the work of the latter.

Fletcher concludes with a discussion of the poem, “Beachy Head”. Smith’s poetry was to influence Wordsworth and Coleridge, who acknowledged the debt, according to the modern editor of her peoms, “and Byron and Keats, who did not”. The book is refreshing in its professed anti-academic mood and the very palpable involvement of the biographer with her subject. It is a compelling introduction to one of the least-known figures of one of the best-known times in history.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / THE MASTER THROUGH THE EYES OF A DISCIPLE 
 
 
BY CHIROSREE BASU
 
 
THE MAKING OF A GURU: KELUCHARAN MOHAPATRA HIS LIFE AND TIMES
By Ileana Citaristi,
Manohar,Rs 500

Ileana Citaristi’s choice of subject is unusual — a living legend who still strides the Indian cultural scene like a giant and one who, above all, is her guru. The adulation is obvious. It doesn’t bother us when she recounts the initial phase of the “making” of her guru, but it does jar when she pours out effusions on her guru as he came to be.

It goes without saying that the “making” of Kelucharan Mohapatra is in microcosm the making of the Odissi dance as we know it. Drawing from the rich tradition of Orissa’s chitrakaras (painters), his early training in the Gotipura style and the wide experience he gained from the jatra and ras leela performances, this indomitable genius gave to Odissi much of its present form and its popularity. It was Kelucharan’s constant experiments and innovations at the Annapurna Theatre Group and subsequently the Kala Vikash Kendra that gave a lot of impetus to the regeneration of Odissi.

Citaristi makes a fascinating study of this period. From being a pakhwaj player, Kelucharan graduated to being one of the most highly priced choreographers and dancers of the Annapurna Theatre. His compositions, danced by Laxmipriya, his wife, and by others stunned people and revolutionized the dance milieu by attracting more and more female dancers to the form.

Women play a major part in Kelucharan’s life — his mother who inspired him, his iron-willed wife without whose presence no composition of his is complete, and his innumerable female disciples through whom he lives. There are male disciples, but, strangely, it is they who had to wage a long battle for popular acceptance.

Odissi itself had to fight a long battle for its acceptance as a classical dance form. Citaristi recalls how Rukmini Devi Arundale had once stomped out of a presentation of Kelucharan’s “Kuru Yadunandana” in 1967 as she thought it too erotic for public performance. Two years later, Rukmini Devi was convinced by the same presentation that Kelucharan’s choreography was both aesthetic and true to the lyrics of the poem. Together with these anecdotes, Citaristi also tell us little tales of how the attire for the Odissi dancer evolved — the wearing of the benga patia or the silver belt, the way the four and a half yard sari came to be stitched and worn.

Citaristi brings together a massive chunk of Orissa’s cultural history, the lives of the people who shaped this, the gurus of her guru, the private life of Kelucharan, his interaction with his students and the allegations against him. And it is here that Citaristi lends herself to virtual guru-speak. She protects her guru from charges ranging from self-promotion to promotion of his son, and treads with great caution while describing his rifts with his famous disciples like Protima Bedi and Kumkum Lal.

There are others things that leap at the reader — Tapan Sinha being misspelt as Tapas Sinha. But this is Citaristi’s “inadequate effort” to express her gratitude to Kelucharan. And between disciple’s devotion and the guru’s dedication, the rest is trivia.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / SOME MONKEYS IN A CONCRETE JUNGLE 
 
 
BY RAJYASREE SEN
 
 
MOSTLY BIRDS, SOME MONKEYS, AND A PEST
By Ranjit Lal,
Ravi Dayal, Rs 175

Ranjit Lal’s slim volume proves that nature lovers, who are forever despairing that they never get to see any wildlife because they are stuck in the city, couldn’t be more incorrect. Lal says, “Regardless of where you live, nature remains close at hand.” You just have to be willing to step out and keep your eyes open if you want to be “chased by a pugnacious dragonfly”, or spot a Redbreasted Flycatcher.

The first chapter, “A Pest is Born”, is the most touching. Lal describes the metamorphosis of a caterpillar which he kept in a jam jar. The caterpillar’s “gastronomic orgies” are a fascinating and revolting sight. The reader is further entertained by such trivia as, “proportionately, caterpillars eat more than elephants”. And we realize that only the fittest survive when Lal’s dog gobbles up the butterfly within an hour of its birth.

The three page long, “Birdhits” — the Crested Serpent eagle and a Pariah kite which crashed near Lal’s house — aptly describes the survival skills adopted by birds. “The eagle that had fought fiercely, died. The kite, who played dead so convincingly, lived.”

