Editorial / A global manifesto
Secrets and treasures
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / A GLOBAL MANIFESTO 
 
 
 
 
The chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, announced a self-evident truth when he declared that the left would be lost unless it changed. The statement was made in the context of the left’s attitude to globalization. Yet, a few weeks ago, Mr Bhattacharjee was vocal in his condemnation of the World Trade Organization, which is a pivotal institution in the new global order. The left’s problem is that the process of globalization has left it ideologically utterly confused. This is ironic coming from the disciples of Karl Marx, who was the first prophet of a globalized world although of a radically different kind from the one that is emerging now. A part of the left’s confusion is related to the facile equation most of its ideologues make between globalization and imperialism. It admits that this is not the same kind of imperialism as the one that dominated and parcelled out large parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is not the imperialism that led to major Eurocentric wars which engulfed countries outside Europe. This is a different kind of imperialism from the one that V.I. Lenin dissected and excoriated. It is an imperialism that emanates from the supreme authority exercises over the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union and world communism. The ghost of an evil and scheming Uncle Sam refuses to be exorcized from leftist minds.

At the heart of the idea of globalization is not the supremacy of the United States. On the contrary, the idea is rooted in the desire to set up certain international norms which would regulate and determine human activity, and also to set up international bodies that would monitor those norms and, if necessary, enforce them when lapses occur. Trade being one area where nations interact and where conflicts are possible because of inherent inequalities between nations and their economic conditions, the WTO was established. In a pre-WTO world, trade between two countries was made possible through a series of bilateral agreements. The WTO provides a forum for multilateral agreements and also acts as a body to enforce those agreements. The allegation that the WTO acts only at the behest of the US and other economically powerful countries is denied by a fair number of verdicts from the WTO which have gone in favour of India and other developing countries. These judgments were all directly against US interests. Bodies like the WTO can thus be to India’s advantage and certainly make for greater convenience in elaborate and complex trade agreements.

It can be nobody’s argument that the idea of globalization is unproblematic and that its operation is seamless and always utterly fair. What globalization offers is a window of opportunity to establish not only a peaceful, but also a more reasonable, world order. It provides a step forward to Immanuel Kant’s dream of a world based on universal reason. There is also the possibility that, with greater cooperation, this will also be a more equitable world order. To spurn these opportunities or to oppose them in the name of ghosts which history has exorcized would be worse than Cervantes’s gallant knight who tilted at windmills. There was pathos in Don Quixote, and also a quaint heroism; his 21st-century version will only appear to be a jaded clown.

   

 
 
SECRETS AND TREASURES 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAUDHURI
 
 
Families have their secrets and treasures. Some of the secrets might be a source of shame, and might even be known to only one or two of the family members; the treasures can be a cause for continuing pride, and also pulse with disappointments, as reputations dwindle and promise remains unfulfilled. The family, then, becomes a site that struggles, through its folklore and memories, against the amnesia of history.

Marriage is an exchange of these treasures and secrets. The principal treasure in my wife’s family is the painter, Sudhir Khastgir (1907-1974). Some time before we were married, my wife told me that her grandfather, Satish Ranjan Khastgir, the distinguished physicist, had a younger brother, a painter whose work she liked very much. I hadn’t heard the name before, but when I repeated it to my parents, they spoke of him admiringly, although they said they hadn’t seen his paintings in a long time. In a couple of generations, the reputation had faded; the family’s treasure had become one of its secrets.

The first time I saw a Sudhir Khastgir painting was in 1991, when my wife took me to Shantiniketan a few months before our wedding. She wanted me to see her grandfather’s house in Purba Palli, with its courtyard of jhau trees, and amloki, custard-apple and other trees in the orchard at the back. It was a house she used to dream about even then. We went there in the summer; it was end of term in Oxford, where we had met about eight months ago. She showed me the faint Bengali lettering by the gate, which spelt “Subhoshree”, the name her grandfather had given her, before her grandmother gave her the name I had first known her by, Rosinka.

One looks upon one’s wife’s family with a mixture of curiosity, tenderness and a certain lack of indulgence. I remember being disappointed by this house, the house my wife still visited in her dreams. It was in decay, and soon to be sold. Shantiniketan itself was dead, a place with a history but no present, to which retired people moved and where the rich built winter retreats, but otherwise without life or purpose; and we had the summer to contend with by day, and the lack of electricity by night. The bathroom was in disrepair, and I bathed in cold water collected in a pail, the first time I did so in almost two decades. Some of my wife’s grandmother’s things were still here (she had lived here after her husband died, and once fractured her femur), among them a wide bedpan made for people with osteopathic problems.