The witty account in “The Nicholson Macaques”of the band of monkeys who live in Delhi’s Nicholson cemetery is incredibly entertaining. We are introduced to Big Boss, the leader of the pack, and Rambo, the loner. The similarity with humans — “The elders would spend their time dozing…the young had games to play”— and psychological insights — “Rhesus juveniles have extremely stressed out childhoods…with adults …quick to vent their anger on them” — make it easy to relate to as well as empathize with the monkeys in the world Lal describes in intricate detail. Without doubt, it is the most hilarious and engrossing chapter in the book.

The other eight chapters concentrate on the bird life around the city. “Sultanpur” and “The Ridge” provide a detailed description of birds ranging from the Nakta to the Marsh Harrier. Bird calls, such as the Large Grey Babblers’ “incessant ‘kay-kay-kay!’”, the “flame orange, yellow and charcoal” plumage of the Little Minivets and the mating rituals of the Spotbill Duck, provide a vivid picture of the bird-life around the city.

Lal’s eye for detail and sense of excitement on spotting a new bird is almost infectious. After reading the book, you can’t help looking at even a house sparrow with renewed interest. Lal also sprinkles each chapter with historical facts, such as the origin of the Sultanpur National Park and the Delhi Ridge. Whether describing birds, monkeys or even a bottlebrush tree, Lal uses a perfect combination of gravity and humour. He also tries to relate the antics of various creatures to human beings, thereby, making it easier for the reader to appreciate the animals.

Yet, the book suffers from the lack of illustrations and pictures, especially in the chapters on birds. After all, while the gold and black feathers of the Golden Oriole sound magnificent, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate it from a Rufuosbacked Shrike if it happened to land on your doorstep.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE / ON THE GREAT INDIAN CONSPIRACY TRAIL 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 

Having resigned from the United Nations, Butros-Butros Ghali said, “in the West one can dissent and resign and life goes on, but in the third world, dissent and resignation were more complicated and often meant betrayal of the leader, leading to what the Romans called ‘civic death.’” Some such fear must lurk behind what one can call the grand conspiracy of courtesy that prevails here: each side telling the other what it thinks it wants to hear. This could be one explanation for the lack of critical comment in everything that passes off as a serious contribution to scholarship, sports or whatever. Or, it can be that we continue to judge ideas and actions by reputations and not reputations by ideas and actions.

Bear it in mind when you read some choice snippets from the keynote address of the president emeritus of the Federation of Indian Publishers last July. Inter alia,it says: one, today Indian publishing is one of the greatest in the world and can be counted among the first six publishing nations. Two, what has hindered proper assessment of Indian publishing is the assumption that Indian publishing is represented only by English language publishing confined to metropolitan cities. This fallacy has been created by the so-called English national press which knows only a few Indian-Anglican writers. Well-known modern writers of Indian languages are not known to them. Three, not many know that in the field of scientific and technical books also, Indian publishers bring out a large number of books. Similarly, the publication of law books, where publishers have brought out authentic law books for decades. Four, an important mode of distribution in India could be book clubs but (they have failed to take off) because of high postal rates.

All this and more along with the usual platitudes of the social responsibilities of the state.

Give or take a little the four assertions are false or at least very economical with the truth. India ranks sixth because of the number of titles it publishes every year. Even if the figures are true, they are not a sufficient criterion. What matters is the turnover figures and the quality editorial and production standards. Where does India stand in relation to even South Africa or the smaller Latin American countries that is today producing literature of the most outstanding vitality? Second, Indian regional language publishers are in a moribund state. Just why Indian regional language publishing is languishing involves a consideration of money and class, but the fact is that English language is the critical mass that spins off in different directions of the publishing scene in India. Third, what passes off as “Indian” scientific and technical books are essentially reprints of American and, to a lesser extent, British texts. The bulk of Indian scientific and technical are clones meant for passing examinations and nothing more.

Lastly, postal rates have not really hampered the growth of book clubs. What has harmed is the irrelevant quality of books on offer — largely remainders that have had their day. The president doesn’t go to the heart of the matter. It is this: there is a direct link between the quality of school education and reading habits. If the educational system and the spirit of inquiry are poor, it will be reflected in the world of books. Both these qualities could be inculcated if we can get rid of the insidious conspiracy of courtesy that permeates our lives.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS / THE APPETITE, THE ENJOYMENT,THE AFTERVOID 
 
 
 
 
THE VOICE OF VICTORIAN SEX: ARTHUR H CLOUGH, 1819-1861
By Rupert Christiansen
(Short Books, £ 4.99)