When my mother was a girl, she might have come to Shantiniketan, and learnt singing; she might have met Tagore. (She has one of the most perfect singing voices I have heard, and is a respected artiste in her own right.) But that was not to be; her father died when she was a child, and the family fell into straitened circumstances, and lacked the means to send her anywhere outside the Sylhet and Shillong in which she grew up. Who knows; if she had come to Shantiniketan and entered its magic circle her pitch-perfect voice might be heard more widely today. But Shantiniketan, which gave Bengal some singers, remained out of reach for some others, like my mother. Now, on this visit, I saw how Shantiniketan had become a small town of no particular distinction; how it was struggling for visibility, as my mother had when she was a young woman; history had come full circle.

We ate with my wife’s aunt, Shyamoli Khastgir, the artist’s daughter, in her house in Purba Palli, not far from where we were. She had been married to Lee Tan, architect and son of the man who was once head of China Bhavan, from whom she was now separated; she herself was an environmental activist, and was convinced technology was taking the world towards its own destruction. Around us, scattered on the floor or leaning against walls, were the works of the painter to whom I felt, uncomfortably, I was about to be related by an imminent marriage.

My immediate impression of his work was that it was different from anything I’d seen before, and that it diverged strikingly from much of the painting of the Bengal school. For one thing, the medium was oil; and the work had little of the nostalgic meditativeness of the Bengal school painting. A large painting of the Buddha confronted me; yet it had not been executed in the expected (given the subject) delicate Far Eastern or Japanese style which the illustrious Bengali masters frequently dabbled in, but boldly, in oil; this Buddha looked like a hero, or a great actor. It began to rain around us, the lights were switched on, and when I looked at the face, it seemed as if it were illuminated by stage lights.

That night, we slept without electricity behind a mosquito net; my wife’s aunt slept in the next room, our custodian, the door between us open. In the morning, my wife showed me the accessories of her grandparents’ lives, the table where her grandfather worked, the old grandfather clock, none of which she would actually see again in that setting; and nor would I.

Among the things she showed me was a painting in a rudimentary frame that had been gathering dust, of two branches of palash flowers, by her grand-uncle, a painting she told me she had always loved. This was gifted to her later by her father after the house was sold, and now hangs, in a new frame, on a wall in our flat. Again, it is a startling picture, the brush strokes rapid and unhesitant and almost reminiscent of Van Gogh; yet the flower depicted in it is the untranslatable, Tagorean palash, redolent of Bolpur and Bengal. But the painting has none of that stillness or lyrical inwardness that the landscape studies of the Bengal school often have; like the portrait of the Buddha, it is a theatrical work, and the branch of palash is a protagonist, rather than a detail alluded to or briefly touched upon.

Over the years, I have absorbed, and come to have a high regard for, the individuality and power of this painter’s genius. One misses him in exhibitions; he was a great and unremarked absence in the Art of Bengal exhibition at the CIMA gallery; I find him, instead, in people’s homes, and three or four of his paintings hang on the walls of my parents-in-law’s flat in Mandeville Gardens. One of them is a picture of a waterfall by a gulmohur tree; all the other pictures have magnificently drawn dancing figures in them.

Among them is a painting of a couple, a frontal view of a man and a woman, dancing, their arms outstretched, their hands poised in a mudra, the urgent brush strokes making them shimmer as they move sideways. The background is dark; but there is a light in the painting which feels not so much like moonlight as the lighting on a stage, especially since the faces of the figures are made bright, seemingly, by a source of light before them.

When my mother-in-law saw this painting after her marriage, she apparently said to the painter, “You must have been thinking of the lines, ‘Premero jowaare bhashabe dohare’ when you painted this”, quoting from a song from Tagore’s dance-drama, Shyama; and the painter was sufficiently pleased by the identification to give her the painting. The lines are not easy to translate: “You will set these two adrift/ Upon the high tide of love.” The lines, with their invocation of “high tide” and of “casting adrift”, are as much about the onward motion and stream of actions that are the substance of theatre as they are about love.

The anecdote suggests to me what I have come to feel about Sudhir Khastgir’s imagination: that it was suffused with the world of theatre, the Tagore dance-drama, and music; that is, the world of performance. Even his landscapes, in the vigorous movement which is their true subject, seem to allude to the flux and hurry of the stage. This interest was confirmed to me when I was told by his family that he was a singer, and that he also directed some of Tagore’s dance-dramas when he was an art teacher in Dehradun.