Rupert Christiansen’s The Voice Of Victorian Sex: Arthur H clough, 1819-1861 is a condensed and unconventional account of a fascinating, but not eminent, Victorian writer. Lytton Strachey caricatured Clough as a rather sad failure, whose life was reduced to “conscientiously doing up brown-paper parcels for Florence Nightingale”. Christiansen’s biography is far more complex, drawing on newly emerged documents to portray Clough as the most modern of Victorian poets — “someone of a profoundly liberal intellectual temperament, sensitive to grey ethical shades and reluctant to pass judgment, lacking in piety and unfailing in honesty.” It is perhaps reductive to project Clough’s modernity purely in terms of his tortured sexuality (“I seem to know nothing except that I’m wholly wrong within.”). But Christiansen combines readings of forgotten poems like “Natura Naturans”, “Dypsichus” and “Amours de Voyage” with well-documented accounts of Clough’s relations with such varied personalities as George Sand, Florence Nightingale and Ralph Waldo Emerson. An extract from Clough’s letter to Blanche Smith, his future wife: “Here in this dim deceitful misty moonshiny night-time of existence we grope about & run up against each other & peer blindly but enquiringly into strange faces, and sooner or later (for comfort’s sake for the night is cold, you see, & dreary) clasp hands & make vows & choose, & keep together — & withdraw again sometimes & wrench away hands, & seize others and do we know not what.”

PERSUASION IN SOCIETY
By Herbert W. Simons
(Sage, $ 32.95)

Herbert W. Simons’s Persuasion in Society is one of those expensive textbooks which are difficult to imagine being widely used by Indian students. This is a comprehensive guide to understanding, practising and analyzing a wide range of social communication practices. Using plenty of stories and visuals, Simons combines the ethics and sociology of persuaion with the more pragmatic approaches of professional persuaders and communication analysts. He also includes chapters outlining the ideology of advertising and television. Simon sustains a dual perspective throughout the book, looking at both the persuader and the “persuadee”, whereby the rhetorical as well as the psychological dimensions of communication are addressed.

THE WEB OF SILK AND GOLD
By Shakti Niranjchana
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Shakti Niranjchana’s The Web Of Silk And Gold is an unreadably doleful Bildungsroman. It has all the predictable ingredients of “a young woman’s awakening to a sense of her own self”: arranged marriage, displacement, exile, abuse and so on. It’s all terribly “heart-rending”. Niranjchana’s dedication sets the unfortunate tone of the entire novel: “Thank you. This book is your book, not mine. You wrote it in my heart.” Packed with every imaginable cliché, this novel is suspended between the mundane and the sensational, quickly veering towards not only “law, crime and politics”, but also “corruption, rape and murder”. Penguin would do well to employ editors who can recognize bad writing when they see it.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY: FROM ANARCHY TO WORLD GOVERNMENT
By Jayantanuja Bandyopadhyaya and Amitava Mukherjee
(Manuscript India, Rs 220)

Jayantanuja Bandyopadhyaya and Amitava Mukherjee’s International Relations Theory: From Anarchy To World Government is an advanced, abstract and theoretical critique on the dominant paradigm of interstate anarchy. Arguing on empirical, logical and ethical grounds, the authors claim that this paradigm is only an intellectual subterfuge for a system which is privately and informally governed by a small and closed international oligarchy. This makes the mainstream discourse of international relations irrelevant and antithetical to the collective interests of the third world, apart from undermining democracy and democratic theory. This specialist’s book is thick with awful printing mistakes, which makes it grim reading.

BADSHAH KHAN: A MAN TO MATCH HIS MOUNTAINS
By Eknath Easwaran
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Eknath Easwaran’s Badshah Khan: A Man To Match His Mountains is a biography of Abdul Gaffar Khan, the famously non-violent Pathan leader of the Khudai Khidmatgars. This is a personal account that is particularly informative and eloquent on Khan’s relationship with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Easwaran’s research is impeccable, and this biography comes with a detailed chronology and suggestions for further reading.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Amma’s revenge

Sir — Hacking at the roots of democracy has always been “Amma’s” trademark. This point was driven home by the unprovoked assault by the Tamil Nadu police on the peaceful demonstrators of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam during the Sunday rally at Marina Beach (“Death at rally for ‘neo-christ’”, Aug 13). J. Jayalalitha, angered by her humiliation following the Centre’s reprimand after M. Karunanidhi’s arrest, has resorted to her usual unethical methods by blatantly misusing official machinery against the supporters of her political rival, Karunanidhi. Even the journalists and cameramen who had assembled to cover the rally were not spared by the police. Things have come to such a pass that the Centre must intervene in the current breakdown of law in Tamil Nadu. Else, the cardinal principles of democracy, such as the freedom of speech and expression, will be curtailed, Tamil Nadu will continue to be ruled autocratically and Jayalalitha will carry on her vendetta against her political rivals.

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Love of filth

Sir— India seems to enjoy wallowing in low hygiene and dirt (“The great Indian unwashed”, Aug 4). Often one will meet people who do not look surprised at the lack of hygiene during the preparation of the food they are eating, whether it is phuchka, muri, or even food in a swanky restaurant.

This lack of concern towards hygiene comes from the Indian attitude of accepting things as they are and not wanting to change them. It simply takes too much effort to make a change. The attitude can also be credited to the quintessential “chalta hai” air adopted by most Indians. This laxity is the cause of the current state of hygiene, whether in public lavatories or private restaurants.

One should not blame the responsible authorities for their callous stance on hygiene. If they see that they can get away by giving you a second-rate product, why shouldn’t they? The closure of several restaurants for their low levels of hygiene was a step in the right direction. Sadly, each restaurant that was shut down was reopened the very next day. So much for the crackdown.

The great unwashed is obviously affecting the behaviour of proprietors of restaurants as well as the officials shutting them down. It is impossible that these restaurants cleaned up their act overnight. Greasing of palms, perhaps with dirt, seems to be the way the city operates.

Yours faithfully,
Ratna Ghosh, Purulia

Sir— I read Sunanda K. Datta-Ray’s article, “The great Indian unwashed”, with great interest. At the end of the day, I do not think he said anything we did not already know. I would like to share my close encounter with the great Indian “washed” on a trip to the Patna secretariat. I was astonished to find the care they take of the public lavatories in the secretariat buildings. All the fixtures are of the highest quality. The floor is laid with marble. Soaps and towels are available. There is an attendant who is on duty through the day.

After questioning a junior engineer, whose job was to survey the toilets periodically, I found that this system is about three months old. Before that the entire secretariat used to stink of ammonia fumes and urine. The bathrooms, more than 300 in number, were completely overhauled by a secretary of the public health department who also made the government take the services of non-governmental organizations for the upkeep of the bathrooms. And the result was what I witnessed.

On my flight back from Patna I related the story to my co-passenger. Sadly, he was not enthused. He said that the sight from his hotel window throughout his stay had been revolting. Rollicking piglets on a huge dungheap. Maybe, the Bihar government should extend the cleanliness of the Patna secretariat bathrooms to its outdoors.

Yours faithfully,
T.R. Parmeshwar, New Delhi

Sir — A recent trip to Varanasi opened my eyes to Sunanda K. Datta-Ray’s great Indian unwashed. Never have I witnessed a more overt display of the lack of hygiene. I had gone to Varanasi on a holiday to see its beautiful temples and the culture that I had heard so much about. Although I saw all three, I also got an insight into the geniality with which people can live with filth. I spent most evenings beside the river, which was a muddy reddish brown. What shocked me was that no one thought twice about urinating or excreting next to others who were bathing. This water was being drunk by many people who were bathing in it.

This lack of hygiene is not a surprise. But the complete acceptance from the people of Varanasi of this hygienic hell was what caught my notice. Both the hygiene level as well as people’s attitude must improve so that India’s sanitation conditions do not worsen.

Yours faithfully,
Kiran Nag, Jamshedpur

Judge in time

Sir — The Supreme Court’s directive to the high courts to deliver judgment within six months of a hearing is a commendable step toward improving our currently flagging judicial system (“SC sets six-month deadline for judgement”, Aug 7). But it is doubtful how far this practical instruction will be carried out, especially with regard to the petty offenders who are languishing in prison serving a longer term than is their due.

It has also been noticed that certain people always prefer to visit the district and high courts for settling minor disputes, which could have been easily settled in family courts, lok adalats or fast track courts. Awareness should be created in the public about the existence of these alternative and quicker avenues.

Apart from the extraction of money from clients by lawyers there are other problems, such as the rising number of vacancies for the position of judges, an extending list of absentee judges and the delay of cases for years on end.

We can only hope that this dismal situation in the judiciary will be resolved by the action taken by the Supreme Court of India.

Yours faithfully,
A. Bose Chowdhury, Barrackpore.

Sir — It is obvious that our judicial system is in dire need of a complete overhaul. It is also evident that this change is being resisted by members of both the bar and the bench. This resistance is because most judges and lawyers in the current judicial system enjoy a position of extensive power, immunity and various perquisites, with a minimum level of responsibility.

The judicial system should be such that judgments should not be affected by the presence of well-known counsels or influential litigants. Judges of both the high courts and the Supreme Court must be held responsible for the availability of copies of judgments to litigants on the very day that the judgment is passed regarding their cases, without the litigants needing to apply for these copies.

The tradition of providing extended vacations to the judges as had been introduced by the British should also be stopped. A fixed vacation should be settled on as the extended absence of judges results in numerous cases getting held up.

Moreover, judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts enjoy unlimited powers of “contempt” which may sometimes seem to be obstructive of a citizen’s fundamental rights. Legislation should also be provided by which action can be taken against judges perceived to exceed their duties. To avoid local influence on the locally appointed judges from among former bar colleagues, every judge of the high court should be appointed from outside his state.

It is only by adopting such stringent measures that the current condition of our judicial system might improve.

Yours faithfully,
S.C. Agrawal, Dariba

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