In situating his art in the metaphor of performance, he seems almost unique among Indian painters of his time. He is, in effect, an artist who has rebelled against his art; for the impulse of the painting is to record a scene and preserve it for eternity, while the impulse of performance is to race to its conclusion, so that it may begin, on another occasion, again. Art is timeless, still, and eternal; performance is transient, mobile, and recurrent. To discover how these two opposing impulses converge in the genius of one artist, we must view Sudhir Khastgir’s singular paintings again.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Cake with the icing

With Bollywood such a remarkable and enduring presence in Indian culture, it is no wonder that Delhi is aiming to be ...well, “Dollywood”? It is definitely becoming quite a throbbing centre for Hindi cinema. Delhi doesn’t quite represent the acme of scenic beauty. Neither have filmmakers been seized with the urge to excavate its historic past on celluloid. There is a far greater incentive than these: political patronage. Everyone’s interested, whether it be Madhuri Dixit, Subhash Ghai, Jackie Shroff or Manisha Koirala. It’s the big men in Delhi who are hooked, right up to the top. We’d already heard how our prime minister and our home minister pass the time in constructive criticism and appreciation of Bollywood’s “serious entertainment”. Now the other day an aide of the PM asked him what he would like to do after Parliament broke up. “Watch a Hindi movie,” is what the PM is supposed to have said. So the PMO and Sushma Swaraj have shortlisted Lajja. It’s new and it’s got the M-club Vajpayee is reportedly sold on. That is, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and Mahima Chowdhury. Lajja has Rekha too — that’s the icing, Mr PM.

Who’s the unspeakable in the woodpile?

Diggy raja is puzzled by the way a Lok Ayukta report found its way to a Delhi based paper. He wants to lodge a formal protest with “good friend” Yashwant Sinha. How could secret papers under IT scrutiny find their way to a newspaper office? Sources close to the Madhya Pradesh chief minister said he’s convinced that it was not the Vajpayee regime’s handiwork. Since the evidence is based upon diary entries, Diggy thinks it is some hawala pirit who wants to settle scores. From the Congress, V.C. Shukla, Kamal Nath and Madhavrao Scindia had had a rough deal in the controversy. Now Diggy is doing some eliminating. It can’t be VC: his favourite target is Ajit Jogi since Chhattisgarh’s birth. Kamal Nath just has too many skeletons. And, Diggy is wondering, why should a good maharaja harass his subject? Diggy’s Raghaugarh falls under Gwalior. Perhaps the CM is paying the price of siding with disgraced MPCC chief RK Malviya who was involved in a shoot out.

One down and no speech to go

Mani Shankar Aiyar was upset. He was complaining that his speeches in the Lok Sabha on earth-shaking issues such as telecom, UTI, Tehelka and so on were seldom carried in the newspapers. The fault was not in him, but in his stars. “The problem with me is that I come one down and by the time I speak, it’s past seven pm and press galleries are deserted,” he lamented. Madhavrao Scindia had a word of comfort, “But Mani, you shouldn’t forget that Sachin Tendulkar comes one down!” For once, Mani was speechless.

Powers of prayer, pals and the purse

Ramesh Gandhi of Rainbow Productions believes in supernatural deliverance. He complained of heart problems when the CBI arrested him, and has been residing in a well known nursing home in Calcutta for more than a couple of months. To satisfy his worshipful urges, a whole floor has been turned into a virtual temple. The key deities of the Hindu pantheon are represented here and there’s a regular priest to do the honours. And devoted hangers-on provide more deities for Ramesh’s devotions. But the CBI, led in this case by untiring bloodhound Upen Biswas is not impressed. Our hero’s troubleshooters are busy exploring ways to get a favourable judgment out of the powers that be and to muzzle the bloodhound. Well, prayers might still pay off, it seems. A mysterious apparition has promised to do both. And heart ailments disappear mysteriously too — every night, at party time.

The lamp of unforgiveness

It was a mega show. It was a Suresh Kalmadi show. Sonia Gandhi was guest of honour at the Pune festival along with the likes of Hema Malini, Jackie Shroff, Rahul Bajaj, Subhash Ghai and Ritu Beri. And the sparks glittered and flashed. Faced with a smiling Sonia, the fashion designer refused to acknowledge her. But an innocent Kalmadi offered the offended lady a chance to return the compliment. He asked Sonia to light the lamp to inaugurate the festival and requested Ritu to “assist Sonia”. Onstage, Sonia knew exactly what to do. As a smiling Ritu gave a knowing glance to the Congress supremo, Sonia asked Kalmadi’s wife Meera to “assist her”. The result was instantaneous. Ritu was out of frame and madame had her way. Incidentally, Ritu is close to BJP circles, having gained the status of a cultural ambassador. Such sleekly kept talons, m’lady!

Bouncers might just spin off

The CPI(M) veteran, Somnath Chatterjee, leader of the party in Lok Sabha, managed to have the entire opposition walk out of Lok Sabha on the issue of the appointment of RSS functionary BK Agnihotri as ambassador to the US. He raised the issue in zero hour. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan objected that it was not a crime to be an RSS member. But his main objection was to senior members like Somnathda raising issues during zero hour without prior notice. The former cricketer and BJP MP Kirti Azad interrupted: “These senior leaders like Somnath Chatterjee take undue advantage of their seniority. They should not be given this privilege.” At this Madhavrao Scindia piped up, “Kirti, as far as I know you have always been an off spinner. Since when have you started throwing bouncers?”

Footnote /I sent a letter through my friend and on the way...

Poor Priya Ranjan Das Munshi! Led astray by a letter he brandished in the Lok Sabha. The Congress chief whip had produced a copy of what he insisted was a letter written by the Union cabinet secretary to the PM’s principal secretary. The letter made out a strong case against disinvestment in Air India. Arun Shourie felt that the letter was forged and referred the matter to the CBI for inquiry. The CBI tended to agree. It was not written on the letterhead of the cabinet secretary. No cabinet secretary would use the kind of language used in it. Letters despatched from the cabinet secretary’s office are duly numbered and docketed. No such evidence was available. And there was no evidence that it was received in the PMO which too follows the same procedure. As to the real motive behind the letter, there is near agreement that it was the handiwork of the owner of a private domestic airline who feared the privatization of the national carrier, particularly its sale to the Tata-Singapore Airlines venture. The letter may have been routed through a friend in an opposition party which is on the best of terms with the PMO.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Myths of return

Sir — Mamata Banerjee’s love-hate relationship with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government seems to have been given a new twist with her return to the National Democratic Alliance (“Mamata returns to murmurs”, Aug 28). Her return has again exposed the inconsistency which has become synonymous with her political decisions. While she was quick to denounce the NDA government during her five and a half months separation from them, she has been as quick to deny her criticism of the NDA. It is apparent that the return was made keeping in mind Banerjee’s interests, and maybe this time round, Banerjee should try and stick to her decision if she doesn’t want her credibility to be completely written off.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Sinha, Berhampore

Affluent damage

Sir — According to the article, “At the heart of the matter” (Aug 23), the impact of the population on the environment is far more dangerous in the developed countries than in the developing countries. In contemporary discussions, population is often solely blamed for environmental degradation, even though affluence and technology levels play equally vital roles. The impact of affluence and technology, the indicator of socio-economic conditions, far outweighs the impact of population alone. In terms of energy or material consumption, the birth of one child in the United States will have an environmental impact equal to the impact of the birth of several dozen children in Bangladesh. Therefore, controlling the population in the developing countries alone cannot hold the promise of saving our global economy.

Yours faithfully,
Jaydev Jana, Calcutta

Sir — The Indian government seems to be paying little attention to the problems associated with a population boom. That a rise in population puts a strain on healthcare, education and housing does not seem to have struck the government, which seems to have stopped worrying about the family planning programme as long as there is adequate food for the population. Deforestation is a by-product of the population boom and has a disastrous effect on the environment. Besides adding to global warming and pollution, the habitat of wild animals is also dwindling. Underground water levels are decreasing because of excessive irrigation. The large-scale use of inorganic fertilizers is also causing a reduction in soil fertility.

I agree with K.B. Sahay that the government should seriously consider asking various non-governmental organizations to take up cudgels for population control (“At the heart of the matter”). The family planning fund should be distributed among these NGOs and they should be allowed to utilize these funds to check population. The rate of population growth in the southern states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is much lower than the rate in states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

The former have a higher literacy rate than the latter. The spread of education needs to be given priority to fight the population explosion.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Parting shot

Sir — I think that the critics went overboard about Sourav’s performance and one should keep in mind the circumstances under which he has led India in the last few matches. He did not get the opportunity of leading the team with its full strength after being appointed captain. Ganguly was in good form while playing the one-day matches but the problem lay in his failure to score well in the test matches. This was true for both Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar when they were captains of the Indian cricket team.

Even the best of cricketers sometime go through a bad patch before regaining their form. Ganguly’s captaincy record shows that he is the most successful Indian captain. Ganguly should be congratulated for his brilliant comeback and the team’s victory at the Kandy test match.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

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